Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Got Cozy at CozyCon 2012!

You'd better believe when I received an email from the Poisoned Pen and I saw the graphic announcing the CozyCon, I perked up like a bird dog that had just whiffed a pheasant over in the next clump of grass.

Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, is responsible for putting the whole thing together and rounding up an impressive line-up of writers who are known for creating some of the best traditional mysteries (more commonly referred to as "cozies") in the business. I perked up even more when I saw that some of my favorites would be there-- many fresh from attending Malice Domestic.

The following is meant to be my first-timer experience of this type of event. I tend to be reserved, and I don't do well in crowds. Some of you will know what I'm talking about; others won't. After much thought, the pros outweighed the cons by a couple hundred tons, so I  made the call and registered. (I'm mentioning this just in case there are other folks who have hesitated to attend something similar. I had a blast. You can, too!)

For anyone who wants a detailed blow-by-blow account of what happened throughout the day, I'll refer you to Lesa Holstine's excellent post. One of the benefits of attending CozyCon was the fact that I finally got a chance to meet Lesa. We sat side by side at a table right up front, scribbling notes till our pens smoked and taking photo after photo. It was truly a pleasure to meet Lesa and to see how well regarded she is in the crime fiction community.

I arrived early and wheeled right into a prized parking spot in the shade. (In Phoenix, parking spots in the shade are more highly prized than spots right outside the entrance.) I located the room inside the library and made my way to a table up front where I had the best chance of taking halfway decent photos. I then commenced a favorite past time: watching everyone else arrive. It wasn't long until Lesa arrived ("Are you Cathy?" "Yes, I am, Lesa!"), and no time at all before we had a full house and the CozyCon began.

The authors in attendance? Here's the stellar line-up in alphabetical order:

  • Avery Aames, author of the Cheese Shop mystery series.
  • Kate Carlisle, author of the Bibliophile mystery series.
  • Donis Casey, author of the Alafair Tucker historical mystery series.
  • Jane Cleland, author of the Josie Prescott Antiques mystery series.
  • Hannah Dennison, author of the Vicky Hill mystery series.
  • Earlene Fowler, author of the Benni Harper mystery series.
  • Rebecca M. Hale, author of the Cats and Curios as well as the Mystery in the Islands series.
  • Carolyn Hart, author of 47 published books, including the Death on Demand series.
  • Beth Kendrick, women's fiction writer and author of The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service.
  • Jenn McKinlay, author of the Library Lovers, Cupcake mysteries, Decoupage mysteries, and Good Buy Girls mystery series. (How does she do it???)
  • Paige Shelton, author of the Farmers' Market and the Country Cooking School mystery series.
  • Betty Webb, author of the Gunn Zoo mystery series and the Lena Jones series.

CozyCon was to be broken up into a morning segment where we got to know the authors, then time for book signing followed by lunch. The afternoon was to be spent in various panels. It began on a slightly ominous note: an events coordinator for the library informed us that the water was going to be turned off to fix a problem nearby, and if we needed to use the facilities.... Naturally, there was a few minutes' pause in the proceedings!

(L to R) B. Webb, J. McKinlay, P. Shelton, R. Hale
Water notwithstanding, from the very first official minutes of the CozyCon, I knew I was in one of my favorite rooms in heaven. Barbara Peters was perfect as the moderator; I'd almost go anywhere she appears just to listen to her speak.

I loved her story about being mistaken for Barbara Mertz, author of the popular Amelia Peabody mysteries. One time, Barbara Peters happened to be out and about with Barbara Mertz. Of course,  Barbara P. was mistakenly identified as Barbara M. There just had to be a devilish twinkle in Barbara Peters'  eyes as she responded with "I'm so glad you like my books." Never fear-- Barbara M. can give as good as she gets. When finally asked what she did, Barbara Mertz replied, "I own a fabulous bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona!"

(And before we go any further, I'll let you in on a secret. You have to attend one of these. Why? Not only do you learn things about future books and series, you also get told hilarious true stories that you have to swear never to repeat!)

