November 13, 2014

The problem with cozy mysteries

Writing cozies can be tricky. The rules are pretty well defined, even if you choose to write, as I do, a 'modern cozy'. There are three. 1)Cozy writers do not depict grizzly murders and autopsies are avoided. We don't have psychotic killers torturing hapless victims in gruesome detail. 2)Sex is glossed over with only the incidental reference to 'incredibly tall, slim men with well-cut graying hair and eyes the color of smoky quartz under wire-rimmed glasses'. Perhaps adding 'kind of bookish and sexy - quite the studly muffin'.  3)And, of course, we don't use foul language.

Of these restrictions I find I have no trouble at all avoiding explicit violence in my books. I am not a fan of this sort of thing. I turn my head when a doctor needs to give an injection on a medical show. I certainly am not going to write about some nut dismembering bodies or the joy he gets as he watches the last life's blood flow from a beautiful young woman's body. My victims tend to be obnoxious people that no one much likes who are conked on the head and found by the side of the road.

Next there is sex. - always an interesting subject and I'm not averse to the idea. But I was raised in the 50's and 60's when we didn't talk about it. I went to a Catholic girls' high school and to hear any of the conversations taking place at lunch no one in that entire school so much as kissed a boy. This, of course, was amazingly far from the truth. We were as fooling around at the drive-in as any healthy teenager, but we just did not discuss it. So not writing about it is pretty natural to me.

Foul language, on the other hand, can be a problem. I actually grew up in a home where I never heard my parents utter anything more profane than damn and hell. When my father needed to fix the plumbing or some other odious task, my mother would shoo us all out of the house for fear something stronger might slip from between his lips.

Of course, this did not prevent me from learning this language elsewhere and using it. My everyday speech is not chock full of colorful invective, I do occasionally throw out a word or two my mother would not approve of.

So what is acceptable in a cozy written in 2014? Can we use (this is silly I know) the S-word? Can we reference God? Can a leading lady say, "Oh Christ!"? And of course there is the big one - the F-bomb. Now I don't advocate throwing it around like confetti, but I do feel there are appropriate times that it might be used. As my children could tell you, if they heard me scream f..... out loud, they would most certainly know that I am really, really mad or have gone completely around the bend. And I feel the same holds true in a cozy. A crazed killer saying, "Oh gosh, you are an idiot" does not have the dramatic effect as something much more strongly worded. And so the question is, just how much is too much - and is it still a cozy?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. And by the way, I will be a guest on We B Swangin webcast this upcoming Wednesday, November 19th at 4 pm. Tune in at WLVS Radio Live for what I'm sure will be an amusing hour.