Showing posts with label cosies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cosies. Show all posts

13 August 2015

No Sex, Please, We're Skittish


by Eve Fisher

"If you mention sex at an AA meeting, even the non-smokers light up."
--Father Tom, "Learning to Live With Crazy People"
Agatha Christie.png
Agatha Christie

And so do a lot of mystery writers and readers.  There are those who write and/or love cozies, and want everything as asexual as they think Agatha Christie was.  Except, of course, that if you actually read your Agatha Christie, there's a lot of hot stuff going on:  In AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL, Ladislaw Malinowski is sleeping with both Elvira Blake and her mother Bess Sedgwick, and that fact alone is one of the major drivers of the plot.  In SAD CYPRESS, Roddy Welman's sudden, overwhelming attraction to Mary Gerrard makes everything homicidal possible.  And, in at least three novels, a man's lust for one woman, combined with his lust for money, makes it possible for him to marry and murder a rich wife.

Then there's the noir crowd:  


“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”
― Raymond Chandler, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY
“I loved her like a rabbit loves a rattlesnake.”
― James M. Cain, DOUBLE INDEMNITY
Brigid O'Shaughnessy: “I haven't lived a good life. I've been bad, worse than you could know.”
Sam Spade: “You know, that's good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere.”
― Dashiell Hammett, THE MALTESE FALCON

In noir, EVERYTHING is about sex.  That and greed.  But mostly sex, and often violent sex. (Prime examples are probably the "rip me" scene of James M. Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE - and Mickey Spillane's VENGEANCE IS MINE, in which - and I think it's the first chapter - he beats a woman before having his way with her and she loves it all.)  The noir guys all moon over the virgins (Walter Huff over his victim's daughter; Mike Hammer over Velda), but the women who obsess them are anything but. And so of course they hurt them, twist them, torture them, betray them, all of the above.  Truth is, after a long day in noir-land, you want to yell at them, "Try somewhere else besides a bar to meet women!   Buy the girl some flowers!  Try to stay sober for ten minutes!" but it's all a waste of breath.  (Except, apparently, to Nick Charles who got a clue and a rich wife.)

And spies...

The upper center of the poster reads "Meet James Bond, secret agent 007. His new incredible women ... His new incredible enemies ... His new incredible adventures ..." To the right is Bond holding a gun, to the left a montage of women, fights and an explosion. On the bottom of the poster are the credits.

Spy stories, of course, depend on global locales, tech wizardry, constant weapons, supervillains, and a high body count for both sex and death.   Women, women, women, of all ethnicities, although Russian spies are a perennial favorite.  (Is it the accent, or the idea of nudity and fur?)  I just read a novel in which the male American spy and the female Russian spy were mutually obsessed, madly, madly in love/lust/etc., to the point where I really thought that the cover should be of her holding him against her exceptionally large chest, hair flowing like a female Fabio...  Anyway, sex drives these plots as well, no matter what the spy or the supervillain think, because - besides providing objects of rescue, thus securing another reason for the ensuing sex - 90% of the time at least one of those women is going to save the male spy from certain death. The game is to figure out which one by, say, page five.  

Horror.  Sex = death.  The survivor's a virgin.  What more can I say?  



So, to all of those who say that mysteries are all about cerebral detection, and that there isn't much place for sex in them - WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?  

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”  

You could look it up...





20 December 2013

Getting Cozy


by R.T. Lawton


Winter is just starting, and baby, it's cold outside. Now is a good time to cozy up to a crackling fireplace with a hot toddy in hand and a well-written book. Which leads me to a confession. I don't normally read cosy mysteries, they just aren't my first choice of reading material. However, when I like the way an author talks, I tend to buy their book, and if I like that one, then I go back for more.

Enter Kathleen Taylor. We met at a writers conference where she made a very interesting presentation. I bought a book and went back for four more. We talked. She personalized the books. Turned out we knew people in common through her day job and mine. She had worked in the Redfield Mental Hospital and I knew one of her fellow workers from when he and I were in the same motorcycle gang.

