Introducing Cozy Mysteries

Not too many people have heard of cozy mysteries. To them, the word “cozy” conjures up images of steaming cups of herbal teas, overstuffed chairs, and purring cats.

While those images can exist in cozy mysteries, the sub-genre contains many more intriguing elements. Written in the Agatha Christie tradition, these mysteries appeal to readers who wish to be engaged but not horrified.

In short, a cozy is a mystery that includes a bloodless crime and contains little violence, sex, or coarse language. The crime takes place “off stage” and very few graphic details are provided. Sex, if there is any, is behind closed doors. It is not unusual to read about a couple enjoying a romantic dinner and then turn the page to find them waking up to breakfast.

Continue reading on the This and That Book blog.


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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Gothic Suspense

I’m happy to welcome Canadian mystery author Anna Dowdall to the Power of 10 series. Today, Anna shares her extensive knowledge of Gothic suspense and her novels, After the Winter and The Au Pair.

What the heck is it anyway?

Everybody knows this type of story! It often features a decaying mansion, an isolated yet curious heroine, family secrets, sometimes a child in peril, dramatic weather, disguise and switched identities, and let us not forget menacing and/or intellectually-compromised lower orders. The book covers usually capture at least some of these things. As for what it’s all about, Gothic suspense, says Stephen Knight in Crime Fiction since 1800, “has powerful appeal as a genre speaking about—and validating—individual feeling, including fear and horror… It… makes central the female experience of powerlessness and oppression, and links these emotive forces to places redolent of the past, the obscure, the mysterious…” Nowadays the Gothic heroine is enterprising, she rises to the threat. She’s a brave inquirer into toxic secrecy and domestic chaos. She perceives danger where others are oblivious. She’s no shrinking violet either, her determination to act is the means of resolving the mystery. Which is why I reward her with a handsome and marriageable man sometimes, along with other desirable things such cold hard cash.

What’s the crossover with this domestic noir thing you keep reading about?

I think it was the American editor Sarah Weinman (check out her book Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives) who coined the term domestic noir, to describe some wonderful and under-recognized mid-century women writers who mix suspense and dangerous domestic scenarios and a female protagonist to tremendous effect. Writers like Ethel Lina White and Charlotte Armstrong. You have to go back a ways to discover that books like Gone Girl are really just standing on the shoulders of, imho, better antecedents. Lots of these domestic noir books are just saturated with Gothic mood, in a far from hokey way.

Why do you gravitate to it as a writer? What do you achieve with it?

Crime fiction is full of delicious cliches but some of the characters, especially in traditional hard-boiled tough-guy fiction, are pretty sexist. I want my Gothic ingenues, the ones wandering around the uncanny old house and picking up the “something is wrong” vibe, to have plenty of intellect as well as intuition. Also, I’ve taken the dangerous (because powerful) femme fatale cliche from old-school hard-boiled crime fiction and, after leading the reader down the garden path for a few hundred pages, turned it upside down. Plus, in my books femme fatales are actually allowed to live, they’re usually killed off! In fact, I like to mix up bedroom-eyed ingenues and soulful femme fatale types so you might have trouble distinguishing them by the time the book finishes. Sally Ryder in After the Winter might seem at first like just another ingenue on a romantic binge. But it’s her willingness to bend the rules and substitute other secrets for the ones she’s investigating that in the end gives her choices and decisions symbolic importance and moral weight, I hope.

How can escapist fiction be serious?

These conventions of the Gothic novel are perfect to explore the dangers that lurk within women’s domestic lives, and what is more serious and timely than that? Crime fiction in general allows writers to explore justice questions: questions like who really pays and who gets away with what. You can invest a fairly restrictive crime plot with as much social and moral significance as you want, for example by bending the conventions and changing the typical outcomes. You can present ideal revenges and undercut status quo justice outcomes that further victimize. That’s as good as Yann Martel and his talking tiger any day. What’s serious fiction anyway?

How does Canada lend itself to Gothic suspense?

Lots of bad weather (we know how to work those terrible winter storms), isolated countryside, brooding nature, big cities with seedy underbellies, ugly and/or suppressed history, and women on a mission.

