I recently attended Left Coast Crime 2008 in Denver, where I was on two panels dealing with what constituted a cozy mystery. All of the authors involved had definite ideas on the subject; we were not all in complete harmony with one another, but close enough for government work (having worked four years for the IRS, I think I can use that expression with impunity).
An amateur sleuth is a must, light on the explicit sexuality, heavy on atmosphere, setting and eccentric characters, and (for me, at least) humor an absolute necessity, along with lots of descriptions of food, clothes and scenery. In fact, for me the quintessential cozy (while admittedly not a mystery) is GONE WITH THE WIND. I can't read that book without wanting to eat like a horse, buy new clothes or, depending on my budget, breaking out my sewing machine and seeing what I can whip up with drapery fabric.
Good cozies have the same affect on me: I find myself wanting to take up whatever hobby might be part of the book, fighting the desire to eat three times as much as normal (curse you, Diane Mott Davidson!) and having witty banter with unusually sexy cops.
In my first novel, MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon, there is enough hot chocolate, freshly baked cookies and other culinary treats to grant me cozy status without the prerequisite romantic relationship between my heroine and one of the cops on the case. I've never dated a policeman (although I WAS benevolently stalked by an ex-boyfriend turned sheriff's deputy) and had no real life experience to give the relationship any semblance of believability. Besides, there are enough of those relationships in mystery novels and I didn't feel I had anything original to add to the mix.
Maureen (my best friend and co-founder of the real life theater troupe Murder for Hire) and I were both enamored with the hard-boiled film noir of the '30s, '40s and '50s. We loved the pulp magazines with covers featuring lantern-jawed gumshoes, molls and dames in sexy red dresses, thugs and villains of various nationalities heavy on the ethnic cliches. What we didn't love back in the day was taste of alcohol (we're both dedicated winosâ€¦erâ€¦oenopiles now). So we sublimated our desire to follow in the footsteps of the hard-drinking guys and dolls in the world of noir with enough cocoa and hot chocolate to make 17th century Spanish nobility and Aztec priests envious. We were, however, mortally offended when one of our MFH actors asked why we didn't put mini-marshmallows in our hot chocolate. That would be sissified, we told him. Logic didn't enter into our viewpoint on the subject.
We also put away mass quantities of chocolate chip cookies, fudge (the old-fashioned kind where you have to cook it on the stove forever and drop test a dollop into water to see if it's set) and donuts to challenge the hardiest of metabolisms. Ours were pretty hardy back in the day; we bought and fit into vintage '30s and '40s clothes with nary a pinch around the waistline. 24 inches. Sigh. I once had a 24-inch waistline. 7 inches larger than Scarlett's vaunted 17 inch waistline, but I had neither a corset nor a Mammy to lace me into one every day.
Maureen and I were very innocent and fearless when we started Murder for Hire. If we had experienced a murder during one of our shows I've no doubt we would have reacted with the same combination of naive bumbling and chocolate-fueled determination as Connie and Daphne do in MFH: The Peruvian Pigeon, the fictionalized and cozy re-imagining of our youth.
I'll be going on a Northwest signing tour with fellow mystery writer Jess Lourey, author of the hilarious MURDER BY THE MONTH series. She'll be promoting her new book AUGUST MOON and I'll be promoting MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon. To check out our tour stops in the Bay Area to Seattle, starting the Wednesday before Memorial Day, go here. http://www.danafredsti.com/publicity.html
To win a free copy of Peruvian Pigeon, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me name of the famous seven caves in La Jolla. First to answer correctly wins!