Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Animals of Cozies - Not as Fluffy as Some Would Have You Believe by Ellery Adams

Ellery Adams grew up on a beach near the Long Island Sound. Having spent her adult life in a series of landlocked towns, she cherishes her memories of open water, violent storms, and the smell of the sea. Now residing in Richmond, Virginia, Ellery writes the Books By the Bay mysteries featuring aspiring writers turned amateur sleuths. Her latest release, The Last Word: A Books By the Bay Mystery will be released December 6th. For more information, kindly visit

The Animals of Cozies – Not as Fluffy as Some Would Have You Believe
By Ellery Adams

I’m here to defend my genre.

Being aggressive goes against my typical congenial nature, but three things occurred in relative succession that have me kicking off my size ten shoes and inviting the cozy naysayers to slip them on for a spell.

  1. A panel moderator recently made fun of my having a standard poodle as my character’s “sidekick,” intimating that poodles are in no way cool.
-This made me rather indignant.

  1. A fellow author introduced their own work by stating (and I’m paraphrasing) that their book was not a cozy because their animals didn’t talk or solve crimes. Their animals behaved as they should: like animals.
-First of all, writers should support one another, no matter how our genres differ. We shouldn’t belittle another’s method, style, or characters. My canine character doesn’t talk, but if other authors can make that work than good for them!

  1. I received an email from a reader questioning my “right” to include a dog in my books when she knew from my Facebook posts that I had four cats at home and no dogs.
-My answer to this challenge will break your heart. If you can handle it, keep reading.

My protagonist, Olivia Limoges, has a unique relationship with her standard poodle, Captain Haviland. He’s constantly at her side. He is her shadow. No, he doesn’t talk, but he is extremely intuitive and intelligent – as many animals are.

He can respond to commands and have mercurial mood changes. He can track a scent, have a complex variety of facial expressions, and a dozen different ways of conveying feelings through noises and body language.

Haviland is a genuine character, but he also serves as a catalyst, allowing the reader a glimpse into the carefully guarded heart of his mistress. He’s not present to provide comic relief or silliness. He’s there because people (real or fictional) are their true selves around their animals and I wanted readers to see Olivia’s true self every now and then.

So if I write such a realistic dog, why don’t I have one? Here comes the tough part. When I was eighteen, I had a German shepherd named Maxwell. He was my Haviland. He was my heart. My shadow. He was brilliant and a tad naughty and my dearest companion. I got him as a confirmation gift when I turned thirteen and for five years, he was the love of my life.

I hated to go away to college and leave him. A few weeks after I’d gone, a local man was bitten by a large dog. Not by any of our three, mind you, but this guy didn’t care. He snapped. He loaded his gun and drove around the neighborhood shooting any large dog he could set his sights on.

Max was behind our front gate when he was shot. Like the guard dog he was, he’d come out to the edge of property to see whose strange scent had invaded his home. The man shot him in the back. Max dragged himself to the front door, which was no small distance, and lay down, partially paralyzed. He was suffering horribly. My mother said she’d never heard such a terrible sound come from an animal before.

My parents had him put him down and then called me. I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed until my roommate called the R.A. and I was sent to the infirmary. I drove home as soon as I could stop trembling to be with Max, but it was too late. He was gone. My darling boy had been murdered. 

Sure, the man was arrested and charged, but my heart was broken. I don’t use that term lightly. And it was about to be stopped on a little further. While I was home, my parents informed me that after 23 years of marriage, they were getting divorced. I staggered back to school, my entire world turned upside down.

I recovered, but there will be no more dogs for me. I still can’t talk about Max without the old pain contracting inside my heart. That’s why my dogs aren’t fluff. That’s why my books might be lacking on gore but don’t lack in substance. Because I have known all sorts of pain and its made me as deep and complex as my characters.

So think twice before assuming that an animal on the cover of a mystery novel means that the book is going to be a silly, vapid read. Cozies are filled with a vast array of social issues. Sometimes, the animals help bring some of man’s darkness to light. Sometimes, these fictional animals touch a reader in a way that a human character simply couldn’t. 

