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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Things not to do when writing a cozy mystery...

I normally don't bother to finish, let alone review books I don't like. I don't like to give bad books the time and energy it takes to write a blog post and I don't want to give those books the exposure (limited as it is) either. So last night, when I read a cozy with a great plot, a strong mystery and fairly good characters but a few GLARING issues, I decided that I'd vent my frustration is a more positive way.

If you have ever contemplated writing a cozy, here are a few things I think you should avoid.

1) Mentioning race to show that you are "tolerant". It's a plain old fact that most of your readers will see your characters in their own imagination as their own race, gender, etc until you tell them exactly what is in your own head. But when you point out that one pair of people (who appear for exactly two sentences) are black, you pretty much imply that EVERYONE else in the story is white, otherwise why would you make a big show of letting us know someone wasn't white? Sure the attempt at inclusion is probably coming from a good place, but it doesn't end up that way. Especially when the dishwasher in the restaurant is the only Mexican, the lawyers are the only Jewish people and when the main character imagines her sister in jail she also imagines a black person standing in line for the phones behind her. We get it, we get it, you are white and sometimes you let people who are not white enter your world (except the last example I mentioned which I think was just racist).

2) Mocking androgyny.  Oh, this is absolutely my pet peeve right now. For the record, if you can't tell what gender a person is, that may be their deliberate choice, it may be their genetics. But either way. if that makes you uneasy the problem is yours. Just like small children need to be reminded not to stare at people who look different for one reason or another, apparently today's adults need to be reminded not to mock people that make them uncomfortable. So when you're talking to someone about a transgendered person, or just a very androgynous one, please remember that using terms like "he/she", "it" or just saying "oh, I just can't tell if you're a boy or a girl" is dehumanizing and hurtful (not ever cute, not ever!). Much like you don't know why that guy on the bus has one leg, you don't know why the person in front of you is registering on your radar as gender-neutral and frankly, it's not going to affect your life in any meaningful way. Keep your ignorance to yourself and deal with the human being. Also, if it actually interferes with your interaction to not know if the person identifies as male or female, simply introduce yourself and then refer to them by their name.

3) Goth hate. I identify as a Goth. Before you, as an author, make "goths drink each other's blood and worship Satan jokes" remember that you're perpetuating a harmful and completely inaccurate stereotype about a fairly large sub-culture. Also, like the last item in my list, you're mocking something that is different from your own experience, so aren't you just mocking your own ignorance? (Hint: Yes.) By the way, us Goths have terms for blood-drinkers and worshipers of Satanic forces...we call them crazies and Satan worshipers. Nothing to do with Goth, please move on.

4) Women don't always notice each other's clothing. I could not tell you what I wore yesterday, let alone what any other person I saw wore. Yet in many cozies, like dogs sniffing each others' butts, women not only describe every piece of clothing they are wearing, we have to sit through an explanation, often complete with designer label names, of what ever woman they encounter is wearing. Also, this technique is often used when gay men appear, proving that most cozy mystery authors know very different (and far better dressed) gay men than I do.

5) People who cook professionally do not actually use food metaphors to express themselves all the time. I know this for a fact. You can not make your book's foodie character more authentic by having them compare the sunrise to a pile of eggs and bacon, or by calling a traffic pile up "a bad hash".

Needless to say, I won't be reading anything else by this author.

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