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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Writing Tips for the Practical-Minded #19: There's got to be a writing tip in here somewhere...

Those of you who have been with me since early June will remember my epic trip to south Louisiana to research Faye's 2011 eventure, Plunder.  (And let us pause for a moment to hope that the newly installed cap we've been reading about suceeds in stanching the leak long enough for those relief wells to provide a permanent solution.)

One of the more dramatic moments in that trip came when I was issued twin citations for fishing without a license and for committing this crime in waters that had been closed to fishing because of the oil spill.  Let me insert a picture to refresh your memory:

That's my cousin Cheryl, who was also fishing without a license in restricted waters.  She lives in Louisiana, so although I am an interstate criminal, Cheryl is merely an intrastate criminal.  The gentlemen behind her were very courteous individuals and, as you can see, they are working hard at writing up our citations.  There were five--one each for fishing in restricted waters, issued to Cheryl, me, and her friend Kenny who was our boat captain, and one each for Cheryl and me for fishing without a license.  Kenny had a license, so he missed out on that one, but being the captain and the experienced fisherman, don't you think he should have known that there was something wrong when we had a vast swath of water all to ourselves?  I was ignorant enough not to question it--there's a lot of water around there, so I guess I thought the fisherpeople were spread pretty thin. 

The drama in this story arose when I found out that the penalty for fishing license-free is over $250.  Gulp.  And I still don't know the penalty for fishing in restricted waters, because that infraction requires the infractor to appear personally before the judge.  Big gulp.  This is not a small effort nor expense, when the infractor lives nine hours away in Florida and she has a book coming out three days after the court date.

This morning, I decided it was time to beg Plaquemines Parish for mercy deal with this problem.  First, I needed to decipher the phone number written on the citation, but I was denied.  It was unreadable.  I still don't know what it said.

I looked up the parish govenment's phone list and started calling people, asking sweetly for help.  After talking to six people in six departments, including two judge's offices, I found myself talking to a nice lady at the District Attorney's office.  I told my story for the sixth time.  (I live far away, my mother's very ill, I'm a single parent...all true.)  She asked if I'd ever been convicted of a fish and wildlife violation.  I said, "I don't even fish."  And I don't.  This was one of those peer-pressure mistakes that you warn your children about.  "But everybody else was doing it..."

Then she said I might qualify for a diversion program.  I'm a little foggy on the details, but I have to pay something to be in the program, but it's less than the fine would have been.  Then I fill out some paperwork, follow some instructions carefully, wait for some probationary period, then my record is wiped clean. I'll be as innocent as a newborn babe.

I cannot tell you how happy I am not to be folding a quick trip to New Orleans into my autumn, as much as I want to go back there sometime soon.

So how can I slap this experience into some kind of shape that will make it look like a writing tip?  Hmmmm.

Spending my morning navigating Plaquemines Parish's government felt a lot like doing book research.  Sometimes, you ask somebody a question and they send you to someone else, who gives you a half an answer that turns out to be wrong.  This stage can go on a long time, but it's important not to quit.  While I was writing Effigies, it took me a long time to track down some Choctaws who were willing to talk to me, but it would have been a much poorer book without their input.

Whatever it is that you need to know, somebody knows the answer.  Crawl over the internet, make some phone calls, check out some library books, and know that a labyrinthine path to that answer is common.  Sometimes you have to earn your answer.  Sometimes you learn important things while you're on the path.

And sometimes, you find somebody who's willing to put you in an amnesty program that will wipe your permanent record clean of any evidence that you were ever an interstate hunting and fishing criminal.



    I love this blog! And there IS a writing lesson in here somewhere: If you had been at your desk where you belonged, you would not have had an arresting experience. But OH! What a GREAT story you would have missed.

    Input = output. You gotta LIVE before you can write. And let that be a lesson for all of us mole people with white skin and pale eyes and long, cramped fingers.

  2. If I stayed at my desk where I belonged, sooner or later, I would have nothing to write about except ladies who write books. When you go out and live your life, you are putting raw material into your brain, and it will be there someday when you reach into your creative well, looking for a new story.

    This is not to say that you, my treasured students, are excused to go out and run rampant. You must have the discipline to sit down and write, and you must do it often. If at all possible, you should do it every day. But there is no rule that says you can't take a pad and pencil out on the boat with you when you're committing interstate hunting and fishing crimes.

  3. I WAS looking forward to meeting you at the Anhinga, but now I think I will steer clear. You are just too bad an influence for an innocent gal like me. You might influence me to do something risky, like jay-walk, or parrallel park facing the wrong way ....

  4. Yeah, I'm known for being a scoff-law. Don't tell anybody, but I have a vegetable garden. It's against the rules in my neighborhood. Next thing you know, I'll be adding one of those illegal clotheslines, and then it'll be a never-ending spiral as I descend into a life of utter lawlessness.