Sometimes, they can even help a wounded author heal. 


Barb Goffman said...

My eyes are tearing and my heart is breaking for you. Your boy will live on forever because you remember and love him. And to everyone who says stupid things about animals, don't give them a second thought. They're not worth your time. Hugs from me and woofs from Scout.

Harbinger said...

Oh, my dear. I am crying now and my heart is breaking for you. Your poor sweet Max.

I have both dogs and cats and losing them is so hard. And to lose one before their time to such a thing is just unimaginably painful.

I'm sorry that you felt that you had to revisit such pain to answer the "questions" of unthinking and unknowing people.

Hugs from me and from all my furry children.

Deb said...

This one touched my soul with pain and sadness. What an awful thing to have to go through!!

Thank you for saying so beautifully what all of us feel when we include those four-legged friends in our stories.

Joni said...

Oh, I'm so sorry! The story was so very sad, but when I saw the photo at the end, I just lost it completely. Thank you for sharing both your grief and your abiding love for your friend.

Kitten said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Max. What a horrible way to end a noble life. I, too, had a German Shepherd I named Merlin. I now have two Chihuahuas who are my best friends. Every bit as brave as much bigger dogs and every bit as smart as any dog. They comforted me at a time when no one else could. I can't imagine my life without them. People who don't know our stories, should never try to suggest that their way is better than ours. They are sad individuals and not worth the grief they cause. Wyatt, Buck, and I wish you the best of the holiday season.

Mandy said...

Like the others before me, tears are flowing for you. I'm a fan of dogs and cozy mysteries, so when I saw yours with a standard poodle I was thrilled. People can be off and maybe they should read something differen instead of being ugly. For me, I'm looking forward to the next book!

Krista said...

What a tragic story. I'm heartbroken. I had a wonderful German Shepherd, too, and I cannot imagine your pain.

~ Krista

Leann Sweeney said...

I know you will always have special memories of you precious boy. Coupled with the divorce, you lost so much during that time. But what a survivor you are. I am glad you are standing up for cozies. Why the need to diss them? I don't get that--but then publicly putting an author down right in front of their face is petty and mean-spirited. The social issues addressed in a cozy mystery may be subtext, but most of the time serious problems are addressed. You handle them well in your series, as most cozy authors do. Can't wait for The Last Word to be released next week. Thanks for this post, Jenn, even though I know it was difficult to write.

Dru said...

I'm trying not to cry, but oh my goodness. {{hugs}}

Jenn McKinlay said...

Major lump in my throat here. I can't imagine how awful that ordeal must have been. Big hugs for you and Max! I am so so sorry for your loss.

Oh, and my standard poodle was one of the smartest most beautiful girls ever - and I love Haviland just as much.

Peg Cochran said...

I adore Captain Havilland! I had a beautiful brown standard poodle, Sasha, that we adopted from a shelter. She was splendid-so smart and so devoted to us! I've had five dogs during my life and each and every one has been special in its own way.

I'm so sorry for your pain and loss. I pray that someday you can enjoy canine companionship again.

Linda O. Johnston said...

What a sad and brave story. My hugs and admiration.

bookmagic said...

How incredibly sad, I'm so sorry. That man is awful. I don't know what I would do without my furry boys.

Anonymous said...

I instinctively knew these things about your characters, both dog and woman, as I've read your books. I too love your mysteries, probably for many of the same reasons. When I was growing up the only people I trusted were my beloved cat, my grandmother,and my English teacher. You articulated so many of my feelings too, which great writers are able to do.

Carol B said...

Yes, I have tears in my eyes. What a terrible, terrible ordeal that was to go through.
No, an author shouldn't have to defend the genre they write. Authors,like readers, have the right to write or read whatever they want to read!And, as you say,an author should not make fun of any genre.

The Cozy Mystery Journal said...

