Varmint update

A few weeks ago I wrote about the crazed squirrels that were throwing themselves against my living room windows. My house is near a park, so wildlife has free rein. Somehow, however, I managed to forget this fact. Leading to this weekend’s events.

Saturday, the Husband found a snake stuck to a piece of packing tape in the garage. Yes, a snake. A small, brown, banded snake. We stared at it. I looked up “Snake stuck to tape.” After reading through several online snake care forums, I put on long sleeves, and gloves, and hiking boots, and got the vegetable oil and Q-tips.

Then the Husband said: “What if it’s a cottonmouth viper?”

Calling Animal Control didn’t help. Looking at photos of cottonmouths only convinced me that trying to unstick it using vegetable oil and Q-tips was probably going to be a very stupid thing to do.

Alas, when I went back to the garage, the snake was a goner. (Moment of silence for the snake.) We thought our latest outbreak of animal frenzy was over.

Sunday we found what the snake was after: the bird’s nest in the Husband’s amplifier.

When we opened the door we found birds flying wildly around the garage. Paul found TWO nests that resembled crazy twig sculptures. It was like Hitchcock and True Detective combined.

And you wonder why my novels feature aggressive ferrets, frantic Chihuahuas, and devious monkeys?

Tomorrow maybe we’ll shut the garage door.

Blast from the past: Thriller Writing Tips

While I attack the outline for my next novel, here is some wisdom hard-won while writing my previous books.

Thriller writing tips:

I’ve recently compiled — through trial, error, failure, and revision — a few notes about writing tactics that can make thriller research and editing go more smoothly.

  1. Know which blades and gadgets are found on a Swiss Army knife. You’re writing a thriller: Your heroine may need to use one. To insure that you always have a Swiss Army knife handy, make sure your kids join cub scouts and brownies.
  2. Editing tip: pay attention when spell-checking. MS Word wants to change “Maglite” to “Magritte.” But surrealist art will not help your hero see in the dark.
  3. If your characters have time for more than two lines of witty banter, the pace is too slow. Fire a missile at them.
  4. If you put a dog in jeopardy, never ever leave its fate unresolved. Readers will hound you for it. Forever.
  5. If acting out a fight scene to check for realism, tell the kids before they walk in and find Mom kicking Dad.
  6. when checking that a drugged victim can escape from a vehicle, look for your neighbors before falling from the car to the driveway.

It’s also important know when to reject suggestions from helpful family members. For example:

Me: I need to edit two scenes with Jo Beckett and Evan Delaney in to one, and decide whose point of view wins out.

The Husband: Sounds like a problem they can solve with hot oil and some wrestling.

Good luck.

Reader question: page numbers?

A reader recently asked:

Why do novels have page numbers? Seems odd considering they’re not reference books.

My reply:

Novels have page numbers so readers can reference the text, compare notes, and share juicy quotes with each other.

For example: when I was a freshman in high school it would have been reckless to speak out loud about a certain scene in The Godfather, involving Sonny Corleone, a bridesmaid, and some explicit descriptions none of us could quite believe. But when my friends and I were crammed in my family’s station wagon, being driven to the movie by my mom, we could giggle and whisper to each other, “Think they’ll show Page 72?”

(Note: they did.)

I fess up: I have no criminal record

Scan copy

Earlier this week I applied to ride along with the Austin Police Department. I write crime novels, and I want my books to be as authentic and true to police officers’ experiences as I can make them. I’ve ridden along before, but that was back in high school. I thought getting a perspective on policing in 2014 would be extremely valuable.

Also, fun.

Soon after I submitted the application, I got a surprise. The department replied: “I regret to inform you, but due to a criminal history check your request for the ride along has been denied.”

I blinked, and reread it, and stared, and blurted, “What the hell?”

Here is my confession. Meg O’Death has never been arrested. She has never even gotten a speeding ticket. Mom: I know you’re relieved. Everybody else: Sorry to disappoint you.

The reply informed me that I could view my criminal records at police headquarters. A minute later I was out the door and racing downtown (and reminding myself, Slow down — don’t get yourself arrested) to view the records that had caused the cops to deny my request. The records that had caused the cops to put in writing that I had a sketchy criminal history.

I have no criminal history in any jurisdiction. And I was fairly certain that no criminal record with my name on it could exist. After all, I’m an attorney in good standing with the State Bar of California. A few months ago I took part in an FBI workshop at the Bureau’s New York Field Office. All participants had to pass an FBI criminal background check. Several years earlier I had passed a security check to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo where former president Carter was Guest of Honor. I’ve also been vetted by the U.S. Embassy in London to attend events at the home of the American Ambassador to Great Britain.

I submitted my ride along request under my full legal name, but mentioned on the application that professionally I go by Meg Gardiner. (I linked to my website but didn’t mention that they could look me up in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, and People magazine. Or that I recently chaired a conference panel of judges and prosecutors, including Linda Fairstein, former head of the Sex Crimes Unit in the New York District Attorney’s Office.)

At police headquarters, I signed in and was escorted to Crime Records. There, I filled out a comprehensive form and had my thumbprint taken. The fingerprint tech said, “Sit here. I’m going to pull your arrest jacket.”

He returned two minutes later, confused. “Ma’am?” he said. “You don’t have an arrest jacket.”

I said, “Good.”

At that point I got a chance to explain why I was there. He said I should rest assured that I had no criminal record with the Austin Police. I asked if he could put that in writing. Above, you see it: proof.

So now you know. Everything in my novels derives from my overactive imagination. I made it all up. Sorry.

I forwarded the Never-Been-in-Jail note to the ride-along schedulers. I was concerned that somebody could have stolen my identity. Or that my evil clone had escaped from the basement and gone on another crime spree. But it turns out that the initial records search had turned up a name similar to mine. My ride along has now been scheduled.

For anybody who wishes I did have an exciting criminal past to burnish my reputation, I leave you with this, from an exchange with Don Winslow:

Grammar geeks battle report: the Oxford comma

TO: GRAMMAR GEEKS UNIT
FROM: M. GARDINER

BATTLE STATUS REPORT: THE OXFORD COMMA

***This video is highly unclassified*** ***All Eyes Only***

SUBMITTED 1256 GMT 18 MAR 2014

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Enjoy some dubstep Irish dancing. Erin Go Bragh!

New: the dino-muse

Dino card

It took three coats of paint, including a sustained bombardment from a spray can, to subdue the Indestructible Sparkle Fairy on the wall of my new office. So I needed a new muse to inspire me as I write.

Courtesy of my five-year-old nephew, I now have six.

Now excuse me, but they’re roaring in my ear.