Sunday, September 18, 2011

What is a Cozy? Introduction

Not too long ago, I was doing some research about cozies and people who read cozy mysteries. I eventually came across something really surprising--a doctoral dissertation about cozies called What Is a Cozy? It turns out to be 362 pages of commentary and analysis of the entire cozy genre, including a discussion of who cozy readers are and what they look for in a cozy.

In this series, I'll be taking on the task of reading the whole thing and summarizing the sections. I'm hoping others, who don't necessarily have the time to read the entire dissertation, might be interested in at least knowing the more interesting parts of the paper. I also hope that other authors will find this useful to better connect with cozy readers and their expectations.

This week, then, I want to focus on the introduction.

Katherine Hansen Clarke, the author, begins by pointing out that while the hard-boiled genre has historically gotten a lot of attention from academics and big publishers, the cozy has been ignored in comparison. She also argues that publishers don't promote cozies nearly as much as other mystery sub-genres, which she feels is a mistake.

First, some definitions. Cozy mysteries:

  • Deemphasize sex, violence, and profanity
  • Lack unpleasant surprises, like torture or gore
  • Tend to be light and humorous
  • Normally have an amateur as the protagonist
  • Have a female protagonist
  • Emphasize relationships

Of course, these boundaries are hazy, and Clarke explains that many of these rules have been blurred over the years. The cozy genre is one that's very hard to pin down.

And we need to pay attention to the cozy. Why? Because cozies sell. Of all the mystery subgenres, "cozies are the bestselling." Surprisingly, Clarke has found that "while the mystery genre has been and is being studied by researchers, no work at all has been done on the cozy subgenre." This is an omission that she hopes to correct in the rest of her dissertation.

One of the areas that she really wanted to explore was who the cozy mystery reader was. She began by interviewing bookstore owners, who concluded a cozy reader is usually: "female, over the age of 30, usually professional, usually politically liberal, and usually someone who enjoys reading anything." Then Clarke set out to find if this was true.

Chapter 1 will deal with the history of the genre, followed by a chapter on book distributors and the effects they have on the mystery market. Chapter 3 explains how the "how the cozy not only survived, but thrived," despite opposition. Chapter 4 is the really interesting bit, which dissects who mystery readers are based on a survey conducted by the author. Chapter 5 talks about how technology will affect the mystery genre.

I hope you'll come along with me over the next few posts as we tackle the cozy!

If you're impatient or want more detail, you can always read the dissertation yourself.

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