I'm only half joking when I say that I don't make up the events in my Meg books; I just take real life events and turn up the volume a little. Take Tuesday morning's adventure.
My friends Kathy and Dave are redoing their bathroom, something Dave's eager to finish before the November arrival of their second child. Dave asked if, before I headed out of town for a quick visit to Mom, I could help him with a renovation task: hauling the five-foot-long double vanity cabinet from the garage to the upstairs bathroom. No problem; I'm good at construction tasks requiring no real skill, only a reasonable amount of brute strength. And I could see why he needed help. The cabinet was sixty inches long, twenty-two wide and thirty tall, and was still done up with several inches of packing on all sides in a box only slightly smaller than a refrigerator.
All went well at first. We didn't trip over the cat who thought our slow, shuffling procession was a parade in which she needed to participate. We didn't let the other cat slip past us--the cat who's currently exiled to the outdoors for excessive, gratuitous furniture and rug piddling. Being a pessimist, I suggested moving various bits of furniture well out of our path; fortunately Dave's optimism about our ability to avoid whacking things was justified.
And then we hit the bottom of the stairs and progress stalled. If we both pushed from below, the leading edge of the humongous box caught on the steps and stopped us. When I tried to pull while Dave pushed, I couldn't get enough of a grip on the box to exert more than a tiny amount of force. Neither could Dave when we switched places, with me huffing and puffing to push the box up and him scrabbling from above for handholds. I don't know about Dave, but I began racking my brains to think of someone else we could call to come over and help.
"Let's take it out of the box," I suggested. Dave liked the idea, pointing out that we could also remove the drawers that weighted down the left and right ends--maybe that would lighten things noticeably. It did--by at least a third. Maybe half. And unlike the box, the cabinet had plenty of rails and uprights and, well, handholds. It wasn't perfect--in a couple of places, it was coming unglued. Dave, in typical low-key fashion, commented that he wasn't too impressed with the construction. Meaning, I suspect, that he was seriously disappointed. But he decided there was nothing he couldn't fix once we got the cabinet in place. No problem. We hoisted the cabinet and practically trotted up the stairs with it.
Maneuvering it into place in the tight quarters of the bathroom was tricky, but we managed to tip and turn and slide it back into the niche intended for it. Only it wouldn't go all the way back. The back of the cabinet was open except for the boards that framed in the drawer section--and they were placed, with almost mathematical precision, exactly where the two sets of sink pipes protruded from the wall. Apparently the double vanity cabinet was designed for only a single sink.
We contemplated the mismatch for a while, considered whether there was any way to move the boards or the pipes, and then decided the only thing to do was to haul the thing back down again, pack it up in the box, and return it to the store. Or at least put it into the car so Dave could return it, since I was due at Mom's. Which we did; and I hit the road. Dave opted for two 30-inch cabinets in lieu of trying to find a five foot cabinet of the right configuration. Easier to carry upstairs, the two cabinets.
End of adventure. But I'm filing it away for future use. And doing a few what ifs. What if we hadn't successfully avoided the milling cats underfoot? What if we'd managed to get the cabinet halfway up the stairs before one of us had lost his or her grip? What if we'd tried to move the pipes and flooded the house? Or maybe tried to knock out a wall to relocate the cabinet and uncovered. . . a secret compartment? A suspicious object? Perhaps even a body?
Maybe the hoisting of the cabinet will make it into a book one day. Or maybe it won't. But that's how my brain works. Take a frustrating situation, and see the humor in it, because life works so much better when your sense of humor is working. And then turn your imagination loose on what did happen and see if those what ifs turn into a plot.
Occasionally, when participating in writing groups or teaching about writing, I run into someone who has had exciting life experiences--things that would make wonderful background for a story--and then find that the writer feels far too constrained by what actually happened to turn this good material into a good story. If everybody got along perfectly; if many perils could have happened but none actually did; if the path to success was straight and wide and uninterrupted...where's the story?
Of course, overliteral adherence to the truth has never been one of my problems, especially when there's a good story to be told. I'm not as bad as one of my college friends who was, depending on your point of view, either a pathological liar or one of the most creative storytellers who'd ever lived. He could make a trip to Alderman Library into an epic adventure. Disconcerting, the first time you caught him appropriating something memorable you'd said or done and grafting it onto his own biography--especially when you realized that he wore those bits of your life better than you did. But he was a work of art, a force of nature, and a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, even though you knew better than to rely on a thing he said.
