Codi Schneider’s debut novel, Cold Snap, is a funny, witty, and fierce installation in the cozy mystery genre. Led by its feisty Norwegian Forest cat protagonist Bijou, whose ancestors were Viking longship mousers, the novel explores the small village of Grey Birch, CO and the drama surrounding it when a newcomer turns a former firehouse into a bakery. On the night of the bakery’s grand opening, a murder/dognapping thrusts Bijou into the role of detective, forcing her to call upon the might of all her Viking ancestry to solve the mystery and keep her clan safe.
What was your inspiration for COLD SNAP, and what drew you to the cozy mystery genre?
I first got the idea when I read an article about real-life Viking cats. These brave felines sailed the world in longships, working as mousers for their human counterparts. I also find great amusement in watching my own cat and trying to decipher what’s going on in her head. Writing a story with a cat protagonist and from a cat’s point of view simply sounded fun.
The only problem was, when I wrote Cold Snap, it was purely for my own pleasure and then I wasn’t sure how to categorize it! After some doing some research and taking advice from other writers/editors, the cozy mystery genre was clearly the best fit for this book. I love how the genre embraces small town/amateur sleuth characters and how it allows for a lot of quirk and humor. I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Did you encounter any challenges specifically with writing from the point of view of Bijou? How did you go about balancing a cat point of view with conveying the human emotion and conflict occurring in the book?
In general, I found writing from Bijou’s point of view quite fun, quirky, and even therapeutic. I could suspend my own disbelief. I could follow her through a tangled wildwood of thoughts and actions that most humans, even fictional ones, wouldn’t dare explore. I did run into challenges though, like going overboard with her antics in an attempt to be funny and then realizing I had to reel it way back. I discovered the key to writing from an animal’s POV (and balancing it with the human emotion and conflict in the book) isn’t imagining all the ways our furred friends are different from us, but the ways they’re similar. This makes them relatable and reachable (the ultimate goal for any character, human or otherwise). And then, the ways in which they are utterly and completely different from us humans can stand out as humorous quirks or shocking traits. At the very least, the reader can relate and say, “My God, my cat does that exact same thing. Maybe this is why.”
There are so many funny lines in the book, and Bijou has such a great voice for a narrator. How did you arrive at finding that voice–is it something you envisioned right away, is it something you had to tweak as you went forward? The balance of self-seriousness and accidental humor/cat melodrama is just brilliant.
It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who finds Bijou funny! In the early drafts, her voice was definitely more petulant. But as I went along, I found that I liked her more as a brave warrior cat, full of pluck, rather than a long-suffering, reluctant hero. Like any relationship, I just had to spend the time getting to know her.
One of the great pleasures of reading cozy mysteries is seeing the unique settings and cast of characters. How did you go about choosing Bijou’s companions (including my personal favorite, the “mentally negligible” Pomeranian, Skunk) and characterizing them for the novel?
I love Skunk too and I think her character helps to balance out Bijou. She’s the perfect sidekick, easygoing and willing to follow Bijou’s lead, but also smarter than anyone thinks and completely necessary to solving the mystery and keeping Bijou humble. Over many drafts, I tried to hone each character so that they not only had their own unique identities and quirks, but also propped up and played along with everyone else’s. Some were there for conflict, some were there for stability and humor.
As for the setting, Gray Birch is actually a fictionalized version of my childhood town, Buena Vista, Colorado. And while I’ve never met anyone there so unpleasant as some of the residents of Gray Birch, the giant mountains, river surfing, mild-to-medium cases of altitude sickness, and honeyed lattes peppered with cayenne are all absolutely real!
Bijou is a Norwegian Forest cat who comes from a long line of Viking warrior cats, and in the book we even get hints of the great god-cats who pulled Freyja’s chariot being in the periphery of the woods where the story takes place. What drew you to Viking lore and having that be Bijou’s key identity in the book?
I’ve always been drawn to Vikings and Norse mythology (it’s the outfits, amirite?). Once I got the idea of Viking cats in general, it only seemed natural to have Bijou really cling to that as her key identity—only to figure out that she didn’t know as much about being a Viking as she’d once thought. I’m definitely no expert on Viking lore, so it’s been a fun project to research.
The main mystery in the book centers around a new person in town, Eddy Line, who purchases and transforms an old firehouse into a bakery he names Witching Flour. Leading up to the opening, Eddy faces threats and vandalism to the bakery, culminating on opening night with a dognapping and a murder. Did you always have a sense of what the key mystery would be, or did that come later in the writing? How much of your mystery was plotted ahead of time, vs. discovered in the process of writing?
Oh gosh, during my first draft I had zero sense of what the key mystery would be. My inner crime creator hadn’t even uttered its first word yet (which was barbarian by the way). I’m very much a “plot as I go” writer—though I’ve tried numerous times to plot ahead. As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve discovered that combining the two methods works well for me. I plot a few Big Ideas ahead of time to give myself some direction, and then I create the rest as I go, tweaking the Big Ideas as needed. The key mystery in Cold Snap was distilled over several drafts.
Are there any lessons learned from writing the first book that you will take going forward into your next Viking Cat adventure? Any hints as to what the next adventure may be?
Yes! I’ve learned that resilience is key and giving up is overrated. It doesn’t matter how hard writing those first drafts are, I’ll figure it out. It doesn’t matter how many rejection letters I receive once the book is written, all it takes is one yes. Those lessons are perched on my shoulder now, like bitty parrots of knowledge, and they’ll come with me as I delve into my next Viking Cat adventure . . . in which Bijou and clan will be joined by a horse or five.
Codi Schneider was raised in the snowy mountains of Colorado on a steady diet of books. She is a mystery-loving animal enthusiast who, when not writing, can be found traveling the world on horseback. COLD SNAP will be released on September 14, 2021.