Cozy mysteries are in a class by themselves. They feature murders, but not usually gruesome ones, and sometimes a bit of romance, but they aren’t dark and steamy like romantic suspense novels. The titles are often corny, the mysteries traditional puzzlers, and many cozy novels come with extras, like craft projects or recipes. Or, in the case of Betty Hechtman‘s mysteries, craft projects AND recipes. Since I’m both nosy and a mystery fan, I asked Betty how she manages to tie all the threads together, weaving a plot that has a craft project at its core. Please welcome Betty – this is her first post for Romance University. Scroll down for details of Betty’s paperback giveaway!
You might not know this, but when you write a cozy mystery, you really have to create a multitude of stories. The first one is what really happened. In other words, who the killer is, how they did it and why they did it. It is also a good idea to include the flaw that gets him or her caught in the end. This story is told in order and not necessarily very interesting. It doesn’t really matter that the story is pretty much and then the killer did this and then they did that because the reader never sees that story. It is purely for the writer.
The story the reader gets has a lot of layers, though the mystery is the spine. It has a crime, most often a murder, near the beginning and then the clues from the first story are mixed up and dropped throughout it. Some suspects are added and perhaps a red herring while the amateur sleuth puts together the puzzle which in the end reveals the first story.
Both of my sleuths have love triangles going, so I add a romantic layer. I have to figure out what’s going to happen in their relationships and how it is connected to the mystery plot. It is a challenge to keep my sleuths juggling men.
Since I write yarns about yarn – okay I know your rolling your eyes on the corny play on words – I have to come up with a story line that involves yarn craft but is also fits in with the mystery.
How do I do that? I use yarn crafts as a way to bring my characters together. It is common for crocheters and knitters to gather in a group to work on their craft. While their hooks or needles are moving, they are all talking. I know about that first hand as I belong to a group of knitters and crocheters. We have stuck together even after losing the room in a hospital where we met and are now meeting in the food court of creepily deserted mall. If I was solving a mystery, I’m sure they would all want to help.
In the Crochet series, Molly Pink and the Tarzana Hookers have a much better meeting place. They gather in a bookstore that among other things has added a yarn department. Molly is the one who seems to be always tripping over bodies, but the Hookers are her cohorts in finding out what happened. Recently, I started having them meet more often as sort of a happy hour. Other people relax with cocktails – they do it with crochet. Over the series, some of them have been suspects Molly has had to prove innocent, or they have been connected to the victim.
You might wonder how I weave knitting and crocheting through the story. It’s probably best to explain with an example. The Yarn Retreat series is about Casey Feldstein, a dessert chef and muffin baker who inherits her aunt’s yarn retreat business. Casey doesn’t know a knitting needle from a crochet hook at the beginning of the first book. When she puts on her first retreat, one of her charges turns up dead. While Casey figures out who did it, she also learns how to knit an easy scarf.
In SEAMS LIKE MURDER, the latest Crochet mystery, Molly is putting on Yarn University with the help of the Hookers. While they are putting on a practice class for one of their shy members who is to teach a class in making one of her dreamy crochet pieces that resembles an Impressionist painting, they come across a mysterious body.
Each of my books has one or more easy crochet or knitting projects threaded through the story. I include patterns for it at the end. But since my books are meant to be read by non- crafters, too, I keep descriptions of the yarn work non-technical. Though knitting and crochet are not that foreign to most people. We all wear sweaters and a lot of TV sitcoms seem to have granny square afghans hanging on a couch in the background.
In GONE WITH THE WOOL, the most recent Yarn Retreat release, the mystery revolves around the return of monarch butterflies to Cadbury by the Sea, California. It is a made up town, but the monarchs really do come every October to Pacific Grove, California to over winter. The real town does have a celebration, but not nearly as elaborate as my week long one that includes a butterfly queen, butterfly ball, a street fair and a parade. Too bad it has to be marred by a murder.
I came up with the idea of having the yarn retreaters make a cowl on knitting looms.
It worked well with the story as it is easy and quick to make items on the looms and my retreaters were going to be busy with all the monarch activities. You really don’t even have to know how to knit to make the pattern in the book. But I really wanted my characters to make something connected to the monarchs. I thought it best suited to crochet, but figuring out how to create a pattern to crochet a butterfly seemed impossible – at first anyway. Until by chance my lousy housekeeping turned out to be a good thing. A small flower I had crocheted was lying on the floor. Somehow it had gotten folded in half and when I went to pick it up realized it looked kind of like a butterfly. Suddenly it didn’t seem so impossible anymore.
Once I went from there and figured out how to give it a body and antennas and made one in the right colors of yarn, it was a Eureka moment. I could include it in the story and give a pattern for it at the end of the book.
I decided to have my characters go to a local yarn shop where they learned how to crochet a monarch. Of course, they didn’t just go there, something from the mystery plot happened at the same time. The yarn story is always intertwined with the mystery and hopefully never feels forced.
I have been known to have Molly or Casey use a tool of one of the crafts to catch the bad guy, too. Just a hint, those yarn looms I mentioned look kind of like a trap. I have hidden clues in a knitted or crocheted item. I also tout the benefits of knitting and crocheting and have heard from readers who say my books have inspired them to do the crafts.
There is always a lot of food in my books as well. I include recipes, so I do the same thing I do with the knitted and crocheted items – I make them part of the story. In GONE WITH THE WOOL, Casey makes Monarch Muffins as part of the weeklong celebration of the return of the butterflies.
Now if I do it all right, all the pieces come together and the reader gets a well woven mystery with no idea of all the blending of story lines.
Do you like the idea of learning about a craft while you’re reading a novel?
Join us Friday and meet our special guests from Boroughs Publishing Group.
Betty Hechtman writes two national bestselling series for Berkley. GONE WITH THE WOOL is the fourth Yarn Retreat mystery. SEAMS LIKE MURDER is the tenth Crochet mystery. In addition, she is the author of STOLEN TREASURE, A Blue Schwartz Mystery. She has a B.A. in Fine Arts, has written newspaper, magazine pieces, short stories and several scripts. She splits her time between Tarzana and Chicago with yarn stashes in both places.
Website: BettyHechtman.com Facebook: Betty Hechtman (author) Twitter: @BettyHechtman
GIVEAWAY! One lucky commenter will receive paperback copies of Betty’s books, GONE WITH THE WOOL and SEAMS LIKE MURDER. Please note that this contest is restricted to residents of the Continental U.S.
Every October, thousands of monarch butterflies, flock to California’s Monterey Peninsula to spend the winter there. To welcome their colorful guests, Cadbury by the Sea holds a weeklong festival complete with a butterfly queen and her court.
Eager to show some town spirit, Casey Feldstein finds herself fluttering back and forth setting up a yarn retreat, baking and helping out at the festival. But when a former butterfly queen is found dead and a knife in her back after the Blessing of the Butterflies service, Casey must set her loom aside to hook a killer with a score to settle.
- The Practical and the Emotional – Creating a Believable World by Molly MacRae
- Writing Holiday Romance by Nancy Naigle
- Editing: A Matter of Butt in the Chair by Jeffrey Marks
- Come for the Murder, Stay for the Romance by Kathi Daley
- The Good, The Bad, and What No Tells You About Writing Outside the Box by J B Lynn