I'm not that bad. Honestly. But I did learn a lot about storytelling from him.
So, anyway, getting back to the adventure of the cabinet. When I looked up and saw that huge box skidding at breakneck speed down the stairs toward me. . .
Just wondering. I mean, lately I've been hoping for a couple of people to experience a bit of a career slowdown. They've never done anything to me; they seem like nice people; they're definitely good at their jobs. It's not as if I wish them ill.
But I can't help hoping that Jim Cantore starts getting a lot more down time than he has in the past few months. And although Anderson Cooper seems to enjoy moonlighting on the hurricane beat, I'm hoping that he has to stick to drier subjects for a while.
In an odd bit of synchronicity, I spent much of the day in a hospital waiting room--no, there's nothing wrong; I was serving as transportation for a friend having outpatient surgery--reading Eileen Dreyer's Sinners and Saints and catching the odd bit of news about Wilma on the television in the corner. Sinners and Saints, which Eileen researched during 2004, takes place in New Orleans when the city is under threat of a category five hurricane. Ironically, the book was released September 1, 2005, just days after Katrina made landfall. I picked up my copy during the Baltimore Book Festival, which happened the weekend Rita hit Texas, and it seemed only fitting to read it on the day Wilma tore through Florida. Even kept me from worrying too much about my friend--I'm an Olympic-class worrier, and without a really engrossing book to read, I'd have spent the entire long afternoon at the hospital coming up with dire worst-case scenarios, so I owe Eileen my thanks for preventing that.
Now that I'm back home, I'm checking the email box--once again, we're all doing the roll call. Diane, near Orlando, reported late this morning that all the schools, businesses, and even the theme parks were closed--though the theme parks might reopen in the afternoon. And she'd heard from Connie near Fort Myers, who had no power but only minor damage to her house. Elaine Viets was on tour and is fine, but doesn't know how things are going at home. We haven't yet heard how Joanne Sinchuk of Murder on Miami Beach rode out the storm. But since 98% of the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area was without power, we're not too worried. . . yet.
And just when does the hurricane season end, anyway? Technically, not till November 30. Yikes. I'm scheduled to head down to Florida for the Miami Book Fair next month, signing on November 19 at the Murder On Miami Beach booth. And we've already seen tropical storm Alpha. How far down the Greek alphabet will we be by November 19? And for that matter, maybe I should do a refresher course on the Greek alphabet....let's see. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, Nu, Xi, Omicron, Pi, Rho, Sigma, Tau, Upsilon, Phi, Chi, Psi, Omega.
They all sound rather ominous to me. Here's hoping Alpha doesn't have any younger siblings.
Amanda asked if I was ever going to consider turning Meg into a film or TV series, so I thought I'd answer her here.
The sad truth is that in almost every case, the writer has almost no control over whether a book or series of books is ever made into a movie or TV series. In most cases, we do have the right to say no if we absolutely don't want our work filmed--I say in most cases because not all writers are able to keep control over the film rights to their works. If a writer is relatively unknown, doesn't have an agent, or doesn't have a savvy agent, she may have to make a choice between giving up the film rights and not getting the book published. Most of us choose to get published.
Even if you manage to keep control over the film rights, there's no guarantee that Hollywood will come knocking at your door to buy them. What we mystery readers think will make a great movie may not impress a director, producer, or screenwriter. Considering some of the stuff that does make it onto the screen, I'm not sure I could honestly say they know better what will make a good movie, but it's their business, and they have a right to buy what they think will work.
And even if a production company does buy the rights, that doesn't guarantee that a film will be made. I saw on Janet Evanovich's site that someone asked why there hadn't been a Stephanie Plum movie to date. The answer was that Tri-Star has owned the rights for years and hasn't yet come up with a script they like. Rumor has it that only one out of ten books that get optioned by production companies ever become movies or TV series. If that many.
Which brings up another point--say a production company does buy the screen rights and comes up with a script they like. There's no guarantee that the final result will look anything like the original book. Probably because it's very rare for the production company to let the writer see the script, much less participate in developing it. And the writer's the last person the production company asks when they're deciding who to cast in the movie.