What other writers flirt with its elements?

So many writers who are considered serious and literary have delved into the Gothic: all the Brontes, even Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, our own Margaret Atwood and Nobel laureate Alice Munro. There’s that whole Ontario Gothic aspect in Munro, that atmosphere that’s creepy and clings. Although my books are so far situated in Quebec, I think I will have to mine that Ontario mood at some point, it’s just so rich.

You’ve described your genre as Gothic Cozy. Where does Cozy come into things?

That was probably a slightly playful description, but it’s meant to hit on a mix of things I go after. If I cited the British director Sally Wainwright, known to us all via Netflix, as an example of “feminist cozy,” people might question my judgment. But think of how her female victims find almost superhuman warrior strength to fight back, for example in Happy Valley. Or how Last Tango in Halifax presents a woman living happily ever after, with a certain light disregard for the spot of murder in her past. What’s cozier than that? My books After the Winter and The Au Pair explore the worst possible things that can happen to women and then contrive in the conclusion to leave most of the women characters in a much better place, for them if not for justice norms. That’s downright utopian in some respects, and in stark contrast to the real world. What I say, to myself and to readers, is this: let’s examine those unlikely outcomes, let’s indulge in the solace of dreaming about them as at least logically possible.



















So where does romance fit in?

Sometimes the terms romantic suspense and Gothic suspense are used almost interchangeably, and there’s usually a romance plot in Gothic suspense. The novel without sex and love is pretty rare, but as a writer of Gothic suspense I note a certain unstated or semi-stated distinction out there between “good” noir crime stories, that take a suitably cold and manly approach to romance and women in general, and allegedly sappy romance-based stories. All I can say is this: in so many instances of good Gothic suspense that I’ve read, while there are pro-forma romantic endings which usually symbolize the resolution of the mystery plot, the underlying themes often have little to do with romance. And the heroine in many cases seems to me to be less motivated by romance and interest in men than by other things—work, self-respect, children and their safety, relationships with other women, cats, revenge, money, equality, sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, exorcising demons, her place in the world. You just have to dig down a little. Take Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca as an example: is the theme the triumph of love or is it a book about exacting justice across the grave?

Where is your writing going?

A very kind and old friend, who happens to be a professor of English at UC/Irvine, is convinced that I will write a dozen of these playfully dark little feminist genre novels and that over time I will delve so deeply into the Gothic and its possibilities that I will write myself out the other side. That could be. I have told myself however that I would write a half dozen. And even as I wander through the conventions, savouring, twisting and discarding as I go, it’s just as likely I’ll end up in some other type of light genre fiction as anything that would qualify as serious. When I think of my characters, I realize my effort is to make them mixed. I want them to have characteristics of their stereotype (I do love my genre), but also a certain mutability, with traits that defy and contradict the stock type. For example, Ashley Smeeton, my PI and series heroine beginning with The Au Pair, is likeable in a quirkily aloof way—she’s meant to be a foil to the emotional Gothic suspense plots she finds herself in. So far, so standard. But then, unlike stock detectives who never change, I find she’s far from impervious to contact with the uncanny. So I’m not entirely sure where she’s headed. I can say though that in book three Ashley’s unlikely to escape a psychic wound. Does that mean my writing is getting “weightier?” Maybe in the sense of number of words, because the third book seems well on the way to becoming a longer book.

What are your final words on the Gothic?

I invite you to check out my website at http://www.annadowdall.com, where I muse about everything Gothic-related, from Kim Novak’s charm as a femme fatale and Hillary Clinton’s appetite for escapist crime fiction, to the unknown western side entrance, down dark and little-noticed steps, to Toronto’s High Park, scene of the Margaret Millar 1945 classic The Iron Gates.

Bio

Anna Dowdall was born in Montreal and currently lives in Toronto. She’s been a reporter, a college lecturer and a horticultural advisor, as well as other things too numerous to mention/best forgotten. She was semi-finalist for the US Katherine Paterson YA prize and for Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award in the unpublished category. She reads obscure fiction in English and French and thinks Quebec is an underrecognized mise en scène for mystery and the Gothic. AFTER THE WINTER and THE AU PAIR are the first two books in her new suspense series, The Ashley Smeeton Files.


