The Food Conundrum

Finished Product (1)

The recipe I came up with for Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen–shrubs!

When you write cozies, there is always the food issue. That is, do you include recipes or not?

Now, for some folks, that answer is an easy one. They’re centered around food, so of course! There’s even a great blog called Mystery Lovers Kitchen that is about mysteries and food. It features a huge array of cozy authors. They let me do a guest post in August. I made shrubs, which are discussed in Chime and Punishment. Part of the challenge is taking pictures of the process that look somewhat appetizing.

I like mysteries with food. In fact, Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson series is a go to for cookie recipes for me. There’s even a cookbook, which I own and have given as gifts.  Her Highlander Cookie Bar recipe is one of my go-tos when I need to impress. (Shortbread on the bottom, brownies on top. Oh. My.)

Several of the Wickeds have series that include recipes. In my Clock Shop series, there was a natural fit if I featured recipes from the Sleeping Latte. But, then I learned some of the “rules”. The recipe needs to be original. And, since I know I try them on occasion, they need to taste good. I bake, and cook, but I couldn’t take the pressure.

For my Theater Cop series, a food tie in doesn’t really work as well. Though, I did mention cinnamon and sugar french fries with a cream cheese frosting dip that I thought sounded pretty interesting in book 2, which will be out next September. I totally made them up, so the recipe isn’t in the book.

I am writing a new series (stay tuned), and I’m not sure if I’m going to have recipes. But I do find myself mentioning food a lot, just in case. I plan to have the nieces help me develop a couple to see if I can pull it off. We’ll see how it goes.

Today, my question for you dear readers, do you like cozies with recipes? Do you try them? Trust them? Should I try and pull this off? Let me know in the comments!

Novella Update

Barb, suffering away in lovely Key West. (Okay, not really.)

In August I announced that I was writing a Christmas novella for Kensington. At the time, I brimmed with optimism. Since my short stories are always too long, and my novels always too short, I thought the novella might be my natural home in the fiction world. In my blog post, I said I would check back in.

Since the novella is done and due on Friday, I thought this might be the time.

First things first, a cover reveal.

Eggnog Murder Comp

What do you think? I really like it. It fits with Leslie Meier‘s covers, and also quite nicely with the previous Christmas collections Kensington has published featuring Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie. I am thrilled to be included, along with Leslie and Lee Hollis. I love the little skull floating in the eggnog cup.

I enjoyed working on the story very much. Before I wrote it, I read a bunch of Christmas crime novellas. They seemed to fall into two groups. Some authors used the structure of the traditional longer mystery–a victim, a pool of people with means, opportunity, and motive, and a sleuth who interviews them all and looks for clues to solve the crime. Other authors went a different route using more of a short story-like structure to write not so much a whodunnit?, but a whattheheckisgoingonhere? I went with the latter.

The most fun about the novella was that it was the first time in a long time that I wrote a book in the season in which it took place. This holiday season was crazy warm in in the east, even in Maine, and my story takes place in New York City and Busman’s Harbor during a more traditional early winter. So I couldn’t run outside to soak up the atmospherics, but I could run down the road to do research. Need a reminder of what L.L. Bean’s holiday decorations look like? No problem.

matchingpajamas21I loved incorporating the holiday traditions of my little town in Maine into the novella. For example, the Boothbay Harbor Pajama Party, when everyone gets up at six a.m. and Christmas shops in their pjs. (No kidding. I’ve written more about it here.) I incorporated other holiday traditions l’ve loved, including my cookie baking day and a festival of trees. Boothbay Harbor has one of these, but for the novella I borrowed liberally from the one Vida Antolin-Jenkins used to take me to on the naval base in Newport, RI when we were young mothers. Highly fictionalized, of course.

The length, 25,000+ words, a hundred or so pages, was, indeed, a natural one for me.

You’ll have to wait until next fall to tell me what you think, but I’m happy to be turning this tale in on Friday.

How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I

by Barb–sad because we’re leaving Key West in three days (or maybe perplexed is a better word. Why are we returning to the frozen north?)

Barbara RossI’ve wanted to write about how I feel about being an author of cozy mysteries for awhile, but it’s always been a complicated and evolving issue. So I’ve decided to split the topic up into three blog posts that I’ll put up during my next several turns here at Wicked Cozys.

The Beginning

I didn’t start out to write a cozy. I started out to write a mystery. All my life I had read widely in the mystery field, without really differentiating by sub-genre. I cut my teeth on those amateur sleuths Nancy Drew and Miss Marple, who despite her maiden state, is the grandmother of all of us authors of amateur sleuths. I read Dick Francis and Ross Thomas and John D. MacDonald and Dennis Lehane and Dorothy L. Sayers and Janet Evanovich. Admittedly, it was a simpler time. I found most of my books through recommendations from friends and relatives, as well as friendly independent bookstore clerks and librarians. Megabookstores and online retailers hadn’t yet created such a strong need for subcategory labeling to help you find a book you would like.

I knew I wanted to write a series. I loved the books of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. I loved watching characters change over time, and returning to find out what was going on in their lives. I was particularly taken with Rendell’s Kingsmarkham, it’s strong sense of place and how it evolved from a sleepy market village to a sprawling suburb with a highway on-ramp and a diverse population. Even Christie’s St. Mary Mead evolved, sprouting a housing development after the second World War. To me, it was all magic.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontMy first mystery, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, had a professional sleuth as its protagonist, a female police chief, but it was also very much a village mystery. Which was one of the many reasons it was so hard to sell, though it was eventually published by Five Star/Cengage.

We’ve told many times on the blog how our agent, John Talbot, approached Sheila Connolly, who was then President of Sisters in Crime New England, to see if any members had an interest in writing a spec proposal for a cozy mystery series. I was very interested. Because of my love of series, I knew I wanted a multi-book contract, something Five Star didn’t offer. I wrote to Sheila behind the scenes and asked her if she thought I could do it. She pointed out that my first book had a lot of cozy elements. With her encouragement, I called John. We batted some ideas around, and chose “clambake.”

JohnTalbotIn that first call, John said, “You know what cozies are, right? Amateur sleuth, small town, ya-da, ya-da.” I’m not sure John actually said “ya-da, ya-da,” but he definitely ya-da, ya-da-ed the definition of a cozy. I assured him that I did and set to work writing the proposal.

During that period, I read a lot of books that were actually defined as “cozy mysteries.” I read books by our own Sheila Connolly, and by Leslie Meier and Kaitlyn Dunnett/(Kathy Lynn Emerson). I read John Talbot’s most successful cozy author, Cleo Coyle and Kensington’s most successful cozy author, Joanne Fluke. I was inspired by all of them. I also read several frankly terrible cozies. I won’t name any names, but ones I couldn’t finish. Ones that made me dread going to bed because I would have to open them.

CLAMMED_UPI was undaunted. What area of literature doesn’t have some absolutely awful books in it? None is the answer. And, as I’ve learned over and over, my absolutely awful book is your favorite and vice versa, because the role of personal taste is huge. Besides, though I had tried to keep a professional distance from my proposal, I was falling in love with my characters and my setting. I really wanted to write these stories.

John sold the series to Kensington, and I started writing Clammed Up in earnest. I still hadn’t processed what it meant to be the author of a cozy novel, but now I was paying attention–and starting to panic. It’s interesting that neither of the things I was panicking about affected the story I was writing.

To wit:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)

So the rest of the posts in this series will be a description of my journey with the two personal challenges above, how I evolved, and how I feel about these issues today.

You can now read Part II here and Part III here.