Tag Archives: Cozy mystery

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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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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Quilting Cousins

Recently, a stunning quilt top was handed off – from cousin Linda (in Prineville, OR) to cousin Gary (who played delivery guy) to cousin (me). Fingers fumbling, I opened the box, ready for a first glimpse. I unfolded it and caught my breath. Gorgeous! And what a treat to partner with Linda Gholson, quilter extraordinaire, in this part of my novel journey with Abingdon Press.

Tail in the Rail Quilt

“Tail in the Rail” Quilt

My upcoming “Quilts of Love” mystery, A Stitch in Crime, features Thea James stitching on this very quilt in her spare time. (Not that she has much of it. Too busy trying to figure out whodunit.)

I’ve named the quilt “Tail in the Rail” because the pattern consists of Fence Rail blocks, floral sashing, and Aunt Elena’s Nine Patch variation of a kitty-cat to represent Betty, the feisty calico in the story. It’s my own design, along with Linda’s artistic twist. Like in the book, the quilt fabric is all from the Smithsonian Collection, no longer available. This quilt is a treasure, indeed.

Though Thea hand-quilted the book’s rendition, mine will be sent to Stacy Boyd, a wonderful local quilter. With a long-arm quilting machine.

Quilt Backing & Top

Quilt Backing & Top

Between unfurling the thing and admiring it from this angle and that, I must now decide if the backing I bought is a good match.

Hmm. Too dark? Good enough?

Nope. “Good enough” isn’t good enough for this lovely quilt. Off to get new muslin….

"Tail in the Rail" Quilt

“Tail in the Rail” Quilt

NOTE: If you’d like to make this quilt, take heart. I hope to make the “Tail in the Rail” pattern available when A Stitch in Crime is released in January 2015. Stay tuned.

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Cover Story

When an author gets that first glimpse of her new book cover, it’s a lot like seeing your new-born baby for the first time. You’ve waited so long for this…anticipating what it will be, wondering how it will look. Will it reflect my vision of the heart of the story?  Will it look like me?

Last month, I received the mock-up of the cover for my second book, a cozy mystery titled Medals in the Attic. There was an immediate bonding of author to cover and a kind of delicious delight overwhelmed me. This cover would represent the story, the reader’s invitation to the drama first played out in my head and later transferred to the page. And it was beautiful! (Stevie Wonder’s song, “Isn’t She Lovely” comes to mind, though that might be overkill.)

Medals in the Attic Cover

Medals in the Attic Cover

As I lingered, looking at the exquisite artwork, why was I surprised by its loveliness? After all, the first book in the Annie’s Attic Mystery Series, Lady in the Attic, was gorgeous. The publishing house, DRG, had done a quality job in every way. Should I expect less for my book?

When I emailed my cover jpg to my agent, she replied, “It’s a stunning cover, Cathy…I’d pick the book up in a millisecond.”

Sah-weet, I thought, a permanent grin fixing itself on my face. She was right. This cover could entice any reader into Annie’s world…in a millisecond. My thanks to the folks at DRG for their amazing effort. If I was wearing a hat, it would be off to you.

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Filling Up the Cup

Along with missing the January 1st goal on my first blog post, I also was way behind sending out Christmas cards. In fact, it never happened. Again.

This was getting to be a habit, though my excuse this year was a good one. From the end of July until the 16th of December, I was writing (and rewriting) my new cozy mystery – Medals in the Attic – the second book in a continuity series. The time line for the project was incredibly fast and I spent almost every spare non-day-job-minute at my favorite coffee shop, typing on my keyboard, willing a mental growth-hormone into my manuscript.

All that writing…yet no time to write out Christmas cards. That troubled me, because it’s the only time of the year that I contacted some folks. What if I lost touch with some of them? Or maybe they would think I didn’t care about them. Not good. I couldn’t help but view my cup – or maybe that was a mug – as half-empty.

Once the book was completed and Christmas a memory, I decided to write out those pesky cards anyway. Dear ones wanted to know how my 90-year-old Mother was doing, I was sure. And coincidentally, I had a great new picture of my granddaughter to share. So I was really doing them a favor.

I found a couple boxes of cards on sale at T.J. Maxx and got busy. Dropping the completed stack into the mail box was a deep sigh moment for me. Nice! But still, I felt a bit embarrassed since they were so late. And they weren’t even Christmas cards. Would anyone mind? Another deep sigh.

Then, the other day I came home to a phone message from my cousin, Sam. “Got your Season’s Greetings card for next year and I wanted you to know how much I admire you for being so far ahead of everyone else!”

Wow. I hadn’t thought of it that way. But she does make sense, you know. I imagine myself kicking back, relaxing during the next Christmas season, knowing my cards are already sent. It’s a good feeling.

In fact, I think I see that half-empty cup starting to fill.

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