10 Cool Facts About the Mesdames of Mayhem

I’m happy to welcome M.H. Callway and the Mesdames of Mayhem. Today, Madeleine (M.H.) will share ten cool facts about this intriguing group of Canadian authors and their anthologies: Thirteen, Thirteen O’Clock, and 13 Claws.

Here’s Madeleine!

On Saturday, October 28th, 2 pm, the Mesdames of Mayhem are launching their third anthology, 13 Claws at Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore, 907 Millwood Rd, Toronto. Our new book contains 17 crime fiction stories by 15 authors, all of the tales centred on animals. Three stories are by writers new to the crime fiction genre.

Here are 10 cool facts about the Mesdames of Mayhem:

1. We are all CANADIAN

Our goal is to promote Canadian crime fiction at home and abroad. Many readers don’t know that their favorite crime writers are Canadian – and many people in the USA and in Europe know little about Canadian crime fiction though it has been flourishing for decades!

2. We are four years young

Early in 2013 M. H. Callway persuaded her two literary critique groups to get together to learn more about and to master social media. Donna Carrick designed our website, set up our FaceBook and Twitter accounts – and the Mesdames of Mayhem were born.

To get our name out there, we decided to put together an anthology so that readers could sample our writing. If they liked our story telling, they could go to read more of our books. Promoting our anthology led to numerous public readings, warm partnerships with our public libraries and community theatres, participation in literary festivals like Word on The Street, radio interviews, you name it – more publicity than we ever anticipated or imagined.

3. Thirteen is our lucky number

When we put together our first anthology, we puzzled over the title. As luck would have it, 13 of us were able to contribute stories. With 13 authors in the book, we thought why not simply call our collection Thirteen? Even better, Thirteen launched close to Halloween.

To our delight, Thirteen, did really well with readers. Stories by Donna Carrick and Sylvia Warsh were nominated for the Arthur Ellis Short Story award. We were so encouraged, we went on to our second anthology, 13 O’Clock with crime stories focused on time. And now we have our third collection, 13 Claws.

4. We are not all women

In 2013, when the Mesdames first formed, we were all women. And indeed, one of our most important goals is to support the work of Canadian women crime writers.

Most of us are also members of Sisters in Crime, which has been working for more than 30 years to promote equality for women crime writers. Readers may not know that Sisters in Crime has Brother members, men who also strive for better recognition of women authors. The Mesdames also have a Monsieur of Mayhem, Ed Piwowarczyk.

5. Most of us are published novelists

Most of the Mesdames of Mayhem are published crime fiction novelists and many of us have written several books as standalones or as part of a series.

Many of the Mesdames are also proficient in other forms of fiction: Lisa De Nikolits and Sylvia Warsh are both literary authors; Melodie Campbell and Caro Soles have written many books in fantasy and speculative fiction; and Rosemary Aubert is a respected poet.

6. All of us are published short crime fiction writers

All of the Mesdames – and our Monsieur – are traditionally published short crime fiction writers. In addition to our three anthologies: Thirteen, 13 O’Clock and 13 Claws, many of our stories appear in the three Toronto Sisters in Crime anthologies, The Whole Shebang series.
















7. All of us love animals

Choosing animals as the connecting element for 13 Claws came naturally, because everyone of us loves animals. Caro Soles has worked for many years rescuing dachshunds from puppy mills and Melodie Campbell‘s pet, affectionately known as “Frankenpoodle”, works as a therapy dog. All of us own – or have owned – a cat or a dog and in many cases, several of each at the same time! Cheryl Freedman though favours much more exotic pets: ferrets!

8. We love to teach

One of the best ways to promote Canadian crime fiction is to seek out and encourage emerging writers. Several of the Mesdames teach or have taught creative writing: Rosemary Aubert, Mel Campbell, Cathy Dunphy, Lynne Murphy, Rosemary McCracken, Caro Soles and Sylvia Warsh.

