Interview: Why Write Cozy Mysteries?
This interview first appeared on the Mystery Shelf blog at https://mysteryshelf.com/summer-of-mystery-and-crime-blog-tour-cliff-hanger/
What initially got you interested in writing? I have always written. In my youth, that meant letters to family members. Later, in addition to school work, I wrote to sort out my thoughts and feelings. But I didn’t consider any of that writing, and I didn’t think of myself as a writer. In my work life, I had various titles including “writer” and “editor” but my topics were corporate communications and public relations for a big company with diverse products, none of which were very easy to understand. My job, in a nutshell, was to provide employees, the community, and potential customers with a clearer picture of the company and its impact on the world. But I still wouldn’t have called myself a writer. Not until I started writing personal essays to entertain myself as a young mother. Later I wondered if I could write a novel, in the same way that some people might wonder if they could climb Mt. Everest. It seemed like an impossible dream with a steep learning curve and a lot of very hard work. But I wanted to try.
What genres do you write in? For now, I’m strictly a cozy mystery writer. I think my character driven stories might have a little more meat to them than some offerings in the genre. I won’t rule out genre jumping in the future, but my next few project ideas are all cozies.
What drew you to writing these specific genres? While I love thrillers and romantic suspense as much as I love mysteries, I didn’t want to write sex scenes, gritty violence, or torture. That pretty much landed me smack in the center of the cozy mystery realm. I think cozies have reputation for being frothy and sweet. And that makes some folks steer clear. But many cozy authors, including me, are happy to ditch sex and violence because it gives us more room to explore character, a sense of community, and how people unite to restore hope after evil has brought fear and division into their lives. Our stories thus can become richer than the offerings in some other genres.
How did you break into the field? I can’t say I did everything wrong, but I sure made a lot of mistakes. Including submitting to a publisher before I was finished submitting to agents. Kensington Publishing had just bought Lyrical’s romance line and was expanding it into mysteries. They were looking for direct submissions, and I was weary of waiting to hear from agents, so I sent off my stuff. By the time they responded, I’d forgotten I’d sent my manuscript to them. I had to check my spreadsheet to be sure. That makes it sound relatively easy, but I spent at least ten years writing other projects in young adult fiction that no one wanted. In retrospect, I’m glad those early works are still gathering dust. They’ll need considerable development and polishing before they see the light of day.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works? A sense of hope. Bad things sometimes happen to my characters, but it all works out in the end for them and for their communities. I hope that’s the way the larger world works in the long run but I love letting readers get a glimpse of that in miniature. Love ultimately wins.
What do you find most rewarding about writing? One of the most satisfying moments is when I look at something I wrote months ago, thinking it was dreadful, and discover that I had something to say and succeeded in getting most of it on the page. Of course, it will still need lots of revision, but my ideas are there. It reminds me that I might just know a little something about a little piece of this business.
What do you find most challenging about writing? When a writer has a contract, she might be starting book six immediately after handing in the completed manuscript for book five and while she’s working on the final edits or proofreading book 4. It’s super hard to remember how much work went into the earlier books to get them to their polished states. Each book starts with a mess, and that makes it very difficult to begin. It’s a little akin to psyching yourself up to jump in an icy lake on a sweltering day. You dip your toe in and every cell ices over. But if you close your eyes, hold your nose, and jump, it can be exhilarating.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field? If you can’t work hard, pushing forward, for ten years, don’t start. It takes an incredible amount of patience and determination to hone your craft to a place where a novel will be acceptable for public consumption. There aren’t any short cuts. And there certainly are many many more lucrative pursuits!
What type of books do you enjoy reading? I’m a promiscuous reader and will read almost anything that is well written. I love a good science fiction/fantasy set in a new world. And I’ll gobble up a good thriller or romantic suspense. But, hands down, Louise Penny’s mysteries are my favorites.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you? I’m a certified California naturalist, and a total bird geek.