I’m not a fan of cozy mysteries.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a cozy is a mystery with an amateur sleuth, no foul language, the sex and violence off the page. As my friend and cozy-mystery writer Mary Feliz puts it, “There’s a murder, but no one gets hurt.” In my world, it means the good bits have been left on the editing-room floor.
This may seem an odd attitude when some people have slapped the cozy label on my Carol Sabala Mystery series. However, as author Cara Black once noted, “Carol Sabala has a mouth on her.” One of my readers once suggested maybe they needed a category called “Cussy Cozies.” But even then, the Carol Sabala series would be stretching the label due to subject matter. In the third book, Rotten Dates, the victim is a woman who works in the porn industry; this is just not the terrain of cozies. Cozy covers offer pastels and kittens, not bondage handcuffs!
I think people have mistakenly lumped my books with cozies because my protagonist starts as an amateur sleuth, and she has a cat–a pet being almost requisite in cozies.
Carol also works as a baker at Archibald’s, an upscale, Santa Cruz restaurant, so readers often seize not only on the “cozy” label, but also on the “foody” label, a subgenre of the subgenre “cozy.” Sure food is mentioned in my books; Carol’s a baker, after all, but the “foody” subgenre didn’t even exist when I started my series with Murder, Honey. The sub-subgenre sprouted up around my books. I’d also point out that Matt Coyle’s noirish Rick Cahill series starts with his protagonist working in a steakhouse. And Rick Cahill has a dog, yet no one tried to call Yesterday’s Echo a cozy!
My influences were Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller, authors in the detective, not the cozy, subgenre. Even though Carol was a baker, I endowed her with an interest in crime from the get-go and planted a criminal justice course in her community-college education. In the first book, Murder, Honey, Carol becomes a person of interest in the investigation of a murder at Archibald’s because she owns Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons, and because she’s the kind of person who openly discussed the perfect way to kill the victim.
There are two character arcs in my series. One involves Carol’s personal identity, the unacknowledged Mexican-American half of her that underpins her character (resolved in book five, Death with Dessert). The second arc follows Carol’s professional growth as she leans into her interest in crime and moves toward becoming a private investigator.
So, if forced to put my Carol Sabala series into a crime fiction subgenre, I’d pick detective fiction.