Of course Mercedes knew not to touch any of the items on the shelves - this was hardly her first trip with her mama to the Piggly Wiggly – but someone had left a Mars Bar within reach on the bottom shelf in the bread aisle and she had been so well-behaved all week and if she picked it up quickly, surely Mama wouldn’t-
“What do you think you’re doing?”
And suddenly the candy bar was in Mama’s left hand and she had it raised up as if she were the evil witch from Snow White and the candy bar was her wand and any minute now she was going to use it to transform Mercedes into a shriveled turnip or a warty toad right there in the bread aisle of the Piggly Wiggly.
“You should know better,” said Mama. “Sometimes you make me so disappointed. And don’t even think of crying, child. Disobedience is a sin and stealing is a crime. You’re just lucky there isn’t a policeman around or you’d be in real trouble. What did I say about crying?”
Mercedes sniffled back her tears and stared at the floor. The egg-white tiles were smudged with dirt and dusty shoeprints. She imagined her tears tumbling down her cheeks and washing clean over the aisle floor and for a moment she’d forgotten all about Mama and the candy bar and then she felt a tugging on her wrist and Mama was dragging her down the aisle toward the front of the store and Mercedes had no idea why they were leaving their cart by the bread and going to the front of the store but Mama was walking so fast and tugging at her wrist so forcefully that she knew it had to be bad and she tried to pull away but Mama’s grip was too tight, as if she’d glued her hand to Mercedes’s wrist, and then through teary eyes Mercedes finally saw what – or rather who – awaited them at the front of the store and she cried out, “No! No!” but all that did was attract the stares of other adults all too half-hearted to rescue her from her fate, for at the front of the store, between the lottery machine and the Fed Ex box, stood a very tall policeman who had a nightstick and a gun and everything.
Oh God, she was going to jail.
“Can I help you?” he said. Her voice sounded like wind-whistles. “Is something the matter?”
“Well, it’s funny - I was just trying to remind my daughter Mercedes here about how stealing is a crime and how she’d be in real trouble if a policeman was around and then I look over here and here you are.”
“Here I am.”
Mercedes tasted blood. She must’ve bitten her lip. She took a deep breath to keep from crying again and winced as the blood droplets slosh down her throat. Could this day get any worse?
“Ma’am, you want me to have a little chat with your little girl here?”
Mama became all flowers and sunshine. “That…that would be very helpful. Yes. Thank you. I’ll just be a few minutes. I’ve got to finish my shopping.”
“We’ll be right here.” His brown eyes found Mercedes. “Won’t we?”
Mercedes nodded mutely.
Mama strolled back to the bread aisle.
The policeman let out a heavy sigh and turned around toward the store’s vast fore window, which was more or less clear save for a thousand oily fingerprints and the black smudges of dead gnats. An early February drizzle covered the parking lot, leaving its two dozen cars and trucks – mostly trucks – shiny and sopping.
Then he spoke to Mercedes:
“I feel sorry for you, kid,” he said. “Your mother’s one sorry class-A bitch.”
Mercedes’s eyes became as wide as moons. He’d just said a bad word! A policeman! No matter that she didn’t know what it meant.
“Kid, if you keep your trap open like that, the wrong person will get the wrong idea.”
Mercedes shut her trap so quickly her lips made a popping sound. Then the policeman pointed at one of the trucks in the parking lot, a red one with a flatbed like she rode on through that peanut farm on her fourth birthday and Mama had held onto her tight on her lap and the road had had so many bumps and every bump sent Mercedes and Mama bouncing up into the air and it was like being on a trampoline with wheels …
Another drop of blood squeezed its way down her throat and as she stood there beside the policeman, Mercedes strangely felt as if like she was back on that flatbed truck and was bouncing up in the air except Mama was gone and the only person to catch her was this tall policeman and she knew that even though he was a policeman, he wasn’t going to catch her, no, he was going to let her fall, all the while muttering that bad word: Bitch.
“What’d you try to take?” he asked. His brown eyes remained fixed on the wet red truck in the parking lot. “What’d you try to steal? Huh?”
Mercedes’s swollen, leaking bottom lip trembled against her paste-dry upper lip. She tried to think of words to say but all she could think of was how the grocery store seemed to be tilting and how the policeman, so very, very tall, always kept one hand on the butt of his holstered gun.
