Saturday, February 16, 2013

Urban cozy? Soft-boiled?

by Triss Stein 

Everyone who leaves a comment this weekend will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Brooklyn Bones.

What is an urban cozy?  Does it sound like an oxymoron , like “giant shrimp”?  Walking down the mean streets…of St. Mary Mead?

I thought something was missing in the mystery universe. Stereotyping a bit here, but in general, there are cozies, which take place in villages or suburbs, often with amateur sleuths and a background of ordinary life, the direct descendants of Agatha  Christie. They might be humorous, they might be serious. Then there are hard-boiled mysteries, which take place in gritty urban settings and are the direct descendents of the above quoted Chandler. That landscape does not have a home for characters (or readers!) who live in a big city but are not Philip Marlowe. Or Harry Bosch. Or Matt Scudder. Who do not even know anyone like Matt Scudder. 

That would be me, and my friends and millions  of other readers who live rather ordinary lives but do it in a big (bad?)  city like New York. In fact, I live in Brooklyn, which could be a city all by itself, and would the  4th largest in the US. The life I live and see around me is mostly about work and family and home, local politics, neighborhood issues. School when my children were younger. Health. Doesn’t that sound a lot like small town life or suburban life? And anyone who believes there is not enough drama there to sustain a mystery series is not paying attention.


Personally, I like all kinds  of books. I admire a well-written dark urban crime story, and sometimes I want to read something that is mostly froth, However, what I admire most is in between: a  cozy-style set-up that has some resemblance to real life, real emotions, real conflicts in real settings, however peaceful those settings look from the outside.

In my real life, my first professional job was with the public library system in Brooklyn, They liked to move us around and not being a native New Yorker, I came to each new neighborhood with a clean mental slate. I observed, and what I observed was that they were a lot like small towns.  Each neighborhood had its own atmosphere, history, quirks, and fears.

My question became, could I use that to write mysteries set in city neighborhoods, and half-way between too cozy and too hard-boiled?  A domestic style background that includes real emotions and real conflicts? Why not try? 


And why not start with my own neighborhood, Park Slope, Brooklyn, which has gone through a long cycle of change in the time I have been here?

Meet Erica Donato. She came from the Brooklyn world where people see no reason to go as far as Manhattan more than once a year. Now she lives in a different world,  the gritty end of a gentrified Brooklyn of brownstones and  yuppies. She  is part way to a Ph.D in urban history She is the young single mother of a teen–age daughter whose childhood is much different from Erica’s own. Having made a journey that is short in miles but long in life changes, Erica is a bundle of contradictions.

In Brooklyn Bones, history comes barging into her modern life, when her daughter, helping a contractor in their house, finds a body hidden behind a fireplace. 



Mother and daughter are both haunted by the fact that it was an unknown teen-age girl. Soon, their questions lead back to the ungentrified days, when the neighborhood was in the throes of change and the fabled age of Aquarius was turning very dark. They find interesting characters who hold pieces of that story, and dangerous ones who plan to keep it buried forever.

The next book includes Tiffany windows stolen from a historic  cemetery and all of them will include some historical mysteries mixed up with modern ones. There is no end to Brooklyn’s stories. I even have a section of my web page called Brooklyn Fun Facts. http://trissstein.com/brooklyn-fun-facts/

Maybe I can make this urban cozy idea work. 


Leave a comment this weekend and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Brooklyn Bones. 

Writing is Brooklyn resident Triss Stein’s third career. The first was the job that inspired her new series: children’s librarian in a dozen sharply different Brooklyn communities. The second was in business research, in settings from a major global consulting firm to DC Comics. The author of two previous mystery novels, Triss has also published a number of short stories.

26 comments:

Triss said...

Good morning, everyone. My thanks to Sandy for inviting me join you this weekend. I look forward to your responses. I must leave in the late AM ( NY time)due to a family obligation, but I will be here until then and back in the evening. Please questions and comments and I'll be happy to get back to you then. I'll be here on Sunday, too.

Sheila Connolly said...

Welcome, Triss--the book sounds great! I had the chance to visit Brooklyn for the first time late last year, and stayed with a college classmate who (with great foresight) moved there in the 1970s and never left. I can certainly see the place as a setting for a series. (Of course, since I write one set in Philadelphia, I may be biased, although I can't say I've explored the grittier side of the city in the books.) You're right: neighborhoods exist everywhere, whatever the scale of the setting.

Margaret Mendel said...

How wonderfully told!!! I can see you opening your window, looking down on the street, breathing in the damp morning air and saying, "Now where is that next story?"

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading Brooklyn Bones - and plan to whether I am the lucky winner or not! Triss is so intelligent, but not too lofty - she has a superb command of the English language!!! Thelma in Manhattan

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Welcome to Poe's Deadly Daughters, Triss. Sounds like your book could also be defined as what I call traditional mystery, in direct line of descent from Dorothy L. Sayers (a classy heritage indeed). I'm looking forward to the launch party and the book!

Triss said...

Thanks Liz, Margaret,Thelma and Sheila for the kind and thoughtful comments!

JJM said...

