Ellen Byron / Post

“Cozy” is not a four-letter word.

Not long ago, mystery author and Sisters in Crime president Sherry Harris wrote a wonderful post decrying a disdainful attitude on the part of some in the mystery community toward the cozy genre. The post hit home for a lot of cozy authors, including yours truly. https://wickedauthors.com/2019/05/09/can-we-just-stop/

Since embarking on a career writing mysteries, I’ve noticed there are organizations and conferences that don’t seem to embrace the cozy. I’m realistic about this. I wouldn’t expect a convention called Thriller Fest to celebrate a book titled Plantation Shudders that features a woebegone basset hound on the cover. Yet to my surprise, ITW, the organization behind the con, has offered enthusiastic support for my series. So it can be done.

What concerns me, though, is the increasing amount of self-consciousness on the part of cozy authors themselves. This has created a subgenre I call the “Cozybut.” As in, “I write cozies but they’re deeper.” “I write cozies, but they’re edgy.” “My books are labeled cozy, but they’re really not.” Readers don’t apologize for reading cozies. Why should we apologize for writing them?

Personally, I’m all in on being a cozy author. I insist that my protagonist’s pet pup appear on every cover of my Cajun Country Mystery series.

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Those are a whole lotta  basset hound pictures! We love you, late, lamented Lucy.

I asked the publisher of my new Catering Hall Mysteries to include a cat on the cover of the first book, Here Comes the Body.

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This is Sphinxy, my friend Kimberly’s late cat who inspired the cat in Here Comes the Body. For some reason, she’ll be black on the book’s cover.

I think the punny title I came up with for the series’ second Catering Hall Mystery – Long Island Iced Tina – is effing brilliant. I’m praying they use it. (See how I used ‘effing’ instead of the actual cuss word? That is so cozy of me.) I’ve written a suspense novel and have an idea for a second one. I also have ideas for three new cozy series I’m super excited about.

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I wrote both of these furbabies in to my Cajun Country Mystery series. Pogo is “Jolie.” Our beloved late Wiley is “King Cake.”

Yes, there are subpar cozies. There are also subpar thrillers and suspense novels. But the words “thriller” and “suspense” don’t have the same stink on them as the word “cozy” does.

I say instead of a stink, we think of “cozy” as having the scent of fragrant flowers from Miss Marple’s garden. We own our genre and celebrate it, not only with readers but with skeptical fellow authors. We fight for the respect that the genre, like every mystery genre, deserves.

We let the world know that “cozy” is not a four-letter word.

Readers, thoughts? 

 

83 thoughts on ““Cozy” is not a four-letter word.

  1. I have often complained about genre snobbishness, but I had never thought about the fact that it has led some authors, and readers, to feel apologetic about the genre that has let me keep reading mysteries. I came late to the cozy game, BUT I have fallen completely in love with so many wonderful series.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m grateful that for every person who looks down on cozies, someone else loves them. And your Here Comes the Body cover is adorable! I’m looking forward to reading about the fictional Sphinxy’s adventures.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Brilliant! I totally agree. I am in the beginning of my writing journey and while attending the first day of a creative writing class, one of the participants, a man, sneered “Cozyies- awashed with crinoline!” I was so mad and now regret holding my tongue. In my experience, any writer who has the chops to write work that keeps readers returning book after book, is someone to be cheered NOT jeered!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I’m not sure it’s about being apologetic, all the time. I think there are different types of cozies, just as there are different types of suspense or police procedural. I love a good cozy, but I also appreciate a cozy that doesn’t necessarily follow every cozy “rule.” Embrace them all, that’s my POV, and celebrate the differences.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Just like with people, there is snobbish behaviors everywhere. Some “Literary” fiction authors and critics look down on all genre fiction. In the Mystery world, there seems to also be a hierarchy. I love reading cozies. There are many excellent authors writing cozies. I think any author who is able to get a publishing contract, write multiple series, and make the books entertaining should be proud!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Critics get up in arms about “quality” literature. But genre works hit home for readers and take up substantially higher percentages of the market than literary fiction. Splitting hairs among the quality of genre-based fiction may mean that author/reader has an ax to grind. 😉

    I think Romance gets a tough wrap too. Part of me thinks there’s an element of embarrassment when something is “too” feminine. People think something that is “girlie” can’t be cool. Just my two cents.