“Kid, you ever licked a lit match? It tastes like the world should be - instead of the way it is.”
An elderly couple in yellow rain slickers smiled their gummy dentures at the policeman and the little girl and pushed their shopping cart, filled as it was with bagged bananas and a package of pantyhose and assorted TV dinners, through the automatic exit doors. The policeman watched them as they slowly passed through the light rain and across the cracked black tar of the parking lot to their wet red truck.
“You want to see something real cool?” the policeman said. His whistle-voice lifted in pitch. It had becomes a nighttime wind, and even though he was a policeman, Mercedes did not feel safe with him, no, not at all, but his long hand was now glued to her wrist and the back of his long hand mottled with dark brown freckles and cross-thatched with dark brown hair and she looked away from his hand and up to his face upon which had sliced a wide, wide grin, though not meant for her. His focus remained on the red truck.
Mercedes peered out through the glass. She tried to see what was so special about the red truck or the old people, who were loading their bagged groceries onto the flatbed. The truck was parked maybe forty feet away. There were no other cars in its row so the view was unobstructed, but why did it matter? They were just an old couple a lot like Mercedes’s own Gramps and Gram and –
Oh. Hm. There was a stick propped up underneath the front end of the truck. That was weird. And at the bottom of the stick was a piece of silver garbage, as if the stick were pinning it to the ground. Why had the policeman – because it had to be him who did it, it had to be – why had he stuck a piece of garbage underneath the front end of the red truck? Was he playing some kind of prank?
The elderly couple got into the cab of the truck, he behind the wheel and she in the passenger seat. He pulled his seat belt over his shoulder and then leaned over and helped her with hers. A shiver vibrated through Mercedes and she opened her mouth – her trap – to shout out to them, but all sound in her throat must have been trapped with dried blood.
The truck’s engine started.
The old man shifted into reverse.
The truck rolled back.
The stick toppled.
And the entire front end of the truck exploded into a blue-orange bubble, roaring dragon-like across the parking lot, louder than anything Mercedes had ever heard, screaming, really, truly, only the screaming, she realized, was her own, for she had finally found her voice, and she screamed and screamed and screamed as truck-pieces that had been tossed into the air by the explosion now rained back down onto other vehicles, shattering windshields and denting roofs and the truck-pieces were still on fire and some of the truck-pieces maybe weren’t truck-pieces at all because at the end of one of the pieces were what appeared to be four wiggling fingers.
Some two hours and two hundred miles hence, in a Waffle House just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, the very tall policeman – who of course wasn’t really a policeman at all but an unemployed Georgia Tech dropout named Hank Barry – took a seat at the counter and waited for his associate to arrive. Hank wasn’t entirely keen on having his back to the door but the owner of this particular Waffle House had installed an electronic bell which chimed every time the door opened; plus, Hank didn’t want to appear to his associate as if he was on his guard. No, he wanted to appear - what was the word? “Nonchalant.” Yes. He wanted to appear nonchalant, this despite the fact that his nerves remained electrified with hot adrenaline over what he’d done to the old couple and their car in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly. When Hank waved the snaggletoothed snow-haired waitress over with his right hand, he noticed the hand was positively shaking.
“Coffee?” she asked him.
“Decaf,” he replied. “Please.”
Hank took out a thin vinyl wallet from the back seat of his blue pants and removed a gas receipt tucked behind his array of 1s and 5s. On the back of the receipt was scribbled the address of this Waffle House just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee and, below it, the number 6. The digital clock above the cook’s stations displayed in large red LCD the current time: 6.
He looked around the small establishment. Maybe his associate was already here. The problem, however, was that he had no idea what his associate looked like. Few did. He imagined a large man, a swift-legged brute, with thick callused hands and a world of pain barely submerged behind a pair of ice-dark eyes.
“Don’t worry, Hank,” the man had assured him on the phone. “If you follow my instructions, I’ll recognize you.”
And his instructions had been simple. Lacking a notebook, Hank had written them on a series of receipts he’d let accumulate for whatever reason in his wallet. Although his handwriting hadn’t really progressed since the third grade, he’d made an effort to write slow and keep it legible because, if all went well, he, Hank Barry, college dropout, would become a star.
The Waffle House was half-full with its dinnertime crowd: a hodgepodge of loud families and sullen loners. Because the jukebox was broken, the sounds inside the restaurant became a mix of white noise chitter-chatter, with ceramic dishes clacking together for percussion, and meals sizzling in the open kitchen to fill out the bass. Customers left. Customers arrived.
