Author Guest Post by Charlotte Stuart
How Cozy Is It? A cup of tea or a mug of java?
Some readers of mysteries don’t consider cozies as “serious” mystery novels. Even though the emphasis in cozies has always been on solving puzzles, there are certain characteristics that cause some readers to categorize cozies as lightweight or appealing only to those who drink tea from dainty bone china cups. The focus on relationships, intuitive protagonists, and happy endings for example. Also, the lack of profanity and graphic violence or sex. Fans, on the other hand, find these characteristics pleasing and ask, “What’s wrong with drinking tea from a lovely china cup?”
When I wrote my first mystery I had no idea it would be labeled a cozy. I simply wrote what I wanted to write. I happen to prefer what I call lighthearted mysteries in which you can count on a satisfying ending. I didn’t want to write about torture or serial killers or someone’s explicit sex life. At the same time, I couldn’t help pushing at some of the other expectations for a cozy. Like never using swear words, however mild. Even some of my older, conservative friends utter the occasional oath. And if confronted by someone threatening violence against them, I can’t imagine them saying to themselves, “Oh dear, I think he intends to harm me.” Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. So when my agent returned a manuscript with all of the swear words changed to alternative phrases of displeasure and the admonition to “bring that missing cat back alive,” I was surprised. (The cat had possibly been taken by a coyote, a real problem on the island where I live, but its exact fate had been left hanging in the original manuscript.) As cozy readers you know – and now I know – that you don’t put children or animals in danger.
The guidelines for writing cozies have remained consistent over the years, but I see some cracks emerging in the hard and fast rules. While researching the growing cozy market, I noted that storylines and contexts seem to be evolving. More and more mystery writers clinging to the overall cozy label are delving into serious subjects as the core focus of their stories. And their settings don’t necessarily mimic the quaint village atmosphere but may be located in some corner of a city where aggressive and disreputable characters dwell and social problems sometimes have sharp edges. Even some protagonists are shedding wholesome perfection for flawed personalities.
Recently I developed a matrix for categorizing humorous mysteries. I found that most cozies fell into what I labeled as comic – benign, non-offensive humor that is central to the plot. Some, however, found their way into my kooky category – stories grounded in outrageous situations accompanied by a host of quirky characters. Still others seemed to me to be amusing – less overtly humorous than the kooky or comic, but with humorous themes that recur in an otherwise serious narrative. In both the kooky and the amusing mysteries, I found characters, language and situations that pushed the boundaries of traditional cozies. Are these changes occurring because readers want them or because authors are searching for new ways to make their books stand out? My guess is that it’s a little of both. But I would love to hear from you about your opinion on this.
So, do I deliberately aim for the cozy market? No. But I feel honored to have that label bestowed on my books. I want readers to be able to pick up one of my mysteries and not have to worry about feeling uncomfortable with a topic or wishing they could skip over a section without losing track of the storyline. I want them to know that my main characters will struggle through whatever challenges they run into with a certain amount of decorum. And, there will be a satisfying if not entirely happy ending. Even though I may serve up my books with a mug of java, I sometimes drink tea from a flowered, bone china cup that belonged to my grandmother.
About Why Me?:
Chimeras, Conundrums, and Dead Goldfish
Why Me?: Chimeras, Conundrums, and Dead Goldfish
1st in Series
Taylor and Seale Publishing LLC (November 18, 2019)
Paperback: 255 pages
Digital Print Length: 194 pages
In ancient Greece, the chimera was a bad omen. In WHY ME?, it’s a motive for murder. Bryn Baczek, a Seattle consultant, is vacationing in Scotland, hiking alone in a downpour, surrounded by midges, when she sees a body at the bottom of a ravine. Before she can return to the scene with the mountain rescue team, the body disappears. She learns that he was a scientist and that his laptop containing his cutting-edge research has disappeared. Rumors that Bryn has the laptop make her a target.
About Charlotte Stuart
In a world filled with uncertainty and too little chocolate, Charlotte Stuart, PhD, has taught college courses in communication, gone commercial fishing in Alaska, and was the VP of HR and Training for a large credit union. Her current passion is for writing lighthearted mysteries with a pinch of adventure and a dollop of humor. She is the VP for the Puget Sound Sisters in Crime. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching herons, eagles, seals and other sea life from her Vashon Island home office.
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