Allison Herndon is the winner of The Plot is Murder! Send your email to SherryHarrisauthor@gmail.com
Thank you to the Wicked Cozy Authors and Sherry Harris for inviting me to guest blog today. I’m pleased to give away a copy of my debut novel, THE PLOT IS MURDER to one person who leaves a comment (U.S. ONLY).
Here’s a little bit about the book: Samantha Washington has dreamed of owning her own mystery bookstore for as long as she can remember. And as she prepares for the store’s grand opening, she’s also realizing another dream—penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and fills the shelves with the latest mysteries, quick-witted Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms. When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.
But as Samantha indulges her imagination, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in her backyard, and the police suspect her—after all, the owner of a mystery bookstore might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an enthusiastic ensemble of colorful retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind for her?
As an avid cozy mystery reader, I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about mysteries and cozy mysteries in particular. Now that I’m also a cozy mystery author as well as a reader, I feel an even closer bond to all things cozy. I belong to a lot of Facebook groups which read, discuss and promote mysteries. Recently, someone posted a question to one of those groups about research which has stuck with me. The poster mentioned traditional mystery writers were known to participate in police ride-a-longs and attend conferences to gain authentic details as research for their books. The question was what types of research techniques do cozy authors use for research?
The question of research most likely stems from the nature of cozies. Unlike hard-boiled P.I. books or police procedurals, cozy mysteries feature an amateur sleuth. The protagonist could be anyone from an elderly village spinster, as in Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, to a busy housewife and single parent like Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffrey mysteries, or even a baker like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson mysteries. The reader doesn’t expect an amateur sleuth to be knowledgeable about forensics, ballistics, or police procedures. In fact, one major appeal of cozies is the innocence (or sometimes ignorance) of the amateur sleuth who stumbles into precarious situations and yet still manages to find a way to put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out whodunit. Just because an amateur sleuth doesn’t need to know the difference between the various types of guns or bullets doesn’t mean research isn’t important. In fact, accuracy and research are as important for cozy authors as in any other type of mystery; however the difference is the type of research.
One of the common elements of cozy mysteries is themes. There are cozy mysteries with dogs, cats, culinary cozies with recipes, wine lovers, tea lovers, knitting, and practically any other type of theme you can imagine. As a dog lover, I often flock to cozies featuring dogs and include them in my own series. While I own poodles and know quite a lot about them, I am in no way an expert. I find myself researching information about poodles to make sure I have my facts correct. One of my favorite types of cozies is British historical (or any type of historical). Reading and writing historical mysteries requires a great amount of research (I once spent hours trying to find out where Scotland Yard was located in 1938). In the end, I asked myself does it really matter to the story and moved on. For me personally, I have been blessed to meet several former police officers who graciously allow me to pick their brains and bounce ideas around.
They say the devil is in the details. That holds true not only when writing about blood splatter and bullet striations, but in making sure readers feel a part of the protagonist’s world. In my book, THE PLOT IS MURDER, there is a story within a story. So, I need to make readers see the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline of Southwestern Michigan as well as the manor house charm of 1938 England. Between the internet, reference books, and my police friends, I strive to provide enough authentic details that will help the reader stay in the story until the big reveal.
In the twenty-first century, readers have access to a seemingly infinite amount of data along with countless social media outlets. Now, more than ever, it’s important for authors to utilize a variety of research methods to insure accuracy. Regardless of the type of mystery, details matter.
Readers: What kind of research have you done?
About V.M. Burns
V.M. Burns was born and raised in northwestern Indiana. She has a degree in Political Science and Urban Studies from Northwestern University, a Master of Science in Administration from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. By day, she is a training supervisor at a call center, and at night she writes cozy mysteries. After spending most of her life in the Midwestern United States, she is now thawing out in eastern Tennessee with her two poodles.