Kait Carson: The Cozy is Dead–Long Live the Cozy

Author photos 009On the plight of the cozy mysterySo, with all that popularity and variety, how is this subgenre under attack? Easy, traditional publishing houses, both large and small are cutting or reducing their cozy lines. Authors are being given notice that their series are not being renewed, or are being discontinued.

The Cozy is Dead – Long Live the Cozy

Genre writing is rife with pitfalls. Fashionable reads come and go with what seems like head spinning frequency. Right now, it appears that the cozy is under siege, and under siege from an unlikely source. Publishing Houses.

Cozies are not a genre. The genre is mystery in all its myriad of forms. The cozy is a subgenre of mysteries, as are traditional, historical, humorous, steampunk, noir, and the list goes on. (Who else just tapped their feet to Sonny and Cher?) A cozy can be set in the current time, past, future, even in a fictional world of fairies and wizards. What matters is the quest, and the crime. Usually murder.

What sets the cozy apart then? It’s debatable and there are as many answers as there are authors so this is a generalization. The cozy features an amateur sleuth, they are usually set in a small town, and typically, the sex and violence take place off the page. Oh yes, they usually have a tame vocabulary too. One cusses in a cozy, and curses in a thriller. Think Miss Marple.

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The cozy has subgenres. Caterers and cooks are among the most popular, specialty shop owners, crafters, book club members, even soccer moms can be a cozy sleuth, and each subgenre has its devoted followers. Some of my best recipes came from Diane Mott Davidson books. If only I could figure out a way to send you a batch of Scout’s brownies! You’d see exactly what I mean.

So, with all that popularity and variety, how is this subgenre under attack? Easy, traditional publishing houses, both large and small are cutting or reducing their cozy lines. Authors are being given notice that their series are not being renewed, or are being discontinued. The last list I saw had over twenty series on it. One publishing house quote I read laid the cause at the feet of the decline in mass-market sales. Is this really about the rise of the e-book? Many of the big five publishers price their e-books in the $7 to $8 range. That seems like a lot when there are so many small press and quality independent e-books available in the $3 to $5 range. Economics figures into everything. Especially the profitability of a large press. They have a lot of mouths to feed after all and they may not be able to cut lower and keep the lights on.

There has also been speculation on blogs, but not in anything I’ve seen attributed to a publishing house, that there is a perception in publishing circles that the cozy is formulaic and the public is tiring of them. In other words, if you can dance at Arthur Murray’s, you can write a cozy. Just put your cursor in the footsteps and away you go. As an author of traditional mysteries, I can only say, “if only!” There is no cozy formula, any more than there is in any other genre. A reader enters into a contract with the author when the reader opens a book. That contract relates to certain expectations. How the author delivers those expectations makes, or breaks, the book in the reader’s eyes. If we judge by popularity, cozies have delivered on the promise.

So how does this bode well for the cozy mystery? At first glance, not at all, but writers write. That’s what we do. While we may lose some of our favorite series, those same authors will find new homes—or decide to strike out as independents. The cozy will go on. It may be changed, it may not be as available in neighborhood bookstores (the few that remain), but it’s a safe bet that the cozy will live.

Long live the cozy.

book reviews

The best way to thank an author is to write a review. Reviews count with publishers and with standings on websites such as Amazon. This opens the door to the book being a suggested read and catching the attention of other readers. 

Editor’s note: there is a lot of excellent information regarding cozy mysteries out here. I’ve included a few helpful articles below, if you’re interested. The article from Writer’s Digest is particularly insightful.

Writer’s Digest, “4 Things You Should Know About Writing a Cozy Mystery Novel”

Writing Novels That Sell, “10 Tips to Make Your #Cozy #Mystery Sell” 

Huffington Post, “The Immense Popularity of the Cozy Mysteries”

 

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Kait Carson: “Characters–They’re in All of Us”

Author photos 009ON creating characters: In the beginning, writers create their characters from a pastiche of traits.. .Then, like kids, characters morph into beings of their own and work to fulfill a destiny that is uniquely theirs.

By Kait Carson

Patty Duke died this week. The death hit me hard. I wanted to be Patty Duke—or was it Patty Lane, I’m not sure—when I was a child. Both had it all from my vantage point. Both Pattys lived in New York, wore great clothes, had great hair, understanding parents, and Patty Lane had a really cool cousin with a fantastic accent. What more could a girl want. News flash! Patty Duke was a character. Patty and Cathy Lane were too but Patty Duke was a fiction. And that’s how it is with characters, especially main characters. Protagonists.

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Protagonists done well create the same initial question in the reader’s mind. Is this a character, or is it the author? Truth is it’s a bit of both. E. Michael Helms, a blog mate, is a former Marine. Hank Phillippi Ryan is an investigative journalist (and on TV to boot). Patricia Cornwell worked in a Medical Examiner’s office. I scuba dive and am a paralegal. So Mac, Jane, Kay, and Hayden are lightly fictionalized depictions of…the authors. Although I can’t be 100% certain about anyone but me, it’s probably safe to say, “No way.” I know it’s safe to deny any relationship between Hayden and me. Case in point, Hayden is much younger, a lot savvier, and way more self-assured. But, I gotta thank you for the compliment.

Realism is the key to creating memorable characters. If the reader has some confusion between what’s real and what’s created, so much the better. It means we writers are doing our job well. Multi-dimensional characters become real to the reader, and to the author. When I’m stuck, I’ll ask Hayden what she would do next. What, in the context of this scene, would be the worst thing that could happen to her? What would be the best? The question is never what I would do. After two books, Hayden would point and laugh. She thinks I’m boring. And from a character standpoint, I am. I make her keep her legal stuff straight.

