How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part II

by Barb, who is back in New England where just recently there are signs of the slimmest possibility of spring

Barbara RossSo, when last we left our intrepid heroine, she had learned she was about to be a “cozy” mystery author, and she was freaked out about it. You can read about the events that lead up to that here: How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I.

At the end of that post I say:

  1. If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
  2. The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)

Today, in Part II, I’m tackling #1 above.

MusseledOutFrontcoverWhen I look back at it now, it all seems so silly. But at the time, I really was mega-stressed about not being able to embody the brand of what I thought it meant to be cozy. Why was this?

Well, one reason is writers on the verge of publication, and particularly a first publication or a new project, get freaked out exceptionally easily. Yes, you’re all giddy and happy with the accomplishment, but you are also putting yourself out there to be judged in a way that most people never do. It’s scary. You don’t want to disappoint readers, embarrass your family and let down your friends.

So a lot of my anxiety about not being a cozy person was free-floating anxiety that happened to coalesce around that particular point.

Boiled Over front coverPlus, my husband thinks I am peculiarly susceptible to what he calls “Fraud Syndrome.” It’s true that I was a business person for twenty-five years and never thought of myself that way. It’s also true I usually feel I have to have absolute mastery of a subject or skill to hold myself out as an expert. But I think the writer’s life reinforces my already existing tendency. Most writers feel like frauds most of the time. There’s the many years you tell people you’re writing and they, polite and interested, ask, “What have you published?” and you say, “Hammida, hammida, hammida…” Then there are the later years when you say, “I am a writer,” and people ask, polite and interested, “Anything I would have heard of?” and you say…etc. This pretty much never ends. I once heard Lee Child say the reason he gave his blessing to Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher was because whenever he got on an airplane and told his seatmate what he did, the question was, “Anything that’s been made into a movie?”

Fraud Syndrome, indeed.

How I finally got over it was, I participated in the Launch Lab at Grub Street. It’s a class for people with books to be published within the year. They give you tons of valuable information, and more than anything, they teach you to CALM THE HECK DOWN.

The course took place over three weekends, and at some point, during a consultation, I moaned to Lynne Griffin, one of the instructors, about how freaked out I was about the whole cozy thing.

Then she slapped me and told me to get over myself.

CLAMMED_UPShe didn’t actually slap me, or even use those words. Lynne Griffin is one of the most professional people I know. But she might as well have, because whatever she said was just as effective. (I later discovered pretty much everyone in the Lab had had this experience. Not necessarily over sub-genre classification, though I wasn’t the only one. Lynne Griffin telling you to get over yourself is one of the best features of the Launch Lab.)

Once I stopped freaking out, I saw how ridiculous I had been.

For one thing, as I spent time in the cozy world, I discovered it was filled with all kinds of people who read all kinds of stuff. And have all kinds of jobs, hobbies and interests. Not everyone had gray hair in a bun with knitting needles through it and a dozen cats. (NOT that there’s anything wrong than that.) I mean, seriously, I’m a little embarrassed now about how much I bought into the stereotypes.

Plus, I realized the whole the brand is the author and the author is the brand thing was way over-blown in my mind. I mean, yes it’s great that Craig Johnson really lives on a ranch in a town with a population of 25 in Wyoming. But Stephanie Meyer is neither a vampire, nor a werewolf, nor a teenager. And though J.K. Rowling has that whole, cool Edinburgh thing going on, she didn’t go to Hogwarts and she wasn’t raised by Muggles. (Well, actually, I suppose she was, but that’s a different point.)

Hermoine represents Rowling’s emotional truth, not her actual truth.

So that’s how it all worked out. I realized if my books represented my emotional truth, everything else would be fine.

And I calmed the heck down.

And it was all okay. I was over my feeling of being fraudulently cozy. Now I just had to get past the “stigma” of the cozy novel itself. And that’s coming in Part III.

Note: You can now read Part III here.

48 Thoughts

  1. And what kind of a cut does Grub Street give you for being their Ad Girl? Just kidding, but I wish I had signed up for that course, too!

  2. I’m a fan of cozies, but I find a lot of the books are a little too “Cabot Cove” for me. I guess I wonder if authors don’t feel restrained by the formula, but perhaps that’s something Ms. Ross will discuss in part III

  3. I think I need a daily dose of “Wisdom from Barbara Ross” until my first book debuts in August. It may be akin to a dope-slap from Lynne Griffith. But I am really grateful for Barb’s generous posts from yesterday (which I read in its entirely to my husband so he wouldn’t think I was crazy or would at least understand why, if I am) and today. Is there a “Help Hotline”?

  4. I can so relate to this. I’m not exactly cozy myself. Fortunately for me, my publisher thinks beer and a brew pub are cozy. I’m just hoping when December rolls around readers agree! Some days, it’s hard to keep things in stride and not panic that no one will like it.

