Guest Blogger ~ Dominique Daoust

Why I write cozy mysteries

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I felt like I had to prove I was a dedicated reader by opening the pages of the classics.  But regardless of how many times I forced myself, I simply couldn’t connect with them, they weren’t for me.  And why bother reading something during your free time if you didn’t enjoy it?

After some trial and error, I finally zoned in on what I liked.  I’m a big fan of mysteries and thrillers, historical fiction, true crime and other non-fiction like biographies.  They all bring something to the table that resonates with how my brain works.  I love the twists and turns of a good thriller, the time travelling in historical fiction, the stark realness of true crime, and the revelations of biographies.  My Goodreads TBR list exclusively contains those genres, but there’s one more I recently added.

I think it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say the past few years have been rough.  Other than cuddling my pets and watching reality television (big shout out to RuPaul’s Drag Race!), the only other thing that kept me mentally afloat was my newfound discovery of cozy mysteries.  The laid-back, small-town settings, the quirky characters and pets, the element of mystery that still pulled me in even though it was lighthearted.  It opened my world to a whole subgenre of mystery I could enjoy without it feeling so harsh and heavy.  And who knew there were so many categories!  Cafes, bookstores, gardening, vineyards?  Cozies basically cover every hobby and profession in existence and it’s perfect (cheers to London Lovett and Vivien Chien!).

When I finally decided to start writing, choosing the genre was a no-brainer.  I could include elements I like from all the other genres I’ve been reading for years and wrap them up in a cozy little package.  My goal wasn’t to create a new classic but rather write some fun mysteries that people can enjoy.  Not only did it relieve the pressure and expectations of the end result, but they were a blast to write! 

With The Deadly Exclusives Trilogy, I’ve incorporated a setting and job I’m familiar with, all wrapped up in a historical period I’ve been obsessed with for years.  I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal, my first job was as a maid and I studied journalism.  And I’ve watched so many 1930s movies on the Turner Classic Movies channel that I can’t keep count.  I doubt any genre other than a cozy mystery could quite capture the tone I wanted. 

Many cozies have brightened my days and I sure hope my trilogy can do the same for others.   

Secret sources have a whole new meaning.

Newbie reporter Rita Larose is tired of getting assigned boring stories at one of Montreal’s most popular newspapers. It’s 1930 after all, women don’t need to only write about household chores anymore! But when a high hat socialite gossips about the New Year’s Eve party at the Bonne Nuit Hotel, a riveting mystery falls right into Rita’s lap. This is her chance to prove to herself and her underestimating colleagues that she has what it takes to write the hard-hitting articles.

While going undercover as a maid to get the scoop, Rita will soon discover unexpected friendships and an unusual gift of her own to contend with. Will she be able to juggle this newfound ability while not blowing her cover and jeopardizing her career-making article?

Purchase here: https://www.amazon.ca/Disappearance-Bonne-Nuit-Hotel-Exclusives-ebook/dp/B09WVW6L53

Dominique Daoust is the author of The Deadly Exclusives Trilogy. She is a journalism graduate from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. When not reading or writing, she likes to do yoga, drink margaritas, incessantly quote Friends and listen to rap while doing mundane household chores.

You can follow her on

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DominiqueDaoustAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22331118.Dominique_Daoust

It Never Rains in Southern California by Karen Shughart

We just returned from a visit with our son and daughter-in-law, who live in southern California. There was a song in the 1970s entitled It Never Rains in Southern California, and although the lyrics did not particularly inspire joy, the title is apt, it truly hardly ever rains in southern California. As my son reminded me when I mentioned how nice it was to not have to deal with the inconsistent weather events like blizzards and blinding rainstorms like we do here in the northeast, he reminded me that California has plenty of their own climate issues: mudslides, fires, earthquakes, and damaging winds. Good point.

During our visit we sat under a pergola in their backyard and snacked on tangerines picked from a nearby tree. One night for dinner we ate freshly-caught Pacific salmon with lemon slices we plucked from another. Avocados, plentiful in that part of the world, hang heavy on branches drooping over fences A bottle brush tree with vivid red flowers and clusters of bright yellow daylilies attract a multitude of hummingbirds and Monarch butterflies. The air is redolent with sun-ripened foliage and the salty brine that drifts inland from the broad, blue Pacific Ocean.

Photo by Gary Barnes on Pexels.com

We arrived back in New York to a gray, cloudy day with a drizzle of fine rain and yet, when we pulled into our driveway, our daffodils and forsythia were beginning to bloom, the hyacinths were emerging from the earth, and nestled in among our own burgeoning daylilies were bright, purple violets, signs that spring is surely on the way. While the weather is fickle, each day here brings a surprise; now some days are warm and bright, on others, winter doesn’t want to lose its frosty grip.