I'm going to say she wrote cosies, but in this day of cross genres and blurring of the lines, I will defer to Wikipedia for a definition of cozy. Feel free to argue otherwise. Here's my paraphrasing.

Cosies

Cosy (also spelled cozy) mysteries are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. The detectives are nearly always amateurs and frequently women, who are free to eavesdrop, gather clues, and use their native intelligence and intuitive "feel" for the social dynamics of the community to solve the crime.

The murderers are typically neither psychopaths nor serial killers, and once unmasked, are usually taken into custody without violence. They are generally members of the community where the murder occurs, able to hide in plain sight, and their motives– greed, jealousy, revenge– are often rooted in events years, or even generations, old.

The supporting characters are often very broadly drawn and used in comic relief. The accumulation of such characters in long-running cosy mystery series frequently creates a stock company of eccentrics, among whom the detective stands out as the most (perhaps only) truly sane person.

On to the Series and Characters

The community is Delphi, South Dakota, one of those places well off the Interstate, yet the long distance bus lines still stop here to deliver and take on travelers. If you have ever paused in one of these small towns long enough to buy gas or grab a so-called home-cooked meal at the local cafe, then you will instantly recognize the community of Delphi.

Tony Bauer is our waitress in the town's only cafe. She is a 40-something year old widow, insecure, somewhat exceeding the surgeon general's weight guidelines and is having an affair with the local feed and seed owner whom she had a crush on in high school. Her not so easy life keeps getting complicated when friends and relatives continue to involve her in community activities.

In her first book, Funeral Food, (originally titled The Missionary Position, but the editors thought that title too racy), Tory's name and address has appeared as one of the Unchurched on a list of the Plains States Unsaved. When Winston, a young Mormon missionary, shows up at the cafe looking for potential converts, Del, a fellow waitress who is Tory's cousin-in-law, makes passes at him even though her current boyfriend is a local deputy sheriff with a hot temper. Several days later, Tory discovers Winston's corpse in the cafe's mop closet, which dumps her into a crockpot of lethal, long-simmering small town secrets. If Tory's not careful, she could end up in the missionary's position: flat-out, stone-cold dead.

Sex and Salmonella sends Tory to a neighboring town to check out a carnival to make sure it doesn't have any problems which will reflect back on her cousin Junior Deibert. Junior, the strait-laced wife of Delphi's Lutheran minister, made arrangements for the carnival to come to Delphi, but then began hearing rumors. Unfortunately, Junior has eaten an ill-prepared chicken and come down with food poisoning, so she talks Tory into going in her place. When the carnival does show up in Delphi as scheduled, it's Tory who discovers the body in the Evil Hall of Mirrors side show.

In the next three books, actually four because I recently found there's a sixth novel in the series, the deceased keep showing up at inopportune times, but always in an interesting way which ties back to the small town and its past.

Samples of the Writing

With all due respect, Robert Fulghum got it wrong--kindergarten is not where life's most important lessons are learned. Sharing and napping and neatness are all well and good, but the sexless elementary school environment does nothing to prepare you for the hormonal whammy that awaits. With the possible exception of how to handle an IRS audit, everything you really need to know about the world of grown-ups, you learned in high school.
   *          *          *          *          *          * Lying is something I try to avoid, but snooping is another matter entirely. Delphi citizens pride themselves on knowing as much about each other as we possibly can, and that knowledge is not always honorably obtained.
   *          *          *          *           *          * I have a fair amount of practice in the willing suspension of disbelief. I was a book-a-day reader from the time I figured out that it was the black marks on the printed page, and not the spaces in between, that mattered. I often believe six impossible things before breakfast. And when Nick was still alive, I worked on believing even more impossible things after supper, especially when he'd amble in six or seven hours late with a cockamamie story about a flat tire.

