Guest Post by Mary Feliz
Four ways to fold social issues into a cozy mystery
Fit or Flaw?
Conduct an internet search for “Cozy Mysteries” and “Social Issues.” The first hit you get may be an essay arguing that cozy mysteries are entertainment. Events should unfold in utopian paradises where the only problem is a pesky murder perpetratedby an outsider. https://www.cozy-mystery.com/blog/cozy-mystery-books-social-problems-tackled.html
But your second hit is likely an opposing opinion, saying that crime and social issues go hand in hand, particularly in real-life locations that appear idyllic on the surface. https://crimereads.com/small-town-mysteries-big-social-issues/
I may alienate half of your blog readers, but, hand to heart, I fall firmly in the second category. And here’s why.A critical element of all fiction is conflict. A character has a plan or goal. An opposing force thwarts that goal. The heroinehurdles roadblock after roadblock to fulfill her destiny. It’s a formula that holds for comedy, tragedy, movies, plays, opera, and, in my opinion, cozy mysteries.
And what’s the best way to create conflict in the small-town world of cozies? In my opinion, it’s the encroachment of timeless elements like jealousy, fear, anger, secrets, lies, and the quest for status or power—all things that threaten to tear the community fabric to shreds. And how do we know when something’s amiss in our sylvan glade? The introduction of troubles that don’t belong in our fantasy world. Obstacles that present a complicated puzzle for the amateur sleuth to solve.
If our investigator discovers a murder and it poses no problem for the community, she has nothing to do. Book over. Leave it to the cops, have a cup of tea, and move on. Only when a murder threatens to everything and everyone she loves can the story take off.
Can an author thread the needle between those who seek utopian entertainment and those love a tense page-turning yarn? Here’s what I do to play fair with readers yet stay true to the stories I need to tell.
The back-cover blurb signals that the conflict within the story puts the main characters at risk from criminal forces. That tells readers that the book is more than a romp with pratfalls and missteps.
Social issues must be integral the story. They must be so tightly woven into the narrative that I can’t imagine the scenes unfolding without them.
No preaching. If I knew the solutions to social problems, I’d tell everyone.They’d cease to exist. But social issues are mostly eternal and defy solutions. In real life, it’s hard to agree on where to begin tackling them. For that reason, within the context of the story, problems exist, but I don’t try to solve them. I may, however, have a character talk about why they’re so tricky to resolve. I may use the problem to benefit the investigation. Sherlock Holmes used his Baker Street Irregulars to go places he’d be too visible. In my third book, Dead Storage, Maggie McDonald gets to know some homeless members of her community for the same reason.
Everything turns out fine. The reason mysteries in demand is that good wins in the end. That’s satisfying. Most cozy authors tie up loose ends, punish the bad guys, and restore the idyllic status quo. I do that, too. I wallow in the gory detail of the social issues – that would make the narrative too dark. But I hate to leave the secondary characters in a pickle, especially when the warm-hearted players in the story, Maggie, her family, and her friend Stephen Laird, are available to help.
I can’t solve the problems of the modern world, but I can resolve the conflicts for my troubled story characters. So, I do.
Will those efforts make my novels beloved of those looking for light, escapist, utopian story-telling? Only they can decide. But for me, my characters, and my stories, a positive outcome for the community is essential. There’s always an element of hope and the power of love.
What about you? What do you look for in a cozy? Does a light touch of social issues turn you off or bring a satisfying level of real-life risk? What do your favorite authors do in your favorite books?
Snowed Under (A Maggie McDonald Mystery)
by Mary Feliz
About Snowed Under
Snowed Under (A Maggie McDonald Mystery)
6th in Series
Publisher: Lyrical Press (June 9, 2020)
Digital ASIN: B07WBY669T
When professional organizer Maggie McDonald finds a body in a snowdrift outside her friend’s ski cabin, she must plow through the clues to find a cold-blooded killer . . .
Lake Tahoe in February is beautiful, but Maggie can’t see a thing as she drives through a blinding blizzard with her friend Tess Olmos and their dogs, golden retriever Belle and German shepherd Mozart.Maggie has offered her professional decluttering skills to help Tess tidy up her late husband’s cabin in preparation to sell. She also plans to get in some skiing when her husband Max and their boys join them later in the week.
What she doesn’t plan on is finding a boot in a snowdrift attached to a corpse. The frozen stiff turns out to be Tess’s neighbor, Dev Bailey, who disappeared two months ago. His widow Leslie expresses grief, but Maggie can’t help but wonder if it’s a snow job. As more suspects start to pile up, things go downhill fast, and Maggie must keep her cool to solve the murder before the killer takes a powder . . .
About Mary Feliz
Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust.
Review of Snowed Under
Review (5 Stars): Snowed Under was an enchanting snowy mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed. Even though I’m new to the series, I loved every minute with these interesting characters. Maggie is a professional organizer and her sleuthing skills can’t be beat in this snowy wonderland. The mystery kept me guessing with all its twists and turns and I’m looking forward to going back and reading the rest of this wonderful series.
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June 10 – StoreyBook Reviews – GUEST POST
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June 12 – Hearts & Scribbles – SPOTLIGHT
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June 13 – Brianne’s Book Reviews – REVIEW
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