Wednesday, January 29, 2020

How Cozy Mysteries Changed My Life

Awhile back—don’t ask me how long ago because I’ve forgotten—I was on a panel titled “How Cozy Mysteries Changed my Life.” As you can guess, the topic was about writing cozies, although I don’t remember directly addressing the question mentioned in the title. Still, it did start me thinking about how they’ve affected me, both as a reader and a writer.

I’ve read cozies for most of my reading life, though I don’t think I’d heard the term “cozy mystery” until well into adulthood. I don’t know if that’s because it’s a newer term or if I was just oblivious to the different categories of crime fiction and what “everyone” called them until then.

I find reading cozies a very calming activity. There’s generally an interesting puzzle, characters and settings plus the killer is always identified and brought to justice. By the end of the book, the world is righted once again. Something that brings me great comfort and doesn’t always happen in real life.

I’ve also learned new things. I wrote a post for Chicks on the Case awhile back titled Unexpected Influences where I talked about how reading has influenced me to learn about things I would either never have known about or never have thought to study. You can read the full post here.

While I love reading, I never intended to be a writer, particularly of mysteries. I always thought it would be too hard. But when I woke up one morning with an idea for a book, I immediately thought it would make a good cozy so I decided to give it a shot. I believed because I’d read so many that I understood what made them tick. While that was partially true, I soon realized I still had a whole lot to learn. Still, if I hadn’t read a lot of cozies, I wouldn’t have had the courage to try my hand at writing one.

Writing cozies has changed the way I read them. I still get immersed in the stories and characters and enjoy them, but now I also notice things—how a book is structured, how a character is described. Sometimes I jot down interesting lines and paragraphs so I can study them later to see how the writer works their magic.

Probably the biggest change is that I get out of the house more and attend local events. I’m pretty much a homebody. I live near the beach because I prefer the weather, not because I’m into swimming, surfing or sunbathing. I’m not super fond of crowds, either. Here’s where you ignore my love of Disneyland and Las Vegas, which tend to attract lots of people. Somehow, I’m not as bothered by them in those two places, although I do avoid the busier times of the year.

Since my series takes place in a beach city similar to the one I live in, I like to put in events in the books similar to the ones that happen in my area. It’s fun to create my own version of a fair or festival. But to do it justice, I feel I need to see what the real events are like, which often means attending them. Sometimes I can get enough info from videos on YouTube or pics on a website, but that can only take you so far. It’s not the same as attending the event itself. Some I would have gone to anyway, but others I probably would have avoided if I weren’t writing my series.

When I found out my city holds a pumpkin race every year, I knew I had to go and see what that was all about. It’s a short walk from my house to downtown so we’ve attended a few times. The race is an all-day event. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it, but enough to create my own version for my book Designed For Haunting.

An event that I probably would have avoided because of the size of the crowd was our annual pier lighting ceremony. I was writing a Christmas book at the time so I decided I needed to see what it was like. The husband and I walked down to the beach so I could get a feel for it. I’m glad I did. I got a lot of good ideas from attending, things I wouldn’t have known about or thought of if I hadn’t been there. My own version of the pier lighting ceremony appears in Ghosts of Painting Past and is one of my favorite scenes in the book.

When I was in junior high and high school, I was a “joiner”. In junior high, I was in FHA (Future Homemakers of America, now known as Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)) plus I worked on the student newspaper and yearbook. In high school, it was FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America, now known as FBLA-PBL where the PBL is Phi Beta Lambda), student government, worked on the yearbook for one year and was part of the Bicentennial Quiz Team. (Not hard to guess what year that was.) But in college I was too busy studying and working to join anything.

But when I started writing, I decided it was important to join a group of like-minded people so I joined my local chapter of Sisters in Crime, which led to my being on the board for six years as Recording Secretary, Vice President and President. It also led to my co-chairing the California Crime Writers Conference in 2011 and doing a stint as We Love Libraries! coordinator for SinC National. I wouldn’t have had any of those experiences if I hadn’t started writing cozies.

What about you? How has writing the kinds of books you write or reading the kinds of books you read changed your life?


Kathy Waller said...

Thanks for your post. I'm writing a cozy, but I've sometimes felt I should be doing something more "serious." However, I grew up and lived for years in a small town (in which many residents make wonderful characters), and that's what I know best. I loved the town and its people. And I might as well write about what I know and love. I, too, joined Sisters in Crime because of my interest in writing--one of the best things I could have done.

Sybil Johnson said...

I think "serious" issues can be addressed in cozies. It's just done in a gentler fashion. Good luck on the book you're writing! SinC is a great organization. I've met many wonderful people and had experiences that I never thought I'd have.