Remember the big fuss Anne Rice made when Tom Cruise was cast in the movie version of Interview with the Vampire? Saying he was all wrong for the role? Yes, she later changed her mind after seeing his performance and, to her credit, praised his performance as publicly as she'd decried his casting; you don't see a lot of people willing to do something like that. But I have no doubt that her first cry of anguish when she heard the casting was heartfelt and genuine. And that's Anne Rice, who probably has a lot more clout and control than most of us scribblers.
So, will there be a movie version of Meg? Beats me. If someone makes an offer, I'll let my agent help me figure out if it's worth taking. We did hear from someone a while back who wanted to option the Meg series, but we turned the offer down for two reasons--first, that the person who offered didn't appear to have any connection whatsoever to any production company that had ever made a single movie. And second, the amount he was offering to pay seemed a little low. He was, in fact, offering $1. My agent remarked, dryly, that you usually expect to see at least a few zeros in an option offer.
And if someone does ever make a Meg movie or TV series, I'll try to remember the time when a friend's book was made into a TV movie, and a group of us gathered with the friend to watch it. As TV movies go, it wasn't at all bad, and yet between the pointless plot alterations, the sometimes odd casting, and the occasional glaring moment when the friend moaned "Oh, my God! Everyone who helped me with my research will think I'm a complete idiot!"--well, if I'd known beforehand what watching your book made into a movie can be like, I'd have suggested we try to get hold of some tranquilizers, or failing that, large quantities of alcohol.
We should all be careful what we wish for! So in short, I think the best approach for me to take to getting Meg made into a movie is not to worry about it and keep writing the books as well as I can.
And no, I'm not answering the question of who I think should play Meg. But if you want to know who I'd most want to direct a Meg movie or series, I'll answer that: Joss Whedon.
If anyone had asked me today why I was in an ever-so-slightly cranky mood, I could, with a clear conscience, blame the weather, the woodpecker, and Kate Charles.
The weather: I've always loved the change of seasons. Often, my favorite days are the first warm days in spring and the first cool days in autumn. They carry the hope of new beginnings, along with a pleasantly mild hint of melancholy about the season now ending. Magical, sometimes, lifting your head to feel the first warm or cool breeze.
Unfortunately, in the fall, the first subtle, cool days give way to the first chilly or downright cold days. I begin fussing with the thermostat, flipping back and forth between heat and air conditioning. Some years I remember to hunt out the lip balms and skin lotions (which have been been gathering dust most of the summer) before detecting the first signs of chapped lips and dry skin, but this year they took me by surprise. And the cool days bring leaf mold, which of all the things I'm allergic to seems to be the one that gives me the biggest problems; and when the leaf mold allergy kicks into gear, there's the dispiriting possibility of coming down with the first cold of the season--though if I get enough sleep and take my vitamins, perhaps I can fight it off. But I'm sniffly. Makes me slightly cranky.
And the effort to get enough sleep was sabotaged this morning by the woodpecker. At least it sounds like a woodpecker; something tapping loudly with machine-like speed on the siding of the house, in a place that, unfortunately, happens to be a few feet from the head of my bed. Sometimes banging on the wall works. This morning, nothing would stop the miserable housewrecker, so I finally threw on yesterday's clothes and slogged out into the drizzle (the cold drizzle) to wrestle the ladder into place at the side of the house and creep up it far enough to spray Ropel in and around the hole. (It's a bird and animal repellant.) I might have done a better job if I'd crawled to the top of the ladder, but between my acrophobia and the soggy state of the ground on which I had to place the ladder, I wasn't keen to try it. Maybe next time; it says outdoor surfaces may need more than one treatment.
I also called the pest control service that does my termite inspections and they'll be coming out to inspect the situation next week. They're in the midst of dealing with calls about mice and squirrels that the rain and cold are driving indoors, and at first seemed to think I, too, must have mice or squirrels in the attic. Not unless the mice or squirrels brought their miniature nail guns with them, I replied. No, I couldn't swear there weren't any rustling noises, I told them, but what was waking me up was the insistent, rapid, rhythmic tapping. I think my description of the noises I heard convinced them less than the fact that this wasn't a recent phenomenon; it had been going on for months, on and off. "Oh, well; it must not be mice and squirrels than." Apparently even your most avid do-it-yourself rodent woodworking hobbyists prefer the great out-of-doors in the summer. Anyway, we'll see that the pest control people find next week.
