Is The Cozy Novel The Sitcom of the Mystery Field?

I’ve been going back and forth on two different writing projects lately and I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want out of a writing career through which project I keep going back to. I always like to think I’m edgy and my work is pushing the envelope, but the truth is I work best firmly within the establishment. I’m at my best taking the status quo and rethinking it or re-imagining it or commenting on it’s foibles rather than creating something genuinely new and exciting. The more rules I have to follow and the more rigid structure I need to stick to, the more creative I am.

So let’s look at the two projects in my hopper. The first is an urban fantasy novel with virtually limitless possibilities. This is my attempt to tackle a serious Detroit social novel under the guise of satire and fantasy. With the urban fantasy genre and my entire imagination at my disposal, this seems like a dream project. But every time I try to get back into it I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities and end up just doing more research instead.

The other project I’ve been working on is a cozy novel. If there’s a genre with a less more rigid structure than the modern cozy novel, I’ve not seen it. In fact, this entire project grew out of a discussion with a friend about different ways of exploiting that formula. Whereas with the fantasy novel I could think of lots of possibilities but could never nail down any concrete story elements, every time I delved into the structure of the cozy novel I got new ideas for my own project.

The restrictions have been the best story generation tools ever.

I was thinking about this today while reading an article about the current crop of television sitcoms. While this seems to be a golden age for cable dramas, the sort of shows with endless possibilities and few restrictions, the sitcom format is in a downward trend. I think writers are excited by the endless potential of cable TV, but me, I still love sitcoms. I love shows like 30 Rock that take a classic format and bend it and twist it in on itself. I also love shows like Modern Family that, while not groundbreaking, hit all of the expected elements of their genre with precision and skill.

This is why I keep going back to the cozy novel. There is some amazing work being done in the cozy field, but I’m not aiming to be a genre-buster or a trendsetter, I’m happy to be inspired by the formula and use that structure to filter my world view, my personality, and my voice into a viable story. You can say I’m lazy, you can say I’m taking the path of least resistance, and you’d probably be right. but I’m also having fun and that’s what this is ultimately about, isn’t it?

So tell me, are you a trail blazer or a status-quo monger?