20 May 2013

Why I Write Cozies

by Fran Rizer



The fifth Callie Parrish mystery was released by Bella Rosa Books this month. This is the first one after a two-year lapse during which I occasionally vowed to just quit writing entirely.  I'm not too modest to share the full cover with you here although one change was made to this mock-up. The Thirteenth Child by David Dean was italicized before the book went to press.

Callie Number Five

If the bleeding rose on the cover bears a resemblance to the idea of SleuthSayers' blog background, it's fully intentional.  I've loved that since Leigh created it, and I wrote a bleeding rose into this novel so that the cover could be based on that idea.  Two of my favorite things about my current publisher, Bella Rosa Books, are that they allow me to suggest my ideas for covers before paying people to produce them, and they use my titles.

Callie Number One
Okay, enough about my latest venture into the cozy world.  Let's talk cozies in general.  By definition, cozies are considered "gentle" mysteries even though most of them have a couple of murders.  There's no graphic violence, little or no profanity, and when sex occurs, the author closes the door and leaves the places touched and loud panting to the readers' imaginations.  Also, the protagonist is generally a female whose occupation might be caterer, bed and breakfast owner, quilter, cat fancier/owner, nun, gardener, librarian, book store owner, herbalist, florist, dog trainer, homemaker, teacher, needlepoint store owner or whatever the writer can imagine.  In my case, Callie Parrish is a mortuary cosmetician, but, like me personally, she was formerly a teacher.  I didn't put her currently in the classroom because first, an editor of The Saturday Evening Post told me years ago that editors generally tossed stories about teachers into the slush can and second, Tamar Myers told me to find an unusual occupation for my protagonist. Since Callie's birth, I've discovered a few other books with funeral home workers, and one mortuary cosmetician, but it's not common.

I tried really hard to fulfill those characteristics in my first Callie novel, A Tisket, a Tasket, A FANCY STOLEN CASKET.  I thought I'd written a cozy, but Berkley Prime Crime marketed the Callie books as "Mainstream Mystery."  I don't know why, and I never bothered to ask.  It may have been because of Callie's occupation. Although Callie treats her clients with respect and gentleness, maybe Berkley didn't see working in a funeral home as a gentle profession.  
                                                                       
Please allow me a few minutes to praise Berkley Prime Crime.  They published the first three of the Callie books, and they treated me quite well.  I had substantial advances and two great editors while I was there. My original editor even sent me flowers when I had my first heart attack.   I didn't suggest covers, but they did allow me to comment on them before the books went to press.  Berkley is a division of Penguin and they have specific ideas about what they publish.  Agents know this and it's unlikely yours will send them something that doesn't fit that category, but if so, they will decline it.  That doesn't mean you can't write; it just means that it's not a good fit for Berkley.  They offered me the opportunity to write a series about a lady who coupons, but I have no interest in couponing, so that wasn't a good fit on my side.  I'm working on a different series now, and the first publishers I want my agent to query will be Berkley and Bella Rosa.  (Actually, I have about sixty pages into a cozy-type series as well as about a hundred into a paranormal series, and a new thriller in the works.  For some reason, I keep putting those on hold and going back to Callie--maybe St. Mary is my comfort zone.)

Callie Number Four
Callie Number Two
Callie Number Three

Why do I write cozies?  First, I didn't even read cozies until after I retired.  My taste ran more to Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and early Patricia Cornwell, as well as my old favorites Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Mike Hammer, and the love of my youth Shell Scott.  (I had this gigantic crush on Shell Scott when I was ten-years-old, and he may be the reason I've always been attracted to blond and white-haired men).  A friend gave me one of Tamar Myers's Magdalena books, and I really enjoyed it, thought about it, and decided to try writing a cozy.  Until Callie, my works were published under a male pseudonym.  With Callie, I could write stories under my own name without offending not-yet-grown ex-students (Although I taught high school and junior college, when I retired, I was teaching fifth-grade.) nor embarrassing my then eight-year-old grandson.
                             
