The Making of a Cozy Mystery

I’m a cozy mystery author. When researching for my debut novel, A Vase of Mistaken Identity, I found a favorite cozy definition: “Cats, quilts, and not a lot of blood.” So clear, I understood the recipe right away. So clever, I can still remember it. But could I plot a mystery that included all the angles?

  1. CATS: According to the definition, I needed a cat for my story. But not just any ole momma cat, snoring on the sun-warmed carpet. I wanted an interesting animal. So I closed my eyes and sent out an inner casting call. Soon Betty padded into my brain and meowed a hello. Here was a freedom-loving calico with golden eyes and a crooked whisker. Perfect. She even had a habit of slipping through the smallest door opening, darting across the lawn, and springing over the fence onto the neighbor’s yard. Betty often chose to hang out with the wrong crowd – the strays next door. Last count – eleven mousers making mischief all over that dilapidated house. The bad habit got Betty into more than one scrape. Even so, my heroine, Thea James, adored her furry feline. In fact, I grew quite fond of Betty myself. And crossed “cats” off the list.

Betty Outdoors

  1. QUILTS: The Log Cabin quilt has always been my favorite pattern. Maybe it’s because the colors can be arranged in so many ways, yet the result is always gorgeous. Or maybe because it was the first quilt I ever made. Since I needed a quilt for my cozy mystery, I designed a small Log Cabin quilt for my rookie-quilter-heroine, Thea, to sew. I named it “Kitty in the Cabin.” As the book progressed, her work on the quilt did, too. My design featured a center block fashioned into the shape of a kitty’s head. I used a variation on a nine-patch to give it a little twist & some extra personality. Pictured is the prototype created by my cousin, Linda Gholson, quilter extraordinaire. She chose the 1930’s reproduction fabric & hand-quilted it with lovely details like French knot eyes, whiskers, & little fish stitched around the border. Quilts? Check.
  1. NOT A LOT OF BLOOD: This idea agreed with my Care Bear’s preference in books & movies. If blood had to be spilt, I didn’t want to be there when it happened. In a cozy mystery, the crime happens behind the curtain. Or, off stage. Then the reader doesn’t have to live through a nightmare-making, murder scene. In my story, the crime happened years ago, the body recently discovered by happenchance. Our heroine, a bit more clumsy than usual, stumbled smack into the mess. Poor Thea. But hurray for me! Now I could paste an imaginary, gold star by the last requirement for a proper cozy. All done.

Murder Off Stage

Then, I had only to write the book. The fun part. But perhaps you wonder about Thea’s first adventure in A Vase of Mistaken Identity? Here’s a teaser:

Thea James, antique dealer and budding amateur sleuth, discovers a list of names in a vintage vase. Curiosity prompts her to seek out the first name on the list. When she learns that the first woman lies in a coma after an accident and another has mysteriously disappeared, her inquisitiveness turns to fear – for Thea’s name is also on the list!

A Vase of Mistaken Identity

Can Thea find the murderer before he finds her?

Order your own copy of A Vase of Mistaken Identity! And enjoy….

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Craft Therapy: Quilting

Next to writing, quilting is my favorite pastime. I love plotting out the design, gathering the perfect fabric, and the actual seat-in-chair experience of sewing up a masterpiece. When it’s done, a quilt offers comfort, warmth, beauty, and even tells a story. Like writing, I find time spent quilting to be time that results in healing.

Recently, a friend showed me a quilt she’d hand-quilted over many months. Anne called the project her “Quilt Therapy.” Before she started the quilt, she’d struggled with a family member over something on which they could not agree. Anne believed she was in the right, but knew her attitude was wrong. So, she decided to pray about it and actively seek healing for their relationship. Through quilting.

Therapy Quilt - Anne McKinley who made the quilt

Anne & her lovely “Therapy Quilt.”

Anne took time to pray about the fabrics and the pattern for the quilt she would make. After cutting it out, she pieced the blocks together on her sewing machine, praying as she went. And not just any type of prayer, but prayers for the one with whom she disagreed. Soon, she started hand-quilting the top to the quilt back, praying all the while. As she worked the needle back and forth through the soft batting, the prayers soothed her spirit.

