Nightwolf’s Corner Turns 3! (Also, Celebratory Birthday Giveaway)

Image of Birthday Candles

“Birthday Celebration” by Cédric Boismain | Copyright 2013


Last week, I asked you to weigh in on what my birthday giveaway prize should be. The results are in, which means it’s time for the actual giveaway to kick off. First, thank you to everyone who voted. Your input definitely swayed my decision, as I always find those kinds of insights exceedingly fascinating.

So, what were the results? Well, some of you may have clicked on the little button at the bottom of the poll to find out, and therefore already know. But for those who didn’t, here’s the breakdown:

By and large, everyone went exactly for the prize I suspected — the full edit giveaway. I really wasn’t surprised by this, as I know a large portion of my audience is comprised of writers, and editing is one of the most expensive parts of the publishing process. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get that for free?

But, in a surprising turn of events, the reader’s choice of three print editions from the REUTS Publications library came in a close second. Okay, maybe not that close, but still. I wasn’t expecting readers to make up such a large portion of my audience. I mean, obviously, everyone loves free books too, but I was pretty sure the editorial service options would dominate. Consider me schooled. 😉

Okay, let’s get to the fun, shall we? Here are the prizes (yes multiple) I’m giving away this year, along with the rules/stipulations for each.

Prize #1: A Full Edit Package (Structural edits, line edits, & proofreading)

To the surprise of exactly no one, I took your resounding suggestion and am offering the prize most of you said you wanted. However, there are a few things you have to do to qualify for it.

  • You must have a completed manuscript, or one that will be completed by May 31st, 2015.
  • If you have previously won a read report or other prize from me, you are allowed to enter the same manuscript here. Should you win, that previous prize will be upgraded; if you don’t, no worries, you still have the prize from before.
  • While I will try my best to provide a reasonable turnaround time, this is a volunteer/pro bono gig, and as such, will be subject to the whims of my schedule. Which means that there may be times when I will not be able to work on your project, and you will need to be okay with that. If that’s not something you’re willing to do, then might I suggest opting for one of the other prizes instead. 😉

Prize #2: Winner’s Choice of 3 Print Edition REUTS Publications Titles

Since this one was almost as popular as the first choice, it seemed only fair that I include it as well. The difference being that two people will have a chance at scoring this one. But, just like above, there are some rules.

  • You are allowed to choose any three books from the REUTS Publications Library (including the hardcover anthology), but they have to have been released in print by the time the contest concludes.
  • The exception to the above rule is Off Book by Jessica Dall. It will be released in paperback shortly after the end of the contest, so it will be included as well, with the clarification that choosing this one may result in a slight delay.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Thank you again to all of you — for your votes, for your support, and for just being plain old awesome. The giveaway will end at midnight on 5/8/15 and the winner’s will be announced that day. Best of luck!

Click Here to Enter!


Reader’s Choice Poll: What Should I Giveaway?

Hello! Feels like I haven’t seen everyone in ages. Even though I’ve been posting things from the archives, it’s not quite the same as actually creating new content and spending time with you lovely folks. I’m definitely looking forward to getting back in the swing of things around here, and have plenty of new topics and ideas floating around to craft into insightful, probably snark-infused posts.

But first, I believe I mentioned a giveaway coming up . . . no? I didn’t? Hmm, weird. I was pretty sure I’d let that slip during our journey through the land of subgenres. Anyway, my three year blogiversary is fast approaching (May 2nd, in fact), and that means it’s time for one of my two annual giveaways (the other happens in December). Excited? Everyone loves free stuff. Don’t lie. You know it’s true.

The problem is that I’m not currently sure what I want to offer as the prize. I have some ideas, and I could copy what I’ve done before, but what’s the fun in that? So instead, I figured I’d give you, the readers who have loyally stuck with me while my schedule was blown to smithereens and then repaired, a chance to tell me what you want.

Below is a poll listing some of the options I’ve been toying around with. There’s also an “other” category, so if you have an idea I didn’t list, feel free to pitch it. The ultimate decision will be mine, but knowing what interests you guys will most definitely help me figure out the best prize for the job.

