Writing the Cozy Mystery: Writing What You Don’t Know: My Good Choice

Write what you know.

I write to get away from the boredom of my life. There’s no incentive for me to write about a woman with three cats who spends her time writing mystery novels, knitting afghans for charity, and feeding stray cats and kittens at her back door.

I suppose a series could be made from them. The first would be entitled, The Dirty Deed: Death in a Litter Box, the second, A Size 11 Needle through the Heart, and the third, Who’s that Lying in my Backyard with his Face in the Water Bowl?

Maybe I would read books with those titles, but I don’t want to write them.

So I looked for something that I wanted to know more about. On impulse, I chose a glass museum for my setting. There’s one just two blocks from my home and I had an idea for a hilarious (I hope) final scene, which you will hear about when I write it. Immediately, I became a volunteer there. This wasn’t an entirely new subject for me, my friend, Chip Turner, is a glass blower. Go to the link below and you can see a picture of him. I knew nothing about glass history, however.

As a volunteer at the West Virginia Museum of American Glass (link below), I put little numbers on glass acquisitions. As I sit in the quiet of the large rooms, I keep a notebook next to me and jot down what people say, the sounds and other minutiae of the setting, and any plot ideas that occur to me.

This has proven to be a good choice of subject matter. The new knowledge is coming to me easily and on a level that will help me to help my readers. Because my character is also a new volunteer, I can keep her rather ignorant and make her learning process reflect mine….

My next decision, however, landed me in difficulties.



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Writing a Cozy Mystery Part 4: Time and Writing

This morning I sat down at my computer. The phone rang and my neighbor had run through her options and needed a ride to a doctor’s appointment. That’s a legitimate reason to not write.

There are, however, lots of other reasons that are not valid. We must discover how to put our writing into such a groove that we cannot be sidetracked.

The first task a writer has is to discover when they write most fruitfully. Some people need a feeling that the world is on hold. They write at dawn or deep into the night.

Others of us write to escape what is going on around them. This can enable you to write anytime there’s a moment of freedom. When I worked at a desk in an office, I learned that there were such moments all day long. So I kept my story open on one screen and flipped to it whenever I could. Even if it was just a sentence or jotting down a thought, I was progressing. And I found that my subconscious continually mused upon the story and was actually productive of insights and new ideas.

At home, the best tool I have is a timer. When reluctant to work, I set the timer for an hour and vow to persist. I burn a candle and try to emulate its steady flame. I also put a quarter in a Japanese cat bank each day in order to “feed the kitty” of my writing symbolically. It really does help me to sit down and feed my manuscript.

Sadly, the people who urge you to write will also assume that you will drop your writing when they want something. Some will tell you that you’re living in a castle in the air, some will mention the competition, others will be jealous that you take time to concentrate on your art. The biggest stick of all to beat you with will be that you aren’t making any money and are never going to be famous, or even published, so why be so selfish as to not do what they want at this moment?

Don’t listen. You deserve time to be yourself. If writing is a part of you, the rest of the world will adjust. They may never be supportive, but they will become resigned to your dedication. If you ask for more, you are dissipating your energy.

Write! Right now.

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Writing a Cozy Mystery: Panic Attack I

Just checking in to tell about my panic attack over writing a cozy mystery.

I was admiring the way that G.M. Malliet handles her characters in Death of a Cozy Mystery Writer. She chooses actions during a conversation that increase readers’ understanding of her characters.

I’d love to be like Jane Austen and have pages of dialogue without any description of what people are doing, but I am not a genius like Austen. That’s too bad because I am pretty doltish when it comes to weaving description into conversations. My choices tend to be mechanical. At least I have learned to avoid the “sipping of liquids” habit. That’s where an author gives her people something to drink and then works it to death, somewhat like below:

“Well, why did he have a bloody knife in his hand?”

Marian sipped her coffee to gain time. “Perhaps he was cooking dinner?”

“In the garage?” Bruce sipped his golden scotch and suddenly waved his drink dramatically. “In the garage?”

“Maybe they buy meat in bulk and keep it in the garage?” Raising the fragile cup to her lips, Marian sipped pensively at the hot brew.

“Wouldn’t it be frozen if they bought it in bulk? And why was he carrying a human head?” Grinning triumphantly, Bruce sipped his scotch.


So, thinking how I do not have the gift of good action choices – which led to general insecurity about my writing — I panicked about cozy mysteries.

Suddenly, I saw myself in the midst of a career: being interviewed, losing weight so I’d look good in author photos, buying new clothes and getting hairstyle for same, tweeting and facebooking and blogging and workshopping, going to conferences, meeting deadlines, trying to top my last great idea, while cooking, cleaning, laundering, cat petting, and figuring who is cluttering up my home at a slightly faster rate than I can declutter.

And I ran away. Ran from the project and this blog.

But now I’m back.

It’s one step at a time. The idea was to write a cozy to improve my plotting. There’s no need to project the troubles of a career – yet.

Website for G.M. Maillet: http://gmmalliet.weebly.com/

Link for one source to buy the book, Death of a Cozy Mystery Writer:

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Writing a Cozy Mystery: Part 3 – Surveying the Field


The last time I investigated genre books there were detailed guidelines available from publishers. Manuscript length, tone, guidance on what to exclude, how one line of books differed from others were described in detail. Thinking this was still the case, I got online this afternoon.