A sad story and one I think anyone that lost a pet (even if not in that way) can sympathize with. I have two cats and try are our children, along with our own children. They are part of our family and we treasure them so much.

All I read is cozies and it's the animals in them that make me enjoy them even more. I'm reading Lorna Barrett's mysteries right now and Miss Marple doesn't help solve the mysteries but she sure is an enjoyable addition to the series and reminds me of my own cats.

I have your books waiting in my tbr and even though I'm not a dog owner I know I will adore the poodle in it :)

Anonymous said...

It must have been very hard to tell us the heartbreaking story of your Max. I'll never understand why some people complain about certain things....if they don't like something, then don't read it, or watch it on tv, etc. Why must they hurt?

Bonnie Mandel said...

I have a Jack Russell terrier that was my husband's constant companion during his last year & a half here on earth. She spent her days laying next to him on the bed or sitting at his feet when he was in his wheel chair. She spent each night at the foot of the bed between us, I often heard him tell her when he didn't think I was listening that it would be her job to take care of Mom when he was gone, telling her she could have his side of the bed.
On May 4th, 2011 at 4:30 Am he finally gave up his fight, Gidget was on the bed beside him as I held him for the last time, she licked his face & arm, got down off the bed and went outside to the backyard and refused to come back into the house until the next night when I went to bed. She walked down the hall to our bedroom, circled the bed twice and then climbed her little set of stairs, walked over to my hubby's side of the bed and laid down in the exact center of where he used to lay and she has continued to sleep there every night since.
She is 10 y/o and I know someday I will lose her but I am 64...I can't imagine the pain you went through losing your best friend in such a horrible way at your young age and then enduring your parents divorce on top of that.

Sara said...

My heart is breaking for you and this loss you've never gotten over and have now had to revisit, all because of some thoughtless people.

We've lost two Westies, one to cancer and one to pancreatitis, and our hearts were broken each time. We miss them every day. As hard as it was to lose them to disease, I cannot even imagine the pain you felt with the way Max was taken from you.

While we have adopted a Westie from rescue after each loss, that is the path we chose. I understand if you've not been able to take that road. I'm just glad you do have animals in your life as they bring so much and ask so little.

While I have enjoyed the series so far, now there will be an added dimension when I read future installments. Max lives on in Haviland. Bless you, Ellery...

Unknown said...

It is sad when people have to be so negative-Why can't we support one another-if we do then we all succeed.
Pets have a very special part in our lives and there time here on earth is always to short.
I can only feel they are jealous of your success and of the good person that you are.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

well, dang. I keep trying to leave you a "Welcome to Meanderings and Muses" message and Blogger keeps eating it. I'll just keep trying.

I knew you would touch a lot of hearts (including mine) with this, Ellery. And the responses have been heart warming and heart breaking as well.

Thank you for sharing your story, and your Max, with us, sweetie.

(cannot wait to read the newest book).


Jenna said...

We had a mutt named Emily for fifteen years. My husband found her on the street in NYC when we were newlyweds. She was my baby before I had children, and the most loyal, loving friend anyone could ever have. I have to believe there's a dog heaven somewhere, and that I'll see her again someday. God knows she was a lot more like Him than I'll ever be!

Some people are just idjits, I think. Even among writers. But luckily, for every few of them, there are those who tell you, "Oh, Lord no. I really admire what you guys do. It's gotta be SO hard to write a cozy. You can't just come out and say what you mean..."

Annette said...

My dear friend, I am so sorry you had to go through such a horrible ordeal at such.a young age. Thank you so much for sharing your true story with us. I get Captain Haviland. I totally understand the part he plays in your books. He is Olivia's heart and shield. I am so tired of having to defend Cozies. Why are people so petty? I just don't get it. I don't go around criticizing what music or tv shows other people listen to or watch. So why pick on cozy authors and readers. As a librarian, my philosophy had always been READ, I don't care what you read as long as you read.

Linda McDonald said...

