Tag Archives: Kate on Vacation mysteries

A Peek Behind the Curtain: 6 Challenges Cozy Mysteries Present for Writers

by Kassandra Lamb

Not all of us started out as cozy writers, but now all of the misterio press authors have written at least some cozies.

I first stuck my toe in the cozy pond with my Kate on Vacation series that parallels my regular Kate Huntington series. (I have a new release! See below.) This started out as a fun way to give my readers a light Kate snack while they were waiting (sometimes not all that patiently) for me to finish the next full-length novel/meal.

What I discovered was that I really enjoy writing cozies. They’re fun!

But there are some challenges involved when one switches over from writing regular mysteries (which I’m still doing) to writing cozies.

Here are 6 differences between this subgenre and the main genre of mysteries, and the challenges cozies pose for authors.

1. The main character is an amateur sleuth.

This may also be the case in regular mysteries, but it’s a requirement in cozies. No police officers or private investigators allowed, except as significant others and/or secondary characters. But the amateur sleuth has to do the bulk of the sleuthing, or at least has to figure out whodunnit around the same time as law enforcement does.

magnifiying glass on antique desk

photo by Stéphane Magnenat CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimeida Commons

The challenge here is coming up with plausible reasons why an average citizen would keep stumbling over corpses. In police procedurals or private detective stories, this is not a problem.

And there has to be a good reason why the amateur sleuth gets and stays involved in crime investigations, even when the local law enforcement folks are often telling him/her to butt out.

The stakes have to be high for the main character personally.

2. Something – the setting, the main character’s vocation, etc. – is out of the ordinary.

Cozy readers want a peek into places and activities that they themselves might have never experienced. So the settings may be small towns or exotic locations, and the characters may knit, or give dance lessons, or train dogs for a living.

There are a lot of cozies that involve food, in which the main character owns a restaurant or is a caterer or writes a baking blog. But something has to be unusual, in a way that makes the story more fun and interesting.

Maui beach

A beach on Maui (photo from our Hawaii vacation last fall)

For my Kate on Vacation novellas, this means going to the interesting places I will have Kate visit, so that I can include a lot of local color in the story and get the details right (it’s a tough job and all that 😀 ).

For my new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, it was a little more challenging. I had to invent a small town and give it an odd-ball history.

Fortunately, in Florida, that’s not hard to do. It’s a bit of an oddball state. I created a now-defunct tourist trap, an alligator farm, and the town that sprang up around it, which is now struggling to avoid ghost-town status.

3. At least some of the secondary characters are quirky.

cafe with coffee cup on the roof

Wouldn’t this make a great setting for a cozy? (photo by beige photos CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

So I had to populate Mayfair, Florida, with some unusual neighbors, like the eccentric elderly owner of the Mayfair Motel. And with each book, I have to come up with new ways to develop their quirkiness and yet not make them totally unbelievable. I’m finding this challenging but also fun.

In my new Kate on Vacation book, I didn’t have to invent a quirky character. Instead I borrowed one from JoAnn Bassett, our author emeritus (with her permission, of course). Her protagonist, Pali Moon isn’t that much of an oddball–just a little bit of one–but she definitely has a penchant for ending up in oddball situations.

4. Crimes happen, usually murder, but minimal on-screen violence and no gory descriptions.

I’m fine with this. Despite the fact that I write crime fiction, I’m a pacifist at heart, so I’m just as happy to have most of the violence happen off-screen. The challenge comes with the final confrontation scene that is a requirement in the mystery genre, including cozies. The protagonist and/or someone near and dear has to be in jeopardy, and usually comes face to face with the bad guy(s) or gal(s).

One needs to make this scene scary and exciting without too much gore and with no one actually dropping dead in front of the protagonist’s (and reader’s) eyes.

5. Sex is off-screen.

You can elude to it, but nothing more than a few fully-clothed, preliminary kisses are allowed on screen.

This is my one major regret with writing cozies. Because I can do a wicked sex scene!

6. No cursing.

Nothing stronger than a “darn” or “heck.” I usually avoid cursing as much as I can in my books anyway, because I know it’s a turn off for some readers, but I am also trying to write realistic characters.

