Please welcome Joyce Tremel to the blog today. Joyce was a police secretary for over ten years. Her fiction has appeared in Mysterical-e, and her nonfiction has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police magazine. To Brew or Not to Brew is her first novel (click here). She lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh with her husband and a spoiled cat.
5. It’s not as easy as it looks. Believe it or not, there are readers out there who think that cozy mysteries are inferior to other mysteries. Obviously, they’ve never tried to write one. I’ve found it takes quite a bit of skill to kill someone and not gross out the reader. The cozy writer has to get the horror of the murder across without showing much in the way of blood, guts, and the like. You have to describe what happened without actually describing what happened. This also applies to any sexy scenes. I’m perfectly content with not having to write those kinds of scenes. Banter, innuendo, and an occasional kiss that leaves the character’s knees weak is enough for me. I like to leave the rest up to imagination.
4. It’s sometimes hard to find adequate substitutes for swear words. I worked as a police secretary for ten years. Believe me, cops swear. I learned a whole new vocabulary when I worked for the police department. When you have officers talking in a cozy, you can’t very well have them use what must be their favorite word in the whole world because they say it three times in every sentence. And you can’t have them say gosh, darn, or golly either. Andy Griffith could get away with it, but that’s about it. My protagonist’s dad is a homicide detective and in one scene I have Max say something like, “My dad rarely swore but I could tell he held back a string of words that would have turned the air blue.” I do throw in an occasional damn and have used the letters S.O.B. Sometimes I’ll interrupt the dialogue just before the swear word would be uttered. So far, it works. I think.
3. There’s a fine line between educating the reader on the character’s craft or occupation and boring them to death. No one wants to read page after page of how your character does something. My protagonist Max is a craft brewer and there’s a lot of chemistry involved in brewing beer. If I started rambling on about how to calculate the specific gravity of a certain brew in order to calculate the alcohol by volume, I don’ t think readers would be too happy. In the best case scenario, they’d skip those pages; in the worst case, they’d throw the book against the wall. It’s a mystery novel, not a textbook. Information like that must be sprinkled in lightly.
2. Recipes are hard to come up with. I’m usually thinking more about the plot and what the characters are doing than about what they’re eating or cooking. I’ve had to train myself to actually stop and describe certain foods and then search for a recipe to include. That’s probably why the first book, To Brew or Not to Brew only had two recipes. I did a little better with books two and three. Tangled Up in Brew has four, and next year’s A Room With a Brew will have five.
1. Write everything down. When I was about halfway through writing the first book, I realized I was NOT going to remember which character had blue eyes, who had brown eyes, how tall a certain someone was, etc. I started what we call a Character Bible. I jotted down each character, what they looked like, and anything else I thought might be important. I did the same with each shop and location in the series. I even drew a little map so I’d remember which store/shop/restaurant was where. And thank goodness I did. I refer to it constantly. Between that and the style sheet (which has even more detailed info on it) from my copy editor, I’ve saved hours that would have been spent searching through previous manuscripts for one tiny tidbit of information. All because I couldn’t remember something I thought I would.
These are the top five things I’ve learned writing a cozy series. Readers, what have you learned reading one?
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THANK You Ms Tremel for this delightful post - I can relate to the swearing conundrum. Tough question, but I would have to say I have learned I love reading mysteries because of the brush with danger while knowing I am completely safe from it. Anybody else want to share?
Find out more at joycetremel.com.