What, no detailed violence or bloodshed in my mystery—in this day of Mission Impossible XIV (or whatever number they’re up to) and CSI morgues in living color? And what about including a hint of romance rather than steamy, explicit sex scenes? Would anyone read it? Shades of Gray was made into a movie, for heaven’s sake.
I started writing my first mystery at a workshop. It was love at first write. Mysteries have always been one of my favorite genres. Agatha Christie, Lilian Jackson Braun, Nancy Pickard, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Diane Mott Davidson, Carl Hiaasen, Tony Hillerman, and on and on. That there are sub-genres within the mystery genre didn’t give me pause. Until—people started telling me I needed to include sex scenes and gory details of the murders in my stories to appeal to today’s readers.
I struggled to include some gratuitous sex and violence in my otherwise strategy and clue-driven first mystery. It sounded unnecessary and even distracting. It was then I dug deeper into the varieties of mysteries. A revelation—I could write a cozy mystery, or a cozy. I looked back at my bookshelf. Sure enough, the definition of a cozy fit my most beloved mysteries.
Besides being G or PG rated, cozies often have an amateur sleuth, like Beth Stockwell, the protagonist in my Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery series. Details about the sleuth’s profession or hobby become part of the story (newspaper reporter, baker, librarian, house builder, knitter, bookstore owner, etc.) Beth is a landlady with rental properties that become crime scenes. A cozy mystery takes place in an intimate village, town, or neighborhood that is visited throughout each story in a series. Readers learn to know the town as well as the characters. My stories take place in Brookside, a quaint neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri.
The converted Trolley Track Trail meanders through Brookside. The hiking/biking trail serves as a symbolic path Beth takes between her everyday home life and her dangerous investigating. Beth argues with herself internally while taking her daily walk, and she encounters different folks on the trail, both good and evil.
Pets. I can’t imagine Clive Cussler’s hero, Dirk Pitt, spending time with a cat. By no means all, but many, cozy mysteries include a cat or a dog as a character. The pets provide humorous interludes, willing listeners, and avenues for foreshadowing clues or danger to come. Sylvester, the Psycho Cat in my series, makes brief, but important, appearances in each book. Although he’s typical cat at all times, he is the catalyst for discovering the mysteries and some of the clues.
The structure of a cozy is essentially the same as any mystery—three acts with plot points, climax, and wrap-up. The challenge faced by the cozy writer, in my opinion, consists of creating characters, plot, and climax that are intriguing and exciting for today’s readers without depicting grisly murders and titillating sexual encounters in detail. That’s okay by me. I love my mysteries to be mysterious and suspenseful, not clinical.