My Review of Nancy J. Cohen’s “Writing the Cozy Mystery”

Writing the Cozy Mystery
Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J Cohen

In the market for a new, great How-To book on writing? Well, look no further. I keep my eye out for these because they tend to be a wealth of knowledge and experience, packed with interesting ideas and exercises. And I’ve found one that I recommend highly. It’s a quick, efficient read that’ll definitely get your story-brain working.

I’ve been a fan of mysteries for a very long time, from the classics concocted by Conan Doyle, Chandler, and Christie, to modern doozies from the likes of Lehane. Well into my thirties at this point, one of my favorite novels is still a middle-grade cozy puzzle mystery I read in elementary school, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Even as a middle school literature teacher these days, I read that novel with my 6th graders as part of a larger unit on the mystery genre. And as someone who fancies himself a writer, I’m always on the look out for useful insights from published authors to help guide the way.

So when Nancy J. Cohen published her latest book, Writing the Cozy Mystery, I was all over it. Here’s a little about Nancy from her website, nancyjcohen.com:

Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her humorous Bad Hair Day mystery series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several of these titles have made the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller list. Coming in April 2014 is Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the series. Nancy is also the author of Writing the Cozy Mystery, a  valuable instructional guide for mystery writers.

With Writing the Cozy Mystery, Nancy presents an easy-to-follow and engaging framework to developing your own Cozy mystery, stand-alone or series. Her expertise in the area lends credence to the useful tips throughout the book, and she provides thought-provoking writing exercises to try. Also, her collection of active Writer’s Resources supplies an additional wealth of knowledge beyond just her own well-informed and experienced take.

Nancy defines a Cozy Mystery as “a whodunit featuring an amateur sleuth, a distinctive setting, and a limited number of suspects, most of whom may know each other.” What makes these types of mysteries fun is:

The story presents a puzzle that challenges readers to solve the mystery.

Chapter by chapter, Nancy leads you through the entire process of writing a cozy mystery, providing a useful framework for this specific style of storytelling. Among her chapters, Nancy details an approach to the ever-important world building, including how to establish setting and how to narrow the details using sensory language. I found the Creating the Sleuth chapter and A Web of Suspects to be particularly insightful regarding character development.

Her savvy sections on story structure and suspense truly provide a peek at what it takes to create a successful and sellable mystery. She suggests a three-act approach and preaches patience when crafting The Grand Finale. Throughout, she drops useful tips to help the writing process.

Remember to follow action sequences with reaction and reflection.

Nancy wraps her discussion by offering valuable guidelines on developing Series Continuity and creating Organizational Tools. She acknowledges writing a cozy is a complex task, and one that will take attention to detail and patience. However, now that I’ve read her book, I feel like I have a better grasp on the approach and will try my hand at making one of these wonderful puzzles. Don’t miss Nancy’s blog, either!

 

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The Liebster Award

Much blog love goes out to The Legends of Windemere for nominating me for a Liebster Award. ‘Liebster’ translates from German to ‘dearest’ in English, and with that in mind, it’s pretty awesome that Charles Edward Yallowitz considered my work worth the read. Don’t miss his book Legends of Windemere: Beginning of a Hero available now at Smashwords, and for the Kindle.

liebster2

The Liebster award is designed for bloggers with less than 200 followers, and at present I’ve got a grand total of 63 followers. The fact that people beyond my blood relations read my work is humbling. So, here goes:

The rules are:
* Share eleven facts about yourself with your fellow bloggers.
* Make sure to answer the awarder’s eleven questions.
* Ask eleven questions of your own.
* Nominate eleven bloggers for this award.

Eleven Facts About Yours Truly

  1. As it turns out, 11 is my favorite number.
  2. 11 PM is now very much past my bed time. (There’d better be a damned good reason you keep me up late.)
  3. At 11 years old, I was reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin with my Language Arts teacher, Ms. Sue Timmis. Now, at 32 years old, I’m reading The Westing Game with my 6th grade Literature class.
  4. In 2011, I came to teach at my old middle/elementary school. Some of my old teachers are still here. The fact that my two children roam the same halls my brothers, friends and I once did makes me feel incredibly old.
  5. Growing up, one of my favorite basketball players was Isiah Thomas, who played for the Detroit Pistons, and wore #11.
  6. As such, my high school varsity basketball jersey number was, you guessed it, #11.
  7. Once upon a time, I could drink 11 beers and be fine. I’m not entirely sure that is still true. Weekend experiment!
  8. An epic 11-on-11 Survivor Flip-Cup match would be the best 11-on-11 game in existence, but until that game happens, Football is the best. (Weekend experiment?)
  9. I know what my 11th favorite movie of all-time is. (“The Fifth Element” [1997])
  10. The 11th song of the playlist I am currently listening to is: “That’s Not Her Style” by Billy Joel, from his album “Stormfront”.
  11. 9 of my last 11 posts (not counting re-blogs) have been about Writing.

