What Make A Cozy Mystery “Cozy?”

by Linda O. Johnston

I’m delighted to be back for another guest blog on Writers in the Storm.  Once again, I’m blogging about cozy mysteries.

Do you know what makes a cozy mystery “cozy?”

Well, they all star amateur sleuths, for one thing.  There are a lot of Jessica Fletcher types of characters out there who just happen into murders and are drawn into solving them, even though they don’t really know the first thing about how to find a killer, at least not at first.

Sometimes they’re driven because they are the main murder suspects, or their best friends or close relatives are.  Sometimes, it’s just because they stumble over a body, either literally or figuratively, and have to figure out whodunit.

In cozies, the sleuths may be amateur but they’re not dumb.  They often have friends or relatives who are in law enforcement who can help them out.  Sometimes those friends are really good friends, like their love interests.  And, yes, most cozy protagonists are women, since their readership is also primarily female.

One thing that often pulls readers into a cozy series is the underlying theme.   The readers may share the protagonist’s interests on anything from pets (that’s my theme!), to hobbies, to one or more kinds of paranormal activities, to cooking or sewing or any other kind of personal pursuit.

Cozies tend not to be particularly graphic, although that may be changing.  Even when a protagonist stumbles over a bloody body, that blood isn’t described in gory detail.  In some stories these days there might be a little bit more description of the dead body, or even of what goes on in the protagonist’s bedroom.  Her sex life usually takes place off the page, even when she has a love interest.

Cozy mystery protagonists also often have friends who are sidekicks in addition to those in law enforcement.  They’re helpful sounding boards for running theories by, or even sometimes help to dig out those all-important clues.

Most cozy mysteries tend to be written in series, so you can get to know the character and friends, and dig further into the themes.

Do you find this fun?  I hope so–and here’s a little blatant self-promo which may also be of interest to those of you who want to write cozy mysteries:  I’ll be teaching an online class called: Kiss Me or Kill Me: Writing Cozy Mysteries for Romance Writers.  It’s offered by the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and starts mid-February.  Notwithstanding the name, it could be of interest to you if you’re interested in writing cozies but don’t write romance.  I will be addressing the basics of how to write cozy mysteries. Hope to see you there!

Do you read cozy mysteries? Do you have any questions for me? What is it that attracts you the most to these books vs. “traditional” mystery novels?

Linda O. Johnston is the author of 29 published novels, with more to come.  She currently writes the Pet Rescue Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, a spinoff series from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries, also for Berkley .   The second Pet Rescue Mystery, THE MORE THE TERRIER, was an October release, and the third, HOUNDS ABOUND, will be available in April 2012.

Additionally, Linda writes paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne–the Alpha Force miniseries about a covert military unit of shapeshifters.  Watch for one in 2012.  And also coming up, in July 2012 is Linda’s Harlequin Romantic Suspense UNDERCOVER SOLDIER!

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15 Responses to What Make A Cozy Mystery “Cozy?”

  1. Liz Flaherty says:

    Interesting! I’m a cozy reader but not writer, and I wasn’t sure of what all MADE it a cozy, only when it was.

  2. Hurray for WITS for hosting you today, Linda. I am the consumate lover of mysteries, romantic suspense, thrillers, cozy, not-so-cozy and anything at all that smacks of a great sleuth. My love began so so many little girls with Nancy Drew, continued with Agatha (I still re-read her for the pure joy of her multi-plots and I think all writers would do well to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Yes, yes I love series and maybe even a few who involve pets, talking farm animals, and how about Diane Viets, who has been known to actually do those “dead end jobs” she features in her series? I follow dozens of series and secretly wish to learn more about the “cop” aspect, both technically and emotionally. For that reason I have embarked on a reading of ALL of Michael Connelley, already read all of Alex Cross and Lucas Davenport. Good grief, it never ends, does it?

    And if you haven’t guessed, yes, I am also writing mysteries, straight amature (The Third Eye Trilogy) that features a photojournalist who solves part of her mystery with the use of her photography, romantic suspense and a paranormal suspense that requires my poor MC to travel through time and quantum leap into people to solve the mysteries of how the dearly departed got slammed into the wrong afterlife. I love it, all of it, and I will for sure check out your workshop!

    I am known around WITS for my looongish comments (sorry). This morning I wish I could reach out, grab a cup of java and just listen to you for hours. Thanks :)

  3. Glad to help with the explanation, Liz. :)

    Your mystery idea does sound cozy and lots of fun, ramblingsfrom the left–and I also love that you read the genres you’re writing in and more!

  4. Jenny Hansen says:

    I’ve always thought mysteries were beyond me but between your post(s) and the one Elizabeth Craig did last month, I’m reconsidering…Hmmm…

  5. I like Elizabeth’s helpful hints, too. If writing a mystery is of interest, Jenny, why not give it a try?

  6. Very helpful information. I signed up for the class. I can’t wait to write my first cozy.

  7. I’m delighted, Margaret. See you then!

  8. Ann says:

    I like that most cozies take place in a village or small community. The quirkiness of the characters are a big part of the reading enjoyment.
    Ann

  9. Locations can become characters of sorts, too, Ann–and characters of all kinds are definitely an important part of cozies!

  10. Your class looks very interesting, Linda! I write nonfiction for a living, and have just written the first draft of my first cozy . . .

  11. Consider joining the class, Kelly. Your writing background sounds great! You could learn my perspective on cozies, at least, and I could offer you some feedback. Hope to see you there!

  12. Excellent, Kelly! Looking forward to having you in the class.

  13. I signed up a couple weeks ago, can’t wait! I’m writing a superhero series that may benefit from some of the cozy mystery tips. It’s not a romance, but the romance between the two main newlywed characters is important. It’s not blood and guts, and it’s not whodunit with a surprise at the end. It is kinda about solving crimes and fighting criminals and trying to figure out what it means to be a superhero, but it’s funny. I really hope you can help me take it up a level! :) Looking forward to it!

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