Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to Handle a Hit-and-Run as an Amateur Detective

Someone has hit your car. There it was, the yellow plastic from the other person's taillight housing, the fragment of yellow plastic embedded into the bumper from his/her apparently severe velocity, and a witness -Nick, the mail guy, who said that when the car was "tagged," the whole thing rocked. What happened to the perpetrator? He/she vanished -no note, no admission, not even a suspect in a somewhat vacant lot.

Did I mention that you signed up for Introduction to Forensics on Coursera this week?

Even though your most secret dreams involve becoming Sherlock Holmes's best Watson, you hate to admit that you're a little excited. Does this make you certifiable, you wonder, the enjoyment that comes from your car having just been hit, this thrill of a case to be solved?

You decide to:
a) Check your taillight housings.
b) Pick up the fragments of the perpetrator's taillights and keep them for investigation.
c) Assess the damage, including approximate size of vehicle, color, velocity, and clues from the fragments.
d) Call the college Campus Police.

Everything but d. After all, why should you call Campus Police when you want to solve the mystery yourself?

You finally call Campus Police the day after the event only after you've written a short story about a somewhat psychopathic college instructor sitting on the hood of the car of the perpetrator. (True story.) The officer on duty recommends stopping by the next time you're in town, which ends up being Saturday morning. You take Officer Loyd out to your car in the parking lot and you show her the damage.

Do you:
a) Tell her about the plastic from the perpetrator's taillight that you kept, but not show it to her?
b) Tell her about the plastic from the perpetrator's taillight, and then show them to her for photographing?
c) Keep the taillight fragments secret from her so that you can continue your own investigation.

Though c is tempting, you go with b.

Officer Loyd doesn't seem to think there's much of a report to make (she doesn't say so but she doesn't object when you verbalize it). You want to prove that you're not just a fuddy-duddy adjunct instructor but instead someone with crime-solving superpowers, so you tell her about the size of the vehicle in proximity to the ground, the approximate velocity of the vehicle for the plastic to be embedded into the fender, and when she wonders about the color of the other vehicle, you say, "Well, it could be a black vehicle considering that the speed of the collision would have rendered paint transfer." You hold out the plastic fragments (thankfully allowed to remain in your possession), "And the smoothness of the taillights indicates that this was a somewhat new vehicle because the plastic doesn't indicate much outdoor weathering."

She looks at you with somewhat amazement. "Wow. Were you a cop before?"

You blush. "No, I just watch too much Sherlock Holmes."

Now you're both embarrassed.

When you get somewhere with the case, your story will continue. In the meantime, you can just take comfort knowing that you're a mystery novelist that has just been confused as a cop.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Banagrams Revision

You know how sometimes when you're playing Bananagrams, there's only three tiles left that don't fit in anywhere, the clock is ticking, your competition is getting closer to figuring out his/her own crossword, and you make that brave choice -you know, the one where you choose to dismantle a few words so that you can make new words out of them?

I hate that feeling.

It does have its purpose: I've won games that way. But the risk of dismantling words makes your skin crawl as those seconds tick by, as your opponent's eyes flit from one word to the next, and you ask yourself, "Is this really worth it?"

Welcome, my friends, to the feeling of revision.

I'm currently revising a part of my novel for the Amtrak Residency. It's a perfectly okay scene where Constantine walks to Denny's after finding a dead girl by the dumpster at the Outback in the middle of the day. After he gets to Denny's, he meets Kimy, who will be come -as she says- "the Sherlock to his Watson."

But I don't want a scene that's just okay. Publishers don't publish okay. Readers don't do okay. So here I am dismantling paragraphs that I liked, paragraphs that were amusing and now are falling "to the cutting room floor," as it were.

 Kill your darlings.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mars, My Muse

Is it weird that I watch something contemporary and think, "This could make for an excellent noir mystery."

Case in point, Veronica Mars. I had started watching it with a friend after a conversation about mysteries and strong female detectives, and then -just as several viewers, I've learned- I became hooked. I love TV series' that use the story arc of the season to solve a mystery. It transcends a show from mundane sit-com-edy and is a little easier to believe than my beloved Miss Marple who -let's face it- must be killing the victims in these big houses because no one just happens to stumble upon murders this often -even if you are on a first name basis with the constabulary.

Taking aside for a second the Mars Detective Agency has a Raymond Chandler feel to it, I've been even more enthused with the idea of amateur detective going into places that no one would expect her to, and I love the idea that she isn't an Ice Queen (all the time, at least). And let's face it: who wouldn't want to be the quick-witted-and-occasionally-snarky girl who always has the perfect comeback?

Today is a special day: Veronica Mars is back after (as Logan put it) "nine years of radio silence." After nine years, the movie is out, it was privately funded through Kickstarter (every artist's dream), and my friend and I are off to an AMC theater to go see it. See it, my friends, and you'll see a timeless character that transcends her surroundings -a muse-worthy character, indeed.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Setting Goals, For Realsies

Do you remember human development classes in middle school? It was in that class that my frizzy-haired teacher passed around half-sheet-sized card stock paper emblazoned in Comic Sans: My Goals. When no one was quick to write any goals down (because, yes, we were in middle school), she gave us a statistic about how middle schoolers with goals were far more likely to graduate high school and not do drugs. Maybe none of us intended on (in my case) reading every Nancy Drew book that had ever been written, or intended on (in their case) skateboarding in every public park in Phoenix, but we rushed to write stuff down because we didn’t want to be seen as ne'er-do-wells (not that we would have known that word). 

Not much has changed. Aside from the fact that I graduated high school and read every Nancy Drew book up until number 40, it has become increasingly clear in the last few years that you need to have writing goals. Your frizzy-haired human development teacher isn’t going to give you half of a page of card stock, and she’s not going to call you a drug dealer if you don’t fill it out (I hyperbolize, but I seem to remember a joke like that).

A writer needs goals, and it can’t be something like, “Finish novel someday.” You need to constantly work toward putting yourself out there, constantly work with at least one project, and constantly have a goal in mind for that project. Again, this goal doesn’t count: “Publish with a big publisher and make it big with little to no effort so that I can make money like James Patterson and hog as much space on a bookshelf as possible, and also possibly afford a vacation in the Bahamas with my tanned girlfriend who only wears Gucci sunglasses that I buy her.” Okay, that may not exactly be your goal, but if we’re being honest, here, you would love it if that happened, and you would love it if you didn’t have to do much work for that to happen. Can I just say now that while dreams are important, unrealistic dreams are crippling?

At the risk of using a cliché, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (Except I would never eat an elephant, but that’s not here nor there.) Start small, work big.

So in the vein of good intentions, here are my goals:
1.     Finish editing last scene of dialogue. Send finished draft out to publisher I met at AWP.
2.     Finish 3rd prose poem. Send collection of 3 prose poems to different publisher I met at AWP.
3.     Write short piece on writing. Send to yet another publisher I met at AWP.
4.     Long term goal: Finish novel by the middle of the summer.

5.     Reading goal: Read at least one Agatha Christie for plotting, and read at least one John Green for voice.

Make some goals, my friends -and not goals that just involve you rolling in the dough.