It can be hard to come up with ways for characters to express strong emotions without cursing (’cause after all, bad things are happening) and without sounding totally dorky.

The work-around in my new series was that my main character, Marcia Banks, comes from a religious family–her father was an Episcopal priest (and yes, they marry and have kids).

With the Kate on Vacation stories, this is tougher, because she does cuss some in the main series. So in these cozy stories, I sometimes have her not finishing a sentence:

“What the…” Kate trailed off, shocked speechless for once.

How about you? Which do you prefer to read, regular mysteries or cozies? Or some of both? Mystery writers, have you written cozies? What did you find most challenging about them?

book cover

Missing on Maui, A Kate on Vacation Mystery, #4

It’s an awkward situation at best, and a deadly one at worst.

Days before Kate Huntington is scheduled to leave for her niece’s wedding on Maui, she receives a frantic call from said niece. Amy’s mother–Kate’s rather difficult sister-in-law–is at it again, alienating the groom’s family and even the wedding planner. Can Aunt Kate come early and run interference?

Soon after her arrival, Kate discovers that young women are going missing on the island, and Amy’s maid of honor is hanging out with a notorious local player. Is he involved in the disappearances?

Hawaii is supposed to be a relaxing paradise, but Aunt Kate is kept busy locating a new wedding planner (the delightful Pali Moon), refereeing between Amy and her mother, and chasing down errant wedding party members… Oh, and facing off with a psychopath.

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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

BULLIES

by Kassandra Lamb

Bullies have been on my mind lately for two reasons. One, they play a role in both of the stories I’ve been working on lately, one of which is releasing today (more on that in a moment).

Two, a friend of mine has been dealing with one lately–a forty-something adolescent who thinks it’s okay to disturb the peace in the neighborhood and harass those neighbors who object to his behavior.

Wikibully (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Wikibully (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

What motivates bullies?

I’ve wondered about that ever since first grade, when I was playing on the school playground by myself one day and an older girl–probably a fourth or fifth grader–came at me out of the blue and shoved me to the ground.

I wasn’t hurt and she walked away again as quickly as she’d come, so I didn’t even have time to feel scared. I was mainly just shook up. But I can still see her angry, sneering face in my mind’s eye, after all these decades.

I was amazed that some stranger wanted to do that to me. And I still am.

The other thing that amazes me is the frequent response to bullying expressed by those in authority–that the parties involved should “work it out amongst themselves.” This shows a total ignorance of how bullies operate. They count on others abiding by the rules, as they blatantly break them.

Here’s the dictionary definition of bullying: using superior strength, influence or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Let me put on my psychologist hat for a moment and try to explain the motivation of bullies. They are insecure people who have figured out that they feel better about themselves when they are lording it over others. The problem is that their insecurities run very deep. So like a drug, this “fix” of power through intimidation of others only feels good for a brief time. Then their insecurities come roaring back, and they have to compensate again and again by bullying somebody.

Trying to “work it out” with them is often viewed as a sign of weakness, and eggs them on instead. (If you’re thinking “That doesn’t make any sense,” then congratulations, you do not think like a bully!)

This was my friend’s experience (we’ll call him Bill) when he confronted the neighbor who was racing his unlicensed four-wheelers, with no mufflers, on the vacant lots and streets of their rural neighborhood. Bill’s complaints about the noise, exhaust fumes and potential fire hazard (flames were coming out of the exhaust pipes while being driven through winter-dry underbrush), were met with the proclamation that the neighbor (we’ll call him Jack) “would ride wherever and whenever he damned well pleased.”

Jack then started intentionally riding around in circles on the lot next to Bill’s house for hours on the weekends.

So Bill bought the lot (he been thinking about doing so for other reasons anyway).

Jack reacted poorly to the new fence and “no trespassing” signs on the property. He intentionally ran into the fence, yelled at and shoved Bill. Jack then raced his unlicensed vehicles up and down the paved, county road in front of Bill’s house and on the other vacant lots beyond the one Bill had bought.

Other neighbors gathered and were flabbergasted by this man’s childish behavior. Bill took pictures of these events and then called the county sheriff’s department.