I thought about how climate and weather affect writing. My Cozies are set in a small village along the south shore of Lake Ontario, much like the village where we live.  Four defined seasons provide the setting to the mysteries:  a dark, stormy, windblown night is a metaphor for what’s to come, as is the juxtaposition of bright summer days and a murder that’s occurred in a lush garden setting.

If we lived in California, I would still be writing Cozies, but they would different. Mine have a backstory based on the history of our state: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Underground Railroad, to name a few. If we lived in California, I’d choose Spanish Missions, the Mexican American War, or the Gold Rush.   The setting, too, would change. A California beach town and one on Lake Ontario have few characteristics in common, our beaches are rocky and not as wide, we don’t have sidewalks and parking lots along the water, and the distance across the lake to Canada is a mere 80 miles, compared to more than 6,000 to China. We do, surprisingly, have pelicans, but we’ve never seen a whale. Still, it’s fun to contemplate what I’d do differently if my mysteries were set in a part of our country where it never snows, hardly ever rains, and the sun shines almost every day.

Guest Blogger – Judy Willmore

I am a history buff, and years ago I stumbled on the Affair of the Poisons: in the 17th century poison and witchcraft permeated the court of Louis XIV. I was fascinated: did Louis’ mistress have a black mass celebrated over her beautiful naked body? Historians have been arguing over that for years. The tempestuous marquise was certainly no angel, and she was competing with every pretty face at court for Louis’ wandering eye. When the King learned about poison and witchcraft at court, he appointed Lieutenant-General of Police Nicolas de La Reynie to investigate. Soon, suspects were pointing their grimy fingers at the marquise—but how do you arrest the King’s mistress?

My varied background helped me figure it all out: I have a MS in Clinical Psychology and a former career as a private investigator, plus I am a practicing astrologer. I devoured stacks of trial transcripts, diaries and letters, focusing on the marquise and La Reynie, the first modern police officer, who uncovered a massive ring of poisoners and con artists. These so-called “witches” were nothing like “wise women” or today’s Wicca: they lured in gullible clients with promises of love spells, then advised them how to get rid of a troublesome spouse—with poison. The suspects claimed the marquise was a client of the witch La Voisin, burned at the stake. Worse, she was linked to the infamous black mass.

But she wasn’t the only one. Several noblewomen also got caught up in the scandal, and like the desperate marquise, they were all trapped: prisoners of their fathers, brothers, husbands. Disobey, and you might find yourself locked up in a convent. The noblemen too could not leave Versailles and the King’s presence, or they would risk losing any chance of advancement. In my book, the courtiers compare their existence with the creatures trapped in the Versailles menagerie, with His Majesty as the gamekeeper dispensing both discipline and rewards. Desperate, they resorted to fortunetellers and purveyors of poison.

The suspects whispered of a criminal mastermind behind the poisons, and even a plot to kill the marquise. What really happened? To fill in the blanks I needed to create a fictional character, someone wide-eyed and innocent; so along came Sylvie, a young embroiderer. She went to work in the household of a prime suspect, and the gates of the Versailles menagerie clanged shut behind her.

I am now working on a sequel to The Menagerie set in Les Gobelins, the manufactory that made Versailles’ tapestries. The artisans were Huguenots, Protestants faced with either converting at sword point or leaving—and leaving was illegal.

FranÇoise-AthÉnaÏs de Rochechouart de Mortemart had to have Louis, King of France, but his other mistresses stood in the way. Then she meets the very helpful sorceress and AthÉnaÏs gets her wish. But soon Louis hears tales of witchcraft and poison, a conspiracy spreading through his court—like the beasts in the Versailles menagerie, courtesans are clawing their way to his favor, and his bed. He orders Lieutenant General of Police Gabriel-Nicolas de la Reynie to investigate. Mysterious deaths mount while La Reynie presses on, hauling in witches, charlatans, and the nobility alike. Grimy fingers point to AthÉnaÏs, the King’s mistress, with whispers of a black mass celebrated over her naked body. Then La Reynie discovers a plot to kill her.

