[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Olivia Blacke to the site today. She’s sharing some great tips for writing cozies. Take it away, Olivia!]
Every genre has its conventions and rules. Romances need a Happy Ever After. Historical fiction has to be accurate to the era. A YA protagonist is a teenager.
And then there are cozies.
Cozy mysteries fall under the larger suspense and mystery umbrella, and what sets them apart are several unbreakable rules that exist to keep cozy mysteries light and accessible. When you pick up a cozy, you know exactly what you’re going to get—a delightful romp, with a side of murder. These are fun books with quirky characters in quaint towns you can share with your mother-in-law.
Cozies appeal to a wide audience, and as that audience grows, some of these hard-and-fast rules are becoming hard-and-fast suggestions. Cozy authors are pushing the boundaries, which opens the doors for writers like me. I write quirky, unconventional, character-driven cozy mysteries. Emphasis on “unconventional.” Because while the rules of cozies are unbreakable, they can be surprisingly flexible.
RULE #1: Although cozies revolve around a murder, all violence—including the central death(s)—has zero blood or gore. For example, in Laurie Cass’s Checking Out Crime, a dead body is barely glimpsed on a dark, lonely road. Cozies shouldn’t subject readers to a gory description of a murder scene, which is ironic considering how many classes on blood splatter patterns, body decomp, and other forensic sciences I took to complete my Criminology degree. But people don’t read cozies for graphic details. In fact, the death in most cozies takes place “off screen”. Here’s the first place I start to bend the rules. Killer Content‘s main character, Odessa Dean, witnesses the murder on an actual screen, a cell phone screen, as the victim’s death is caught in a proposal video gone viral. The death is bloodless, at least from the reader’s point of view, so the rule is bent but not broken.
RULE #2: No “adult” situations—particularly no cursing and NO sex. Cozies can include romance, but it isn’t a central top and there are never explicit romance scenes. To be completely honest, this is one of the many reasons I love writing cozies. I can’t write a kissing scene that isn’t cringeworthy. Over the course of the Brooklyn Murder Mysteries, characters have relationships, but I never describe what goes on behind closed doors. Some recent cozies, including Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo, almost straddle the line between rom-com and cozy while others have no romance at all. None of the characters in my books are going to drop an F-bomb, but they do talk, text, and post in modern language. Traditionally, cozies also steer clear of political or controversial topics, but recently, writers are weaving serious social issues into diverse stories.
RULE #3: In cozies, the main character is not law enforcement, is normally female, and is often in her forties or over. Many cozies start with a life-changing event that causes the heroine to move from a big city to a small town (more on that later!) which can range from needing to take over the family business from an aging parent to starting over after a divorce. Odessa, in comparison is only twenty-three at the beginning of the Brooklyn Murder Mysteries when she moves from a tiny town in Louisiana to New York City. She joins other fantastic millennial cozy sleuths as Mia P. Manansala’s Lila Macapagal in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery Series and Abby Collette’s Bronwyn Crewse in the Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries.
RULE #4: There’s always a hook. Cozies have a theme that defines the series. Karen MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn Mysteries revolve around a Bed and Breakfast. Laurie Cass’s Bookmobile Cat Mystery Series, Laura Childs’s Scrapbooking Mysteries, and Ellery Adams’s Charmed Pie Shoppe Mystery Series prominently feature the hook in the series names. My own Brooklyn Murder Mysteries takes place in a bookstore-slash-café where Odessa serves up delightful dishes and cold craft beer. She also sews her own clothes and listens to true crime podcasts, but like most millennials, Odessa isn’t defined by one label. She has a range of hobbies and interests. Likewise, Killer Content doesn’t have a single, central hook, which allows characters (and readers) to explore a wide variety of experiences.
RULE #5: Cozies have quaint, quiet settings, often with the heroine moving from a big city to a tiny village. Okay, to be fair, this is more of a convention than a rule but since this article is all about bending the rules, why not bend this one too? Traditionally, cozy mysteries take place in small, rural towns—primarily in the mountains or by the seaside. This lets the reader travel to picturesque vacation spots between the pages of a good book. But that town doesn’t necessarily have to be a tiny hamlet. Many great urban cozies also exist, like Karen E. Olson’s Tattoo Shop Mystery Series in Las Vegas and Joanne Pence’s Angelina Amalfi Mystery Series in San Francisco, CA. My own Brooklyn Murder Mysteries are set in the trendy New York City neighborhood of Williamsburg.
Cozies are fun escapes from real life. Especially when travelling is difficult, it’s great to be able to pick up a cozy and be whisked away on a murder mystery adventure. It’s comforting to know that cozies will always be a safe getaway, but it’s also challenging to push the boundaries to appeal to an even larger demographic. Killer Content is an unconventional cozy mystery that bends the traditional rules while remaining true to a fabulous genre.
About the Author:
Brooklyn Murder Mysteries author Olivia Blacke writes quirky, unconventional, character-driven cozy mysteries. After shuffling around the U.S.A. from Hawaii to Maine, she currently resides with her husband and their roly-poly rescue puggle, but is forever homesick for NYC. In addition to writing, disappearing into a good book, and spending way too much time on social media, she enjoys SCUBA diving, crocheting, collecting tattoos, watching hockey, and baking dog cookies. She can often be found on Twitter as @oliviablacke or on her website at OliviaBlacke.com. Sign up for her newsletter for access to exclusive content.
Killer Content by Olivia Blacke, out now!
It’s murder most viral in this debut mystery by Olivia Blacke.
Bayou transplant Odessa Dean has a lot to learn about life in Brooklyn. So far she’s scored a rent free apartment in one of the nicest neighborhoods around by cat-sitting, and has a new job working at Untapped Books & Café. Hand-selling books and craft beers is easy for Odessa, but making new friends and learning how to ride the subway? Well, that might take her a little extra time.
But things turn more sour than an IPA when the death of a fellow waitress goes viral, caught on camera in the background of a couple’s flash-mob proposal video. Nothing about Bethany’s death feels right to Odessa–neither her sudden departure mid-shift nor the clues that only Odessa seems to catch. As an up-and-coming YouTube star, Bethany had more than one viewer waiting for her to fall from grace.
Determined to prove there’s a killer on the loose, Odessa takes matters into her own hands. But can she pin down Bethany’s killer before they take Odessa offline for good?
1 thought on “5 Unbreakable Rules Of Cozy Mysteries (And How To Bend Them) by Olivia Blacke”
Excellent analysis. Thanks! I’m a million-copy NYT bestselling author of classic women’s fiction. I’ve been writing “Cozy In The City,” a sophisticated, upscale, “sparkling” series set in Manhattan featuring a long-married couple. They’re in their sixties. He’s a former cop. She’s a once-upon-a-time fashion editor. They solve murders for their uber-neurotic billionaire boss. The rules are obeyed and, occasionally, bent (but just a bit). 😉
For example, The Big Six-Oh!