I got out my MacDonald tartan shawl for the winter on Sept. 12. After facing a November-like day while the sun was up, I had to go out and didn’t want to be out after dark without the comfort of Scottish wool.
As I rode home in the gathering darkness, wrapped in my shawl, I thought of all of the times I have enjoyed the sight of the red, green, blue and black of my family’s tartan.
Without anything to read, my mind turned (as it often does) to my detective story and its characters. My narrator, Daisy MacDonald, is facing a difficult winter — it’s in Northwest Indiana, where she’s discovering they’re all difficult winters — so I have given her a similar MacDonald shawl to my own. The arrival of the shawl, before the action of the story begins, will turn out to be important for her to remember.
I have several short scenes and longer chapters roughed out, but I haven’t edited them into shape so that I’ll feel comfortable sharing them yet. But Daisy was in another story, so far unpublished, as an older character, so I know her fairly well.
(It’s not so hard — Daisy is sometimes a nickname for Margaret, and both translate into French as Marguerite.)
So as I rode home and the light grew dim, Daisy grew brighter in my mind. A sort of argument among the characters ensued, and I’m still writing it out — so here it is:
“Hey, Margaret, what about me?” I imagine Daisy saying. “I have a shawl like you. I have a lot of problems. How about solving some of yours by helping me solve some of mine?”
I’ve drafted a scene in which Daisy runs out of her news-writing class for the last time, having become the story instead of the student. The other students all want to quiz her about the death of her roommate, Jenny. As I re-read my notebook the other night, I found an ambiguous moment when Daisy ran out of the room and straight into the arms of her bodyguard/detective, Sgt. Mike Hossa. The rough draft asserts that he wasn’t trying to hug her, just stop her running away.
“What about leaving news-writing?” Daisy asks me. “What was Mike really thinking when he stopped me?”
Then Mike gets into the imaginary argument.
“It’s not important, Margaret,” he says in his imaginary baritone. “Just let us keep working on the case.”
“Not important?” says Daisy. “Come on! He’d never touched me like that before!”
“You never ran away like that before,” says Mike.
“I don’t want to run away,” says Daisy. “But what about the case, Margaret?”
Well, I’ve got to type part of Chapter 6, I’ve got Chapter 7 roughed out, and I’ve got the ending in mind.
“Let us try it out!” says Mike. “Let me keep quizzing the neighbors until I find NAME WITHHELD.”
“And how’s he going to find The Villain until I tell him what’s different about that person?” Daisy asks. “He’s only a city cop.”
“And you’re only a student, with work to do in the classes you haven’t abandoned,” says Mike. “We’ve got a lot of work to do here!”
“So has Margaret!” says Daisy. “She’s got her real life to get moving as well as our fictional ones.”
“Yes, but our fictional ones are all we have, Daisy,” says Mike, who’s the grown-up voice of reason to Daisy.
“So hey! Get the notebooks out again and write us some more adventures!” said Daisy.
“Calm down, Daisy,” says Mike in his soft Eastern European accent.
“Ha!” says Daisy, “I bet you can’t even remember where Mike came from — or spell it!”
Czechoslovakia, Daisy, I say, and you wouldn’t know that without me. Now, what about that unfinished chapter, everybody?
“So what? You caught me,” says Isla from her hospital bed. “It was a prank — get on with solving the murder.”
“Don’t listen to Isla, Daisy,” says Mike. “But Margaret, what about that unfinished chapter before Isla’s attack?
“Yes,” says Daisy, “we need that explanation.”
Well, folks — characters — I’ve been busy. Apart from everything else that’s going on, I’m writing a blog.
“A what?” say Mike, Daisy and Isla (from their home in fictional 1983).
It’s a series of stories — like newspaper columns, but I don’t have to write to fill a space.
“Then why write it?” says Mike, ever reasonable.
Because I love it, sergeant.
“But we thought you love us!” cries Daisy.
So I do. I love spending time with you and meeting you anywhere — even the time I met someone truly terrible and realized that I had my model for NAME WITHHELD.
“You mean… the killer?” says Daisy.
Yes, the killer whose handiwork you and Mike are going to solve. I promise, Daisy.
“You are keeping your reading up, meanwhile?” says Mike. (His English is a little bit shaky when he gets upset.)
Yes, I am — re-reading Sherlock Holmes stories, like the one you’re reading to Daisy and her neighbors in the dorm. I’ve even re-read another Conan Doyle story, “A Literary Mosaic,” first published in 1886 (but I read it in “The Best Supernatural Tales of Arthur Conan Doyle, selected and introduced by E.F. Bleiler, Dover Publications, 1979). It’s a story of a “blocked” writer —
“Oh, no!” cries Daisy.
A blocked writer, who dreams that a committee of great (and not-so-great) writers gather to help him with a story. Each writer takes a part in his own style.
“NO!” says Mike. “Just let us be ourselves — but get on with it! Remember, this fictional existence is all we have!”
OK, everybody. See you Saturday!
“Oh, really! Of all the damn nerve!” says NAME WITHHELD.
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