Writers@Work: Writing the Cozy Mystery
October 27, 2020
Note From Rochelle
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Juneau Black, the writing team of Jocelyn Koehler and Sharon Nagel, back to the blog! They’re here to talk about their third installment in the Shady Hollow Mystery Series, Mirror Lake. And if you want to hear more, register to join their virtual event with Boswell Books on Thursday, October 29:
Writers@Work: Writing the Cozy Mystery
An Interview with Juneau Black
Can you tell us about your new book?
Mirror Lake is a cozy mystery, and it’s the third installment in the Shady Hollow Murder Mysteries series. Our amateur detective is a literal fox: Vera Vixen is a local reporter who just happens to keep stumbling into crimes. She solves them with the help of Lenore Lee (the raven who owns the bookshop) and Orville Braun (the police deputy bear). In Mirror Lake, Vera learns a lot more about the rat community, when one of their own accuses her husband of killing…her husband. It’s twisty!
Shady Hollow is a small town setting, so the mystery elements are balanced with a lot of fun interaction with all the residents. Shenanigans definitely occur. Also, in a nod to our bookselling roots, in Mirror Lake we include an author event featuring a very well-known thriller writer, who happens to be a wolf! Those parts may have been the most delightful to write.
All three books (Shady Hollow, Cold Clay, and Mirror Lake) are available in paperback from any bookstore (we recommend Boswell Books on Downer Ave!). You can also get them as ebooks at all vendors.
So…woodland creatures. I imagine that writing about creatures instead of humans brings both challenges and opportunities. What were they?
The animal aspect is definitely our hook, but at their core, the characters in the books are very human. They wear clothes, they hold down jobs, they drink (lots of) coffee. Although the characters are animals, we always intended to write for a broad audience. The language and plots are as complex as any other murder mystery on the shelf, and we hope our readers will enjoy puzzling out the crimes and laughing at the references we slip in. We do like to match the characters’ personalities and mannerisms to the real animal. For example, the local small-time thief IS a masked raccoon. But the very same raccoon is also super supportive of the local theater productions…we like to both play with and break up stereotypes. (When was the last time you saw a real raccoon at the theater?)
A technical question: how do you write a book together and end up with a consistent voice?
When writing, our usual method is to trade off days, aiming for about 1500 words a day (or 1667 if it’s during NaNo!). We send the draft back and forth, reading what the other has written on the previous day. That helps a lot to keep us on the same track as we move forward in the story. And then, once the draft is done, Jocelyn takes it and does a heavy editing pass to make sure that everything is in place, and we haven’t made any major mistakes with our characters or plot (a few times, a character’s name has changed halfway through…can’t have that!). Then the draft is sent to the actual editor, and then the beta readers and then finally the proofreader. Including all these steps helps to craft a book that sounds consistent and whole from the first page to the last.
Sharon: It doesn’t hurt that we have the same somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. I also think that we are much cleverer when we brainstorm together than on our own.
Any random writing tips?
Jocelyn: TURN OFF THE INTERNET! Seriously, even if it’s for thirty minutes. Turn off the WiFi on your computer, hide your phone, hide from your family (if applicable), and just write. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get onto the page.
Sharon: For me, it’s important to establish a routine. I write best in the morning, so I try to make time for that on a regular basis. As Jocelyn says, turning off the Internet is key.
How did writing about this village, the creatures and their foibles bring you joy or comfort or even just a bit of entertainment during the pandemic?
Shady Hollow is on the very COZIEST end of the cozy mystery spectrum, so it helped to be in a story that doesn’t have any real-world connections at all. Our setting has no computers, no internet, no cars…and definitely no pandemic. It’s a safe space (except for the murders). And there’s a sort of “return to childhood” moment when writing about what a fox is wearing to work. So that’s a lot of fun.
Sharon: Writing a series is calming and familiar for the same reasons that reading a series is. The characters and the setting are soothing and comforting. It’s like visiting a familiar place.
What are you reading now?
Jocelyn: I’m reading Winterlust: Finding Beauty in the Fiercest Season by Bernd Brunner. It’s also a cozy book, in its way. I’m on the waiting list for Ken Follett’s The Evening and the Morning, and it’s KILLING me. I just want to dive into it, but the library has only so many ebooks to lend during the lockdown.
Sharon: I am currently reading Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, and I just finished a classic Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
What’s the best way for readers to find out what’s coming next?
We have a Facebook page where we post all news and updates: https://www.facebook.com/JuneauBlack. We use Twitter less, but you can certainly follow @juneau_black. We plan on writing a holiday story next year, and we’d love to offer the Shady Hollow series in audiobook as well. You can also connect to our website. There’s more to come!
And if you want to hear more really soon, you can register here to join our virtual event with Boswell Books on Thursday, October 29th. You can listen to our old boss, Daniel Goldin, grill us on the book. (Seriously, it’ll be great.) And it’s free!
Juneau Black is the pen name of authors Jocelyn Cole (you might also know her as Koehler) and Sharon Nagel. They share a love of excellent bookshops, fine cheeses, and good murder (in fictional form only).