by Terry Ambrose
It was thirty years ago when I decided to write a book. Not just any book but a mystery. With an antagonist who died on the first page. Yes, I know. Getting rid of the bad guy immediately might have been a teensy bit shortsighted. But it was a revenge book. And sadly, it wasn’t very good. It seems so long ago— Oh wait; it was. Three decades. And more than a million words.
Most of those words were written in the mystery genre. But along the way I did make a few other feeble attempts. My foray into sci-fi was a no go. Actually, it was more like an “Oh, God, that’s even worse than the trunk novel. Put them both in the same suitcase and burn it.”
Thrillers? I can’t bring myself to write dark enough. My bad guys always turned out to be more klutz than killer. And while I’m certainly no prude and have uttered my fair share of expletives, I eventually discovered I preferred the challenge of writing clean over graphic. When I say clean, I don’t mean creating euphemisms for the Naughty List words. Let’s face it. How many people actually say “fiddlesticks” when they’re infuriated? They might have done that in Wisconsin—a hundred years ago—but not in California. Probably not even a hundred years ago. To be truthful, I had no idea how many times I used the word “damn” until I sent a book to a rating organization.
“It’s a clean book,” I told them. “Not much swearing. No graphic violence. No sex.” In one of life’s big aha moments, they came back and gave me a count of the number of times my characters said a few swear words. Seriously? Who counts those? There were something like eight million instances in the book. Well, it wasn’t eight million, but it felt like it.
I had no idea my characters had such potty mouths.
The transformation to cozies
I considered that rating organization’s analysis something of a challenge, so my writing underwent some tweaking. For the record, I’ve never used The Word. You know, the dreaded four-letter word that begins with the sixth letter of the alphabet. I’m sure you know which one it is. Oh yeah, you do.
The main reason for the tweaks wasn’t because of the market though. It was because I liked the challenge. It eventually led me to a point where I decided it was time to write a new series—a truly cozy mystery. Enter Seaside Cove. It’s a quaint little town on the California coast. There are only a few hundred permanent residents. Rumors of a sunken Spanish galleon abound. And the lure of sunken treasure brings a steady flow of outsiders. The locals love to stoke the fires of treasure-hunting fever because it’s good for business. The visitors show up eager to find riches beyond belief. And the town council? Well, they love the additional tax revenues from all those out-of-towners. What they don’t like, of course, are all the murders.
The dichotomy of cozy mysteries baffles me at times. Genre readers want the laid-back vibe of a small town. Quaint shops. Quirky characters. Oh, the perfect, picturesque place to live—except that people die there.
How can readers love all that cutesy quaintness even as they’re relishing the thought of a bloodthirsty killer on the loose? Especially when the killer is being tracked down by an amateur. Someone who has no skills, no training. And no weapon. Unless you count a pastry cutter—then it’s a totally fair fight. Despite this dichotomy, the genre works because we love the thrill of the hunt. Everyone wants to think the heroine can pit her dough hook against the bad guy’s semiautomatic handgun and still win. In real life, we know such a story would normally result in disaster. But isn’t that why we like this genre? To escape the real world and enter a place where good always triumphs? That’s cute and fun? Where the people are just a little odd? Yes, a quaint, cozy town like Seaside Cove—where murder meets the sea.
To Rick Atwood’s dismay, the police find a body on the beach near his Seaside Cove B&B. The dead woman held a pottery shard from an ancient rice bowl, which the cops believe is a clue to her murder. The chief suspect is Flynn O’Connor, a female archaeologist known for her hatred of treasure thieves. Trouble is, Rick’s daughter Alex sees Flynn as a role model and will not believe her friend is a killer. Alex pressures her dad as only a ten-year-old can to prove Flynn is innocent. The mayor is also making demands—for Rick to stay out of the investigation. With his daughter and the mayor at odds, Rick sees trouble brewing. He knows too well how much Alex loves sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Especially when there’s murder involved.
Terry Ambrose is a former skip tracer who only stole cars when it was legal. He’s long since turned his talents to writing mysteries and thrillers. Several of his books have been award finalists and in 2014 his thriller, “Con Game,” won the San Diego Book Awards for Best Action-Thriller. He’s currently working on the Seaside Cove Bed & Breakfast Mystery series.