by Julie, thrilled to welcome Joyce Tremel to the blog today.
Joyce and I both had our debut novels come out in 2015, three months apart. We’ve kept up the schedule ever since, and her third novel, A Room With A Brew, was released on October 3. If you haven’t “met” Max O’Hara and visited Pittsburgh in these books, you’re in for a treat.
THE TOP FIVE THINGS I’VE LEARNED WRITING A COZY SERIES
By Joyce Tremel
5. It’s not as easy as it looks. Believe it or not, there are readers out there who think that cozy mysteries are inferior to other mysteries. Obviously, they’ve never tried to write one. I’ve found it takes quite a bit of skill to kill someone and not gross out the reader. The cozy writer has to get the horror of the murder across without showing much in the way of blood, guts, and the like. You have to describe what happened without actually describing what happened. This also applies to any sexy scenes. I’m perfectly content with not having to write those kinds of scenes. Banter, innuendo, and an occasional kiss that leaves the character’s knees weak is enough for me. I like to leave the rest up to imagination.
4. It’s sometimes hard to find adequate substitutes for swear words. I worked as a police secretary for ten years. Believe me, cops swear. Most of their words start with F and end with K. I learned a whole new vocabulary when I worked for the police department. When you have officers talking in a cozy, you can’t very well have them use what must be their favorite word in the whole world because they say it three times in every sentence. And you can’t have them say gosh, darn, or golly either. Only Andy Griffith could get away with that. My protagonist’s dad is a homicide detective and in one scene I have Max say something like, “My dad rarely swore but I could tell he held back a string of words that would have turned the air blue.” I do throw in an occasional damn or hell, and have used the letters S.O.B. Sometimes I’ll interrupt the dialogue just before the swear word would be uttered. So far, it works. At least I hope it does.
3. There’s a fine line between educating the reader on the character’s craft or occupation and boring them to death. No one wants to read page after page of how your character does something. My protagonist Max is a craft brewer and there’s a lot of chemistry involved in brewing beer. If I started rambling on about how to calculate the specific gravity of a certain brew in order to calculate the alcohol by volume, I don’ t think readers would be too happy. In the best case scenario, they’d skip those pages; in the worst case, they’d throw the book against the wall. It’s a mystery novel, not a textbook. Information like that must be sprinkled in lightly.
2. Recipes are hard to come up with. I’m usually thinking more about the plot and what the characters are doing than about what they’re eating or cooking. I’ve had to train myself to actually stop and describe certain foods and then search for a recipe to include. That’s probably why the first book, To Brew or Not to Brew only had two recipes. I did a little better with books two and three. Tangled Up in Brew had four and this year’s A Room With a Brew has five, including the ever popular Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad.
1. Write everything down. When I was about halfway through writing the first book, I realized I was NOT going to remember which character had blue eyes, who had brown eyes, how tall a certain someone was, etc. I started what we call a Character Bible. I jotted down each character, what they looked like, and anything else I thought might be important. I did the same with each shop and location in the series. I even drew a little map so I’d remember which store/shop/restaurant was where. And thank goodness I did. I refer to it constantly. Between that and the style sheet (which has even more detailed info on it) from my copy editor, I’ve saved hours that would have been spent searching through previous manuscripts for one tiny tidbit of information. All because I couldn’t remember something I thought I would.
These are the top five things I’ve learned writing a cozy series. Readers, what have you learned reading one?
As a bonus, here’s the recipe for the Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad I mentioned above. It is delicious!
Pittsburgh Pretzel Salad
2 cups crushed pretzels
3/4 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
Mix crushed pretzels, melted butter, and sugar, and press into 9×13″ pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Cool.
Filling (middle layer):
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 – 8 ounce container of whipped topping
1 cup sugar
Beat cream cheese and sugar until creamy. Fold in whipped topping. Spread over cooled pretzel mixture. Chill.
2 – 3 ounce boxes strawberry Jello
2 cups boiling water
2 cups sliced strawberries
Combine Jello with 2 cups boiling water. Stir until dissolved, about two minutes. Add strawberries. Chill until partially thickened, then spread over top of cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate overnight or until firm.
Top with additional whipped topping and sprinkle with crushed or broken pretzel pieces.
Joyce Tremel was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. She is the author of the BREWING TROUBLE mystery series set in Pittsburgh, featuring brewmaster and pub owner, Maxine “Max” O’Hara. Her debut novel, TO BREW OR NOT TO BREW, was nominated for a 2015 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. The second book in the series, TANGLED UP IN BREW, was the winner of the 2016 Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth. A ROOM WITH A BREW, the third book in the series was released on October 3, 2017.