Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Staying on Target--a visit from Donna Andrews
RHYS: Even people who don't like puns have to admit that Donna Andrews comes up with THE best titles for her Meg Langslow mysteries. My favorite so far: We'll Always Have Parrots. Brilliant. And who could not love her zany characters, especially Meg's family members who get her into ridiculous situations. Donna has won many awards including the Lefty for best humorous mystery several times. She's the queen of chuckle. So I'm delighted to have here as our guest today on Jungle Reds, celebrating the publication of her latest book Some Like it Hawk (which happens to go along with our theme this week!)
And the four things we hear about the most if we get them wrong: guns, cars, computers, and one-way streets.
Actually, not just guns but any weapon or combat technique; not just cars but any vehicle from a skateboard to a space shuttle; computers means all technology, especially forensics; and it's not just one way
streets but any local geography, history, or customs. But guns, cars, computers, and one-way streets sounds snappier and is easier to remember.
I try to avoid the one-way street problem by setting much of the action in my Meg Langslow mysteries in my imaginary town of Caerphilly, Virginia. (And yes, it is imaginary; and would you believe that after
I'd already used it in a book, I realized I wasn't sure I was pronouncing it correctly? According to Rhys Bowen, who is my guru for all things Welsh, it's car-FILL-ee.) (note from Rhys--actually Donna it's care-fill-ee but please continue)
But to get the guns, cars, and computers right, I have to do research.
In the interest of research, I've gone caving, been pelted with paintballs, played Extreme Croquet, ridden roller coasters, studied Kenpo, and visited a llama farm. But I'm always looking for chances to
learn about something that either is already appearing in one of my ooks or could inspire a plot twist.
Which is how I found myself yawning as I stood outside a Maryland gun range on Sunday morning with fifteen other people--members of the Chessie Chapter of Sisters in Crime or their spouses or friends. We'd
made arrangements for a private session so some of our members who had little or no experience with firearms could get some of that all-important hands-on knowledge we need for our books.
At ten o'clock, our instructor opened the doors and we all filed in, looking at what was, for most, a strange new world, filled with weapons, ammo, military-looking gear, and taxidermied animal heads. I took the
course Virginia requires you to pass to become a private investigator at a training school that shared space with a Virginia gun range, so I wasn't surprised by the ambiance, but I could see some of my colleagues
taking mental notes and quick snapshots with their cell phones.
I wish I'd had my own iPhone at the ready a little later, when the instructor asked how many of us had never used a gun before. The look on his face when he realized that he had a dozen or so complete beginners
was indescribable. For a moment, I suspect he contemplated queueing up the safety video we'd just watched for a second viewing to cover up his own escape out the back door. And it was worse than he thought--since my experience with firearms has been limited to expeditions like this, I probably should have raised my hand, too, but I didn't want to demoralize him any further.
It was about then that I realized why I'd been in a slightly serious mood all morning. What we were doing was just a little dangerous. Almost all of us were either complete beginners or had very limited
experience with firearms--that was why we signed up for this outing. The one member who brought her own gun confessed that she was woefully out of practice and needed a little refresher course. If one of our band
of beginners was either overconfident or so nervous that he or she forgot some of the basic safety routines the instructor was trying to drill into our heads, Bad Things Could Happen.
One of our members got a slight burn when a spent cartridge went down er blouse. I felt one bounce off my head, but it doesn't seem to have done any damage. A few people found the experience of holding and
shooting a gun so unnerving that they didn't use up their allocated number of bullets. I couldn't figure out a graceful way of asking if I could have their unwanted extras, so I contented myself with the
fourteen that were doled out to me. And I was reasonably pleased with my results. My target has fourteen holes in it. Not that I'm planning on taking up competitive target shooting, but if I'm going to do something,
I like to do a good job of it.
I brought my target home, and I'm thinking of posting it in my office, in a place where it can be easily seen by anyone peering in through the sliding glass doors. I imagine a burglar peering in: "Oooh . . .
computers. Printers. TV. And--wait a sec--look at that target. She's no sharpshooter, but . . . maybe I'll go next door." (Sorry, neighbors.)
I'm under no illusions that my few expeditions to gun ranges make me a firearms expert. Fortunately, since I'm writing an amateur sleuth, I don’t have to be. It's unlikely that Meg Langslow, my protagonist, will
be going out shopping for a gun. She's had them pointed at her often enough over the years, but so far she's been able to take them away from the villains using her wits, her guts, and the occasional blunt weapon.
But the next time I have to write a scene in which Meg sees a gun, or hears a shot, or smells gunpowder, I'm a little more ready.
Luckily I didn't have to do too much strenuous research for Some Like It Hawk, which came out this summer--unless you count that caving, which I'd already done. And The Hen of the Baskervilles, scheduled for 2013,required only multiple visits to the Virginia State Fair and any other
fairs I could find. But as soon as I turn in The Hen of the Baskervilles, I will be starting on another Christmas mystery, Duck the Halls, and I need to find a not-too-painful way of doing a bit of
research for that: I need to smell a skunk. Not faintly in the distance; I want to get really up close and personal with an annoyed skunk. Just for a little while, and then I want to leave. Without
getting sprayed. I want to experience it, not live with it for days. Any ideas?
RHYS: Thanks you, Donna. And Donna will be giving away a copy of SOME LIKE IT HAWK to the wittiest or funniest comment of the day.