Big Hugs to you! I won't forget your story of dear Max. I truly hope that there is a rainbow bridge and that one day you and he will be reunited. I enjoy all animals in stories, including yours!

Lynda said...

My heart goes out to you. That type of loss would be very difficult to get beyond. I have always owned (or been owned by) animals (I still miss my 14 yr old shepherd/collie and 20 year old Maine Coon). My current family consists of 2 cat and lots of fosters. Pets are family to many people and I think that's part of the reason why so many of us prefer to read books that include animals in the plots. They are something we can relate to. The pictures of the Captain on your books drew me to them. I think that perhaps an author who criticizes other authors in such a way must be a very insecure person and I rather pity them. Perhaps they feel threatened by cozy authors because you have such loyal followers. I love your books and have truly enjoyed getting to know you and your family on FB. I have had your latest book pre-ordered for some time and am looking forward to joining Olivia and Capt Havilland on their next adventure.

Ellery Adams said...

Boy, I have needed tissues all over again reading through the comments, but I knew that would be the case. Thank you for your support, but also for your stories, for naming your beloved animals and sharing how much they've enriched your lives. You all have big hearts and are fiercely loyal to your animals. That's why you're worthy to be loved by them. I knew this was a safe place to share this experience. Thanks for having me, Kaye and I promise THE LAST WORD will not be so heavy, but you might still need tissues (sorry!)

Susan Schreyer said...

Thank you for sharing your painful story. My heart aches for you and Max, both innocents.

I totally agree with how and why animals are included in books. They are not only characters (vs. furniture) but give insight into the people-on-the-page.


Sheila Connolly said...

My sister lost a beloved cat a couple of years ago (to old age) and said, no more. But when our middle cat died suddenly and unexpectedly, one summer afternoon, I went out and found two more--not to replace him, but to honor him and the joy he gave our family. I can't imagine not having pets around.

And that's the point of including pets in cozies. They show another side of our characters; they humanize them and make them easier for readers to identify with.

Ritaestelle said...

Oh my God!!! How totally beyond devastating!! What a meaningfu, loving tribute to Max to create such a magnificent canine character as Capt. Haviland!! ((hugs))

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Sweet Ellery, I'm so sorry for your tragic loss and the shadow that it casts over your heart. I have known tragedy, of another kind, and I know that it will shape the way I see the world forever. I love Haviland in your stories and see that he is a true soulmate. Keep writing. Keep feeling. And keep all those who jest at bay. Many do not understand the depth of emotions that find their way into cozy mysteries. I agree that just because the genre has "cozy" attached, does not necessarily mean the genre is fluff. And a picture of an animal on the cover does not convey what lies within.


PS. I do not now own cats. I had many as a girl and base my character of Rags on my experiences with them. I am a dog person, now, but I recently lost my own darling Max to a long life filled with love and fun.

Hollee J. Chadwick said...

As a lifelong cat and dog recipient of love, and a writer and editor, and a lover of all things cozy, I salute you!

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your wonderful dog--such a sad, tragic story, but it's good to know that animals live on in your books, inspiring readers and animal lovers everywhere. I can't imagine a life without pets, it would surely be an empty one.

Morgan Mandel said...

I was in a good mood before. That is so sad.People can be so callous.
I can't question your decision because it was the right one for you.

My husband and I are on our
4th dog since we've been married. Two died from natural causes, one we had to put down because of cancer. I can remember exactly what happened the day each died. We have a special place in our hearts for all of them.

Although we know the pain involved in losing a pet, we couldn't bear the thought of not having another one in our lives. Coming home to an empty house is so depressing.

Morgan Mandel

Janet Bolin said...

When a beloved cat died, I refused to have another pet for years!

Then a dog worked her way into my heart. Once when we were leaving my parents' place, I told her to say goodbye to grandpa. She did something highly unusual for her--she climbed up into his lap and looked him in the face. We all laughed, but she must have been able to tell that his body was giving out. We never saw him again.

