Today I have two very special guests in one, Heather Shkuratoff and Andrea Taylor, who co-author cozy mysteries under the pen name of Barbara Jean Coast. They work in tandem, like the two characters from their Poppy Cove Mystery series._________________________________
MJN: I know it sounds crazy, but I only recently heard the term "cozy mystery". To me cozy and mystery sounds like a contradiction in terms, like "clean erotica". Tell me about the audience for that type of mystery. Does it differ from the regular mystery readership?
Heather Shkuratoff: Cozy mysteries don't have any gratuitous sex or violence. They are usually character driven and community minded, quite often in series. They tend to have a core group of main characters, and the crime solvers are often people going about their bucolic lives, have known or known of the victims and haphazardly find the clues to solve the crimes. The murders or other crimes are a big part of the story, but not the whole picture. The main crime solvers in the books are not always detectives by trade - the majority have some other passion, career or hobby that they pursue and focus on, and cozies usually describe that aspect of their lives in great detail. They sometimes find themselves in peril as they figure out what happened, but all gets resolved in the end. Cozies serve a unique function. They take readers into darker subjects but return them back to a place and time where the end often justifies the means, and all is well for most of the characters, anyway.
Andrea Taylor: The audience mainly consists of women, but there are a growing number of male readers and writers sharing their take on the genre. The readers are fiercely loyal and quite often express their love of the crime solving heroes or heroines, and really get to know the books and settings in the series. Sometimes they are regular mystery readers, but being that the cozies most likely run in series, they like to follow them in order, and are usually eager for the next story.
MJN: The cover for "Strangled by Silk", as well as the subsequent books, is very playful, yet there is a dark undercurrent. The title is very telling. You know there is going to be a death.
Andrea Taylor: Cozies tend to have a little black humor to them. Most of the titles reflect that sense of ironic humor, with either a play on words to be catchy and in the form of a pun, or some form of melodrama.
MJN: Your Poppy Cove series is set in California during the 1950s. It was a time of social shifts and the dawning of civil rights movement. One of your heroines is divorced - something that was far less common in the 1950s. How does the socio-political scene play into your plot development?
Heather Shkuratoff: It's actually very important in our series. The main characters Daphne and Margot, as well as secondary fellow Santa Lucians will evolve as the times change. For us it was very important to pick that time as the cusp of realization of life isn't all what it seems to be on the surface.
Andrea Taylor: Some of the stories are about the character's pasts, and some are about their futures. We have mapped out plans for our people, as the times move on.
MJN: The two recurring characters in your series are two dress shop owners. It sounds like in your series you have wed your love for mystery with love for fashion. The fashion scene has changed quite a bit in the past 60 years. Are there certain elements you would like to come back?
Heather Shkuratoff: Yes, well made clothes with great construction. There's a few manufacturers out there trying to weed their way through the mass market today, but the average garment was created with much more care then. The fit and swing of well thought out design and construction had so much more elegance than some of what we see today.
Andrea Taylor: Just no girdles, please. We can all agree to evolve past those, can't we?
MJN: If you could magically transport yourself back to 1950s and live as a single independent young woman, would you do that? I'm not talking about a Donna Reed type character, but someone like Daphne or Margot. Would you be willing to give up the technological comforts and the career opportunities of the 21st century?
Andrea Taylor: Sure, I probably would. I do use and enjoy social media, tablets and some gadgets, but sometimes I'd like to give them up and connect with people and things on a more tangible level. My main career opportunities are with writing and people, I could do them then as well as now.
Heather Shkuratoff: I would love to. They had it pretty good in the 50's, and I do feel that I could still be myself in that time. Social media, digital devices are great, but I do still love books, glossy magazines and actually talking face to face with people. I'd still want to write and sewing and designing, well, I'd be right in there like a dirty shirt.