Killer Year–The Class of 2007


Why I blame my breasts for turning me to a life of crime/caper writing.
June 23, 2006, 4:05 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members

A former literary professor of mine once asked me why I switched from writing literary fiction (which had been my focus in grad school) to comedic crime fiction. I told him I blamed my breasts. I’m pretty sure he strained off about five years of his life trying to not look at my breasts when he heard that answer.

When I was a newly minted twenty-four-year-old with two sons who were four and four months, I had aspirations of writing a novel and my then-attempts were going in circles. Literary slice-of-life works for some writers (and for some, extremely well), but all I was making was mush. Meanwhile, I was finally back in the swing of writing freelance when one magazine assigned me a feature article on the local coroner. I will call him “Hypolite.” Hypolite was about three-hundred years old at the time, all tanned and loose jointed and skinny and wrinkled, with big black-framed glasses which weighed his face down so much that he hunched over most of the time. In spite of being a coroner and probably having seen the worst that mankind can do to one another, he was a very sweet, funny and gentle soul.

The point of the article was supposed to have been his unusual collection of musical instruments from around the world, but I harbored a secret desire to pump him for information about how a coroner’s office worked, what kinds of crimes he could tell me about which might turn into fodder for my fiction. At the time, my biggest daily dose of “serious” was trying to keep the four-year-old from taking the child-protection caps off of the electrical outlets to see if a fork really could fit in there. (He was a very wily kid; he disassembled his baby bed when he was two… while he was in it. I heard a “thunk” and came running and it was sitting all at a slant, having luckily wedged against itself, and he was trapped inside, laughing, because scaring mom was great fun.) I was hoping Hypolite could open up the door to a more dangerous world, giving me the type of background I needed for my attempts at serious fiction — something which would have gravitas and meaning, pathos and tragedy. Something important.

We’d been talking a while, with Hypolite delicately trying to steer the conversation back to banal subjects more appropriate (he thought) for a “sweet, young mother” and I kept forcing U-turns back to the grisly. His attempts at resisting and my absolute determination meant we’d bantered far longer than I’d realized. In his last effort at wresting back control, he said, “Didn’t you recently have another baby?”

I admitted I had, and it was at that moment I realized it was way past time to be home to nurse the little rug rat (whose baby sitter had supplies). My bigger concern was leakage. But I was safe, I thought, as long as we didn’t discuss the nursing.

“Are you nursing?”

I felt the milk come down, and I knew my time was limited. I could be professional, though. I had on a thick nursing bra (and nursing pads, just for protection), so I had time before there could be any leakage or telltale signs of danger. I had planned ahead. I was perfectly safe.

At which point I looked down and realized that there were two streams of milk hitting Hypolite on his forearm.

He was sitting at a forty-five degree angle from me at a tiny table, and my breasts were shooting milk like they were mini Howitzers. I was soaking the coroner’s sleeve with breast milk.

I slammed my arms across my chest, and it only made it worse. The spray was fitzing around my cupped hands like a barricaded water hose on full blast. The geysers wouldn’t stop. Hell, I could have fed an entire third-world country if they’d been standing at ten paces, mouths open. Milk trickled down my arms. And legs. I was pooling milk on the beautiful hardwood floors, people.

So much for being a professional, serious crime writer.

As mortified as I was in that moment, I realized later it was a gift. (Long after I had escaped his home, wearing one of his old shirts over my dress to stem the humiliation, and after he’d called to check on me the following week to make sure I hadn’t offed myself.) It was a gift because it was funny, and it was real. It’s one of those honest moments in life where there is no spin, there is no façade, baby, it’s just you dealing straight with the world and the world watching. I think really good writing gets to that level of real for the characters, and this was my doorway into understanding that it was not only okay to be honest, but it was necessary. Great writing brings the reader to the squirmy places where you want to protect the character or where you identify and empathize or where you simply want to see them get back out of the fix (humiliating or otherwise) and succeed in their goal. But it was the “funny” part which ended up being the biggest gift of all, because I realized how much I enjoyed making people laugh. (Hell, I told this story here, hoping you’d all chuckle.) Comedy is important; I think we need it for release, especially (at times) when dealing with dark, dangerous subjects.

Life is absurd. Really weird, down to body parts, even. (I mean, can anyone explain the reason why a penis looks like it does? And for anyone who thinks a woman wishes she had one, have you not been paying attention to us? How many times have you heard us ask, “Jeez, do I look fat in this?” Do you really think we want something attached to our body which can inflate all on its own? I rest my case.)

Sorry, I digressed.

Life is weird and funny. Crime is even crazier. Did you hear about the couple who allegedly faked that they had just given birth to septuplets and allegedly went to a town’s council, allegedly telling them the babies were in critical condition… (and I love this part) in a secret location because a member of the family was trying to kill them and they needed cash to help their babies? You know, that’s just damned beautiful in its stupidity. I’m wondering what they intended to do when someone wanted to actually see the kids. Run the visitor past the maternity ward, praying there were enough babies in there at the right time?

It’s bizarre, and if I’d been a member of that community, I’d be annoyed they (allegedly) fleeced a few people and got a little money, but as a writer? That stuff is golden. I love finding ways of turning those stories and finding just the right angle to show the humor, the idiocy, the chaos of it all, and how it affects the character. So thank God for leaky Howitzer breasts and funny little coroners. I probably wouldn’t be here today writing comedy / crime-caper if I hadn’t soaked him thoroughly, but it does make me wonder about the rest of you. I can’t be the only one with a leaky-breast-shooting-someone story.

