Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the bleak midwinter by Mark Troy

Ah February. What better month for a mystery writer? The middle of winter is the time to get some writing done with fewer distractions than other times of the year. It’s too cold to work in the yard in most parts of the country, too severe to even go outside in some places. Football has ended. Baseball hasn’t begun. Basketball is in the boring middle part of the season. The Academy Awards are still weeks away.

This February we have the Winter Olympics, an event that can be as much inspiration as distraction. The writer who knows where to look will find plenty of fertile ground for a story. Probably no other event, except perhaps a bullfight, combines artistry, grace, courage, and the threat of serious injury or death. In ski cross and snowboard cross, athletes chase each other at high speed down snow covered mountains. It's like watching two weeks of James Bond. The spin outs and tumbles are just as horrific. What about those people skiing through the forests with rifles on their backs, stopping every so often to shoot? An Alistair MacLean story? No, it's the biathlon.

We already have a tragic death in the Olympics with the accident suffered by a Georgian luger when he slammed into a trackside pole at 90 miles an hour. The sad event was made worse by the actions of authorities who denied the track was unsafe and attempted to shift the blame to the victim while covering their own asses.

If I want inspiration for characters, I need look only to Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn. Miller is the flawed hero. Need a model for a screw-up cop or detective with a checkered past? Miller's your man. His story is one of redemption. He’s a talented athlete trying to atone for letting the country down in 2006 with his disappointing performance and his bad behavior. He wraps the package in a zen attitude that would drive superiors crazy. What does Bode think about winning medals?
"You don't want to go the Tonya Harding route of winning medals," Miller said. "If you wanted just strictly to win medals, you could go through a whole long start list of racers and just go to their house in the offseason — break a leg..."

If Miller is a flawed hero, Vonn is the perfect action heroine. She’s skilled, courageous, and beautiful. She doesn’t hesitate to hurl herself down mountains at high speed, risking serious injury, to be best of the best. Injuries? You name it, she’s had it. The pain from a shin injury was so bad she couldn’t even put on her ski boots to practice. When asked how she’ll handle the pain in the Alpine events, she said, “I’ll just have to grit my teeth and push through it.” That's the kind of fighter I want on my side. I want her in my stories

Vonn appears in a sexy picture on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Olympic Preview issue. She appears in equally sexy photos inside the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue (pages 84, 87, and 98). S.I. Swimsuit definitely counts as a February distraction. But wait, there’s also the germ of a mystery story in those pages.

The Olympics have already given us the elements of a potboiler: setting, action, likable heroes and a cover-up by people in high places. What else do we need? We need a macguffin. A macguffin is something that gets the plot moving. It could be the object of a heist like the jeweled dagger in Topkapi. It could be the briefcase with unidentified, but glowing contents in Pulp Fiction. Whatever it is, it's worth stealing, worth killing for. What could be so valuable? Gold? Yes. Olympic gold? No. The honor and prestige aside, an Olympic gold medal is worth between $200 and $250 dollars. So what is this object? I already gave you a hint. It can be found on page 164 of the S.I. Swimsuit issue. It’s a bikini. Not just any bikini. This one is worth a million dollars. It’s made out of 24 karat gold.

I don't know how this story will end, yet, but I have five more weeks of winter to work it out. Me and my itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, million dollar macguffin.

I love February.

Mark Troy


Morgan Mandel said...

You can make a mystery out of just about anything if you try hard enough. Brian Hyland would be proud of you.

Morgan Mandel

Dana Fredsti said...

I really look forward to reading this story when you're finished, Mar.

This: 'Me and my itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, million dollar macguffin' made me snork my coffee!

I have one question for you though... you live in Hawaii, yes? Winter + Hawaii equals temperate climate with many things to do outdoors. How do you resist?

Mark Troy said...

Hi Dana,

Actually, I live in Texas now. While the climate isn't quite as nice as Hawaii's there is stoll plenty ot do outdoors.