Some Tools for Putting Humor Into a Cozy

Sally Carpenter 2Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif

She has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school, her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

The Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series is comprised of: The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel; The Sinister Sitcom Caper and The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper.

Her short stories are: “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in,” in the 2013 anthology Last Exit to Murder; “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” in the Plan B: Omnibus anthology; and “The Pie-eyed Spy” in the Nov. 23, 2013, issue of Kings River Life ezine.

She blogs at

She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. Contact her at Facebook or


Recently I’ve read a number of posts on various blogs about using humor in writing mysteries. Describing what makes something funny is as difficult as explaining why water is wet. But here are my thoughts.

Cozies tend to use more humor than thrillers, noir and hard-boiled fiction. The latter three are more focused on maintaining suspense and in presenting a darker side of humanity. Cozies are as interested in character and in family/community life as in solving a mystery. By their nature, cozies are more suitable vehicles in examining the foibles and silliness of human nature.

Cozy humor is generally not comprised of jokes but is subtle and situation-based. In fact, cozies are the “sitcoms “ of the mystery world. It’s true. The structure and humor of a cozy/traditional mystery is similar to that of a sitcom in that it’s situation- and character-based.

In a sitcom, the story is set in a specific community/home life with a cast of colorful, likeable characters who find their world disrupted by a new situation each week (or in the case of cozy, a murder). The story ends when order is restored and the characters return to their normal routines. Classic TV sitcoms are good reference guides for building cozy characters.

Some cozies use slapstick, an exaggerated form of humor that’s difficult to write, as it’s more visual than verbal. Some writers can do this well, although an overuse can turn the story into a farce. Think of slapstick as seasoning; use a pinch and not a whole cup.

One trademark of cozies is the verbal banter, often between a female protagonist and a male cop/love interest. Witty insults work. As an example, Shakespeare’s romances are a classic form of lovers teasing and taunting each other.

Here are more tips of injecting humor into a cozy:

1) Eccentric protagonist. Columbo, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are just a few of the oddball sleuths who have captivated mystery lovers. In developing such a character an author must remember that despite all of his/her quirks, the sleuth must still be sharp enough to solve the case and not a scatterbrain.

2) Fish out of water. Place the sleuth in a setting that’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar. The urban debutante spends a week working on her uncle’s pig farm. The boozy playboy is on a bus full of Sunday School teachers. The science nerd is trapped in a room full of jocks. Make the protagonist squirm.

3) Sidekicks. Comedy teams of Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Martin and Lewis, and George and Gracie Burns, and “buddy” movies like “Beverly Hills Cop”—humor often comes in pairs. In comedy, opposites attract. Put two polar-opposite people together and watch the fun fly.

4) Ensemble. If two are funny, then three or more are a merry crowd. Have a sleuth work with several friends or acquaintances to solve the crime. Have multiple characters sharing ideas, chasing clues together and individually, and butting heads.

5) Eye of the storm. The normal, sensible protagonist is surrounded by a goofy array of supporting characters and suspects. The heroine is trying to keep her wits while handling the nuttiness going on around her.

6) Wacky relations. Similar to no. 5, one family member is dealing with a crazy clan. Unfortunately, this scenario has become an overused cozy cliché. Authors should remember, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That is, a person raised by zany people will have to work hard to break away from those tendencies and will probably still express some of those characteristics.

The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper7) Fun setting. In my WIP, the murder originally took place in an office building. The story seemed forced; I wasn’t enjoying it. So I moved the murder to an old art deco theater with a four-manual Wurlitzer stage organ. Voila! My muse perked up.

Put your sleuth in an unusual locale. How about a murder in an amusement park, county fair, Renaissance festival, candy factory, magic store, ice cream parlor or at a championship cat show?

Two more things to keep in mind. Even in a funny story, characters must be realistic, fleshed out, three-dimensional people. Stereotypes and stock comedy characters should be used sparingly if at all.

And also, there’s nothing funny in the act of murder itself. Treat the body with respect, even if the victim was a jerk. Characters should react with sensitivity and compassion to the victim’s family, unless a character is suppose to be an absolute cad.

