The Bootlegger's Dance and Cozy Horror
Tomorrow I'm off to Foolscap to continue a conversation I started at Flights of Foundry: "What is Cozy Horror?"
The term came up when I tried to define what it is I write for Aconyte Books. Adventures set in the world of Arkham Horror, the popular games created by Fantasy Flight Games, is one answer. But I also write "cozy" books about people who like their families (even when they are on the outs with them) or find new families for themselves. From the silent movie crew of Mask of Silver to the investigators in The Deadly Grimoire to the characters running a dance hall and a radio station (as well as a profitable bootlegging business) in The Bootlegger's Dance, there's definitely a cozy vibe which draws these folks together and helps them confront the terrors in Arkham, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. There's also suspense, mystery, monsters, and hopefully a happy ending for some. Others may have to wait a book or two to find their way out of the nightmares.
Out in November 2023, The Bootlegger's Dance let me play with many ideas about 1920s, holidays, and dealing with unexpected failures. According to my fabulous editor, "It's not only the most gorgeous lost in time, eldritch adventure but it's also got a Christmas setting, fairytales, a dance, and a heroine determined to risk it all for a man in a book." And it wouldn't have gotten there without her insightful editing, much rewriting on my end, many cups of tea (me), and consumption of baked goods and soup (me again, and some of the recipes can be found on this website). But as I keep telling friends and family, this one is so cozy that it might knit you a sweater.
Along with being eldritch adventure (which is a wonderful definition, thanks Lottie!), The Bootlegger's Dance is very much a heroine's journey, which is something quite different than a hero's journey. See Gail Carriger's delightful book about this! I've come to the conclusion that following the beats of the heroine's journey, which is all about teamwork with family and friends, frequently results in the cozy adventure. So place the heroine's journey in the horror setting, and the result is often the cozy horror.
I'm pulling a bunch of examples from my own reading and TV consumption for tomorrow's talk. The Netflix series Wednesday is both comedic and cozy...and an almost perfect example of the heroine's journey as outlined by Carriger. The Addams Family, from the original cartoons by Charles Addams (far grimmer than you might think if you just know the movies or TV show) to this most recent take, has always played the cozy family beautifully against the props of horror. But the current Wednesday adds real emotional depth by separating Wednesday from her family and then forcing her to find a way into a possibly brighter future (while letting us all worry about a few homicidal characters jumping out of the shadows).
A recent article in the Mary Sue (hate all the pop-up ads but it's a good site) outlined some other modern cozy horror including a thumbs up for one of my favorite authors T. Kingfisher. Another author that I find both cozy and horrific is Richard Kadrey, especially the early books of his Sandman Slim series. I'd also suggest Kadrey's novels fit Carriger's definition of the heroine's journey (which is not gender specific -- and we can call it the cozy journey instead if that's less confusing). Slim, like Wednesday, starts out alone...actually spat out of hell...and slowly builds a found family of friends including a disembodied head that scuttles around his apartment.
Other cozy reads, mostly in historical fantasy but I venture into other genres, can be found on my Goodreads list. I only list books that I like and, for the last few years, I've also tried to write short reviews as well: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/783709?ref=nav_mybooks#
If you're at Foolscap (foolscap.org), say "hi!" The Cozy Horror discussion takes place at 2pm, August 19, at the convention in Auburn, Washington. For more on The Bootlegger's Dance, see aconytebooks.com.