Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? (R)

WHODUNIT?


My first novel was a surprise, word-of-mouth hit, and by the time of Fred and Daphne’s nuptials had gone into its third printing. I was thrilled when Maedchen asked me if I had anything else kicking around in my head. It was like someone handed me a jackhammer and pointed me to the dam. I churned out six other Ramona E. D’artagnan mysteries over the next few years, each one selling even better than the last. The sixth, Murder, She Sighed, actually rated a write-up in the New York Times Book Review and it was better than sex, ice cream, winning the lottery, and finding a parking space right in front of the door all rolled up in one. I had been Edgar nominated twice by then, but as much fun as I was having and though I had every reason to keep the status quo, I felt like shaking things up a bit. The Ramona fans (those ardent ladies, and a few gentlemen, who call themselves “R.E.D.heads”) will never forgive the day I introduced detective Ed Killgaren, the hero of my breakaway bestseller Two Wrongs.

Almost immediately I was attacked by my hardcore fans, accused of selling out and turning my back on “my people.” It took the support of another popular lesbian author, Rita Mae Brown (her­self an able dabbler at the mystery form), to make it acceptable to the Sisterhood that I had now chosen to relate the adventures of a hetero­sexual (gasp!) male (double-gasp!) detective. I liked Ed, his laid-back, affable manner so like Shaggy’s and so different from Ramona’s cynical edge, and I never regretted creating him. I hadn’t abandoned Ramona, I just had no idea what she wanted to say anymore. Until ’91 when, horrified by the escalating frequency of hate crimes across the country, I was prompted to do something creatively drastic. My next novel was a serious look at “gay bashing” disguised as a sus­pense thriller in which I brought Ramona and Ed together for the first time. Bedfellows was hugely controversial, yet successful, drawing fire from some who said I had no business using “summer reading as a gimmicked platform for social politics” and others who merely blamed me for “attempting relevance.” That book is currently in its fifth printing.

Amidst the hoopla, I returned to Plum City to attend my mother’s funeral. And I never went back to the coast. Dad’s been in shaky health for a few years and that was certainly a factor in staying but mostly I think I needed to be here for me. The prodigal daughter had done all right for herself, but she still felt like a fugitive from the things in life that matter. I needed to come home to pick up the pieces and sort through the clues.

The idea of a traditional drawing-room mystery has always appealed to me, where the denouement takes place behind a locked door and an elegantly dressed sleuth addresses an equally elegant assemblage with, “I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve brought you here tonight. One of you, in this room, is a murderer.” But I never could pull it off. Life itself, with its clumsy entrances and exits, its meaningless twists and messy resolutions, wouldn’t let me. Who’s to say what telling fragment solves the conundrum that wears my face and cashes my checks? Is it my father’s jail cell? Or my mother’s typewriter? Was it a night in Death Valley? Or those old turtleneck sweaters? Is it the picture of the puzzle on the box, whole and together, the way it should look, or is it the pieces that are missing?

I got a postcard today from an old friend. She lives in L.A. and has made it big in real estate. Her hair is still as red as a desert sunset even if, I suspect, that may be the name of the wash-in color she uses to keep it that way (I’ll hear about this later). She writes of her sons and even fills me in on her ex, another friend of mine, who has turned his father’s car dealership into Palo Alto’s largest and is planning marriage number three to a 24-year-old business-school graduate with, as my friend puts it, “tits that belong in the Macy’s parade.” They stay in touch not just for the kids’ sake, and though she likes to describe him as much fatter and balder than he really is, I think the feelings still run deep after all this time.

“HAVE I GOT AN ENDING FOR YOUR STORY!” she tells me.

“I was driving a client through Venic – nothing’s available down there and I was trying to scare him off with the local ambiance. Cruising along and pointing out all the freakiest specimens; the rollerblading grandma in the thong bikini, the street kids digging through Taco Bell’s dumpster, the guy in the stained tux and aluminum foil hat. And then there’s the gaunt, sunburned guy in tie-dye selling kites on the beach – the guy who looks just like Shaggy! I swear to God! I was a stoplight away before it hit me and I thought about turning back to know for sure, but I couldn’t. I wanted it to be him so bad that I couldn’t risk finding out it wasn’t – does that make sense? But if it was him, I thought you should know he was smiling.”

It was him. It had to be. Not just because part of me needs to know he’s still out there and well. Not just because I love him in a way I’ve never loved another man. But because it fits, it makes sense. As long as he’s alive so is the most important part of my life; as long as he lives so does the dream that they tried to cremate one day, so long ago, in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park. The Thelins’s obituary was premature, and where there is no corpse, there is no mystery. Case closed.


Wisconsin will be blanketed in snow soon, but I am warm in the best of places. You, dear reader, have followed me on a long, strange trip and I can’t for the life of me figure out what you may have gotten out of the journey. For myself, I have the answers to those impertinent questions posed by my editor here and I can turn that harsh interrogator’s spotlight back on the present where it belongs. Tonight I will dream of a friend’s smile and the panting giggle of a bemused Great Dane. Tomorrow I will tell another story.


…and so on, and so on, and Scooby-Dooby-Doo…”

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