The digits on the clock glowed a red 6:10.
This was not good. A man like this would be punctual – if he was coming at all.
Why wouldn’t he come? Hank had followed his instructions to the letter. He’d picked up the package – unusual as it might have been - from the men’s room locker at the YMCA on Preston Ridge Rd. in Alpharetta. He’d mailed the package at the blue postal box inside the Piggly Wiggly off I20 in Conyers. He’d then, according to instructions, “used the premises to demonstrate his prowess.” The homemade land mine he’d left under the pickup may have been simple but no one could argue its effectiveness.
Hank was recalling the first IED he ever built, way back in high school, when the waitress refilled his mug and scratched at her hairnet said:
“If you want something to eat, it’s on the house.”
“In these parts,” she added, “law enforcement eats free.”
Ah yes. The costume.
“So what’ll you have, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine right now,” said Hank. “Thanks.”
The waitress shrugged, pocketed her order pad, and teetered off.
At that moment, Hank took note of a man sitting alone and reading a moist newspaper in one of the corner booths. The man had a scraggly beard, plaid shirt, florescent orange hunter’s vest, wore a tight John Deere ball-cap over his greying scalp, and peered up from his paper and locked stares with Hank Barry for well over ten seconds before returning to his newspaper.
Could it be? It had to be. No one else in this restaurant, except perhaps the burly-armed fry cook, fit Hank’s preconception of his legendary associate. Hank gathered his courage, got up from his stool, and crossed to the man’s booth.
The moist newspaper lowered.
The men once again locked stares.
Then the scraggly man with the moist newspaper spoke:
“You got a problem there, flatfoot?”
Hank opened his mouth. “I…uh…”
“How about you stop invading my privacy, Himmler?”
Hank walked away. He walked all the way out of the Waffle House, his refilled mug of coffee still steaming inside on the red countertop. He walked into the winter drizzle and walked toward his twenty-two year-old black Trans-Am and didn’t even want to stop walking when he put his key into the door lock and folded himself into the driver’s seat. Coming here had been a mistake. This had all been a mistake. He’d failed somehow, somewhere, failed again, and his face filled with hot blood and his hands squeezed at the leather steering wheel and he kicked the floor with his boots repeatedly, angrily, because he knew he hadn’t failed – he’d followed the instructions down to the letter. His associate was the one who’d failed, his associate, Cain42, so revered, so high and mighty, so full of shit.
Hank had been nothing more than a courier. That had to be it. Because of his high profile, featured as he was on the FBI’s most wanted list, Cain42 probably hadn’t wanted to risk mailing that unusual package himself and so he’d falsified this offer of employment, this fake test, and Hank, optimistic fool that he was, had fallen for the bait.
“I’m going to kill him,” Hank muttered. “I’m going to watch his flesh melt.”
He inserted his key in the ignition and started his Trans-Am’s purring engine and popped the clutch and glanced in the rear-view to make sure the coast was clear - half-hoping someone was there, maybe the scraggly newspaper man, so he could back over his body and crunch his bones - but no one was there and so he shifted in reverse and stomped down on the accelerator. The muscle car’s chrome 20” wheels screamed with friction against the moist pavement and then the car zipped backward but only an inch or two before the stick Cain42 had propped underneath the front end tipped over and the handmade land mine Cain42 had propped underneath the stick exploded its main charge (1.3 lbs. of sawdust soaked in nitroglycerine), erupting like a volcano under the driver’s seat of the Trans-Am and cooking the driver’s seat, the steering carriage, and Hank Berry into black-hot mulch.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
And as a call-back to last week's question: I am very thankful for my writing career, with all its bumps and bruises, and, of course, for my readers, who inspire me get through the mine field of the business.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Like most writers, I am thankful for my agent, for being published and for the readers who take the time to spend a few hours with my book. But, above all else, I’m thankful for my wife Kathy for supporting and tolerating my writing. The spouses/partners of writers are the unsung heroes of the bookish world. In fact, every literary award from the Edgars to the Nobel Prize should add a category for them – Best Supporting Spouse.
The Supporting Spouse award would be given not based on the quality of the book, but rather on the degree of egomania, insecurity and neediness of the writer in question. I don’t know who would win that award this year -- although I do have a few educated guesses. I do know, however, that the category would be hotly contested each and every year.
