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The Cozy Manifesto

When you're a writer of any degree, there comes that moment both wonderful and scary when someone askes, "So, what do you write?" If you create, say, cookbooks for cat owners you're free and clear. But, those of us who write horror, murder mysteries, thrillers or even the more intense forms of literary fiction feel the need to blanket our honest answer with assurances that we are not, in fact, psycho weirdos. It usually helps to throw in a joke about hoping no one ever checks your internet search history.

What I usually don't say is that I believe there are subsets of writers even within those genres. Some writers are going solely for the thrill. Some of us are wrestling with questions of morality and justice. Some of us are trying to speak for victims of violence in our own small way. Some of us, a la Lovecraft, are working out personal fears. For me, no matter how violent or tragic my stories get, I still feel within them an armature of ethical principles. I'm not alone in this, of course. One of the surest places to see the Bad Guy/Gal get eaten by the dinosaur first is in a good thriller. I'll be talking about all this more in later posts. For now, I'd like to share something that I keep handy. Even when the story I'm writing isn't particularly cozy, my world view is and this passage encourages me when I think I'm too much of a square to be doing this job. Like many survivors of violence, I know firsthand that resilience in the face of injustice is serious business, and cynicism is a dangerous lie.

The passage below is from one of the Murder She Wrote movies, "A Story to Die For," produced in 2000 after the television series ended in 1996. It was written by J. Michael Straczynski, aka. the Babylon 5 guy. He's written for all the genres over the years and in several different media. (I especially recommend his Twilight Zone comics.) I'll spare you spoilers, but at the end of the film, Jessica Fletcher has, of course, solved the crime, but this time it's personal. It hurts. In this speech, given in the film to a bunch of writers at a conference, she and Straczynski are addressing the cozy audience along with the fictional one. Here, not only does Straczynski examine and defend the oft-maligned cozy genre, he and the hurting Jessica also offer some comfort for those of us drawn to mysteries because we need to hope that justice, sometimes, really happens.

Popular culture notwithstanding, there is such a thing as right and wrong. The taking of a human life for any reason is wrong. You can never nudge the moral compass far from its true north without losing something vital. A compass is essential for everyone, writers in particular. It's important to me to pursue those who cross the line and take another human life. In my investigating murders I have seen some terrible things. So many of them it would take the wind out of anybody's sails. But, because I am a romantic, I still believe that we have the potential to be nobler than we know and better than we think. That the darkness I've seen is only a shadow on the potential of the human heart. So, I urge you to keep your heart's compass on the true north of your dreams. Be free to be romantics, to reject cynicism, to believe that good will prevail and that those who do wrong will be punished, because when the hour of the wolf comes, as it comes to all of us, sooner or later, those are the things that sustain us.


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