Friday, October 20, 2017

Writing the Cozy Mystery - Part 2 Definition

by Elva Cobb Martin

In my last blog we defined Mystery and Suspense and reviewed the major differences between Mystery, Suspense and Horror novels. You can find that blog in my archives. Carolina Reckoning by Lisa Carter is a great mystery I enjoyed.

What is a Cozy Mystery? --by Eddie Jones, CEO, Lighthouse Publishers of the Carolinas (LPC):
A cozy mystery features an amateur sleuth solving a murder within the confines of a controlled setting (think train, mansion, small town). Most of the suspects know each other and thus know each other's secrets. This leads to lots of accusations as to whom the killer might be.

Another definition I like is: A cozy mystery is a sub genre of crime fiction that gives readers a chance to delight in vicariously solving a murder--without graphic violence or sex. As a Christian writer this is what makes a cozy mystery my favorite kind of mystery and the kind I will want to write.

Others have said: "Cozies offer readers the kind of escapism that harder-boiled detective stories simply can't deliver."

"The abiding appeal of the cozy owes a lot to our collective memory, true or false, of simpler, sweeter times."

Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers are two cozy authors who have inspired several generations of cozy writers.

According to Brian Klems, Writers' Digest editor, there are four things a writer should know if considering venturing into cozy-mystery writing today:

1) Cozies have evolved since Christie and Sayers in faster pacing and more driving action with a broader range of subject matter.

2) Series are the way to go - virtually all cozies published today are part of a series with recurring characters and may be anchored around a hobby or craft--or even cats like the Lilian Jackson Braun series, which I have also enjoyed on tape as I exercise.

3)  Sales are steady, but moderate.

4) Genre-specific support is available - like Sisters in Crime writing group
( one of the leading networks for mystery authors. It offers
a Guppies program that provides help for new mystery writers.

Who is your favorite cozy author? Please join the conversatoin and share this on your social media by clicking on the small icons below.

Elva Cobb Martin

 Link to all my books on Amazon:  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Writing the Cozy Mystery - Part 1 Mystery, Suspense or Horror?

by Elva Cobb Martin

I've had a cozy mystery novel on the back burner for quite a while and have just decided to pull it up to the front burner. You are invited to trek along with me as I refresh my thinking about mysteries in general and this cozy book idea specifically on my next several blogs. Of course, my cozies will always have a good dose of romance!

To start with I've refreshed my understanding of the difference between Mystery and Suspense novels, and also Horror novels.

Here's a fave mystery writer's definition of Mystery: 
A Mystery is a story that has a crime already committed (preferably violent like a homicide) and the suspect is unknown until the end of the story. Mysteries can be broken down into sub-genres like Hard-Boiled Mystery, Police Procedure, Detective Stories, Cozy Mystery, Legal or Medical Mysteries, etc.

A Suspense novel is where the suspect may be be known to the reader, but the thrust of the story is the protagonist's attempts to catch, stop, or overcome the antagonist before a murder or mayhem can be committed.

Another interesting break down I've seen is the difference between Crime/Mystery, Suspense, and Horror stories relating to four aspects:

1) The Murder 
2) The Secrets 
3)  The Question
4) The Appeal

The Murder:
Crime/Mystery: The body is discovered close to the beginning.
Suspense: We anticipate the murder.
Horror: We see the murder happen in real time.

The Secrets
Crime/Mystery: We know none of the secrets until later.
Suspense: We know half the secrets; the characters know none.
Horror: We know all the secrets.

The Question
Crime/Mystery: Who did this and why?
Suspense: Will the character live or die?
Horror: How and when will the character die?

The Appeal
Crime/Mystery: Intellectual Curiosity.
Suspense: Worry and Concern
Horror: Gut Reaction

So now that I've gotten that review freshened in my mind, I will be ready next time to delve into the specifics of Cozy Mysteries.

Do you like mysteries? Do you  like to read Robert Whitlow's legal thrillers? Many of us call him the Christian version of John Grisham. WHO doesn't like Agatha Christie or Perry Mason, Monk, Colombo, Murdock, or Father Brown?  My husband will watch most of these series with me on TV. There are several good mystery series, but my favorite are cozy mysteries. In my next blog I'll tell you why and define what makes them "cozy."

Would love to hear about your fave mystery writer. And please do share this on your social media by clicking on the small icons below.

Elva Cobb Martin
Link to all my books on Amazon:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Six Things the ProWritingAid Editing Tool Taught Me That Might Help You

by Elva Cobb Martin

I finally bit the nail and bought an editing tool before sending out my latest novel proposal. I checked out several editing tools but ended up buying ProWritingAid for an annual fee of $40.

