This originally appeared on the very excellent blog, DearReader.com. If you don’t know DearReader, I highly recommend you take a look at it! It’s one of the very best resources for finding new authors and new books to read…
Recently, I was asked to speak on a panel at a writers conference. The topic was “What is a Cozy Mystery?” If you don’t know what a cozy mystery is, welcome to the club. I don’t either, even though, technically, I write them…
I didn’t plan on being a cozy writer. My mother, Blaize Clement, didn’t either. In fact, she didn’t plan on writing cozies until she’d already written one. It was Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, the first of what became a very popular series set in Siesta Key, a sleepy island off the west coast of Florida. The books follow the adventures of Dixie Hemingway, an ex-sheriff’s deputy turned professional cat sitter, and much like Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple before her, Dixie has a curious talent for tracking down murderers.
My mother passed away in 2011, just as she was putting the finishing touches on her seventh book. She had asked me to continue the series, and because I’d been taught to mind my mother, that’s exactly what I did. (I wrote about it in a little more detail here.) The eighth book came out last year, the ninth is in stores this month, I’ve just finished final edits on the tenth, and I’m currently hard at work on the eleventh.
The point is: I ought to know what a cozy is by now.
The panel consisted of six authors, all of whom had been chosen because they supposedly write cozies, and all of whom when given half a chance denied it (albeit with varying degrees of certitude). We all agreed that the term “cozy” is just plain terrible, but we did manage to come up with a basic set of rules that defines the genre:
1) The main character is female;
2) She lives in a small, quaint village;
3) She is an amateur sleuth, not a detective or officer of the law;
4) The amount of sex and gore, on a scale of Zero to Zilch, is Nada; and
5) The maximum number of curse words is (see #4).
The problem with all these rules, of course, is that every one of them has been broken, often very successfully and by very successful authors, chief among them Agatha Christie, the grandest of the grandes dames of cozy writers. And while I’ve gotten a few letters accusing me of using certain “naughty” words my mother would never have approved of, she herself broke rules #4 and #5 on a regular basis–way more, in fact, than I have.
But one idea that came up during the panel has stuck with me. It’s that in a really good cozy, the writer creates an intriguing world where, simply put, the reader wants to be–a world you want to go back to again and again and again. A world that feels like home.
I love that idea.
I think it explains the popularity of cozy mysteries perfectly, especially given how uncertain the “real” world feels sometimes, and it’s exactly why I’ve gotten so much joy writing about Dixie. And since I’m now in the habit of thinking like an amateur sleuth on a regular basis, I can’t help but take an even closer look. It occurs to me that I myself am living in an intriguing world created for me by my mother–the world of the cozy writer.
I still don’t know what the heck a cozy is, but it’s a world I’m very, very happy to be in.