by Melodie Johnson Howe
Sorry about the title. It could have been worse. I could have called it Melodie’s Maladies. In any event it’s random thoughts day.
I think my Hummer lady, the thin, bleached-blonde woman with the lifted-face of evil, is gone for good. I’m devastated. I didn’t know her other than to duck out of her way as she careened her giant vehicle down our lane at me. I will miss her blonde determination. And I will miss the pure venality I projected onto her. I must stop looking for her when I go on walks. I must let her go. I must have closure. I find myself searching for some other unsuspecting person I can turn into an evil nemesis. But how often does a blonde in a Hummer, driving as if she’s trying to avoid IUD’s, come along in one writer’s life? She will be memorialized in a new Diana Poole short story.
I don’t like to talk about my work-in-progress. Besides boring people, it also sucks the life out of it. But I’m turning one of my short stories, “The Talking Dead”, into a novel. So I thought I might comment on the process from time to time.
The first thing I discovered, though hardly revelatory, was how very different the forms are. I took the short story apart and put it in chapter form. I came out with six very slim chapters. The characters in the short story were tightly drawn with spare sharp observations. But in the novel form they became shadows of their former selves. Now they need to be fleshed out. And the cleverly illuminating murder that worked perfectly on its own has been turned into the catalyst for a series of murders. It is an interesting process if you’re able to let go of the short story.
Our Steven has been writing about old radio shows, and stirring many memories. I can describe the radio I had as a child as clearly as I can my bedroom. The radio was actually part of a record player. Very cool. It was called a Weber, and it right next to my bed. But I wasn’t allowed to have it on at night because I was supposed to be asleep. How can you ask a child to have a radio within arms reach and not turn it on? That’s just bad parenting. So I would turn the volume down as low as possible and listen to the likes of “The Lone Ranger” and “The Whistler.” When I first saw the black and white movie of “The Whistler” on TV, staring Richard Dix, I was so disappointed in how he looked. He was old! He was unattractive! Yuck! My imagination was much better.
Then there was the disembodied voice whispering to me in the dark, “the Shadow knows.” That voice scared the hell out of me. And every shadow in my room began to move toward me, encircling my bed.
I remember waking up one night in the dark. I had fallen asleep with my radio on. There was a story playing about a panther in a closet waiting to get out, waiting to attack. And the sound effects man had come up with the most frighteningly eerie noises of scratching claws, sending me into a night of terror. I have never been able to find out what the name of that radio play was. Cornell Woolrich on “Suspense” comes to mind. Does anybody have the slightest idea what I’m talking about? By the way, that moment reminds me of a wonderful noir movie, “I Wake Up Screaming,” starring Victor Mature and Betty Grable.
In a response to a question by Jon L. Breen, I implied that Ellery Queen wasn’t an important factor in my reading life or something like that. If I did write that then I misspoke or miswrote. I do remember saying that I was intimidated by never being able to solve the mystery. That is true.
When I began to write mysteries I discovered that I was not only the protagonist but also the killer. As I struggled with plotting and the creating of clues and red herrings I was thankful for having read Ellery Queen. But even now when I reread one of their books, and can’t remember who the villain is, I’m still filled with apprehension that I won’t be able to put the clues together. But why shouldn’t I be? They were the best.
What I also love in the Ellery Queen novels is the relationship between father and son. I wish other writers would take up this relationship and explore it through the mystery. How refreshing that would be.