How to Write Cozy Mystery Novels with Elizabeth Spann Craig



hi everyone welcome to the podcast we are I'm so excited to have Elizabeth spam Cregg with us today she is a best-selling cozy miss mystery author of the southern quilting mysteries and the Memphis barbecue mysteries for pink penguin Random House and the Myrtle clover series for midnight ink and she's also an indie author she blogs at Elizabeth span Craig calm /blog and she's also named by writers digest as one of the 101 best websites for writers and I can definitely attest to that I've learned so much and Elizabeth also parades links on Twitter as at Elizabeth asked Craig and that they are later shared in the free search engine writers KB calm which by the way is a super helpful resource for writers and so Elizabeth makes her home in in Matthews North Carolina with her husband and her two teenage children so thanks so much for being here today Elizabeth I just I'm just so excited to have to chat with you thanks so much Lorna for having me I'm excited to be here today yes no this was just um you know uh I I was so excited actually when I you know I've been coming on to your blog even more and more just in the last you know probably about eight months and I've just I'm amazed at how much I'm I'm like digesting and then I read your I read your about page and it's you say on there that you really kind of got your start being interested in the hardy boy mystery series and Nancy Drew and I read those all the time I thought something they're the best they were the best yeah so you know this is just I think this is just gonna be so helpful for people that are you know really wanting to get started on writing like cozy mysteries would you share your story of how you got started writing and you know what movies or TV shows or books were your inspirations or or other writers oh absolutely and I was one of those writer I'm really just a one-trick pony this was my only career choice really was was pretty much writing I was very limited in what I could do and I had explored journalism and you know of course we had recessions in between there I did some banking which was not fun but ultimately I've been writing pretty much all along and as you mentioned it was when I was a kid it was all about Nancy Drew hardy boys Trixie Belden any mystery I could get my hands on and I think the mystery genre in particular is really really good at cooking kids onto mysteries even in the case of recently I've kind of acknowledged what an impact scooby-doo I mean as a kid but it's true because again you've got you know your sleuth and your sidekick and just a kind of a colorful band of characters going out solving mysteries together really intriguing just kind of pulling kids and and I knew that was gonna be what I had to write that's the only thing that really fascinated me really my entire life was what's reading mysteries there from there it was like Nancy Drew or from Nancy Drew I went to Agatha Christie and then after that MC Beaton who writes the Hamish Macbeth mysteries and also Agatha raisin and she has been a tremendous inspiration for me as well and that it made a choice very easy for me just saying okay definitely going to be traditional mysteries and it's one of those things that you know what to expect there is a certain pattern to mysteries as a reader that can be very comforting because you know sort of the pattern of what's going to happen in the story and then each one is still uniquely different and it makes it you know you're trying to see what spin the author has on the traditional take of mysteries and working within the structure and I think that makes it really into making that way is a reader just because I I'm a writer too but it's it's fun to see what a writer can do with what they're given and just these constraints of the genre and working inside those yeah well I mean I'm sure you know this is John Wright so like that's really cool I'm doing something new no that's that's really great i I know mysteries but cozy mysteries are not exactly sure and I think your books are mostly cozy mister is mysteries is that right they are there Rosie's is that similar to something like I used to watch Murder She Wrote I know it's been a while it's been on TV but I love that series so is that similar it's very similar actually I was a huge Murder She Wrote fan in fact I think you and I are probably about a similar age we may have been the only teenage murder she writes but I love that show oh my goodness that was just a fantastic show Angela Lansbury yes and you you know you had an interesting cast of characters to come in and it was a small town a very limited kind of environment for suspects and really it was starting to be called the Cabot Cove syndrome because there was this huge body count that was racking up in this tiny little town in Maine so it was kind of funny but fantastic show and that is what a cozy mystery is is basically this you don't see a lot of sex or violence or Agoura forensics there's no profanity to speak of and so the focus is on the puzzle of the story and it's almost an interactive process where the writer has the sleuth and the reader exposed to the same clues and red herrings and the reader has an opportunity to solve the crime alongside the sleeves it did notice that on like so when I would watch Murder She Wrote that often the actual crime was sort of behind closed doors I guess you could say like the actual like it wasn't graphic yes it was offstage and so you the reader and the sleuth comes upon the body and it's not usually described in very gory terms you know that you can say they were shot or they were straight and gold or whatever but you don't get a lot of detail with that and you never it's with a thriller on the other hand you know you might be present during the murder actually as a reader and with the cozy mystery it's all just you know this the body has to happen obviously to have the story but it's a very safe there's never a moment really where the reader I think feels like this