For many books that are written, whether published or unpublished, there is a spouse who has:
* spent dinner conversations mulling a thorny plot point (in my case, how best to kill someone, a topic which always seems to alarm the diners at the next table);
* said, when needed, that the book was fantastic (even when they knew that it was still half-baked);
* managed to indicate that an element or chapter wasn’t working without inflicting psychic trauma;
* tolerated a constant air of distraction, particularly during the final month or two;
* padded out the crowd at a poorly attended reading;
* indulged detours while on vacation to scout book locations; and
* made the sacrifice of letting the writing spouse spend hundreds of hours sitting in front of a computer polishing a manuscript and living with one foot in another world.
And so I give thanks this Thanksgiving for my wife Kathy, who, in addition to her countless other lovely qualities, is the best, shrewdest and kindest reader and editor any writer could ask for.
Friday, November 25, 2011
When I sit down to count my blessings this time of year, I'm always overwhelmed by their number. A lovely family. A cozy house. My very own study (with a door). Good health. A garden. My MacBook. Dark chocolate in my fridge and fresh brownies (made by my husband) in a tin on the counter. How lucky can one writer be?
Getting published felt like winning the lottery. Only better. But that original moment of euphoria did eventually fade in the months that followed. The nitty-gritty business of being a writer intruded on my rose-colored dream. I had a little rain on my parade, but I also had wonderful things happen. And this Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks for all writing gifts I have received.
- For ideas that flow from somewhere in my brain
- For the chance to put my words onto paper
- For the chance to experience writing "the end"
- For the chance to share my writing with others
Thursday, November 24, 2011
How he manages to find time to work as a professional film editor and constantly take and post adorable pictures of his daughters to his Facebook page, I'll never know. But I'm very grateful that he does.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I think for me that's the thing I'm most thankful for. I've worked jobs that I enjoyed - I've worked jobs where the only thing that kept me going was looking forward to lunch and the paycheck. I've worked jobs that bored me to tears and made me feel like I was 90 even though I'd just graduated from college. All I did was sit around, read the paper and watch the clock.
But I never felt like any of them were my home. During all of them I was writing. During all of them I wanted to be somewhere else. I never say that now - I don't even think it.
Which means I'm thankful for the readers who spend they're hard earned cash and take a chance that we might be able to transport them away from the real world for a few days. And I'm thankful for the editors who read a hundred manuscripts every six months and still find something they like in mine. And I'm thankful for all the writers who've come before me and have inspired me to love reading and writing. I'm thankful that this is a community where others are thankful.
Before I was even published James Rollins was cool enough to talk to a few of us want-to-be authors in the halls of Thriller-fest and he actually talked about his experience of trying to get published and all he emotions we were going through right then and there.
About a year later Steve Berry invited me to a retreat to talk about writing - we sat down and talked for hours - then David Morrell came along and the three of us and their wives sat and talked writing for hours. (I still didn't have a book out yet.)
And then of course last year out of the blue #1 NYT Bestselling Author Clive Cussler asked me if I would work with him on the NUMA files. I'm thankful that a guy who doesn't have to spend a minute of the day writing or working if he doesn't want to, was willing to reach out to me (and others) and say "hey, come be a part of my success." And in the midst of working with him he taught me more than I'd learned in a decade of studying writing on my own. On top of that it was fun. I'm thankful that it was fun.
I'm thankful for the readers who get it. It's great when people love what you've written but especially amazing when someone loves what you've written for the reasons you hoped they'd love it. A recent reviewer on Barnes and Noble just totally got what we were trying to do with Devil's Gate, in bringing out the character's more realistic traits and building a different kind of suspense. Another reader actually got what I was trying to do in Black Sun, pointing out how it was about the choices the characters made more than the events that forced them to chose and how different it was from other 2012 stories. So there, at least two out of two hundred thousand readers get me. Ha!'
I'm thankful for Kindle - because even if the worst was to happen and I couldn't stay with a publisher, I could keep writing and publishing myself. Don't want to go that route, will do everything I can to avoid going that route, but at least its there.
In the meantime I'm here, writing, because this is where I'm supposed to be. This is my home.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
For authors, the quote doesn’t work at all. No author will ever please all the people some of the time and rarely some of the people all the time. It’s hard enough pleasing some of the people some of the time.