Carolyn Hart
As the authors began introducing themselves and their books, I really got a feel for the types of people they are. I could have an epic the size of War and Peace if I were to type just the notes from their introductions, so I'll narrow it down to a few highlights. (Sorry, ladies, I wish I could include all of you!)

Carolyn Hart, the author of 47 published books, talked about the first seven or so books that she wrote that simply disappeared into "the black hole of publishing." No one was reading them. She asked for advice and was told that "No one reads mysteries, you need to write a romance." So she did. (Well, it was really a mystery disguised as a romance novel.) When the editor read it, Hart was told that she needed to increase the sexual tension in the book. Sitting down with her agent, Hart asked, "What's sexual tension?" Her agent replied, "Carolyn, you need to write mysteries."  She then determined to write the sort of book that she loved to read. Guess what? That book not only sold, but people read it and wanted more. Hart hasn't looked back since.

Jenn McKinlay and Kate Carlisle
An author that I felt a strong identification with height-wise was Jenn McKinlay, although we were raised in very different times. (Jenn, I still can't hear the chorus to the Jolly Green Giant TV commercials without having flashbacks to grade school.)

Jenn is a self-professed Generation X slacker who grew up in front of the TV believing that "Bewitched" and "I Love Lucy" represented normal life. This meant that life was parceled out in 22½ minute segments and everything turned out all right at the end.

As a young'un, she was "freakishly tall and had no filter." It wasn't until her father took her to see "Romancing the Stone" starring Kathleen Turner as a novelist that she realized she could write the books she loved to imagine herself living in.

Midway through the introductions, Barbara Peters stopped the proceedings to announce amidst much cheering and clapping that the water was back on. We were nothing if not an enthusiastic group regardless the topic!

Hannah Dennison and Earlene Fowler
Earlene Fowler came up with one of the more popular ideas during CozyCon. Writers of hard-boiled crime fiction have a tendency to turn up their noses at traditional mysteries. Earlene would love to be a member of a panel consisting of traditional mystery writers and hard-boiled writers. Such a panel has never been done, mostly because the hard-boiled writers decline to participate. No one seems able to put one together....

After seeing and hearing the audience response to Fowler's suggestion, Barbara Peters said, "You know I'm going to take that as a challenge!" That brought on even more applause as everyone in the room envisioned what the panel could be like. Earlene Fowler was encouraged by Peters' reaction and said, "Good! Then they'd have to read a cozy!"

Barbara Peters
Barbara Peters also interjected some very encouraging news about the publishing industry. It always seems as though the bad news gets the most press, and I've lost count of the number of articles I've read predicting the horrible death of the book industry.

Peters disagrees with that dire prediction completely. "I'm thrilled with digital. The Poisoned Pen had its best year ever last year." She went on to tell us that book royalties are rising. Print book sales are not dropping off, and eBook sales continue to rise. I know I'm not the only one who's waiting for the Poisoned Pen to have the ability to sell eBooks online because I know where I'll be buying them!

The author introductions seemed to fly by, and in no time at all, we were lining up for a delicious boxed lunch and our beverages of choice. Once our batteries were recharged, it was time for the afternoon panels. There were four, covering such topics as culinary mysteries, the writing process, romantic subplots, and amateur sleuths.

The first panel was all about culinary mysteries, and the authors fielding questions were Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, Avery Aames, and Donis Casey.  One enlightening tidbit came when the authors explained that, if you wrote culinary mysteries, you had to be willing and able to cook... a lot. Including recipes in books can also be very tricky. You see, the recipe and the ingredients are not copyrightable, but how you do it is subject to copyright. Any recipes in the books have to be thoroughly tested before they can be included.

(L to R) Jenn McKinlay, Kate Carlisle, Avery Aames, Donis Casey

Another question asked the authors about adding humor to their books. Kate Carlisle had us laughing when she admitted that she really, really wanted her next book, Peril in Paperback, to come out in hardcover. You see, her first Bibliophile mystery, Homicide in Hardcover, came out in... you guessed it... paperback. From laughter Kate moved us right into wishful thinking as she described a beautiful handmade set of Jane Austen books that she would dearly love to own. I still drool a little thinking about them!