is this is really frightening or they're worried maybe there's one moment where they're worried about the sluice thing you know the sleuth being in danger but it's quickly resolved and so not a very tense story I would say yeah that makes it it makes it like just a fun read right yeah it says yeah they got really popular right after 9/11 which obviously just such a tragic time and I think people were looking for something safe you know maybe they they wanted something more comforting and usually these are set in small towns and you just have this very closed in feeling you've got this little Idol this idyllic setting and then you introduce something really kind of frightening and scary and then it's resolved and type it up at the end and it's restored peace is restored and it's really a very satisfying process and I think something that readers have really gotten to appreciate just kind of that close community feeling yes oh I love small town stories so that I see and it actually really the clothes the cozy mystery yet even suits the name cozy because smell town seems very cozy so exactly yeah that's what we're shooting for yeah no that's that's awesome so just to kind of dig deeper into your process we do just talk about so how do you come up with your characters and are they are they based like are they inspired maybe on real people or by a TV show or books or lorina I think it's changed for me over over the years I think starting out it was much easier for me in developing characters to make them amalgams of people that I knew and that way I could just take a little bit of one person a little bit of another and kind of make this Frankenstein of a of an end product you know because it helped me to keep up I was like okay well I know these traits and I know this you know this dialogue habit yeah that this particular person has and there were ways to help me develop characters but being an introvert I only know so many people and also I think I started to get more confidence in my character building for mysteries and now it's more of almost a cause-and-effect process where I set up a particular event in the story and like a murder and obviously I have all the characters react to that that happening and they react in different ways to make it I guess a little bit more of an example in the books that I had recently written I set it on a cruise ship and I had my sleuth and my sidekick on the cruise and I had this really unpleasant old woman you knew she was going to have to die and she was the victim and so I set up this situation and then she did die on the cruise ship and her family was there and the way that she had treated her family made them all behave in different ways and so really it's almost like the situation dictated in the setting dictated how the characters acted and I'm a lot more comfortable doing that now than I was quite a few books ago that's for sure yeah so that's fascinating so it's you know I guess a cruise ship would be sort of like a small town like a sort of a smallish community type thing that's fun but you can just sort of change up the settings and stuff the table it was ten books in I was nervous about it I've done it before I did it for penguin and penguin wasn't excited about it they're like ruh taking characters on a roadtrip they don't really like that because you can't really realistically you can't take all of the characters with you all the recurring characters and so they said oh this is going to be you know you're limited to a few characters that you can bring along and they're right but it is I mean when you've gotten to like book ten in the series and readers are like oh really we'd like to see them do something a little different then you start to do things like take him on the road and it was a little tricky but I took as many characters as I could and then I book ended the book with stuff from the town and so they were in the town and they loved and they went on the trap and then they returned and I think that made it a lot easier because I could incorporate some of these other characters so I'd kind of learn my lesson with my editor kind of fussing at me about haha well I mean it's you know I mean that is writing a little bit of an experimentation and exactly I think it makes it fun for the writer and for the readers cuz that's the while you know I hate to think that I'm not getting bored with it but I was like oh the readers they seem like sometimes they want things you know kind of changed a little bit a little bit of change anyway yeah fiction writers or readers or of your books who who are listening I'm sure are curious about your writing process so you know do you do you get an idea first and maybe I should ask you to keep an ideas file huh and do you outline or do you know sort of write let us see of your pants are you a pantser or a plotter those are always such funny I know it's one of those things it's like you guys it pastor or eyeliner I've definitely been both so I cover all the bases I think I've experimented with just about every form of writing out there just to try to figure out what works best for me yeah I do have an idea file but I tend to work so far ahead that I've actually got covers for my books coming out in 2017 because I'm just worried about getting on my cover designers schedule oh these are I have taken all of my books independent now I've gotten my rights back and so they're all in my own hands and so I'm kind of in charge of getting obviously covers and everything done and so it makes me feel a little bit better to have them ready yeah so I know that's kind of an unusual way of doing things but it works pretty well for me so I got an idea for the next story a couple of I guess it was probably 2 or 3 months ago and I read the back cover copy for it again obviously I haven't started writing the book I don't know who the characters are I haven't even named the characters actually but that you don't have to name them in the back cover a copy it's okay and I have a lovely cover even in the print format