What is a “cozy” mystery?Question Mark

My favorite definition is “cats or quilts and not a lot of blood.” I often call it a “kinder, gentler mystery.” Meaning, all the really harsh stuff, the give-you-nightmares stuff, the I-wish-I-hadn’t-read-that stuff, happens off-stage. In addition, the hero/heroine is usually an amateur sleuth and the mystery happens in a small town or confined space like an apartment building or rest home. There are always quirky characters that populate a cozy world and keep one turning the pages.

Where do you get your ideas?

From everywhere. I see things, hear things, read things, and experience things as we all do. Things that spark ideas. An idea might just simmer until worlds of folks are living out their dramas inside my head, longing for their stories to be told.  I love to capture ideas and fun phrases from others. I’ll respond, “Wow!  I love how you put that.  Can I use it in the book?”  If the person says “Yes,” then I might.  I call myself a “thief of life.”  It’s my biggest vice.

I keep a file of ideas and newspaper clippings that are intriguing. Sometimes, when the ideas seem as elusive as clues to a gumshoe, I ask a few writer friends to help out by meeting for a plot party.  We’ll gather at a cozy coffee shop and I’ll give them a summary of my story (so far). In turn, they toss little conflicts or plot twists my way.  Often, I find just what I need from that pile of propositions on the table. Or their suggestions will fire-up my mental idea file and soon, I’ve got it!

I have an idea for a great book. How can I get it published?

I wish there was a simple answer to that question. But a writer must jump through many hoops before becoming the author of that first book. If you have talent and are willing to persevere, you will make it to your goal. The publishing world is changing fast and many folks choose to self-publish their own work, but for me, I love the pursuit of the traditional publishing contract. (To understand the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, here is some direction from Jane Friedman’s wonderful blog.)

My advice below is with the traditional goal in mind. No matter what path you choose, excellent writing is paramount.

  • Read, read, read good books. Read books like you want to write and books that are not in your genre. Stretch yourself.  Absorb the classics. Read poetry to learn how to make every word count. Read Pulitzer Prize winners and writer journals. You will learn much about writing from reading.
  • Join a good writers group, one that has a critique component. You must have your work critiqued by folks who will be honest. Your goal must always be excellent writing. Keep the bar high.
  • Go to writer’s conferences. There, you will learn to hone the craft, meet editors and agents, and network with other writers.  Writing is a solitary vocation and writers are notoriously full of self doubt; it is good that the writing community is so supportive. We need to encourage one another along the journey.
  • Start small. Try writing articles or book reviews or a personal essay – even a filler piece. Look for opportunities to build your writer resume while you are working on your book. The more you are published, the more likely you will be taken seriously by an agent or editor with a traditional publishing house.
  • Read books about writing.  Some favorites I recommend: Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King, Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, and a special fave for new writers – Give ‘Em What They Want by Camenson & Cook. (The Writer magazine is tops.)

Keep writing, rewriting, and honing the craft. Often, you think your book is ready for publication, but there is still more work to be done. That happened to me.  Don’t be discouraged; it’s a long road to publication. But you’ll get there!

“Be persistent. Editors change; editorial tastes change; markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.” John Jakes

What is the best part of being a writer?

I don’t know if I can choose one thing that is the best part. Maybe two? The first is the delight of the writing itself, the putting down of words on paper. In the previous answer, I have alluded to the amount of work that accompanies the writer life. That’s true, and yet – for me, it’s not work. It’s joy. It is all joy. The writing, rewriting, and rewriting again – giving life to those characters that have graced me with their stories. It makes my heart smile.

Writers love words. We have loved them through the years, reading them on the pages of our favorite books, and we love them now as we choose just the right word or phrase for our projects. We wish we could say it better, more profoundly, with more eloquence. And every once in a while, we craft a sentence that has a flash of brilliance and we know, if we keep on trying, there’s the possibility of truly writing well.

The other best part? That has to be the lovely friendships I have made among those in the writing community. It has been an unexpected blessing, to be sure, and I’m grateful to God for giving me the “writer call.” Sometimes, I think I should mourn for my former life…the life before I was writing. I thought I was happy. But how could that be? This life, the writer life, shared with writers of all skill levels and experienced in many new and delightful ways…this is the life!