Okay, well, maybe I am, but I’ll bet you all have witnessed some humiliating moments. Or some freaky crime in your community. C’mon… share.

Toni McGee Causey
Bobbie Faye’s Very (very very very) Bad Day
St. Martin’s Press, May ‘07

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21 Comments so far
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OMG I can not stop laughing. Can’t wait to read your book. When I stop laughing I’ll try to think of something equally “real” (read: humiliating) to share with the rest of the world. Bawhaaaaaaaa!

Comment by Allison Brennan

That was painfully funny. And I have to agree about needing comedy when dealing with the dark & dangerous. I’ve gotta have some funny with the nasty in my crime fic.

Re. freaky crime…I knew a woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend & was waiting for him to come & get his stuff from the house they were renting. She was pissed at the break-up, and unfortunately for the ex had just been to see Fight Club. So the ex comes and gets his stuff and as soon as he leaves she grabs her keys and punches herself in the face. Twice. And then she called the cops. And the uber twist? She felt guilty and confessed in court that she had done it to herself. Had a hell of a time convincing the judge, but she did it. People are really, really weird sometimes.

Comment by Angie

Allison & Angie, I’m relieved it was funny. (Well, funny *now*… back then, I wanted to hide for months.)

Angie, that is wild! Man, to go to all of that trouble, and then confess in court. Makes me wonder if the break-up was over anything like impulse control. Yikes.

Comment by toni mcgee causey

Toni, what a fantastic post!! Thanks for letting me wake up to a great laugh!

Can’t wait to read your book if it’s anything close to your humorous take on real life.
CJ

Comment by cj

Aw, geez, Toni, ya made milk squirt out of my nose. (Note to self: finish breakfast first, then read blog.) I can’t wait for your book too, though I’m planning ahead. I’ll slip refreshing beverages only during chapter breaks.

Comment by Bill Cameron

Toni, you are hysterical girl! What an absolutely fantastic take on starting your life as a crime writer. Brilliant!

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

That’s so weird! The exact same thing happened to me!

Comment by Jason Pinter

Great story to share, Toni. It’s life’s little (BIG) embarassments that bring us all together. What a way to start a Friday!

Comment by JT Ellison

Okay, Jason — to your room!

Toni, you have no shame. That’s what I love about you.

Comment by planetpooks

CJ, Sandra, & JT, thanks!

Bill, oops. Sorry ’bout that.

Jason, you do realize I am now going to start calling you Jason “squirty breast” Pinter, right?

Pooks, why thank you. I think lack of shame is my best feature. (heh. I started to write “freakture”… maybe that is closer to correct.)

Comment by toni mcgee causey

I’d say something interesting, but I’m too busy laughing…

Then again, maybe I wouldn’t. Thanks for making a blah morning a little more lively.

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

[…] Here. […]

Pingback by planet pooks » Blog Archive » Vigilante TaTas

Oh lord, this was too hilarious, Toni.

I saw this post a day after reading “Where Grace Lives” and the chowder recipe. They all affected my heart in different ways, and sure demonstrate your amazing range as a writer.

Annie

Comment by Annie in Austin

BWAAAHHH HHAAAAHH HAAH!!!!

This moment makes all other “mommy” moments pale by comparison!!

Good thing I’d already written about one of my most embarassing moments ever…because I’m too busy laughing to think of anything clever right now!!

For the scoop on how I displayed my…er…goods in front of a team of executives, see:
http://elizabethkrecker.blogspot.com/2006/04/dumb-and-dumber.html

Not that it’ll top yours…bwaaahahhhhaaa!!!!

Hon, if that’s what inspired you, I can’t wait to read your book!

Comment by Elizabeth

You wanted to give us a chuckle? Hell, I was hysterical, laughing while I read it, and now as soon as I hit the Submit button I have to go change my–uh–undies, yes, that’s it. Undies.

What a funny, fantastic post! For sure I want to read your book. (Do I HAVE to review it on DL though? Can’t I just review your first blog post?) 😉

Cheers and best of luck with the book!

Comment by Beth Anderson

Oh, Annie! Thank you so much! It’s so cool of you to have read the anthology. 😉 And what a wonderful thing to say. You rock!

Elizabeth!! Oh, jeez, that’s so terrible (but so funny!)… but sooo terrible! Yikes. And thanks for all the wonderful accolade s.

Beth, you so crack me up. Thank you!! And LOL on reviewing the blog post. I promise you, the book is way funnier. 😉

Comment by toni mcgee causey

Just for the record, this evening, I read this post aloud to my wife, and I couldn’t help myself. Beer squirted out of my nose.

(Note to self: set the beer down, then read blog aloud to wife.)

And my wife’s reaction? Well, the only reason she didn’t squirt beer out of her nose is because I did first and she was forewarned.

Comment by Bill Cameron

Man, I want to use that as an endorsement on the book: guaranteed to make beer squirt out your nose. (hee!)

Comment by toni mcgee causey

Toni, that was a cracker of a post. I’m pretty sure I now want to be you when I grow up.

But hairy breasts probably won’t take me too far.

Comment by Daniel Hatadi

Good stuff, aggravates the asthma, but worth it!

Comment by Cormac Brown

Wow, your article title really got my attention there! Nice article

Comment by WhackyTee.com




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