How To Write A Cosy Mystery

Editor’s note: This is the aboriginal in a alternation of columns highlighting writers of all genres above our arcane commonwealth.

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How To Write A Cozy Mystery With Debbie Young | How To Write A Cosy Mystery

Virginia “Ginny” Smith is the bestselling columnist of forty-four novels, a brace of children’s books, and added than fifty accessories and abbreviate stories. Two of her novels accustomed the Holt Medallion Award of Merit and several of her books accept been alleged finalists for all-embracing awards. The aboriginal of her awful acknowledged Goose Creek series, “The Best Famous Illegal Goose Creek Parade,” was Library Journal’s top aces of the month, and a finalist for the celebrated Bookseller’s Best Award. In accession to her writing, Ginny is an adorning speaker, as able-bodied as a common presenter at schools and conferences. She lives in Frankfort with her husband, Ted, and their Maltese puppy, Max.

Helvey: One of the aboriginal questions best writers get is “did you consistently appetite to be a writer?” So, let’s alpha with that one. 

Smith: Actually, my “dream job” was to be an attorney, but I concluded up marrying and starting a ancestors anon afterwards aerial school. I went to academy at night, and the aggregation I formed for offered to pay for my apprenticeship if I advised computer programming. Turns out, I had a adroitness for it. I formed my way up through the ranks, managing ample computer projects for several corporations, assuredly all-encompassing the akin of administrator for Lexmark International.

Helvey: Sounds like you fabricated a acceptable choice.

Smith: Yes, it was a acceptable best for me on abounding levels, abnormally aback I accomplished the authoritative level. Leading a aggregation and animate with altered personality types can be challenging, but I admired it. There I abstruse altered means of thinking, how bodies reacted abnormally to the aforementioned words (so advantageous in autograph characters), how to accent my time and commitments, and how to accomplishment a project.

Helvey: So you were on a advantageous career path, and one I brainstorm paid well.

Smith: It paid absolute well.

Helvey: So why leave all that for the activity of a writer, which as we all apperceive carries with it no guarantees for success?  

Smith (laughing): Let me acknowledgment you this way — if my ambition was authoritative money, I’d still be in the accumulated world. I had been autograph in my chargeless time and my bedmate knew that I absolutely enjoyed it. At the time, due to our jobs, we were absolutely active in altered states, abutting on weekends, holidays and vacations. We capital to be calm on a far added constant basis, and the alone way we could accomplish that appear was for one of us to leave our job. Aback he was afterpiece to retirement than I, he offered to abutment us both: house, bloom insurance, active expenses, etc., so I could address full-time. That was absolutely an action I couldn’t canyon up. And I’ve never regretted it. I adulation my job.

Helvey: Sounds like a adulation adventure to me.

Smith: It was, and is. Maybe anytime I’ll address it.

Helvey: Already you started autograph full-time, did success smile on you appropriate away? 

Smith: No way! I was anguish abroad on abbreviate belief and novels, sending them out consistently and accepting rejections aloof as regularly.


Smith: Yes, indeed. I accustomed 147 rejections afore I assuredly got a yes.

Helvey: Tell us how that came about.

Smith: My “rejection period” concluded aback I managed to advertise my aboriginal atypical to a baby but well-respected Christian publisher. The book didn’t advertise a lot of copies, but it got some abundant reviews. That helped me access an agent. Plus, I was additionally accessory autograph conferences and workshops, acquirements a lot from appear authors, affair with editors, publishers and agents, accepting a abundant added absolute faculty of the prevailing arcane landscape. At a banquet accustomed at one of the conferences, I happened to be built-in abutting to an editor from Harlequin, who was attractive to alpha a comfortable abstruseness imprint. So, during that banquet I anticipation angrily to appear up with an abstraction for a atypical I could angle to her. We were bistro craven with augment sauce, and I came up with a annihilation abstruseness about a woman who is berserk by baleful mushrooms at a abbey potluck. I alleged it Annihilation By Augment and the editor absolutely admired the concept. She gave me her business agenda and asked me to accelerate her the arrangement as anon as I got home. Trouble was, I didn’t accept chat one written. So, I placed a afraid alarm to my new agent. She concluded up accepting me an addendum and, ultimately, a favorable contract.

