We celebrate International Cozy Mystery day on September 15, the birthday of Agatha Christie. For those who don’t know what a cozy mystery is, it’s the type of writing that Ms. Christie was famous for. It involves murder of the less gory kind and an absence of explicit sex and violence. It usually takes place in a small town. There can be recipes or pets as central themes in the mystery along with an off-scene murder to solve and a cast of quirky characters with interesting professions.
I write a cozy mystery series called. Cobble Cove mysteries, for the name of the fictional town in which they are set. It includes a librarian and a library cat. A reviewer of the first book of the series, A Stone’s Throw, termed the story, “Agatha Christie meets a small town librarian.”
My recent standalone mystery, Sea Scope, was reviewed as “Imagine Agatha Christie Writing a Psychological Thriller.”
People enjoy reading cozy mysteries because they become familiar with the characters and like the settings. Some of my favorite cozies feature cats, as do mine. I’ve enjoyed fellow Cat Writer’s Association members books such as Carole Nelson Douglas‘ Midnight Louis series, Shirley Rousseau’s Joe Grey tales, and, Mollie Hunt’s Crazy Cat Lady series. For food-related mysteries, I like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson mysteries. Mary Feliz, who provided some of the graphics included in this post, is a fellow Sisters-in-Crime member, and also a cozy mystery author who writes the Maggie McDonald series that features a Golden Retriever. Another SINC member, Marilyn Levinson who writes as Allison Brook writes a cozy that features a librarian and a ghost. Her latest in the Haunted Library series, Buried in the Stacks, was just released. A fellow author from Next Chapter, James J. Cudney IV, writes mysteries taking place on college campuses. The fifth book in his Braxton Campus mysteries, Haunted House Ghost, was also just released.
Do you have a favorite cozy mystery author or series, or haven’t you read a cozy mystery yet? Have you read any of mine? I’d love to hear your comments.
This week, I’ll be flying to St. Louis to join fellow members of the Cat Writers’ Association for their annual conference. This year, CWA will be celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary. I’ve been a member for twenty of those years.
Back when I decided to join, I was an unpublished author. I’d been writing for many years but; besides the articles I’d written for my college newspaper and the stories and books I’d composed in dozens of notebooks, I hadn’t submitted anything to be published professionally. Learning of this group that represented authors of all types who wrote about cats, I felt it would be suitable for me since I’d always been a cat lover and enjoyed reading cat mysteries by such authors as Carole Nelson Douglas famous for her feline sleuth Midnight Louie and Shirley Rousseau Murphy, who writes about Joe Grey, both of whom were members.
The only thing that stood in the way of my becoming a professional member of CWA was that I needed to have two published pieces. To fulfill this requirement, I began sending articles about my cats, Floppy and Holly, to pet magazines and newsletters. I wrote one about how I introduced Holly to Floppy that was published in the 1998 issue of Cat Fancy Magazine. I published another article on how to care for a cat with diabetes when Floppy became diabetic.
When my membership was accepted, I attended the 1999 conference in Kansas City and met Shirley Rousseau Murphy in person. I also met Amy Shojai, the then CWA president and founder. I felt right at home with these cat-loving authors and enjoyed the conference sessions, awards banquet, and meeting people with whom I had so much in common.
I regret that I wasn’t able to attend any conferences after that first one that was so enjoyable. Although I continued to write and kept up my membership, I didn’t have much time or opportunity to travel. I was working full-time as a librarian and had a young daughter. I continued, however, to write cat-related articles in pet magazines and, in 2001, published my first cat mystery, “Stitches in Time,” a short story that appeared in the anthology, Cat Crimes Through Time.
In 2008, I published my first novel, Cloudy Rainbow, that featured Floppy, who passed away the year before. I self-published the book and didn’t sell many copies, so I stopped writing for a time until a patron at my library encouraged me to write another book. In 2015, I published A Stone’s Throw, that became the first of my Cobble Cove cozy mystery series featuring Sneaky the Library Cat. The series now consists of four books. This first edition was published by Limitless Publishing and was later reprinted by Solstice Publishing with whom I now have six books including the reprint of Cloudy Rainbow, as well as several short stories and a novella. I also recently published a standalone mystery, Sea Scope, with Creativia.
All my books feature cats who don’t play major roles or talk but usually help uncover clues to the mysteries. The 4th book of my Cobble Cove series, Love on the Rocks, recently won a Certificate of Excellence from the Cat Writers’ Association and is one of several up for consideration for the coveted Muse Medallion that will be awarded in St. Louis this Saturday night.
I’m looking forward to attending another CWA conference and appearing on a panel of cat fiction authors. I’ll also be signing books at the Missouri Humane Society’s fundraiser with other CWA authors.
My bags are almost packed, and I’ve managed to gather all my cat tops, cat ears, and other cat items to bring to the event in, what else, a cat suitcase. It should be fun as well as educational with speakers, editors, sessions on a variety of topics, and networking opportunities. My only regret is having to leave my three cats at home, but I know they’ll be happy when I return with my swag bag of feline goodies from all the wonderful pet company sponsors. The 25th anniversary will definitely be something to meow about!
I was asked to write a synopsis with a character-oriented focus to help my publisher create some cover copy for my upcoming book. While doing this, I began to reflect on how I created the varied characters, some major and some minor, in “A Stone’s Throw.” I think it’s pretty obvious that the librarian protagonist, Alicia Fairmont, is based on me. While she’s not identical in her personality or looks, there are some interesting similarities. When the story starts, she has been a librarian for 17 years. I’ve been one for over 20. She and her husband have been married 15 years without children. I had my daughter after 15 years of marriage. She has chestnut hair (some people consider my hair reddish brown), and she is quite stubborn (I’m a Taurus, need I say more?).
What about the rest of my characters? Going back to my previous analogy of authors giving birth to their book, I believe that their characters are their “babies” that grow throughout the story. In an online Gale Course I am taking on Mystery Writing, I am learning about the protagonist’s and antagonist’s flaws. No one is perfect, and characters share the same imperfections as real people, so it makes sense that they are based on real people – whether it’s the author or a relative, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance of the author. A character can also be a composite of more than one person. Characters are then shaped by their experiences, both the back story and the continuing plot.
Some authors create detailed sketches of their characters before even adding them to their manuscripts (I wish I had been one of those). Like me, others create characters as they write. It often feels that the characters create themselves.
Another type of character that adds interest to a book is the pet character. As a member of the Cat Writer’s Association, I am familiar with cat and dog mysteries such as those written by Rita Mae Brown, Carole Nelson Douglas, Shirley Murphy, Lilian Jackson Braun, Amy Shojai and others. While the cat and dog characters in “A Stone’s Throw” don’t speak or solve mysteries by themselves, they play important roles. Sneaky, the Siamese who is the Cobble Cove library cat, is modelled after my 15-year old Siamese cat, Oliver. Fido, the old, overweight golden retriever, is just the perfect type of dog for 80 year old Mac.
The most important thing about a character is that a reader can relate to that person and finds the person interesting, not a flat caricature. I believe one of my strong points as a writer is the way I depict characters. I hope you will agree when you read “A Stone’s Throw.”