I paid a visit to the real “Grace Church” recently. It’s been undergoing an exterior facelift. New grout for the cladding stones, and cleaning and repair of the stained glass. It was just in time. Above one of the window casings, the workers found a whole section of wall that was held together by – nothing. In my fictional account, loose stones from the church tower fell (and were thrown) into the Memorial Garden. In real life, part of an exterior wall was poised to crash onto one of downtown Seattle’s east west arterials !
I’ll never forget another close call in 2002, when the church was rocked by the Seattle earthquake. My husband Paul was getting ready to perform a baptism. When things started to shake he was standing at the back of the church. There were exits to his right and left. He decided to run right, a few seconds before a stone crashed through the roof to his left. And that wasn’t all. When the structural inspectors looked at the big, I mean huge, marble altar at the front of the sanctuary, they found that nothing, yes nothing, was attaching it the back wall, and never had been. The congregation had bought it at an early- 1900’s fire sale from a Roman Catholic church back east and had it shipped around the horn. I guess they decided to just prop it up against the wall.
Readers sometimes accuse writers of stretching their imagination beyond its breaking point. When a writer protests, “But it really happened!” the reader is not satisfied. Like when I described Lucy’s cats as playing a game of kitty hockey on her kitchen floor with their kibbles. “I’ve seen cats do that!” I say. Or the two homeless guys sitting on top of an outdoor heat grate, looking at dirty pictures on a laptop. Allright, there was only one guy, and I didn’t get close enough to see what he was looking at. But still, the thought of someone using a heat grate for a desk is too much for some imaginations.
When challenged, I feel like a magician forced to give up her trade secrets. “Alright, I didn’t spend hours creating that scene. I just copied it down from memory. Are you happy now?!”
Readers, including myself, don’t like to be messed with. Unless it’s fantasy, science fiction, or speculative fiction, we don’t want the sky to be green or animals (except parrots) to talk. But what about a blue-green sky,– or a thinking animal?
The mystery writer Martha Grimes www.marthagrimes.com/ found herself in the middle of a tempest a few years ago when she introduced two new characters to her Inspector Jury series. Harry Johnson is a villian and Mungo is a hero. Harry is a human and Mungo is his thinking dog.
Jury has tried for three books now to get the goods on Harry, and Mungo has done his telepathic darndest to help him. In his spare time, Mungo drives the housecat to distraction by hiding her kittens. He’s become one of my favorite fictional characters. In real life, Ms. Grimes has devoted her time and resources to animal rights causes, and has probably not minded losing some of her more literal-minded readership.
We all know that Lassie led Timmy to safety. We saw it on TV. So why shouldn’t Mungo be able to lead Jury to an arrest? In honor of Mungo, I’m expanding the role played by Spike, the German Shepherd, in the sequel I’m writing to Death in the Memorial Garden. No, Spike doesn’t think on the page; at least not for now.