My Awarder’s Eleven Questions

My Awarder has come up with a devious array of queries that I will now endeavor to answer.

1. What is your favorite pizza topping? 

-If I had to choose one, it’d have to be the classic pepperoni. Throw some sausage and maybe some fresh basil on there too, and now we’re talking.

2. Do you have a nickname?  If so, what and why?

-I’ve had a number of nicknames throughout my life, but the only one that’s stuck with any sort of permanence is ‘Bebé’. I’m the first born of my generation so-to-speak, so grandparents and all my aunts and uncles referred to me a ‘Bebé’, which means “baby” in Spanish. To this day, most of my family, including some of my little cousins, call me ‘Bebé’. Once I started talk, though, I had my revenge. As the first born, I doled out a number of nicknames to those selfsame grandparents, aunts and uncles that have stuck to them.

3. Who is your hero?

-My answer is absolutely cliché, my parents and grandparents. As far as my grandparents go, they immigrated from Cuba in the 1960s and worked to establish a better life here in Miami. My parents were blessed with that same work-ethic and helped developed a loving, faithful and supportive family environment–one that pushed me to follow my dream of being a writer.

4. What was the last song you listened to?

-This question is unfair, and not indicative of my own musical predilections. The last song I listened to was one chosen by my five year-old daughter on our ride home. It’s was “I’ve Got a Dream” by Brad Garrett, Jeffery Tambor, Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, and company from the “Tangled” soundtrack.

5. What is your biggest fear?

-Once upon a time, my biggest fear was death. Now, my biggest fear is the death of my wife and/or my children.

6. If you had a choice between riding an elephant or a camel, which would you choose? Why?

-I would ride an elephant, and henceforth refer to myself as a mahout. The benefits of such a title are evident.

7. Is there an animal that you identify with?  Why?

-I would love to claim an identification with the dolphin–you know, sleek, smart, and speedy. Alas, I’m more akin to a Basset Hound, lolling, loyal, and lovable!

8. What is your favorite season?  Why?

-My favorite season would be Winter, if we experienced it here in Miami, but we really only get Summer and More-Humid-Summer. So, my favorite season is Summer–not the least of which among my reasons is that I’m a teacher. I don’t think the Starks included Miami in their Winter Is Coming declaration.

9. Do you wish I was better at asking questions?

-Not at all. I mean, you might not be Barbara Walters or the Corpse of Larry King, but I’d certainly slot you ahead of Montell Williams and, gasp, Matt Lauer. (If you were Oprah, and I were Tom Cruise’s alien host, I’d jump on your couch.)

10. In a fight between King Kong, Dracula, and Kenny from South Park, who would win?

– Considering Kenny is immortal, and no matter how many times Dracula bit him or King Kong smacked a plane at him he’d be back for the next episode, I’d go with him. Battle of attrition.

11. Do you believe that everyone has the ability to be an artist?

-I believe everyone has the ability to create, but whether or not that becomes art I guess is up to them. What’s that saying. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’? People make things all the time, and there’s a level of artistry in any number of professions. The short answer would have been, Yes.

My Questions

  1. Who are you and why are you here?
  2. What literary character would you like to be?
  3. If you could scourge the Earth of one man-made creation, what would it be? Why?
  4. Where do your literary tastes lie?
  5. Where do your musical tastes lie?
  6. What as-of-yet unmade novel/film adaptation would you make?
  7. If you could have dinner with one historical figure, who would it be? Where would you eat?
  8. Speaking of eating, what is your favorite blogging snack?
  9. If you could have a new day-job (assuming you currently have one), what would it be? Why? (You can’t choose writer!)
  10. Which of your non-writing related hobbies helps your writing the most?
  11. What is your blogging process?

My Nominees

I hereby nominate the following awesome bloggers (in no particular order):

  1. Mark Elman
  2. Laura B Williams
  3. Caitlin Stern Writes
  4. Corey M.P.
  5. 21st Century Renaissance Girl
  6. Marie Lamba
  7. Sidekick Reviews
  8. Robakers
  9. Lauren Marie Robb
  10. Myth Rider
  11. The Ranting Papizilla (He’s got 201 followers, but I’ll keep him on this list ‘cuz he’s way awesome.)