When asked how they came up with some of the things in their books, Jenn McKinlay confessed that the "Crafternoons" she has in her Library Lovers series came from the fact that she worked at the Phoenix Public Library with some fun co-workers who actually did have Crafternoons. "My whole life is a rip-off," warned Jenn with a twinkle in her eye. "Be very careful!"

The second panel of the afternoon was "The Writing Process," and panelists Carolyn Hart, Donis Casey, Betty Webb, and Jane Cleland shared so many things about how their creative juices work.

(L to R) Barbara Peters, Carolyn Hart, Donis Casey, Betty Webb, Jane Cleland

When asked if they write outlines first or if they just start writing, Carolyn Hart shared a story about Robert Crais telling everyone about the meticulous, highly-detailed outlines he wrote before he ever started writing any of his books. He had several authors thinking that they needed to change their methods and start writing outlines when Mrs. Robert Crais's voice was heard in the room: "Ask him if he follows his outline...."

Carolyn Hart and Donis Casey both start with the main characters, the murder, whodunit it and why. Jane Cleland works from a synopsis-- an "aerial view"-- while Betty Webb admitted that she was a follower of the Robert Crais Method, which meant that she spent three months writing outlines that she doesn't use.

Betty Webb
One thing every single author mentioned was having characters who didn't do what they were supposed to do.  Some characters may have been intended to be in only one scene but demanded more. Some characters may have been intended for the long haul, but faded away after a few scenes. Characters have lives of their own, and all the authors can do is listen and obey. I think Betty Webb surprised more than a few of us when she admitted that, in the nine books she's written, only two out of the nine original killers actually stayed the course. A benefit of this is that, if the killer's identity has changed, when it's time to add misleading clues to fool the reader, Webb's are already in place. What she has to do is go back to add clues to the identity of the new killer.

All the authors agreed that revisions were their favorite part of the writing process. Carolyn Hart loves them because it means she has a book written. As Betty Webb says, "First drafts are horrendous, but hey, you can't fix a blank page, and the fixing is what's fun!"

The third panel, Romantic Subplots in Mysteries, was comprised of Kate Carlisle, Beth Kendrick and Earlene Fowler. Earlene told us that her mother had a "twenty romance a week" habit and that romance was in her DNA, but she didn't want to write romances, she wanted to write mysteries.

Her first idea was to have her books be about Benni Harper and her husband Jack solving mysteries, but the book just didn't work. Someone had once told Earlene to "write about what scares you the most." At the time, Earlene was thirty-seven. She had been married since the age of nineteen. What scared her most was the thought of her husband dying. When she wrote of Jack dying, all the pieces of the book began to fall into place.

Earlene Fowler
Bringing a strong Latino character into the books and having him marry Benni brought on a lot of mail from fans. Many of those fans wanted to know when those two characters were going to have babies. Earlene had decided from the beginning that Gabe and Benni weren't going to have children: "You can't take your baby along on investigations. You just can't. If your main character does that, then she's not the type of mother you want to be reading about."

Earlene also had us laughing when she told us that it was bad enough that she had a dog in one book. Benni was taking care of someone's pet, and the first thing she knew, Earlene had to remember to write scenes to feed the dog, pet the dog, walk the dog, play with the dog... it was exhausting. Earlene swears up and down that "if you don't feed kids, readers don't notice. If you don't feed the dog, you'll hear about it!"

The fourth and final panel of the day-- Earlene Fowler, Carolyn Hart, Rebecca M. Hale, and Hannah Dennison-- discussed Amateur Sleuths. In this day and age, it seems that everyone from Amazon on down (or up) insists on being able to categorize every single book. Not all books fit the existing categories. Barbara Peters puts a large portion of the blame for this onto James Patterson's shoulders. Patterson has a background in marketing, and he brought the marketing idea of "branding" to publishing.

Some people may wonder what the big deal is about-- who cares if a book is labeled cozy or hard-boiled? You would care, if you were a crime fiction author. Why? Money, of course. If your books are considered hard-boiled, you get paid more. I know. It doesn't make any sense to me either.

