Guest: Janet Cantrell

Edith, on the second day of fall

We’re delighted to welcome our friend Kaye George/Janet Cantrell to the blog today. IMG_7946 loresKaye (which is already a pen name, apparently) is a past president of the Guppies, is the bestselling and Agatha-nominated author of four series, plus short stories, and is a super friendly, super generous person – and obviously super productive, too! Take it away, Janet, and welcome to the slash name club.

Me? A Cozy Author?

I never thought I’d be a cozy writer. My first attempts at writing, for years and years, were aimed at Serious Literature. Deep themes, delving into the depths of the dark soul of man. With alliteration.

One day I decided I wanted to stop collecting rejection slips and get published. My favorite reading was mystery, so I turned to that. Not cozies, though, more like traditional Agatha Christie and Nero Wolfe stuff. After a mere ten years and hundreds of rejections, I had success getting some of those published. I’m very proud of each and every one, too.

But there were those adorable, cute cozy covers in the bookstores. And prominent placing. So after another mere two years of pretty much continuous effort and lots more rejection, I secured a contract for the Fat Cat cozy series! To be honest, at this moment, this is the top of my Mount Everest. I submitted my traditional, humorous mystery, CHOKE, to the woman who is now my agent (after submitting many proposals previously). Kim Lionetti read it and liked my voice. During the phone call that cemented our relationship, she asked if I could write a cozy, because CHOKE is not a cozy, despite what some reviews have said. I assured her I could.

But could I? I was very careful to keep on the cozy track writing FAT CAT AT LARGE. These are the differences I noticed between writing a cozy and writing other mystery types.

The murder. Blood can be mentioned, but not vividly described and not dwelt upon. The body has to be there, of course, but more gruesome murder methods are to be avoided. In SMOKE, the victim was found hanging in the smokehouse on a meathook, naked. That would never do for a cozy. The body in the first in this series is merely lying on the floor with a knife sticking out of his chest.

The sex. My editor has been reining me in. She wants it to go very slowly. In fact, it’s not sex, it’s a romance. A slowly budding romance with lots of hurdles thrown in the way. Of course, I would throw those in anyway, but two characters might reach a passionate kiss a lot earlier.

The sleuth. Chase Oliver, the sleuth in FAT CAT is somewhat older than my other sleuths. Cressa Carraway, of EINE KLEINE MURDER, is in grad school. Imogene Duckworthy is in her very early twenties. But Chase is in her early thirties. She’s not going to be as flighty as the other two and will have the acumen to co-own a business, although she feels overshadowed by her much older partner, Anna Larson, at times. Chase has had better sense in the past than either Cressa or Immy, too. She hasn’t gotten pregnant by a nameless trucker and hasn’t gotten into a relationship with an abusive married man. True, she had a bad romance, but not as bad as my other characters.

The Point of View. I think cozies mostly stick to first person throughout. I feel pretty free to add other points of view in my traditional and my Neanderthal stories.

9780425267424_FatCat_CVThe jeopardy. Here, the genres converge more closely. I do believe in putting my character up a tree and throwing stones. After all, the sleuth has to deal with a murderer—has to uncover the culprit, and that’s dangerous business.

My dream was fully realized when I saw the cover of my cozy book. I couldn’t ask for anything better. I love all my other covers, but this one is totally a “cozy” cover, with the most adorable cat in the world.

Readers: Any other thoughts on what makes a cozy a cozy? Or do you disagree with any of mine?

Janet Cantrell is a pen name for Kaye George, Agatha nominated novelist and short story writer. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, Guppies, and Austin Mystery Writers. Her cozy Fat Cat mystery series debuted in September with the national bestseller, FAT CAT AT LARGE, featuring Quincy, a pudgy, adorable cat who is an accomplished escape artist. Especially when he’s on a diet and hungry. Leave it to Quincy to lead his human, Chase, co-owner of a Minneapolis dessert bar shop, into trouble. Janet lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband. Her recently departed feline, Agamemnon, is a source for some of Quincy’s antics. Visit http://janetcantrell.com/ for more details. She blogs at: http://janetcantrell.blogspot.com/

32 thoughts on “Guest: Janet Cantrell

  1. Hi Kaye,

    I was surprised the first time I read a list of rules about what constituted a cozy. I want to disagree with I the standards that seem to be accepted by everyone except me—making it hard to stand by!

    I’ve been working on a book that might be called a cozy were it not for the serial killer thing that makes the story go round. See? I’m no one to ask!

    Best wishes—love your books!

  2. I know some readers have an even more narrow definition of cozy, especially regarding sex, violence, and bad language, but IMHO cozy branches out to include most of what is in a “traditional” mystery. Third person, multiple pov is ok. So is a certain amount of ick-factor in how the victim died. I think the key is avoiding gratuitous violence, sex, etc. . . . And of course making sure no children or animals are harmed. Love your cover!

    Kathy/Kaitlyn

  3. By George, I think she’s got it! (Sorry, bad pun.) Seriously, you’ve gotten good advice. I hold that the definition of “cozy” is kind of a sliding scale, and you will keep asking yourself, how much blood is too much? How fast should a couple move forward? What’s the right curse to use when your character stumbles over a body?

    But I have been known to go to great lengths to avoid killing anybody at all in a book, at least in the present.