Happy writing!

Book Review: Revolution by Deborah Wiles

The Sixties Trilogy #2
Deborah Wiles
Scholastic Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-10607-8

This book is imperative. I implore teachers, librarians, book sellers and book reviewers: please do not let this rest on a shelf. The time is now.

Revolution is fiction because our plucky, strident narrator Sunny and her family are fictitious. The history shared; sadly, is not. A devastating, despicable, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning account of the incomprehensible influence of a few small-minded, hate-filled, yet surprisingly powerful, white men throwing their weight around to stop any and all strides towards race equality is all too true. Ms. Wiles unravels the tragedies with honesty, raw emotion and kindness and hope. She masterfully represents two dramatically different views while, most importantly, centering on the third view.

Having a twelve-year old girl, adjusting to life with her cherished father and new step-family, a rarity itself in Mississippi in 1964, Ms. Wiles simultaneously opens the reader’s mind. Sunny is smart, and like so many of us at that age, she has the world figured out. As the daughter of a store-keep that has always catered to both Negro and White clientele, she fancies herself as a modern-day thinker.

As her small town fills with volunteers to assist Black Voter Registration for Freedom Day, Sunny learns that there is much more to the individuals that make up her family and community. From her vantage point, being somewhat removed, she is able to see the whole picture and in doing so, is forced to reevaluate her own opinion. Further, she learns that she has the option to make a difference and possibly influence others. Few things move me more than passion for what is right, and this fiery little girl is filled.

Adding this engrossing, motivating read are pictures straight out of Mississippi. If Ms. Wiles’ prose doesn’t jar the reader, I assure you these photographs deliver the punch. History, accompanied by humanity, is so very important for growth and development and it is somewhat disappointing to me that so many of the facets of this time were glaringly omitted from my text-books. Muhammad Ali’s role in the Civil Rights Movement is a bit awe-inspiring and quite frankly, explanatory. If ever there was a tome to whole-heartedly support for required reading, it is Revolution. Being appropriate for Middle-Grade readers in no way excludes High School Students/Young Adults or Not-So-Young Adults like me. I genuinely believe that most readers will learn something new, and I’m confident that, regardless of the reader’s age, emotions will be stirred.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2014.

Book Reviews: Inspector Specter by E.J. Copperman and The Accident by Chris Pavone

Inspector SpecterInspector Specter
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #6
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the newest Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father. It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts. She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’  As the book begins, her paying guests number six (delightfully including Joe Guglielmelli and Bonnie Claeson, real-life former owners of the sorely-missed Black Orchid Books in Manhattan).

Allison is asked by Det. Lt. Anita McElone of the Harbor Haven Police Department to look into the death of Martin Ferry, McElone’s ex-partner in the Seaside Heights Police Dept., which those cops had labeled death caused by accidental discharge of his gun, but which she thinks is murder. Alison’s ability to conduct a proper investigation is hampered a bit by the fact that she has to baby-sit the eleventh-month-old son of her best friend, Jeannie, but with help from her ghostly assistants, she proceeds. There are disturbing hints that the detective may not have been completely honest.

Of her parents, Allison says “They have a great marriage, despite her being widowed.”  Of her father particularly:  “he almost never turns down a request I make (and never turns down a request Melissa makes; it’s like he was born to be a grandfather and, thanks to the miracle of ghost technology, is finally getting the chance to fulfill his true destiny.)”

The writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.

My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.


The AccidentThe Accident
Chris Pavone
Broadway Books, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-34847-8
Trade Paperback

The Accident is, nominally, about a manuscript which bears that title, the author shown as “Anonymous.”  It is a memoir (perhaps), an expose or unauthorized biography (possibly), of an international media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch), with some little-known (or until now unknown) and potentially ruinous events in his past, most shockingly the one which gives the book its title, the person who wrote it identified only as “the author.”  But more importantly, the novel, written with a sly humor, provides an inside look at the publishing industry, in ever greater danger of extinction, that is as fascinating (in a schadenfreude kind of way) as that ostensible main story line. We are told the “the publishing business is a business, and books are published for an audience to buy from bookstores, who buy units from distributors who order cartons from publishers who acquire titles from literary agencies who sign up careers from authors, money changing hands at every transaction.”

