CRAFT: The Hook for a Cozy, part II

Well, I did it. I formulated what I believe is a reasonable hook for the Ariadne series and e-mailed the editor.

I got her auto-reply back . . . she’s out of the office until the 10th, with occasional checking of e-mail. So, whew. I can relax and not worry about a reply (or lack of it) until then.

I have time to bribe the universe and propitiate the spirits to evoke a good response.

What did I decide on as the series hook? I studied this editor’s last few deals on Publishers Marketplace and found that she just made a three-book deal for a cozy series. The title of the first book shows what she wants as a hook. Let’s cloud it up a bit and say the title is FOOL FOR THE CITY: A FORTUNE-TELLING MYSTERY. So the hook is that a different tool for fortune-telling will be used in every book by the main character, a psychic who lives in a haunted house. (I sort of am acquainted with the author, who has haunted the various unpubbed mailing lists along with me for several years.)

So, okay! She has just bought a paranormal series. Mine is a paranormal-hook series (obviously the Marfa Mystery Lights and the visitations of “spirits” at various times in the book would tip a reader off.) It is also a series in which every mystery puzzle hinges on some techie thing. In MARFA LIGHTS, it’s Aaron’s software, the new and highly efficient algorithm for public-key encryption that would make millions for the company that licenses it. (In the end, at the finale of the second book, it will be revealed that this algorithm has a serious flaw. This actually happened with someone I know in real life . . . her algorithm was all the rage for a little over a year, until she published a paper and someone came up with the hole in the algorithm. Alas! So Ari won’t get rich off of this.)

I floated the notion that this can be the “Paranormal Software Mysteries.” I would love a better term for this, but both these concepts are in the books, and it means there’s nothing else out there like it. (My standalone AI suspense novel also falls into this category, in fact.)

Each novel in this series contains a paranormal or supernatural element that is part of the plot and is tied to the setting. (More properly, it’s *supernatural-seeming*, because at least one character always rationalizes it all away, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions.) In this one it’s the Marfa Lights *and* the esoteric, mystical religious sect that Aaron was involved in, as well as the trickster preacher Gil who serves as Ari’s guide through this “new world.” In book #2 (the original book #1), ARIADNE’S WEB, it’s a near-death experience (not Ari’s) and a series of phone calls “from beyond” (that are actually done using technology, if the explanation Eddie gives is to be trusted–or is he lying?) In COBWEBBED CORNERS (yes, an execrable temp title), it’s a ghost story complete with haunted cottage, as in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” or the television series “Ghost Hunters.” (Again, the visitations and messages are “explained away,” if readers want to buy that story. It’s a cottage that Zoe rents in the old German town of Boerne in the Texas Hill Country, and it’s Zoe who’s the ghost’s object of interest.)

Charlaine Harris and many others (*cough*TWILIGHT*cough*) are riding the wave of interest in paranormal creatures, but what I deal with here is the paranormal or unexplained events that normal people with no special powers and no shape-shifting abilities may experience, and how these people integrate the new information about the universe into their lives or reject it as “nothing.” Even though readers don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid to enjoy the books (cynics can sneer all the way through, if they like), perhaps this paranormal aspect is our proper hook.

My other suggestion was that we should highlight the books as Native Texan mysteries, as every book is set in a different area of Texas. The setting is always a character in itself. But I don’t think that would fly as well. (For one thing, it rules out a visit to Sedona, AZ, or Roswell, NM, where Ari could get involved with the True Believers of the Red Rocks/Vortex Sect and the Alien Landing/Abduction people. These would still be Southwestern, but not strictly Texan.)

What do you think? Is that too lame of a hook? Have you ever read a series of “knitting mysteries” or “catering mysteries”?

I suppose the Jacquidon/Chantal series is the “Temporary Agency Worker Mysteries,” because Jac starts a career as a temp worker after being fired in the first scene of the first book. But the mysteries are centered around online groups as secret societies: in NICE WORK, there’s an S&M sex club where her former boss is a mover-and-shaker (groan), but he and his ex-wife are keeping someone captive against her will, which is NOT in the charter of the “voluntary participation only” club, and the club provides the clues to the mystery. Its online presence is what leads Jacquidon to discover the identity of the killer. In the second book, which is the one I’m working on (intermittently) that’s set at the tree-trimming contest (a thinly veiled Most Gifted Wrapper Contest), the online secret society also leads to a killing, and she has to gain access to their mailing list to track down the murderer. ANYway . . . that one has another weird, obscure hook that I can’t easily put into a tagline. The “Secret Online Society Mysteries”?

Whatever happens, it has been fun to imagine that my cozies might finally be taken seriously by an editor who actually acquires cozies. . . .


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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