Too Cozy or Not Too Cozy? That is the Question

By guest blogger Sue Ann Jaffarian

Silly me – when I first started writing mysteries, I had no idea there were so many subgenres. To me, a mystery is a mystery is a mystery. When I put my fingers to the keyboard and pumped out my first mystery, Too Big To Miss, I was writing a mystery – period. I didn’t write for a particular label or to avoid being labeled. I wrote from my gut, the labels came later and were purely superficial.

Although many readers consider my Odelia Grey series “cozy,” my publisher, Midnight Ink, does not. I know, because they’ve told me so. They consider it in the “soft-boil” category – like a 3-1/2 minute egg – probably because the series contains, though in moderate amounts, violence, sex, vomiting, swearing, and comments on social issues. But, in the defense of the “cozy” label, my books do have a cat and an amateur sleuth, and tea is served in every book.

I once asked a fellow writer to blurb my first mystery. Even before reading any of it, he snapped (and I mean SNAPPED), “I don’t read cozies.” And while this might have been the first time I came across such a negative reaction towards the sub-genre, it was not the last.

In spite of their great popularity with readers, cozies are the Rodney Dangerfield of the mystery community. Except for the Agatha, they are seldom, if ever, considered for the big awards. I’ve even seen authors become peevish and defensive when their books were categorized as such. There seems to be an unwritten rule that you can’t be a serious writer if you write cozy mysteries. To that, I say, “bite me.” (Oops, that’s not cozy language, is it?)

Thugsandkisses_2 In February 2009, Thugs and Kisses, my third Odelia Grey novel, will be released. I am having a joint launch party with Christa Faust, whose latest novel, Money Shot, is being released at the same time. If any of you are familiar with Christa Faust, you know her work is as far from cozy as a pit bull having a Big Mac Attack on Ronald McDonald’s backside. Yet, we are teaming up as the “Naked Ladies” and holding events to show the mystery writing and reading community that there are no labels or boundaries that can’t be crossed and/or overcome. It’s all mystery. It’s all good. (By the way, we won’t be – thankfully – naked at these events. It’s just that both of our new books have a naked woman on the front cover.)

My advice to all writers is to JUST WRITE. Writing should be organic. It should come from within, not prodded, pushed and mangled to fit a pre-conceived box, which boxes are just artificial labels for marketing and promotional purposes. And if someone calls you a cozy writer, hold your head high. Remember, there wouldn’t be so many cozies published if so many weren’t being purchased and read.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * HolypailRead the latest in the Odelia Grey mystery series, The Curse of the Holy Pail. Additionally, Sue Ann Jaffarian is hard at work on The Ghost of Granny Apples, a new series for Midnight Ink scheduled for release in 2009. It will definitely be a cozy. Visit her website at: SueAnnJaffarian.com

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Comment by Jess on October 29, 2007 at 10:07am
I have a friend who writes edgy cozies. She told me she feels like the step-child of the mystery genre. Great post, btw. So I shouldn't say I'm writing a cozy, huh, just a mystery?
Comment by Kathryn Lilley on October 28, 2007 at 12:51am
Sue Ann, I have the exact same cozy/uncozy dilemma with DYING TO BE THIN. I blogged about it last week at
http://crimespace.ning.com/profiles/blog/show?id=537324%3ABlogPost%3A85030

I think you're right--we should just write the way we want to, and let the "subgenre" label chips fall where they may...

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