Friday, July 15, 2011

Cozy Fare?

Okay, first we have to talk about FREE STUFF.

In celebration of the recent release of my fifth Home Crafting Mystery, Wined and Died, you can enter to win a FREE Author Website ($900 value!) from the creative folks at Bizango Websites for Writers until July 29, 2011. The winner will also receive 2 years of FREE hosting. For more details and information on how to enter, please visit my Hearth Cricket blog.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Wined and Died_1 My books are billed as cozies, but I get kind of squirmy every time I say that. Not because I have any problem with cozies – love ‘em, actually – but because mine aren’t. Not really.

But they’re crafting mysteries. I was on a panel at Left Coast Crime once that discussed exactly this issue. One of the questions was, “Do the subjects of your books make them cozy?” The idea was that if you’re writing mysteries about crafts (me), antiques (Jane Cleland), or gardening (Rosemary Harris) then they must be cozies. Two panelists were unable to attend, and Reed Farrell Coleman stepped in to balance out the panel (because of the wine connection in his Moe Prager mysteries, I assume). It turned out that despite our subject matter and the fact that we were all considered cozy writers (well, all except for Reed), none of us particularly related to the cozy label.

There’s outside evidence that I color slightly outside the cozy lines. There was that cozy author I asked to write a happy little blurb for one of my books who refused to be associated with it because it featured a stalker, a possible rapist, and an elderly woman was attacked. For a (very) brief moment there I felt like Hunter S.Thompson or Harry Crews. Another blurber was somewhat taken aback by the untraditionally fast pacing.

By the way, that thing about the pacing will make my writing buddies crazy, because they’re always telling me to speed things up. “But it’s a cozy, “ I say. Even if I only kinda, sorta mean it.

“What does it mean to know someone in the biblical sense?” is the opening line of Wined and Died, and it comes from an eleven-year-old girl. Throughout the series, serious issues like alcoholism, clinical depression, cancer, suicide, abuse – oh, and murder, helllooo – keep cropping up. In Wined and Died we’ve got us a little problem with some backwoods marywanna growers, drug dealing, and addiction.

Not terribly cozy fare, though it’s generously sprinkled with soap making, herb craft, gardening, how to make dandelion wine and ginger ale, information on mead, cooking, plenty of recipes, and, I hope, a bit of humor. There isn’t any explicit sex but two main characters are recently married, so there’s reference to their sex life. There was before the wedding, too. Wined and Died doesn’t have a lot of gore, but others in the series have had their share. Now that I think about it, the then acquisitions editor asked me to tone down the first page of the first Home Crafting Mystery because the description of the dead body was too graphic. (She was right, too – I totally went overboard on the ick factor.)

Yet middle school librarians stock my books. I rate them as PG 13 on Authors Den. At nearly all of my signings, at least one teenager buys a book, and I always tell the parents that there’s some mildly bad language and references to adult behavior. “Worse than television?” And I have to shake my head and offer them another molasses-oatmeal signing cookie.

So now I call my books contemporary cozies, because I guess that’s what they really are – a little faster, a teensy bit more edgy, not – as Robin put it in her recent post – “pink.” But they’re still about colonial home crafts, and that is cozy fare. Kinda sorta. Pretty much.

There are a lot of books out there that I’d call contemporary cozies. Or do you think “cozy” has been redefined over the last decade and that modifier is unnecessary?


Lois Winston said...

Cricket, I've had the same problem. That's why I refer to my series as amateur sleuth mysteries, not cozies, even though my next book does have a pink cover.

Robin Allen said...

I'm with you on the cozy label, Cricket. I write clean books--no bad language, no graphic descriptions--but I don't think of my books as traditional Miss Marple cozies. However, I've been promoting them as such on Goodreads because there are established groups of cozy readers.

The pink reference was to chick-lit, and I didn't want that kind of cover. I wouldn't mind a pink cover like yours, Lois.

G.M. Malliet said...

I wish we could lose the word "cozy" and replace it with "traditional mystery."

That said, I did this to myself with my first book, Death of a Cozy Writer - I placed myself forever in the cozy category, although that is not what I'm writing.

Even Agatha Christie, I would maintain, did not write cozies. Her books are seriously creepy!

Keith Raffel said...

I wish I could think of the right name of your genre, Cricket. But what's great about your books is the contrast between the homey crafts favored by the protagonist and the evil she confronts.

Darrell James said...

I dislike the term "cozy" as much as I dislike the term "hardboiled". There is a difference, I suppose, in overall content. But a "good story" is a "good story" no matter how you brand it.

Cricket McRae said...

Amateur sleuth is a good alternative, Lois. And I like your cover.

Ah, missed the reference to chick-lit, Robin. Maybe because I don't read much of it. You're right that there are organized groups of cozy readers and sites like that use that term -- and read our books.

Gin, I think Beth calls her Claire Hanover series traditional mysteries. Would you rather be a lit chick than a cozy writer? Both are great titles, btw. ; )

Keith, my only concern about the name for my kind of book is that I don't want to mislead any readers.

Yes! A good story is a good story, Darrell. Though I don't mind either "cozy" or "hardboiled" as long as there's some wiggle room for what those terms mean.

Dru said...

I like the term "amateur sleuth" mysteries.

I definitely can tell the difference between "cozies" and those "cozies with an edge" like your books.

Unknown said...

Cricket, I totally understand where you're coming from on this. I, too, have struggled with the cozy label. My book isn't really a cozy, yet somehow it is looked at by some factions as such. Amateur Sleuth is probably the best label I guess. Those of us who are edgier and faster paced fit into the soft-boiled category as well, I suppose. It is a conundrum, especially when you're asked that question by your readers.

Jessica Lourey said...

Great post, Cricket! As these comments show, a lot of us (me included) struggle with being labeled cozy writers when our writing edgier than that sub genret. I wonder if the combination of female author + amateur sleuth = cozy?

Like you, I am a fan of cozies, but I don't write them. I use "comic caper" to describe my mysteries, and I like your addition of the word "contemporary" to the cozy term. Neither one really fits the bill, though they're better than nothing. Book buyers and sellers need to be able to organize their choices.

Here's what I know for sure: I would have loved to see a cozy panel featuring Rees Farrel Coleman. Fun!

Beth Groundwater said...

I've defined my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series as "edgy cozy" as well as "traditional", and I like the "softboiled" label our acquisition editor put on my Rocky Mountain outdoor adventure series. Whenever someone asks me if one of my books would be appropriate for their child to read, I say probably for a teen, but that the parent should read it first. Parents' reading standards for their kids are all over the map.

Cricket McRae said...

Dru, I like the phrase "cozies with an edge."

Jessie, it seems a lot of us are in the same boat.

Jess, Reed did spice things up! Comic caper is a good way to describe Mira's adventures. As for "contemporary," since I talk about colonial home crafts when I describe my books I want to also make it clear that they're set in present day -- so it kind of does double duty. I hope. :)

Kathleen Ernst said...

I'm not a huge fan of "cozy" either, because it seems to come with certain parameters. MI calls my books soft-boiled, which is accurate, but the phrase doesn't get much play. Booksellers and reviewers often refer to my books as cozy. I introduce them as "Traditional" mysteries.

I love your blend!