Monday, February 2, 2009

Guts but no Guts

It’s not a contradiction in terms. It’s the name of a panel I’m on at the Love is Murder Mystery conference in Chicago this weekend.

Several of us, Deb Baker, J.D. Webb, Gail Lukasik, write traditional mystery stories. Some people call them ‘cozies’ a term that has erroneously come to mean ‘fluff’ to some in the industry.

A cozy, to me, evokes the idea of a grand who-dunnit. A plot with twists and turns and a charming amateur sleuth who uses logic, wits and possibly some pizazz to solve the mystery. Cozies do not have blood and guts splatter on the page, gruesome descriptions of torture or sex abounding between the covers.

That doesn’t mean a cozy won’t have suspense and darker elements of the crime. For this panel, the moderator, Amy Alessio, asked each of us to come up with a gutsy moment in our own lives to add to the mix of how we do push the envelope a bit and include more graphic elements than considered ‘cozy’.

My character, Grace Marsden, is a gutsy heroine; I write her that way. In The Lighthouse Keeper she tracks a killer through tunnels leading from the lighthouse point to the interior of the island and the Ancients cemetery.

I don’t lead a gutsy life—I work in an office and live in a quiet suburb. I garden (I terminate grubs) and I golf (I whack sand).

Five years ago, I participated in my Ordeal for Order of the Arrow, a service organization through Boy Scouts. I can’t tell you everything that happened that weekend at Camp Big Timber—it’s a secret initiation into the Lodge.

I can tell you that everyone who is slated for Ordeal camps 'al fresco' or face to the stars for their first night. I had my sleeping bag, my moisture barrier pad and one big blue tarp. The idea is to wrap yourself in this tarp, taco style to keep the ground moisture and the dew from getting on you. However, you needed to keep a bit of tarp open so your breath didn’t condense on the inside and soak you. I used a stick I’d brought with me to prop open the flap. Voila!

What’s so gutsy? It was seventeen degrees that November night. In order to stay warm in my bag, I stripped down inside my bag and changed into a fresh shirt and underwear. But the gutsiest thing I did that night? Got up, got dressed and walked to the latrine—damn that last cup of coffee!

Oh, yeah, did I mention I was 54 when I did this? My son and the other scouts in the troop, two of which did their Ordeal that night, were impressed. The next step was Brotherhood. I stopped my advancement at that point and chose Sisterhood instead!

I’ll let you know how the panel goes and what other cozy authors do that they consider Gutsy.

Luisa Buehler

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