I’ve been writing crafty mysteries for awhile now. I’ve noticed that some folks tend to disregard “cozy” mysteries, and especially craft-themed mysteries. Once I had a lovely conversation with a writer at an event and later when he visited my book table, he picked up my book, put in back down, glanced away awkwardly, and left my table. I’ve seen him a few times since and he never really speaks to me. And you know what? It hurt. But I’m over it. Just like my mom used to say, “Eventually, people will show you their ass.” (Mom had a way with words.)
A lot of cozy mystery writers have similar stories. But, if you’re going to judge our books by the cover, only, or by what you think the genre is, joke’s on you. Look deeper. Read further and you might find some fabulous storytelling and writing. I think of writers like Ellery Adams, Julie Hyzy, Juliet Blackwell, Sheila Connelly, Clare O’Donohue, and so many others. If you don’t pick up their books because of some misguided prejudice about “cozy” mysteries, it’s your loss. After all, cozy is just a marketing term.
But I digress.
My first series, the Cumberland Creek Series, concerned a group of scrapbookers who get together once a week and scrapbook, along with eating, drinking, and of course, solving murders. Given the scrapbooking is such a personal hobby I thought what better way to get a group of diverse women together to divulge bits and pieces about their lives.
The hobby was simply a way for me to bring them together. Something they all had in common. Plus, as I used to say when promoting it, scrapbooking lends itself to mysteries. It’s puzzle-like, reflective, and oh, the clues you leave behind when scrapbooking.
Part of the challenge in writing amateur sleuth mysteries is just that. Amateur. As a writer, you must consider how you will get your sleuth into believable situations where they would be around murder victims. And where they’d have the time to butt their noses in. Enter Cumberland Creek’s Annie Chamovitz, stay-at-home mom and part-time freelance reporter. She had cause to be at murder scenes.
But just like any mystery, whether its cover is bright and cheerful, or dark and moody, the books are still about matters of life and death. It’s just a matter of where the writer chooses to focus their narrative lens. While my characters are scrapbooking, we glimpse personal stories, along with gossip, and even conversation that leads to solving murders. Scrapbooking becomes a metaphor for friendship, for finding justice, and for life.
But the books were never about the hobby. Not in a largest sense of the word. If you want scrapbooking books, there are plenty under the hobby section in your book store.
So now I’m writing a different kind of crafty mystery series. To my mind, the Cora Crafts Mysteries, are deeper and even more reflective than my first books. Cora Chevalier’s charge is to help people through crafting. Imagine the possibilities. So, even though she’s left behind her social worker job in Pittsburgh, she is still a helper, providing space and time for women to get together and craft. This is not far-fetched at all. Craft retreats are booming. Crafters will tell you how soothing knitting, quilting, or their craft of choice can be.
But once again, these books are not about crafting. They are about those same matters of life and death—crafting is the element that brings people from all walks of life together. Nothing brings out the best or worst in people like a tragedy, such as murder. And the amateur sleuth is someone most of us relate to. What would I do if I ran into a murder victim? What would I do if my best friend were wrongly imprisoned for murder?
Some of the themes I’ve tackled in my brightly-colored books include abuse, the darknet, human trafficking, mental illness, and drug addiction. Those same themes can be explored with a cocky cop from New York City, a harried PI in Baltimore, or a crafter in the heart of North Carolina.