Kate Charles comes in for her share of the blame because Wednesday night I decided I felt tired but not quite sleepy enough to doze off, and decided to curl up in bed to read a few chapters of her newest book, Evil Intent, before turning out the light. So much for early to bed. Nothing like the perfect intersection of a good book and being in exactly the right mood for that particular book. I came close to being able to finish the last few chapters by daylight. Luckily, since I've left the beastly day job, I could simply sleep in and get a late start on the day's projects. And don't let it be said that I can't learn from my mistakes. I seemed to recall that I had at least one of Kate's standalones around the house that I hadn't yet read, so I hunted down Cruel Habitations and got an earlier start on it Thursday night, reading in the rocking chair and eating my current favorite snack (croissants from Vie de France and some Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese with a Diet Coke). Still kept me up rather late, but I'd have been fine if not for the woodpecker and the slightly increased need for sleep when fighting off a cold.
So perhaps I'll let Kate off the hook (I want her to keep writing) and just heap the blame where it belongs, on the weather and the woodpecker.
My reading choices have been rather unpredictable lately. I have a whole stack of books I've been looking forward to reading; I shuffle them around and arrange the ones I most want to read in little piles near the bed, but then, when the time comes to choose the next book to read, half the time I will wander off to some other part of the house and pick up a book that wasn't anywhere near the top of the queue. I have decided to assume that it's my subconscious at work, drawing upon a deeper wisdom to select a book that has something to offer me at that point in my life. Sounds better than admitting that I'm in an undisciplined and disorganized frame of mind.
The last time this happened, I was in need of a book that could travel with me as I ran a great many errands, many of which had the potential of waiting in line. Under the circumstances, then, I needed a paperback. But it was, like today, raining, and many of my errands would involve going to places where I'd be unlikely to find convenient parking--I felt disinclined to subject any of the nice, neat, shiny new paperbacks at the top of my stack to that ordeal, so I wandered into the library and plucked, almost at random, a nice, thin, worn paperback that I got second hand--a copy of Robert Barnard's The Case of the Missing Bronte. Been a while since I'd read one of Barnard's books, so it was a joy to be reminded what a master he is. I was particularly struck by a fight scene toward the end of the book, a brilliant balance of violence and the comic absurdity that sometimes accompanies it. I'm bookmarking it to study later, so I can learn something about choreographing comic combat, along with a fight scene from Aaron Elkins's Loot involving a cast-iron frying pan and a miniature schnauzer named Wittgenstein.
Hmm.... Been a while since I read anything by Elkins, too. I bet I have at least one unread book by him lurking around the house. Must check tomorrow.
A little less than a year ago, Jon Jordan of Crime Spree magazine was asking authors for their five to ten favorite books of 2004, for a roundup article. Between juggling deadlines and Dad's illness, 2004 had not been a big reading year for me. I gave him a few names, and then suggested "I could do you a really good list of books that I can't wait to read; wouldn't you like that instead? It's a much longer and more impressive list, and has far more of the writers I love and admire on it, as well as some wonderful newcomers that I'm obviously going to be the last to discover." I can't offhand remember if I ever did that list--November and December of 2004 weren't a whole lot more organized than the rest of the year--but maybe if I start now I can come up with the list. The things that didn't get read, despite my best intentions and knowing, from previous acquaintance with the author's work or the rave reviews of people whose judgment I respect, that I'd probably enjoy or even love them.
Got another toy catalogue today, which added to the perils of my drive down to get my glasses fixed, since I kept trying to browse through it while waiting at stoplights. Toy catalogues are cool. Wish they'd found me earlier.
Anyway, this one--Young Explorers, featuring "creative educational products"--has a lot of cool stuff, most of which is too old for the boys. Frustrating how few toys are considered suitable for two-year-olds, but then at that age they can have as much fun playing with the box a toy came in as the toy itself. And I suspect I won't be giving the boys the Li'l Stinker Bear. The catalogue notes that "Nothing gives kids (and adults) the giggles more than the subjects of farts and poops." Yeah, kids do go through a potty humor phase, and some never leave it. But still, while a bear that can produce "six different 'gassy' sounds" might entertain the boys immensely, it probably wouldn't endear me to their parents. Especially my sister-in-law. Even though it does come with two educational books, The Gas We Pass: the Story of Farts and Everybody Poops. Colorfully illustrated, no less.
