Lit Fest got off to a fun start yesterday with Murder Most Cozy, a panel moderated by Julie Hyzy and including cozy authors Betty Hechtman, Ellery Adams and Joelle Charbonneau. It was held on the lower level of the Harold Washington library (notable for gargoyles).
Except for Joelle, who is just getting her first book published, these “cozy” writers each have several series with a continuing character and a theme. For example, Julie’s done very well with her White House Chef series, ever since the publication of the first one, State of the Onion. (Get it?) She also writes a Manor House series, about a historical mansion-slash-tourist destination, with a main character who is young, single, in-charge, and a recent cat-owner.
Betty’s books feature crocheting, and although my notes are small and scrabbly, I remember that she has a second series starting. Ellery Adams writes the Books by the Bay series, J.B. Stanley (also her) writes the Supper Club mysteries, and Jennifer Stanley (likely the name her mother gave her) writes the Hope Street Church mysteries.
The ladies were hilariously forthcoming about their books, the writing process, what caused them to begin writing and why it’s so rewarding. Some pearls:
- Cozy readers actually read everything, not just cozies
- Cozies generally have minimal sex and the murder happens “off stage”
- As Betty said, “There are dead bodies, but everybody has a good time.”
- Quirky characters abound
- Julie has a “ghost chef” to look at her recipes for accuracy
- Betty has a crochet-mad friend who makes the patterns in her books to make sure they are really do-able
- Ellery has a roller-skating dwarf that Joelle may steal (Joelle’s hook is a women’s roller-derby team)
- Mistakes happen – one author had a book wherein a character put a motorcycle in reverse (this is generally not a feature of motorcycles, although my husband told me this morning that there are two models that have a reverse gear!). Another put a photograph in an antique desk, long before photography was invented. And there is no Washington Memorial in Washington, D.C. It’s the Washington Monument.
- Typically, cozy writers must deliver multiple books per year – and that goes double if you’ve got two series.
- Cats! Cats! Cats!
- Minimal control over cover art. If your book doesn’t have a cat in it, the publisher may put a cat on the cover anyway. You may as well put a cat in there, and that way you can simply complain that the cat doesn’t accurately reflect the cat in the book.
Most heart-warming was Ellery’s story of her sixth grade teacher, John Bowden, who encourage and nourished her creative writing, and sent her a warmly congratulatory email upon the occasion of her first book publication. She plans to thank him as well as others who inspired and supported her in the acknowledgements section of a future book.
For my own writing:
- I’m not really a cozy writer, but my target market definitely includes cozy readers.
- Perhaps a pet would not be a bad idea (I’m inclined to pug or terrier but I could be swayed to cat).
- I should go ahead and be a little more hard-edged throughout… don’t make what violence there is unbelievable by having it come out of left field.
- And definitely, make sure my quirky characters are not so quirky as to be cardboard cut-outs or only in there for the “hook.” Also, not too many quirky characters. Mental note: no dwarves unless crucial.