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The Lure of Small Towns — Guest Mollie Cox Bryan

Scrapbook of the Dead-1Please join us in welcoming Mollie Cox Bryan. It is so exciting to have Mollie with us here today because we get to celebrate the release of Scrapbook of the Dead the fifth book in her Cumberland Creek Mystery series. So happy book birthday, Mollie!

“Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on,” is a Jane Austen quote that many writers take inspiration form, including myself. But I like the second part of that quote,  as well. “And I hope you will do a great deal more, and make full use of the while they are favourably arranged.” And if a mysterious element is added, like a murder or a theft, the plot gets even more “favourably arranged.” (Okay, I added that last little bit.)

Small towns are enticing for writers for many reasons. Plot-wise, they can act as a microcosm of society, for example. If you are so inclined. But for me, I’ve always found my attraction to small towns to be fed by my observation of small towns and my admittedly somewhat odd imagination. Picket fences and cobblestones streets, along with beautiful historical buildings, are often the façade for something deep and dark in my mind. If it looks too perfect, it raises suspicions to me. Maybe it’s just me, but I want to know: What’s going on behind those pretty closed doors?

My curiosity is often ignited by what I see around me in my own small town. The sometimes twisted curiosity of my own neighbors when it comes to personal matters like religion, politics, and who knows what else. When I first moved to my small town after living in the Washington, DC area for many years, I was asked at least five times what church I attend. Um. None of your business. (Nobody in DC ever asked me this question. Funny, that.)

Another time, an elderly neighbor of mine nearly accosted me at my front door about the last presidential election. Imagine. I had just wanted to take out the trash, opened my door, and the tirade against a certain politician began.

Beyond my personal experiences living in a small town, are the national statistics about small towns. Many are fighting serious drug problems, dealing with new immigrant populations, and failing local economies. After 16 years of living in a small town, many the locals still consider me an outsider. Imagine if I were from the Philippines, Mexico, or even England. How much of an outsider would I be then? In SCRAPBOOK OF THE DEAD, my characters confront their own ignorance as they get to know local immigrants. Attitudes shift and change.

Almost all cozy mysteries are set in small towns. It seems to be one of the “rules” of cozy mysteries, along with using amateur sleuths in our stories and not using graphic sex or violence. I love to play with the ideas readers might have about small towns and give them a twist or two to think about.

The big cities have a different kind of appeal—but we are not often surprised to learn of a murder in a huge city, the way we are with small towns. We think we are safer in small towns, but are we? The answer is not really. A recent report, the Annals of Emergency Medicine, claimed cities are actually safer to live in than small towns. Now, it is true that you are more likely to be murdered in cities. But “The risk of injury death — which counts both violent crime and accidents — is more than 20% higher in the countryside than it is in large urban areas.”

Much to ponder here, heh?

In any case,  cozy mystery writers work with that “surprised it happened in such a lovely community” factor and are adept at exploring it in their writing, along with the characters and the stories about their small town lives, hobbies, families, and jobs. We don’t give you the graphic details of the murder—that is not what we are interested in. I don’t speak for all cozy mystery writers, of course, but I think what we are interested in is the three or four families in that country village: what becomes of them when one of their own is killed? Or turns out to be a murderer?

Mollie Cox Bryan writes the Cumberland Creek Scrapbooking Mysteries. Scrapbook of Secrets, the first in the series, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2012 and was selected by B & N as a mystery to watch.  The latest book in the series is Scrapbook of the Dead. She is launching a new series next year, a craft retreat series, Cora Crafts Mysteries. She lives in Waynesboro, Va. with her husband and two daughters. Visit her website:

Readers: Which do you prefer small town or city?

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