By Sherry — It finally feels like December
At a recent conference I went to dinner with my editor and two thriller writers. I looked up the two writers before our dinner. They were tough men with great credentials and popular series. And then there was little old me — the cozy writer. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I know how some people react when I say I write cozies. No one has actually ever patted me on the head and said, “that’s so cute” but I’ve seen it in their eyes. (Read Barb’s great blogs: How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I, Part II, and Part III)
The two thriller writers laughed when my editor told them you couldn’t kill more than two people in a cozy. (And really, is that a thing? Because I’d never heard it and now I think I’m going to have to kill three people in my next book since I’m ornery that way.) However, our conversation got me thinking. So here’s my tongue-in-cheek look at why writing cozies might be harder than writing a thriller.
Our protagonists don’t have mad skills. They haven’t been in the CIA, aren’t Navy Seals, and don’t have any special training. They are more likely to have a bum knee than be a martial arts expert. They are regular people in extraordinary circumstances and often live in small towns.
They don’t have access to equipment. No helicopters, flame-throwers, or automatic weapons are at their disposal. Our protagonists only have their wits and their cellphones (okay maybe they have a laptop and knitting needles too but that’s it).
Access to information — oh, how nice it would be to have my protagonist, Sarah Winston, call her contact at the CIA who’s willing to break the law and share information with her. Sarah would be happy to be able to call someone at the police department but I’ve set up an antagonistic relationship with the police so she can’t even do that. Cozy protagonists have to piece bits of information together to come up with a solution.
Themes — most cozy mysteries have some kind of theme (cooking, clocks, yard sales, apples, farming, etc.) that have to be incorporated into the story. One of the reasons people read a specific book is because of the theme. As a writer I have to balance using enough of the theme to make the reader happy while not letting the theme overwhelm the story.
Methods of killing people — cozy antagonists don’t have guns, knives, or bombs. They kill with household items — a common poison (no biological weapons stolen from a super-secret facility), pitchforks, picture frames. Cozy writers have to be very creative to stay within the expectations of their readers and come up with unique way to kill someone.
The investigation — no one’s going to call Sarah and say, “Sarah, we’ve got a situation and you’re the only person who can solve this crime.” More often than not a cozy protagonist is being told to stay out of the investigation. Cozy writers have to get creative so it’s somewhat plausible (and we trust that our readers will allow us a little leeway) that someone like Sarah can solve a crime.
(Okay, okay, so now I have a confession. I’d love to write a thriller some day full of crazy weapons and secret sources. And I know it will be hard — like all writing is.)
Readers: What draws you to cozies? What other kinds of books do you love?