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 www.elleryadamsmysteries.com
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.