One of the best things about it is that I could buy the version that integrates with MSWord. ProWritingAid is now right up in my Word top menu bar that I can click on after I pull up any document I want to edit. I can click on "Full Edit" or any of 25 individual edits. You can check out the program and get a sample edit at   And no, I am not receiving any kickbacks!  ( :

Frankly, it's like having a highly skilled editor looking over your shoulder.

Six Edits That Are Making My Manuscripts Shine:

1) Repeated Words  --it's amazing how often I repeated without realizing it.
2) Cliches and Redundancies- - we all have favorites that slip in
3) The Dialogue Tags check - use action beats instead
4) The Sensory Report - helps you write using all five senses
5) The Pacing Check - very good to know if this is going well
6) The Grammar Report - catches everything besides spelling--including two             periods or even an extra space between words that pop up in my writing.

One of the first things I was glad to find out was the Reading Level of my ms.

ProWritingAid does much more--The Writing Style Report (very comprehensive), Thesaurus Check, Diction Report, Vague and Abstract Words Check, the Plagiarism Report, Sentence Length, Transitions, Consistency, and Sticky Sentences full of glue words that can be rewritten for greater clarity.

Needless to say I am happy I now have this "editor over my shoulder" to help hone my writing.

Have you found a great editing tool? Would love to hear from you. And please do share this on your social media by clicking on the small icons below.

Elva Cobb Martin

Friday, September 22, 2017

Planning Your Novel - Part 10 The Fiction Proposal

by Elva Cobb Martin

Have you writen a fiction proposal? It's good to start work on this before you finish your final novel draft. The first place you need to check is the submission guidelines for whatever publisher you're thinking of sending your proposal to. Publishers and agents usually have a proposal form or template on their sites and guidelines to follow. 

I recently sent a proposal out for the new historical series I've showcased in this series of blogs. In my email cover letter I notated the different sections in my attached proposal which included the first three chapters of Book 1, Spanish Rose, all in a single attachment. Here is the list I gave in my email cover letter so the editors could skip to whatever sections they were more interested in.

My Proposal sections include:

1) Working Title and author basic information for Spanish Rose
2) Premise
3) Pitch
4) Back Cover Tag
5) Back Cover Copy
6) Author Bio & Photo
          (all the above is on page 1 for quick perusal)
7) SYNOPSIS (at least one page single-spaced)
8) Web and Social Media Presence (numbers)
9) Marketing Strategies
10) Potential Readers for Spanish Rose/Inspirational Romance             (Primary and Secondary audiences)
11) Market Comparative Analysis
12) Hero/Heroine Character Descriptions and Motivations for                Spanish Rose
13) Projected Book 2 blurb, 1760 Charles Town and the Barbary             Coast
14) Projected Book 3 blurb, 1780 Charleston
15) Spanish Rose, first three chapters

It might not be necessary to include this list in a cover letter, but I decided I would this time. I've always liked numbered lists. This way the editor can quickly check what she might want to look at first.

One point to remember about the synopsis. Unlike back cover copy, this should show the major turning points of the story, the climax, and how the story will end. We never want to leave the editor or agent in suspense about how the story ends. But we will want to do this in the back cover copy to hook readers.

Thanks for stopping by. Do you have a suggestion for a better proposal? What helped you do a successful proposal? Do leave a comment and share this on your social media by clicking the below small boxes.

Elva Cobb Martin

Friday, September 15, 2017

Planning Your Novel - Part 9 Choosing the Best Opening Scene

by Elva Cobb Martin

How are you coming with your dream novel you want to write? I hope this series of blogs describing my journey helps you. We've covered eight other topics you can find in the archives. Today I want to share about what may be the most important scene to plan in your entire novel--that opening scene you hope will hook editors and readers.

I do a lot of thought and planning and getting advice from other writers about my opening scene. Trust me, it gets changed a lot. ( :

Here are the three different opening scenes I polished up over the last months of planning.Can you guess which one I have used in my final work?  Just yesterday I sent my proposal and first three chapters to my agent to send to editors, and breathed a sigh of relief after working all summer on this. Do pray God will divinely connect me to His best choice of editor and publisher for this projected inspirational historical series.

Here are the three opening scenes from which I chose one to send out in my proposal. I am also giving you the premise, pitch and two back cover tags lifted from my proposal to get you into the scene. You can find articles on each of these in my recent archives.

Premise of Spanish Rose
Love, forgiveness, and determination can overcome the most appalling experiences and poor choices when God is invited into the equation.

