Tuesday, October 14, 2014

17 Steps to Writing Culinary Mysteries

Potluck, book three in the “dinner is served” series, won the readers’ contest for which book I will write for National Novel Writing Month. Wahoo! My publisher, Billie Johnson at Oak Tree Press, will be delighted that this one won’t take as long to get to her as book two has!

This post borrows portions from the blog over at Write onSisters that I write on Tuesdays. Over there, I wrote about cozy mysteries and what the 16 elements are for writing a cozy. In this post, I want to drill down even deeper to talks about a special kind of cozy: the culinary mystery.

A culinary mystery is a sub-genre of cozy mysteries that prominently features food. Often that is done through the profession of the amateur sleuth. Less often, food is presented as important to a character, and well-described, but no recipe is given. Most often that happens with detectives who relish (!) food or with food critics describing restaurant fare.

Other culinary mysteries, in fact most of them, have the amateur sleuth involved in food preparation in some way. They might be personal chefs, caterers, cooking school teachers, restaurant chefs, or bakery owners. In one series, the woman is just a great home cook.

Many of the elements of the traditional mystery appear in other sub-genres of mystery. Cozies are a variant on the theme. In the list below, the first seven elements are the same in cozies and traditional mysteries, but to make your mystery a cozy, you need to add in nine more elements. Number 17 is what makes your cozy a culinary mystery.

1) Cozy mysteries are always a puzzle to solve.
2) All clues are revealed to the reader but obscured with red herrings and false leads.
3) Cozy mysteries feature a murder (most often) or a crime of great substance.
4) The victim typically is not admirable, thus the crime, if not justifiable, is often understandable.
5) The murder or other significant crime often occurs very near the beginning, in the opening pages. But not always. Cozies can introduce the murder well into the story.
6) Murders take place “off stage” so there is little or no explicit violence or gore described.
7) Cozy mysteries use plot devices to further the confusion of clues, suspects, and timelines.
8) The reluctant and very clever sleuth uses common sense to solve the mystery, is not a professional, and is drawn into solving the crime by circumstances.
9) The villain is clever and smart but not equal to the sleuth.
10) Cozy mysteries are most often set in a small town or rural setting so you get to know residents across books.
11) Almost all cozy mysteries are a series.
12) The cozy mystery series usually has a theme or an occupation or a hobby to tie it together.
13) Cozies involve more active crime solving than traditional mysteries. Readers want more than somebody being interviewed. Cozies have more action and dangerous situations. However, they are still considered light reading in the mystery realm.
14) Whereas cozies are generally G-Rated, they have evolved to where there may be mild cursing and the mention of sex “off stage”.
15) Cozies often have humorous components and/or quirky characters.
16) Cozy mysteries often have punny titles tied to the theme/occupation/hobby of the series. My culinary mysteries for example have titles of Mission Impastable, Prime Rib and Punishment, Potluck, Cooks in the Can, Tequila Mockingbird, and Ancient Grease.
17) Culinary mysteries may or may not include recipes, but all of them feature food prominently.

If you want to start writing culinary mysteries, here are some authors to read. Note the elements so you can write these fun books, too!

Diane Mott Davidson
Leighann Dobbs
Misty Evans
Nancy Fairbanks
Jerrilyn Farmer
Jennifer L. Hart
Carolyn Hughey
Josi Kilpack
Harper Lin
Sharon Arthur Moore !
Tamar Myers
Joanne Pence
Leigh Selfman
Connie Shelton
Lou Jane Temple

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