Day 2: Cozy Mystery; Jean Rabe

Jean Rabe.jpg

Meet Jean Rabe.

I’ve written thirty-six fantasy, science fiction, adventure, and mystery novels, and about a hundred short stories. When I’m not writing-which isn’t often-I’m editing…more than 100 magazine issues and a few dozen anthologies.

I originally hale from Ottawa, Illinois, a smallish town divided by the Illinois River. It’s where I learned how to play the clarinet, to treasure used book stores, to love football, and to appreciate the company of dogs.

My first full-time newspaper job was for the Quincy Herald-Whig in Quincy, IL. I met my husband in Quincy, played Dungeons & Dragons, worked as a stagehand for the local theater group, and adopted a most-amazing grandfather from the Illinois Veteran’s Home.

My newspaper career took me to Evansville, IN, where I ran the Western Kentucky news bureau for Scripps Howard. I exposed a corrupt county jailer, was shot at on a country road while covering an embezzlement story, and traipsed through flea markets held at an aging racetrack.

I’ve taught writing classes, ran the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium for seventeen years, mentored authors, lectured at conventions, and fused glass. I love board games, read a lot, and toss tennis balls to my cadre of dogs.

So…that’s my story. It’s filled with books and books and books and dogs and games and trips to museums and failed attempts to make an edible pineapple chicken stir-fry. I can make a fine pot of chili, however.

Author Links:

Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here:

My web page:

You can find my blog at:

And my Amazon author page at:

I have a newsletter filled with tidbits about my upcoming books, reviews of things I’m reading, and writing advice. You can subscribe here:

Guest Post – Cozies and Uncozy Cozies

What defines a cozy mystery? I thought I knew. I thought I’d pegged my book correctly. I thought I’d checked off enough of the right boxes.

I failed.

When you write with the intent of getting your novel published, you typically aim it toward a genre on the bookstore shelf…supernatural, horror, fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, true crime, mystery. And within some of those, such as mystery, are subgenres: cozy, crime, noir, sleuth (professional and amateur), legal, suspense (and romantic suspense), historical, private eye, and police procedural. And I’ve probably missed some.

In any event, when you write your novel and send it off to a publisher or agent you list the genre in your cover letter. I listed “cozy” in mine. I really thought I’d written one.

Most definitions of a cozy mystery include phrases such as:

  • Bloodless crime scene (no blood at any of my crime scenes)
  • Sex and violence downplayed (check on the first one…not so much with the check on the second one)
  • Easy pace (check)
  • Amateur sleuth (mine was a sheriff…her first day on the job and with the department…sounded like an amateur to me)
  • The protagonists have more on their plate than just solving the murders (check)
  • The setting is often rural (big-time check on that one)
  • The killer is usually taken into custody without violence (couldn’t check that box)
  • Cozy to me implies comfortable, friendly, filled with characters you might meet if you strolled down a small town street. A book you’d like to read in an easy chair with a little dog curled in your lap.

The agents and publishers I sent my book to said it wasn’t a cozy. One said I’d written a “cozy police procedural” and that there was no such beast. Another said it was an uncozy-cozy. I didn’t like the rejection, but I liked the sound of that…uncozy-cozy. To me it implied a comfortable, friendly book filled with characters you might meet if you strolled down a small town street…and spiced with detailed and factual law enforcement procedures, a serial killer, a chase scene, and a gunfight.

I found a lovely small press publisher—Imajin—that didn’t care what mystery subgenre my book did or didn’t fit into. She liked the term “uncozy-cozy” too, and promoted it as such. On the day the book—The Dead of Winter—launched, it cracked the top 100 in Amazon’s police procedurals category. I’ve received great reviews, including in The Huffington Post. Not bad for an “uncozy.”

I’m working on The Dead of Night now, with the same main characters. I’m hoping to make a series out of my young sheriff’s adventures. I suppose I ought to put The Dead in each of the titles.

This next book checks off more of the true cozy boxes…not because I’m trying to but because that’s where the plot takes me. Again, a bloodless body. Hmmm…maybe that will be a theme. Hmmm…probably not. It’s a decades-old cold case and thereby an easy, but driven, pace. It has law enforcement procedures. I suppose that’ll make it another “cozy police procedural.” I can’t help putting the actual legal workings of the case in. I used to cover courts and cops when I was a newspaper reporter. I feel compelled to add those details. I have a chase scene, but it’s not a fast one, as a farm tractor is involved. And so far the outline doesn’t call for a gunfight—or for a weapon to be drawn. But outlines can change.

It feels like a cozy to me, what I’m writing. But my definition of cozy apparently is a tad different than how most folks see it.

Let’s call it “uncozy.” Maybe someday there will be a subgenre with that label.

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