For those of us who write humor, it’s doubly hard. Not only do we have to get it right when it comes to plot and characters, we’ve got to appeal to the reader’s funny bone. And not all funny bones are created equal. As a matter of fact, funny bones are more like fingerprints -- no two are quite alike.
Which brings me to this week’s question: For What in Your Writing Are You Most Thankful? For me, I’m thankful for the readers who “get” my books, especially those fans who take the time to write me to tell me how much I made them laugh. I’m also grateful for the many readers who post their enjoyment of my books on various review sites.
Humor is very subjective. I know I fail miserably in that department for some readers. They’ve said so on those same review sites. But I knew when I started writing humorous fiction that I wasn’t going to be able to make everyone laugh. I’ve read plenty of humorous books that have laid giant goose eggs with me. I never cracked a smile, let alone burst out in a belly laugh, even though I had heard the books were funny. Same with some sit-coms and movies I’ve watched.
My biggest fear when I first published was not being able to please any readers any of the time. What if my agent and editor turned out to be the only two people who thought I was funny? I’ve since learned that I needn’t have worried about that. There are readers out there who think I’m funny. They’ve told me, and thanks to places like Goodreads and Amazon, they’ve told the world. For that I am truly grateful.
Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Vicki here on Sunday to report that, I’m going to be a rebel today and break with the question of the week to tell you where I am right now.
Juba, South Sudan.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It separated (after a thirty-year civil war) from Sudan in July. As you can imagine, after a long bitter war the country has a tough road ahead to pull itself out of poverty and unrest.
My daughter is working here in Juba, the capital city of the new county. I will be visiting her for three weeks. Juba is a city that is really more like a large village. There are no buildings here taller than about three stories. As a friend of my daughter said yesterday, you have to go a long way back in European history to find a time when the church steeple was the tallest thing around.
High-walled and barb-wire protected houses are side-by-side on rough unpaved streets with mud huts and tin shacks. And when I say, unpaved, I really mean unpaved. As in dusty and potholed, full of rubbish and more than the odd wandering goat and chicken and small child. I’ve attached a couple of pictures of street scenes.
It’s odd living in a cash economy again. Kinda like going back twenty or thirty years. I have to think – how much money will I need for the forthcoming week? There are no ATMs, no visa machines, no debit cards. Everything is paid in cash.
There are no recognizable Western brands in evidence here. Imagine, a place without McDonalds, Comfort Inn, Burger King, Walmart.
Meal planning is a challenge. My daughter lives in a comfortable but plain two bedroom townhouse with all the amenities, except she only has a two-burner stove top and no oven. Fresh greens (as we known them) are difficult to come by (lot of fresh fruit though) as are many of the Western things we use to add variety and interest to our diet such as marinades and sauces. The restaurants here are very good though. I’ve been for Indian a couple of times, for Thai, once for Ethiopian. And feasted on a wonderful grilled Nile perch at a restaurant on the banks of the While Nile.
Yesterday, a colleague of my daughter took me kayaking on the Nile. What a fabulous experience. The vegetation is neither as dry as you might expect being in Sudan or as lush being in tropical Africa. It is the dry season now and the plants are all lying low. It’s mango season though and you have to be careful walking under the big mango trees not to get a falling fruit on your head.
The streets are generally considered safe, and the crime rate is low. I go walking most days though the city while my daughter is at work. I am probably the only white person I see but no one bothers me or asks me for money and the vendors don’t try to hassle me to buy. I mean safe in terms of crime, that is. Not necessary traffic safety. Chaos is pretty much the word as scooters (what they call boda bodas), cars, trucks, 4*4s, pedestrians, and a good number of chickens, dogs, and goats, compete for road space. There are no traffic lights and few signs and it’s pretty much a free for all on the road.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to see this wonderful place when it’s fresh and enthusiastic and passionate about its future.
I checked with my housesitter yesterday. She tells me it’s turned quite cold in Ontario. Nice to be basking in the heat here in South Sudan.
I'll be blogging daily (most days anyway) about my adventures in South Sudan at my personal blog: One Woman Crime Wave
Saturday, November 19, 2011
I guess I’ve always been “out” as a writer to my folks. My mom Leonelle was a librarian and my dad a mechanic. She’d attended the University of Chicago and received her masters degree from USC. Dikes, my pop, dropped out of school after the 6th grade in Seguin, Texas and among other activities in the Depression to make ends meet, picked up bodies for the undertaker, worked for a bootlegger, and dug ditches as part of the WPA. Both of them revered education.