Helvey: And your autograph career took off from that banquet and your simple baleful augment proposal?

Smith: I wouldn’t say I was an brief success, but I’ve accounting steadily aback then. I delivered on that book and it awash able-bodied for Harlequin. I went on from there to address several alternation in altered genres, a cardinal of novels for book clubs, and alike two illustrated children’s books.

Helvey (smiling): And they were all best-sellers?

Smith (chuckling): No, Mr. Smarty Pants (LOL!), they all weren’t best sellers, but they did able-bodied enough.

Helvey: Appears they did able-bodied abundant to accumulate publishing houses all-encompassing out to you with contracts, which aren’t anytime abounding these days.

Smith: Yes, and it’s absolute nice to be “in demand” as an author. Actually, I afresh active a three-book arrangement with Annie’s Publishing for a comfortable abstruseness alternation set in an Irish tearoom. The aboriginal book in this series, “A Baleful Brew,” is slated for a 2022 release. Annie’s publishes book club alternation and I’ve accounting eight books for them afore these. I absolutely adore animate with them. 

Helvey: Sounds like a analysis cruise to Ireland adeptness be in order.

Smith: If not for COVID I’d be there now! I adulation the analysis appearance of writing, and there’s annihilation like actuality ‘on location’ to atom a writer’s imagination. But there are added means to research. For instance, I wrote two biblical novels for Guideposts’ Ordinary Women of the Bible series. Researching a apple in the 7th aeon B.C. was challenging, but I admired it.

Helvey: Were these Biblical novels a hit with readers?

Smith: Yes, indeed. So abundant so that Guideposts initially planned to absolution alone 12 books in the series, but aback they saw how accepted the books were they broadcast the alternation to 24. I was offered a additional arrangement and that book, “Raised for a Purpose: Talia’s Story,” was appear in July.

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How To Write A Cosy Mystery: The Sleuth Mystery writing, Writing | How To Write A Cosy Mystery

Helvey: So, Christian fiction is one brand you’ve activate success in autograph for. 

Smith: Yes, forth with comfortable mysteries and sci-fi and fantasy. 

Helvey: What brand or alternation do you anticipate has been best accepted with your readers?

Smith: The Goose Creek series, or added formally “Tales from the Goose Creek B&B,” is one I apprehend all the time from readers who accept apprehend one book in the alternation and are attractive for more. The acceptable account is there are bristles books in the series. The bad account is the administrator is no best publishing fiction, so that banned my adeptness to address a sixth.

Helvey: How would you ascertain your “typical” reader?

Smith: My readers appear from all walks of activity and from all about the world. Both men and women apprehend my books, although my assumption is added of my readers are women. My faculty is that the bigger articulation of my readers avalanche amid the ages of 30-50. From their emails and letters, my compassionate is they like my style, the good, clean, language, no cursing, absolute sex, or chargeless abandon in the all-inclusive majority of my novels, and my characters.

Helvey: As a biographer and clairvoyant myself, I’ve continued acquainted characters accomplish or breach a story.

Smith: Agree, 100%. It is so analytical for a biographer to accomplish their characters appear alive. Otherwise, they are aloof added words on the page.

Helvey: And is Ginny Smith anytime a appearance in any of the books she writes?

Smith (laughs): Not really, although pieces of me, my personality, my background, my brand and dislikes, assuredly clarify through a appearance from time to time. Actually, no appearance I address is anytime based absolutely on any one absolute person. I do “borrow” from bodies I know, or accept known, application a concrete affection here, a arbitrary action there, that array of thing. In the end, I suppose, all my characters are composites of several people, additional a huge beverage of my active imagination. 

Helvey: I’ve continued acquainted appearance names are important. Agree, or disagree?

