Kate Flora: I often preach, and yeah, I can get a bit preachy about things, that it is important for writers to get away from their desks, out into the world, and take some time to be observant. What’s around you? Who is around you? What are the colors, the sights, the sounds that are there? Sometimes the question is how you might use them in a book. Sometimes the question is how would your character see what you are seeing and how is it different from what you, the writer, are seeing?
In the winter, I tend to hibernate. Close down the little ocean-front cottage, go home, put the gardens to bed, and sit in my office. I’m happy this way. I like to write. I like to read. I like to cook. Sometimes when the writing is slow, I sneak away to ebay and think about buying a fun new pair of shoes.
But once in a while, we take an actual vacation, which is what we did last week. This actual vacation was to the Florida keys and then Miami Beach. Not very comfortable places for a desk-bound New Englander. After all, I was probably past forty before I allowed myself to wear something sleeveless and I still rarely wear shorts. But there I was, swathed in a large white garment to protect my easily burned skin, looking around. Listening. Trying to imagine how Joe Burgess might have felt and how he would have described what I was seeing.
In truth, on the beach in Miami, it was hard to figure out what Burgess would think of the nearly endless parade of women in thong bikinis. As his creator, I’m betting that his first thought would be how ridiculously uncomfortable they looked. His second, that people in Miami, like those on the streets of Portland, often exercise poor judgment in their choice of clothing as well as their behavior. Perhaps, though, once he’d gotten judgment out of his system, he might have settled in to enjoy the view.
Or would he? Would the strong odor of marijuana on the breeze be disconcerting to someone when during his entire career it had been illegal? What about the guys cruising the beach with cameras, chatting up awfully young girls and wanting to take their pictures? Would he keep a close eye on the vendors selling beer? The older guy plying young girls he’d met with drinks? Or would he just kick back, close his eyes, and bask in the sun?
The you can take a cop out of New England, but you can’t stop him being a cop.
As we took a golf cart tour of about 50 blocks of buildings that were decorated with wall art, would he have been comfortable enjoying the talent of artists from all over the world allowed, or even paid, to do spray paint art on the sides of buildings? Would he have had a stronger reaction than I did to amazing works that had been tagged by vandals? Would he have been able to relax at all and enjoy it?
I think he would have allowed himself to relax and enjoy the night on a sunset cruise when the boat was suddenly surrounded by ten to fifteen dolphins. Out on the water, there were no bad guys to watch, few other boats posing a threat, and the nature and the sunset were spectacular.
He might have enjoyed the stunning visuals of SuperBlue Miami. He is, after all, a visual guy. Seeing beyond the ordinary is his job. Burgess is a guy who notices things–the things that are there and the things that aren’t. The small movements that people make that become tells that they are lying. The misbuttoned shirt or the small stain on a shoe. Being in a room that played to the senses might have been a great experience for him. His mind might wander, though, to people watching.
Or perhaps, like me, he’d enjoy an immersive show about Van Gogh. I’ve never thought about whether he’s an art fan. He lived a pretty monkish existence before he met Chris. But one thing he always did was take a picture of the crime scene after the body was gone, to remind himself of the void he needed to fill by solving the crime. Would seeing the sketches and then the finished works Van Gogh made make him think about process? Or about the choices that the creators had to make in order to put the show together. They were constructing a story. He is always reconstructing a story.
It’s probably a fact of a writer’s life. We may go away, but often our characters come with us, poking us from time to time to remind us to think about them.
Anyway, I had a great vacation in Florida even when I was dragged out of my comfort zone, and I had a lot of fun imagining Burgess along for the ride.