Otto Can’t Stop Going After Cozies

Otto Penzler just can’t help himself. He’ll use any excuse at all to attack "cozies." He even found a way to use the launch of the International Thriller Writers organization, of which I am a proud member,  as a way to take yet another swipe at the genre and its authors in a New York Sun article:

We all have our prejudices (yes, you too). I admit that if I were on the Best
Novel committee, books with cutesy pun titles would be eliminated before I read
the first page. They may be fun, they may have their charm, but they are not
serious literature and don’t deserve an Edgar. Which is why someone had the
bright idea to create Malice Domestic, a conference devoted to fiction so
lightweight that an anvil on top of it is the only way to prevent it from
floating off to the great library in the sky. Other readers might eliminate
espionage novels, feeling they are not "mysteries," or books with dirty words
and nasty sex scenes because they think these things have no place in a nice

A new organization has just started up as a counterweight to the literarily
negligible works honored at Malice Domestic. David Morrell and Gayle Lynds, two
stars of the thriller world, have helped create International Thriller Writers

The formation of the ITW had nothing to do with the existence of Malice Domestic, or displeasure with cozies, or a lack of respect for their authors, many of whom I count as close friends. The ITW was created to:

…celebrate the thriller, to enhance the prestige and raise the profile of thrillers, to award prizes to outstanding  thriller novels and authors, and to create opportunities for collegiality within  the thriller community.

Where does it say anything about cozies or Malice Domestic? No where. This is a case of Otto Penzler making up inflammatory bullshit to serve his own prejudices. Otto has his prejudices, that much is clear. Fine. But to smear ITW and its members with them is another matter. The ITW currently has Otto’s column posted on their website, which implies that we endorse his idiotic views that cozies, and those who write them, aren’t worthy of recognition or respect. I hope the ITW leadership will remove his column from the website.

(Thanks to Toni Kelner for the heads-up)

UPDATE 5-17-05 –  I want to applaud my colleagues in the ITW for doing the right thing:  The leadership has left Otto’s column up on their website, but they’ve deleted the inflamatory paragraphs.

The comments were not necessary for the purpose of sharing
information about us that has appeared in the press, so they were
edited out. The posting of the column on the site in the rather obscure press
clippings section was in no way intended to endorse Penzler’s views.

Chair, ITW Web Committee

7 thoughts on “Otto Can’t Stop Going After Cozies”

  1. Probably the best “cozy” description is the guidelines for the annual Malice Domestic Contest. As you can see, the term can cover everything from Murder by Muffins to Julia Spencer-Fleming and Sujata Massey. I wish Otto would just be honest and throw “Gurls kant write gud” into each one of his essays. (Except P.D. James and Ruth Rendall, of course.)
    1. Murder or another serious crime is at the heart of the story, and emphasis is on the solution rather than the details of the crime.
    2. Whatever violence is necessarily involved should be neither excessive nor gratuitously detailed, nor is there to be explicit sex.
    3. The crime is an extraordinary event in the lives of the characters.
    4. The principal characters are people whom the reader might not like, but would be interested in knowing.
    5. The suspects and the victims should know each other.
    6. There are a limited number of suspects, each of whom has a credible motive and reasonable opportunity to have committed the crime.
    7. The person who solves the crime is the central character.
    8. The “detective” is an amateur, or, if a professional (private investigator, police officer) is not hardboiled and is as fully developed as the other characters.
    9. The detective may find him or herself in serious peril, but he or she does not get beaten up to any serious extent.
    10. All of the cast represent themselves as individuals, rather than large impersonal institutions like a national government, the Mafia, the CIA, etc.

  2. Agatha Christie is usually named to define cozies. As is Murder, She Wrote.
    Otto’s attitude gets me. Does he really think that most books published today are great literature? I don’t. They’re fun to read, but I don’t think James Patterson is a great writer because his stuff is more serious then Donna Andrews.
    (Please note. Donna is a favorite writer of mine. I have never read James Patterson so I don’t know for sure about his literary style.)
    Yes, I tend to stick with cozies because I like them. They are the kind of mystery I enjoy reading without the graphic stuff, which doesn’t entertain me. It’s called a matter of preference. If no one read cozies, they wouldn’t be published. If no one read thrillers, they wouldn’t be published. Both are, which means people have different taste. That doean’t make one group right or wrong. It just means they’re different.

  3. I got a kick out of this article back when it first appeared, as well as Otto’s subsequent screed. He seems to launch an annual salvo against cozies and it always stirs up the same outrage and protest — thus ensuring that his name will stay in people’s minds.
    He might be full of shit, but he sure is good at getting publicity for himself.

  4. This bugs me in a lot of ways, one of which is the hypocrisy of it. What would Mr. Penzler say to someone who said that all mysteries (or all genre fiction) were not worthy literature simply by virtue of their subject matter? I’m guessing he wouldn’t take it well, but it’s no different than what he’s saying here. Call me kinda nuts (it wouldn’t be inaccurate) but I think the quality of a book has more to do with the writing than the level of violence.

  5. ITW took down the inflamatory paragraphs of Penzler’s column yesterday. The comments were not necessary for the purpose of sharing information about us that has appeared in the press, so they were edited out.
    The posting of the column on the site in the rather obscure press clippings section was in no way intended to endorse Penzler’s views.
    Chair, ITW Web Committee


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