Remarkably similar to what some of the programmers at Mutant Wizards did to the Affirmation Bears in Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon. . .transforming them into "Withering Insult Bear, Dirty Limerick Bear, Monty Python Quote Bear, or whatever else struck their fancy." I didn't add "Belch and Fart Bear" because it seemed too obvious, and belching bears did figure prominently in several later scenes.
But that was fiction. I thought.
Still...the Li'l Stinker Bear may not be in the cards, but I'm tempted to get myself a Robo-lizard. For ages ten and up, which means way too long till the boys can have one, but I can probably cope with it.
So I was driving along Reston Parkway, heading for the UPS store to mail some stuff out, and the world suddenly went fuzzy. Half fuzzy, anyway; everything to my left looked fine, but to my right, it was all a blur.
I didn't panic, because this has been happening a lot during the past few days. I closed my right eye, pulled over at the next cross street, and wrestled the right lens of my glasses back into the frame.
Tomorrow, I visit my eye doctor's office to see if they can produce a permanent fix. In the meantime, the friendly staff of the eye doctor next door to the UPS store did a temporary fix. Though they told me to be really careful. Really careful.
At least with these glasses I can put the lenses back in, after a fashion. Some years ago, I had frameless glasses--the only thing that held the lens in place was a thin monofilament around the rim. One day, I was taking a new staff member to lunch--we decided to get away from the office, so I was driving--and the monofilament on the right lens snapped. The lens fell into my lap, and the right side of my glasses collapsed into a tangle of metal and plastic hanging down my cheek.
I just closed my right eye and drove. Depth perception is overrated anyway.
Of course, since all my staff member could see was me, tooling along through traffic and talking a mile a minute, with the only eye she could see squeezed tightly shut, I suppose it's understandable that she was a little. . . .tense by the time we arrived at the restaurant. She offered to drive back, but since she didn't know how to drive stick shift, that wasn't too practical. She didn't quite break the armrest off by the time we got to the office, but after that ride it was always a little loose.
Compared to that, today's adventure was tame. While I waited for the technician to reassemble my glasses, I browsed among the frames available for sale. In fact, I inspected them rather closely, from a distance of one to two inches, since with my glasses off in the bowels of the shop, that was how close I had to get to see them at all. I was rather taken with the glasses that just have screws at each side of the lens to hold them to the nose and temple pieces. Seemed very practical; no way the lens could just pop out of that. Of course, I thought I remembered, from my last bit of frame-shopping, that my lenses were way too thick for that kind of frame. I asked anyway. No dice. Ah, well.
Friends have suggested that I try lasik surgery, but for some reason, having been very nearsighted all my life, I feel very nervous about the idea of someone messing with my eyes and possibly making them worse instead of better. Better the devil I know. And I've tried contacts, but I'm not sure they'd be a good fit for my life. I know a lot of people (some younger than me) who wear contacts optimized for distance and can't read small print. Small print, in these cases, being anything under 18 point. I just peer over my glasses and read for them. I figure someone my age has to stay contact free or none of us will ever get anything read.
And then there's all the extra work--all the solutions and disinfecting for the long-lasting lenses, and keeping a fresh supply of the disposable ones. Glasses are easy. Low maintenance. Well, as long as the lenses stay put.
I find myself recalling a passage in Dana Cameron's More Bitter Than Death in which one of her characters plugs in her phone and PDA to recharge and says "Ever notice that where once it was animals you had to feed and bed down at the end of the day, now it's the electronics you have to attend to?"
Exactly. The cell phone's a nifty device, but even if the quality of the connection was as good as my land line (and it's not), I still have to plug it in at least every other night to recharge it. So it only takes a minute--by the end of the year, I will have spent three hours plugging in my cell phone. I could read another book in that time. Multiply that by the minute here and the five minutes there that all those other modern conveniences take, and I'd never have any reading time. So I have a Luddite PDA--a notebook. And the cell phone's there mostly for emergencies. And unless my nearsightedness suddenly corrects itself, you won't see me popping up with naked eye sockets anytime soon.
