Thursday, May 26, 2022

Whose book is it anyway? by Catriona

How much air time do you give to secondary characters? Have any threatened to take over a book? Choose one of yours that you particularly enjoy and share them with us, including a snippet of text that gives us their flavour.

This question made me laugh a hollow laugh. When I embarked on the Last Ditch Motel series, one of the boons - so I thought - was that there would be a different selection of transient minor characters in every book. You know, because it was set in a motel. 

That plan went ever so slightly wrong. In Scot Free, I put a pair of doctors in the next-door room to my heroine, Lexy Campbell. They were staying for a few nights while their house was tented for bugs. But I fell in love with them and didn't want them to go away at the end of the book. So I gave Todd a bad case of cleptoparasitosis (a fear of bugs, including imaginary bugs) and made them permanent residents of the motel because it's the only place safe enough for them to live in.

Lexy meets Todd thus:

a young man in Hello Kitty shorty pyjamas shoved past me, leapt across the floor, and dove into my bed

“Emm,” I said.

“Can I stay here?” he said. He had the covers clutched to his chin, a chiseled chin with perfect stubble and a dimple you could have filled with melted chocolate and dipped marshmallows in.

“Emm,” I said.

“I saw the bed was slept in so I knew someone was here,” he said. “Can I use your phone?”

“Are you in some kind of trouble?” I said.

“I’m Todd,” he said. “I live next door. In two fourteen. But I just got up and went into the bathroom and there is a s-p-i-d-e-r the size of Godzilla’s grandpa in the shower. So if I could just stay here and use your phone to call Roger – my hubs; he’s at work – to come and kill it, that would be a really big help to me.”

“Or,” I said, “I could go and kill the sp- it for you.”

He had pulled the covers up to his eyes when I started to say the word, but he let it drop again. “For

 reals?” he said. “It is bigger than my first apartment.”

I might have been able to resist Todd enough to send him back to his house for the start of Scot and Soda but when I added Roger the two of them together were too much for me: 

            "Well, for God’s sake, Lexy," said Todd. "Pour us a glass of Chablis and tell us all!”

“I haven’t got any Chablis.”

“He’s probably filled your refrigerator,” Roger said. “As you see, Todd doesn’t really do boundaries.”

“As you see, Roger tends to over-psychologize everyday life,” Todd shot back.

“My apologies,” said Roger. “As you’ll soon find out, Todd likes to take care of people.”

“As you’ll sooner find out, Roger is troubled by normal amounts of everyday kindness.”

“Normal?” said Roger. “What about when you fostered those hedgehogs?”

“What about it? The PETA website linked to my Facebook post.”

“Todd, you bought a stroller!”

And that's not all. Why is the Last Ditch Motel the only safe palce for Todd and Roger to live? Well, because of another pair of transient motel guests who morphed into permanent residents so they could be in every book. I had put a germaphobe and her long-suffering wife into Scot Free, for plot reasons. With a flick of the wrist, I made the long-suffering wife into the motel owner - because it's always funny to me when someone monumentally grumpy works in a customer-facing job. Here's Noleen, perhaps my absolute favourite character, still bitching and moaning in the motel reception, in Scot on the Rocks:

She was facing away from me, wearing a sweatshirt I hadn’t seen before – it read nobody asked you – upending the stationery drawer over a black bin bag. Elastic bands, bulldog clips and pens cascaded down. I think I saw some postage stamps go in there.

“Wow,” I said. “Are you going paperless?”

“I’m starting over,” she said, turning. The front of the sweatshirt said Shut up. Blunt, even for Noleen. “I’m going to OfficePro after Della gets here to tag me and buying just what I need and nothing else. None of this . . .” she stirred the very dregs of the drawer contents then tipped it higher to shoot the lot into the bin bag.

“Is that foreign currency?” I said. “Because it looks like quarters. Nolly, you’re binning money.”

“I’m letting go,” she said. “And I’m going to start locking this drawer so no one can put hairbands and thumb tacks in it when I’m not looking.”

“No one . . .” I began. “Okay. But you know what I think?”

“Don’t want to,” she said. “Don’t want your opinions stinking up my head any more than I want random strangers’ Canadian change stinking up my drawer.”

