Sunday, January 31, 2016

Confessions of a Pack Rat

by Tim Maleeney

When I was a kid I collected everything--baseball cards, comics, bottle caps, key chains, action figures, coins, stamps, electrical circuits plastic tubing and even pieces of wood 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 stuff 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, 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 Pinata, 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, a female assassin reared 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 setting because I forgot to mention San Francisco, the box jellyfish, the  magic act and the castle on the beach.)

So the questions are 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 important 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. 

(Excerpted from The Mysterious Writers where you can read not only Tim Maleeney's interview but those of 75 others. Available in ebook and large print.)

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