it's ready to go so I do keep I do keep working ahead I do have an idea file but I pretty much go ahead and get them covered when I get the ideas for them so that's a little bit different I started out as a pan stir as someone who wrote completely organically and just made it up as I went along and that worked really really well for me until it stopped working altogether oh my gosh I had this horrible horrible thing happen where it was a book for penguin and of course you're on contract you on a deadline I already been paid for the book you know if you don't deliver it then you have to send your money back back yeah I guess you're in violation of your contract and I was about I was doing great with the book I was about two weeks from deadline and I realized the book didn't work there was such a tremendous plot hole in there I could not figure out how to get around the plot hole and I was on the point of just hitting delete with the file and trying to ask my editor for a contract extension really flipping out and and so I actually asked a friend of mine for some help with ideas because I was writing a little bit out of my depth I was writing about a death around a beauty contestant which I was never involved in that kind of field at all whatsoever but she happened she had been like a beauty contestant growing have done all this stuff for years and years and years and she helped me to see there was a way through the plot hole ordinarily I never do this I never bring anybody else into the process that time it worked really well and then I thought okay I'm never ever doing this again where I write a story organically especially if I'm on a deadline because it just absolutely gave me a heart attack this story doesn't work and I just couldn't figure out a way out of it so now I have an outline it's not a scary outline it's it's just if you think about a mystery it has a specific format to it where you have you know you introduce your characters you see some interaction between your suspects and your victim and then there is a death and then there's interviews and then there's a second body and then more interviews there's a moment of danger for this lease and then there's the reveal of who the killer is and they're taken off to prison okay yeah pretty you know concrete structure they are to work in and so I just sort of fill in the blanks with that I have some really basic character information to start out with and then I jump on in but I do still have that outline after that really scary time back in 2010 or 11 or where that was yeah thanks for mentioning that I didn't I didn't even think to ask what is the format of a cozy mystery but that makes sense and that's neat that you know you can just sort of I mean I guess it makes sense because I write in historical romance and there definitely is a sort of you know sort of film that not fill in the blank but like it's just very this happens and then this happens and then this happens it does I mean and I think formulas get a bad rap but because I it doesn't have to be formula like formulaic or lahic it's the cause it does follow a particular pattern you can make it unique and in fact I think that makes more of a creative challenge for the writer how do you make this unique when you're following this particular pattern because you readers definitely expect a particular pattern to be followed and if you're not following that pattern I mean you're you're gonna get dinged really on the review so I'm not gonna be really happy about it whether it's introducing a body 200 pages in or not having a body I mean there's there's certain things that they expect to see and that's just part of writing in the genre and I think mushara is have that type of a pattern that that readers do expect and that in a way it makes it a lot easier I'm not sure what lipstick writers do when they're trying to write fiction because obviously it's more it's less plot based and I think probably have to scramble a little bit more to pull it all together that the process may be easier right it definitely does it's a huge tool it really is oh that's really great okay that's I'm learning more and more vitamin Street that's ultimately what I want everyone to do and like write a mystery and I'll read it yeah I think I might write a cozy no talking to you I'm inspired definitely do it you should do it Lauren I'll read it okay awesome oh that's great um you know uh since since you write cozy mysteries and for the most part I think you've stayed within a single joiner is that right I have yes which is one little just kind of for a out into something else that aside from that yes I've got like 21 cozy mysteries okay yeah so um how do you here's maybe a question you probably get asked this a lot but how do you keep the characters and then the series interesting like so what I mean by that is is it a creative challenge as a writer to work with you know main recurring characters in a similar setting or you know what do you come what do you do to come up with unique story details it's you know it's it's a challenge and it isn't I think when you start with your book too in a series it's so much easier because you've done already so much of the groundwork you've got the setting down you've got recurring characters you know a lot about your protagonist and it's very easy to take it from that point forward I would say probably around maybe book five or so it starts getting a little tricky it you have to really work at it not to be stale and I think also you have to work harder to make sure that the details in the stories are consistent and that's really tough because you could just drop something really really minor in and then you forget about it it's it's really easy to do and when you're writing and then later on it becomes a mistake and opinon next you know release for instance and this is kind of terrible and I'm getting dinged on this all the time now know like wow my readers have amazing memories I need to find out what their secret I do keep a series Bible now but