Know your market–it’s a mantra that my advertising daughter knows well and one that writers, too, deal with. Cozy mystery writers know that their violence can’t be too graphic and their sex can’t be too steamy.
“Remember the grandmas,” Patricia Rockwell, my publisher/editor at Cozy Cat Press counsels. So answering the question, “Who do you write for?” becomes tricky. I know that it’s not my husband who loves all things spy and intrigue with a substantial amount of violence thrown in. It’s also not for the serious readers of literary fiction, who I’ve been for most of my life. Theirs are the themes of the Brontes, McCullers, Tolstoy, and more modern writers like Chambon and McCarthy.
Lately, when asked about my audience, I’ve told people that I write for “the sweet people.” “Don’t say that,” my son said, “they’ll think you’re writing Little House on the Prairie books.” Trusting his instincts, I qualify by just whom I mean when I say sweet people.
First, though, I’d better tell you that I’m not a sweet person. I’m too comfortable with the F-word and too at ease with themes dark and dreary. I wish, however, that I could qualify as a sweet person like my cousin Kim or my friends Margie, Karen, and Julie. They are substantial women who see the world in all its gritty and sometimes tragic reality but when they have time to be entertained, they want to be uplifted, not pulled down. They are frighteningly emotionally healthy and know that their world doesn’t become a brighter, better place if they wallow in depressing thoughts and the lowest sexual and violent common denominators. They are as smart or smarter than those of us who pull down books by deadly serious writers, but they see reading as a fun thing and they see fun as a necessity. If they are helping a friend through hospice or a husband recover from a stroke, they know too well the hardships that life throws everyone’s way at one time or another. To sustain them during or prepare them for struggles, sweet people choose reading material that will buoy them rather than deflate them.
In television programs or Internet editorials, the sweet people are often ridiculed for not being acutely intelligent, for not being savvy enough to understand the truths of life. Because I have been fortunate to have sweet people for friends, I have come to believe that they are not dim bulbs or people can’t or won’t face reality. The sweet people I know are smart and know that there are tools to use when they face great adversity. For many it may be religion or converation with friends. And the cozy mystery also has a place in the toolbox of those who choose to rise about the darkest parts of our existence. They like a genre in which people mostly like and trust each other, where sex remains PG, and murder, when it happens, is glossed over as nicely as possible. So when my character Clara gets chopped up in Cinnamon Street, I knew to have her ghastly death talked about but never clearly depicted. After all, the sweet people know what they need in order to be the good friends and neighbors who will help walk us through our difficult encounters with life’s toughest moments.