I am wondering, though, if I should take I-66 to my eye doctor's office or if I should stick to slower roads, where it's easier to pull off if the lens makes a run for it again. I'll decide tomorrow.
Yes, I've been quiet, but not entirely idle.
Friday, Noreen Wald (aka Nora Charles) and I went on a driveby campaign. A driveby being, of course, a drop-in signing where you don't even call ahead to see if they have your book--you just show up and take your chances. We had reasonably good luck at the eight stores we hit, and we're going to do it again as soon as we can coordinate schedules. I've often encouraged writers who are coming to town for Malice or other business to consider setting aside some time to go around and sign stock--the area's rather densely packed with bookstores. Noreen and I only got through a third of the stores I'd identified for us in Virginia, and there's still DC and Maryland. And as I tell Malice-bound writers, even if you don't have a car, you could hit a dozen or so stores by Metro.
After dropping Noreen off at her home, I headed up to Laura Talley Geyser's house. Laura and her mother, Marcia Talley, were hosting a coffee and dessert evening with visiting writer Kate Charles. Kate gave a short presentation, "Corpses in the Cloister," about mystery fiction with church settings, clerical detectives, and religious themes. She handed out a six-page bibliography, and I took notes on some of the books that sounded particularly interesting. I'll probably be adding a few things to the to-be-read collection (it's gone way beyond a pile). Already added Kate's new book, Evil Intent (from Poisoned Pen Press) as well as one of the last copies she had of the hardback of her first book, A Drink of Deadly Wine.
And I have to say I enjoyed telling Kate that she could add me to her bibliography if she liked, since I knock off an elderly Episcopalian cleric in Murder with Peacocks. I also much enjoyed the antics of Laura's yellow tiger cat. He seemed to be in a state of total stress and panic as the guests were pouring in, fleeing from room to room in search of peace and quiet. But once we were all seated sedately with our plates and glasses in hand, taking notes on our copies of the bibliography, he grew bolder, and spent the rest of the evening strolling confidently from guest to guest, demanding attention. Fortunately Kate coped ably with the interruptions.
Kate and Marcia are now off on tour--Marcia with This Enemy Town, a book in which I feel a certain proprietary interest, since I almost got arrested while helping Marcia scout a location. Looking forward to reading it, not just for that reason but also because it features a (fictional) Naval Academy production of Sweeney Todd. Right now, the idea of being on tour sounds heavenly, which is a clear sign of lunacy, and obviously I only feel that way because I'm contemplating the long, lo-ong list of things I want or need to get done here at home.
Saturday I did useful things around the house, including restoring it to some kind of order before my guests arrived for an evening of game-playing. In this case, Captain Treasure Boots, a new pirate game from Cheapass Games. A cool game, and one I very nearly won--arrr! The only blight on the evening was the difficulty we had acquiring the pizza that customarily accompanies gaming--thanks to a blown transformer, the neighborhood branches of both Papa John's and Pizza Hut were powerless--they're both located in the same small shopping center. We never realized before that the pizza supply for the entire area depended on a system with a single point of failure. (When I told Dana Cameron about this just now, she agreed that Homeland Security should have done something.) And despite the dire, pizzaless condition of an entire section of Reston, the other nearby branches of both chains refused to venture out of their usual territories. Fortunately Vocelli's picked up the slack, and the evening was saved.
And most of Sunday was occupied with a Malice Domestic board meeting. Accompanied by a potluck lunch/dinner, to which I took kibbeh, sambousick, and fatayer from the Lebanese Taverna Market. And as with most potluck events, everyone brought way too much food, so I took home many leftovers.
So I'm lunching on leftover pizza and sambousick. Life is good. And then, fortified with good food, I'm going to tackle some of the many, many things I'm supposed to be getting done now that I'm not on a tight book deadline.
A link to Clyde Fant's Lamentation on New Orleans (with thanks to Evelyn Whitehill for finding this).
Chris Rice's Salon article, My New Orleans, is also worth reading, even though Salon's daypass system doesn't work nearly as well as it should. After reading the beginning and then obediently sitting through an Audi ad to get my daypass and read the rest, I had to spend fifteen minutes rummaging through the site to find the continuation. Grr.