When compiling 13 Claws, we decided to run a contest for writers who had never before published a crime fiction story. Our winner, Mary Patterson, penned a delightful story about a cat detective though she’s actually a dog lover. Our finalist, Roz Place, had published literary stories, but had never before attempted crime fiction: she wrote a chilling suspense tale about a disappearance revealed by a cat. And in runner-up Marilyn Kay’s police procedural, a stray cat is at the heart of dark crime.

9. We are truth seekers

Many of us are working or retired journalists like Cathy Dunphy, Rosemary McCracken and Lynne Murphy, spent their career in regulatory agencies like M. H. Callway or were down in the trenches teaching like Cathy Astolfo. And consequently, we don’t shy away from touchy subjects like financial fraud, residential schools and mental illness in our fiction. Readers might expect that 13 Claws contains nothing but cozies, but though we do have some in our collection, on the whole we have, in fact, taken a darker turn.

10. We are critically acclaimed.

Most of us have won or been nominated for awards: the Arthur Ellis, Edgar, Derringer, Debut Dagger, Bony Pete and Ippy. (For details visit the Mesdames website at http://www.mesdamesofmayhem.com)

Our previous anthologies have been warmly reviewed but we were especially delighted to be singled out by Jack Batten, the crime fiction reviewer at the Toronto Star, who had this to say about 13 Claws:

“In one especially clever story by Catherine Dunphy, we get a plot built around boxes of animal crackers.

But just because the contributors to the collection write out of an affection for animals doesn’t mean readers need similar feelings to appreciate the stories. There’s enough suspense and intellectual fascination built into the plots of the majority of stories to satisfy even the most ferociously cynophobic reader. Catherine Astolfo’s story involving a pig offers an intriguing way of giving Paul Bernardo himself a case of the chills. And M. H. Callway’s tale mixes snakes and the real estate business in a way that will make readers run a mile from both.”

Amazon Buy Links

Thirteen | 13 O’Clock | 13 Claws


10 Things about Susan Hogan…and Cozy Heroines

I’m happy to welcome multi-published author Judy Alter to the Power of 10 series. Today, Judy shares ten interesting facts about Susan Hogan, the protagonist of her latest release, Pigface and the Perfect Dog.

Here’s Judy!

Susan Hogan is the protagonist of my Oak Grove Mystery series. I meant her to be a bit different than the stereotypical cozy heroine. To some extent, I succeeded, because my main beta reader confessed he didn’t like her as well as the women in my other series, and one reviewer called her “prickly.”

With this list, I give readers a chance to judge for themselves, but I hope the list will make you want to read about Susan’s crime-solving adventures.

–Susan Hogan, associate professor of English at the fictional Oak Grove University, is thirty-five, single, and never married; she has, in fact, a bit of a fear of commitment that sometimes gets in the way of her relationship with Jake Phillips, chief of campus security.

–Susan Hogan’s romance with Jake pairis, a cop (pardon, law enforcement officer) and falls into the cozy cliché trap of heroine and police officer but works well for plot purposes.

–Susan is an energetic, stimulating classroom teacher; her field is American literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

–Raised by a maiden aunt in Wichita Falls, Texas Susan would like to feel she’s a free spirit, but she clings to many of Aunt Jenny’s preachings about life, morals, and manners.

—-She can cut up a salad and set a proper table, but don’t ask Susan to cook. Jake is a master at the grill, and Aunt Jenny cooks everything from pots of soup to King Ranch chicken, but Susan can’t figure out Hollandaise sauce.

–Susan wears her hair in a spikey cut and runs her hands through it all the time. She can’t be bothered with hair-styling and prefers jeans or, at the least, slacks, hasn’t worn a skirt in years.

–Susan is not status conscious. She drives a battered, old Honda but would really love to go back and forth to campus on Jake’s moped. Since she once wrecked it, Jake fears for the safety of both Susan and his moped and has forbidden her to ride it.

–Susan was at odds with the former chair of the English department, and she finds university rules and regulations cumbersome and restrictive. Professors whose field is Renaissance literature seem to irritate her.

