Showing posts with label cozies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cozies. Show all posts

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!