the one thing I should have put in it was one of my characters and it wasn't one of my main characters but it's a recurring character that she had a cat allergy and then I promptly forgot that she had a cat allergy and I gave her a cat in a you know like two books later she with this cat and the reader is like God knows she can't have a cat because emma has a cat allergy and I'm going you are so right Erma does have a cat allergy so that I had to go back in that's just the wonder now of just digital technology is that you can go back into a file and just correct all the stuff that you that you screwed up but you know ultimately it would be better not to have a mistake like that and have this character with a cat allergy that has a cat later on saying keep a series Bible and in that Bible I've got things like character I color preferences what type of if they're retired what kind of work they did before they retired things anything that I mentioned especially there's those throwaway statements like the cat allergy thing where I don't think I'm ever gonna revisit that again I need definitely to put that in the series Bible and just keep reviewing that it's our right guy series that's really good just out of curiosity that just sort of triggered question but so do you I don't know do you use like the pages or word or do you use like Evernote what do you use to and then and what and you put headings and they're like sole characters setting like how do you I'm interested because I'm kind of waiting exactly it's um make it as basic as I can so I do have all the recurring settings and what they look like and that does again it saves a lot of work for us if we refer to it before we start the next book and then I have each recurring character and I have just a little section you know their names in bold and just a long list of you know it's kind of rambling non sequiturs on what they look like and you know their disposition and what makes them happy and what makes them angry and just all of these little things like that if you really that really help I'm trying to thinking there's anything else that I attract I do because I was traditionally published before I do have a style sheet with the way I spell particular things or just just to be consistent with the style that I use gonna knock you Mitch just I mean even to I'm trying to think some of the very particular things that you can kind of differ on but I guess just some of the word use that I use and just diction or referring to things I keep track of that as well so that way everything is is just mostly consistent in the stories um what I abbreviate how I abbreviate it that kind of thing you know and those are those details are important but you know usually I just think of regular details like what's the character like and but I hadn't actually thought of you know if you use abbreviations and all that so I would have thought of it either if they hadn't started me on that but it's just like AM and PM for instance you do and with the dots in it or the am/pm capitalized or they not interesting things like that just little just little things that you do to make it consistent because sometimes I've found readers are binge reading if you have a long series and I do have a lot of books and they'll just read one right after the other after the other and of course I didn't write them that way I mean rarely did I write them back-to-back inside never you know I write them back-to-back so there might have been you know a year 18 months between when I was writing those books because I read three different series so I had to go to the different books in the different series and so I was like oh my goodness that's it's true because if you're reading it back-to-back then you see all these little you know just inconsistencies and things and things like that so I actually have some super readers who I I'll send them a manuscript before I let it go out like I can just say what do you think and one lady has read I mean she is my number one fan I mean she is in Peru and she has read my book she says 30 to 40 times a peach with I cannot even imagine because I have only read them maybe twice myself so I'm she's the one that I said – and you know is there anything have I screwed anything up because I feel like she knows my character is better than I do for sure no question about it and just you know let her look at it because I was getting all these kind of bad reviews from her and I thought let me get her on my side look at this stuff before I publish it yeah you know I want her to catch the mistakes and then I can you know I can correct them before I I send it out there that makes me sound kind of careless but it's I think you know modern writing and you're juggling so much stuff you've got promo and you know you're blogging and you try to keep on top of the Amazon keywords and what they're doing and then you've got you know you're writing books and you're making appearances and I think I think it's possible to make mistakes and it's definitely possible for me to trying not to but it's it's hard oh yeah well especially when you're juggling so much right exactly Wow but I mean very that's that is really great that oh yeah you know you decided that you would just you know contact her and ask her to sort of preview the book before it's actually out there what a great idea I've got several of those folks now and they're just they're huge helps to me I just I don't think I could do without him because here even my freelance editor of course and she does a fantastic job as she's got a million other projects as well and she's like me I mean she's read my books you know a couple of times the piece so we just I mean even though I came up with the characters I feel like sometimes I still have limited familiarity with with what they do because I'm not really maybe I should that's a lesson to me I should be consistently going back and kind of rereading the stuff that I've already written but it's painful to do that you know we all hate to read stuff that