Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing The Cozy Mystery



Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored fourteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Road to Kingdom series, “Inescapable,” came out in July of 2012. The second book, “Unbreakable” releases in February of 2013.

All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”

Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: www.nancymehl.com or her blog www.suspensesisters.blogspot.com. She is also active on Facebook.


 
 
Ask almost any reader to explain what defines a mystery novel and most will respond with definite characteristics they feel should be present in this popular genre. However, ask the same reader to explain the elements of a “cozy” mystery and you may see a look of confusion creep across their face. So just what makes a mystery “cozy?”

The most fundamental elements in cozy mystery are fairly easy to define. First of all, there will be a basically bloodless crime that may happen “offstage.” In other words, by the time our amateur detective arrives on the scene, the dirty deed has already been done. Now, our sleuth, who is usually female, must solve the mystery because of circumstances she cannot avoid. In other words, the crime involves her directly in some way. This is true with any mystery, but in a cozy, many times the reasons behind her involvement are much more personal. Other signs that you’ve cracked open a cozy involve a small, confined setting; the lack of profanity and sexual content; a protagonist with an interesting hobby or job; and memorable, quirky characters. Also, many cozies are drawn with a touch of humor. Some go further, actually adding some giggles to the usual nasty business of murder and mayhem. Now let’s look a little more closely at each of these elements.
 
One very important trait of a cozy mystery revolves around “location, location, location!” Cozies take place in confined settings, thereby drawing upon a small cast of characters and suspects. In other words, the killer can’t be someone passing though town who simply decides to “off” a few of the town’s gentle citizens!  The “investigation” needs to involve only the characters presented within this setting. You can use a small town, a ship, even an old hotel or isolated castle. This restricted location keeps the mystery contained – and the world out. Since cozies are not police procedurals, many times the setting will actually cut down on official involvement. For example – a woman goes to visit an old friend who has turned an old Victorian-styled church into a bed and breakfast. Someone staying at the inn is murdered while a storm rages outside. The bridge to town is washed out, leaving our protagonist, the surrounding characters, and the murderer caught like rats in a trap. Of course, since our characters can’t get out, the police can’t get in. Now the fun begins! One caveat: if you draw law enforcement into your story, you need to be as accurate as you can. Again, police in rural towns may not be as “by the book” as say, detectives in New York City, but don’t fudge the details past the limits of believability. For my “Ivy Towers Series,” I consulted an actual deputy sheriff who worked in rural areas of Kansas. This helped me to “keep it real” for my readers.
 
Addressing the overwhelming glut of mysteries on the market with language and sexual scenes that would have caused my grandmother to “swoon,” brings a mixed bag of opinions from mystery authors and readers alike. However, I believe cozies should be “gentle” mysteries. In keeping with this idea, no “harsh” profanity or lurid “boudoir” passages should be present. Usually, cozy mysteries are selected by readers who specifically want to avoid graphic words and images. Of course, in an inspirational cozy, this point is non-negotiable. No profanity allowed at all! In fact, various inspirational publishers have different standards. One publisher bans the use of “Holy cow!” while another has no problem with it. In my book, “There Goes Santa Claus,” upon finding a dead Santa Claus that has fallen off his roof, Amos Tucker greets the sight with “J-Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, Ivy. I think we just killed Santa Claus!” Many of today’s contemporary mystery novels might have offered language a little more colorful!

Now, on to s-e-x. Cozies should contain little or no sexual content. In inspirational cozy, there can be romance, but sex only occurs between married couples – and it definitely happens offstage! Remember the old black and white movies where the couple kissed, the camera swung away from them, and in the night sky behind them fireworks exploded? You got the idea without the embarrassing details!

A current trend in cozies gives our amateur detective an interesting hobby or job that adds an element of interest. Of course, this isn’t always true. Although Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was an interesting character, her creativity expressed itself most clearly in her mental acumen. However, today’s heroines can be hairdressers, interior designers, cooks, quilters or may be characterized by some other specific professional or personal involvement. And “county coroner” doesn’t work here. It’s difficult to make that funny. In my “Curl Up and Dye” mystery series, my protagonist, Hilde Higgins, is a hairdresser – for funeral homes. That’s about as dark as you can get. One side note: I came up with this idea because I was joking with my agent one day about all the “hooks” being used by mystery authors. We agreed that the hairdressing sleuth had been done. My mention of someone who worked in a funeral home brought the revelation of another author who was already writing a similar series. As a joke, I mentioned a hairdresser who works for funeral homes. The concept got burned into my imagination and the “Curl Up and Dye” mysteries were born.

Another “cozy” element involves likeable, “quirky” characters drawn with humor, who appear to have something “mysterious” in their backgrounds. These characters can all be possible suspects. Be careful though, not to paint a picture of someone who seems completely innocent and then surprise your reader at the last minute by making him the murderer. Mystery fans, including cozy mystery fans, ask you to play fair. Hints must be dropped and clues must be scattered! And whatever you do, pick up all your clues by the end of your story and explain. Mystery buffs don’t like to be left hanging. Never forget a cozy mystery is still a mystery and as an author, you must play by the rules.

In conclusion, cozy mysteries are stories presented as gentle gifts to be unwrapped while the reader snuggles under their favorite quilt and sips hot tea or cappuccino. Inspirational cozies should not only warm the heart but should also touch the spirit.  They will never shock the reader or cause them to upend their cappuccino. (A little laughter might cause a small spill – but in a cozy, this reaction is perfectly acceptable!)

