Saturday, April 18, 2015
Reflections of a Pack Rat
by Tim Maleeny
When I was a kid I collected everything — baseball cards, comics, bottle caps, key chains, action figures, coins, stamps, even pieces of wood, electrical circuits and plastic tubing in case I had to build a rocket ship or teleportation device. Boxes and bins filled my room, the closets, and the bookshelves, along with hundreds of books (which were probably the second thing I started collecting, after stuffed animals).
Some of those collections were put on display, many were played with, but there was something magical about having a collection just in case. Nothing was more exciting than playing a game which suddenly called for a contraption that could only be made with fifty bottle caps and ten yards of old string, knowing you had those essential ingredients somewhere in your closet, in the blue box with the Batman sticker.
Years later my desk and the walls of my office look a lot like my childhood shelves, with scraps of paper, scribbled notes, photographs, articles torn from newspapers, and file folders everywhere. Some of the information is new, dug up at the library or printed from my computer, but many items were found years ago and have only recently been pulled from a drawer or taken from a bulletin board to become part of my next novel.
One of my books, which has the unlikely title Greasing The Piñata, was called by Library Journal “a cracking good mystery!” When I look at some of the disparate elements that comprise the plot, they include a missing U.S. Senator, a trip to Burning Man, a bipolar drug lord, a clergyman-turned hitman, an female assassin raised by the Hong Kong Triads, a trip across Mexico, and a financial scam that begins in corporate boardrooms and ends somewhere in the heart of the environmental movement. (Those are just a few of the major players or settings, because I forgot to mention San Francisco, the box jellyfish, the magic act and the castle on the beach.)
So the question is how these seemingly unrelated items ended up in the same book, and how do they work seamlessly in a story that Publishers Weekly said, “smoothly mixes wry humor with a serious plot.” Did I know I was going to use them all when I started writing? Absolutely not. But more importantly, I didn’t realize I was going to use any of that information when I first discovered it-—I just collected it as I went along, putting each experience, article or thought into its own bin to retrieve later, just like those bits of plastic and electrical circuits from my youth. As a writer, you never know when you’ll have to build a time machine.
I used to travel for work to places like Hong Kong and Mexico, and though I wasn’t writing then, I did collect those experiences, along with some snapshots, stories and memories that came in handy when I decided to set my novel there. A file folder stuffed with articles about deadly sea creatures came in handy when I decided a box jellyfish should make an appearance. And a box of magic tricks I performed as a child, which I’ve since taken from the attic and given to my daughter, provided the inspiration for one of the more memorable scenes in the novel.
I see my daughters collecting things, both of them already interested in writing their own stories even as they are learning to read, and though I occasionally step on a bottle cap, it always makes me smile.
Lefty Award winner Tim Maleeny appears in Mysterious Writers where his interview can also be read. The book is available in ebook and large print editions at Amazon.com.