we've written before oh my goodness I'd rather face a firing squad usually then read my own book makes me feel so self-conscious I don't know what it is my books are audiobooks to you and so I'll be listening to them and I'm trying to focus on the narrator you know and edit it make sure everything sounds good and I'm like oh no it sounds just fine I just can't I can't handle hearing my own words so bad oh my god as a sandy Roddick that is true we have a lot of you no doubt about stuff and our own writing yes we do no that's that's so those are really great tips that's that's really helpful yeah a series Bible I don't remember that we listen to your tips because this is super helpful you know so four four four writers that are listening who would also love to hear about your writing process would would you give your you know you've to it you did talk about some of your tips on how to develop a cozy mystery bit you know maybe there are some techniques you use for say for instance your main sort of detective like character and how how does she go about interrogating asking questions of possible suspects and and how do you how do you get setting and character traits as a foreshadowing because mystery raids along ask for shadowing so um how do you how to use that for to let the reader know what's coming next these are just I'm curious about these things ya know it's it's it's all good it's and it's fun it takes I guess a little bit of time to kind of get used to it helps that reader expectations are that your sleuth is going to jump in and participate it definitely definitely helps that you have that but the readers still want to see your sleuth do things that make sense in other words when you're writing a cozy mystery the sleuth is a gifted amateur it's not gonna be a cop at all that's something else I should have mentioned it's always an amateur sleuth so finding ways to make your sleuth believably investigate a crime because all of us are ordinary citizens here and I don't come out of my house and just get involved with murder investigations ever wouldn't dream of doing that it would we avoid doing that actually at all cost but you have a salute to you the reader is expecting to get involved but they need some good reasons to do so so you've got you need to have maybe the victim is somebody that they cared about or maybe they found the body and they feel like a personal sense that kind of ownership to the case however it is you know you need to have that believable aspect at least address briefly in the beginning even though readers are gung-ho and they're all on board and they know you're sleuths going to go out there and investigate they do you want it to be somewhat believable and realistic and so then you've got your sleuth you need to have a sidekick so this loose doesn't spend all the time in her head going I wonder who the killer is you know it's obviously kind of gets boring for readers fast so you have a sidekick who's not too overwhelming or overbearing for the chat with you know kind of bounce ideas off of and then you need to get you need to get your suspects four out there for the sleaze to talk to and this is a little bit tricky because there again you've got an ordinary citizen who is not a police presence going around and talking to people about you know did they kill somebody which might seem a little bit nosy in fact you know usually your sleuth dozen DUP in a dangerous moment later on in the book and it's a result of her nose eNOS but to do that frequently you use a series hook and that's why I've got a quilting mystery series and I've got the Memphis barbecue mystery series so you have got a way to kind of bring these characters into a setting where the sleuth can very subtly start questioning them so you've got a quilt shop and in the case of the quilting mysteries you've got quilt guilds where characters meet you've got quilt shows so you've got really a method to sort of casually have the sleuth investigate crime I'd say that's probably one of the trickier aspects of writing a cozy mystery when in my my series the Myrtle clever series do not have a hook at all she's just the nosy old lady and she's an octogenarian sleuth and she just goes all through town just doing whatever she wants to nobody can stop her she's just sort of an unstoppable force are they at this point everybody felt like that's just the way Myrtle is stores and ask them if they committed murder and that's just that's just who she is but it is kind of tricky to set it up at the at the very beginning and you've got your right you've got foreshadowing to think about usually you've got a victim he's acting rather unpleasant but not always you know sometimes you've got a victim he's nice and that you have to find out well who would want to kill this wonderful Sunday school teacher yeah oh this person had been murdered you know yep but there again you've got you've got the set up the readers are expecting a body penguin like they have a body in the first 50 pages they were like the body's gonna happen right and you know this in this time period so they were kind of pushy about it but the only thing about having the body too early is then you you don't really have that time where you can see have suspects interact with the victim beforehand and then you've got to figure out you would have to figure out who your suspects are is so much easier for the sleuth to kind of witness the the future suspects and the future victim interacting in some way and that way you've got it all kind of set up so she knows who the suspects are yes so yeah that part is kind of tricky that's probably the some of the hardest stuff about writing at Cosi I'd say other than that it's pretty easy to write yeah yeah so there is there is a bit of detail to think about right yes yeah definitely just to keep it sort of I mean they're not gonna be realistic these are not realistic stories but somewhat in the realm of believability that a reader will accept yeah yeah no exactly and that's you know that's important so I