Well, forget it. First, I learned what I already knew, but had failed to appreciate. A very few publishers dominate the market. Second, their Internet websites are opaque on the matter of content.

This means that an aspiring writer must discern the requirements on her own.

Luckily, I’ve already begun reading as many cozies as I can get. With economic realities to face, I had to find a way to get cozies on the cheap.

One is http://www.ebay.com with a search “cozy mysteries” and “lot” (be sure to check the square under the green “SEARCH” box). I did this just now and found forty five sales that were organized by author, theme, or were offering a pile of mixed cozies.

Next, click on the “sort by” box (on the right above the listed items) and choose “price + shipping: lowest first.” This way you can quickly see which lots offer the most books for the lowest price. Ideally, I want to pay less than two dollars for each book, including shipping. My dream lot would have two books by each author for comparison. When you survey the Ebay auctions, look at the entire list because sometimes extremely large lots are offered for very reasonable prices.

I figure that an overview of the field is necessary to see where I can fit in.

(Note to myself: Be careful about going to Ebay. I just bought 40 cozies for a dollar each!)

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Writing a Cozy Mystery: Part 2 – Series?

Series have attracted me since I read Trixie Belden when I was a kid. Every summer we’d go to my parents’ hometown, and there would be a new Trixie to buy at the bookstore. It was a real bookstore, not a chain depository of “product.” Of course, it is now long gone.

When I planned to become a screenwriter, I decided I would refuse to write sequels to my scripts. Unless one is lucky or has planned for a series, screenplay stories present a crucial passage in the characters’ lives. Characters are developed to support that one story, not to exist past its end. That’s why sequels so often falter.

Getting back to books, the trouble with a series is that eventually it chokes on its own saliva. As some wise culture, I forget which one, observes, “Everything holds the seeds of its demise.”

Arthur Conan Doyle grew to hate writing Sherlock Holmes, surely the most famous example of author fatigue. The characters that charmed him became routine, and he ground out stories because the public demanded them and paid him well. In my beloved Trixie Belden books, the characters gradually grew too old to be kid detectives and had to enter Eternal Teenland, where one is somehow forever doing home chores and worrying about high school matters. “Gleeps!” as Trixie has exclaimed from the 1950s into the twenty-first century. More often, secondary characters appear and have to be considered in the following books, or, as information is given about the main characters, they are gradually locked in place and all freshness is lost.

On the other hand, mystery series is the way to do it nowadays. I am flabbergasted to see the variety of mysteries: knitting mysteries, quilting mysteries, cat mysteries, cooking and catering mysteries, mani/pedi mysteries (how did manicurist accidentally slice victim’s carotid artery?), real estate mysteries (free corpse with every new home) make-your-own-pet-food mysteries (ugh, a nasty business in itself), vegan mysteries (“I’ll make you stop eating meat!”), and the Dust and Clutter in My Home series (a theme with universal appeal, certainly, though I hope few of us routinely find dead people in the mess under the couch or behind that pile of laundry from last summer).

However, indulging in fears for the future is foolish when I don’t have the first book written. Time to move ahead with the planning. Choosing a series forces me to consider every element of the book for long-term value. What will develop into something else? What will become a very stale cliché of the series? What characters have enough breadth to remain interesting?

And this shades into the old “write what you know about” debate.

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Writing a Cozy Mystery: Part 1 – Why?

Yes, why? And why blog about it?

Perhaps you want to write a mystery novel, too. My hope is that sharing my experience will help you write your first mystery.

Describing how I puzzle through the many choices and what I think of them will mean you’ll know the solution to my mystery novel, so if you want to read the book and be surprised, stop reading now.

If you want, however, to see how I work on my first mystery, join in, and read on!

I have written screenplays and sold one, but found the experience unsatisfactory. So I turned to prose fiction, and recently finished the initial draft of my first novel. It’s about cowboy outlaws and I set it in Southern California in 1877, which decision meant a lot of research. The task took four years and sprawled into a 157,000 words. When I looked at the two reams of paper that are the printed copy, I thought revising it was not the best way for me improve as a writer.

You see, the cowboy novel had showed me that plotting was my weak point.

Genre novels’ length and plot requirements would force me to plot in advance. Having flirted with the idea of writing a mystery novel, I decided to take the plunge. Here were my subgenre choices: Whodunit, Amateur Detective, Private Detective, Medical Mystery, Courtroom Drama, Suspense/Thriller, and Technical Thriller.

Here’s a webpage where you can read more about the categories and get a short list of famous authors in each:


After some thought, I chose “cozy mysteries,” which go in the category, “amateur sleuth.” To learn how and why, go to Part 2!

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Hello world!

There’s always a revolution going on in my home — between art, writing, thinking, volunteering, and three boy cats, it’s a rare moment without something hopping. I have lived in three major cities and now a small, wonderful, rural town. The proud author of the world’s longest first-draft cowboy novel, I am now plowing into the realm of the cozy mystery. Come along and see how I work out this challenge — and more.

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