So, that’s it. For now. Vote away, and I’ll be back next week with something new. Promise. 😉


Featured From the Archives: Exploring the Subgenres of Science Fiction

Whew! We made it! Welcome to the final installment of our refresher course in subgenres. It’s quite a doozy too, so I won’t keep you. Next week, I’ll be back with new content of a To Be Determined nature, but for now, I give you one of the longest posts I’ve ever written. Happy reading! 😉

Exploring the Subgenres of Science Fiction

By Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 9/13/13

Welcome to the daunting final installment of my subgenre series — the long-awaited behemoth, Science Fiction.

Sci-fi is most often synonymous with spaceships, aliens, technology, robots, and to some, Star Trek or Star Wars. But there’s more to it than that.  Just like Fantasy sports a whopping 31 subgenres, Science Fiction contains a plethora of subtle variations, each deserving of its own subcategory. A shocking 37 subcategories, to be exact. (And I thought Fantasy was bad!) Now you know why I had to keep deferring this one. That’s a lot of research! Ready to find out what these 37 subcategories are? Then let’s get to it.

Hard Science Fiction

This is the subgenre most people think of when they hear “Science Fiction.” Drawing from the “hard” sciences — physics, astronomy, chemistry– Hard Science Fiction is not for those easily lost by conceptual details. Scientific realism trumps the more mundane aspects of character or plot development, placing this subgenre’s focus on things like exploration and discovery instead. Expect a lot of attention to be paid to process explanations and technology, and if this is a genre you want to write, expect to put in hefty amounts of research. Plausibility is king in this field. If it’s not believable, that ship’s not gonna fly. (Pun intended.)

Star Trek is the most notable example of Hard Sci-fi. There is character development across the series, but that’s not the main focus. I mean, they say it right in the opening sequence. The mission is to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” That same slogan applies to pretty much everything in this category.

Soft Science Fiction

The exact opposite of Hard Sci-fi, Soft Sci-fi puts the emphasis on character and plot, with the scientific aspects taking a backseat. This subgenre focuses on what are considered the “soft” sciences– anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology, etc.  Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series would fall in this category. Deceptively starting off as a Fantasy with just a light hint of Sci-fi, later books in the series reveal a heavier Sci-fi slant. But the focus is largely on the characters and cultures, with very clear influence from the disciplines of anthropology and political science.

Military Science Fiction

The name says it all on this one. Military Science Fiction revolves around a distinctly militaristic theme. Usually, the characters are part of the military and the plot involves some kind of war. For those fans of the video game world, Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy and Bungie’s Halo series are prime examples of this type of story.

Robot Fiction

Another one where the name is pretty self-explanatory. Works in this category place heavy focus on the science of robotics. Isaac Asimov is one of the most prominent pioneers of this subgenre, but you’ll see this theme a lot in films. 2004’s I, Robot springs to mind as a popular example of these kinds of stories.

Social Science Fiction

Social Science Fiction is an interesting creature. It relies heavily on the influence of Social Science to extrapolate and then criticize future societies. So at its heart, it’s a genre bent on satire, on delivering criticisms and moral messages about our own society through the filter of a fictional, future one.  This subgenre shares a lot of similarities with Dystopian Fiction in that sense. Notable, and probably familiar, examples include Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Space Opera

For those of you who pictured the operatic blue alien from The Fifth Element, I’m sorry to say, you’re wrong. This subgenre has nothing to do with music. It does, however, bear a slight resemblance to its more earthly counterpart — the Soap Opera.

Space Operas are adventure stories. Romanticized and melodramatic sometimes, but still. They usually center around a sympathetic hero going up against insane odds in an epic battle to save the universe.  Good always wins in a Space Opera, and if you can’t guess the notable work I’m alluding to yet, here’s a hint: it features light-sabers, Wookies, and a princess in a slave outfit. 😉

That’s right, Star Wars was, and is, considered a Space Opera. (Alternatively, it’s also known as a Science Fantasy, for the same thematic reasons.)

So although this subgenre may have some intrinsic ties to the much-ridiculed Soap Opera, don’t let that color your feelings. Star Wars is one of the most successful Science Fiction franchises of all time, and if it can survive being called a Space Opera, your work probably can too.