don't throw the paper across the room yes we don't want that to happen that's oh I'm sure it does yeah I have definitely some reviews out there they're like wet on earth and then it I was like oh that must have been that free book promotion I ran and this is definitely not a cozy mystery reader whenever I've read some reviewing what is going on with this book I'm like uh they don't read cozies yeah yeah no you'd have to exactly you'd have to you know be a fan of the genre right as a reader yeah yeah that's that's awesome so there must be a lot of conversations then between characters like between the sort of amateur sleuth and the regular characters that are around her is that true like there must be a lot of conversations or a lot of dialogue yeah very very dialogue heavy books very little narrative in there to kind of hook it together and probably for this genre the more dialogue the better because you need to get everybody talking and it's helpful to kind of to have it move along a little bit if each of the suspects lies about something and tells the truth about something and then the sleeve has to figure out which is which and it it just kind of keeps the story going because it sends the reader in the sleuth off in Retton you know obviously wrong directions those red herrings and it also provides clues and that's probably a favorite way for cozy mystery writers to drop in clues because otherwise you know you don't have any forensic stuff going on in a cozy mystery you know you're not following the the DNA you're not doing anything with ballistics to speak of so you're really limited to what characters are saying about each other and their relationship with the victim and maybe catching them in some inconsistent stories alibi is messed up um that kind of thing and then you would have these clues that come out and dialogue and the cause mystery readers are so incredibly savvy and they're I really think they're the savviness readers out there because they're looking to solve the case they are just dying to solve the case but they also want to get it wrong so they're surprised so they want to solve and feel like they're solving it and then they want a surprise ending so it's kind of hard to deliver all that but you deliver a clue and then you just from it so whether that's with another body or maybe a couple of other suspects or characters are arguing with each other or whatever it is or maybe something happens that seems like a more important clue it's sort of a sleight of hand so you've got to have the clues out there and be very very fair with the readers and then you also have to distract from them as well so that the reader hasn't solved the case in like chapter two which would be really really bad yeah but you know it takes a lot of thinking as a writer to the surprise ending it does and sometimes I'm actually frequently surprised by the ending myself because if you have set up the story like you need to where every suspect has motive means and opportunity then you can change the killer at the very end and probably nine times out of ten I do that I'll be like you know what the person I thought was the killer is not the strongest candidate I think leaders will be more surprised so if it's this person and then I'll just change it right there at the end and you would think that would make a mess for the first draft but it really doesn't because you've got everything set up perfectly it just points to different people and then at the end you say okay this is this is the one with the real clues where where this this and this and the others were red herrings yeah oh that's really good actually as you were describing that I was thinking that's actually the part I liked about Murder She Wrote it's usually a surprise so actually Lawson he done it at the end exactly exactly and I knew my editor had a lot of thoughts about that too or she would sometimes ask me to change the killer because she'll be like oh no the readers will want it to be this person because they don't like that character so you know let's make it somebody really nice and then they'll be surprised you know system comes up I'll remember that advice Tommy Lee oh yeah let's let's change it to a nicer character and then they'll be shocked exactly yeah oh it's sort of like mr. Rogers you know neighborhood of make-believe or whatever I'm like I live in the neighborhood of make-believe just all day long yeah and that's the fun part of writing right it is that's right yeah so a lot of listeners are actually you know first-time writer or or struggling writers who are you know just starting to write their first novel and you know are there some tips that you would have for first-time writers who are just starting to starting their process now I I do have some tips and those are really just to keep the bar set very very low and I know that is counterintuitive and not really what a lot of people say but I think it's more important to set up a string of successes in meeting your goal than it is to rock up this huge word count I feel like you know if you can just every day say if even if it's just you know opening up your word document and looking at your manuscript even if you don't get any farther than that just thinking about it just even five minutes a day just set it as low as you possibly can and think okay how much can i feasibly do each day because we all think you know oh we can you know be like NaNoWriMo every day you know life happens I mean uh you know my daughter has had all kinds of dental appointments this week and you know my cats have been running amok and just life happens yeah what happens in between so I think it's just set it really really low and I've had it you know usually my goal is three pages a day which I mean is nothing compared to so many so many writers out there I can knock that out in about twenty minutes I am pretty fast but I have been doing it a little while but I know when I had a toddler and it was super super hard and this was back 2002 ish I would you know I would say okay she