Sandra Carey Cody on Writing Mysteries & Author Responsibility

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Welcome our new guest blogger, Sandra Carey Cody, author of the Jennie Connors mystery series. We’re thrilled to have her join us and are huge fans of her blog, Birth of a Novel.

Why do I Write Mysteries?

One of the clichés of writing is write what you know. Good advice, but I think even better is write what you love. I’ve always loved stories where an ordinary person wins against extraordinary odds and that, at its core, is what a mystery is.

You have the elements of any good story: suspense and the classic struggle between good and evil. I find satisfaction, both as a writer and a reader, inhabiting a world where I know justice will be served. I’m not talking about true crime, but fictional mysteries – where the bad guy always gets what’s coming to him and the good guy always emerges victorious – usually a little banged up, but bearing her (or his) scars proudly because she has righted a wrong.

Having said that, I have to admit that sometimes I wonder if writing cozy mysteries, stories where the taking of another human’s life is treated merely as a puzzle to be solved, isn’t dishonest. In the more graphic books, one cannot escape the horror of such an act. Am I, in my comfortable shying away from violence, contributing to it by making it seem not so bad? In other words, am I shirking my responsibility as a writer?

I read crime fiction across the spectrum (and it’s a broad one). Jo Nesbo is one of my favorites. He’s a fine writer. I enjoy his characters, the twists and turns of his plots, the way he constantly surprises, but there are parts of his books that I have to skip because of the brutality. Do these books contribute to the violence in society by desensitizing the reader? Are the authors of these books ignoring their responsibility as a writer?

This whole area of responsibility engenders mixed feelings for me. I adamantly do NOT believe in censorship, but I think all of us have a responsibility to make the world better or, at least, not worse. Where does crime fiction fit into this picture? Turning to another cliché, sometimes the answer comes from the mouth of a babe.

When my grandson was about four, he loved to play Indian (as in Native American, a term he denounced as “silly”). Shooting me with rubber-tipped arrows was one of his favorite things to do. Another was scalping me. He loved tying me up with shoelaces and leaving me for the ants to find and devour. As much as I loved him, his capacity for imagining cruel acts scared me a little. One day, in what I thought was a moment of genius, I told him the story of Chief Joseph. I suggested that we be wise old chiefs and teach our people to live in peace and harmony. It took him about five seconds (no more than that) to respond: “Grandma, peace and harmony are boring.” So, there you have it. Violence exists. Maybe it’s a leftover from our caveman days. Whatever the source, it seems hardwired into human brains (some more than others). Maybe the games we play and the books we read give us an outlet for our dark side.

As I watch other children play, I see that my grandson was pretty typical. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that none of them want to play the bad guy; they all want to set the world right. They want to slay the dragon and save the village. That seems to be hardwired into our brains too.

As a writer, I have a chance to look into the heart of an ordinary person and to show what pushes her to face extraordinary odds and fight for justice. I can also peek into the psyche of the bad guy and try to find the tipping point, that moment that makes an extreme act seem necessary. There’s nothing I would rather do. I’m not interested in world peace? Of course, but since that’s beyond my scope, I’ll do what for me is the next best thing; I’ll write stories that acknowledge the existence of evil, but show that it can be overcome. And, always, I remember my grandson’s advice and try not to bore the reader.


Lethal Journal cover webBIO

Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew up in Missouri, surrounded by a family who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the front porch. Since then, she’s lived in various cities in different parts of the country and can honestly say she’s loved them all. She currently lives in a picture-perfect small town just north of Philadelphia. Wherever she’s gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends.

She’s the author of the Jennie Connors mystery series: Left at Oz, Put Out the Light, Consider the Lilly, By Whose Hand, and the recently released, Lethal Journal.  These stories explore the challenges facing a single mother as she learns to balance independence with family and career responsibilities – all while solving the occasional murder.


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7 thoughts on “Sandra Carey Cody on Writing Mysteries & Author Responsibility”

  1. Sandy, your article on writing a mystery is very timely. As you know, I’m primarily a western romance author; but, I’ve decided to wade into the mystery arena, which is outside of my writing comfort zone. I’ll certainly use your novels as examples to teach me how to write mysteries that don’t put the reader to sleep.

    1. Sandra, We love having you here. Your post is a great addition. Fresh and thought provoking. Thanks for coming!

    2. Sandy, It’s a pleasure to have you here. Your grandson is wise beyond his years, we all need to take his advice to heart. Never bore the reader! Thanks, Robin

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