So when I’d walk home from grade school, I had to read after doing my homework and before I could go out and play. Dear reader, imagine a child told he has to read the likes of Pinocchio and Robin Hood. Oh, the humanity. Needless to say I developed the love of recreational reading early. When us kids were taught the Dewey Decimal system at 61st Street Elementary, it was off to the races for me and I happily scoured the stacks of our school’s library for books like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Beast Master by Andre Norton. Even when I played football in high school, I would invariably have a paperback of the latest Doc Savage adventure in my back pockets because in those days Bantam was reprinting his tales from the pulps.
Pretty much since I was in grade school, having been inspired by my readings, I’d also written my own short stories. Being a comic book fan then and now, I got to drawing and writing mighty struggles for truth and justice using character I created. In fact to make sure I wasn’t blowing my allowance on these funny books, pop would ask me what was that latest Daredevil or issue of the Flash about. I didn’t know plot and structure then, but I’m sure recounting those four-color outings of derring-do gave me a sense of the components of story construction. Comics for certain helped build my vocabulary too.
Sadly, it turned out I didn’t have much facility as an artist, but the writing, well that was something I could keep at – hone it, shape it, learn from my mistakes. As a teenager I read the classics such as Native Son and Huck Finn, but discovered the other classics as well; Hammett and Chandler. I was hooked. It would take more years later than it should have, but always in the back on my mind was the notion I’d tackle writing a mystery novel.
I’m glad my parents made me read as a kid. I suppose I might have gotten on to the habit anyway, but certainly knowing they liked books made it so much sweeter when I could produce a few as well, though they were gone by then. Still, I think they knew.
I leave you now with an unabashed plug for my short story “Feathersmith’s Excellent Plan” in the just released, all-original anthology, Dead of Winter from the Thalia Press Authors Co-Op, of which I’m a proud member. The e-book is valuable on Kindle and Nook.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Catnapped and Doggone
Hi. My name is Gabi. I’m a writer.
Yes, it sounds exactly like every other 12-step program announcement. At first, I whispered my confession only to strangers who have walked the walk and lived the life. Conferences, master classes and writing retreats were the only places I could say the words out loud because in my family we just don’t do touchy-feely. Our collars are blue – and starched – and there’s no such thing as pursuing passion as a career-choice. Heck, using the “p” word for anything is strictly verboten, a good German word meaning not if you’re calling yourself one of us. So, I stealthed. I worked my seventy hour weeks and toted the proverbial bale of hay while wearing my girl shoes while the artiste inside me yearned to be free, open, visible. . But in secret, I wasn’t just scribbling in notebooks as a hobby. I was building my intellectual ark. I was in Seattle so I knew the showers would come and, lo, it rained.
When I won the first award, in Maui, I had yet to finish a novel. I had made several halting attempts but without tangible proof, well, no one in my family would cotton to my quitting the day job. It’s not that my name wasn’t mentioned with pride. It’s just that the nature of my achievements were glossed over with the general professional recognition tag. All conversations pretty much ended with the it’s just a phase tag. As if, in a week, or a month, I’d suddenly decide I’d rather grow tomatoes, an equally acceptable strictly part-time activity that might raise a little mad money but couldn’t be a focus of my life. I mean they’re vegetables much like my writing was stories.
Things didn’t change even when I got my deal to publish the Animal Instinct mysteries. To be fair, fiction doesn’t pay the big girl salary and few scions of business quake when an author shows up unannounced. Corporate counsel, yeah, she sends the tremors through the building. Who would give up that kind of power for art? No one in their right mind and my family was quick to make sure no one drifted too far from the sane tag. While strangers and neighbors might be regaled with my literary success, and directed to a real bookstore where proof of my renaissance abilities could be read on spines in the local author section, inevitably any familial inquiry into this distraction would be met with reassurances as to my commitment to the day job and its expense account.
