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Confessions of a Cozy Mystery Writer

I confess: I’m suspicious of labels. It’s been my experience that when I start labeling things, I miss out on the nuances of the thing I’m labeling. So up until last weekend, I was hesitant to call my novel a cozy mystery, for if I called it a cozy, would readers expect recipes and be disappointed when they didn’t find any? Instead, I used words like traditional to describe it, which made me feel connected to the literary tradition of those Golden Age writers, such as Agatha Christie, whom I admire. But after attending the Writers’ Police Conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I no longer sidestep the cozy moniker.

I, like all writers who attended, was there to gain knowledge about police procedures, writing faux pas, and lethal ingredients I could use to kill off people in future novels. In my peasant top and dangling earrings, I began the weekend with a bus ride to stop number one on my itinerary: the Green Bay Maximum Security Prison. The jewelry was the first thing to go.

IMG_2018You can see by the picture it’s a foreboding place, but in a good, mystery writer sort of way. There was a rumor circulating that the basement, which had once housed juveniles, is haunted. I might get in on that. As the fifth metal gate clanged behind me and I learned the prison was on lockdown for the third employee assault, however, the haunted basement lost its allure. Only later that night were my nerves soothed with some great conversations and an ice-cold beer. Plus there was a raffle going on; I was back in familiar territory.

The next two days, I attended several terrific classes and talked to many authors who were writing thrillers, horror novels, and true crime books about serial killers and psychopaths. When they asked me about my upcoming novel, I tossed out the word “cozy” faster than an EMT applying a tourniquet, and never have I been more thankful for the classification.

I think cozy has almost become synonymous with easy, and that’s another reason I had resisted the category—until now. The plot, or the puzzle, of a mystery should never be easy to solve, and writers in all subgenres work hard on this element. But after my time in Green Bay, I realize my readers will feel cozy while reading the novel—at least I hope they do. The town of Copper Bluff is quaint, the people are charming, and if a dead body didn’t show up in the theater, readers might never believe anything torrid ever happens there at all.

Has there been a time in your life, readers, when you have resisted a label? How and why? I’d love to hear from you!

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