That's all well and good, but the truth is that now I like cozies.  I like the fact that they are easy to read and comfortable.  They are fun to write and fun to read.  I like the fact that most of them are series, and the main characters are like old friends.  Speaking of characters, cozies don't actually fit clearly into the plot-driven or character-driven categories.  A good cozy has both.  No, most cozies wouldn't make good action movies with lots of car chases and young, voluptuous actresses, but they do make good reads, especially at the beach or in the mountains or just on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Why else do I write cozies?  I love my readers.  They stand in line at book-signings and talk about Callie and Jane as though they are old friends. Some of them send birthday greetings to Callie since she celebrated her birthday in one of the books. They were upset when Jane used to shoplift and happy when she stopped.  Some of them want Callie to get married, and all of them are ready for her to get laid. (That may happen in the this new book, though, if it does, I'll close the door.)

The perfect place to read a cozy
I've received emails from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and many other places I've never been, including one from a lady who bought a Callie at a used book store in Russia.  A woman whose husband died on Christmas Eve wrote me that she received a Callie book as a gift that year and didn't think she could read a book with so much about funeral homes, but she wound up reading it, and it actually made her feel better.  A fan letter from a lady in Japan before the tsunami resulted in my genuine worry for her safety at that time and a wonderful reply when I emailed my concerns to her after that horrible event.

Sitting with my then nine-year-old grandson at a sushi bar four years ago, he asked, "Grandmama, do any of these people know you write books?"
"I wouldn't think so," I replied.
"Is this your grandmother?" asked the lady sitting beside him, followed by, "What did she write?"
He named the first book and she had read it!  What a thrill for my grandson, and what an awesome moment for me.

Why do I write cozies?  Not to teach something.  Not to convince anyone or enlighten anybody about anything.  I write cozies to entertain those who enjoy Callie. The mortuary setting probably is a turn-off to some readers, and I respect that, but there are enough folks who like Callie to make it worth my while and my publisher's.

I'm back on a roll and have just finished the rough draft of a Christmas Callie that will be released in October, 2013.  I've laughed so hard at the people who make fun of cozies that include knitting patterns and recipes as though they personally offend them that I'm adding a Southern and Gullah recipe section to the Christmas book.  By gosh, I set out to write a cozy, and sooner or later, I'll get it right!

8 comments:

David Dean said...

It doesn't surprise me that Callie and your books about her have been so warmly responded to by readers. My blurb on the cover of her new outing is exactly my feelings about it and accurate in all details. By the way, thanks for that--however, it will probably help my sales more than yours, I fear.

Congratulations, and best of luck. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Robert Lopresti said...

Congrats on another book. And on being a hero to your grandson!

Leigh Lundin said...

As you know, I enjoyed the previous Callie books.

The only story I know that features a comsmetician is the John Candy film, Only the Lonely, where his shy love interest, Alley Sheedy, made up corpses in a mortuary.

Thanks for the wonderful comment about SleuthSayers' style. I was starting to think we need an update. I saw a wonderful comment on facebook that it was "just gruesome enough." The wonderful Angela Zeman asked her web designer to make her site classy like ours.

Anonymous said...

Lovely! I read your first 3, didn't know the 4th. Your books sell in Canada, you know!

Jan Grape said...

Thank you Fran for having a great article to sub in for me today. I couldn't connect to my internet. Talked to my internet folks today & got the desktop online. Some cable got disconnected. At any rate, thanks again. I definitely will cover you next Monday slot.

Toe Hallock said...

Dear Fran: I'm glad that you're not too modest. I guarantee, if I ever get anything published, you'll hear from me. Loud and clear! Love the cover, because all of you on this blog are the best! Oh yeah, Shell Scott. Ever read the one where the guests at a BBQ were treated to the victim's victuals? A little like the famous 'Specialty of the House' story. You grew up reading "Cozies" like that? No wonder you were such a great teacher. If I knew you back when I started my teaching career, you would have been my role model. Yours truly, Toe.

Eve Fisher said...

I love cozies, and I think Callie is WONDERFUL. The only other funeral cosmetician I know of is Aimee in "The Loved One" - and is no Callie, that's for sure. (I love "The Loved One", both movie and book, which are entirely different by the way in many important ways - but then I am deeply disturbed.) Congratulations on another book!

John Floyd said...

I'm checking in late, on this. I too think Callie is wonderful--congrats on the new book!