You’d think something is cozy or not, but semi-cozy? Is that like a quilt that’s just a little too short? Or a cabin in the woods with just a few too many drafts? A fire in the hearth that burns a little too low?
I’m making my case for why my newest novel, Pea Body, is a semi-cozy mystery. “Cozies” — like any genre — have fairly specific conventions their writers are supposed to follow. Pea Body follows most of them, but not all, and fudges on a few. Of course I think that makes it a better novel than if I’d followed all the rules, or I would have toed the line.
For example, most cozies feature a single woman as its main character (MC). She generally has at least one a male love interest who’s connected to law enforcement in some way. This is not only to capture a bit of romantic intrigue, but to give the MC/amateur sleuth a sounding board for her theories and often an “in” with whatever investigation she’s found herself involved with.
Cozies eschew overt sex and four-letter words, so they tend to be the shy stepsisters of the more violent and gritty hard-boiled mysteries. You can tell by their covers — usually cartoons of women (or domestic pets) in a bright setting that only suggests something terrible is happening. They’re a light read.
I’ve read dozens of these books, mostly to learn the genre, and I still can’t swallow the idea that murder should be a light read.
So like any great cook, I added a few things to the cozy recipe, substituted others, and omitted the ingredients that just didn’t fit the new mix. That “cozy” taste is still there, but it’s been layered with some other flavored nuances.
Pea Body features a couple — Walt and Betty Rollin — who’ve been married many years, and have been living what’s called the “full-time RV lifestyle.” They sold their house and travel full-time in their RV.
Can you see how my premise defies the cozy convention at it’s most basic level? The series features a couple rather than a single woman, though the story is told first person from Betty’s point of view.
Another convention I couldn’t swallow was how often people in the same little cozy communities kill each other. Or get killed by some nasty outsider. Putting Walt and Betty on the road all the time means I’ll get to write about various places we’ve spent time. It’s also more credible that the same people keep running into bad circumstances — the more neighborhoods you visit, the more likely you’ll run into bad situations and awful people (trust me on this).
There are allusions to sex (Walt and Betty are happily married; why not?) and though an occasional four-letter word pops out, it’s usually from a secondary character. I see avoiding bad language as a wonderful opportunity for word play. Giving Betty and Walt substitutions for swearing makes writing their dialogue (spoken and interior) much more fun.
Does my grand experiment work? We’ll find out.
I just know a few things from this experience:
1. I learned what I was supposed to do before I chose an alternative. This way I consciously weighed the convention — and reader’s expectations — against the choices I faced.
2. I wrote the book true to the characters and to the readers I imagine would most enjoy reading about them.
3. I accepted — embraced, actually — that writing a “semi-cozy” meant I would be best served publishing my book myself rather than hunting down an agent who would (most likely) want me to change things to fit the convention.
4. I’m happy with what I wrote. In another year I might not feel this way, but for now… it’s all good.