By the time Anne finished her quilt, God had changed her heart and stitched the torn relationship back together into something beautiful. More lovely than the quilt!

So many times I have experienced healing through the craft of writing. I know it works. Now, after seeing my friend’s stunning quilt, hand-stitched with prayer, I know that works, too. I wonder how many problems could be solved with only a bit of quilting therapy?

Therapy Quilt - Cathy Elliott

Sampler quilt, hand-stitched with prayer by Anne McKinley.

Epilogue: Anne just started another quilt. It’s crib-sized, with a pink, patchwork design for a wee one coming in the spring. When this baby arrives, she will be welcomed with a new quilt & lovingly wrapped in prayer.

Baby Feet

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Crazed for Crazy Quilts

I don’t own a crazy quilt. Though I admire them a great deal. So far, quilts that interest me also exceed my spending limit. I justify NOT buying them by asking myself pithy questions, like:

  • How much craziness is too much in a house with an overabundance of fancy teacups & saucers & feminine frills?
  • Should I purchase this expensive crazy quilt that doesn’t mix with my décor? Or give the money to missions? (A smashing alternative, no?)

There’s simply something so charming about crazy quilts. Consider their antiquity:

Think 1876 – the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition – & an exhibit in the Japanese Pavilion that stunned the Victorians. It featured crazed ceramics & asymmetrical art, unseen before. It wasn’t long before society-seamstresses mimicked the design with their crazy quilt technique. Every house displayed one (or more) as a status symbol. The quilts continued in popularity until about 1910. A perfect opportunity for ladies to show off their expensive, luxury fabrics & needlework skills. The exquisite designs were only limited by the fabric stashes & ability of their makers.

Some years ago, my dear friend, Nancy Boyd, crafted a heritage project for each of her granddaughters – to be given on their wedding days. Instead of a full-size quilt, she made “crazy” shadow boxes. Artwork with a crazy quilt piece made out of fabrics that meant something to their family: a button from a wedding dress, a part of grandpa’s tie, and so on. She included other precious mementos for each piece. The one pictured below shows some military service medals. I loved the idea so much, I “sewed” similar memorabilia into the crazy quilt in my cozy mystery, A Stitch in Crime.

Nancy's Crazy Quilt Creation

Nancy’s Crazy Artwork featured at A Stitch in Crime’s Book Launch.

In addition, a lovely crazy design by Angela McInnis was chosen for the book’s cover. After my precise descriptions of my vision of the legacy quilt in the story, I never expected the publishing house to search & find Angela’s framed crazy square, & travel miles across the nation to photograph it. But they did! The colors were exactly right, the “bling” pushed the stitching up a notch, & she’d even added a spider web for interest. I’d mentioned it to Abingdon Press & how they were considered good luck in the Victorian age. And…there it was! A spider web. Perfect.

I loved looking at A Stitch in Crime’s beautiful cover decorated with Angela’s crazy quilt. Made me want a real quilt of my own. Soon, I saw a gorgeous crazy quilt pillow on eBay & bid hard to win it. The cost was higher than I’d hoped, but the embroidery – flawless. I had to have it. My rationale? To use it as a prop at book signings & draw curious readers to my table with its striking beauty.

Crazy Quilt Pillow

Beautiful antique crazy quilt pillow created by Georgina Diehl Kosa. I love it!

The colorful, crazy part is cut from an antique quilt, while the backing is black velveteen cut from an ancient opera cloak. Isn’t that romantic? I can almost see a story when I gaze upon its design….

Since then, I’ve restrained my crazy quilt lust. To a point. While I’ve decided a quilt will not work for me, some crazy hearts have found themselves welcomed into my home. Some were gifted from pillow-maker & artist extraordinaire, Georgina, mentioned above. The rest arrived after a few little eBay excursions. I only need another twenty or so to deck out a Victorian (crazy heart) Christmas tree! In my world, that’s a shopping opportunity. And, when opportunity knocks?

Well, you know!

