Showing posts with label Victor Hugo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Victor Hugo. Show all posts

02 April 2023

The Chocolate Cherry Crime Wave

Cosette does not appear
in this article.

R.T. Lawton and others have written about Les Misérables. That great novel comprised a number of threads woven together and parted again to accommodate other stories. Think of this as a strand arising from Victor Hugo’s work. In this tale, think of me as Bishop Myriel, while my petite mother played one tough Inspector Javert. And Cosette… Okay, there’s no Cosette. Sorry.

My mother stood nearly five-foot-nothing (150cm, or, for the more worldly among us, about ⅝ of a Hobbit). Like Smaug, she breathed fire. She was fearsome. Mess with her, and she’d reach up and smack you in the kneecap. My 6’4 (193cm) father was usually a calming influence… usually.

I was wrapping up a lengthy, year-end consulting gig in Columbus, Ohio. That particular time I lived at a large, sprawling motel, not far from the Busch Beer Brewery, although lager has nothing to do with this incident.

Following six straight months of work, I mentioned to my parents my project was winding down and I was due for a break. My dad came up with an excuse to visit Ohio, and thus my folks offered to pick me up and tote me home for the Christmas holidays. I agreed.

The hotel staff and particularly the chambermaid, whom we’ll call ‘Val Jean’, had been kind and considerate of my cave, working around the clutter of work papers and my vampire hours.

After half a year’s occupancy, my hotel room had morphed. Computer discs and software listings covered tables and chests. A computerized chess board spread across a bench. Pairs of never-quite-dry swim trunks hung on the bathroom shower rod. And, next to the television sat an oversized box of chocolate cherries my mother had sent me.

chocolate cherries
No, er, Few cherries were harmed
in the making of this production.

I allowed myself one or two a day, but soon I noticed the chocolates box becoming lighter. While I gnoshed on the upper tray, cherry chocs were disappearing from the layer beneath. My legendary detective skills kicked in, locking in on The Case of the Disappearing Cherries.

I found it amusing: My unseen cleaning lady had a sweets addiction. Her weakness was entertaining, almost endearing. She had to know I knew. An odd relationship developed. I left the candy box in place, occasionally noting the declining numbers.

My project finished and the day came for my departure. My parents arranged to pick me up. As we were clearing out the room, I made the mistake of mentioning the mysterious Cherry Chocolate Bandit.

Carting clothes and computers down to their car took a few trips. Mom disappeared for several minutes. Upon my final return, my mother wore a look of self-satisfaction. My dad shook his head sadly.

“What?” I said.

Mom drew herself up to nearly Munchkin height. “I took care of the candy thief. I reported her to the front desk.”

“You what? Oh no. Why?”

She folded her arms, ready to bite someone in the ankle.

“I ordered those for my son, not a motel maid.”

“Mom, I don’t mind she ate a few chocolates. She dusted around expensive computers and hard drives. Books, my passport, even my wallet when I swam… nothing else was touched. I have to fix this.”

My father tried to explain to Mom management wouldn’t simply lecture the employèe. They would hear only the word ‘steal’ and be compelled to fire her. As Mom and Dad trailed behind, I jogged down to the front desk.

Les Misérables

I’m pretty bad at lying and the manager surely knew it. Not wanting our Val Jean to lose her job, I explained I’d given her permission, rationalizing that in a way I had. In the corner of my eye, my mother appeared less righteous and more stricken.

The manager said she’d take care of it. I paid up and departed, uncertain what the manager meant.

My mother’s Irish temper cooled and my upset faded, but the incident cast a pall over the holiday. Hotel housekeeping is hard, grueling work. What if the woman lost her job days before Christmas?

Mom had a way of doing the right thing. Christmas Eve, a card appeared with a Mom note inside. She’d checked with the hotel management. ‘Val Jean’ still worked at the motel.

Abruptly, the holiday felt a whole lot less Misérable.

18 December 2011

Hugo and Shakespeare

A series of crushing deadlines dogged me for several weeks, so serious research and writing pushed creative authoring into a tiny corner. It didn't help that the short story I've been working on has been a recalcitrant bear. Even its title proved elusive, another little hurdle in a difficult terrain.
not quite this young
The tale grew out of a 'what-if' scenario in my head. At 2900 words, if it were a play, it would be two acts with three speaking rôles. One protagonist is a fair-minded cop who can't be bought, bribed, bent, or browbeaten. The 'criminal' is a sullen twenty-year-old homeless woman. It should be simple, right?

Les Misérables

If not a miserable experience, it's been a challenging and sometimes frustrating one. This is what I learned.

I wrote the first draft in third person. Third person didn't work. It lay flat and lifeless on the page without emotion. I struggled, but it proved stubborn.

I rewrote it in first person from the cop's standpoint. The connection with the characters grew, but it still wasn't right. Disbelief remained unsuspended.

I rewrote it in first person from the woman's view. Just before that moment where I might hate the story, it began to flesh out emotionally.

The story line is less Dickens and more Victor Hugo. Our 'criminal' is sort of an angry female Jean Valjean, sleeping in her SUV with iced-over windows. Our detective, though incorruptible, is more, say, Bishop Myriel than Inspector Javert.

Death Takes a Holiday

Fueled by outside deadlines and pressures from the real world, the story continued to prove difficult, resisting every sentence. What started before Halloween passed Thanksgiving and approached Christmas.

But wait… Christmas? What if I set the story during Christmas season? Acquaintances have sent numerous eMails insisting the White House and the ACLU are banning Christmas, but I'm pretty sure that's not true. We've got time for one more holiday story, don't we?

Only recently have I tackled holiday stories and in each case, the holiday (Halloween, Hanukkah, and Christmas) was integral to the story. I don't believe in welding a seasonal setting onto an ordinary yarn, but with this intransigent new story, a Christmas setting felt right. I'd already cast the weather as cold, bleak, and dreary with a hint of snow in the air. Why not let the season provide the texture of believability for the tale?

Thus it came to pass in the little town of Orlando, the December temperature dropped sufficiently to turn off the air conditioner, wear T-shirts and shorts, throw open the doors, and mow the lawn. And, imagine a story in a snowy, icy city nearer the Canadian border than this close to the tropics.

A Death in the Family
photo credit: Christine Selleck
Shakespeare & Company is a bookstore (the second of two) in… wait for it… the heart of Paris. Ninety-eight year-old owner George Whitman, who lived above the bookshop, died last week. He let writers, both published and unpublished, bunk in the bookstore in exchange for a couple of hours work each day. Originally from New Jersey, Whitman once called the shop "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore."

I don't believe in socialist utopias, but I do believe in brilliant entrepreneurs who wink at the left and the right and lay down workable business models when other retailers collapse. Owning a bookstore is one of those dreams like owning a pub or restaurant– probably better dreamt than acted upon.

Both Shakespearean bookstores have their own important history. Watch this video about the store or read the fascinating history.

Next week, Louis Willis  will meet you here Christmas Day.