I started reading cozy mysteries during the latter months of pregnancy with my first child. Though still working on my thesis and preparing to take my comps for a master’s degree in history, I needed something else to keep my mind active while I waited for the arrival of the little one (girl, who’s now in her mid-forties). What better exercise of the brain than an Agatha Christie mystery? Soon after, when I’d read all the Christie’s in the library, I branched out to Ellery Queen.
Several years later, when I started writing fiction, I considered writing my own cozy mystery but decided instead to focus on romance novels since there seemed to be more opportunity in that field.
Jump ahead several more years to 2012, when my first contemporary romance, The Sleepover Clause, was published. Since then, I have added ten more full-length novels and one novella to my repertoire. The last three novels have been self-published.
I’ve enjoyed writing contemporary romance, because it forced me to deal with conflict in human relationships and develop credible resolutions. But I’ve never forgotten my love for cozies. This year, I decided to try my hand at writing one. It wasn’t something that came to me overnight. I fast discovered that murdering a victim is one of the last parts of the set-up. Several other questions had to be settled first. Where is the story set? Who is the protagonist and what skills and limitations does she or he bring to the story? What is the world of the protagonist and how do they get pulled into the vortex of murder?
The heroes and heroines of my romances are typically in their early to mid-thirties. The stories have been located in central Iowa, on an island on the coast of South Carolina, or in New York City or Los Angeles. I employed my background in human resources to develop my characters’ occupations, using the catch phrase “Romance at Work.”
Now that I have retired and live the better part of the year in central Florida, I wanted my first cozy series to reflect that. So the setting became a small town not too much unlike my new home. I made my protagonist a woman slightly younger than me (I don’t specify her exact age) and also retired. I gave her three friends who play mah jongg with her. I liked them and their relationships so much, I decided to stray slightly outside the typical cozy model and made them all the protagonists.
As the one who tends to be the ringleader, Sydney Bonner takes the lead in the first book, Craks in a Marriage. Like many amateur sleuths in this genre, she doesn’t do so on her own initiative. She is pulled into a murder investigation by another mah jongg player who fears she’ll be arrested for her husband’s homicide if the real culprit isn’t found. Having no investigative experience, Sydney prevails upon her three friends to help her. Besides their belief in their friend’s innocence, their efforts differ in two key respects from the authorities’: their social connections in town and ability to glean information from locals without it being detected as part of the investigation.
It was a challenge developing four different characters but also great fun. None of them is based on an actual person, but each reflects bits and pieces of people I know or have known. And myself. The real fun has been developing the world of Serendipity Springs, their fictional town. This gave me the opportunity to portray and comment on my life as a retiree.
I haven’t stopped writing romance novels; I’ve just put them on hold temporarily. I still have at least two more books in the UnderWright Productions series to do.