We can't have cats due to allergies, and that darling and intuitive dog is long gone, but life without dogs would be unthinkable. They're all different, but precious in their own ways. The love is worth the inevitable loss.

And poodles are *smart*!

And cozies have many fans.

Julie Hyzy said...

Oh, Ellery, I am so sorry. What mean-spirited people there are in the world. I am so sorry your beloved Maxwell died so needlessly. Thank goodness you have the strength to carry on with his memory.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

How awful! So sorry you had to go through that loss, Ellery. But what a lovely tribute to Max.

Betty Hechtman said...

Like the rest of the commenters, I was in tears by the end of your post.

I can't understand people putting down genres of books. It seems so simple. If they're not for you, don't read them.

jenny milchman said...

What a ghastly, horrible story. Especially for someone who can clearly bring animals to life like you can. I'm sorry, but glad for your furry friends with you now.

Vickie said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your time with Maxwell with us.

I, too, am sorry that you have to listen to author bullies and naysayers. I love your books and look forward to each one. We now have a GoldendDoodle, which is half Golden Retriever and half standard Poodle. Bailey is our joy and she has the best face. When I first read of Captain Haviland I knew I wanted one of for our home. Or at least as close as possible.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am in tears. That's all I can say. My first dog, a Doberman Pinscher named Pride was poisoned by a neighbor. He came into my life after being abused by someone else, and I loved him madly. Losing him was unbelievably difficult and painful.

I spent many years vowing never again to have a dog, but that ended about 6 years ago after my daughter suffered a serious illness. All she wanted was a puppy and I was so desperate to keep her alive, I ran out and bought Angel, a black Lab/Border Collie mix. Angel's my girl now because she couldn't go with my daughter when my granddaughter was born prematurely.

Sometimes I remember how horrible it was to lose Pride and I weep all over Angel's neck in anticipation of what I know is coming some day down the road. I keep telling myself not to waste the good days anticipating the painful ones, but sometimes it still gets the best of me.

I'm glad for Max that while he was here he had you, and I'm sorry that you felt pressured into reliving that experience.

It boggles the mind that anyone would question an author's right to write a dog. I don't have to be a murderer to write mysteries ... do I?

Heather Blake Webber said...

What a powerful post, Ellery. My heart is breaking for you and Max. (((hugs)))

Patty said...

Oh, this is one of those stories that just breaks my heart. The fact that you lost such a wonderful companion, that it came along with a family break-up and then that has prevented you from ever getting another dog. I totally understand but the whole thing still breaks my heart. I've loved Havilland from the very first book and can't wait for the next book. Love and kisses from me, Trooper, Orbit, Browser, Kirby, Spice and Mocha (yes, six dogs)

Kate Collins said...

Beautifully written! Anyone who has ever loved a pet will be moved. Only a pet owner can understand the deep grief of losing one. For those who ridiculed our genre, obviously they hadn't read anything in it. I pity people who feel they must denigrate others to make themselves feel better. What a sad existence.

Maggie Sefton said...

I just now read your post, and it broke my heart. I can't put into words the feeling. Dear, dear friend. . .be at peace. Max lives with you and his spirit is always there. Within you. Gotta stop. Tears.

Waverly Curtis said...

I found this thread almost a year after you wrote it but I really needed it. Been feeling hurt and dismayed by the reception we're getting to writing a humorous mystery about a talking Chihuahua. One of the other panelists at a conference (on a panel about animals in mysteries, mind you!)made a big deal about how her book was about an animal character was a real cat, not a talking animal (although this bookstore cat does knock down books that serve as clues!). And our local mystery bookstore has published 3 newsletters in the last 3 weeks and in every one the reviewer (the same reviewer) makes a point of assuring readers that the cozy she is reviewing does not have talking animals (despite having an animal on the cover). It wasn't one of yours, but now I am planning to run right out and buy your books (I want to meet Haviland). Our companion animals, especially dogs, gift us with pure love. I think it's why we like to read about them.