Steampunk is an strange one, spawning an entire subculture as well as a subgenre. It’s often set in an industrialized not-so-distant, alternate future, with heavy influences from 19th century Victorian England and the American Wild West. Strange combo, no? It may also contain elements of Fantasy, Horror, or Historical Fiction. The main requirement, though, is that a story in this category must include steam-technology and a 19th century perspective on everything from machinery to fashion. Examples include the work of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne as well as more contemporary author, Phillip Pullman.  But with the rapidly growing popularity of this cultural movement, Steampunk will likely have several more notable titles soon.


Cyberpunk is Sci-Fi’s answer to the Detective/Crime Novel. Its settings are typically dark and gritty, with a heavy emphasis placed on advanced technology. Plots often revolve around the degradation of society and the abuse of technology. Hackers, Artificial Intelligence and Megacorporations spying on the world are all elements seen in these high-intensity thrill rides. The work of Phillip K. Dick falls largely under this category, making him one of the most well-known authors in this field.


Biopunk is pretty much the same as Cyberpunk, but instead of an emphasis on technology, it focuses on the biological. Genetic modification and DNA engineering are common in this subgenre, providing a cautionary look at the downside to messing with biology. The Island of Dr Moreau by H. G. Wells would be a prime example, although it technically predates the creation of this category.


Another cousin of the previous “punk” categories, Nanopunk focuses on a specific set of technology — nanotechnology. Michael Chricton’s Prey, as well as NBC’s recent hit show, Revolution, are both examples.

Superhero Fiction

Ah yes, a subgenre full of dudes in tights and capes, and women wearing barely-there spandex and magic-powered accessories. I don’t think there’s a person alive who isn’t familiar with this category, (don’t lie, you know you went through the towel-turned-cape wearing phase when you were a kid) although it’s much more popular in the visual mediums– TV, film, video games, and comic books.

The basic idea is exactly what you’d expect, a “good” protagonist dressed in an elaborate costume faces off against a supervillain. Often, both hero and villain have superhuman abilities, making their battles nothing less than epic. Which is why we continue to reboot these narratives over and over and over again. I mean, seriously, what are we on, like our 8th Batman?

Scientific Romance

No, this isn’t a combination of Sci-Fi and Romance, although that does exist. (It’s considered Science Fiction Romance, in case you forgot. 😉 ) Scientific Romance is actually an archaic term that was the genre’s original name. Now, it refers specifically to works from the late 19th to early 20th centuries or ones that are purposely written to sound that way. H.G Wells, Jules Vern, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are considered part of this category, largely because they were writing during that time frame, pioneering the genre.

Gothic Science Fiction

I find it interesting that this isn’t lumped into Horror Sci-Fi, but rather is given its own designation. Gothic Science Fiction is what it claims– a combination of Gothic-minded elements and Sci-fi. Vampires and Zombies are frequent visitors here. The most common plot is the attempt to explain monsters through science. There’s heavy emphasis placed on the biological explanation of these more-typically mythological creatures while still maintaining that darker, Gothic edge. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.

Mundane Science Fiction

This subgenre very closely resembles Hard Sci-fi, except there’s no interstellar travel or alien life forms. Fascinatingly enough, part of this subgenre is a position that things like worm holes, warp drives, and multi-galaxy exploration (all things typically found in Hard Sci-fi) are speculative wish-fulfillment and could never really happen. (Which I suppose makes the choice of “mundane” in the title fairly appropriate.) Instead, this subgenre focuses on stories that could happen, and often contain scientific data that can be, or has been, corroborated by scientists. Geoff Ryman and the short story anthology he edited, When It Changed: Science Into Fiction, are the most prominent names associated with this subgenre.

Horror Science-fiction

Just like it sounds, this is a combination of Horror and Sci-fi. Pairing the adrenaline inducing gore and violence of Horror with Sci-fi’s action-based futures, this is a powerful combination. Alien invasions, mad scientists, experiments gone wrong, there’s really no end to the number of ways Sci-fi can terrify us. Resident Evil, The Body-snatchers, The Alien Franchise, even The Terminator, are all examples of just how lucrative this category can be.

Comic Sci-fi

Again, pretty straight-forward. In fact, so straight-forward that all I should have to say is this: Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. See? Enough said, right?

But seriously, this is a combination of Comedy and Sci-fi. It exploits the elements of Science Fiction for comic relief, often leaning toward satire, as in our example above.