Crazy Quilt Hearts

 

 

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Patchwork Pillow Hugs

For my grandgem’s tenth birthday, I bought her a sparkly, mermaid-fabric pillow at Home Goods. It was covered on both sides with pink, sequined fabric that turned to silver when brushed the other way. Perfect for drawing hearts or writing a message. Or forever doodling in something like silver and pink glitter. She seemed charmed by it and I gave myself an inner stamp-of-approval. Job well done.

Until my daughter dropped a recent remark on the subject, ”Blah-blah…loves it…blah-blah…but she’s disappointed. She can’t cuddle up with the pillow or lay on it because of the sequins on both sides.” Oh-oh.

Sidney's not very happy. Neither is the pillow.

Sidney’s not very happy. Neither is the pillow.

The comment stuck with me. Why hadn’t I thought of that myself? So caught up in its twinkle, I never considered what her pillow was tasked to do. To be a comfort. What tween girl – or anyone – would want to flop in a chair and lean against a prickly pillow?

Then I remembered a handmade, patchwork pillow, loved from the first day I laid eyes upon it, gifted by my sister-in-law many years ago. Sent for no reason except sisterly-affection, it was (and still is) the perfect pillow. A generous 26”X26” square, filled with soft down, and covered with quality Ralph Lauren fabrics: the striped material cut from a set of curtains, the backing from a skirt she no longer wore, the rest of the fabrics from a design store’s old sample book.

In fact, that pillow is just what it should be – beautiful in design, skillfully crafted, and as comforting to lean against as a hug at the end of a hard day. All wrapped into a patchwork masterpiece, always welcoming me home.

Though my grandgem might not appreciate designer fabrics yet, I bet she’d treasure a Gramsey-made pillow out of fun fabrics that make her smile or stir a happy memory. Something huggable – front and back. That’s the goal. Out with the prickle and in with the cozy cuddle!

winnie-pandey-pillow hug_1280I’d better get busy.

 

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Decorating With Grandma. Again.

Once upon a time my mother, two sisters-in-law, & I decided to start a new Christmas tradition. We each crafted a handmade ornament to hang on our trees. Four ornaments total. One for Mother, one each for sisters-in-law Pam & Nancy, & one for me to keep.

That first year, everyone made a beautiful ornament. We wrapped, ribboned, & readied them for their tah-dah moments, opening them up with anticipation. Mother’s, made of felt & sequins, elicited smiles from us as they sparkled with Christmas spirit. Pam stitched up a gingerbread man that quickly became a favorite. Nancy’s cross-stitch stunner dazzled us. Each one a treasure, beginning a family legacy.

Except for mine. Without going into detail, it was…unfortunate. My kind relatives uttered undeserved oos & aws over it, but I wasn’t fooled.

You might think these pictured are my handiwork. But no. They are more winsome than what I produced. Over the years, I tried to make an angel out of coffee filters, a salt dough ginger-boy (who was too heavy for the branch), a ball glitter-glued to gruesome heights, & a snowman who looked rather like Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North. But none turned out well.

Still, I yenned to fashion a gingerbread man as cute as Pam’s. Maybe a ginger-girl?

Handmade UGLY Gingerbread Girl

Oh, my goodness! It didn’t work out for me. (Sigh.) Another awkward attempt.

Eventually, we each fell away from the tradition. The task too time consuming, I fell first, followed by the others. Except for my mother, who faithfully crafted her ornaments year after year, gifting them to us joyfully, without comment on our lack of reciprocation.

We looked forward to receiving them & each ended up with a collection of her creations. Hours & hours of close work, stitching far into the nights to keep her end of the bargain, though we didn’t keep ours.

Every Christmas, when we unpack the precious ornaments, we enjoy the blessing anew. And remember the legacy of our Mother’s abiding love.

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Spice Is Nice…& Yummy, Too!

The past week, I’ve been whining on Facebook about the lack of pepper jelly in my town. I searched here & there, near & far…but woe was me. No pepper jelly on the shelves. “Sold out,” I was told. “No longer stocked,” they said. How could I make my appetizer, Spicy Salami Rolls, for Thanksgiving dinner without the star-of-the-show?