 
Would you like to win a Kindle or Nook copy of one of Nancy's cozy mysteries? All you have to do is leave a comment along with your contact information. We'll pick a winner on January 14th!


39 comments:

  1. I love love love Nancy's books!! would love to win this!!!! thanks! Rhonda
    rhonda_nash_hall@comcast.net

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  2. Loved reading this article.Your books are so entertaining as well as suspenseful, romantic, and most of all bring honor to God..donitacorman@ yahoo.com

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  3. Great post, Nancy, and a much more detailed definition/explanation of a cozy mystery than I gave earlier this week.

    Beth

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  4. Yes! I'd love to win. I have become very interested in this genre.
    Ann McCauley
    Mcwrites2u@sbcglobal.net

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  5. I love this explanation and I love Nancy's cozies. Andrea Burgess: rajuburgess@sbcglobal.net.

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  6. Yes, I would like to enter...I enjoy reading mysteries...Thanks,Pat...johnson_dalel@yahoo.com

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  7. Thanks for the explanation about a cozy mystery. annettastolpmann@bellsouth.net

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  8. I would love to win!! Thanks for the offer!!
    Pam Hartley
    pamiam30428@yahoo.com

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  9. I really liked the explanation about Cozy Mysteries and definitely would love to win a book by Nancy Mehl. Thank you for having a contest.

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  10. Nancy - love your books and hope to see you write more in the cozy genre soom

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    1. Thanks, Terri. That just might happen. I'll keep everyone posted!

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  11. I liked this! I always say that I love cozies, but then, someone wants to know what makes it a cozy and I fumble for an explanation. I will refer them to this from now on. :)

    Pen
    pmettert@yahoo.com

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  12. I love reading cozy mysteries! It's so nice to be able to indulge my liking for mysteries without all the gory, explicit stuff. I really enjoyed your Ivy Tower series. I'd love to win a copy of your new book.

    pmk56[at]sbcglobal[dot]net

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  13. Cozy mysteries are my favorite :) I just read Missing Mable while on vacation... would love to get another :) drgnfly1010(@)yahoo(.)com

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  14. Would love to win.I love your books.Thanks...jackie_tessnair@yahoo.com

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  15. Never new what a cozy mystery was...now I do. :)
    Thank You.
    superstarsarah94@gmail.com

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  16. Cozy mysteries are my fav. I would love to win.
    michyellowrose@gmail.com

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  17. Hmm... for a Historical Fiction reader, would like to win to try another genre bravely, lol. Kathleen
    lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net

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  18. I love that I am going to be able to restock my bookshelves with Christian fiction books of all types. I am loving how I am finding new authors that are able to speak to me through their books. Thank you so much.

    Debora @ deb37beny@comcast.net

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  19. Would love to win! Love a good mystery!

    truckredford at gmail dot com

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  20. Im so hook up on your books..I never really read any fiction christian book before.. Because of your books changed my life around and understand it more how a Godly person i suppose to be..Thank you for writing all these wonderful books.. Can't wait for the new book that coming out in beginning of february.. Love you books and I can't wait to read your other books...

    Carmanlita
    carmbroderick@hotmail.com

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    1. Thank you so much, Carmanlita. Your comments really touched my heart. God bless you.

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    2. Thank you Nancy.. God has gave you a wonderful gift to write.. God bless you and your family..

      Your big fan
      Carmanlita

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  21. I picked up "Missing Mabel" at the ACFW Conference this past September, but would love to read any/all of the others too. There...that's my humble commment. :)

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  22. Love her books. I would love to read her cozy mysteries. Thank you! Melissa L. racky@carolina.rr.com

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  23. Thanks for the information. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know what a 'cozy' mystery was. I like the idea, especially since that's what I write.
    mistyred1968@yahoo.com

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  24. What a wonderful post. I adore your bookcovers and titles--what fun!!

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    1. Thanks, Roxanne. My son, a very talented graphic designer, actually designed my covers.

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  25. Before I forgot, I zipped over to Amazon and bought the Cozy in Kansas book, and the Missing Mabel in the Kindle version. I know they'll be such fun reading on these chilly winter evenings. My dh likes to watch the various crime TV shows at night, but I would much rather curl up by the fire with a good book!

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  26. Thank you! I've wondered about just what a cozy mystery was for a long time. I don't think I've ever read one. My forte is suspense, and not necessarily too cozy :-)
    Thanks again for an interesting and informative post.

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  27. Great post, Nancy. Loved how thorough it was. It spelled out what was more instinctive for me. Thanks.

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  28. You're right about the content of a cozy. They're always fun to read. But I wish there were a little more leeway for travel and action. Kind of a cozy thriller.

    There's got to be a market for the cozy thriller, but I haven't found one. Yet.

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  30. Thanks to everyone who entered. Carmanlita is the winner!

    I'll give everyone another chance sometime soon.

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  31. Would love to win a book! Thanks for the chance
    joeym11@frontier.com

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  32. Just found your blog and as I'm reading everything I can on cozy mysteries it has been a delight! Thank you for the opportunity to win anything, but just knowing your blog is out there I'm already a winner !!!

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