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?