The sad part of the story was the deputies’ response. These were not bad cops. They were trying to do their jobs as they thought best. Which is the saddest part of all. This is a typical response by authorities to bullies, unless and until the victim is seriously hurt. And this response allows bullies to continue to do their thing.

To the report of the shove: “Did he knock you down? Were you hurt?”
“No.”
“Well, then we can’t do anything.”

(Note: Bill is 66 years old; Jack is in his mid 40s. So it’s okay for people to intentionally shove senior citizens as long as they aren’t hurt?)

To the report of him riding his unlicensed vehicles on county roads: “We have to see it ourselves in order to ticket him.” This, despite the fact that Bill had pictures; the deputies wouldn’t even look at them.

To the report of Jack running into his fence and intentionally tearing up the property just beyond it: They pointed out to the neighbor that he had no right to damage others’ property.

Then they told my friend he should “work this out” with his neighbor. Bill’s response was that this had already been attempted and they were now long past that point.

Bill persisted and finally the officers went to talk to the neighbor. Jack has been marginally less obnoxious since then.

Say no to bullying (image by Andrevruas CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Say no to bullying (image by Andrevruas CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Again, I’m not trying to paint the deputies as bad cops. I suspect they thought they were handling the situation appropriately.

But these attitudes have to change if we are going to put a stop to bullying in our society. We need to “Just Say No” to bullies. In other words, those in a position to do so need to stand up to bullies and make them cut it out!

This is for the bullies’ sake as well as the victims. Until a bully learns that s/he can’t deal with insecurity by being a bully, they won’t even try to deal with it any other way.

Here are some tips for how to handle bullies.

How to advise a child who is being bullied or who witnesses bullying:
1.  Calmly walk away if you can. Tell someone. Parents, teachers, coaches. Keep telling people until someone listens and takes action.

2.  Know that you are not a wimp, sissy, weakling or loser no matter what the bullies say. Don’t let insecure bullies define who you are!

3.  If you are being physically attacked, yell and make as much noise as possible. Bullies don’t like to get caught.

4.  If you are being verbally attacked, walk away. Don’t hit the bully no matter how tempting it may be. Some bullies intentionally egg others into violence, then report them to school authorities as if they were the innocent victim. Report their verbal bullying to teachers, etc.

5.  If you witness bullying, don’t laugh. That just eggs the bullies on and it isn’t TV or a movie– a real person is being hurt, either emotionally, physically or both. Indeed, don’t stick around at all; don’t give the bully an audience. Instead, go find an adult to intervene.

For adults encountering an adult bully:
1.  Don’t show your fear. Try to maintain a demeanor of calm and confidence.

2.  Get away from them if you can, without significantly compromising your own needs, rights and desires. Ignoring a bully sometimes takes the wind out of his sails.

3.  If you stand up to them (my preference), do it quickly, calmly and firmly.

4.  Give them an out to save face if possible. Don’t back them into a corner if you can help it.

5.  Try reverse psychology. Ask them to do the exact opposite of what you want. You want them to go away, so invite them to sit down and talk things over.

6.  Call the authorities and keep pushing until you get results.

Adults dealing with grown-up bullies is the subject of my new novella, Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas, which officially releases today. It is just 99 cents for today and tomorrow only! It goes up to $1.99 on 3/25/15.

Please check it out and then talk to me in the comments. Have you ever been bullied? What strategies for dealing with bullies have you found effective?

cover of Ten-Gallon Tensions in TexasTen-Gallon Tensions in Texas, A Kate on Vacation Mystery

Town secrets, an old nemesis, a corpse–what else will show up at Skip’s high school reunion in Texas?

When Kate and her husband arrive in his hometown for the event, they discover that new disputes have been heaped on top of old animosities. Tempers flare, fists fly, and before the evening is out, Skip stumbles upon a dead body.

Fortunately the town’s sheriff is an old buddy of his, but will that keep him from becoming a prime suspect? Trying to uncover the real murderer leads Kate and Skip to uncover long- buried secrets instead, and their names just might end up on the killer’s must-die list.

Also, the 1st two books in the series, An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine and Cruel Capers on the Caribbean, will be 99 cents through the end of the March.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and the Kate on Vacation mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )