Guest Post: The Horrors of Writing a Cozy Mystery
The Horrors of Writing a Cozy Mystery ~ by Kristine Raymond
Neon light from the adult book store sign next door to the coffee shop filtered through the front window, glinting off the karambit’s polished blade as it arced downward towards its target. As steel met flesh, the victim shrieked, the sound muffled behind a dozen wadded up coffee filters crammed into his mouth, held there securely by several ‘Thanks for visiting Bean Counters. Please come again’ stickers.
Guided by an unseen hand, the knife rotated and slowly ascended through layers of muscle, hot crimson liquid and viscera spilling out onto the freshly mopped linoleum til…
Wait. What? Whaddya’ mean I can’t put that in a cozy mystery? No blood? No guts? No decaying bodies strewn about for the hero or heroine to trip over? What kind of genre is this?
By definition, a cozy mystery is one where the murder happens off the page. Translation – an author can reveal that the cops found a mangled corpse stuffed in a dishwasher alongside Grandma’s fine china but describing the mutilation in step-by-step detail is a no-no. Where’s the fun in that? And, if that’s not bad enough, there are a couple of other edicts of the genre:
- A) No swearing (I bend the rules a tiny bit on this one because my protagonist, Finn, is not a Gosh Darn; Oh, Shucks kind of gal), and,
- B) Little to no romance (a concept I struggle with since my career got its start in that genre).
Hmmm… I need to rethink how I write. No worries though. I can do this.
Upon deciding to take a break from penning gooey love stories, my original plan was to write a thriller. And, why not? I love reading them. Blood, guts, a beheading here or there, serial killers silently (or, not so silently) hunting their prey – none of that bothers me. I’m okay with stabbings, shootings, and the occasional use of a wood chipper. For a long time, true crime was my favorite. I’d devour stacks of murderous non-fiction while camping in the woods by myself. And, don’t even mention psychological horror. Bring it on. Those twisty, soul-searing, mind-bending, chills up your spine tales of depravity are my cup of tea. Well, actually, Earl Grey is, but you get my point. Death and destruction are my go-to, so how, you ask, did I come to write a story about an antique writing box, a secret code, a faceoff in a cemetery, and pierogis?
I blame it all on Finn.
As previously mentioned, Finn Bartusiak is my protagonist, and while I had every intention of writing her as a tough-as-nails, gritty, ask-me-no-questions-I’ll-tell-you-no-lies badass, what emerged from my fingertips was a quirky, easily distracted, Basset Hound-owning lover of Polish food whose curiosity outweighs her common sense on most occasions. There’s nothing particularly notable about her. She’s single, early thirties, a business owner, devoted to her family and friends. Until…
And thus begins a page-turning mystery – if I do my job right, of course. The biggest obstacle I face is incorporating murder and mayhem into the plot without using descriptors.
Some may say that’s a horror in itself. The play-by-play taking a backseat to baking, crafting, and cats (or dog, as is the case in Finn-agled). All are topics readers generally expect to find in a cozy mystery. It’s not that fans of the genre don’t love a thrill. They’re die-hard; reading past their bedtime, hearts pounding, palms sweating, holding their breath as the action builds until the culmination of clues finally reveals who actually dunnit. Did they guess correctly? Who cares? There’s a recipe for pumpkin-macadamia-raisin cookies on the last page. Score!
So, therein lies the challenge. How to combine the thrills, chills, blood and guts action I enjoy reading with doddering Grandmas who are mentally sharper than they look and can solve crimes while whipping up a bake sale’s worth of goodies in an afternoon. I don’t know about other authors’ techniques for accomplishing such feats, but I dive in headfirst, writing the scenes exactly as they play out in my head, then scaling back the gore during my next pass. It’s both an entertaining and frustrating way to write. I’m used to pouring it all out on the page – what the characters are thinking and feeling and doing – and curbing their actions requires a discipline I’m not used to but have quickly adopted.
Can a story convey elements of horror without being descriptive? You be the judge. Rather than detailing a pair of hands crushing the victim’s hyoid bone,
[he] wrapped his fingers around my neck, squeezing until everything went black. (Finn-agled © 2019).
And the body that washed up on the beach in the story? I refrained from mentioning the crab feasting on the victim’s innards (but it would’ve made a nice touch, don’t you think?).
In both instances, there’s an underlying current of horror. An unknown perpetrator creeping up with every intention of ending your life or your corpse becoming an oceanic all-you-can-eat buffet after a violent altercation with a madman. Scary stuff couched within the narrative of antiquing, jam making, and knitting.
And that, my friends, is a cozy mystery.
About the Author
It wasn’t until later in life that Kristine Raymond figured out what she wanted to be when she grew up, an epiphany that occurred in 2013 when she sat down and began writing her first novel. Over a dozen books in multiple genres later, there are a multitude of ideas floating around in her head, thus assuring she’ll never be idle.
When a spare moment does present itself, she fills it by navigating the publishing and promotional side of the business. When not doing that, she spends time with her husband and furbabies (not necessarily in that order) at their home in south-central Kentucky, gardens, reads, or binge-watches Netflix.
Kristine is represented by Mickey Mikkelson at Creative Edge Publicity.
Pick up Finn-agled now in e-book or print wherever your favorite books are sold. And be looking for the sequel, Finn-icky Eaters, later this spring.
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!