–Susan is cautious about warming up to people—the city police lieutenant, the sheriff—and she can get crosswise, as she does with Marge the waitress who thinks she’s guilty of murder, but she’s fiercely loyal to those she loves—Jake, Aunt Jenny and her paramour Judge John Jackson, her fellow teacher Ellen Peck, and newcomer to the series, Gus Conroy.

–Susan Hogan is, at best a free spirit, representing contemporary feminist thinking in moderation and without the extremes, but tempering her freedom with a bit of the traditional role of women.

In short, Susan Hogan is someone I’d like to meet and hang out with.

Blurb

Susan Hogan thinks she’s about to meet her maker when she confronts a rifle-carrying man, who looks like a pig, in a grocery store. Jake investigates the body of a young college student, shot in the back and found in an empty pasture. Aunt Jenny showers love on the new puppy a young man from the grocery gave her but she has to get rid of that heavy collar.

Susan is associate professor of English at Oak Grove (Texas) University; her partner, Jake, is Chief of Campus Security. Aunt Jenny, the maiden lady who raised Jenny, came to Oak Grove to help Susan, who was accused of murdering a coed in The Perfect Coed, first book in the series How much help Jenny was is debatable, but she made a fast friend in Judge John Jackson and stayed in Oak Grove.

Trouble in Oak Grove begins with the open-carry protestors in the store and leads to a shooting, breaking and entering, threats and an attempted kidnapping, a clandestine trip to the woods late at night. Will Susan Hogan land in trouble…or the hospital…again? Will Susan and Jake survive this as a couple? Susan is still prickly but she learns some lessons about life, love, and herself in this second Oak Grove Mystery.

buynow

Bio

Judy Alter is the author of seven books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults, primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.

Where to find Judy Alter…

Blog | Amazon | Facebook


Nuts and Bolts of Writing

L-R Alison Bruce, Donna Warner, Liz Lindsay, Joanne Guidoccio

Yesterday evening, I participated in a lively panel discussion with three other mystery writers at the main branch of the Guelph Public Library. We are all published authors and members of Crime Writers of Canada.

We gave mini-presentations on our favorite nuts and bolts of writing—The Right Opening, Character Development, Self-Editing, Building Your Author Brand—and read excerpts from our recent novels. During the Q & A sessions, we delved into a variety of topics, among them short stories, writing and critique groups, conferences, and contests.

Thanks to librarians Andrea Curtis and Deb Quaile for organizing and facilitating this event.

To learn more about Guelph Partners in Crime, visit our websites:

Alison Bruce

Joanne Guidoccio

Liz Lindsay aka Jamie Tremain

Donna Warner


On Sale for 99¢

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Blurb

Hours before the opening of her career counseling practice, Gilda Greco discovers the dead body of golden girl Carrie Ann Godfrey, neatly arranged in the dumpster outside her office. Gilda’s life and budding career are stalled as Detective Carlo Fantin, her former high school crush, conducts the investigation.

When three more dead blondes turn up all brutally strangled and deposited near Gilda’s favorite haunts, she is pegged as a prime suspect for the murders. Frustrated by Carlo’s chilly detective persona and the mean girl antics of Carrie Ann’s meddling relatives, Gilda decides to launch her own investigation. She discovers a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga instructor in need of anger management training, a lecherous photographer, and fourteen ex-boyfriends.

As the puzzle pieces fall into place, shocking revelations emerge, forcing Gilda to confront the envy and deceit she has long overlooked.

Reviews

“A well-written, character-driven murder mystery that genuinely had me scratching my head until the very end wondering who dun’ it!?” The Romance Reviews

“Guidoccio creates her latest mystery with stylish yet easy to follow writing and a plot that keeps you on your toes, without becoming convoluted. The sense of community that runs alongside the mystery of the novel was quite engaging.” Pure Jonel

“The story builds slowly, letting you know many of the characters and leading you on a merry chase. It’s good entertainment and thoroughly enjoyable.” The Reading Cafe

“This story grabbed me from the very start, I literally could not put it down. It is to be devoured like a decadent dessert and finished with a strong espresso!!” Miss Lill

Buy Links

Amazon Canada | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AustraliaBarnes & Noble | Kobo