The Fun of Writing “Retro-Cozies”

Guest Post by Sally Carpenter*

An interviewer once referred to my stories as “retro-cozies.” I liked the term and use it to describe my work.

A retro-cozy is an amateur sleuth mystery with no graphic gore, violence, sex, or language, and occurs in the past. What defines “the past” is up for grabs—I’d say any time before the 21st century.  My Sandy Fairfax series is set in 1993. The protagonist, a former teen idol, often refers to his TV show, which was filmed in the 1970s.  My newer series, the Psychedelic Spy, takes place in 1967.

Beatlemaniac_final_ large_2500Why do I use a time machine when I write? For Sandy Fairfax, I had no choice. I wanted to write about a ‘70s teen idol because of the culture of that time when teen idols were promoted through TV shows. I like the melodic songs from the era, the cheesy clothes, and the drama that often took place behind the idols’ innocent façades.  \

Sandy was 18 when his TV show started, so if I set the books in today’s world, he would have aged up to 61 or so. But I wanted to write about a younger man who could still do his own stunts and would be making a comeback, not plans for retirement. The year 1993 places Sandy at age 38, still agile but facing a midlife crises.

For the second series, the ‘60s is a ripe era for storytelling: war protests, civil rights and women’s movements, the generation gap, influence of Eastern religions, and the Cold War.  I love the culture of the age, the bright colors, pop art, rock music, movies, mod clothes and hairstyles. Let’s face it, women’s clothing styles in 2018 are—dare I say it—drab and ugly.

I like the simplicity of past times. I use a computer, but I’m out of touch with today’s technology. I don’t even own a cell phone (gasp!). I gave up trying to figure out streaming services, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, social media and whatnot.

If a contemporary protagonist gets in trouble, all she has to do is whip out her cell phone and call for help. Ho hum. But my protags have to think and fight their way out of their predicaments. If my protags need information, they can’t Google or ask Alexis; they have to put in the legwork. They need hard evidence, not just a DNA sample. With fewer crime fighting tools at their disposal, my heroes work harder.

People who stare at their phones or computers all day bore me. Characters who talk face-to-face are more interesting than those who send texts. Modern technology is helpful in real life, but it’s a story killer.  When I read for pleasure, I want to escape into another world, away from the commotion of modern times. Writing a retro-cozy lets me, at least in my mind, take a break from today.

Flower_Power_Fatality_jpg (1)In “Flower Power Fatality,” Noelle McNabb is an actress at a Christmas-theme park in Yuletide, Indiana. Her drab routine is interrupted when a stranger shows up on her porch with a bullet in his chest. Then, a super-secret spy agency recruits Noelle to find missing microdots along with veteran agent Destiny King. As Noelle goes undercover, she finds herself dancing in sleazy nightclubs and chasing bad guys at night while wondering who is going to feed her pet cat.

My next project is putting my first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” back in print. Washed-up pop star Sandy Fairfax, in a desperate move to get his career back on track, takes his only job offer—a guest appearance at a disorganized Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Indiana. What look like an easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is killed and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect.

“Beatlemaniac” will include a new cover art, new forward, updated author’s bio, re-edited text and a bonus short story, a brand new Sandy Fairfax adventure, “The Deadly Disco Caper,” in which the 1970s get skewered. Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah!


306141_347563052028408_642323995_n(2)Sally Carpenter was born and raised in southwest Indiana but now lives in Moorpark California, leaving the land of rain and snow for wildfires and earthquakes.  She has a master’s degree in theater from Indian State University. She also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s also “mom” to two black cats.

Her first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was named by Left Coast Crime as a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel.  She penned chapter three of “Chasing the Codex,” a group mystery written by 34 authors with Cozy Cat Press and has stories in three other anthologies.  She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and blogs monthly at .

For more about Sally Carpenter and her books, go to   Reach her on Facebook or email her at: .



*This blog article is posted for Sally Carpenter by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin


Author: Jackie Houchin

First, I am a believer in Jesus Christ, so my views and opinions are filtered through what God's Word says and I believe. I'm a wife, a mom, a grandma and now a great grandma. I write articles and reviews, and I dabble in short fiction. I enjoy living near the ocean, doing gardening (for beauty and food) and traveling - in other countries, if possible. My heart is for Christian missions, and I'm compiling a collections of Missionary Kids' stories to publish. (I also like kittens and cats and reading mysteries.)

17 thoughts on “The Fun of Writing “Retro-Cozies””

  1. Enjoyable post, Sally! I also “… like the simplicity of past times.” My favorite period for mysteries is early 1920s or so and on. And yes, what would modern dramas (TV for sure) do without cell phones. I want to take a break from current reality–escape into a good book…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Linda, I just finished reading FLOWER POWER FATALITY and loved it. This book is the first in a new series and really good (and a pet has a hand in the mystery solution!) Her retro styles and foods are sometimes hilarious, the mystery and spying are super fun. I never guessed the villain till the end, and speaking of the end….. what a hoot!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. So glad you liked it. One of Noelle’s outfits was inspired by Barbara Feldon’s clothes on “Get Smart.” And that was the era where people ate anything (whole milk, fried foods) and didn’t worry about fat, calories, cholesterol, etc. Ah, those were the days!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I could relate to your post, especially your comment about our present-day dependency on technology. I’ve recently resurrected an unfinished novel that I began twenty years ago partly due to the factors you’ve stated. Interesting post, Sally.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by. The book has technology in it, but “old school” cameras, film projectors, rabbit-ear TV antennas, etc. Amazing how technology has changed in my lifetime. And the spy movies/TV shows of the 1960s had incredible complex gadgets and gizmos. In 1969 America sent men to the moon with computers that had less memory and capabilities than today’s smartphones.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sally, you made so many good points about then and now. Cell phones and the Internet took thinking out of the equation. I want the characters to actually participate in the solving of the crime, not just Google the solution. I read your first Sandy Fairfax book and enjoyed it. I think I’ll add your latest book to my stack because it sounds like just my cup of tea. Thanks so much for coming on our blog. You are always so much fun. Good luck with the new series.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Gayle, thanks for your nice comments. Yes, I like sleuths who actually detect and don’t simply stumble over the solution or have the villain blab his/her evil plans to them. If people like this book, I better get busy on the sequel!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Jacqueline. The research took tons of time for the new book, but fun at the same time. I bought a book on how to live like a hippie so I could write my counterculture characters. Groovy!


  4. Sandy – what a fun post. Your settings of the 1960s and even the 1990s are so colorful by comparison with today. I dwell in the 1920s – but I am looking forward to peaking into the (modern!) world you have created in your books. Welcome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rosemary, yes, I think past eras are so much more enjoyable than today: more colorful clothing, more interesting things going on, fun pop culture and great music. If I only had a time machine!


  5. Sally, I’m toying with the idea of setting a PI series in the seventies. Like you, I like that low-tech world. My current series is contemporary, but the characters are middle-aged and “beyond”—modeled after me! That means they use technology and enjoy it but don’t need to be up on the latest.

    I look forward to your series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Maggie, I though about doing a series in the 1970s too, although much of what was going on in the late 1960s overlapped into the early 1970s. The new short story that is going into the reprint of my first book is about ’70s culture/dance. If you do write a ’70s series, please let me know and I’ll read it!

      Liked by 1 person

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