Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kate Carlisle and the State of the Cozy

I've got good news for many of our Jungle Red devotees--the cozy is alive and well. Flourishing, in fact. I got proof of this the other day at Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale AZ where I moderated a panel of three fabulous cozy writers: Kate Carlisle, Hannah Dennison and Jen McKinlay.
And we had an audience of over 50 on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon. The three women had three things in common: they write cozies, they are all attractive AND they are funny.
One of the questions I asked the writers was about the term "cozy" and how they felt about being dubbed "cozy writers." Kate was the first to respond. She said, "I also write romances and they are so looked down upon that anything else is a step up." This was typical of her dry, self deprecating humor.

So I had to spend more time over a cup of tea with her and conduct a little interview.

RHYS: Tell me how you came to be a writer

KATE: I used to tell outlandish stories as a child, as a result of which I was sent to be educated by the nuns. But I've come to writing after twenty years in TV.

RHYS: TV? How glamorous. Were you writing for Law and Order?

KATE: Actually I was an assistant on the Gong Show, performing strange and silly stunts. I was also sent all over the world as a chaperon on The Dating Game.

RHYS: Lots of good material for future murder mysteries there, I suspect. So what made you decide to leave the glamor of the Gong Show and write books?

KATE: I tried toiling in a vinyard, selling fried chicken, joining a commune, modeling clothes, but it was when I spent a year in law school that I finally thought about killing my professors.

RHYS: Tell us about your mystery series.

KATE: My heroine is Brooklyn Wainwright, a restorer of rare books in San Francisco, which I chose because it's a city I love and I now get to go there for research. The latest book is called The Lies that Bind and this time Brooklyn's boyfriend seems to be involved in the murder she is solving.
RHYS: Are you a restorer of rare books yourself?
KATE: I am. It's one of my interests, but I'm not as expert as Brooklyn.
RHYS: All three of the Bibliophile mysteries have appeared on the New York Times extended bestseller list, and you've also won a Golden Heart and a Daphne du Maurier award so you've risen to the top very quickly.
KATE: If you think I'm an overnight success, then read the real story on my website, http://www.katecarlisle.com/. I talk about my struggles with bad hair and an overactive imagination.

RHYS: Yes, do read it, it is hilarious and gives you some idea why this lady's mysteries have become popular so quickly. And Kate's romances are also flourishing. Since her next Brooklyn book will have to do with a rare copy of the Karma Sutra, we suspect that Kate is meticulous in her research for those books too.

But back to Cozies. I have a problem with the name myself, especially when it is stretched to include all non-violent, non-noir mysteries. Under the terminology Julia and Deborah write cozies. My historical mysteries are classed as cozy (of course Georgie is, but Molly?) So all you cozy writers out there--do you think the label makes us the Rodney Dangerfield of mystery writing? Do you mind being thus labeled? Can you come up with a better term?


  1. Cozy, huh? I know writers are frustrated with the sneering that sometimes accompanies the word--but hey, "cozies" are some of the most popular mysteries in the genre! SO people can sneer--but the successful writers are cozying their way to the bank--and to tons of fans.

    Problem is, "cozy" cuts men right out of the equation. Anyone who writes real cozies(and I say that in them most complimentary way)--is that a concern for you?

    I don't think my books are cozy--the fabulous Crimespree (xox) called them medium-boiled.

    I think there's a big "traditional" movement now, right?

  2. Do you think only women read Miss Marple mysteries? Or is there something about being British and old that neutralizes the bias.

  3. Hallie,
    I think being made a PBS series neutralizes the bias.

    That being said, being made into a PBS series speaks well of the cozy, don't you think.

    Welcome Kate -- nice to see you here again.

  4. Oh, lucky you to spend an afternoon with Kate. She. Cracks. Me. Up! I love her Brooklyn Wainwright books (and her romances). Really...what's up with dissing cozies and romances? People who look down their noses are either missing the point (and a LOT of good books) or they're secretly reading them on their Kindles. Just sayin'...

  5. I have a sneaking suspicion that even though they'd never admit it, some of the "literati" sneer at cozies and romances because they deal with subjects that tend to appeal more to women. I read an article by Erica Jong a while back in which she said there's an assumption among critics that war matters and love does not. Fortunately for us, readers know what matters to them.

  6. Hey, Hank, I love the term "Medium-boiled!" :-)

    I usually tell people that I write "traditional" mysteries, but I don't really mind being called a cozy author either. Hey, as long as they call me "author," that's pretty cool!

  7. Hallie, I know some men who read Agatha Christie! I won't name any names and blow their cover, but they're out there. *g*

    It's always fun to get a note from a reader who's male or read a review of my book written by a man. It's interesting that they tend to focus on different aspects of the book than a woman might. I wonder if anyone else has had that experience.

  8. Hi Jan, thanks for the welcome! I love visiting y'all here!

  9. Oh Silver, hi!! Great to see you over here! And thanks so much for loving Brooklyn. :-)

    I don't know what the dissing is all about. Actually, I don't even really feel dissed most of the time. Or maybe it's just that I don't get out much. LOL ... that's the answer. Stay home! Snork!

  10. Hi Donis! {{waving!}}

    Donis was at our big book signing in Phoenix over the weekend -- and her newest Alafair Tucker mystery, CRYING BLOOD, comes out this weekend. Yay!!

    Donis, I'm not sure where I read it or heard it, but someone smarter than me said recently that the reason romance and mystery get a bum rap from some quarters is because our books tend to bring order (or closure or calm or happiness) to the protagonist's world. That is, in a romance, they live happily ever after. In a mystery, justice prevails. Any thoughts?

  11. I agree. Works primarily created by women, primarily consumed by women, automatically get judged as less worthy. When Tom Perrotta writes about love, families and failing marriages among the middle class, it's literature (and gets made into a major motion picture.) When Nancy Thayer does it, it's "Women's Fiction."

  12. Cozies seem "cozier" these days, what with most of them having female protags, a romantic interest, and often a female-centric career. I have an ensemble sleuthing cast of two guys and a gal, no romance, and a geeky workplace (travel mag of spooky/paranormal destinations), so I usually call my upcoming series "amateur sleuth," but they're still cozies if you're talking about a limited location and no gore/violence on the page. I do think that female-centric genres get no respect. As if thrillers with non-stop violence, limited character development, and actions that are included simply for shock/ludicrousness value (I'm lookin' at you, Carl Hiaasen, with your weed-whacker prosthetic-armed villain), are WAY better literature. Yuh-huh.