    Great post Ellen!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Thank you for asking. I do have thoughts. This thriller vs cozy thing is just another manifestation of boy vs girls thing coupled with fear and insecurity on both sides. In the school yard, we learn that boys play war, girls play hopscotch, and boys are more important because they play war. Look at the outrage at the new Captain Marvel! Men can’t handle women invading their wargames. Women, and men too, have the right to play war or hopscotch because we are individuals with different paths to happiness.

    In the literature world historically, men wrote thrillers and women wrote cozies, as a general rule (there are exceptions). And now certain men who deign to write women-oriented psychological thrillers endeavor to hide their identity because they’re worried about damaging their brand. Same thing.

    So when a writer buys into apologizing for her genre, she is letting the guys who pretend they’re sitting on top of the pyramid define her values. Those guys make themselves feel important by diminishing other people. And cozy writers validate this those guys’ paradigm when they apologize. That is sad to me. The road to happiness is not in denying your essential self.

    The system isn’t going to change until cozy writers quit playing along. Because in that paradigm there has to be two sides: winners and losers. If cozy writers refuse to be the losers, refuse to play the game, then those thriller guys haven’t won anything.

    There is strength and value in tenderness and joy and humor. There is so much value in these virtues that cozies outsell thrillers. I don’t know what the numbers are but I remember reading about it somewhere.

    So you cozy writers, don’t let the SOBs get into your head! Don’t let someone else dictate your self-esteem! Hold your banners high! Every time you lift someone’s spirits, you have made their lives a little bit easier. This is huge. It is important. It is life-giving and I envy your ability to do it.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Just one comment. I think men are writing under female pen names when aiming a book at women because women wouldn’t buy it otherwise. Yes, women are more likely to buy a book by a man than men are to buy books by a woman, but I think when it comes to books aimed at women, they look for female authors. I’ve seen plenty of comments in the cozy Facebook groups that dismiss male cozy writers as inferior to women cozy authors.

      Liked by 4 people

      • No writer should be dismissed for writing in any genre, male or female to begin with. And no worries, Mark, Keenan’s referring to a very specific situation. I can clarify more next time we see each other. Lots to discuss, lol!!!

        Liked by 3 people

      • Mark, I hope my “liking” your comment here doesn’t sound as if I like the idea of dismissing male cozy writers, or women not buying books by male cozy authors. But we’re really glad to have you reading our books, and reviewing cozies in general, and always making such valuable comments here on Chicks. Yay, Mark! (I know. I’m am doing a lot of cheering in these comments.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am aware of the on-going situation, and I certainly understand the concerns and issues it brought up. I’m certainly not defending anything there.

        But the bigger issue of people being dismissed for what they want to write – both male and female, does need to be discussed as well. I was trying to speak to why men will write under female pen names in general, ignoring the controversy that has erupted in the last few weeks.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I got that, Mark. And I have to say, the realization that men writing cozies might feel marginalized, much like women writing thrillers, made us Chicks reach out to male authors, some cozy, some more traditional. E.J Copperman and Art Taylor visited us. My friend Howard Michael Gould will be stopping by in August and thanks to his comment here, I just booked J.C. Kenney for a September post!

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  8. Actually, I should have added this. Two weeks ago when my book Stowed Away won the 2019 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction, it was the first cozy mystery to win in the category and the first mass market paperback to win in any category ever. The winner was announced by Richard J. Cass, the previous year’s winner, whose Elder Darrow books are excellent and quite noir-y. In my acceptance speech, after thanking the usual people I said, “I am especially pleased by both my nomination and Lea Wait’s, because along with Dick’s win last year, it shows the Maine Literary Awards judges embrace crime fiction across the spectrum from dark to light, and that books written by women, about women, for an audience primarily of women, are not “less than.”

