by Barb, who is back in New England where just recently there are signs of the slimmest possibility of spring
So, when last we left our intrepid heroine, she had learned she was about to be a “cozy” mystery author, and she was freaked out about it. You can read about the events that lead up to that here: How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I.
At the end of that post I say:
- If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
- The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)
Today, in Part II, I’m tackling #1 above.
Well, one reason is writers on the verge of publication, and particularly a first publication or a new project, get freaked out exceptionally easily. Yes, you’re all giddy and happy with the accomplishment, but you are also putting yourself out there to be judged in a way that most people never do. It’s scary. You don’t want to disappoint readers, embarrass your family and let down your friends.
So a lot of my anxiety about not being a cozy person was free-floating anxiety that happened to coalesce around that particular point.
Plus, my husband thinks I am peculiarly susceptible to what he calls “Fraud Syndrome.” It’s true that I was a business person for twenty-five years and never thought of myself that way. It’s also true I usually feel I have to have absolute mastery of a subject or skill to hold myself out as an expert. But I think the writer’s life reinforces my already existing tendency. Most writers feel like frauds most of the time. There’s the many years you tell people you’re writing and they, polite and interested, ask, “What have you published?” and you say, “Hammida, hammida, hammida…” Then there are the later years when you say, “I am a writer,” and people ask, polite and interested, “Anything I would have heard of?” and you say…etc. This pretty much never ends. I once heard Lee Child say the reason he gave his blessing to Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher was because whenever he got on an airplane and told his seatmate what he did, the question was, “Anything that’s been made into a movie?”
Fraud Syndrome, indeed.
How I finally got over it was, I participated in the Launch Lab at Grub Street. It’s a class for people with books to be published within the year. They give you tons of valuable information, and more than anything, they teach you to CALM THE HECK DOWN.
The course took place over three weekends, and at some point, during a consultation, I moaned to Lynne Griffin, one of the instructors, about how freaked out I was about the whole cozy thing.
Then she slapped me and told me to get over myself.
She didn’t actually slap me, or even use those words. Lynne Griffin is one of the most professional people I know. But she might as well have, because whatever she said was just as effective. (I later discovered pretty much everyone in the Lab had had this experience. Not necessarily over sub-genre classification, though I wasn’t the only one. Lynne Griffin telling you to get over yourself is one of the best features of the Launch Lab.)
Once I stopped freaking out, I saw how ridiculous I had been.
For one thing, as I spent time in the cozy world, I discovered it was filled with all kinds of people who read all kinds of stuff. And have all kinds of jobs, hobbies and interests. Not everyone had gray hair in a bun with knitting needles through it and a dozen cats. (NOT that there’s anything wrong than that.) I mean, seriously, I’m a little embarrassed now about how much I bought into the stereotypes.
Plus, I realized the whole the brand is the author and the author is the brand thing was way over-blown in my mind. I mean, yes it’s great that Craig Johnson really lives on a ranch in a town with a population of 25 in Wyoming. But Stephanie Meyer is neither a vampire, nor a werewolf, nor a teenager. And though J.K. Rowling has that whole, cool Edinburgh thing going on, she didn’t go to Hogwarts and she wasn’t raised by Muggles. (Well, actually, I suppose she was, but that’s a different point.)
Hermoine represents Rowling’s emotional truth, not her actual truth.
So that’s how it all worked out. I realized if my books represented my emotional truth, everything else would be fine.
And I calmed the heck down.
And it was all okay. I was over my feeling of being fraudulently cozy. Now I just had to get past the “stigma” of the cozy novel itself. And that’s coming in Part III.