Folks kindly supplied shopping suggestions beyond my preferred grocery stores. I scanned World Market, but missed Trader Joe’s, got personal help at Tuesday Morning & at T.J. Maxx, where I found some Bacon Pepper Jelly. Hmm. What about mixing bacon with salami? Could the salami handle it? I mean, it was bacon, for pity sakes! There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “That’s too much bacon – said no one. Ever.” But, being a doubter & also a purist, I passed on the bacon-enhanced, pepper jelly.

Pepper Jelly

The day before Thanksgiving, I finally found two jars of Tabasco brand, spicy, pepper jelly at Walmart. Hallelujah! (That was close.) And made what I hoped was a drool-worthy appetizer. For me & for many of those at our gathering, it met the goal. If you want to try it, here’s my take:

Cathy’s Spicy Salami Rolls

Ingredients:
Package Dry Italian Salami slices (as much as needed for large crowd)
1 – 10 oz jar pepper jelly
1 lb cream cheese (softened @room temperature)

Salami Spread Step 1
Salami Rolls-Cream Cheese

Directions:
Lay slices of salami out on a work surface. Top each salami slice with swipes of cream cheese across the diameter. Add 1 tsp pepper jelly & spread over cream cheese. Roll & secure with a (fancy) toothpick. Refrigerate until time to serve.

Salami Rolls Presentation

*Variation 1:

Tame Salami Rolls – For those who don’t care for pepper jelly (or in my case, for grandgems who don’t care for any kind of jelly) – roll up with only cream cheese filling. I made a plate for the kids at our Thanksgiving gathering (with green toothpicks as a “go for these” hint) & they were a hit. 

Salami Rolls 4 Kids

*Variation 2:

Figgy Salami Rolls – Tame, but with a bit more flavor, give that roll a holiday twist by substituting fig jam or preserves for the pepper jelly. Yum.

 

I enjoyed making those appetizers for the big dinner this year. They present well & were well received. Plus, they make good snacks the day after the event! (And the day after that.)

SOURCE: The bacon saying quoted was printed on a reusable shopping bag sold on Café Press. Just one among many cute bacon sayings & great gifts.

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Mixing It Up

Last month, I posted a couple blogs about culling one’s collections & finding new homes for those once-loved items. I’m not as far along in that journey as I’d hoped by now. Could the following experience have tripped me up?

Amid all the antiques that needed to move on to new pastures, I managed to sabotage myself by adding a huge something to my stash. A NEW something I’d wanted for years. A mixer.

Mixer Front

Not just any mixer either. A cobalt blue, 5-quart, KitchenAid mixer with glass bowl & powerful wattage. Since I love to buy extra storage for my computer & phone, it makes sense in my world to buy an appliance that’s more than I really need. And such a deal! It looked so fine sitting on Hondaleezza’s back seat. I belted it in, lovingly.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it out of the car when I got home. Maybe the thick, glass bowl pushed it over the weight limit. I could have asked for help, but that’s not my strong suit. I figured it could just ride with me until I got over myself.

Mixer Side

But after a couple months of driving my KitchenAid passenger around, admiring the box, & imagining all the amazing cakes I would bake, a reality check tapped me on the shoulder. My kitchen didn’t have a spot for it. Yet. It might, once I remodeled; but for now, I’d have to store it. And lift it.

It’s embarrassing how long it took me to finally decide to take it back. One day I definitely would return it. The next, no! It was exactly what I wanted. But I knew I’d bought in haste & hey…I needed that back seat space. In a last attempt to keep it, I bargained with myself, “Okay, I’ll return it IF there’s still time on the receipt.” I’d entertained it so long in my car, I was sure the time had run out. But, no. The store gave customers 120 days to bring back an item. What luck.

With help from a brawny store employee who loaded the KitchenAid mixer into a shopping cart, I took it back, still new in the box, arguing with myself through the entire procedure. Waving “goodbye” to it across the counter, I knew I’d likely be in for a time of mourning over the loss of that pretty thing.

Mixer on Desk

But I didn’t mourn at all. I think the victory of choosing wisdom over the loss of something I could buy again at a later time soothed me. And one more box of stuff unnecessary to my life – gone! Whoop-whoop!

“Choice is strength. Having choice is also freedom.”  Coulter Watt

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