"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Adventures N Danger


I confess, sometimes when I'm writing this blog, I think about famous performers giving concerts, yelling, "Hello Cleveland/Omaha/Phoenix! How ya doin' out there?" So I just wanted to give a big shout-out to my tens of followers. LOL.

My friend Michele Scott always has something interesting (or cool or funny or useful) on her blog, Adventures N Writing, but today she's talking about being stalked by creepy people and how she has been able to utilize her feelings from those experiences to write about people in danger. It's a really good post, very anecdotal. You should read it.


Go on over to her site.

I'll wait here.

* * * * tic toc tic toc * * * * tic toc tic toc * * * *

Back? Good.

Her post made me think about how I use my experiences, or maybe my non-experiences, to write danger. The thing is, I'm a big wimp. I've been blessed enough to have never been assaulted or beaten or brutalized in any way. When I started writing about Peri as a private investigator, I knew I could go one of two ways. Either Peri was going to solve crimes without a lot of personal danger, ala Jessica Fletcher, or she was going to march right into the fray and risk her own safety.

I knew it would be easy to be an armchair detective. I can easily put myself in that place. But it seemed like the easy way out. If Peri was going to be a strong, stubborn woman, I needed to be able to let her walk down that dark alley, or confront a possible killer.

The question was, how was I going to write about it, if I've never lived it?

I decided to take what little I had experienced and extrapolate it. The pain from every fall off a horse, every cut from slicing veggies, every time I so much as banged my knee against the coffee table, was put to use in my fight scenes.

But what about the fear factor? Apart from my overactive imagination, I've only known terror once. And let me tell you, once was enough.

I was twenty-one, and driving my car home from my boyfriend's house. It wasn't insanely late, only eleven p.m., but it was Sunday night in Decatur, Illinois. Trust me, in the seventies, there wasn't a bar open or a sidewalk that hadn't been rolled up on Sunday nights. My route home took me down the main drag, Eldorado Street, across the Route 36 Bridge to Country Club Road, and finally to Cantrell Street, where I lived with my grandparents.

I should also mention my car, Mary Lou. I think I've posted about her before. She was a 1960 Ford Falcon with a saggy bench seat in front, a window that fell out of the frame when you closed the door, and a broken door lock, gas gauge and heater. Serviceable, she was, but safe - not so much.

It started at the intersection of Eldorado/22nd Street/Route 36. I sat at the light, thinking of really nothing, as most 21-year olds are wont to do. Something caught my eye; I looked to the right to see a very attractive young man smiling at me. I returned the smile, then turned back to the road. He honked, so I looked again. This time, he pantomimed a suggestion that was both shocking and lewd. I mean, even in the seventies, he owed me dinner first. Suddenly, Mr. Attractive was Creepy Guy.

Ever the polite gal, I shook my head NO and turned my attention to my radio. He honked again and I kept my eyes on the road.

The light turned green, and I thought we were finished. Color me surprised when he kept his car beside mine, honking the whole time. By the time we were on the bridge over Lake Decatur, his car had swerved toward mine several times and my foot was shaking so hard, I could barely keep Mary Lou going forward. My whole body trembled, my hands felt numb, and all the blood in my veins retreated into my chest. To make matters worse, when I got into the left turn lane, he got behind me.

Crap. He was going to follow me.

My mom had told me what to do if I was followed (this is in the days before cell phones). She said to pull into our drive and honk the horn. I had a plan: I was going to drive into my grandparents' driveway and start honking.

Halfway down Country Club Drive, I realized that was the looniest plan in existence. First, I didn't want to stop a car with no locks and a loose window. Second, I didn't want Creepy Guy to know where I lived. Third, did I mention not wanting to stop the car?

I thought about pulling into one of the neighbor's driveways, but the whole car-stopping thing deterred me. Instead, I drove past my house and kept going. I doubled back toward town, thinking about Plan B, with Creepy Guy still on my tail.

Perhaps I could pull into the police station parking lot. Who would follow me there? Better yet, who would be there? It's not like a bunch of policemen would be standing around outside in mid-November. I'd still have to stop the car.

My mind ran through the list of other places where people might be congregating outside at 11 p.m. on a cold Sunday night. My body was still shaking, although I had better control of my foot on the gas pedal. We were approaching the intersection where we'd met. The light was red. In an instant, I knew what I was going to do.

I ran the light. And the next one. And the one after that.

There was no traffic to worry about. If the police stopped me, so much the better. I'd take the ticket, and give them the scoop. But no one stopped me. The only one who stopped was Creepy Guy, who didn't pursue me through the red light.

Just to make certain, I drove back by a different route, going through Nelson Park and over Lost Bridge Road. Not only did I lose Creepy Guy completely, I never told my parents or grandparents what happened.

Good thing they've all passed away, or I'd have to swear you guys to secrecy.

I may have never looked for a villain in a dark alley, or been confronted by a crazy person with a gun, but I'll never forget the heart-thumping, full-throttle, body-tremors of that night, my mind whirling with ideas for getting myself out of this mess. That's what I remember when Peri's in up to her ears in trouble.

How about you? If you're a writer, what kind of things do you try in order to get your descriptions as real as possible? If you're a reader, can you tell when a writer is faking it? How?

1 comment:

Enid Wilson said...

That's a scary account. Luckily you got rid of the creep. I try to read newspapers to draw on experience to write.

Chemical Fusion

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.