Pitch: Marisol Valentin flees the murder of a Spanish nobleman who molested her by sailing to the New World only to realize no one but God can turn good out of evil when her exposed past threatens to destroy all her dreams of love and security.

Back Cover Tags:  1) Loving Her Can Wrap the Chains of the Inquisition Around His Neck.  2) Can Love Overcome the Past and Ignite a New Beginning?

Beginning #1

Chapter 1       Charles Town 1740

Cloaked in the early morning shadows of the cemetery, Marisol Valentin watched Captain Ethan Becket place flowers on his wife’s grave. Her heart hammered so hard she feared he might hear. He had left Charles Town as the grieving minister of the small Presbyterian Church and returned as privateer captain of his own ship.

       His bronzed face, thicker arms and chest only hinted at the greater change she sensed beneath his seaman’s demeanor. How had this gentle man
become what many would call a pirate?
Ethan turned and she shrank behind a monument.
“Marisol.” His deep voice rooted her bare feet in the dew-laden grass.
He strode toward her. “I’m glad you followed me. “I have something to tell you.”
Trembling, she looked up into his bearded face and startling grey eyes.
“You must know how much I appreciate your care for  Joshua these past few weeks. A smile tugged at his thin lips beneath his mustache.
She nodded and heat climbed her neck at his closeness. A scent of sea, leather and spice tantalized her senses.
“My parents will be immigrating to Charles Town, along with my Cousin Emma. They will take over Joshua’s care.”
Joshua. His child she’d grown to love. Her heart fell and the blood drained from her cheeks. What was he saying? Was he selling her indenture paper?
He searched her countenance and his forehead furrowed. Then he laid a broad, warm hand on her shoulder. “But in no wise are you to fret about your future, Marisol.” His frown relaxed. “I am going to arrange your freedom from any indentured obligation, and I’ll help return you safely to your home and family. Wherever that is.”
Marisol averted her face and tried to swallow, but her mouth dried up like a potsherd. She could never return home. 

Beginning #2
Chapter 1   Charles Town, 1740  

Hidden deep in the ship's hold, Marisol Valentin rocked her sleeping charge on her lap. If only she could keep her one-year-old Samuel quiet and their presence secret for a few more hours. Once they were well out to sea, surely Captain Becket would not turn back to Charles Town. Would he be furious she’d stowed away and with her son he had adopted?

Reverend Ethan Becket, now Captain Becket of his own ship, a French merchantman. Just thinking her indentured master’s name, not to mention his new status, caused Marisol’s heart to jump in her chest and her breath to catch. But the next moment, moisture gathered in her eyes and her shoulders slumped. Her secret past weighed like a sack of stones on her back.
       Samuel whimpered and awoke. Shaking aside her troubled thoughts, Marisol looked down into the bright eyes of her toddler, his rosy face and dark hair a perfect blend of her English and Spanish heritage. Thank God no resemblance of her attacker showed up in the child's looks. That face she longed to forget.
 “Good morning, little man,” she whispered and kissed him on the cheek. “We’re on an adventure with Captain Becket. You’re on a real ship. Feel the movement? Hear the waves lapping the hull? Isn’t it wonderful? You’ll get to be with your adopted father every day.”

And so will I. But what chance would a soiled piece of goods like her ever have with a man like him?

Beginning #3

Chapter One    Cadiz, Spain, 1740   
Marisol Valentin fought her way to consciousness on the barn floor under her attacker. Managing to free one hand twisted behind her, she wrenched the knife from her boot and thrust it deep into the man arched over her. He uttered a curse, then his eyes glazed over, and he fell forward. She spit out the cravat he’d stuffed in her mouth and pushed his heavy, lifeless form from her. Her hands came back wet and sticky. The acrid odor of blood replaced the sweet scent of hay and horses and her stomach roiled. She groaned and sat up, holding her palms outstretched. She wiped them on her torn skirt and struggled to stand.
 After pulling her clothing together as best she could, she peered at the still form lying beyond her. Diego Vargas, nobleman of Cadiz, would never harm another maiden. But that would not help her now. He had ruined her for life. Tears coursed down her cheeks. Then her lips curled and her fists clenched. He got what he deserved, and she was not sorry. Even if she hanged for it. But la policĂ­a would have to catch her first.  

Marisol pressed her wet face on the neck of her beloved mare and said a hasty goodbye. She stumbled across the dark stable yard, and up the back stairs of the hacienda. Bursting into her bedchamber, she shoved the door closed, and leaned against it.

