Wednesday, December 12, 2012

That's What You Get for Being You

What with baking gingerbread cookies, making the local arts scene, and doing what writers do, I've barely had time to wash clothes and go to the grocery store. Somehow, though, I still have time to think about things I'd like to write but haven't yet. I have so much material, between one thing and another, that I'm not sure how my head even holds it all. (People keep saying to me, "I bet you have a lot to write about." That's true, but how do they know?)

Take this thing about researching my family history . . . have I mentioned that? My mother had some questions about her origins that I think deserve to be answered. In between an Irish family tree I couldn't make heads or tails of and some memories that troubled my mother throughout her life, I think I'm more than justified. I don't mind an Unsolved Mystery on TV, but when it comes to my own life, I'm a regular Sherlock Holmes.

Of course, you know writers have a lot of imagination and a tendency to take even a tiny bit of material and run with it. Well, picture this: my mother was told (by her father) that her mother was not her mother, and she remembered being visited as a child by some wealthy people who singled her out for attention.

This suggests to me something like the following:

Child born out of wedlock in 1930s Ireland (or maybe England, and she was spirited to Ireland?). Wealthy, powerful father; poor, powerless mother (possibly a maid of some kind?). Maybe the father doesn't know about the pregnancy; maybe he insists on an abortion, but the mother refuses. She finds someone to take her baby in (a relative? a friend?). But somehow the father (or his people) find out about the baby.

Now, why would these people care? If the baby is raised in ignorance of her origins, no harm done -- right? But suppose there was a lot of money involved, and the father died without another heir. Or suppose the baby was his first-born, or the other heirs died, or joined nunneries, or were castaways on desert islands. (Note to self: investigate the laws of inheritance in Ireland and/or England.) Suppose -- suppose there was even a title involved. Now that's something people could really get worked up over.

So, the whole game becomes one of watching and making sure this baby never finds out the truth. But she's already wondering, because the people stupidly came and showed their hand. ("She doesn't look like the rest of them.") She'll never remember; she's a child! But she does; she does remember! Eventually, she marries an American serviceman and moves to America, where she has children and tries to forget the past. But it won't forget her, because, because -- (why not go for broke?) she's the daughter of a king! She's an actual princess (or a duchess, or something), starching shirts and changing diapers, in 1950s America.

Now, this won't do. She's already the heiress to a title, and now her line is flourishing. All those healthy babies. So attempts are made . . . that time with the gas jets, very, very strange. The car accident. The broken leg. All that interference with her marriage. Her life falls apart. A lot of trouble for this lady, but she keeps on ticking, and all of her children survive to adulthood.

It's years later, the lady is now elderly, and her children are scattered. She is feisty and difficult. While her daughter is away, she is hospitalized. The hospital uses the wrong telephone number to notify the daughter (Note: a similar plot device was used by Thomas Hardy in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in which an all-important note, slipped under a door, goes under the rug by mistake). The children find out in time to rush to the hospital, but the lady dies, having barely regained consciousness.

Life goes on. But unbeknownst to the daughter, the forces that tried to bring her mother down are now marshaled against her and are even closer than she thinks. An unfortunate coincidence has placed an enemy in the very office she works in! (Gasp!) The siblings, engrossed in their own lives, are unaware of the danger that stalks their sister, and the sinister beings (disguised as ordinary folks) who have infiltrated her life will do anything for a buck. (I'm sorry to have to break it to you.)

Gradually, the daughter has to wonder: how long has this been going on? (How long has it been going on: plot point yet to be decided!) When the daughter calls in some surprising allies, things really get twisted: things half said, half unsaid; mysterious messages; people who look like other people (some of them dead); pretense; deceit, attempted murder. So the daughter decides to fight back with a little help from her friends and a little acting of her own.

Literally, a cast of thousands (by conservative estimate). Feigned madness, cross-country chases, mind games, stolen keys, identity theft, money changing hands, double agents, skinny dipping at 2 a.m., musical interludes, midnight rambles, Hollywood, the FBI, the CIA, foreign agents, garrulous cab drivers, incompetent bankers, jealousy, poison, trains, planes, automobiles, stolen guitars, politics, biological warfare, "accidents," veiled threats, unshakable loyalty, shakable loyalty, Democrats, Republicans, kings and queens, a MacBook, a possible love story (or several), some really bad disguises, traps, strange tapping noises, and a whole lot of people muttering "WTF!?" Somewhere in the book, someone has to shout, "Why are these Brits always in our face? We fought a war 200 years ago, and we're still not shed of them! I mean, I like scones as much as the next person, but still!" (That dialogue is non-negotiable.)

Sounds like a best-seller, doesn't it? I never thought espionage was my line, but life throws up some surprising material, and some of it may even be true.

Evildoers: All I can say is, never, ever put material like this in the hands of a writer. (And one who happens to be a librarian? Are you mad? They can look stuff up!) You've been warned -- and if it's already too late for you, well, that's what you get for being you. Maybe Jack Nicholson will play you in the movie, or Glenn Close, but as for my money, you ain't gettin' none of it. I've got student loans to pay.