Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Excuse Me. There’s a Vampire in My Mystery

Ladies and gents, I'm happy to present to you the fantabulous Jeannie Holmes, here to talk to us about her new release, Blood Secrets (sequel to last year's Blood Law; a really fun read - and yes, a good mystery!)

Take it away, Jeannie!

Question: Can a mystery contain elements of the supernatural and still be a mystery?

Answer: Of course it can. However, playing with the supernatural doesn’t give the author free license to play fast and loose with the rules.

I’ve been asked—sometimes innocently and other times maliciously—if I chose to include vampires in my books because “they’re hot right now.” The short answer is “no.” The long answer is far more complicated…as any good mystery should be.

The Alexandra Sabian books are a blend of genres. I admit this. At their core is a mystery unraveling to the ticking clock of a thriller. They’re fantasy with a romantic twist, and science fiction that quietly slips into the dark realms of horror. And yet, it is a mystery that is the beating heart of each book.

Alex Sabian, my protagonist, possesses some unique psychic abilities in addition to being a vampire. She’s also a federal agent charged with policing the vampire population of a small Mississippi town. Playing with vampires and the paranormal does make for greater temptation to wave a magic wand and avoid some of the corners I’ve inadvertently painted myself into in the past. However, as I said, inclusion of the supernatural doesn’t free me from my obligations as an author to fulfill readers’ expectations. I could easily have Alex use her abilities to solve cases. But I don’t. I force her to rely on familiar police investigative procedures and practices, including the use of forensic science. This doesn’t mean I don’t alter these practices slightly to fit my needs and file the differences until the heading of “Vampiric Law.” After all, it is fiction and a little creative licensing is not only expected but encourage.

I can think of other authors who have included the paranormal in their mysteries—Carolyn Haines with Jitty the Ghost in the Sarah Booth Delaney series and Charlaine Harris with telepaths, vampires, and a host of other creatures in the Sookie Stackhouse series both come to mind.—and saw a continuation of their work labeled as “mystery.” But I can also think of others—Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series and Diana Rowland’s Kara Gillian series for example—that rely heavily on a mystery as the central plot but are viewed more as fantasy than mystery.

Does an author working in a paranormal element make a story less of a mystery? Is it a sign of a poor writer? I say “no” to both questions. If it does anything, a supernatural component should enhance the story as adding spices to a recipe can enhance the flavor. Granted, too much salt can make a dish inedible, and pushing too far into the territory of deus ex machina with the paranormal can cause the reader to walk away. However, if peppered throughout the story and woven into the plot, the supernatural can take a mystery to an entirely new depth.

So when does a mystery stop being a mystery? Should the inclusion of the supernatural automatically shift a mystery into another genre?

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Knock yourselves out, kids!

I'm in St. Augustine this week, so I probably won't be stopping by a whole lot, but have fun without me. I just wanted to say that cozy mysteries are all over paranormal. It has it's own sub-genre. There aren't vampires so much as witches and ghosts and things, but there are certainly a lot of paranormal cozy mysteries out there for anyone who likes them. And yes, they're mysteries. As long as the mystery is the focus, and the thing that gets 'solved' at the end, it's a mystery.

See you next month, and be sure to check out Jeannie's books!


Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome back, Jeannie! I can't wait to read the new book. Loved the first one.

I agree that having supernatural elements doesn't make a book any less of a mystery. One of my favorite series is written by Casey Daniels. Her protagonist works in a cemetery where ghosts of people buried there ask her to find the reasons why they're still hanging around the cemetery. There may be ghosts, but they're definitely mysteries.

Patg said...

The paranormal and mystery go hand in hand for me. Makes the story more exciting and interesting as long as (as you said, Jeannie) the author does NOT wave any magic wands. I dislike magic.
IMHO the author has to give a lot of advanced preparation to the world she is creating in the paranormal, then put the mystery she wants to solve into it.

C.L. Phillips said...


I'm looking forward to reading your work. I'll start with first book because of Joyce's recommendation.

Welcome to the Stiffs!