Why I Wrote... COZY UP TO DEATH

In 2019, I attended Left Coast Crime (LCC), a writers’ conference held that year in Vancouver B.C—only six hours from my hometown. It was my first conference of the sort, and I quickly learned it offered many great experiences.

Cozy mysteries just got tougher

First, it provided opportunities to connect with other writers in relaxed settings. Some of the best conversations I got into happened while at the hotel bar. I found myself sitting at a table of more accomplished authors on several occasions. I felt very much a newbie, yet they were all very gracious. I asked many questions, and those other writers freely shared their thoughts and wisdom.

The conference also provided a chance to connect with readers. Even though it was my first LCC, several readers took time to stop and ask me questions. It was a wonderful experience to chat about my writing process with folks who might someday pick up one of my books. It reminded me of the times I went to readings of my favorite author, Lawrence Block.

There were other things at the conference to rave about, but the panels were what I was honestly most excited about. I was unaware of the above benefits I mentioned. Now when I go to a writing conference, I am more focused on them. But for my first LCC, I was entirely centered on the panels.

A panel consists of a moderator, three-four authors or subject-matter experts, and a theme. For that conference, some panel themes included “Writing Serial Killers,” “The Historical Panel,” and “Balancing Romance and Plot.” If you know anything about me or my writing, those weren’t going to start my motor. But there were panels like “Rural & Suburban Crime Fiction,” “Law Enforcement Professionals,” and “Music & Prose as Theme.” Oh, yeah. Now, we were talking!

But something was underlying that caused me to be fascinated with the cozy genre.

And it started with Judy, my girlfriend’s mother.

She was the type of lady who loved Murder, She Wrote and other shows of similar ilk. Judy read my stories and liked them—she especially enjoyed Charlie-316. But what she didn’t like was characters swearing.

I’m fond of certain words that soldiers, sailors, and cops like to say. I fall into two of those three categories, and I know a few sailors—so there you go. My language tends to be a bit salty when not in polite company. I’m choosey when dropping them into a book, but they do get sprinkled in. And there was a healthy dash of them in Charlie-316.

Even though Judy liked my writing, she didn’t feel comfortable showing my books to her church friends—that bummed me out.

So, there I was in Vancouver with the opportunity to attend several cozy mystery panels like “Culinary Mysteries,” “The Cozy Panel,” and “Academic & Bookstore Mysteries.” I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to learn about a genre and see if I might be able to write something for it.

As I sat through the panels, I started to think there wasn’t any possibility that I could write a cozy. The moderators and speakers were all fantastic, and the things they spoke about seemed out of my realm. What I gleaned from them was supported by the occasional viewing of shows like Murder, She Wrote.

Cozy mysteries featured no swearing, no sex, and no violence. The protagonists were mostly female, and the settings were usually in small towns. The target audience was primarily a female readership.

I was about to give up on my hairbrained scheme when I sat listening to the final panel, which happened to be on Sunday morning (the last day of the conference). A thought struck me—what if a guy was hiding out in witness protection in one of those cozy mystery towns? While the panelists continued to talk, I got more excited about my idea.

When the last panel ended, I packed up and headed home. My friend, occasional co-author, and frequent sounding board, Frank Zafiro joined me. I was giving him a lift to the Seattle area. As soon as we were in my car, I said, “I’ve got this idea. I want to write an anti-cozy, a cozy for men.”

The Anti-Cozy

The idea was to take the cozy genre and lovingly turn it on its head.

Frank got what I was after, and we bounced ideas back and forth as we drove.

The protagonist was later named Beau, and I’ll use that name here for ease of describing how the series came to be.

Beau, I decided, would be a bad man learning to be good. He’d have to go on a

Cozy Up to Death cover

character arc after all. He couldn’t stay bad and carry an entire cozy series. There are certain rules I felt I could bend and perhaps break, but that wasn’t one.

Our hero would be tall, big, and tattooed because he had to stand out wherever he went. In every story, Beau would be the proverbial sore thumb.

There had to be a cat since it seems to be an unwritten requirement to have one in a cozy—or at least an animal of some sort. So many series make these animals primary characters. Fine, I thought, but Beau would dislike cats. He couldn’t hate them because that would turn readers off, but he had to keep the cat at arm’s length.

Beau also had to dislike children. A former enforcer of an outlaw motorcycle gang shouldn’t cuddle up to kids like he was somebody’s Nana. Therefore, Beau would regard children as a penalty bestowed upon married folks.

He disliked his mother, never knew his father, but he revered his grandmother. The guy had to have some redeeming qualities, after all. I already put him into a hole by not liking cats or kids, so he better love his Nana.

And this was the cozy trope I loved tweaking above all—every story would start with Beau arriving in a new town and end with him leaving. Remember, he sticks out like a sore thumb. In every story, the guy would get a new name and identity.

This meant he’d never get the girl, and the series wouldn’t have a happily-ever-after ending (at least, not in the beginning). You see, cozies must have a happily-ever-after.

I thought I had the perfect guy and the perfect set-up for my anti-cozy cozy.  But where would I set it?

The last panel I’d attended that Sunday was about bookstores. I figured I should use that cliché to my advantage and make him the proprietor of a mystery bookstore. But I made him a guy who didn’t read anything other than a motorcycle repair manual. Therefore, he couldn’t tell the difference between a Sara Paretsky or a Patricia Highsmith novel.

What the heck was the guy supposed to do? You’ll have to read Cozy Up to Death to find out.

So How Did Readers Like It?

I left out the swearing.

And I left out the sexy stuff.

But I included some violence—he’s a big, bad man running from his past. Things are bound to happen.

Some readers have hated what I did with the genre. The presence of violence simply disqualified the title from cozy status.

Others have absolutely loved it, though.  They understood that this was a different type of cozy. A fellow writer even started to call it a ‘brozy.’ I liked that name.

As of this writing, it’s got more than 400 reviews and a 4.2 rating.

The book has led to four more novels in the Cozy Up series, and I have many more planned.

Not bad from a flash of inspiration at a writer’s conference.

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4 comments

I stumbled on this series and I absolutely love it!

Christy Lewalski

My only comment is how proud I am of my army brother!!

Steven Angelastro

I just discovered theses book and currently am reading Cozy up to Christmas! Love the humor and the suspense ! Of course, I am rooting for Beau to get back to Daphne ! I’m hoping you write an ending for him that gives him relief! Great fun to read !

Lola J Plough

That was very interesting, I don’t watch Hallmark or Murder She Wrote or any of that genre so I didn’t know anything about the Cozy thing! I’m glad I read this because I almost bought a book the other day that had a cat on the front and said Cozy series, but it was from another writer. I knew it had to be something related but thought I’d wait, I’ve still got the 316 to go through and finish the 509. Thanks for clearing that up, I am too old now for the same old boy meets girl crap. LOL

Myra C Singletary

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