Monday, March 31, 2008

The Unexpected Guest

In the middle of the night on a mist-shrouded country road, Michael Starkwedder runs his car into a ditch. When he goes to the nearest house for help, he finds a murdered man in a wheelchair and a woman holding a smoking gun.

That's the opening scene of Agatha Christie’s classic play, The Unexpected Guest, adapted as a novel by Charles Osbourne. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the action goes inside-out when Michael Starkwedder arrives.

Precisely what happens when unexpected guests appear on my pages. Even though I (attempt to) outline before drafting, characters I never saw coming invade my plays and novels. In response, I do the only thing I can: sit back and watch as they take over what I erroneously believed was my story.

Case in point:An Ann Arbor-based animal rights advocacy, Four Legs Good (a.k.a. Fleggers), blindsided me while I was drafting the second Whiskey Mattimoe mystery, Whiskey Straight Up. Founded by a veterinarian with a speech impediment and no sense of humor with humans, Fleggers has been shaping my plotlines ever since. Poor Whiskey still struggles with the term “anti-speciesist.” So do I.

Another case in point: A hunky Scot named MacArthur stunned me when he showed up in Chapter One of Whiskey and Water claiming to be a “cleaner.” His biz had nothing whatsoever to do with either yard work or maid service although he did pick up dog shit. You’d have to read the series to appreciate how much that pleased Whiskey. The cleaner revealed many talents, including a knack for erasing celebrity hijinks. And selling real estate. He's versatile enough to resurface in the book I’m writing now, Whiskey with a Twist. I wonder what he’ll do in this one.

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