will watch Sesame Street element Elmo's World for like ten minutes tops and that's and that's it and in that amount of time that's when I would write and I found that in that amount of time at that time I can write about a page but you know even if you do a page a day then you have got too long of a book actually by the end of the year something your girl really need to edit back so I think just setting the bar really really low being very flexible with yourself and just saying okay maybe I can do just a few minutes on my lunch break or maybe I can get up before everyone else in my house maybe I can write at the doctor's appointment maybe I can write in the 10 minutes before I'm called back there you know just being really flexible about writing in public in particular I write every day and a carpool hunt outside my daughter's high school yes and as I honk the horn by accident so got the laptop just typing away and sometimes it just talks that's pretty bad but she doesn't know I'm embarrassing her because she's inside the high school Sam okay you guys that makes it okay but just be really flexible with yourself and understanding that you know we are all just so busy and it's not seeing writing is not your priority but just being really realistic about it and then if you've done your five minutes your 15 minutes and you're still wanting to go you know keep going keep writing and just you know really get some progress made but then the next day just because you did a lot of progress the day before just pretend all that progress didn't happen and still go back to your 5 minutes or 15 minutes or whatever it is and just maintain that habit and consistency and that's not to say you know obviously if you're sick one day or you know there's some sort of family emergency that you that you have to write no not one of those people and there's certainly days that I don't write but just hopping right back on and and just not letting that affect you and say you know every day is a new day it's a fresh start and forgetting what happened the day before just let that go or even though the last month if you're really off track and just say but tomorrow is a new day and just starting right back over again you're not behind you don't have to catch up never feel like you have to catch up just just do that day's work and I think that's probably best for keeping going if you can feel a little success yes in what are you working on because it's it's too discouraging if you're going day after day after day and not seeing where you're feeling like it's success right right and I mean that's for everything right I mean I certainly have had those New Year's resolutions around like oh I could've good at the gym every day no I'm not gonna go to the gym let me set it for once a week going to the Joe if I'd be more than that that's great but you know it let me at least go once a week to the job and set it really really low again because otherwise I mean you know I can't eat healthy every day there's things I just know I am NOT gonna be able to do and it's so much better just to make it really really look you know small really small goal so well what would you say to writers who are struggling maybe to find the time to write or who are you know maybe they're plagued with self-doubt which is I know totally normal you know about writing their book or or maybe they're thinking you know they have this idea for a book but they're just really worried that it'll never reach their you know readers that there'll be an interest in it what would you what would you save them and that's a tough question I would say know why you're writing your book and I think that there are ways to be satisfied with your writing no matter what maybe you're just writing for yourself and I know that when I first started writing and this is in the early 90s I was definitely writing for myself and I didn't particularly even want to share what I was writing and it just gave me a sense of satisfaction to write I would say if you're writing for commercial success not to say right you know don't write the book of your heart because I think that's also important but that may be a project that helps to satisfy you creatively and it may not be a commercial project and this always makes me feel bad to say that if you if you want success I probably would write in a genre that has specific qualifications to it in terms of structure it has built-in reader set their readers who read every mystery that comes out every romance that comes out that they can get their hands on that month they're super readers yeah there are people like that out there you'll have a built-in audience if you if you go in that direction and you follow that norms those norms and if you're willing to kind of sacrifice a little bit of you know your own thinking outside the box creativity and keep that for maybe other projects for yourself and just keep within the constraints of the genre and the expectations and to me that's also a creative challenge it may not seem so it may seem like you're really restricting yourself but to work within those constraints and to make it an exciting story to me is a satisfying a creative challenge that's probably the best thing to do and just keep writing stories and write some for yourself and write some to share and that way you know it works out I I know I read one book that I just had to write it and I didn't really even want to write the book it was a zombie book I don't write zombie books I don't read zombie but I'm scared of zombies I'm just one of those chicken writers and readers and you know am i see Walking Dead I'm turning the channel but the story just would not leave me alone it was a tough book I got attacked by it and I did put it out there under a slightly modified name so my cozy mystery readers wouldn't be just absolutely terrified but I didn't expect it to be a commercial success it's doing okay but I don't do a lot with it I just needed to write it and so we all have stories like that we need to write but just to