Buy link: https://smile.amazon.com/Menagerie-Passion-Power-Poison-Court-ebook/dp/B08XQXMG6Q

Judy Willmore is a former journalist, then private investigator, and now a psychotherapist who practices in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her historical mystery The Menagerie was published in 2021 by Artemesia Press, and she is now working on a sequel.

https://www.facebook.com/JudyWillmoreAuthor

https://judywillmoreauthor.com/

Switching Horses Mid-Stream by Karen Shughart

The process of writing a novel takes a long time. First, there’s coming up with the idea for the plot, but from creation to completion there are lots of other steps along the way. Some authors set strict parameters, develop an outline, keep a set of note cards and pretty much stick to the plan. When I write, my mind never shuts off while I envision multiple possibilities. At times it drives me and my loved ones crazy, but as a result, I am able to shape what I hope will be a better story.  

I thought I’d be finished by now with writing book three in the Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mysteries series, Murder at Freedom Hill. It’s taking longer than expected because I’ve switched horses mid-stream. There’s a murder, for sure, but I’ve added a subplot that’s loosely related to that crime.

Photo by Karen Shughart

As with the other two books in the series, I created a backstory based on the history in the village where I live. For book one it was post-Revolutionary War; book two, The War of 1812; and for book three, it’s the abolitionist movement and Underground Railroad. Thus, the reason for the title of this blog – the phrase was conceived by Abraham Lincoln in a speech he gave in 1864 to members of the National Union League.  It fit.

But I digress. As the result of adding a subplot, I made other changes, too. In book one, a manuscript dated 1745 provides clues to why the victim was killed, in book two it was a series of letters written between 1814 and 1817 by the wife of a soldier. In this book I had first planned to insert newspaper clippings from the mid-1850s that were discovered at the local library. Just this past week I turned those into excerpts from a research project the victim was working on. As I thought about it, it just made more sense to do it that way because I changed the secondary plot from one that was probably a bit too political for a Cozy mystery to one that’s not.

Politics in Cozies, while permitted, aren’t necessarily encouraged, and I understand why.  When people read the genre, they want to be entertained, and they want to escape. Characters in Cozies are part of a tightly knit community, and the evil that lurks is usually not something you’d read about in the news today.  We get enough of that  every time we turn on our TVs, computers and our phones, and read newspapers and magazines.

For weeks I was losing sleep over this book trying to figure out what it was about it caused discomfort. Once I figured it out, I started rewriting, and I’m sleeping better now.  Yes, the process of writing takes a long time, but to paraphrase another sentence from a speech Abe Lincoln gave, this time on July 4, 1861, “Let us renew our trust… and go forward without fear.” Just so you know, July 4 is also part of the plot.

The Second Draft by Karen Shughart

I’ve just finished the second draft of Murder at Freedom Hill, the next book in the Edmund DeCleryk cozy mystery series. Draft one is the rough draft, where I have a general idea of the plot, the main characters and whodunit, but there are a lot of gaps between the beginning and the end

Draft two is the one that takes the most time, because it’s at the point where the disparate threads of the book must be woven together, the pieces of the puzzle must fit, and the story becomes cohesive.  My brain almost never shuts off. I keep a notepad nearby to write down ideas as they occur to me, sometimes in the middle of the night and often when I’m multitasking. These are the ideas that help to fill in the gaps in the story and where the rough draft evolves into something smoother.

 I write the introduction, dedication, and acknowledgements in draft two. I add or delete characters, expand the number of suspects, and accordingly change the story line. Now’s also when I check for timeline inaccuracies, chapters that aren’t listed in order, cut and paste sections of the book and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite: the prologue, the epilogue, chapters with missing pieces.

Photo by rikka ameboshi on Pexels.com

Then there’s what I call “wordsmithing”, changing some words to others whose meanings are more precise. Inside a folder on my desk is a sheet of paper with an extensive list of words to substitute for “said” and another of overused words. Draft two is when I make those changes, too. It’s also the time for eliminating redundancies and paring down too much dialogue.

Paying attention to detail is tantamount to having a coherent finished product, and draft two is where that occurs. Recurring characters from previous books must age accordingly- a baby can’t be a teenager three years later- and someone who is described as six-feet tall can’t suddenly shrink to five-feet seven inches. Unless they’ve changed careers, they can’t be teachers in one book and truck drivers in the next or say they were born in Rochester but in another book, Buffalo. A character with blue eyes can’t also have brown eyes . It goes on and on, I’m sure you get the picture.

After spending weeks rewriting, cutting and adding chapters, and rebuilding what I destroyed to make way for what I believe will be a better story, I’m finally comfortable with draft two and ready to move on to the final draft.

Draft three is when I polish, spend lots of time copy and proof editing, re-read recipes that appear at the end of the book, and verify that all the ‘i’s’ are dotted and ‘t’s’ are crossed, at least as much as I’m able. It’s at this point that I’m finally ready to send the book to my publisher.