I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. My first memory of writing anything was as a precocious 11-year-old. Together with five or six others, I was assigned the daunting task of writing a 4-5,000 word essay on the topic of my choice. I clearly remember researching and writing the essay — sad to say the topic has been lost in the mists of time — I can say with certainty however, the final product was nothing like a cozy mystery!
An introduction to Lissa Knowles
I’ll start out by saying that I am an avid, often voracious, reader. When my husband asked what I wanted for an anniversary present a few years back I replied without hesitation that I wanted a tablet, mostly because they were the newest rage in computer technology. I was sure that my network engineer husband would break down and get me a good one, even though he couldn’t see a reason for me having one. Why did I want a tablet? Simply put, I had discovered the joy of e-books and having Kindle available at the touch of an icon meant I could carry around hundreds of books at a time without dropping anything off the reading pile!
With my Kindle installation (this has gone through two tablets and is now on my smart phone until I get another tablet) I discovered the joy that is Kindle Unlimited and FREE e-books! I finally noticed that most of the books I was reading followed a similar writing style and had fairly standard covers. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but my favorites (when not considering the author’s name) all had a very similar appearance. It was about that time that I discovered, while browsing through on-line job postings, that the type of books I most enjoyed were a specific sub-genre of mysteries, cozy mysteries to be precise.
Not All Cozy Mysteries (or Cozies for short) Are Created Equal
Once I narrowed my field of interest to cozy mysteries, I devoured everything I could get for free in the genre, and even — before I got myself under control — started plunking down $0.99 or more to follow a favorite series. The more I read, the more I wanted. Somewhere along the way though, I started looking at the cozies I was reading with a different eye. Sometimes the writing was a little uneven, or maybe the plotting had some gaping holes that even I (speed reader extraordinaire) noticed — one particular book finally got deleted from my Kindle app when the author repeatedly said that her protagonist was falling on the floor laughing, even when said protagonist had just been walking through glorious autumn leaves or tromping along on a gravel path. Really, falling on the floor laughing? I realize that it’s an expression, but my literal mind rebelled at imagining the protagonist running over to the nearest patch of flooring just so they could fall over laughing.
One day when I was enlightening my long-suffer husband as to what makes a mystery a cozy mystery and why Agatha Christie was the Queen of Cozies (he enjoys the A&E Poirot series with David Suchet as much as I do), he finally said to me, “Well why don’t you write one yourself, I’m sure you could.” With his support, the rest — as ‘they’ so often say — is history. My Gramma’s Off Her Rocker series of cozy mysteries was born. Another series, Living the Dream on an Island in the Pacific is also in development, but has yet to reach the light of day.
Deciding On A Setting
Once I decided that, yes, I jolly well could write a cozy mystery, I allowed my imagination free rein. I’ve always been able to write more freely if I have some knowledge of the subject that I’m writing about, so my protagonist would be a 60-something grandmother, like me, who has a love for cozy mysteries (if you missed that part about me, go back and re-read the preceding paragraphs), crafts, and logic problems. That sums me up in the least amount of words so I felt like I was well on my way to creating a cozy mystery to rival Agatha Christie’s classic efforts.
I discovered a book on How to Write a Cozy Mystery (on Kindle of course) and devoured it almost in one sitting. There it was everything I needed to know from outlining to plotting, to character creation and, perhaps most importantly, creating a setting. One point that I see emphasized over and over is that for a cozy mystery to work well, your setting should really be a ‘closed’ or self-contained environment. This ‘closed’ environment, doesn’t have to be cut off from the real world, but it should be a small, self-contained place like a small village, or even a business where most of the mystery action takes place. I decided that my setting was going to be a mysterious castle located close to the Adirondack Mountains, where all of my regular characters lived or passed through on a regular basis.
Introduction to The Hollow
The Hollow is an large estate situated in the foothills leading into the Adirondack Mountains. Built by Captain Amos Agnew – a privateer who, following the capture of several large ‘prizes’ decided to leave off privateering and take his accumulated fortune (without sharing it with the government at the time) into the wilderness of New York. Archibald Drew (the great-great-great-grandfather of my protagonist Jane Drew), was the Captain’s ‘partner-in-crime’ and he oversaw the construction of the castle building and the walls that encircle The Hollow on three sides (beginning in 1790). Captain Agnew died with no children, leaving the castle property and the remainder of his fortune to the holders of a numbered account in the Bank of Scotland, with the proviso that management and maintenance of the castle and its estate must always be handled by a member of the Drew family as long as they were living there.
The location for Captain Agnew’s hiding place was chosen with care. Underneath the natural depression that encompassed several acres there was a large grotto and tunnel system connecting several limestone caverns that had been carved out by a series of hotsprings. The caves were ideal hiding spaces for the treasures that had been hauled inland using mules and there were even some rudimentary stone cottages scattered around above ground. A start had even been made on building some stone walls so, never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, Captain Agnew and Archibald Drew enlarged the caves, created more stone walls and tunnels through surrounding hills, builting an imposing castle in the middle of it all. Of course, none of this could be seen by casual passersby — in the 1800’s there weren’t many of those and the Native American tribes who did stumble across the perimeter walls quickly decided that the hotsprings they had heard of must have been simply a legend after all.
Over the years an extensive tunnel system was developed, joining castle with outbuildings. Hot water from the springs was piped to all parts of castle and outbuildings, while the grounds outside the castle walls are dotted with soaking hot pools. A long soaking pool (heated of course) with a rustic bridge over it is the fourth side of the wall around the castle.
There are 11 stone houses built around the grounds outside the castle and Jane lives in the 12th house, a large Victorian style house that is built on a slight rise overlooking the castle and the rest of the grounds. A small town gradually grew up a short distance from the hidden castle as workers were brought in to complete Captain Agnew’s vision.
There You Have It!
And that’s my self-contained setting in a nutshell. The hidden location of The Hollow made it a natural (in my mind) for setting up a rehab center/retreat for those uber-rich and infamous folk often have trouble coping with the curve balls that fame, fortune and too much of everything throw at them.
The hotsprings and the castle combine to attract a wide range of people. The Eastern Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism finds it the perfect spot for some of their Gathers, and an archaeological dig turned up some interesting Celtic relics so there is no shortage of mysterious goings on inside the walls of The Hollow.
Check out Toasted to Death on Amazon and discover what happens when a reality show shows up uninvited and storms the gatehouse. A murder ensues and Jane along with her gaggle of grandmothers who share her home do all they can to keep things under wraps.