    1. It is scary, Joyce! I’m going through it as novel number two starting to get reviewed! I chant a phrase my daughter told me (she was paraphrasing someone else): You can have the sweetest peach but not everyone likes peaches. I’m looking forward to your series!

  5. I’m still sitting on the fence…will it be a deeper, darker cozy or a traditional mystery set in a small town with an amateur sleuth? Or maybe both? Thanks for these posts.

  6. Hey, you write great cozies! That doesn’t mean you have to live them. Many of us writing today are lucky to have the choice: if you have a contract with a name publisher, you kind of have to play by their rules (although I’ve had plenty of arguments with at least one editor who wanted to make everyone too “nice”), but you can write darker, grittier or just plain weirder stuff and self-publish. (as long as you warn your cozy fans).

    I will now go back to baking (with my home-grown apples!) while I knit sweaters for my three cats.

    1. Laughing, Cozy Sheila. Knit those sweaters.

      I keep the darker stuff for my short stories, though I have to say, Kensington doesn’t really articulate any rules. It’s not really that I’m driven to “write dark.” I just didn’t know I was cozy!

  7. I think cozies are starting to come in a lot of “flavors,” which is cool. And Joyce – I know you and you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be more than fine; you’ll be FANTASTIC and we will all be there to celebrate with you!

  8. I read virtually nothing but cozies. I love the camaraderie of the characters, and knowing that there won’t be much “dark stuff.” I’m in the middle of Clammed Up” and loving it. I’m nearly 70, highly educated, and I’ve gotten past feeling that my interest in cozies is somehow less “important” than the reading choices of some of my friends. I wouldn’t dream of reading any of the most popular books out there today. 50 shades of Grey? I don’t think so!!!

    1. I so agree with you. I know there are lots of excellent writers out there producing thrillers and procedurals and dark books, and they’re well plotted and well written–but I just don’t want to read them. I don’t want to read anything that keeps my teeth clenched throughout. There’s enough evil stuff in the world without going looking for it in books.

  9. You are alone in talking about how you aren’t cozy yet you write cozies. Many of my favorite authors feel that way. And at times, their books tend to break out of the molds just a little, which I love.

    1. So glad you like that, Mark.

      As I said to Sheila, above, I don’t really have any drive to “write dark.” I just like to skate on the line every once in awhile.

    2. Ack! That first sentence should have been “you are NOT alone,” but I think you figured that out already.

  10. More wise words, Barb. I admit, I get irritated by some of the stereotypes of what a cozy, or a light-hearted mystery, is — and by the tendency to define it by what it isn’t. That’s one reason I like your “cozy covenant,” which I think was part of Part 1, so I won’t repeat it here. My new series is an urban cozy — hardly new or unique; Sheila’s Museum Mysteries fit the bill — and that’s raised a few eyebrows and been called a new trend. Which tells me that the human tendency to want to classify, classify, classify is in full bloom!

    1. Yes, the human tendency to classify, and the market’s need to classify.

      I haven’t dragged the cozy covenant out on the blog for quite awhile. Maybe it’s time.

  11. Wonderful thought: Hermoine represents Rowling’s emotional truth, not her actual truth. Thanks for the post, awesome as usual, you non-fraud, you.

  12. Gosh, Barb, your blog posts are helping me see you in a whole new light. I’m actually relieved you swear like a sailor in real life. Now off to read some of your short stories…

  13. Barb, great post. My experience was similar to yours–I didn’t set out to write a cozy, but apparently I have. And now, as I wait for the book to be released, I’m fretting that readers may be turned off because it doesn’t comply with all the received wisdom of what cozies are supposed to be. There’s no gore, but the hero is neither an amateur sleuth nor a woman. Some of the characters swear and some of them have sex lives (nothing too graphic). And I’m a male writer, who doesn’t know how to knit and the closest thing to recipes I can offer are tips for making martinis (keep the gin in the freezer).

    Hmm, maybe I’ll go get the gin and try to CALM THE HECK DOWN!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Allan. I’m thinking it’s a new writer expression CTHD. Good luck with your launch. I’m sure it will go well.

  14. Barb, this is one of the best blogs on this subject that I’ve read.

    I recently was at a social event where I was introduced to another author. Neither of us was there to promote our books, but there is something about that first author-to-author introduction. She asked who my publisher was. I said Penguin. I asked about hers; she said Simon and Schuster. About seventeen seconds later, we were discussing the weird world of publishing, where an author was on the front lines of sales, marketing, and selling her brand, comparing notes and laughing about how the world of books has changed. There was no “genre” vs. “literary” comparison. There was no sense of jockeying for legitimacy. It was a great conversation, from one writer to another.

    Can’t wait for part III of your series!

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