The book opens with the surveillance of a woman, as yet unnamed, by a man watching a live video feed as she lies in bed, reading, typical of the espionage, literal and figurative, found here.

The manuscript, hand-delivered to the office of Isabel Reed, a powerful literary agent in New York, is full of shocking revelations implicating, e.g., various American presidents and CIA directors, and is, almost literally, dynamite, putting those few individuals who are privy to its contents in mortal danger. On the other hand, each of those individuals, initially at least, see in it their salvation. Written from their various points of view, the novel takes the reader from New York to Zurich, Copenhagen and Los Angeles, all of it taking place in a single day, and exposes the staggering machinations which routinely abound in the publishing industry. The reader is treated to brief excerpts from the manuscript, interspersed periodically, as it is read by the players in that select group.

With wonderfully well-drawn characters, this is a terrific read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Finishing—and a Giveaway!

Kathleen Delaney with BooksKathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with her thoughts on why authors—and the rest of us—accomplish things by simply finishing.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in a new series, will be out in August 2015.

Last night I watched the movie, Julia and Julie, not for the first time. The movie is charming, full of good food, wonderful depiction of Julia Childs, one of my heroes, pictures of life in Paris, and a lot about how exacting the art of fine cooking can be. However, I was struck by something else. The movie is first and foremost about the importance of finishing. Something. Anything.

Perhaps it resonated so much this time because I’m immersed in trying to finish the second book in the Mary McGill canine mystery series, Curtains for Miss Plym. I have a deadline and am determined to make it, but for some reason working out the snags in this book hasn’t been easy. When Julie’s aspic collapsed in the sink she had all of my sympathy. She had a deadline as well, and she also was determined to meet it. She was going to finish, and she did.

Julia Childs and her co-authors were equally determined to finish. Their project was formidable but they worked through it, pared it down, rewrote, kept submitting, and finished. And what a finish! I’m sure I’m not the only one who still pulls her battered addition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the book shelf Murder Half Bakedwhen she decides to make onion soup, quiche, perfectly done roast chicken, and so on. She taught us how to cook, and how to eat. The world is a better place because Julia Child finished her cookbook.

Which, of course, made me think of all the people who have also changed the way we live because they finished something. Marie Curie’s research on radiation and plutonium, what it is and how it works, laid the groundwork for a myriad of things, radiation for breast cancer, the atom bomb among them, all because she finished the task she set herself.

Dr. Jonas Salk found a vaccine that whipped out polio and why? Because he wasn’t going to quit until he did. He was determined to finish.

Some people’s inventions were not quite as dramatic but equally effective. Thomas Crapper invented the water closet, better known as the flush toilet. I don’t think I need to explain how that’s changed the world.

Finishing isn’t just about great cooking or inventions, no matter how practical, but about everyday living. For children, finishing homework can win them great praise and great grades, not finishing can win them the opposite outcome. Finishing fixing dinner can sometimes be a huge accomplishment for a harassed mom of young children, just as finishing your project at work can be. Finishing a workout you didn’t want to do but did anyway can be agonizing, but also satisfying. You finished what you started out to do. The list goes on.

It’s no different for a writer. We sit down to the computer (it used to be we sat down to a typewriter with a pile of carbon paper and a bottle of white out but some nice person invented the computer, equipped it with a delete key and changed our lives) and we look at the blank screen with the serene expectation that we are about to produce the great American Novel. About page 3 we’re not so sure and about the time we get to Purebred Deadpage 172, we’re positive that we’ll never finish. But…we keep going. We keep going, deleting, inserting, while those little beads of blood do pop out on our foreheads. And…one day, lo and behold, we’ve FINISHED. We have a book.