My big moment came only recently when I moved from Seattle. Away from my business contacts and workaholic reputation, I, for the first time, committed to being a writer. Openly. Okay, so I was still mumbling under my breath and I recognize there may be a day where the financial security of the same old, same old of corporate work might be necessary to continue to eat on a regular basis. But every day I write. Every day, my mantra, I am a writer, grows a bit bolder, a tiny smudge more assured. I’m not playing at it. It is no longer how I spend the two hours between the end of a work day and the land of nod. It’s what I do. Who I am.
My family is still waiting for this to pass. Like kidney stones, I expect. With pain and possible professional intervention unavoidable. But here’s the thing. I’m out now. There’s no back. There’s only forward. As unimaginable as it is to my relatives, I am doing this. I’ve learned to live with their disbelief. I can even accept their well-meaning but unhelpful “advice” on the foolhardiness of signing up to this life when I have other options, more readily understood alternatives. I’m out and proud.
Hi. My name is Gabi. I’ve taken the first step – admission. I am a writer.
Thanks for reading.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
My dad wanted me to be a geologist. When I was seven or eight and took an obsessive interest in fossils, he revved up the VW’s engine, and off we drove to a defunct strip mine where machines had exposed a thick vein of rock impressed with leaves and insects. Every time I split a stone with my rock hammer and exposed a little fossil, I felt that I’d discovered treasure. Yes, son, my dad’s approving glances seemed to say, there’s a livelihood to be made in rocks. I’m pretty sure he was thinking of oil shale rather than trilobites. That Christmas I received a rock tumbler. When I gave my mom amethyst earrings for Mother’s Day and my dad an amethyst bolo tie for Father’s Day and everyone else little polished pieces of amethyst on birthdays, Dad nodded at me again with that look. Yep, oil shale. Or blood diamonds. Whichever you prefer.
I admit to being complicit. I liked and still like rocks. Fossils excite me. When my own kids were seven or eight and wanted to hunt for fossilized shark teeth at a nearby beach, I packed the shovels and the sifters and sat in the car, honking the horn, while they put on their swimsuits. We went on a cold winter day. Shivering in the backseat, one of my kids built up his courage. “Shouldn’t we do this in the summer?” he asked. I gave him my No, damnit look and said, “Less competition from the other fossil hunters this time of year.”
When I went away to college and declared myself an English major, Dad took the news reasonably well. “An English major is good preparation for law school,” he said. “Oh, no,” I said, “I want to be a writer. A poet probably. Or a novelist.” “Oh, shit,” he said.
I bounced around after college. I wrote plays that never got produced. I wrote scripts with a guerilla video company that included for a brief time the young
Eventually, I went back to school, earned a graduate degree, and took a less bouncy job teaching literature in
Eventually, I did start sketch out possible mysteries. Then I started writing one. The first was the proverbial learning experience, which is another way of saying, an experience that produces a manuscript that no one ever would want to read. The second was The Last Striptease, which
When I called my parents to tell them about The Last Striptease, my dad said, “Noooo . . . really?” He didn’t tell me that he always knew I had writing books in me, but he also didn’t offer to drive me back to the strip mine.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was little.
Okay, that’s not exactly true. I did briefly entertain a dream of being a cartoonist for The New Yorker, but then I found out that they actually expected you to know how to draw. Whatever, New Yorker staff. Way to crush a young girl’s dreams with your crazy insistence on talent. After that, there was a brief aspiration to become a tap dancer, brought about after multiple viewings of numerous Gene Kelly movies, but that hope too faded (if “faded” means when friends, family, and neighbors petition the Court to have you legally barred from performing ANY dance moves until you move out of state).
But after THAT, it was writing. My first (and only poem), however, did not inspire confidence as to my proposed career choice. I’ll leave it to you to decide if this was just another cruel example of Art Being Crushed by the Dull or “evidence once again that you’ve left your homework off until the last minute” as my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wiggins noted.
The rain comes down
Upon the ground
Will it ever stop?
I’ll get the mop
Now, I don’t know if this matters to your decision, but Mrs. Wiggins also had weird hair and smelled funny. I’m just saying.
Anyway, after realizing that I wasn’t going to follow down Sylvia Plath’s path, I focused on fiction. (BTW: Do you know how hard it was not to try and force a pun on the whole Plath/path thing? Hard, I tell. Very hard.) Around this time, I saw a movie called The Double McGuffin. It was a mystery with a bunch of kids in it (oh, and Ernest Borgnine, but I had no idea who he was then). One of the kids was very cute. Very cute. I had the rather brilliant idea that I would write my own mystery, get it turned into a movie, and then demand that this boy star in it. He would, of course, meet me, think I was really cool, come visit me, and ask me to couple skate at the roller rink, but – best of all – he would know how to skate backwards! And he wouldn’t ask my nemesis Nikki Baxter to skate at all! HA!