  4. So great to have you join us. The definition of cozy is certainly ongoing, and also is tied in with what your publisher wants (which of course is tied to what they think will sell). When I asked my editor if I could have hungry pigs feast on a body – yes, that has its own ick factor – he said, “As long as we don’t see it happen.” Good luck with the new series!

  5. You’ve given a better distinction of a cozy than I’ve heard before, and now I can see why some people think the Choke/Broke/Smoke series is not a cozy. But I “cozied up to it” anyway and really enjoyed it. That makes me look forward to the Fat Cat series.

    BTW, the fact that your other series is becoming available via Audible is wonderful and I hope it extends to the Fat Cat series. Pat enjoyed Choke and is looking forward to the others. She’s already passed the word along to her Audible-enabled friends.

  6. On the way to a doctor’s appointment, but I’ll weigh in here quickly so I’ll get comments when I get back. Thanks for having me! (us)

  7. I write books marketed as cozies and my editor has never told me any of these things. I’ve had bodies hanging from staircases and burned up in a clambake fire (they put that one on the cover.) By the second book, my protagonist is clearly sleeping with her boyfriend. I tend to take a pretty jaundiced view of the “rules.”

    • I’ve got two couples “living in sin” (one pair even bought a house together, without benefit of marriage) and nobody has blinked an eye. Of course, the descriptions of their bedroom activities are pretty tame (no body parts mentioned).

      • Ha, ha Sheila. Same here.

        Actually, I realize that while I’ve never had a review on Amazon or Goodreads that objected to language, sex or body parts (dead or otherwise), I have had reviews that objected to “serious subjects”–ie the social issues that drive some of the murders or the history of my setting. Also, occasional objections to my non-linear narrative. The thrust seems to be, “I work hard all day. I read cozies to relax. I don’t want to think about serious subjects or learn anything or work to follow this book.” Of course, there are many reviews that say the opposite, too. But maybe the point is cozies aren’t meant to challenge the reader, they’re meant as pure entertainment, thought people’s definitions of pure entertainment and what challenges them, of course, vary widely.

        Anyway, I dislike definitions of cozies that focus on what I can’t do. I don’t sit down at my desk thinking, “Drat! Another day when I can’t torture animals!” I like to focus on what I can do.

      • I just thought of one more thing about Choke. I’ve had people say that there’s not bad language in it. To me, that means I succeeded in making them think that it’s the character and not me who drops the F bomb. It’s definitely there!

  8. About the sex/romance, I had it moving much more quickly in Fat Cat at Large and had to slow it down. They want the first contact at the end of book 2. To me, this is very slow, but they know their market.

  9. And here I’m the guy who keeps including Agatha Christie as an example of cozies and was shocked when someone recently said she wasn’t a cozy writer.

    To me, it’s about how things are handled. Language – minimal if it needs to be there at all. Violence – well, these are murder mysteries so someone has to die, but I don’t need to know all the gory details. I’d have no problems with a naked corpse hanging from a meat hook as long as you don’t describe much more than that. I’ve got all the picture I need. Sex – I’m okay with things moving faster than it sounds like your editor is, but again I don’t need to know the details. Barb’s books are a perfect example. I knew what was happening in the second book, but it was mentioned that her main character was spending the night with her boyfriend or there would be a scene that took place the next morning. We knew what was happening without having to be hit over the head with it.

    And that’s why I love cozies. I know that stuff happens. But I don’t want to read about it. I want to read about hunting down clues and solving the puzzle of a murder. Cozies do it without graphic anything, leaving details to our imagination, where we can add more if we want, but just get the picture if that’s all we want to do, too. And since that’s all I want to do, I find many of the “harder” mysteries unappealing.

    Can you tell I care about this topic? 🙂

    • A cozy writer friend says–all the time–you can do almost anything in a cozy if you do it right. It all depends on how it’s handled. Little things like word choice make a huge difference.

  10. Great post, Kaye-Janet, and terrific comments. Bunch of rebels here, I think!
    To me, it seems more difficult to find plausible ways for romantically inclined adults to not have sex.
    Barb brings up a good point, in disliking the list of things you’re not allowed to do in a cozy, rather than focusing on what makes a good cozy a good read. More cowbell!

    • When I’m working on them, I’m trying to write something for a person who has had it up to “here” with the daily news, or maybe her daily life, and needs a distraction that isn’t bothersome, but pleasant and comfy and safe.

  11. Janet,
    I love your definition of cozy because I’ve struggled with that. My first book, a cozy mystery, is coming out soon, but I find as I write the second that I am pushing on the boundaries of cozy. For example, it’s tough to have a murderer who never swears. Sometimes my editor reigns me in, and she has done so recently on the second book. So I’m glad to read your definition because it reminds me to use my delete button in spots. My cover, however, is decidedly not “cute.” Does a cozy have to have a cute cover?

    • Nothing says a mystery has to be a cozy! I love traditional mysteries that include steamy romance, lots of forensic details, and colorful language when it makes sense. I also like to read very dark, noir stuff, and creepy books that try to scare the daylights outta me. The cover is a signal to the reader as to what they’ll find inside. A cute cover for a sleuth with a garbage-mouth would be false advertising, I think. My own opinion, is that the package should all match. Dark covers for brooding books, cute or amusing covers for cozies.

  12. I think the definition of cozy has been expanding, particularly among indie authors. I’ve seen the romance heat up faster than in the past and that seems to be fine with some readers, while others like it to percolate through a few books. I’m halfway through FAT CAT and loving it, Kaye/Janet so you have certainly mastered cozy writing.

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