Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Let the Feds Enrich Your Fiction

by Nina Wright

I’m as big a fan of online auctions as the next compulsive shopper. Way bigger than I should be, given the depressed economy and my modest advances to date. So imagine my delight when I discovered a secondary use for auction sites. One that costs me nothing except my time and offers limitless fictional inspiration. Although you can play this game at virtually any online auction site, it’s especially fun at bid4assets.com.

Here’s why: The U.S. Marshals Service offers an amazing, if not bizarre, array of articles for public auction: residential, commercial and agricultural real estate; timeshares; sport fishing vessels, aircraft, high-end vehicles and collector cars; artwork, antiques and collectibles; fine jewelry and financial instruments. Federal courts ordered these assets to be either forfeited or sold, so let the novelist’s fun begin!

Surfing the categories is diverting enough. Consider these samples from vehicles, antiques, and jewelry:
· A low-mileage black 2001 Chevrolet Corvette two-door convertible (minimum bid $11,000)
· A handmade knotted all-silk Oriental runner rug in excellent condition (minimum bid $800)
· A 7-carat Burmese ruby and diamond tennis bracelet (minimum bid $300)

Fusing these elements into a single story premise, I imagined a young auburn-haired woman receiving the Burmese ruby and diamond tennis bracelet from an older man with a mysterious past and dubious taste in jewelry; he collects Corvettes and inherited his late mother’s Oriental rug. Now what kind of trouble is he in with the Feds? Or, in my tale, did he murder his mother? Does he plan to murder the young woman? What’s his game?

My most efficient use of Bid4Assets is shopping for quirky character details. Let’s say I need a hobby for my antagonist. Or an unusual vehicle. Or, more exciting yet, a “prop” to launch the mystery or provide a valuable clue.

A random surf through Bid4Assets consistently yields intriguing possibilities. Imagine the criminal who would . . .
Drive this “old school” ’63 Chevy truck with camper trailer.

Or collect a “fine antique” Wagner Turbidimeter, manufactured circa 1925, which according to the post writer would be a “welcome addition to any museum, tech school, or industrial office.” (I must confess I had no idea what a turbidimeter was. But it's fun to pronounce.)

Or purchase a Pete Rose Gold Signature Series autographed baseball. Not just a signed souvenir, please note, but a GOLD signature on a dramatic BLACK leather ball. The perfect symbol of the dubious career of a flawed baseball hero. A “must have” for sports fans likewise inclined to bend the law.

But my favorite Bid4Assets story-starter this week is a replica of Jackie Kennedy’s Minaudier purse, gift from French President Charles De Gaulle in June 1961. That’s right, folks! With its dark red velour lining, push-open catch, and detachable 24kt gold-plated shoulder chain, it comes in the original gift box accompanied by a Camrose & Kross certificate of authenticity. Best of all, it’s “approved by the Jacqueline Kennedy Foundation.” I’m having too much fun imagining the person who prizes that item.

Enough surfing amid someone else's mistakes. It’s time to put these details to work in my mysteries. Any plot suggestions? What are your favorite online sources for fiction fodder?