A few weeks ago my husband and I were watching the movie The Equalizer. It’s based on the 1980s television series of the same name, about Robert McCall, a man with skills and contacts who helps people that the system can’t. Or won’t.
I won’t argue the merits of the film, but I can say it starred Denzel Washington, and I will pretty much watch everything that man does.
Anyway, the big climactic battle is set in a home improvement store. One of those big boxes like Home Depot or Lowe’s. In a nutshell, our hero works there, the bad guys takes over the store at closing time and holds his fellow employees hostage, he uses his familiarity with the store and its merchandise to defeat the bad guys and free the hostages.
Nothing really new or unusual in that scenario, we’ve seen similar stories many times. In fact, some critics drew parallels between his actions and the antics of Kevin in Home Alone. (Not having ever seen Home Alone, I can’t address the legitimacy of those comments.)
But somewhere in the middle of that scene, as Denzel was taking out the baddies using barbed wire, construction tools, and hedge clippers, my husband and I turned to each other with the same thought.
“Remember our conversation in Fred Meyer?” I asked with a laugh.
He nodded and grinned. “I think that’s the day you became a mystery writer.”
I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I sat there for a moment, the proverbial light bulb glowing over my head, and considered what he’d said. “I think you’re right.”
So let me tell you the story of the day I became a mystery writer.
* * *
Several years back, long before I wrote my first mystery novel, my husband and I were in Fred Meyer. In the garden section there was a display of garden tools, a system of poles and attachments that included sharply pointed rakes and some wicked-looking soil aerators.
Steve picked up one of the aerators and commented that it would make a nasty murder weapon. I agreed.
About that time we heard this rather timid voice from around the end of the aisle. “I heard that,” the young man said.
“It’s okay,” Steve answered, sticking his head around the corner. “We’re writers.”
The guy nodded, but we could see him sizing us up. We’re pretty sure he was trying to remember our faces, so he could identify us when we showed up on America’s Most Wanted.
* * *
We laughed it off and went on our way, but I now realize that in that moment I looked at the world differently. I saw the possibilities in those tools, uses the designers and manufacturers certainly hadn’t intended for their merchandise.
I think this is one of the hallmarks of a creative mind, that ability to look beyond the intended consequences, the way things are supposed to be, the roles people are allowed to play, and to see other possibilities.
It’s something we do naturally as small children. Give a little kid a box and it becomes a plane, a car, a house, a tiger cage, a hiding place. It becomes a million things, none of them just a box for putting things in. A blanket draped over a table can be a fort, a cave, a playhouse, a hospital. The creative mind of a child doesn’t know limits. They learn those later.
Becoming a writer—or taking up any creative endeavor—means UN-learning those limits. It means, in the words of a dear friend and very wise woman, you need to release your “inner two-year-old.”
I am secretly (well, not so secretly now that I’ve told you!) delighted to have permission to explore those possibilities in the books I’ve written and the books I have yet to write; to see beyond the intended use of a garden tool, or a fish tank, or a coat hanger, and find new ways of using them to tell a story.
I hope you’ll come and join me in exploring those stories. I’ll be right over here in my blanket fort.