Smith: Agree, after a doubt. I’ve activate that already I name a character, they activate to booty on a different personality. Trick of the trade: To admonition my readers accumulate all the characters in my novels straight, I never accept two characters whose name/names activate with the aforementioned letter. 

Helvey: Atypical writers tend to abatement into one of two categories: those who artifice their atypical out affiliate by chapter, or those who accept an all-embracing vision, a faculty of the adventure arc and how they appetite to accompany cease to their storyline. I abatement into the autograph from a eyes category. How about you?

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Smith: It depends on what brand I’m writing. If I’m autograph a character-driven story, like my Goose Creek books, I booty a added abstracted approach. It helps me get to apperceive the characters better. But for mysteries, I do an all-encompassing and abundant artifice in advance, afore I anytime alpha autograph a word. I charge to apperceive absolutely area I’m activity to bead clues, how I’m activity to accomplish the clairvoyant doubtable a assertive appearance of actuality the killer, area to lay aerial trails, and so on. Some writers, like you, can sit bottomward and let the words breeze and their adventure works. With a mystery, which is absolute plot-driven, I can’t do that. I’d end up afterlight the book a dozen times to go aback and admit clues. It would drive me nuts. Plus, I never address a book after accepting a contract, and those affairs accept deadlines. I don’t accept time for diffuse rewrites. Alike for character-driven novels, I will ability a point about a third of the way into the book aback I stop autograph and actualize a artifice for the blow of the book. It helps me address faster.

Helvey: Are you a reader, as able-bodied as a writer?

Smith: Oh, yes. I am an ardent reader, and I’d call my account tastes as eclectic. However, while I’m autograph a book, I don’t apprehend any fiction, because I don’t appetite my own chat choices influenced, carefully or aback by addition writer.  

Helvey: Who are a brace of your admired writers?

Smith: I like a cardinal of writers, but Louise Penny and Kristen Hannah are two of my favorites.  

Helvey: And your best contempo atypical is?

Smith: “Guilty Secrets” will absolution from Annie’s Publishing in November. It’s adventurous suspense, about a adolescent advocate who decides to booty on a algid case — a annihilation from a decade ago — and prove the bedevilled woman is innocent. Alone one botheration — the bedevilled woman doesn’t appetite to accept her name cleared. And then, of course, the absolute assassin is still active around, and will stop at annihilation to assure their identity. 

Helvey: Aback you are writing, how abounding words a day do you average?

Smith: The chat calculation varies based on contest above my control. We all apperceive activity can get rather abounding at times. However, I’d say I boilerplate about 2,500 words a day aback I’m not interrupted. I try to assignment from a plan. That gets aback to my programming and activity administrator days. So, I apperceive how abounding words the administrator wants and how abounding canicule I accept to aftermath them. Again I aloof do the algebraic and get to work. 

Helvey: Any final words of acumen for our readers out there who would like to become a writer?

Smith: The best admonition I can accord to ambitious writers is to sit bottomward and write. Advance a accepted and a addiction of writing. Then, accompany a appraisal group. Get some honest acknowledgment on your writing, not from your accompany or your mother. That will admonition you advance a blubbery skin, which every biographer needs. Rejection is painful! Your appraisal accumulation doesn’t accept to be comprised of professionals, admitting it is consistently acceptable to get advice from bodies who are further forth the aisle than you. But I accept abstruse a lot from critiquing beneath accomplished writers’ assignment too. Identifying flaws in addition else’s adventure helps me to not accomplish the aforementioned mistakes in mine. Oh, and get a acceptable agent, although that can prove added arduous than scoring a publishing contract.  

Chris Helvey is a Kentucky writer, editor, and publisher. Columnist of 12 books of fiction and poetry, he is a founding affiliate of the Bluegrass Writers Coalition. His abutting novel, “Into the Wilderness,” is slated for a November absolution (paperback and ebook) from Wings ePress. He can be accomplished at or 502-330-4746.

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