Can you even begin to think how bleak life would be if some of those people had given up around page 172? If Harper Lee hadn’t finished To Kill a Mockingbird? I hear there were many times she thought she couldn’t go on. Or if Margaret Mitchell had thrown her pages against the wall and taken up golf? Or if Raymond Chandler hadn’t introduced us to Philip Marlowe? I could go on and on, but won’t. You can build your own list of authors to whom you are grateful because they didn’t quit. They finished and our lives are richer because they did.

As for me, I’m going back to try to figure out who killed Miss Plym and why and, if you read it or the first in the Mary McGill canine mystery series, Purebred Dead, I hope it will make your life a little richer, or at least a little more enjoyable if only for a few hours.

Because, I am going to finish.


To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Murder Half-Baked by Kathleen Delaney, leave
a comment below with the name of your favorite
recipe or celebrity chef. The winning name
will be drawn Friday evening, March 27th.
This drawing is open to residents of the US.

Cover Reveal: The Body Institute by Carol Riggs


The Body Institute


Title: The Body Institute
Author: Carol Riggs
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult



Meet Morgan Dey, one of the top teen Reducers at The Body Institute.

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Morgan can temporarily take over
another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body—
leaving her client slimmer, more toned, and feeling great.
Only there are a few catches…

For one, Morgan won’t remember what happens in her “Loaner” body.
Once she’s done, she won’t recall walks with her new friend Matt,
conversations with the super-cute Reducer she’s been text-flirting with,
or the uneasy feeling she has that the director of The Body Institute is
hiding something. Still, it’s all worth it in the name
of science. Until the glitches start…

Suddenly, residual memories from her Loaner are cropping up in
Morgan’s mind. She’s feeling less like herself and more like someone
else. And when protests from an anti–Body Institute organization
threaten her safety, she’ll have to decide if being a
Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul…



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About the Author

Carol RiggsI’m a YA writer represented by Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary. My sci-fi novel THE BODY INSTITUTE explores the themes of society, identity, and body image. I live in the beautiful, green state of Oregon and have a Studio Arts degree; I’m an SCBWI member.

You’ll usually find me in my writing cave, surrounded by my dragon collection and the characters in my head. I also enjoy reading–mostly young adult novels–as well as drawing, painting, and quilting. I also attend writing conferences, walk with my husband, and enjoy music and dance of all kinds.

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Book Review: Breath of Scandal by Sandra Brown

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Title: Breath of Scandal
Author: Sandra Brown
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 26, 2013 (ebook)
Genres: Mystery, Suspense, Romance



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Breath of ScandalBreath of Scandal
Sandra Brown
Grand Central Publishing, February 2013
ISBN 9781455546268

From the publisher—

On a rainy Southern night, Jade Sperry endured a young woman’s worst nightmare at the hands of three local hell-raisers. Robbed of her youthful ideals and at the center of scandal and tragedy, Jade ran as far and as fast as she could. But she never forgot the sleepy “company town” where every man, woman, and child was dependent on one wealthy family. And she never forgot their spoiled son, who with his two friends changed her life forever. Someday, somehow, she’d return . . . exacting a just revenge, freeing herself from her enemies’ grasp, and, perhaps, fulfilling a lost promise of love.

Revenge is the driving force in Breath of Scandal but the core of the story really is the obsession that grows within a damaged girl, obsession that can only be soothed by Jade seeing her enemy brought to his knees at her hands, even if it’s not a physical payback. In fact, payback is the end goal for everything that Jade does in the years following the terrible event in her youth.

Sandra Brown is a pro at this kind of suspense but I did think this one fell just a little short, mainly because obsession itself can become tiresome at times. I also felt the romance with Dillon, although a nice foil to the insecurities in Jade’s personality, led to scenes that are more graphic than suits my taste (but that’s strictly a personal thing and I’m quite sure others will relish this relationship).

Longtime readers of Ms. Brown’s books should take note that, while this ebook was released in 2013, it is not a new book. The original edition came out in 1991 and I think this is why I didn’t feel this one quite came up to snuff; her later books are much better written, as they should be. Still, I’ve read a number of other books by Ms. Brown and will continue to do so despite not being entirely enthralled this time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

About the Author

Sandra BrownSandra Brown is the author of more than sixty New York Times bestsellers, including DEADLINE(2013), LOW PRESSURE (2012), LETHAL (2011), TOUGH CUSTOMER (2010), SMASH CUT (2009), SMOKE SCREEN (2008), PLAY DIRTY (2007), RICOCHET (2006), CHILL FACTOR (2005), WHITE HOT (2004), & HELLO, DARKNESS (2003).

