Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Great Cozy Debate of 2013, by Kendel Lynn

When my mystery, Board Stiff, debuted last week, it received some rave reviews (5 stars, from strangers!), but also a few not so rave. The issue? Cozy. Readers expected one thing, but got another, yet, others felt the story was definitely a cozy. So I ask, what makes a cozy, cozy? Setting, language, amateur status?

The classic term of cozy used to be defined by a mystery set in a small town, with no swear words, sex, or violence, and the amateur sleuth worked with a theme: coffee shop, quilting bee, sewing circle, delicious cupcakery. A slice of the mystery genre, cozies appealed to the Murder, She Wrote viewer/reader, and didn’t much stray into other slices of the mystery cake: hard-boiled, traditional, noir, paranormal (did that even exist?) – plus suspense, crime, thriller and all their sub-genres.

But has cozy evolved? I’m wondering if the popularity of humorous mysteries changed the recipe, or at least the portion size of that decadent dessert. We laugh and cry and cheer on our amateur sleuths, and while they add some spice with romantic romps and use a little salty language, they don’t deal with the bitter dark side: no serial killers or vicious torture or anything that requires one to sleep with their lights on.

My sleuth, Elliott Lisbon, is mostly an amateur (only 4,000 hours from getting her PI license!), she doesn’t have a cat or a dog or a hobby and she doesn’t cook. She’s more of An eat cereal for dinner kinda gal. And every now and then, when the situation prompts her, she blurts out a swear word or gets caught up in the moment with the sexy lieutenant.

Does this disqualify her for the cozy label, is there a more appropriate one, or maybe we just need a new one, and evolved one? Contemporary cozy? Or maybe I’m just overthinking it. Let me know your thoughts, people.

Thank you, Melissa, for having me. I love your blog and am so happy you let me join you, even though I don’t drink coffee or have a cat…

Kendel Lynn is a Southern California native who now parks her flip-flops in Dallas, Texas. She read her first Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators at the age of seven and has loved mysteries ever since. Her debut novel, BOARD STIFF, won several literary competitions, including the Zola Award for Mystery/Suspense. Along with writing and reading, she spends her time as the managing editor of Henery Press where she acquires, edits, and figures out ways to avoid the gym but still eat cupcakes for dinner.

As director of the Ballantyne Foundation on Sea Pine Island, SC, Elliott Lisbon scratches her detective itch by performing discreet inquiries for Foundation donors. Usually nothing more serious than retrieving a pilfered Pomeranian. Until Jane Hatting, Ballantyne board chair, is accused of murder. The Ballantyne’s reputation tanks, Jane’s headed to a jail cell, and Elliott’s sexy ex is the new lieutenant in town.

Armed with moxie and her Mini Coop, Elliott uncovers a trail of blackmail schemes, gambling debts, illicit affairs, and investment scams. But the deeper she digs to clear Jane’s name, the guiltier Jane looks. The closer she gets to the truth, the more treacherous her investigation becomes. With victims piling up faster than shells at a clambake, Elliott realizes she’s next on the killer’s list.


Unknown said...

Kendel, I'm glad you addressed this. I think Elliott Lisbon falls under the cozy category. There is nothing gratuitous or even graphic. BOARD STIFF is page-turner and keeps the suspense going, but is also entertaining and fun for those who want a good mystery for the beach this summer.
~Anna L. Davis, Editorial Intern, Henery Press

Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard said...

There's a much earlier and somewhat broader definition of cozy mysteries that leaves out the "theme" aspect so common today. (I would call that earlier definition the "classic" one, myself!) Most of Agatha Christie's novels fall in that category, even the ones set in London; in fact, the term "cozy" was almost synonymous with Christie's mysteries for a long time. I've always thought of cozy mysteries as acknowledging but not dwelling on violence and evil. Christie certainly dealt with serial killers (The ABC Murders), but it's true that the sex happened offstage, and her characters, when they swore, were fairly mild by today's standards. As Anna said, there's nothing gratuitous in a cozy; that goes for sex, violence, and language. It can be there if it needs to be, but the author doesn't dwell on it. I would add that the reader should come away from a cozy feeling hopeful, comforted, even satisfied: justice has been done.

So is Board Stiff a cozy? I haven't read it, but I don't see any reason why it couldn't be, given these parameters and what you've said about it. And I look forward to reading it!

LynDee said...

Thank you, thank you for addressing this! I spent the first few days after Front Page Fatality came out waving my hands and hollering "it's not cozy, because it has some spicy language!" But readers and reviewers continued to classify it as such, and I felt a little silly protesting that. Once your book is out there, it becomes up to them to classify it, doesn't it?

"Call it what you will, I just hope you enjoy it!" has become my mantra.

As for the language, there's not much in Board Stiff, and it's only there when it would be silly for it not to be there. I had the same situation: I tried to go back and take the swearwords out of Front Page once, but everything I substituted sounded ridiculous. I've yet to meet a grown woman who would actually say "Well, shucks and gosh darnit!" if a gunman were chasing her. ;)

I think Board Stiff fits most people's definition of the most important category for readers: a good book. And Anna's right: it's perfect for the beach!

Susan M. Boyer said...

I like LynDee's "Call it what you will. I just hope you enjoy it!" And I think Lark hit it on the head by saying cozies "acknowledge but don't dwell on violence and evil."

But I also think that readers are always going to define this term for themselves. And one person's cozy may be another person's "R" rated book. I fret over this a lot because many readers consider my debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, a cozy. But others will tell me straight up that it isn't. My protagonist is a very capable professional private investigator, not an amateur sleuth. She has a complicated love life.

To be sure, there are cozy elements. My setting is a small town filled with quirky characters. None of the books in the series will dwell on violence or evil. The books are humorous, the voice light and peppy. As a reader, I would be more likely to call them Chick Lit than anything else. As a writer, I worry that a reader expecting a cozy will be upset by a love scene, or a non-cozy word that comes out of my character's mouth.

Anonymous said...

I confess I never heard the term "cozy" before. Shame on me. I just enjoy a book, in and of itself. Guess I skipped over Post-Modernity.

Starting your book this weekend, regardless of cozy moniker. I'm 100% sure I'll love it too.


Kaye George said...

I'm finding that lots of avid mystery readers don't really know the term. Reviewers have called my Imogene Duckworthy books cozies, which is fine with me, as long as they like them, but they're really not. The term is used differently by different people, I guess--and not at all by others. Hey, a good book is a good book, no matter where you shelve it.

Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard said...

Thank you, Susan! And now I'm off to check out your book. I like capable women MCs!