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August 16, 2010

Can Murder Be Cozy?

I have a special guest today–author Amanda Lee who writes cozy mysteries. Amanda is the lady next to you in the grocery line or car pool. She has twins: one boy and one girl, she’s a baseball fan, she likes to decorate cakes, she rocks at Guitar Hero…oh, and she likes to think about murder. But it’s OK! She only writes about murder—a lot.

So what exactly is a cozy mystery? That’s what I asked Amanda…

Amanda Lee Cozy mysteries take place in a small town or confined setting where all the characters know each other. Think Desperate Housewives meets CSI.

Characters are integral to cozy mysteries. Cozy writers use hobbies, professions and even obsessions to make their characters unique. I have an interest in cake decorating, so I infuse my hobby into a profession for my character. Even though I’m a novice cake decorator, I have the knowledge to make my character an expert.

Judith Skillings and her husband own and operate a Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration shop. Not surprisingly, her cozy mystery heroine works in a classic automobile restoration shop. Ellen Crosby introduces readers to Virginia’s wine country in her mysteries. Camille Minichino has a Ph.D. in Physics. She writes the periodic table mysteries. Sheila Lowe, a graphology expert, pens cozy mysteries wherein the heroine is an expert handwriting analyst.

Some cozy writers add a paranormal bent to their books. Alice Kimberly, author of the Haunted Bookstore Mystery series, employs the ghost of a murdered P.I. to help the heroine solve crimes. Madelyn Alt writes the Bewitching Mysteries, and Victoria Laurie writes the Ghost Hunter Mysteries.

Since many cozy mysteries are series books, the reader has time to develop “relationships” with the books’ main characters. The reader watches the characters grow and interact from book to book. While these might be the most unlucky people on the planet—murder victims are turning up around practically every corner—they’re still falling in love, making new friends, caring for pets and pretty much happily going about their lives. Diane Mott Davidson’s character Goldy has gone through quite a lot of changes since her first book, Catering to Nobody. There we met a divorcee with a young son. Now Goldy has remarried and little Arch is all grown up. In that way, cozy mysteries are rather like a soap opera; only you have to wait a long time between installments. Which reminds me of Lost . . . although my series doesn’t have a dark cloud monster or a plane crash. At least, not yet. :-)

One reviewer said of Murder Takes the Cake, “I could identify with Daphne’s relationship with her family. I think this was the part I liked best. Daphne has a cautious and teeth gritting relationship with her mother, a loving warm one with her father and her sister.” I was surprised that this is what she “liked best” about the book. I’d intended to give the characters depth through their relationships, and I’d tried to make those relationships realistic. In fact, the publisher even asked me to tie up the heroine’s relationship with the stray cat at the end of the book. I couldn’t do that and remain realistic. The cat in book is based on a real cat, and it took me months to establish a relationship with her. The fictional relationship will progress in the next book, as will all of Daphne’s other relationships.

It is really cool how readers of cozy mysteries become attached to characters and loyal to authors. In fact, every year cozy readers gather in Arlington, Virginia for the Malice Domestic “Fun Fan” convention to celebrate cozy mysteries and their authors. It’s quite a coup for an author to win an “Agatha,” the teapot awards given by Malice Domestic. And the convention is a terrific experience. As a fan as well as an author, I was thrilled to meet Dorothy Cannell and Harley Jane Kozak at the Malice Domestic convention a few years back. Both are delightful ladies with great senses of humor. Naturally, I told them I love Ellie Haskell and Wollie Shelley, respectively. And I do. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next.

The Quick and the Thread

The Quick and the Thread by Amanda Lee

Marcy Singer has big plans: a move to the breathtaking Oregon coast, opening an embroidery shop called The Seven Year Itch, a fun grand opening. What she doesn’t plan on is the shop’s old owner showing up—DEAD—in her shop. Some people think Marcy killed him. Some people think she’s the next victim. All Marcy knows is someone has to uncover the murderer before she’s forced to flip the sign on her shop door to CLOSED permanently. And it looks like that someone might be Marcy.

Purchase The Quick and the Thread: An Embroidery Mystery today!

Just Thought You Should Know:
Amanda Lee is also Gayle Trent, author of the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Series that includes Dead Pan and Murder Takes the Cake. To learn more about Amanda you can visit her website or blog.

CONTEST: Win a copy of The Quick and the Thread – comment on this post, ask Amanda about cozy mysteries or a question about her book and you’ll go into the draw to win a copy of Amanda’s book. Note – contest is only available to those who live in USA or Canada.

Women on Writing

Click to find details of other stops in Amanda’s blog tour.