understand the market and the commercial aspect of it probably to do a little bit of research and just pretend like you're writing for you know a business and saying okay they want you to write this and then just write that yeah that might be the best yeah there is ways that you can satisfy your you know creativity if you just want to write a book and you don't necessarily have to you know publish it you can just write it for yourself right exactly or publish it and you know just not not pin everything on it it's just and we're all we can be also really kind of sensitive about our work and you can still get that satisfaction but you can you know you can get success too if you're willing to kind of do it in a particular way I think it just just accepting that that's part of it and in some ways it's kind of a relief going oh I don't have to have this unbelievable cons nobody's ever thought of before no not really you could just really do the same kind of thing and making it slightly different and really be a success at it and that helps to you know you have you know written for yours and you I've been I've been I read a couple your bookstore anyways love them you know what what would be your best piece of you know writing advice that you've been given that has really helped you inspired you motivated viewer whatever that's also a tough one because I think there were several things that I had gotten I think probably from a motivational standpoint it was definitely just to start each day fresh and not try to catch up which is just build early I mean I even as somebody who has kept a diary for years feeling like oh I have to like backlog on my diary the weeks that I didn't have an entry or something like that it's just exhausting to think I've just got to write five pages to sum up what happened in two or three months no it's just today let me just talk about today and the same with the story and a wake-up it's just you're just focusing on that day's goal and that's edge and then I would say also probably the best piece of writing advice I got professionally was to self publish and I do have I guess ten or eleven books that are traditionally published but I did get my rights back to all the characters and I started self-publishing from that point on and I think that certainly financially speaking and probably just the cuts I enjoy having a little bit more control over the process that's worked out extremely well that's not to say don't explore traditional publishing that is getting real tough out there right now with with these publishers and they're the publishers are cutting back quite a bit nothing to do with us or the market per se it's mostly that the way that readers are reading has changed and they're not changing as quickly and so I think self-publishing probably or strongly considering self-publishing is it's probably a very good piece of advice as well yeah Publishing is just snacks it's soul I mean I know there's more work you know with managing everything but I love I like that control and it feels like you have a little more freedom constantly definitely do and I don't know if I huh I mean definitely there I guess okay there's definitely more working with self pub but I did a lot of work with tried pot or I felt pushed into doing things with trap pub that I didn't want to do and so I think maybe the things that I did for trad pub that my publisher was pushing for me to do was maybe that made me more stressed out and yet you know I'm electing to do things with self-publishing instead of being forced them to do something like a book tour or something like that where that's not really that's not me mmm going out and meeting people in bookstores and signing books yeah definitely definitely but as a self-published author you have the opportunity to meet readers in a lot of different ways and it's just it's great to be able to do that you know on you can do it on Twitter or Pinterest or you know through podcast like this one lots of ways yeah you just shared so many wonderful tips and just you know your process on writing a cozy mystery I think it's just gonna help a lot of people who are wanting to write posing mysteries would would you share what new books or projects you have on the goal right now and then maybe if you can just tell tell us where you readers or writers can find you and your books online absolutely right now I have got two different projects that I'm working on fall to pieces which is one of the southern quilting mysteries and then cooking is murder which is a Myrtle clover yeah we're gonna have fun with that one because Myrtle is a terrible cook and think she's a great cook so I see that hilarity will ensue I have a feeling uh with that one uh and then I'm being a little cagey about the release dates on those but sometime in 2017 so I I'm being a little slower and a little bit more deliberate with these these two books I usually write about three books a year and I'm slowing down just a tiny little bit right um and sort of slow and steady and see when those come out in 2017 and you can also find me on my website which is Elizabeth Spann Craig calm and there are links to my books on all platforms and retailers they're awesome well Elizabeth this has been such a pleasure to be able to talk to you and thanks so much for just you know sharing all your thoughts on writing cozy mysteries and then your advice for buyers has been super helpful thank you thank you so much Lorna I appreciate it and thanks for all you do for writers to and begin such a great resource

10 thoughts on “How to Write Cozy Mystery Novels with Elizabeth Spann Craig

  1. Elizabeth!! I love myrtle clover mystery I'm getting ready to read Cleaning is Murder book 13.

  2. Create A Story You Love reminds me so much of Sheriff Donna from Supernatural. And Elizabeth is my favorite modern cozy writer!

  3. I love this interview! Both women share so openly it's better than reading a book on writing a cozy mystery. Thank you! thank you!

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