Friday, September 18, 2009

Guest Blogger - Carola Dunn

Mayhem & Magic

The name of this blog reminds me of my Regency-writing days: I wrote one titled Mayhem and Miranda (actually, my editor came up with that title as I was stumped), and a collection of Regency fairytales is now in ebook form as The Magic of Love (see

Long ago, back in those Regency-writing days, a reporter for the local (Carlsbad, CA) newspaper asked me whether it bothered me to be writing in a genre that didn't normally include graphic sex scenes. I unwisely told him, "No, I'd rather do it than write about it." (Ah, youth!) He put hardly anything I said into the article, but of course that bit went in. Very embarrassing.

Nowadays, I'm more likely to be asked why I write cosies, mysteries without graphic descriptions of violence. It would not, I feel, be appropriate to say, "No, I'd rather do it than write about it."

The truth is, I don't like to read graphic violence, so why should I want to write about it? It's not that I hide my head in the sand—I read the newspaper every morning and that has enough nasty stuff in it without adding fictional nasty stuff to the mix. I get it over with at breakfast so that by lunchtime I've got over it (there's a nice bit of English idiom designed to confuse foreigners: get it over with/get over it). I do most of my fiction reading in the evenings. If I read graphic violence or psychological suspense, I can't sleep.

When I write, what I'm writing stays in my head 24/7. I don't want people I don't like hanging out there, so I write about pleasant people. The main (point-of-view) characters, Daisy and Alec, Eleanor and Megan, are like friends—I hear this from readers, too. Even my villains are rarely downright evil. Those who are, I can cope with as I don't spend much time with them—each is one amongst a whole bunch of innocent suspects, the more the merrier.

Still, there is an essential contradiction between writing about murder and avoiding descriptions of violence. So why write mysteries? For me, it's less about solving a puzzle than delving into motivations and relationships. The mystery part is there to give the story shape.

After all, terrible things happen in real life, but life goes on. As I told my son the first time he went to Europe without me, "Things will go wrong. Just remember that they'll make great stories when you get home." He told me that thought came in useful several times! It's something I learnt from my mother, by example, not precept. For instance, her wonderful story about the time she got food-poisoning in India. The hotel sent for a doctor. He came, he examined, he prescribed, and as he left, he bowed and said, "I will pray for you."

So, Daisy finds a body, she feels sick, she helps (meddles) in the investigation, but when it's all over she still has her family and friends and the book can end on a cheerful note.

Hence the last lines of SHEER FOLLY (the 18th Daisy Dalrymple mystery, just out):

"I'm sure I don't know what the aristocracy are coming to!"

and BLACK SHIP (the 17th, now out in paperback):

"The heck with seltzer!" he said recklessly. "Pour me Champagne!"

Turn out the light and go to sleep with a smile on your lips.

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  1. LOL. Of course that comment would be in the paper. I love it. I also appreciate the leap to the nongraphic violence in your books to you wreaking mayhem and battery on your own...or not. What a great blog. Thank you for perking up my day.

  2. Lovely post, Carola.


  3. INteresting post. I didn't know "cozies" were mysteries "without graphic violence". I thought "cozies" were mysteries that took place in settings where the person who solves the crime/meddles, or whatever, is some kind of small business owner or artisan, and their work setting and the people that go with it, are described. I guess I've learned something. Personally, I don't read "cozies", but I guess a lot of of people like them; there seem to be a good many series, including yours! Someday, though, I might give them a try!
    Anne G

  4. I interrupted my reading of Sheer Folly to do some work and to read the blog.
    While I like mysteries without explicit violence, I can also read some with it if I like the main protagonists. I have to like the detective.
    It is always a pleasure to read Carola's books.

  5. Thanks, Carola. About the only mysteries I read are cozies, and I found myself on the defensive recently at a mystery book club meeting at the local library. One of the other people made a comment about a book moving slowly, and someone else said, in a very argumentative tone, "Oh, it must be a cozy." I really felt sorry for her.

  6. Thanks so much for your insights, Carola. Do you think there could be such a thing as a hard-boiled cosy? A mystery that takes place among nice people but has an edge to it?

  7. Very nice post, Carola. I think a lot of people are confused about what a cozy/cosy is and isn't. A few years ago, when the first of the TV dramatizations of Elizabeth George's books showed up on American public TV, I was aghast to hear Diana Rigg introduce them with the statement that George writes cozies!

    E. George's police procedurals are not cozies. Not all "traditional mysteries" are cozies. And "cozy" is certainly not synonymous with slow and boring! There's a vast audience for every variety of mystery. Write a good book and readers will find it (and recommend it to others). To heck with labels.

  8. Carola,
    I'm so happy you blogged with us today. Your right things will go wrong but the story will always be what is remembered. I love your cozies and Daisy is one of my favorite fictional characters. I'll be reading Sheer Folly soon. I read and enjoyed Black Ship tremendously, as you have a gift of emotionally involving your readers.
    Thank you for sharing Daisy....
    Pamela James

  9. Carola, I fully agree with you. As a cozy reader and writer myself, I read about enough violence in the daily newspaper. I look to books to escape, and the cozy requires a certain suspension of belief. After all, who finds so many bodies in one town other than the cops? In general, a cozy features an amateur sleuth in a confined setting with characters who know each other and most of whom have a motive for murder. These stories focus on relationships rather than forensic details. I like humor in a mystery, too. If I want to read about serious crimes, I'll reach for the newspaper. As you said, I'd rather close the book with a smile on my lips.


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