 “Oh, my lady.” Her maid dropped the gown she was laying out on the bed and hurried to her side. “What has happened?”


Which opening do you like the best?  Thanks for stopping by. Do leave a comment and share on your social media.

Elva Cobb Martin


Friday, September 1, 2017

Planning Your Novel - Part 8 Outlining

by Elva Cobb Martin

Some kind of outline helps keep me on target and is also a great help in writing up the summary or synopsis of a novel. It's kind of like having OnStar or a GPS when traveling.

I am sure there are many ways to outline a novel, but here is what I do.

1) Write the pitch and premise out first. These are the "skeleton's" on which I will plan my scenes and chapters.

2) I keep reminding myself that my outline is very fluid and can be adjusted easily as I write the first draft.

Note: I am saying "outline" but what I'm really doing is listing scenes for each chapter, not doing a formal outline.

As a reminder from my earlier blogs, here is my pitch and premise for Spanish Rose, my historical romance wip.


Love, forgiveness, and determination can overcome the most horrifying experiences and poor choices when God is invited into the equation.

 Draft of my pitch:

Marisol Valentin must flee the murder of a Spanish nobleman who molested her by sailing to the New World only to realize no one but God can turn good out of the evil when her exposed past threatens to destroy all her dreams.

Here is the first chapter "outline" which is really a list of actual scenes I now have in my first draft of Spanish Rose.

Chapter 1

1) Rape/murder scene at Cadiz, Spain, stud farm: Marisol Valentin kills                                nobleman Diego Vargas
2) Marisol’s bedchamber, preparing to flee with maid Carmelo
3) On the road/path fleeing to Cadiz Harbor
4) Kidnapped by King’s men (indentured servant kidnappers) for King’s West                      Indies colonies, put on ship
5) Six weeks aboard and Marisol is throwing up in the chamber pot each                              morning on the Magdalena. 
6) English pirates attack the ship. Marisol given sword to defend herself and the                               other women.  (ENDING HOOK)

             (Carmelo dies of fever on pirate ship but told later as brief back story.)

One thing I always plan is an Ending Hook to all my chapters that will hopefully motivate the reader to keep reading to see what happens next.

I actually wrote 3 different openings scenes for this novel and tried them out on my critique partners at our S.C. Chapter of American Christian Writers. Next time, I may share the first paragraph of each of the three openings and see which you like the most.

Thanks for stopping by. How do you plan your scenes and chapters? Please leave a comment and share on your social media.

Elva Cobb Martin

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Planning Your Novel Part 7 - Secondary Characters

by Elva Cobb Martin

 Villain, Don Rafael Castillo

Next to my hero and heroine, I believe a good villain is very important. I chose this photo of a character who was supposedly the best friend of a hero in a NetFlix series, but really was his worst enemy, doing all sorts of wicked things to discredit and harm the hero and win the heroine for himself. I have this man and photo in mind to draw my villain for my new novel. Remembering this character will help me get my villain right.

 Housekeeper - Mrs. Piper

I needed a wise voice, a dedicated Christian character, who will influence the heroine to turn to God. I chose this photo of the real Mildred Natick who played many secondary roles as a fiesty, stern, capable, big-hearted governess or housekeeper in movies. This woman is helping me draw my Mrs. Piper, the Chrstian housekeeper of my hero in my story who will greatly influence both h/h.

Here are just a few other secondary characters in my coming novel. I've found it good to have a photo to represent them, too, but won't include them here.

Emma Ducworth - Captain Ethan Becket's second cousin and a widow, pretty woman with 2-year old boy, comes with his parents to Charles Town and is interested in widower Ethan.

Grace Becket -  hero Captain Ethan's older sister he will rescue from Spanish captivity

Senora Lucia Chavez - heroine Marisol's aunt in Cartagena 

Tim Cullen -  loyal Irish Lieutenant on Captain Ethan's merchant ship

Danny -age 13, cabin boy on Captain Ethan's ship, he takes under his wing

I have quite a few other secondary characters and photos of them all unless their part is very small in the story.

Naming of Characters
A great help in naming my characters is  a fill-in sheet with blocks for the ABC's where I list each character's name to make sure I don't name too many characters with similar names, or starting with the same letter. This can be confusing during the writing and for my later readers.

How are you coming with your novel? Are you in the idea stage, outlining, or already writing up a storm?  Would love to hear from you, and please do share this blog on your social media for all those out there thinking about writing a novel. 

In my next blog I will share how I do a fluid chapter outline to keep me moving and on target in my novel writing. Perhaps it will help you. Thanks for stopping by!

Elva Cobb Martin