dismembering chickens with Toby Neal
Welcome to the Weekly Guest Spotlight
How did this happen to me? I’m studying Forensics for Dummies with a pack of Post-its. I’m cutting up a chicken in the kitchen with a butcher knife as “research” for a paragraph on dismemberment, leaning in close to listen to the wet thunk and gristly snick of the knife. I’m looking at gruesome pictures of autopsies for accurate descriptions. I’m pulling over to the side of the road and sniffing roadkill, trying for accurate words for the scent of decay. Oh, and I’ve watched about a dozen YouTube videos on handgun cleaning, shooting, loading and handling (still never have touched a real one.)
I’m putting out FB questions—“Anybody know a real policewoman I can interview?” A friend puts me in contact and I meet this intrepid soul for coffee and flattery, studying her body language, stance, and verbiage while peppering with questions about procedure and the mysterious accoutrements on her duty belt. I’m jogging with my (tiny, fuzzy and idiotic) dogs, imagining myself as the physically fit, badass Lei Texeira, my protagonist, with her Rottweiler.
Through it all, and four books into it, I’m still baffled that I’m writing crime mysteries—but I’ve passed through the denial, bargaining, and anonymity stages and am well on my way to acceptance.
Here’s how it happened:
I wrote a short story on my anonymous blog about a policewoman who’d been sexually abused, who was brave and a little crazy in her persuit of justice. I wrote about the drowning of two young girls, a situation that I’d dealt with in my real life role as a therapist, helpless to do anything but grieve and help others grieve. I wrote this story to try to work through the trauma of it, to understand it all better somehow.
People wanted to know what happened next so I posted chapters. About 60 pages in, further than I’d ever made it on any of my other attempts, I realized I was so into Lei’s story I was going to be interested enough to actually finish a novel (after about 10 aborted novelets? Novelinas? No-vellums that petered out.)
I found Lei had more to learn, more cases to solve, more islands to explore, healing to experience and sex to have—and I was still totally into her story. Four books in, and I haven’t lost interest in the seedy underbelly of humanity (did I mention I’m a therapist?) and the dual faces of Hawaii—paradise, and purgatory.
I’m a little embarrassed by this. I’m a nice person, a people helper—staid and a little matronly in my flowered pants and tank tops with pearls. This fascination with fighting crime really seems…unseemly.
But what I’ve also discovered is that I have a side that loves to root for the underdog, that revels in justice, and that wishes I could be more active than wiping the tears of victims. It’s that side that revels in Lei’s ass kicking of psychologically sick perpetrators… and so in a funny way I guess it all does make sense.
Anyone else surprised by what they like to write—and what they like to read?
Thank you so much Toby for your fun post! Remind me not to get on her bad side. She knows how to dismember a chicken!