By Sally Carpenter
Riddle: How may authors does it take to write a cozy mystery? In the case of “Chasing the Codex,” that would be 24 authors/writing teams.
That’s right. “Codex” is not a short story anthology but one novel-length story of a bookstore owner and her teen age niece unwittingly pulled into a caper of murder, kidnapping, antique books and hidden treasure.
The idea for the book came from Patricia Rockwell, the founder/publisher/editor of Cozy Cat Press and an author in her own right. She was looking for a way to promote as many CCP authors as possible on a limited budget; hence, a book that would showcase the various talents and writing styles at once.
To get the ball rolling (and the ink flowing), Patricia sent out a request for authors willing to participate. Each author/writing team would write one chapter, carrying the story forward from the previous pages. Authors were assigned chapters in alphabetical order by their last names; I wrote chapter three. Since CCP only publishes cozies, all of the authors were on the same “wavelength.” Attempting to write a group mystery with scribes of various genres (cozy, noir, thriller, true crime) would never work.
Patricia didn’t tell us the story to write. She let the chapter one author create the protagonist, the setting and the beginning action.
In writing my chapter, I re-read the previous chapters to get a feel for the characters and how the plot was moving. I created two new characters; one I liked so much I plan to use him in my next book. I threw in what I thought might be a vital clue. I was pleased to see my characters pop up in later chapters.
As each author turned in a chapter, Patricia emailed that work so everyone could see how the story was progressing. Having many eyes on the project helped, as I spotted a continuity error in a later chapter. A character had locked a door, and a few pages later someone rushed out that same door without taking time to unlock it.
About halfway through writing process, one of the authors made up a list of the characters and summarized the story for the remaining writers. As the story grew, it became difficult to keep track of who’s who and the plot points. With so many cooks in the kitchen, the plot didn’t digress too much off the track.
When the last chapter (which I haven’t read yet) was finished, Patricia hired an editor with fresh eyes to work on the ms., correcting errors and smoothing out any inconsistencies.
For the book cover, Patricia contacted a website that offers design contests. A number of designers submitted their proposals for the cover art and the authors voted on their favorites.
I’m proud I was part of the project. I stretched my writing muscles in that I was working on a story someone else had created. Writing one chapter took far less effort and time than working on an entire book. And hopefully, readers will have as much fun enjoying the book as the writing team and our illustrious publisher had in preparing it.