  1. Jodi

    What made you decide to have your new series in Oregon? Is it somewhere you visited or read about?

  2. Laney4

    I love your book cover. How much input did you have as to what was going to appear on your cover?

  3. anne

    The premise is interesting and unique. Do you have an interest in crafts and embroidery and are you artistic and creative since you are a talented writer.

  4. Gayle

    Thank you so much for the encouragement as well as for the questions! My editor actually requested the book be set on the Oregon Coast. I had to do a lot of research, but the place sounds incredible. I’ll have to visit sometime!

    I didn’t have any input into the book cover, but I love it. I wanted to hug the artist after seeing it! The cover for Stitch Me Deadly is beautiful, too.

    I do have an interest in cake decorating as well as embroidery. I’m not that great at either one, but I do enjoy them! :grin:

  5. Darla

    Great post! I’m crossing my fingers that I win the book. Cheers!

  6. Cheryl Lynne

    I think Maine is a great setting for cozy mysteries. Have you been to Maine or considered visiting ?

  7. Maria D.

    I love reading cozy mysteries and you actually mentioned a series I follow (Diane Mott Davidson). I’m intrigued that you choose to do a mystery including embroidery since it seems to be one of the languishing arts in the US. I perosnally love embroidery but in the suburban area that I live in can only find supplies at the local fabric store and Michaels. I’m curious as to why your character’s store is called “The Seven Year Itch”?

  8. Gayle

    I haven’t been to Maine, but I would love to visit. Isn’t that where Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove was located?

    The store is called The Seven-Year Stitch because it took Marcy seven years to realize her dream of opening an embroidery shop and because she loves pop culture. She even has a mannequin made to look like Marilyn Monroe standing near the cash register. :grin:

  9. Heather

    Excellent post — Sheila Lowe’s grapholgy series is one of my favorites. Please do not enter me in the draw, as I just won this off another blog. Being a stitcher myself, I’m looking forward to reading it as soon it arrives ar my door! :smile:

  10. Shelley Munro

    Hi Gayle/Amanda,

    Thanks so much for visiting today and explaining about cozy mysteries. I love the Desperate Housewives v CSI comparison.

    Characters really make or break a book for me and I like the fact that I can follow characters throughout several books in a cozy mystery.

    How do you keep track of your characters when you’re writing a series? Do you do character charts or something else?

  11. meham

    I too became a fan of Diane Mott Davidson. As an occasional stitcher, the idea of an embroidered cozy is intriguing. Locations seem to be an important part of the appeal. I found myself inspired by the (at the time) local scenery of Suisun CA and almost started a series. Hmmm Wonder if steampunk would be considered a cozy setting?

  12. Tracey D


    What is your opinion on book trailers? Do you think they help in book sales?

  13. Gayle

    Since I work on two series (often at once), I sometimes find it hard to keep my series and characters straight. I do keep cheat sheets for each series so I don’t wind up having too many characters named the same thing. I do, however, had a Todd in each series! One Todd is Daphne’s abusive ex-husband in the cake decorating series, and the other is one of Marcy’s love interests. The editor requested I name him Todd, so it wasn’t on purpose that I’m being overrun by Todds! :roll:

    Meham, I think it would be a wonderful setting. It’s fresh, and you could have such eclectic characters!

    I don’t know if book trailers help sales, Tracey, but I think they’re fun to do. Plus, when readers come to my homepage, they can watch the short trailer and get a real feel for the book.

  14. Debra S


    Love the cover & love the premise. I have another mystery series to add to my list!


  15. sandra cox

    Great blog.
    These sound like fun reads.

  16. Sarah MacCallum

    I have “The Quick and the Thread” in a book order coming soon and can’t wait to read it :-)


  17. Laurie G

    A long time ago, I knit, cross-stitched , embroidered, did needle point etc.

    I’ve enjoyed Debbie Macomber’s knitting series of books.

    I like the idea of your embroidering shop with the startling mystery death of it’s prior owner to solve! I’d love to read it!!

    johnslake at usa dot com

  18. Gayle

    Thank you!

  19. catslady

    I too use to do all kinds of knitting, crochet, needlepoint etc. but the day of the computer has taken over. I still enjoy anything crafty and a setting in an embroidering shop sounds very interesting. I know the books have a connection but are they stand alone too?


  20. Gayle

    Yes, they do stand alone too. The editor makes sure I give enough back story so that new readers are always up to date. :grin:

  21. Shelley Munro


    And the winner is…


    Congratulations, Anne. I’ve emailed you privately. Thanks to everyone else for visiting. I have entered you all in my quarterly draw for a $25 Amazon voucher. This will be drawn during the first week of October.