Friday, June 5, 2009

Exercise #1: Results of Compounding Scenes

My Aim

In the scene (below) for my mystery novel, DEATH IN THE CHAVURAH, I tried to convey a number of events:
1) the protagonist Drew met the industrial service to clean the Georgetown house where the victim, Laurel, was killed, as a favor to Laurel’s husband, Rob, who stayed with them the night before.
2) Drew has taken his cat back to her house to add to the chaos there
3) She has conflict with her husband Seth.
4) She is trying to amuse her children (Alyssa and Noah)
5) She has information from her babysitter Rosa, who is the only person Drew knows that can communicate in Spanish with the prime suspect, Blanca, Laurel’s housekeeper
6) She has met with the director of Victim Services at Washington, DC Police and received information about the case from her.


“Where’s dinner?” Putting his briefcase down, Seth stretched his shoulder.
“Your mother doesn’t want the chicken. She wants to eat out.”
“Hi, buddy,” Seth said, as Noah marched by, struggling to hold a full bottle of soda. Noah ignored him, intent on his task.
“I was looking forward to the chicken.” Seth didn’t react to the BOOM that followed. Just Noah throwing the soda bottle down the kitchen stairs. One of what we called his “projects.” He would do it to each bottle in turn. Did we mind? Not in the slightest. It kept him amused.
“I have to side with her on this one,” I said. “Not everyone wants to eat chicken
every night.”
Alyssa tugged at my hand. “Mommy, play.” Although I had taken scores of child development classes, somehow I had never learned that imagination did not emerge until age three. That was what I remembered about my own childhood – imagination. Without it, you had to keep that ball rolling back and forth. After playing ball, Alyssa and I had danced to Wiggles songs, then a Gymboree C.D. I had drawn her T.V. characters, then she’d drawn. I’d enticed her with Montessori-approved blocks, which Noah knocked over.
“This is too much, having all these people here.” Seth rubbed his face, which was blotchy when he took his hands away.
“They’re all your people – your mother, her best friend. And I’m the one who has to be with them, not you.”
“You said you were gone for three hours.”
“Only seven hours less than you. And now there’s the animal entourage. The cat’s here, too.” The cleaning people had forbidden the cat; it was against their policy to have animals in the house while they did their work.
I ran my hand over the snags from Adam’s claws on the dress slacks I’d worn to meet with the director of Victim Services. I had stuff to tell Seth from Anita Rennert but not in the mood he was in now.
“Two dogs and a cat?” he said.
“Well, when we got together, we had three dogs.”
“And we almost didn’t have children because of that.”
When Alyssa pulled at me again, I said, “Why don’t you go find kitty?”
She hung on my hand. “You go.”
“You can do it yourself. See if he’s still there, and tell Daddy.”
“No!” Her face crumpled.
“Did she nap today?” Seth pulled out the mail and began sorting bills and circulars. Nothing fun came in the mail anymore.
“She’s done with naps,” I said.
“She still needs them.”
“We can’t drive around with Noah.” We’d never mastered the art of putting her down for a nap and had to resort to aimless driving missions to make her sleep.
“Where’s my mom and Arlene?”
“Now? It’s dinner time.”
“They took care of the kids for three hours while I met the cleaners at Rob’s house and went to Victim Services.”
“Why didn’t you get Rosa for them?”
“I offered to, but your mother doesn’t want her around. Too much talking.”
I had called Rosa, and she had told me about her conversation with Blanca. “Oh, miss, is terrible. She cry. I cry.” Her voice became husky with tears and broke. “I must not cry. The policia say she will be deported. Mr. Rob won’t call her back. She’s afraid he mad at her and won’t want her to work there no more. No money for children, no money for lawyer. Is terrible, miss. You must help her.”
“Noah – in a restaurant?” Seth was saying.
“It went fine on your birthday.”
“My fortieth birthday.” That was kind of a sore point. Worried that Noah would act up, we went to Guapos, a Mexican restaurant in Shirlington loud enough to cover up Noah’s bellowing, and even Alyssa would eat the fajita chicken. We ordered immediately upon being seated and were home within 45 minutes of leaving. What a fortieth celebration.


Before doing this exercise, I had written the meeting with the Victim Services director and the conversation with the babysitter Rosa as two separate scenes, but they each ended up only being about a paragraph long. That made me realize they needed to be part of another scene.
Although I did manage, in the above scene, to weave in a number of happenings, I wasn’t able here to get across the information Drew received from the Victim Services director. I will have to wait for the next scene when everyone is gathered for dinner, including Rob, the victim’s husband, who has been questioned by the police that day. I am also a little worried that, despite the number of things going on here, does it advance the plot?

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