Finally

Kathleen's most recent novel, The Nut Hut, is not part of the Tory Bauer series. From the sample pages I read, it looks like the story's background came from her days working inside the mental hospital. Guess I'll be forking out some cash soon to read the rest of the book.

Merry Christmas to all, and stay warm and cozy.

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!

23 January 2013

Rosemary & Thyme



David Edgerley Gates

Those of you who know me, or have some sense of my taste in books and writers, could easily imagine I'm not that crazy about cozies.  I'm a big fan of JUSTIFIED, for example, with its crazed hillbillies strung out on Oxycodone, and ready access to high-cap mags.  I like the dark corners of Dutch Leonard and Ian Rankin and Dennis Lehane.  Psychotics and losers and bent cops, high octane and graphic exit wounds.  It might then come as a surprise that I'm absolutely queer for a Brit mystery series that's set in the world of, wait for it, gardening.  Oh, my stars and whiskers.  What's next?  Pass the Earl Grey.  The old boy's gone gone into the deep end over DOWNTON ABBEY.


Well, not quite.  The show's called ROSEMARY & THYME.  Too cute by far for a title, you might say.  And what of its conceit, two gals of a certain age, in the middle fifties, say, who club up together to run a landscaping shop.  Not high concept, particularly, not Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twins.  Who greenlighted this project?  Dead out of the starting gate.  (Oh, did I mention that Season Three picked up a bigger audience share than 24, in the same time-slot?)

Here's the premise.  Rosemary, the hottie, beats men away with a stick, but she's just lost her job.  Laura Thyme, a former cop, has been left by her husband of thirty years for a younger woman.  They pool their resources and start a business.  In amongst the pruning and spading and earth between their fingers, murdered bodies turn up in the shrubbery.  It follows as the night the day, that our two overly-curious heroines get sucked in, not that they're too averse, or how else would you have a show?

We should probably credit Masterpiece Theater and PBS for bringing Brit TV to the States., the most obvious example being UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, but many others.  Then the raw market for product brought more, Benny Hill, and ARE YOU BEING SERVED, not all on PBS.  A&E syndicated a few, buying them direct.  Mysteries and cop shows were big, LOVEJOYINSPECTOR MORSE, adaptions of Dick Francis.  Some of them better than others, some didn't make it across the pond.  THE BILL, for instance, has never been broadcast here, for whatever reason---impenetrable London slang?  It was John Thaw's breakthrough part, you'd think it would have an audience, after MORSE. Who knows?  LOVEJOY was big in the States, and even now, the complete series on DVD will set you back a hundred and eighty bucks on Amazon.  I love Ian McShane as much as the next guy (and DEADWOOD made him a household name), but a hundred and eighty bucks?

Why, then, is ROSEMARY & THYME so engaging?  Or the better question, why do I find it so charming?  It doesn't have Boyd Crowder, or Raylan smacking Dickie Bennett around.  It doesn't have Ian McShane saying "fuck" every third or fourth frame.  It doesn't even have Morse, ridiculing the long-suffering Lewis.  And the mysteries themselves, it must be said, are somewhat lame, although occasionally one will catch you by surprise. The two-part opening episode of Season Two, "The Memory of Water," completely blindsided me, even though it owed overmuch to Ross Macdonald, but we all steal shamelessly from the masters.  The answer is that the engine behind ROSEMARY & THYME isn't the plotting, but the dynamic between the two lead characters, who are both familiar, and comforting, but who also have the capacity to startle you.  And not always in comfortable ways.

I should come clean about my passion for Felicity Kendal (voted 'best bum' in a Brit poll, when she starred in the series GOOD NEIGHBORS, another show that's never translated to America), who plays Rosemary. She was saddled with the adjective "cute," early on, with her performance in SHAKESPEARE WALLAH, and never quite shook it, for the simple reason that she is.  The nice thing about this show is that she gets to leaven the cuteness with a quick dose of the acerbic.  Pam Ferris, who plays Laura, is nothing if not acerbic, at least in character.  Her range of parts is mildly astonishing, police procedurals, gothics, Dickens, and most recently CALL THE MIDWIFE.  It must be her face, a sort of plastic Rosetta stone, malleable but encoded.