To prepare myself for this very realistic goal, I began reading mysteries. I read all the Nancy Drew books and amassed quite a bit of handy knowledge in the process. For instance, did you know that you should always carry a tube of red lipstick with you in case you are locked in an attic by the bad guys? Well, you should; because you can use the lipstick to write a cry for help on the attic window! Also, when locked in a room, a spiked heel makes a nice tool to break a window to summon help. I keep telling my fifteen-year-old son he should be ready to use these tips, but you know how today’s kids are – little know it alls who don’t want to listen to their parents.
Another factor in my love for mysteries was the promise of a satisfying resolution to a troubling problem. As I grew older, this increasingly became an important factor in my life, as I am that woman who can’t find her car keys. The ones right there in her purse. Resolution to a problem – even if it wasn’t my own – became a deeply held goal.
Anyway, when I began to think of writing my own mystery, I realized it would have to include certain elements. A brilliant plot, an innate attraction to everyone (especially Oprah), but that’s about all I realized. Pesky little details such a basic plot refused to materialize.
As I struggled to come up with something in the way of a viable storyline, the characters of my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, kept swirling around in my head. It dawned on me that while there is no murder in Pride and Prejudice, there are plenty of characters who certainly inspire murderous thoughts. (It also dawned on me that I might be losing my already rather tenacious grip on reality as who goes around with fictional characters swirling around in their heads? Whack jobs, that’s who.)
Anyway, I began to wonder, what, if after years of living with unbearably rude and condescending behavior, old Mrs. Jenkins up and strangled Lady Catherine? Or, if one day Charlotte snapped and poisoned Mr. Collins’ toast and jam? These were the questions that plagued me (well, that and who invented liquid soap and why). I kept trying to figure out how I could work in the themes and personality clashes of Pride and Prejudice into a modern-day mystery. (I also spent a great deal of time in trying to determine just what is wrong with the little red haired girl on the Island of Misfit Toys. Is her dowdy housedress? Is it her hair? Exactly what is her problem? She seems perfectly normal!)
Then one day I was watching the news and – lo and behold – there was a story about a woman on the eastern shore who killed her husband at a B&B after they attended a Host-A-Murder Dinner. How perfect is that? (Well, unless you were her poor sod of a husband.)
Without haste, I set pen to paper and started work on my own book, Murder at Longbourn. (That is, if you accept “three years later” for an appropriate definition of “without haste.”) Of course, I have grown up a great deal since I first had my rather silly idea that my book would be turned into a movie and thus allow me to meet my childhood crush. I realize that such dreams are sweet but unattainable.
No, I now want my book turned into a movie so I can cast George Clooney or Hugh Grant.
Until that happens though, writing mysteries allows me to bring at least one “problem” to a satisfactory conclusion in my life.
Speaking of which, if any of you know what’s up with the red head, would you please let me know?
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
And yet I never really was a writer, even at a young age. I was a typist. Because my handwriting is indistinguishable from the readings on an electrocardiogram, I type my tales, and did so even as a pre-adolescent rapscallion. I would take a piece of light tan paper - so low-grade that the wood pulp was still discernible in the sheet - and fold it in half (because books are folded in half, aren't they?) and roll it left-side down into my Dad's typewriter and away I'd go, my fingers swarming down on the keys like a flock of birds at a sesame factory, and I'd fill up small books with the adventures of John Corin (don't laugh), leader of the Police Cops (stop laughing), a squad of highly trained superhero crimefighters whose identities were loosely based on the action figures I happened to keep in a tub in my closet (still laughing, aren't you?).
I also created my own TV network and populated the time slots with shows of my own creation, most of them action-oriented but some of them set in space, some underwater, etc. The space stories were some of my favorites. There was a starship (shh) piloted by a man simply known as the Captain (shush) and he and his crew of highly trained superhero crimefighters - whose identities were loosely based on the action figures I happened to keep in a tub in my closet - traveled the galaxy in search of adventure (no, seriously, they did).
On my good days, I like to think that my imagination has matured since then.
On my better days, I am glad it hasn't.