23 February 2012

What weapon?

by Deborah Elliott-Upton

When someone offered me a penny for my thoughts, I laughed, but i didn't say what I was really thinking at the moment because his comment made me realize writers expect – or maybe it's just hope – to get paid a lot more than a penny for our thoughts.

In my original writing group, our members consisted mostly of beginners. We arranged to meet once a week on Tuesday evenings to read and discuss or current work. The feedback grew better with each meeting and I value the imput of those other writers struggling to find what works and doesn't in the publishing world. I don't remember whose idea it was to give ourselves a name, but somehow we decided on Tuesday Knight Writers.

Whether we considered ourselves a knightly realm of writers or simply thought we were being cute for making a play on the word "night" since we met in the evenings or both. I do know that as Texans, we almost always have to repeat our occupation to strangers that aren't from this area of the world. Often accents are misunderstood.

"Do you mean like a horse rider?" a lady asked me when we sat next to each other on a plane to Phoenix.

I remember smiling and being entranced as she knitted something delicate in a deliciously soft baby blue yarn. It wasn't her artistry I considered when I replied, "No, I mean like a mystery writer."

"Oh," she sat and started another row.

I waited a few seconds and asked the question dancing in my mind like sudden water sprinklers turning on as you walk across a lawn. My words tumbled out quickly, almost tripping over each other in my excitement of finding the answer since she'd first withdrawn her work-in-progress. I took a breath and blurted, "How'd you get those needles onto the plane?"

She stopped knitting and looked at me a bit puzzled.

"Couldn't those sharp ended knitting needles be considered a weapon?"

She shrugged. "I suppose so. Nobody said anything when they checked my carry on."

Her answer fed my mind with ideas, spilling over each other like the twisted loops she was making with the yarn, stirring up a plot for a short story I was already creating in my mind.

What sort of items are considered weapons in our modern times? A quick look at what is now vetoed from carry-on luggage provides a clue to some that are unusual to most of us.

One of the best weapons in a mystery – in my opinion– was the one used in "Lamb to the Slaughter", originally a short story by Roald Dahl. The story later appeared as the basis of an Alfred Hitchcock television episode.

I read that Dahl enjoyed horror and black comedy and it influenced his fiction writing. His writing certainly has influenced mine. Dahl thought outside the box when it came to weapons. I bet someone paid him a lot more than a penny for some of those thoughts.

14 comments:

Jeff Baker said...

I always figured a large book, (maybe Stephen King or one of the latter Harry Potters)would be a good weapon. And easy to carry on a plane. Wham it at somebody at the right angle and...

Velma said...

Jeff, some book might make you die of boredom.

Janice said...

I remember Lamb to the Slaughter with particular affection, first because it is a terrifically clever story and second because it showed up on my SAT exam and I sure aced that question.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I've never met anyone who DIDN'T consider the weapon in "Lamb to the Slaughter" the best means of murder ever invented. I don't have any flights planned in the foreseeable future, but just this morning I was worrying how I would get my little pill cutter, which I need to cut my migraine pills in half, onto a plane. I don't see how it COULD be used as a weapon, since it's contained in a little plastic box with the blade level with the box rim. But what would I do if they confiscated it? I'm more afraid of running out of migraine meds while traveling than of getting killed. Does that make me naive or realistic? And how could I work it into a plot?

R.T. Lawton said...

Deb, it's been a long time since I'd seen that episode. Thanks for reviving it.

roryckeel said...

Fantastic post!

John Floyd said...

Deborah, that episode and "Man From the South" (both adapted from stories by Roald Dahl) are my favorite Hitchcock shows.

Louis A. Willis said...

I hope the TSA isn't reading SleuthSayers because I wouldn't want netting needles, pill cutters, and large books to be confiscated as weapons. Don't want to give those folks ideas. Great post.

Herschel Cozine said...

On a recent flight the TSA man took away some little item in my carry-on. I protested, saying that my car keys were sharper than that. For one brief panicky moment I was afraid he would take the keys as well. One must learn to keep one's mouth shut when dealing with these folks.

David Dean said...

How about the icicle used as a dagger that then melts away leaving no evidence? I can't remember where that came from, but it's too clever to have been me.

Great article, Deborah!

Kerry said...

That was a great episode.

Thanks to Doomsday Preppers, I have discovered the lethalness of a pen. Google tactical pen sometime. It is amazing what we can kill with when it comes down to it.

Great post Deborah!

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

David, I remember that story of the icicle as the murder weapon and the killer placed it in a vase and it simply melted away. Great story. Anyone remember the author or title?

Robert Lopresti said...

In one of Harry Kemelman's Nicky Welt stories (collected as The Nine Mile Walk) he has the cleverest murder method I have ever encountered. It allowed the killer to be a hundred yards away from the scene of the crime, chatting with people, when he killed his enemy. If you want to know the secret, email me.

Kate Irving said...

Oh, I remember the icicle as a weapon too. But can't remember where I heard it from. I'm sure it will come to me in the middle of the night and I will scare my husband with rantings of murder. Great post, Deborah.