Local Author Gets Cozy with Mystery Genre
By day, Wendy Watson teaches political science as a senior lecturer at UNT. However, she’s also a published writer of "cozy mystery" novels under her full name, Wendy Lyn Watson. Having written two different series of books — Mysteries à la Mode and Pet Boutique Mysteries — Watson always thought she would write fiction. With a number of creative writing classes under her belt from high school and college, it wasn’t until she passed by the Loft Literary Center on a cold day in Minneapolis that a unique opportunity presented itself.
"I seriously stopped in because it was freezing cold because it was Minneapolis and they had coffee. So I went inside, and they had classes, creative writing classes. I was like, 'Oh that’s cool,'" Watson explained. “I decided to take a genre fiction class. And I started writing this story in this class and I was just completely taken by it and I kept going and I kind of never looked back.”
Her first novel was a romance novel, stemming from her extensive reading of historical romance. From there, she became involved in Romance Writers of America, a writing group which provided valuable feedback on the editing and publishing processes. From this group, she found an agent willing to send her novel to editors, a story which fell under the genre of "chick lit."
“Chick lit was the sort of genre that Bridget Jones's Diary spawned. I didn’t really mean to write chick lit — it’s just sort of naturally the way that I write. It’s kind of my voice. That’s what my agent loved and she accepted it and we shopped it around and nobody would take it. All the editors were like, ‘We love it but chick lit is dead. We just can’t sell it,'" Watson said.
Having hit a wall in the publishing process, her agent suggested writing under a similar genre: cozy mysteries. Cozy mysteries are, as Watson described, a specific type of light, tame, PG-13 mystery. These types of novels exclude gore, sex, and (typically) swearing. Although they’re considered light in tone, they do have a distinct sense of humor.
After reading some novels from this genre sent to her by her editor, Watson began her own series conforming to the genre. This endeavor into the mystery genre turned out to be quite fitting for Watson.
“Even when I wrote that first romance, there was a dead body in that. And when I wrote chick lit, there was a dead body in that. I really like to have dead bodies in my books. I don’t know why, but I like that conflict,” she added.
Watson’s first series, Mysteries à la Mode, is set in a small Texas town not unlike Denton. She ended the series after the third book, until a local publisher, Henry Press, picked the story up for re-release. The à la Mode series will include three more books, with the fourth one slated for publication in October (possibly later). The novels include a wide cast of characters that the author describes as "quirky." Watson also explained that cozy mysteries generally include some sort of gimmick that easily ties the story together — e.g., knitting or pets. Watson's gimmick of choice stemmed from her passion for ice cream.
“The main character, Tally Jones, runs an ice cream shop in a little town in Texas. People seem to drop dead all around her, and she solves mysteries as a result. The ice cream was really important to me. That’s sort of the hook that ties the story together. All of the books have some sort of recipe in them that relate to ice cream.”
Part of Watson’s extensive research during the writing process included learning about the various types of ice cream.
“Tally’s ice cream is French pot ice cream, which can only be done in very small batches. It’s a very specific way of making ice cream. It’s incredibly dense and it has a low air content so it’s really dense and creamy,” Watson said.
When asked about her writing process, Watson described herself as a plotter. She usually creates a rough plot for the entire book and then plots out a few chapters at a time with great attention to detail. She doesn’t prescribe to the idea that “characters just do what they want to do.”
“Characters are products of my brain, so I control them. I know that sometimes I will have ideas that I didn’t think I would have. But I always know that they’re my ideas. I’m a plotter and I like to feel like I’m very much in control of what I’m doing,” she noted.
While some authors dread the editing process, Watson feels quite the opposite. When writing her novels, Watson describes the undertaking as being in a "weird isolation chamber" where she isn’t sure whether her writing is good or not. She perceives the editing process as painless and even helpful to gaining a sense of direction.
Watson explained: “In my experience the editing process is relatively painless. The edit that I most often have is I tend to write very brief. So the editing challenge I most often have is 'make it longer, we need to get your word count up,' and that can be a challenge. Usually my edits are not terribly complex. It’s usually, 'Make her a little softer here. Maybe up the tension there.' It’s never anything massive. It’s actually usually very comforting. And then you have this sense where you’re done, ‘Okay, now this is good.’ It’s when the writing process becomes collaborative and that’s a relief.”
Watson offered various pointers for aspiring authors who desire to take the traditional publishing route. A key point she emphasized is finding an agent who can polish a manuscript before submitting it to an editor. In order to push your toe into the door, she said the best method of finding the right agent is to follow them on social media and read their blogs to know exactly what they’re looking for. She emphasized strongly the importance of strictly following the submission guidelines for agents.
“Edit your own work. Have other people edit it. Edit that query letter. Have other people edit it. You just want to look as awesome as possible. I know this all sounds really sort of common sense, but you’ll be amazed by what people will submit,” Watson said.
Additionally, Watson encourages writers to find a writers' group within their genre. “If you can join one of these groups, they provide a tremendous support and they often give you access to agents and editors that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Watson summed up her advice in these words:
“My two pieces of advice are ‘don’t go it alone’ and, then, ‘stalk people.’ Gather as much information as you can before you start submitting.”
For more information on Watson’s cozy mystery novels, visit her website.
Images courtesy of Wendy Watson
Header image layout designed by Christopher Rodgers