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Every character has its own personality. Its own wants, needs, fears, hopes, secrets, embarrassments, quirks, temper, and emotions. In the beginning, writers create their characters from a pastiche of traits, many selected because they suit the author’s vision of the character. The page would stay blank otherwise. Those characterizations last for about two chapters. Just long enough to figure out what the character looks like. Then, like kids, characters morph into beings of their own and work to fulfill a destiny that is uniquely theirs. Like Patty Duke who started life as Anna Marie Duke and from all accounts, never confused one with the other.

 Miss you Patty, Godspeed.

Anna, I wish I knew you.

Interview with Kait Carson, author of DEATH BY SUNKEN TRAESURE

death by sunken treasureOn writing mystery books: I’m a pantser who is trying to be a plotter and finding that it does not work for me.  I keep telling myself that outlining is the way to go. Then all I have to do is connect the dots. Buzzer noise here – wrong answer!

Be sure to go pick up Death By Sunken Treasure, an action-packed mystery featuring Hayden Kent, today! Only $2.99 on Kindle, $15.95 for a paperback, or $31.95 for a hardcover.

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What do you write?

Oh, pretty much everything. Although a life-long mystery reader (even before I discovered Nancy Drew) I started my writing life with poetry and romance.  The poetry has long since fallen by the wayside, but the romance is my guilty little secret. I write for the Trues. Yep, True Confessions and True  Story are the only ones left now, but my stories appear from time to time. Then there’s my mystery gig. Novels only. I haven’t yet figured out the formula for mystery shorts.  I’m hoping with enough practice, I’ll get there.   Either that, or I’ll paper my house with the rejections.

I currently have two mystery series, the Hayden Kent series published by Henery Press.  Newest edition out on March 22nd titled Death by Sunken Treasure. Is that today? YIPPEE! Those are cozies, but on the traditional end of the spectrum. My self-published series features Catherine Swope, a woman with a past. They are definitely traditional mysteries with dark overtones. Knocking around in the back of my head are some very dark noir books that I’m going to have to attend too soon. They are getting too noisy clanking around back there.

Why do you write?

No choice in the matter. Started at an early age and kept on going. When I was a kid, I would occasionally speak tag lines, an early indication that I was doomed to slave over a typewriter. The fact of the matter, I love to entertain. My favorite form of entertainment is reading, so it seemed like a natural progression. 

When and where do you write?

The when is always difficult. My day job consumes anywhere from ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes six days a week. I try to write (or do writing related “stuff”) for four hours a day. Usually an hour or so in the morning and then again for three hours after work.  My husband and I joke that we have the world’s only long distance relationship separated by a hallway.  My thought processes work best in the dark of night. If I’m really stuck on something, I either set an alarm to get up at 2 AM or take a nap and start writing when I wake up. It’s lucky I don’t need much sleep. Where I write is far more regular. I have a student’s desk in my office (I work my day job from home at the “real” desk) that sports my laptop, probably 20 notebooks variously color coded, a few inches of sticky notes, note paper pages, napkins, matchbooks, receipts, etc. scribbled with great ideas that may or may not trigger the original thought process, and a ton of books pertaining to the work at hand.   I like order, which explains the color coding.  The mess belongs to the other Kait.

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How do you write?

Oh, this is a great question. So many different answers flood my mind. First off, I’m a pantser who is trying to be a plotter and finding that it does not work for me.  I keep telling myself that outlining is the way to go. Then all I have to do is connect the dots. Buzzer noise here – wrong answer! For me at least, I need to be surprised, to follow the story arc wherever it goes. The one book I wrote from an outline is the one I like the least. Sad, but true. I have been able to develop a kind of hybrid version that does suit me. I know my victim and my protagonist when I start a book. So the first chapter is usually backstory, and I accept that. It’s what it takes to get me up and running and it never sees the light of day. After that I let the hook of one chapter lead me to the opening of the next

What do you read?

Everything. I have multiple degrees in useless majors, history, sociology, psychology, minored in philosophy. So I love biography, history, raving sociopath stories, noir, thrillers, even cereal boxes have appeal if nothing else is available. My core reading is mystery, with a minor in historical romances, and a subset of biographies. The only thing I won’t read is sci fi. Which is odd, I devoured it in college.

Why do you read?

Two reasons, I don’t get enough vacation time any other way, and since I started writing, as research. I can tell a book is good if I forget the research part and have to remind myself that I’m supposed to enjoy this, but also observe the craft.

Who do you read?

Besides my blog partners? Right now I’m working my way through Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series. Hank Phillippi Ryan, Polly Iyer, Sasccer Hill. These are people I preorder when I hear a book is coming out.  My history concentration was civil war. I’ll read any primary source biography  or social historical account.  Had enough of the battles getting my major. Victorian era history if written by a Brit. I’m a snob that way.  Then there are the books I’ll read over and over again because the writing sings. Dominick  Dunne’s The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.  James Clavel’s Noble House.  Cereal boxes. Oh, I said that.

Tell me something funny.

Humor for me is in the situation. For example, my college roommate and I went out to one of those barbecue places where everyone sits at long picnic tables and you find and grab a seat as they become available. We were gnawing on our ribs when a woman three people down stood up, shouted out the name of a social disease, sat back down, and went back to eating. A hush settled over the entire restaurant. Then everyone went back to their dinner, a bit more subdued. My roommate and I started giggling, and ended up laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. It wasn’t funny in and of itself, but the entire situation was absurd. OK, you had to be there.

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Hey, want more Kait Carson? Stop by her website.  Follow her on twitter and Facebook.