Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

Pushing the Envelope and Thinking Outside the Box
By Lois Winston

October 4th will see the release of Stitch, Bake, Die!, the tenth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, which is currently available for pre-order. At a recent mystery conference, I took part in a panel discussion on cozy mystery tropes. All genres have their tropes, and some authors are extremely careful to conform to the tropes of their specific genre. But then there are those of us who like to push the envelope and think outside the box.

Cozy mystery tropes are comforting. When a reader picks up a cozy mystery, she knows what to expect. She’s not going to be confronted with the darkness of a suspense or thriller. No one is going to harm a child or a pet. She’s going to be able to escape for a few hours into the lives of the amateur sleuth and her supporting cast of characters, and in the end, the sleuth will have been instrumental in solving the crime. HEA (happily ever after) endings are not just for romances. They’re also alive and well in cozy mysteries.

That said, though, do all cozy mysteries have to take place in a small town or village? Does the setting have to be in a rural area, mostly in the South or Midwest? Does the sleuth have to own or inherit a craft shop, a bakery, a B&B, or a bookstore? Although these tropes are abundant in cozy mysteries, more and more authors are breaking free from the usual and giving their cozies an unusual spin. Authors are branching out into new territory. The amateur sleuth is now a chiropractor, a college professor, or even a witch. Series are being set in small, medium, and large metropolitan cities. Romantic subplots (something Dame Agatha would shudder at!) are becoming more and more common with some series even continuing after the sleuth marries.

Years ago, when I was asked to write a cozy mystery series with a crafting sleuth, I decided I wanted my series to stand out from all the other crafting cozies on the market. My sleuth would not own a craft shop or be someone who sold her crafts at fairs. She wouldn’t be part of a quilting bee or knitting circle. And my series would not feature only one craft. I made Anastasia the crafts editor of a women’s magazine, and I decided to feature a different craft in each book.

I also set my series in a suburban town, a short commute from New York City. This gave me the opportunity to set some of my stories in the city and some in the suburbs. In the last book, A Sew Deadly Cruise, I sent Anastasia on a cruising vacation that turned out to be anything but relaxing. After all, there is one trope that every cozy writer, no matter how much she pushes the envelope or thinks outside the box, must conform to—she must devise a crime her amateur sleuth needs to solve.

Are you a reader who’s most comfortable with tried-and-true tropes? Or are you willing to branch out to read about amateur sleuths who don’t always conform to the norm?

Stitch, Bake, Die!
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10

With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.

The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects.

Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?

Crafting tips included.

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Comments

  1. This gave me something to think about. My Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Series deals with controversial issues, but I’ve received some great feedback from my readers. With my lighthearted and humorous Sydney Lockhart series, I focus on humor and zany characters. Great post, Lois.

  2. I don’t always need to read about crafts or cooking or pets in a cozy. As long as the characters and setting are interesting, that’s enough to draw me in.

  3. Diane A.S. Stuckart/Anna Gerard says

    I prefer my cozies to steer clear of politics and social issues, though a hint of the latter is okay as long as there’s no obvious author ax-grinding. I’m open as far as characters (who can be imperfect) and settings (which should stand out in some way). Most importantly, I want a sleuth who uses his/her head and who, in a long-running series, grows and changes for the better. I’d really like to see some cozies set in the southwest because that’s a whole ‘nother vibe. .

    • Diane, I agree about steering clear of politics and social issues. I never want to alienate a part of my readership. My one exception, though, is writing about Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law. I figure there probably aren’t any diehard, old-school commies reading my books anyway. However, I do scour the news for plot ideas, especially high-profile court cases, murders, thefts, kidnappings, etc. Truth is very often stranger than fiction.

  4. Recently cozies, while still providing a cozy feeling, often take on important issues.

    • And that’s a good thing, right, Marilyn? All of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries feature something that has made national news. I love using the news as inspiration for my plots.

  5. These kind of books are my favorite although I do read books of every genre and try a book. Would love to read & review book in print format.
    I can’t wait to see how this book ends it’s so intriguing and mysterious

  6. Candy Kennedy says

    I enjoy books with different types of people and professions and I think it’s a big world tell me about all kinds of it.

    • I completely agree, Candy. That’s why I’ve taken my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries in a different direction from most of the other crafting cozies. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  7. maggietoussaint says

    I have always preferred the books that colored outside the lines a bit. What I adore about cozies is that promise of a happily ever after. I like for all to come round right in the story, for justice to be served, and for the sleuth to survive to sleuth another day. I like that Anastasia Pollack Mysteries share different crafts. The cool thing is how that allows the series to grow along with pop culture crafting interests.

  8. Love this post! I think cozies have been around long enough that fans are interested in some evolution. BTW-Book 10 is on my virtual TBR pile and I cannot wait to get to it.

  9. cherylhollon says

    I up for a mystery that leans towards the edgy, but not on-the-page violence.

    • Same here, Cheryl. I don’t even like reading suspense and thrillers anymore. There’s too much violence in real life. I want to escape from the news with my pleasure reading.

  10. I agree, Kathy! Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Kathy Laweryson says

    I think it’s fun to read about different places, like when the characters do some touristy traveling or have unusual jobs!