Science Fantasy

This is a blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Duh, right?) that lends a sheen of scientific realism to things that could never really exist. This is a squishy subgenre at best, and has never been truly solidified with a description. Surprisingly, one of my all-time favorite series, Shannara, by Terry Brooks, is considered this. I never knew that. See? Even I learn something doing these posts.

Apocalyptic Science Fiction

These next two subcategories are very tightly linked. Apocalyptic Science Fiction is all about the end of days, the downfall of civilization. The whole story leads up to some cataclysmic event that destroys life as we know it. Sometimes we survive, sometimes we don’t. But once disaster strikes, the story’s over. Otherwise, it becomes part of the next subgenre.

Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction

If Apocalyptic is about the disaster itself, Post-apocalyptic naturally features what happens next,after the crisis. Often it includes desolate landscapes, a much smaller population, and sometimes even a return to medieval, or non-technology-enhanced ways of life. Apocalyptic fiction is often depressing, but Post-apocalyptic brings a sense of hope with it, revolving around themes like survival and rebirth/rebuild.

Zombie Fiction

I know what you’re thinking: Doesn’t this belong in Horror? Well, that depends entirely on the storytelling approach. When the emphasis is placed on the fear created by a Zombie Apocalypse, and violence and gore play a major role, then yes, I would tend to agree that it’s more fitting in Horror. But when the focus of the story is on an infectious contagion sweeping through the world, turning everyone to mindless, flesh-craving mutants, that’s Sci-fi’s realm. So it really just depends.

Alien Invasion

There seems to be a lot of these self-explanatory subgenres in Sci-fi, doesn’t there? Alien Invasion is exactly what you’d expect: Aliens invading Earth for the nefarious reasons of either destroying or enslaving mankind. This has been one of the most common storylines in Sci-fi; it’s right up there with Hard Sci-fi’s exploration and discovery. From War of the Worlds, to Independance Day, toAvatar, Alien Invasions have fascinated audiences. I wonder if we’ll find it so fascinating if it ever really happens?

Alien Conspiracy

Unlike Alien Invasion, where all hell breaks loose as massive ships descend from the sky, Alien Conspiracy takes a more subtle stance on the whole Alien thing. UFO sightings and abductions are fair game in this category and stories usually center on the conspiracy itself, on the journey to truth. Perhaps the most well-known example of this subgenre is The X-Files.

Time Travel

First popularized as a Sci-fi subgenre by H.G. Wells and The Time Machine, Time Travel is one of those things, like Historical, that crosses several genres. And, like Zombies, the designation between each is subtle and based on the approach. Time Travel without an explicit, scientific explanation would fall more in the realm of Fantasy, but when it’s based in science, like The Time Machine, it’s most definitely Sci-Fi. Other than that distinction, the idea is the same– traveling through time. End of story.

Alternate History

We’ve seen this header elsewhere. And just like its Fantasy counterpart, Sci-fi’s version is pretty straightforward. It’s a story rooted in history, but then deviates from that to create an alternate timeline. Pretty simple, no?

Parallel Worlds

This is the only subgenre that allows for pure speculation, more akin to Fantasy in many ways than its Sci-fi brothers. The idea is that there is a parallel universe to our own, where the world is either recognizable or very much not. Often including elements of Time Travel, Parallel Worlds is rife with endless possibilities for imaginative new twists. The most prominent and recent example I can think of is Fox’s cult hit, Fringe.

Lost Worlds

This subgenre features tales of adventure, discovering lost locations (islands, continents, planets, etc.) that tend to feature dinosaurs or other extinct creatures and cultures. Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth is a prime example of this type of fiction.

Dystopian Fiction

Just like Dystopian Fantasy (which isn’t an official subgenre yet), Dystopian Sci-fi is all about the opposite of Uptopia. Generally set in a near-future heavy with social unrest, Dystopian Fiction explores things like police states, repression, and dictatorship. They also commonly feature rebellions. This subgenre has seen a recent boost in popularity, especially with the YA audience, claiming such heavy-hitters as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy and Marie Lu’s LegendSeries.

Space Western

Yep, space cowboys. (Oh, come on, you know you were thinking it.) Combining the ideology of frontier America with intergalactic travel may sound like a ridiculous concept, but it’s actually a pretty potent combination. How many of you have heard of a little show by the name of Firefly?**Waits for the fanboy/girl squealing to die down.** Yeah, exactly. That’s a Space Western. Enough said, right?

Retro Futurism

This subgenre can boiled down to a phrase: “The future as seen from the past.” It has to conform to a vision of the future presented by artists pre-1960, creating a nostalgic blend of elements to showcase a timeline that could have been but never was. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Rocketeer, and even The Phantom all qualify for this category.

Recursive Science Fiction

How’s this for a convoluted subgenre? Recursive Science Fiction is Science Fiction about Science Fiction. The best way I can describe it is that it’s a framed narrative often featuring a protagonist writing a science fiction story. Fortunately, it’s rare, so I wouldn’t dwell on this one if I were you.


Landing somewhere between Literary and Speculative Fiction, Slipstream is just plain weird. It’s actually known as the “fiction of strangeness.” It actively tries to break the conventions of genre, crossing between the various styles with ease. A good Slipstream will leave you feeling confused and uncomfortable, and is often accompanied by a resounding, “WTF?” But hey, to each their own!

Anthropological Science Fiction

This subgenre is rooted entirely in the discipline of Anthropology. It seeks to portray races and cultures to the same scientific degree that anthropologists do, even if those races and cultures are entirely fictitious. Notable names under this header include Ursula K. Le Guin, Chad Oliver, and Michael Bishop.

And that concludes our long, sometimes arduous, journey through the many literary subgenres. Next week, I’ll return to my previous style of snarky commentary on something random. (Which really means I have no idea what to write about now and will spend the next 4-5 days scrabbling for a topic.) Thanks for sticking around and if you happen to have a topic request, feel free to send it via the Contact page. (Like seriously, no idea what to write about. Suggestions would be mighty helpful! 😉 )

Featured From the Archives: Investigating the Subgenres of Mystery

We’re winding down on our subgenre refresher course, which means it’s almost time to announce a new giveaway. Yep, you saw that right — giveaway. I do giveaways twice a year, one over the holidays in December, and one for my blog’s birthday in May. I think it’s obvious which we’re creeping up on. 😉

I haven’t quite decided what flavor of awesome to put up for grabs yet, though, so that’s where you come in. At the bottom of this post, leave me a comment telling me what kinds of fantabulous prizes you’d be interested in, and you might just get lucky.

But first, let’s check out the subgenres of Mystery, shall we?

Investigating the Subgenres of Mystery

By Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 9/6/13

We’re only one post away from completing our trek through literary subgenres. Excited? I am. I think my brain’s about to overload from all this information.

This week, it’s Mystery’s turn. Mysteries are literary puzzles, challenging the reader to unravel the story and put all the pieces in place before the big reveal. They rely heavily on suspense and foreshadowing, carefully withholding pertinent information about the antagonist’s motivation, and even identity, until the very end. When done well, the clues are so subtle the reader only fully understands in a glorious “Oh! Now I get it!” burst of clarity once everything’s been revealed. These narratives are twisty, brilliantly convoluted, and written to keep you on your toes. Which is why they’re one of my favorite genres, both as a reader and an editor.

But just like every genre, Mystery is broken into subcategories — 20 to be exact. You know what happens next.


I’m pretty sure there’s one prominent name that comes to mind for this subgenre — Sherlock Holmes. Yep, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famously eccentric sleuth is a prime example of this Mystery staple. But he’s certainly not alone. Detective stories can feature professional private investigators, as in David Baldacci’s Sean King and Michelle Maxwell books, or they can be amateurs, like Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. The point is that each book follows an investigation from the POV of the detective, creating a kind of follow-along for readers as they try to, ideally, solve the crime first.  Detectives with winning personalities, such as Mr. Holmes, are prime candidates for long-running series, making the central character as important to this subgenre as the mysterious crimes themselves.

Child/Woman in Peril

These stories typically feature kidnappings; the mystery lies not only in why the victim has been taken, but whether or not they will be saved. High intensity and heavy on action, this is a favored storyline for film as well as literature. Most recent examples include Taken, starring Liam Neeson, as well as ABC’s failed show, Zero Hour (although there was a lot more to that than just the kidnapping). Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express also falls under this heading.

Classic Whodunit

(You can’t have Mystery without a Whodunit reference.)

These also usually feature a professional investigator, but they’re different from Detective stories because the situation is more prominent than the characters. Think more like Clue, where the crime is the most important element and figuring out the puzzle is the main point. These are usually stand-alone books, where the detective just conveniently happens to be included, rather than character-driven series like Detective fiction.

The best example of this subgenre is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Was None.

Comic (Bumbling Detective)

Fusing Humor with Mystery, these are light-hearted tales meant to elicit laughs. Often, they feature a detective who is less-than-qualified but who still manages to fumble their way into solving the crime. Examples include Inspector Clouseau from The Pink Panther, as well as USA’s former hit, Monk. Those are extreme examples though. Really, it can be any Mystery that puts emphasis on the humorous elements, diffusing what can sometimes be rather dark material with laughter. A & E’s recently cancelled show, The Glades, would fit here with its wise-cracking lead character, as does ABC’s Castle.


Cozy mysteries occur in small towns or even single homes. The characters, except the detective, who’s conveniently an outsider, all know each other and the tension is laced with the possibility of betrayal. Though primarily Horror, since it’s based on the work of Stephen King, I would categorize CBS’s Under the Dome here as well. It contains many of the required elements — a small town trapped under a mysterious dome, with one convenient outsider trying to understand the many layers of intrigue. But technically, Murder, She Wrote is a better known example. (What? It can fall into more than one category.)

Legal Thriller

Legal Thrillers are similar to Detective, but feature lawyers instead of investigators. They takes place entirely in the legal system, whether that be an attorney trying to convict/acquit a client, unraveling the clues of the case as they go, or simply set against a backdrop of law-wielding firms. John Grisham’s famous novel, The Firm, is a prime example.

Dark Thriller

This one has a slightly misleading name. It’s actually a combination of Horror and Mystery, pulling the fear and graphic violence from Horror and mixing it up with the suspenseful puzzles of Mystery. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is an example of this kind of story.


More commonly thought of as Thrillers, Espionage books are actually part of Mystery (because technically Thriller is part of Mystery). These titles revolve around the international spy game, as blatantly referenced by the subgenre’s name. The most recent resurgence of this category features spies facing off against terrorists, racing to find and stop planned attacks and tracking down leaders hiding in the shadows. They’re exciting in the way only spy stories can be. (Who doesn’t love to say stuff like, “Bond. James Bond”?) Espionage lets readers step into a glamorous (and fictional) life of adventure and subterfuge, making the focus of these plotlines plain ole action.


Like most of the Mystery subgenres, Forensic once again revolves around solving crimes, this time through the highly detailed and scientific lens of the forensics lab. Popularized by shows likeBones and CSI, this subgenre is dominated by a small niche of authors — Kathy Reichs (the real-life inspiration behind Bones), Patricia Cornwell and Tess Gerritsen (behind TNT’s popular hit,Rizzoli & Isles) are just a few.

Heists & Capers

Who doesn’t love a good heist? Face it, there’s something inherently appealing about the elaborate schemes to steal priceless items, the thrill of the con, and the ever-present question of “can they really pull this off?” This subgenre glorifies the “anti-hero,” meaning that it’s told from the criminal or “bad guy’s” POV. The rules of the category actually say that the criminals aren’t supposed to win, that their plans are foiled at the last minute and everything goes wrong, but more recent variations like Ocean’s Eleven and TNT’s now-deceased show, Leverage, give the audience a different end — a criminal’s happy ever after, as it were.


See? Here it is again! I’m telling you, Historical should become its own genre.

Anyway, just like all the other variations, a Historical Mystery is set against a recognizable period of time and may or may not include famous historical personas. Fascinatingly enough, this particular subcategory of Historical features a niche market of Chinese Mysteries (stories set in ancient China and Japan) as well as the standard Elizabethan, etc. The Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland is a great example.


This could almost be described as an omniscient mystery, wherein the reader witnesses the murder up front, knowing full well who the killer is, and the suspense is created around figuring out “how” they will be caught. So the reader knows more than the detective and watches from the sidelines while they struggle to figure it out. The most fantastic use of this technique I’ve encountered is actually in ABC’s most recent drama, Motive, but the subgenre has been around since 1912.

