You are currently viewing Joy Ann Ribar wants to know, “Are You a Rule Follower or a Writing Rebel?”

Joy Ann Ribar wants to know, “Are You a Rule Follower or a Writing Rebel?”

            I write cozy mysteries, and by the time this post is published, I will have taken part in a lively panel discussion about the cozy mystery genre presented by the Wisconsin chapter of Sisters in Crime. I wonder what’s going to come out of it…

            I’m surprised that I still meet readers and bookstore owners who are new to the term “cozy.” Pardon my redundancy if you are already in the know, and feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph. Cozies typically follow specific rules regarding content in which no graphic violence, language, or sex appears on the page. Often set in small towns with descriptive settings, a cozy invites the reader to sit back and get comfortable. The character solving the crime is typically an amateur and often female, and maybe, she will feel like the reader’s new best friend.

Cozies are available in just about any shape, size, or flavor you can name.  Look up the category and you’ll find librarians, bakers, baristas, quilters, gardeners, pet psychics, witches, vintners, and more, all leading double lives as amateur sleuths. Just for kicks I searched for “Amish cozies” and found more than thirty. (My favorite title is Shunned and Dangerous.)

Cozies appear to have taken the world by storm or at least by a lovely rain shower, and recently, the genre has gained attention from book critics and bloggers who are noticing, or perhaps inviting, a shake-up within the genre.

The August 23, 2023, issue of Mystery and Suspense discussed the emergence of the edgy cozy, a blend of cozy meets thriller with “shadow” and “grit.” The edgy cozy, according to the magazine, answers the call of readers who want the comfort of friendly characters but crave a little more heart-pounding peril. 

The May 3, 2023, Book Riot newsletter not only praises the cozy invasion, but openly invites a cozy entourage, blending cozies with science fiction, romance, fantasy, and even horror.  The article states a case for genre mixing in new ways and cites several books living in the margins for readers to savor.

A 2021 column in The Atlantic opines the importance of pushing the cozy boundaries into a more diverse and modern world. Columnist Alyse Burnside suggests that cozies insulate readers from the reality and seduction of violence within humans. Burnside applauds modern cozies that feature real-world issues the protagonist might confront, like prejudice, financial struggles, or mental illness. 

Discourse that challenges the contented cozy leaves me in a conundrum because I have a new series coming out in November. I stopped dead in my tracks when asked how to list the genre of The Medusa Murders, which I thought was a somewhat traditional mystery. Advanced copy readers have labeled it as traditional, an edgy cozy, a paranormal cozy, an amateur detective mystery, and I’m still waiting for more descriptions. Have I accidentally crafted a blend? If I market the book as a cozy, am I rebelling against the established etiquette regarding the genre? I believe I owe it to readers to warn them about the elements and themes that do not conform to cozy customs. As an indie author, I have to be especially careful about the language I use to describe my books.

The commotion surrounding the cozy genre might be an extension of tumult in the publishing industry, which has seeped into many existing genres. It is about time the industry embraced diversity among authors, and many publishers are courting diverse voices which are bound to challenge traditional genre norms. 

I am reminded of teaching literature and poetry through the ages. In the nineteenth century, Walt Whitman rebelled against European standards for crafting poetry and invented the free verse form, which Whitman said paired well with American individualism. In the twentieth century, E.E. Cummings turned poetry on its head with his avant-garde style that lacked capital letters, punctuation, or verse form. He also blended words together to make new words.

Naturally, stepping out on a limb to rebel against established rules is not without consequences. I’m a people pleaser and always have been, so I don’t relish offending readers, authors, or book critics. On the other hand, rules were made to be revised, if not broken. What do you think?

Joy Ribar

Joy Ann Ribar writes the Deep Lakes Cozy Mystery series, inspired by Wisconsin’s four seasons and friendly quirks. You can find out more about her on her website, where you can sign up for her newsletter, or follow her on Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Colleen Winter
    Colleen Winter

    What a great post! I love (reading) cosy mysteries but write in the thriller/sci-fi area. Now you have me thinking about how I could combine the two.

    1. joyribar

      One that is certain in the writing industry – is change. As new generations take over the book world (readers and writers), I expect to see more changes. Some are sure to feel revolutionary to the old guard. Thanks for commenting, Colleen.

  2. Avatar

    Excellent post, and I love your bravery to write the book of your heart. Your cover is magnificent, too! Congratulations!

    1. joyribar

      Saralyn, you are too kind. Thank you. Authors are brave people. Anyone who puts themselves out into the world is brave. I have a lot of good company, including those who came before me.

  3. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Great post, Joy. I love “soft” cozies, be they for adults or kids. And I agree with your statement that “rules were made to be revised, if not broken” simply because no matter how any one author feels, I think rule changes will happen! Look at grammar, punctuation, and cursive writing! Change in our industry seems to be in style now, and it will likely continue. I guess we should embrace it to stay current! Best wishes on your new book and series.

    1. joyribar

      Thanks, Sherrill. Best wishes on Jacaranda Street. I love your series. Regarding change, I think it’s also good for us to remember that “old” books still have many readers and fans. We live in a world with infinite variety, lucky for us.

  4. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    Love this post, Joy. I think my series falls into the category of police procedurals with heart or edgy cozy! I love the cover on this new book and can’t wait to read it! To answer your question: I believe that aspiring authors must do some rule following, but once they’ve been published and are developing a readership, it’s great to mix things up and expand the boundaries of the rules. It keeps things interesting.

    1. joyribar

      Thanks Margaret and I appreciate your sage, professional response. Your books are marvelous police procedurals but readers like me care about and relate to your characters personally.

  5. Avatar
    Ellen Mansoor Collier

    Great post! I’ve been calling my Jazz Age series “soft-boiled” since I write about real rival gangs with a society reporter as the amateur sleuth–but edgy cozies have a nice edge. Thanks for the update!

    1. joyribar

      Thank you for your comment. There are so many terms and they keep changing through the years. I remember when soft-boiled and hard-boiled were commonly used to describe crime novels. Any way we slice them, it’s good for readers to quickly determine what they’re looking for.

  6. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Great post, Joy. The type of talk surrounding cozies is nothing new. Romance authors will tell you about their many struggles with how to describe the level of “heat” and such that was an issue in the 1990s or so. So many lines came out at one time in romance that it saturated the market and some publishers and authors quit because there was no longer money to be made. This is happening with cozies now. Readers are often confused about what is what and that’s why they’re now often relying on the covers for a “true cozy.” A colorful, sweet scene is considered cozy, but something with art that is more serious or dark is “traditional mystery” and many cozy readers and traditional mystery readers just won’t pick up a cover that doesn’t match their perception and preferences. Which is very okay. It’s an industry that is experiencing a good ol’ “shake-up.”

    1. joyribar

      Thanks, Christine. I knew you would be able to shed more insights on the topic, and I cannot wait to discuss more about cozies with you this weekend.

  7. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    Great cover for Medusa Murders! And since I just finished it, I’d say paranormal/edgy cozy just about covers it! I can’t wait to hear your discussion this weekend, and now I have fodder for your Blackbird Writer interview, which will be posted this weekend.

    1. joyribar

      Thank you, Tracey. Sometimes the stars align. Huzzah.

Leave a Reply