Friday, October 19, 2007

Cozy mysteries and Sex! Violence! Chicks Gone Wild!

I have a confession to make.

When I started writing DYING TO BE THIN, the first installment in the Fat City Mystery series, I was not fully aware that the mystery sub-genre known as “cozies” had to follow certain restrictive guidelines. With some glaring exceptions, most cozies are written according to the following rules:

• They have “kinder, gentler” story lines.
• There is little graphic violence.
• Murders are mostly presented off-stage.
• Sex tends to be delivered in “fade to black” mode. (You know, like the couple in From Here to Eternity; you get to see them thrashing around in the surf. But then, just when the action gets interesting, the scene ends.)

And so…ahem. In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that even though DYING TO BE THIN often gets lumped in with cozy mysteries, readers will encounter a few “uncozy” passages:

• Murder victims are presented splat on the page, complete with a discussion of the deceased-one’s physical appearance (including, in the case of one victim, the impact of weaponized fondue forks).
• There are frequent and colorful references to a fictional S&M scene in the story’s locale, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
• The plot line is neither kind, nor particularly gentle. But it is often humorous.

My thought is that the concept of a "cozy" mystery is expanding in terms of the amount of sex and violence that readers will accept. What do you think?

And if you have a chance to read DYING TO BE THIN, I’d so appreciate it if you’d go to my web site, and send me an email with your feedback.

Visiting Thousand Oaks, California on Saturday
This weekend I'll be visiting Mysteries To Die For for an informal discussion and signing, so please drop by for a chat!

Saturday, October 20, 1 PM
Mysteries To Die For
2940 E Thousand Oaks BlvdThousand Oaks, CA 91362-3278


Sheila Connolly said...

In my forthcomine cozy, Through a Glass, Deadly, my victim is killed by having his head stuck in a glassblowing furnace. While my editor balked at a complete description, I did get to call him "Mr. No-Head", and my protagonist had to explain that he might be hard to identify because he no longer had a face.

And sex...I've been rereading a cozy series I wrote a year or two ago, since I've had a nibble from an editor. The lovely middle-aged protagonists are going at it like rabbits, like, um, every night. Of course, the door closes, but we all know what's going on...

Camille Minichino said...

Such a good question, Kathryn. I think it depends on the house/editor whether more than just hints of sex are welcomed now.
One thing about cozy without sex is that they have a chance to pick up a YA/teen audience. My first series has been used in science classes and in combined sci/English programs, and I don't think that would have come about if they weren't of the fade-to-black for sex scenes variety.

It seems that picking up one audience (say, the one that likes graphics) always means losing another.

Kathryn Lilley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Lilley said...

Or you could have called him Mr. Meltyhead, Sheila, lol! Or Meathead! (But that might also violate the cozy line.)

And you're right, Camille--we have to know the exact audience our book will appeal to. I wrote four YA mysteries under a pseudonym (can't say publicly which one due to a confidentiality agreement, but it rhymes with "Fancy Brew." And believe me, DYING TO BE THIN is for a completely different audience! In my YA books, I couldn't even have anything remotely suggestive, not even my sleuth running her fingers down her boyfriend's nubbly sweater in front of the fireplace, with a fade to black! (or fade to flame, in this case!)

Linda O. Johnston said...

I've found that our reading audience may have expectations, rightly or wrongly, based on the cozy designation of our books and, sometimes, even on the covers! My Kendra book covers have cute, cartoony animals, and lots of people believe they're children's books--but there are some fairly bland swear words that do offend some people, especially on behalf of their kids.

Kathryn Lilley said...

The covers of your books are really cute, Linda! I had one beta reader (who is a big cozy fan) object to some phrasing in my upcoming work, A KILLER WORKOUT. I believe the offending phrase was "butt crack," as in a plumber's...but somehow, "tush cleavage" just doesn't have the same ring to it, lol!