Donis Casey and Carolyn Hart signing books.
There was so much information imparted throughout the CozyCon, and although I scribbled till my pen smoked and laughed so many times that I lost track, here is the pearl that I came away clutching in my hot little hand:

Every single author participating in CozyCon (whether or not I said very much about them) is extremely talented and incredibly giving of their time and of their knowledge. This is the type of event that I will be more than happy to attend in the future.

Had I read all the authors present at this event? No, I hadn't. But I will say that I now have in my possession books written by all the authors I hadn't read. I look forward to sharing their books with you in the months to come here on Kittling: Books. 

Is CozyCon the type of author event you should attend? Are you unsure of crowds? A bit shy perhaps? Get yourself registered, and come sit at my table. We'll have a blast!


  1. Terrific recap, Cathy! It was like being there all over again, and not having to take notes. (grin) I enjoyed seeing your spin on things.

    And, thanks for the link!

    Best of all, it was so nice to finally meet you!

    1. I felt the same way about your recap, Lesa-- just like being there without the necessity of taking notes! LOL

      This week Craig Johnson's at the Poisoned Pen. We just may meet again!

  2. Fabulous write up, Cathy! LOVE your opening line! I am so glad you enjoyed the day. I really hope this becomes an annual event as it gives me a chance to meet wonderful blogger/readers like you and I do love Barbara P's stories. She's a treasure!

    1. All those hunting trips I went on with my grampa as a young'un can crop up at the most interesting times.... ;-)

      I'm so glad you liked the write-up, and if there's any way I can help make the CozyCon an annual event, I'm there!

  3. I'm glad you went to this, Cathy. I tend to be too shy to go to these things so lately I've been pushing myself to do it and I'm happy to say I've enjoyed myself. Sadly, although just about the first author appearance I've heard of in this area is this Wed., I can't go because of appointments. However, maybe this will be the beginning of a trend here. Thanks for telling us about this event.

    1. It's too bad that you can't attend because of those appointments, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Since you tend to be shy (like me), you may also have the same reactions I do to being pushed: If someone else does it, I dig in my heels and balk. If *I* do it, I generally wind up enjoying myself so much that I wonder why going was ever an issue!

  4. I'm so glad you went and got to meet Lesa! I love events like that. Every time I hear an author speak, I want to read their book as soon as I get home.

    1. Perhaps I'd best not attend too many of these events... I could go bankrupt! LOL

  5. Cathy - I can't tell you how happy I am that you had such a wonderful time! And thanks too for sharing your experience in such a detailed and interesting way :-). It sounds as though it was really a wonderful time.

    1. It was, Margot! I don't know why I ever hesitated to go before. Silly me!

  6. Oh my gosh what an amazing event to be a part of! And how can I get into one?!? I think we share a lot of reading favorites and how wonderful to be involved in all those workshops and panels! So happy for you!

    1. You've got to keep your eyes and ears open. For the Phoenix area, I learn most of the literary news from the emails I receive from my favorite bookstore. Perhaps a favorite local indie bookstore can do the same for you? And once you see the news you've been waiting for-- make the call quick! :-)

  7. Oh, wow, I'm massively jealous--I would love to attend something like this! Ah, living on a giant island in the middle of nowhere...

    Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting

    1. Believe it or not, I can feel your pain. Phoenix isn't exactly known as a hub of the literary world. If Barbara Peters ever moves, I think we'll be completely out of luck.

  8. Oh, that sounds like it was fun. Too bad they don't seem to do that sort of thing where I can easily get to them.

    1. I know what you mean, Pepper. If it's practically right down the street, that's one thing, but if it involves air travel, lodging, and car rental, that's another. Denis and I are saving every cent for a trip to the UK. THAT gets our travel pennies first!

  9. Watch out! These events are addictive. Sounds like a fabulous event.

    1. I'll be okay unless Phoenix suddenly turns into the Literary Capital of the United States! LOL

  10. OK, you and Lesa had way too much fun! I vow that if Barbara repeats this event next year, I will be there. And I'll sit at your table. And you can take the notes. LOL

    Lovely post, Cathy.

    1. Thanks, Kay-- and I'm going to hold you to that vow!

  11. What a great event, I am deeply envious! Thanks for sharing it!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out


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