The relationship between the two characters is relaxed from the get-go, a couple of girls who know better, out in the wide world, but there's a sense in which their vulnerability, the trust issues, make them uneasy, even with each other.  They rely on their instincts, and their instincts are sometimes at odds.  The best moments often come when they doubt one another, and one isn't quite convinced.  Usually this results in the unconvinced party being at jeopardy from the villain.  I never said it wasn't generic.

Every once in a while, though, something happens that's off the radar.  An episode where Laura's son comes to see her.  She thinks he's been recruited by his dad to beg her to come back, because her ex is a chickenshit.  So he is, but the kid's only there to ask to sign over the title to the old house.  The ex has an offer on it, and wants to sell.  Quick disappointment shadows her face, and she just as quickly sucks it up.  And then she signs.  So, how is it with you? she asks her son, smiling.  You read her pain.  

Why do I like this show?  Because for all its contrivances and sometimes completely silly stuff---a guy gets shot with an arrow during a Medieval archery contest?---it often has the ring of homely human truth.  The crime isn't exotic, or out of the ordinary.  It's not the arrow, but the heart.

22 October 2011

Do writers write to market trends? Should they?


by Elizabeth Zelvin

Writers know that the most important strategy for success is to write the best book they can every time. Countless successful authors, publishing professionals, and writing teachers tell aspiring writers, “Don’t try to chase a trend. The trend will be gone before you get your manuscript to market. And if it’s not what you passionately want to write about anyway, that will show.” At the same time, agents say, “I can’t sell this if the editor can’t tell the marketing department what shelf to put it on.” Some include in their submission guidelines, “Commercial fiction only,” or even, “I’m looking for the next big blockbuster.”

If anyone could predict what will next catch the public’s fancy, the publishing industry might not be in as much trouble as it is these days. On the other hand, none of us want to spend a year pouring our hearts and souls into an unsalable manuscript. So how do we strike a balance? Some writers do it by moving out of their comfort zone to explore subgenres that have a better chance in the marketplace.

Potential inspiration for at least three cozy series
I have several cosy writer friends who spent years writing and revising manuscripts that ranged from romance to thrillers to noir, querying agents, and in general doing everything they could to hone their craft and join the ranks of the published, before signing contracts for paperback series about suburban or small-town female amateur sleuths who trip over clues as they go about their daily business in a variety of occupations or pursuing popular hobbies.

These are good writers. They work hard to bring their characters to life, keep their dialogue lively, and provide fair-play plots with logical solutions. Some of them have made the New York Times bestseller lists, been nominated for and occasionally won awards, and signed contracts for extended and in some cases multiple series. Cosies are popular, and sales recently got a big boost when one of the big box stores (can’t remember whether it was Walmart or Costco) decided to start carrying them. That means big print runs, bigger readership, and bigger royalties. And if the price is for the author to include recipes and knitting patterns with each chapter, so be it.

I am not talking about potboilers here. “Potboiler” is a derogatory term for something that doesn’t exist: a novel tossed off effortlessly in a few weeks for readers the author despises, doing it only because its success is guaranteed, although the author could surely produce the Great American Novel if offered a big enough advance. The truth is, almost all of us do write the best book we can every time. It’s a necessary condition for publication, if not, alas, a sufficient condition in these difficult times for writers.

My own dilemma is that I don’t seem to be able to write fiction about anything but what I actually want to say. A few years ago, I heard a senior editor at a fairly big press say, during a talk to writers, that they published only serial killer thrillers and stories that you could put a puppy or a kitten on the cover of, even if there was no puppy or kitten in the book—nothing in between. Since I write precisely in between those two extremes, I crossed that publisher off my list on the spot. It’s not a matter of ethics or aesthetics. The particular gifts and skills of writers differ, and I can’t do either bloodbath or cosy.