candlew-2400240_1920When I wrote my Christmas mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes,” I thought it might qualify as a cozy mystery. What makes a mystery a cozy? At Killer Nashville, a writers’ conference, I attended a session hosted by authors Debra H. Goldstein, Phyllis Gobbell, Maggie Toussaint, Alexia Gordon, Linda Thorne, and J.C. Kenney to find out

Cozy mysteries always have amateur sleuths.

The amateur sleuth can come in many flavors, but she should have some talent or ability or quirk that helps her be successful as an investigator. He could have an insatiable curiosity, or be just plain nosy. She can have a desire for justice or to protect those less fortunate than herself.

My teen detective Rae Riley possesses great determination and persistence. She knows if she uncovers the person who tried to murder her mother twenty years before, she may also discover who her father is.

Secondary characters are important.

Many cozy mysteries are in series, and readers derive a lot of enjoyment from spending time with characters they regard as old friends. It’s important to develop secondary characters, who add a family feel to the stories.

There are three men Rae suspects of being either her mother’s attacker or her father. I introduce each man with his family connections: the professor and his wife, the rich business man and his kids and brother, the sheriff and his kids and mother. The family connections make all the characters seem more real and also give them a history. Readers feel like they’ve entered into lives that have both pasts and futures. Plus I have a lot of fun creating quirky characters.

The crime takes place in an insulated community.

For many cozies, this translates into a small town, like St. Mary Mead where Miss Marple lives, or Three Pines, the hometown of Inspector Armand Gamache. But the setting can be any small, tightly knit community. The members of a community theater, a sorority, or a carnival would all fit in a cozy mystery. In fact, the amateur sleuth’s membership in this community may give her an edge. Such as the teen who is investigating threats at her high school. She would be able to questions suspects in a much different way from the police.

Rae Riley is a newcomer to rural Marlin County, Ohio. It’s the kind of county where a newcomer stands out, and several generations of a family live within its borders. One of Rae’s advantages in such a community is that she can judge people without any preconceptions that might come from knowing someone for twenty years. Her other advantage is that no one in the county knows who her mother was.

No graphic sex or violence, please.

Readers of cozies do not want heads rolling down the stairs or couples rolling around in beds. That doesn’t mean they expect a G-rated story. They know someone will be murdered. They know adultery or other plots revolving around sex are likely.  They just don’t want every grisly detail of the murder described or told exactly what the two-timing wife did in the bedroom with her boyfriend. Those details are not essential to solving the mystery.

What are some of your favorite cozy mysteries?

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