Holidays Cozy Style

HolidaysCozy Styleby Julie, who will eventually deck the halls in Somerville.

Yesterday we talked about odd holiday traditions in our series, or in our lives that will be borrowed. Or in your lives that will be used in our books.

I’m working on a synopsis for book #3 in the Garden Squad series, and have decided I need to leverage more holidays. I was going to jump right to Christmas, but I’m going to focus on Halloween for this one. The Wickeds helped me brainstorm winter gardening activities, so I feel more confident that I don’t need to rush through winter. There are a couple of other reasons for the Halloween focus.

First, holidays are a good anchor for readers, and have all sorts of trappings associated with them. If I focus on Halloween, I still have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years to explore. Though that would be a body pile up, wouldn’t it?

Second, tension tends to run high around the holidays, which is a great opportunity for a mystery to be hatched. Even when you love your family, the holidays can add that extra something. The comedian Bonnie Hunt used to call it the “what did you mean by that?” moment at every family gathering. Add to the mix the boyfriend no one likes, and you’ve got yourself a mystery.

Third, I’m not a Halloween person per se, but many of my friends are. My sister Caroline decorates her house to the nth degree. She includes atmospheric music and items that move when folks approach. She is a gardener, and loves to use her mums as props for the decorations. She let me know that late October is still a good gardening time for a mystery. I’m already thinking about salt hay and manure, so this may get messy.

Lastly, holidays are great for cozies. They are good for crafts, recipes, community gatherings, and other cozy friendly themes. Holidays are also a good reason to get together, and gathering folks is a necessary part of the process. Even when it all goes terribly wrong.

How about you, dear readers? Do you like mysteries set around the holidays?

30 Thoughts

  1. Holiday mysteries are the best! Halloween can find bodies hidden in mummy wrappings or possible staged as a zombie. Thanksgiving can have deadly floats. Christmas can have serene settings disturbed with bodies buried in the snow. New Year’s would be easy to find someone who seems drunk, that really will not be having a massive hangover. Top that off with all the tension that time of year and it makes for a perfect murder! Geez, this sounds a tad depressing, doesn’t it?
    I am looking forward to finding out what you do with that salt hay and manure!

  2. I do like holiday mysteries. As you said, the family dynamics are great for plot complications, even when it’s a (generally) loving family.

  3. I love holiday mysteries. It’s always interesting to see family dynamics play out and how the town reacts to a murder. I also love reading about all the different traditions the towns have, whether it’s a holiday parade or a bake off. I think that’s what makes a great mystery!

  4. I really do love holiday mysteries. They give us a chance to celebrate all year long if you are like me and read holiday books all year long. They are fun to explore all the ways to celebrate and to get ideas (minus the murder of course – although there are times that you have that one person that you can visualize using some of the methods in books on LOL). Can’t wait to see what all you come up with for book #3 in the Garden Squad series.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Hi Sherry,

      A serious comment here. A good way to expand the readership of your series is to include one or more holiday-centered outings. There are a great many people (and I confess that I used to be among them) who will buy any mystery with a holiday theme – especially a Christmas theme – that crosses their path. And, of course, once they’ve dipped their toes, they’ll immediately buy every book that has a character named Sarah.

      OK, I went a little bit off the serious rails there, but I think my underlying point is still valid. I loved mysteries, and I loved Christmas so much that I’d buy almost any mystery that had a Christmas theme. I somehow felt like this would help me keep experiencing Christmas even when it wasn’t Christmas.

      It took me longer than it should have to figure out that if I’d never heard of a writer, there might be a very good reason why. I’m the one who’s here to tell you that there are a whole LOT of very bad Christmas themed mysteries out there.

      Even today, as a recovering Christmas-Mystery-holic, I have to fight the urge to buy any book that has a wreath and holly on its cover. My Christmas Mysteries 12-Step group has been a big help, but that urge never goes away.

      Even better than a Christmas-themed book in your series is a Christmas-themed short story or novella that gets included in a Christmas Mysteries Anthology. I still buy every Christmas Mystery Anthology I come across since a) if it’s a short story and it turns out to be bad, I haven’t made such a big investment of time and b) for some reason, the quality ratio in the anthologies is much higher than in the full-length books. Perhaps the members of the League of Really Bad Writers feel that short stories are beneath them or maybe the fact that Anthologies have a named editor (who would shudder at having her name linked with any of the members of the the League of Really Bad Writers). Also, I think it’s much harder to write a short story than a novel, and the members of the LoRBW may lack the discipline and dedication needed to curb their flights of verbal fancy.

      Here’s an idea! How about, “A Wicked Christmas”?

      1. Being a member of a real 12-step program, I absolutely love the concept of the Christmas Mysteries 12-step program. Wish we had one around here! 🙂

  5. I love cozies set around holidays. I’ve noticed the Christmas is a very popular one, and it’s certainly my favorite. But Halloween seems to be gaining in popularity. It makes sense because that’s a perfect time to hide a dead body or two.

  6. I love holiday mysteries. As near as I can remember (but I have an awful memory), Leslie Meier is the real queen of the holiday mystery. She’s up to 25 now. Didn’t know there were that many holidays! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because so much can be done with it and with the exception of the super prudes who think that it promotes “real” witchcraft, it is pretty much controversy-free. I look forward to reading your book!

    1. Leslie Meier is the queen, for sure! Such an impressive career. I love the feedback I’m getting on Halloween! Can’t wait to get started on this book.

  7. Hi Julie,

    Personally, I really enjoy ANY holiday-themed mystery in the series I follow.

    For Halloween, I could imagine one of Lily’s fellow Squader’s getting seriously bent out of shape when a neighbor or acquaintance asks her for some dead flowers for their haunted house. And, after publicly and noisily telling the neighbor what she or he could do with her request, neighbor is found dead, the offended Squader is the chief suspect, and Lily and the rest of the squad have to jump in and find the real killer.

    Okay, I’ve written it for you. All you have to do is fill in with the words. I’ll give you the address to send my royalty checks.

    A bit more seriously, I think that one reason most holiday mysteries (and especially Christmas mysteries) can be so effective is the dissonance between our expectations that a holiday is going to be perfect and the reality that can fall a good bit short of that perfection. It provides a good motivation for our characters to go off the deep end and legitimately behave out of character … which is an excellent way to keep the reader guessing.

    1. You are so right. The reader understands that implied dissonance, which is why they work.

      Nice plotting! I may go another way–we shall see. 😉

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