Saturday, January 31, 2009

Home Is Where Your Story Begins

Blazing sunlight today. I saw my shadow, just like a groundhog emerging from his burrow. I’ve been icebound for a week. Hadn’t been to the mailbox since last Saturday. But, thank God for small favors, we’ve had two days of sunshine. With the help of Ice Melt, my garden hoe and deck broom, I cleared a path to the curb this morning, and took the Senior Center bus to Wal-Mart. Halleluja, I’m a bum!

The week wasn’t all bad. I had a fridge-freezer full of homemade goodies. I had electricity. I had time to sit here at the computer and catch up on news from everywhere. One thing stuck in my memory, a line from a home-and-garden feature at

A Northern California designer bought an abandoned barn in New Jersey, had it hauled to California in pieces on a flatbed truck, and spent about six years turning it into a home. The line that lodged in my mind: “A plaque on Johnsen's wall proclaims, ‘Home is where your story begins.’”

I need a plaque like that for my wall. It applies in spades to my just released, reissued mystery novel. Line editing FULL CIRCLE for its new life as ABSINTHE OF MALICE, I realized it was a like a diary of my life and times while I was writing the original book. Everything in the book came right out of my life in one way or another.

When I promoted FULL CIRCLE up and down the Central San Joaquin Valley I swore to my audiences that the book was entirely fiction, bore no resemblance to anyone I knew, blah, blah, blah. I believed it, too.

You can’t fool readers. Their questions gave me pause. To use an old biblical phrase, the scales fell from my eyes. I began to see certain similarities in my fiction and my real-life observations and experiences.

One scene in particular came from reporting on a famous actor who was in the neighborhood for a cultural promotion. He was accompanied by his wife, who kept getting into the photos I was snapping. A few months later he divorced her.

Somehow, a version of that experience made its way into my book. On Page 117 of ABSINTHE OF MALICE, Penny Mackenzie goes to her newspaper morgue for a file on Editha Kluck, manager of the Chamber of Commerce. Quoting:

Editha’s file was thin, a brief on an inside page, and a follow-up photo. The brief announced her hiring, mentioned a previous job in Idaho. The proverbial picture worth a thousand words was taken the day of her arrival in the Chamber office.

Editha smiled brightly. Layton, one arm resting on her shoulders, wore a predatory grin. Merrily stood behind Editha, her face just visible above Layton’s arm. What was her expression? Frustration? Jealousy? Pure hatred? All of the above.

Merrily had shoved her way into the picture. Ignore me at your peril, she seemed to say. Pay attention.
I was dumbstruck when I realized where that scene came from. I must say, it fits my book like a fine Italian glove.

A longtime friend has both books. She called last weekend to say she likes it even better the second time around. She said, “I keep laughing. It sounds just like you.”

I like it better the second time around, too. It’s a detailed word picture of a time and place I like to remember. It’s a visit “home.”

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