Brown began her writing career in 1981 and since then has published over seventy novels, bringing the number of copies of her books in print worldwide to upwards of eighty million. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages.

A lifelong Texan, Sandra Brown was born in Waco, grew up in Fort Worth and attended Texas Christian University, majoring in English. Before embarking on her writing career, she worked as a model at the Dallas Apparel Mart, and in television, including weathercasting for WFAA-TV in Dallas, and feature reporting on the nationally syndicated program “PM Magazine.”

In 2009 Brown detoured from her thrillers to write RAINWATER, a much acclaimed, powerfully moving story about honor and sacrifice during the Great Depression.

Brown recently was given an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Texas Christian University. She was named Thriller Master for 2008, the top award given by the International Thriller Writer’s Association. Other awards and commendations include the 2007 Texas Medal of Arts Award for Literature and the Romance Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Book Review: Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

Doctor DeathDoctor Death
A Madeleine Karno Mystery
Lene Kaaberbøl
Atria Books, February 2015
ISBN 978-1-4767-3138-4

From the publisher—

Strong-minded and ambitious, Madeleine Karno is eager to shatter the constraints of her provincial French upbringing. She wants to become a pathologist like her father, whose assistant she is, but this is 1894, and autopsies are considered unseemly and ungodly, even when performed by a man—hence his odious nickname, Doctor Death. That a young woman should wish to spend her time dissecting corpses is too scandalous for words.

Thus, when seventeen-year-old Cecile Montaine is found dead in the snowy streets of Varbourg, her family will not permit a full post-mortem autopsy, and Madeleine and her father are left with a single mysterious clue: in the dead girl’s nostrils they find a type of parasite normally seen only in dogs. Soon after, the priest who held vigil by the dead girl’s corpse is brutally murdered. The thread that connects these two events is a tangled one, and as the death toll mounts, Madeleine must seek knowledge in odd places: behind convent walls, in secret diaries, and in the yellow stare of an aging wolf.

Generally speaking, I’m not really a fan of the Scandinavian mysteries, mainly because they tend to be darker than I like. With Doctor Death, Lene Kaaberbøl has made me re-think my position. There’s something about this one that just doesn’t have that slightly dismal feel and it doesn’t hurt that I fell in booklove with Maddie. Here is a young woman who’s determined to follow her dream to be a pathologist despite 1894 society’s unwillingness to expose a lady to such horrors. Not only is she a brave young lady, unafraid of the restrictions placed on females, but she has a wonderful father who supports her ambitions, albeit reluctantly, and enlists her peripheral assistance with his autopsies. Add to that the very likeable Commissioner who feels right at home with Doctor Karno and his unusual daughter and you have a sleuthing triumvirate that is hard to beat.

In the case of the young girl’s death, their sleuthing is all that might lead to a solution to  whatever it is that’s going on; without an autopsy, refused by the family, the cause of death must be deemed natural so the police are not interested in investigating. It’s up to these three to pose the necessary questions and search for the answers that will tie these deaths together and, at the same time, prevent an epidemic of respiratory disease. Maddie’s own irrepressible thirst for knowledge and the truth pulled me right along with her.

Oddities abound, such as an attack on a hearse, the discovery of an unknown and very deadly mite residing in the first victim’s nostrils, the haunting description of a mourning photograph, and the elderly wolf that lives in a convent. It is these little details that make this story seem so fresh and kept my interest at a high level, beyond my usual engagement with a very good mystery.

Now that I look back on it, I think it’s the characters, particularly Maddie, her father and the Commissioner, who drew me into this Scandinavian mystery kicking and screaming. The big difference is these people are really interesting and they all have a positive outlook in the face of death. I like them very much and am already wishing for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.