Locked Room

If you’re like me, then you instantly thought of panic rooms. But, like me, you’d be wrong. Locked Room is a strange niche of a subgenre that seems to have fallen out of favor. The idea is that the central crime is committed under seemingly impossible circumstances but is later explained rationally. The most notable example is Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which apparently spawned the whole thing.


From unknown viral epidemics to the diagnostic marvels seen in Fox’s House, Medical mysteries are pretty straight-forward. Obviously, they contain something medical that, for whatever reason, is unexplained. Figure out what the disease is, where it came from, or how to cure/stop it, and the story’s over. It’s as easy as that.

Police Procedural

Ah, yes, everyone’s favorite Mystery subgenre. Without it, we wouldn’t have such iconic shows asLaw and Order, (all 15 versions of it), or half of TV’s current offerings. Police Procedural is such a well-known category, I almost feel like it’s a waste for me to define it. But just in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid exposure to this type of story, here’s the deal:

It features police detectives (with their assorted teams of bad-ass forensics people) unraveling often brutal crimes and eventually catching the perps.

See? Didn’t I just describe about 80% of prime-time, scripted TV?

Psychological Suspense

I think perhaps I missed my calling as a psychologist, because once again, these stories fascinate me. Most of the other subgenres focus on who committed the crime, or how, but Psychological Suspense focuses on why. It explores the dark and twisty pathways of the human psyche and the motivation behind a crime. Also called Psychological Thrillers, the story rides not on an external threat, but on an internal one, focusing on the character’s emotional state, mental abilities or instability. TNT’s current hit (and one of my favorite shows), Perception, would fit nicely under this header.


Another cross-breed, Romantic mysteries combine, you guessed it — Romance and Mystery. A relatively new subgenre, Romantic features strong, compassionate heriones prone to falling in love with their crime-solving partners. But while the romance is a strong element in these tales, it takes a backseat to the puzzle, making this melding of genres a different one for Romance. Usually, when Romance is involved, it’s the dominating story arc, but here, it plays second fiddle to the standard plotlines of Mystery.


This subgenre has two requirements:

  • A high level of action
  • Heavy emphasis on technology

Scientific detail is imperative in these and often plays a crucial role in the plot’s progression. Espionage, conspiracy theories and military action are also cornerstones of this category, with quite a few heavy-hitting names gracing the lists: Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown (for his work prior to The Da Vinci Code) are some you may have heard of.


This is such a broad category that some consider it a genre unto itself. But technically, it does fall under the parameters of Mystery. Thrillers deal with pretty much every topic under the sun. The criteria, therefore, has less to do with certain plotlines or characters and more to do with the storytelling techniques themselves.

Thrillers use suspense, tension and excitement to create adrenaline-inducing thrill rides that are action-packed and gripping. Red herrings, plot twists and cliff-hangers run rampant through this subgenre, making them some of the most exciting tales on the market. It also makes them prime fodder for Hollywood to cherry pick, as they are an almost sure hit with audiences.

Woman in Jeopardy

Similar to Child/Woman in Peril, this also focuses on a damsel in distress. The difference is that, here, she’s also the heroine. So instead of having to be rescued like in a Child/Woman in Peril, Woman in Jeopardy focuses on the protagonist’s ability to outwit, outmaneuver and ultimately escape from her dangerous adversary. Lisa Jackson and Heather Graham, though both technically considered Romance authors, tend to write stories that qualify for this category as well.

And there you have it — a breakdown of the various mysteries of Mystery. As you can see, this genre plays a dominant role in many mediums. We’re surrounded by it on a daily basis, to the point that it almost becomes synonymous with storytelling. Humans are curious creatures, and Mystery plays right into that, capturing our attention in ways the other genres don’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we all know I’m a Fantasy girl at heart. But I can’t deny that Fantasy allows more of a passive approach to enjoyment, while Mystery makes your brain work for it. If you want to be a couch-potato, soaking your entertainment in from the sidelines, Mystery’s definitely not the genre you should go to.

Next week will be the grand finale to this post series: the epic conclusion to our journey — the behemoth that is Science Fiction. Better polish up those reading glasses, it’s going to be a long one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