And once Noleen was the owner, Kathi the germaphobe automatically became permanent too. I added a laundromat to one end of the horseshoe of rooms and made her its manager. The perfect job for someone who likes everything spick and span. I also added a cousin in Costa Rica who supplies the insecticide that keeps the Last Ditch bug-free. (It's illegal in California, this insecticide. In fact, it's so good it's illegal in Nevada too.) Here's Kathi in Scot Mist, which takes place in March 2020, doing what she does best - panicking:

Kathi jabbed a finger at me before she spoke. “Disneyland is closed. The federal government has offered a tax-filing extension. A. Tax. Filing. Extension. Lexy, they’ve admitted that the only sure thing is death.”

“I don’t know what the Brit equivalent would be,” Noleen chipped in.

“Me neither,” I said. “Taking down the Bake Off tent?”

“I swear to God if you crack one single joke,” said Kathi. Her jaw was clenched so tight she sounded like Sean Connery. Doing a surprisingly good American accent.

“I’m not joking!” I said. “We haven’t got a Disneyland to close.”

“Look,” Kathi said. “I don’t know how many people are sick,” I did and, from the way she shifted her feet, I think Noleen did too. “But they’re not all from Wuhan and they’re not all on that floating petri dish down in the docks. Some of them are in the city and some of them must be leaving the city and this is a motel ninety minutes from the city and so it closes today.”


“So help me, Betty White, if you tell me not to worry . . ."

So there it is. My four transients from the first book are all still there. And it was more or less "in for a penny" that made me give up and turn the other guests into permanent residents too. Dylan, the college kid, was supposed to be there for a weekend because he was being bullied in his dorm. Della and little Diego were staying a while till she could find a flat. In next year's Scot in a Trap (Book five of the planned trilogy (I might have a general lack of control, it occurs to me)),  not only are the three of them still checked in but SPOILER Della and Dylan are married and now there are four, after baby Hiro was born on Thanskgiving Day:

‘Okay!’ Della said, putting her hands on the arms of her chair and pulling herself upright in it. ‘Ahhhhh. Ooooh. Owwwiiieeee.’

Everyone around the table winced in sympathy, except Hiro who was yelling at her own fists as they waved in front of her face. And also except Diego, who was motoring through a towering bowlful of pie and ice cream as if he was being paid by the slice. ‘What’s wrong, Mama?’ he said, pausing with a spoon half way to his mouth. ‘Brain freeze?’

‘My vulva tore a little when I was pushing Hiro out,’ said Della. ‘It’s tender.’

A huge thought bubble formed above everyone’s heads overshadowing the accompanying silence.

‘Things are so much better than they used to be,’ I said, eventually. ‘As a therapist, a woman, and a buttoned-up Brit, I thoroughly approve of no-nonsense openness.’

‘Speak for yourself,’ said Noleen. ‘That’s just weird. Vulva? No way Diego knows what a vulva is.’

‘It’s the folds of skin around-’ Diego got out, before Noleen managed to stop him.

‘Mommy was right on the edge of needing stitches,’ Todd said, as if Diego – or any of us – needed more detail. ‘But Uncle Roger said she could give it a day and then take another look. What do you think, Dell?’

‘The ice-pack helped,’ Della said. ‘Oh, Lexy. I need to replace your ice-pack. Remind me if you remember.’

Like I’d forget.

‘Anyway,’ Della said, ‘I want to talk to you about three things. We need to have a memorial for that guy who died.’

‘We do?’ said Noleen.

‘I do,’ said Della.

‘Someone died?’ Diego said, with his eyes like saucers.

‘This’ll be good,’ said Noleen. ‘What the vulva equivalent when it comes to sudden death?’

‘He did,’ Della said. ‘He went to Heaven to live with Jesus, and we need to honor his memory so that his spirit is at rest.’

‘Phew,’ said Noleen. ‘No death vulva. Fine by me.’

I can hardly remember these people as minor characters in a single book now. They are Lexy's logical family, to quote Armistead Maupin, and she loves them all as much as I do.  Cx


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whatever did I do without this trilogy? I once lived in a motel while waiting for the house to be finished. Me. Ex. Four children. A German shepherd And a few gerbils. This whole series rings true

The name of the motel was Dun Roamin’. No kidding.