Lea Wait, here, thinking about how incidents years before can influence scenes an author writes now.
For example: in my PIZZA TO DIE FOR there’s an Italian restaurant in New Jersey with a back room where “men in black suits” hang out. Stereotypical? Perhaps. But let me tell you a story …
When I was in my mid-twenties I lived in Greenwich Village and was married to a comedy writer. You’d recognize the names of most of those he wrote for. One was Rodney Dangerfield, who also owned Dangerfield’s, a small nightclub on New York’s East Side, where my husband (and often I) spent a lot of late nights.
When we needed a car, my husband borrowed Rodney’s limo. When Rodney was invited to perform or even appear somewhere outside his club, he felt more secure if my husband and I, and his manager and his wife, went with him.
On one such night we all piled into Rodney’s car and headed uptown. Rodney cautioned us, “Don’t talk about business. This guy, he runs numbers and girls in the Bronx. None of our business.” Then he turned to his current girlfriend. “And don’t be telling anyone your last name, or where you’re from.”
We all knew her father was the chief of police in a major East Coast City.
The tone was set for the evening.
The car stopped at a small Italian restaurant close to (and almost beneath) the Cross Bronx Expressway. It wasn’t an elegant location. The building was shabby, and the restaurant only had two rooms and a kitchen.
The tables in the front room had been arranged in a line and set for only one party: the six in our car (Rodney, his girlfriend, the manager and his wife, and my husband and I) and four other men (in black suits) who joined us.
We could see other men in black suits seated in a room in back of ours. But no other diners arrived while we were there, and no one left. I was seated next to a heavyset man perhaps in his fifties, who was at the head of the table and clearly in charge. (“Hey, the blonde can sit here, next to me.”) I have no recollection of what we ate, although I’m sure it involved pasta.
He asked my husband and I how long we’d been married (a short time) and drank several toasts to us. He asked what I did. At the time I produced and was talent for a daily corporate CCTV show. He nodded in appreciation and then asked, “You got any problems with your boss there?”
I assured him I did not.
“Well, if you do. If you got any problems, you let me know. You’re a nice young couple. You shouldn’t have any problems,” he concluded, draining another glass of wine.
The dinner didn’t last long: Rodney had to get to his club to perform. I never asked who our host was, although I saw him at Dangerfield’s a few times after that.
But when I wrote PIZZA TO DIE FOR, a funny mystery about a fourteen year old girl who finds out her family is “connected,” those men in black suits in the back room came back to me.
I suspect they weren’t as funny in real life as I depicted them in my book. But, yes: they were real.
I didn’t realize at the time that years later I’d write a mystery, and they would have roles in it. But all experiences, and memories, are fodder for a writer …