Ultimately, "cozy" is one of those "I know it when I see it" terms. Or read it, in this case.

I think of the gritty main genres of mystery (cozy, traditional, gritty) in terms of how I see myself reading them. Cozies: curled up on the couch, with a cup of tea (or glass of lemonade in hot weather, but always tea if it's raining). Traditional: sitting, feet up, with a glass of wine and a bowl of munchies. Gritty (and this tends to include the police procedurals): sitting, with a tumbler of scotch. Now, I may not actually end up reading these mysteries exactly that way, but it's the sort of mental image each conjures up that I mean.

And you're right, Triss, the location of the action doesn't really matter, it's the general mood the story evokes in the reader -- and there's so much overlap, anyway, that the boundaries are often hard to define.

Katreader said...

I truly believe that you can have an urban cozy. Why not? While I love a small town setting, I enjoy reading about big cities too, and even big cities have smaller neighborhoods! I look forward to reading your series-I love architectural details too!

Liz V. said...

Not an entry. Just a reiteration of best wishes and thanks.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Love urban cozies! Sheila's museum series in Philadelphia, Cleo Coyle's coffee house series in Greenwich Village, Rochelle Staab's Mind for Murder in LA, Laura Childs' New Orleans series. The key is, I think, to find the community within the community and bring it to life. Sounds like you're on your way!

(Not an entry; my TBR stack's too high! Just a comment & a note of congratulations.)

ellie said...

I am a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. i like the gritty and the cozy and the downright fluffy at times. But a good mystery, no matter the setting, is always my favorite. It looks like I'll be adding a new series to my to be read list, whether I win this or not.
Thanks for the giveaway!

Di Eats the Elephant said...

This sounds fabulous, Triss. Can't wait to read it. Love the historical aspect (even if it's only to the 1970s when the Bronx was burning and NYC was not a pretty place to be, unlike today's NYC) and that you're giving readers both NYC and cozy.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

This sounds fabulous, Triss. Can't wait to read it. Love the historical aspect (even if it's only to the 1970s when the Bronx was burning and NYC was not a pretty place to be, unlike today's NYC) and that you're giving readers both NYC and cozy.

Nancy Adams said...

Hi Triss,

This sounds like my kind of mystery, both because it's in between the cozy and the gritty but also because of the urban setting. I took a peek in the front of your book via Amazon, and already I'm hooked.

KarenM said...

I've checked the library system to see if your book will be available, based on the DorothyL comments I've seen. I will get a copy some way, never fear. I love JJM's comments about the different ways to read mysteries. I like humerous mysteries with my scotch! I also agree with Leslie and katreader, I'm from San Francisco, which also has many smaller communities within the larger setting, and I love reading mysteries set in these communities. Best of luck with your book launch.

Dru said...

I'm looking forward to reading Brooklyn Bones and seeing if I can recognize places.

Kathleen Asay said...

Sounds wonderful if you've pulled it off. I will have to read it to find out, and I will!

Sandra Parshall said...

Triss, I haven't read your book yet, although I certainly intend to. But even without having read it, I'm hoping that not too many male readers will be put off by the cozy label. I believe there's a tremendous audience, male and female alike, for solid traditional mysteries -- just plain good stories with engaging characters, without a lot of hype and gimmicks. Labels don't always serve us well, because they may keep away as many readers as they attract. So I'm going to call your book a traditional mystery with an urban setting. :-) That covers a lot of territory.

Triss said...

I am back from my family obligation and checking in . What an unusually thoughtful series of comments. I'm very tickled by JJM's matching of drinks to genres. And a few of you recognized this general idea applies to other cities too. Of course it does. Probably most cities are collections of neighborhoods. I just think it would be interesting to see more varied ones used as mystery backgrounds. Di, the history in the next one goes back a lot further than the 1970's. I mentioned Tiffany windows and Green-Wood Cemetery, but there is also a charming ( I hope!) turn of the last century puzzle to solve. The one after that probably will include historical gangs (hint - not Mafia) and modern ones.I have this idea...and I used to work in this neighborhood....

Judith Mehl said...

Triss, what a fabulous idea--opening the cozy to a wider interpretation. When I look out my character's back door, into the Pocono Mountains, I see what is real life all about me. Why shouldn't your characters do the same, and even though it's within a city, it's the immediate atmosphere that counts.

Bernadette said...

Triss, I love the photos. You make me long to move to Brooklyn . . . since I can't do that, I'll do the next best thing and read your books!

Pinkim Kimberly Wright said...

Wow! I can't wait to read this one! I hope I am chosen...Thanks for writing it:)

Harbingerdc said...

I'm looking forward to reading Brooklyn Bones.

Triss said...

Hi, Bernadette: Well, I hope you get to visit Brooklyn sometime. Some of it is quite lovely - some much less so. I started this book long before Brooklyn came to be considered a "destination", let alone a cool one,but that's part of the city story- always changing.
Thanks for commenting.
Triss

Triss said...

Hi, Judith; Thank you for the insightful response. You really got it. Best, Triss

Triss said...

I hope Brooklyn Bones lives up to your expectations, and I certainly appreciate the encouraging comments! Thanks to everyone for writing.