Memoir Mondays are a flash back to the past to examine my writerly roots. People, places and events that shaped me and influence my world and how I write about it.
Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
A fellow mystery writer was in a bit of a quandary during her most recent rewrite. She asked us, her posse of writerly types, if we thought it was okay to change the perp (that’s crime-solver talk for the guy whodunit) to a character who had gained the complete trust of the protagonist.
What do you think?
Seriously, she’ll want to know. Take a moment and put your two cents in the comment box. Don’t worry. You can go back and comment again after you read the whole post. That’s not double-dipping or anything of the sort.
Here’s what I said.
“Psychopaths are incredibly charming people. Pedophiles have a natural way with children. The most dangerous people are the ones that appear harmless.”
Will her readers feel betrayed is what was worrying her.
I would hope so. But isn’t that what is truly real? And if she does it well…there in lies the rub. To pull a stunt, it needs flawless execution. And of course, after it’s revealed, the clues should be most obvious.
Sounds like family to me.
What is memoir but an attempt to solve the mystery of our own lives? Quite often the bad guys are the ones closest to us. We live linearly in time but information and understanding that contextualizes the events of our lives rarely if ever appear to us in real time. By the time we are ready to put pen to paper, we are no longer the the same being who did the experiencing. The cruel truth of it is by the time we are ready with the knowledge of the context and ramification our memories of the particulars are spotty at best. Family photos and diaries are helpful, but often they don’t capture what is important…then again, sometimes they unwittingly do.
Family fun for all generations
- 1st generation:
My mother had many talents one of which was an uncanny ability to with near psychic ability pick out someone’s character flaws and weakness within minutes…almost seconds of being introduced. As a child, I watched this repeatedly. It was especially painful for teenaged boys, and of course, she had a real knack for them. My cousins would draw the unsuspecting prey into her parlor game, and gleefully retell the evisceration the weekend over. Amazing what cruelty lies in the guise of humor.
- 2nd generation:
I watched enough times; I knew some of the tricks. But tools are neither good nor evil, just more and less effective according to the skills of the wielder. But I used it. I used it for classroom management just as she did. It helped me make sales by understanding people’s needs and fears. It helped me manage the customers seated at my tables when I was a server. It was essential when I was a volunteer mediator. Of course, it was invaluable as a parent as well as a writer. I picked it up from my family by observation.
- 3rd generation:
I taught it to my children with purpose. Name That Trip was the name I gave it. Sounds like a car game, doesn’t it. And that is how I taught it. The whys and wherefores had to do with the times my children were going out into the world.
“Good touch and bad touch” was scaring the be-jeezers out of kids. My idea was to teach my children to look and act less like prey. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about placing them in bubble wrap every time they left my sight. “First if anyone tells you that because they did something to you, I will never love you again. You know that they are lying because….Name That Trip.” With that my kids not only understood that the it would be impossible for them to do anything that would shake my love for them, but they didn’t have to take my word for it. They could figure out on their own why someone would try to trick them with that. And that worked…for awhile…for a long time, actually…and pretty well, but not perfectly.
The case of the electric piano
Around the same time as The Bishop Museum had a special exhibit with an Indiana Jones theme (see pic above), The Grandmother asked a grandchild what the sibling would like for her birthday. The set up was too perfect. Expectations had been high for her own birthday and had come with a disappointment. She thought she was getting something special. In her imagination that something special, whether hinted at or implied by The Grandmother, was a piano. So what did the child say her sister wanted for her own birthday? Well, yep, you guessed it.
The trip was not named ahead of time. So neither child got anything that they wanted for their birthdays. The guilt-factor was too great for either one of them to actually use the keyboard. There was a sense of betrayal between siblings who had been incredibly close their entire lives. They are still close. But this incident is not forgotten in our family. And the child felt the anger of a sibling and the disappointment of a mother. Knowing the child as I do, the anger and the disappointment we experienced was NOTHING in comparison to the imagined and internalized anger and disappointment she felt.
Why I don’t mind the retelling of this story? Because as they get older I am hoping that their point of view changes enough to Name That Trip. Could a higher road been taken? Sure. But look at this with adult eyes. Do you not think that The Grandmother knew what she was doing? Before getting the sibling an expensive (in our world) present that she had never before expressed desire for, don’t you think she would have checked in with the child’s mom? Was this a set up? You betcha. And that special child was just betrayed because she drank the Kool-Aid of desire.
My mother was an English teacher. Her favorite Shakespearean play was The Scottish Play. She loved the witches, but she also loved Lady MacBeth. She taught that play every year or near to it for over 30 years. As she taught it, the witches had no powers but the power of suggestion. They knew nearly magically what seed of self-destruction lay near the hearts of the heroes. It was by the powers of suggestion that they fanned the turbulence of their souls. Did they have free will? Surely they did. For they could then lay blame with themselves.
The perfect crime
My daughters often heard me say that The Grandmother was like that red pill you chew after they teach you how to brush your teeth. Remember? It dyes all of the plaque red where the toothbrush missed. She will show you your weak spots. It is up to you to face them and remove them before the cavities set in.
Over on the right-hand column is a new feature. I added a donation button. I will write more on this in bits and pieces. I did this for several reasons. But I did this specifically today because I am giving folks a chance to donate to fund a self-constructed 10 day meditation retreat. Suggested donation: $1. More on this later. Now tell me of your secret skills. Your aha moments. Your unexpected antagonists.