    I got a little choked up at the end.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. Part of the problem–other than sexism, which is clearly a primary cause of this issue–is that the names have gotten confused. In my mind, cozies are but a lighter subset of “traditional” mysteries. But for many, traditionals now have to be hard and edgy, more a subset of suspense. So we’ve lost the word for the cozy/traditional à la Dorothy L. Sayers and a lot of Agatha Christie. And publishers don’t help, because they perpetuate this trend by failing to recognize the existence of those books falling in that nether land between edgy traditiionals and light cozies.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Agreed, Leslie. When I originally wrote this blog, I posited, do we need to find a new word for “cozy?” But then I was like, no, dammit. So I think it’s fine to do sub-genres like edgy or darker or snarky (hats off to you, my friend). My message is to announce it proudly, without having to say cozy BUT.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Good point! I also see cozies as traditionals. I hadn’t realized that some people expected traditionals to be hard/edgy…maybe because I always think of the Malice Domestic definition of “traditional” (which is also how people describe cozies!) > “The genre is loosely identified as mysteries which contain no explicit sex, or excessive gore, or violence.”

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I have felt I had to defend my preferences in reading material at times over the years since I am reading female main characters. But each year, I seem to grow less concerned about that. Or my love of all things Disney even as a grown man with no kids.

    That’s great that the thriller fest has embraced your books. Like you, I wouldn’t have expected that, but that’s okay. You aren’t writing thrillers. Likewise, I wouldn’t have expected many thrillers to show up at Malice Domestic. It’s okay to focus on one sub genre for fans of that sub genre. What isn’t okay is looking down at the sub genre.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Thanks for the timely reminder, Ellen. Over the weekend, I was writing a blog post for my book that comes out next month and found myself going back and forth between “cozy mystery” and “traditional mystery.” Your words made me realize that I’m a cozy mystery writer – full stop. I’m proud of my stories and the brightly colored covers that feature Ursula the cat. I also love reading cozies. No more use of the term “traditional” ever again!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. There are several parts to the problem, I think:
    1. There is no single definition of a cozy.
    2. Some conservative readers leave scathing reviews of cozies that use a swear word where warranted or that don’t fit their idea of what a cozy should be.
    3. There are some very badly written cozies (beloved by fans) that are easy for detractors to shoot darts at.
    4. Those purple and yellow covers!

    I write what I write and am proud of it. Not quite so happy to be squished into a box that doesn’t quite fit. In a world where we are working to broaden our concepts of gender definitions and roles, and what it means to be a woman writer, I guess you could say I identify as GENRE-FLUID.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I love the term genre-fluid! And I agree that if you’re writing between the lines – or “genre fluid” – it’s aggravating to be shoved into a category. I’m really talking about when authors feel a need to apologize for whatever they’re writing, which you don’t do, my friend. xoxo

      Liked by 3 people

  13. I’ve always thought of cozies as the mystery genre that is the most clearly deductive, and that’s what I love about them–no matter the “trappings.” While I do think of Christie and Sayers, I also think of…Conan Doyle. Long live the puzzle mystery!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This is why I wrote Writing the Cozy Mystery, because we needed a How-To guide specifically for our genre that would bring respect and recognition. We should be proud of what we write and not have to defend our choices. I discuss some of these issues in the chapter on Considerations for Cozy Authors.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Great insights into cozies. I write them because I love them. That said, I have a BA and MEd in Lit and know the literary mainstream has always looked down on any books about women (unless they die and are written by men). They also look down on genre fiction–I guess it is too profitable for them to stomach. You get the same argument in Drama–my minor in college. Major battles were fought over Drama to teach and elevate or plays to entertain. When the first group won, the university went from three successful theatres to one. People would rather pay be entertained and I’m honored to be part of that movement.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. GREAT points, Merrily. I have a theatre background too. I always strove to make people laugh and cry with the same play, so that the audience was both entertained and moved. I think the best cozies achieve this, too. That’s one reason I love Left Coast Crime’s Best Humorous Mystery category. As opposed to other cons, it acknowledges that this is a subgenre – and not just cozy, it’s for any mystery with humor – that deserves recognition and respect.

    Liked by 1 person

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