When Murder Makes You Laugh
(A Cozy Mystery Primer)
Three years ago I had never heard of Cozy Mysteries. True story. I'd talk to friends about what kinds of stories we liked and I tended to say I liked them dark and bendy (still do), and I'd point out psychological thrillers, horror (though not GORror), and mysteries. I was writing suspense at the time--I don't have the imagination for horror and mystery intimidated me. Some of my friends, when looking at my choices, would say, “you know, I just can't handle the gore.” And I got it. They wanted more hopeful books, books where rotten things didn't happen to good people.
Among my mystery reading, though, I would sometimes run across a sassy, smart, funny mystery that DIDN'T have all that stuff--books these friends might LIKE. It was light reading to be sure—what I think of as beach reading. FUN reading. These fun mysteries drew me more strongly to the character aspect. I liked the people involved and thought I might even enjoy spending a little time with them.
Then in later 2009, when I was spinning my wheels at getting an agent with my first book, and had been blogging about 5 months, I had a friend suggest to me that my blogging voice was PERFECT for these funny murders. You see, I'm a bit of a nut. I like to claim I'm quite insane, but honestly, more often than not, I eventually get to the point (sometimes even an enlightened point). And what IS a Cozy Mystery besides a playful, funny jaunt through solving a murder mystery?
Okay, so maybe the death itself isn't funny, but nobody liked the guy anyway (that is one of the genre rules). And obviously you need a big dose of tension or several (usually the first is the hook for bringing your amateur sleuth into the crime solving business--a loved one accused or personal connection). And they STILL have all those twists and turns—after all, cozy readers LOVE to solve the mystery, they just don't want all that graphic stuff. Cozies have less blood and guts, (also less sex and swearing, but never mind) and a lot more laughs along the way to give a break from the tense stuff.
The Azalea Assault is the first of these I've written, and as with most cozies, it's got a theme (gardening) and a well-known location (Roanoke, Virginia). And it has a sometimes fun, sometimes nutty mix of characters that will follow through the series. There is Camellia, my MC and 'straight man' to her zany best friend Annie's 'funny man'. This friendship is actually one of the things I've had the most fun with--I wanted it identifiable and central, and a TON of fun. There is also Petunia, Cam's sister who holds an extreme bias against ANYBODY who is attractive, educated or wealthy, Cam's dad—the 60-something babe magnet, and a cast of wealthy, pampered gardening buffs, some sympathetic, some annoying. Additionally there are the temporary characters—those associated with the set-up of the book—the ones most likely to be causing headaches.
The laughs most often come from the less-serious tension points, though throwing something funny in the middle of real tension is something I also enjoyed doing. This is my version of Ron telling Harry, “Why couldn't it have been follow the butterflies?” or “Can we panic now?” in the Sorcerer's Stone. That is a very dark, frightening situation, suddenly made palpable by just that brief break of laughter.
Alyse Carlson is the pen name for Hart Johnson who can be found at Confessions of a Watery Tart. The Azalea Assault is her first (published) book, published through Berkley Prime Crime, an imprint of Penguin, and available through most bookstores--brick and mortar or virtual.
Thank you for having me!