Thank you, Mysteristas, for inviting me to post today! It’s an honor to be part of this blog today.
Recently, on a Saturday night, my husband exclaimed with delight. His favorite movie – The French Connection – was on television, without commercial interruption. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the movie from beginning to end but since he has seen it so many times, I know the basic plot: “Popeye” Doyle, played by Gene Hackman, is a New York City detective trying to bust a heroin ring operated by some French guy who is mostly silent throughout the movie. Popeye runs a lot, curses a lot, and shoots his gun a lot and in the middle of the movie, commandeers a car from some poor schlub, chasing a hitman who is riding the elevated train in Queens, hitting every single thing that comes in his path and destroying the guy’s car, but thankfully, not the woman wheeling the baby carriage across the boulevard.
Without fail, every time the chase scene comes on, my husband says “This always reminds me of you taking your road test.”
Let’s be clear. I did not commandeer a car from a poor schlub to take my road test, nor did I almost hit a woman pushing a baby carriage while crossing the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. But I did take my road test under an elevated train in a 1976 Chevy Suburban while my father, a New York City police officer, waited on the corner for the results.
I am happy to say that I passed but it was a grueling road test and nothing that compared to the one my daughter took many years later in a bucolic setting, around a town square, birds chirping and trees bending gently in the spring wind. Rather, mine was punctuated with the sound of sirens and horns and the occasional obscenity. I had to parallel park between an ambulance and a delivery truck. I had to do a K-turn in the middle of a busy city street. And making a left turn? Let’s not even talk about that.
My road test, now a distant memory, got me thinking about other obstacles that come into my path, mainly those that I encounter while trying to write and finish a book. Occasionally, a character does or says something that I don’t expect, the equivalent of finding myself trying to avoid hitting a baby carriage being pushed across a busy street. My fingers leave the keyboard like something equally jarring has happened and my heart quickens at the thought that this presentation is either the worst or best thing that has happened to my story. Sometimes, I try to shoehorn my plot in between an ambulance and a delivery truck, like on the day of my road test; occasionally it is successful, but mostly, it involves pulling out again and trying the maneuver over and over and over until the story fits snugly between the pieces that sit in front of it and the ones that will park behind it. Every now and again, I commandeer a character and bang them up so badly that I don’t even recognize the poor schlub at the end of my chase, realizing too late that it didn’t have to be this way, that I could have run up the stairs of my literary elevated train, bought a ticket and gotten on the train with the character, letting them lead me to the denouement in a rational, albeit exciting fashion.
Sometimes, I’m the conductor of the elevated train, who in The French Connection (spoiler alert!) is so dismayed by what’s going on in his extended vehicle that he collapses on the controls of the train, his heart too weak and fragile to take the pressure.
But most of the time, I’m Popeye Doyle in his trademark porkpie hat, chasing the elusive criminal, figuring out where he is and what he’s done, catching him in the end, making sure that justice has been served. I wish I could be more like Popeye’s partner, Buddy Russo, who smokes cigarettes and walks calmly after his appointed mark, not letting anything or anyone get in his way. Maybe some day. But for today, I’ll put on my writer’s porkpie hat – which in my case is a messy ponytail – and try not to hit any baby carriages that get flung in my way.
Maggie McConnon is the nom de plume of mystery and thriller writer Maggie Barbieri. In addition to the debut book in the new Belfast McGrath series – WEDDING BEL BLUES – Maggie is also the author of the Murder 101 series, starring college professor Alison Bergeron, and the Maeve Conlon series, the third of which, LIE IN PLAIN SIGHT, was published in March of this year. Maggie lives in the Hudson Valley of New York State with her husband, two children, twenty-five pound Maine Coon cat, and emotionally needy West Highland Terrier.