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A Chat with Catherine Dilts


An Interview by Deborah L. Brewer

When I think of cozy mysteries, I often think of bookshops, tea time, quaint towns, and cats. But cozies, as these gentle, escapist novels are sometimes called, range from quirky and humorous, to historic and romantic, to realistic, contemporary tales that merely leave out explicit details of gore, violence, substance abuse, and sex that some readers find too grim or overwhelming.

Many authors who write cozy mysteries look back to the Miss Marple novels (1930-1976) of Agatha Christie for inspiration. Some cozies, such as Alexander McCall Smith’s much-loved No 1 Ladies Detective Agency (1998), set in Botswana, explore crimes other than murder. The relatively new, best-selling Thursday Murder Club series (2020-2023), by Richard Osman, features septuagenarian sleuths and laugh-out-loud humor. If you are interested in the cozy historical mystery genre, check out authors Rhys Bowen, Tasha Alexandar, and Carola Dunn.

Meet Catherine










Photo by Susan Green

Catherine Dilts has lived in Colorado for decades now but spent her formative years in Oklahoma. She must have left a little bit of her heart there because her new Rose Creek Mystery series is set in the Ozark foothills in northeastern Oklahoma. Author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, Catherine also writes novels for various Annie’s Fiction series. Her short stories regularly appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Recently retired from a career as an environmental compliance specialist for a global corporation, Catherine now gets to do what she always dreamed of — write fiction full-time.

Q & A

Debby: Welcome, Catherine. With your published writing career spanning several decades, we appreciate you sharing your well-earned wisdom with Writing from the Peak.

We sometimes hear writers talk about their “why,” their purpose for writing, and what they are in it for. What’s your “why,” and has it evolved over the years? What’s your definition of writing success?

Catherine: My parents moved frequently, and I was a shy kid. Landing in a new town was excruciating. I had a difficult time making friends. I turned to books for comfort. My mother would take us to the library as soon as we arrived in each new town. She was also painfully shy and preferred the company of novels. A library card was my passport to adventurous characters who fit into their worlds while I felt like a perpetual outsider new kid. Or maybe they didn’t fit in at all and gave me hope I could have a fantastic life regardless of my social ineptitude.

It seemed natural to create the thing that helped me survive emotionally. I began writing poetry and short stories. When I returned to college as an adult, I met other writers in a creative writing class. I began to believe I had a unique message, and a talent for putting my message into words.

Of course, I had visions of fortune and fame. But I realized I would always write, whether or not I became published.

Writing success is dangerous to define. Is it getting published? In what format – traditional, small press, indie? Is it sales? Recognition? There will always be a new goal, a next step. After having thirteen short stories, seven novels, and five write-for-hire novels published, I still struggle to define success.​ 

Debby: What first drew you to the cozy mystery and amateur sleuth genres? Have reader’s expectations changed since you first published?

Catherine: To the outside observer, the cozy mystery author might be imagined as a gentle lady knitting socks for her cats while sipping tea and inventing murder plots. But reading and writing cozies does not require beginning from a place of peace.

Like me, the cozy reader or author may be seeking peace from turmoil. Most of us have faced personal strife, perhaps genuine tragedy. I will read grittier fiction, but I love escaping into a world where the bad guys and gals will pay for their crimes, and nothing too horrible happens to the protagonist. Not because I live a genteel, insulated existence, but precisely because I don’t.

The first series I fell in love with was Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax spy novels. They were a favorite of my mother, so there was always an installment sitting on the table by her chair.

I see more inclusivity in modern cozies. Diverse characters. Plots based on modern technologies.

Cozy mysteries evolve with the times. In Grounds for Murder by Tara Lush, the protagonist’s father is a dope-smoking hippie, painted in an affectionate light.

Debby: You have done some write-for-hire novels. How did you get started with that? What are some of its advantages and drawbacks? How is it different from ghostwriting?

Catherine: I have written five write-for-hire novels, with three more waiting for release. The difference between WfH and ghostwriting is acknowledgment. My name appears on the cover of the book. Ghostwriting, as it implies, keeps the author in the background, often completely unknown.

I write for Annie’s Fiction. They have numerous series aimed at a specific market. Their staff creates a world and set of characters. Then different authors write each book in the series.

The drawback is creativity. While you invent the plot, everything else is preset. The setting, characters, and tone. Your work must fit the existing series. Another disadvantage is not receiving royalties. The RfH check is generous enough that this isn’t a deterrent for me, but I am aware the Annie’s books sell like hotcakes. Better than my own novels. It would be nice to have a piece of that pie.

The advantage is a guaranteed paycheck. Writing on a deadline. The challenge of working within the existing universe. I have learned to write to an outline, to stay on task, and to produce a finished product on time.

Debby: There’s always something new to learn, whether a novice or an expert. What’s something new you’ve learned about writing craft recently? Have you any advice for fellow writers on their writer’s journeys?

Catherine: I wrote my first published novel, Stone Cold Dead, because I felt many amateur sleuth mystery novels had become thematically predictable. I could tell you whodunnit almost from the first chapter.

Don’t write for the existing market trends. Write from your heart. You might spend six months, a year, or five years, creating a novel. Make it a world you can live in through the rewrites. Create characters who become so real, you have to finish their stories.

At the recent writers’ conference, PPWC 2024, the message was drilled home that publishing is brutal. Hardly any authors make money in this business. But – there are numerous routes to market. That’s the upside. If no one in traditional publishing falls in love with your work, you can still get your story in front of readers. There are no longer any closed doors.

Find Catherine here:

Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology,  Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.

1 Response

  1. Great interview. I didn’t know there was any kind of “writing for hire” for today’s cozy mysteries. What an intriguing concept.

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