I eat lunch early. That started as a work necessity that became a habit that became a daily rule. Eat lunch early and you’re secure against or at least fed for mid-day surprises. Of course, if you eat lunch early, there might come a major afternoon fade. One such two o’clock I grabbed a needed granola bar. It didn’t take. I ate a banana and yogurt and told my wife, “just call me Two Snacks.”
That’s how story ideas happen. Sometimes, it’s the stupid things.
For example, what if someone actually had that nickname? How does someone earn a moniker like that? By snacking twice, sure. A lot. But what’s behind the double snacking? A character is waiting to answer that question.
This was in 2021, and my mind — well-snacked — drifted backward, not forward. One of my great shelf novels had as supporting character a mob guy with a funny Sopranos-style nom de crime. The manuscript went nowhere, though its cast spawned two Derringer finalist stories and a story in Mystery Magazine’s Die Laughing anthology. Two Snacks also made a fun mob name (and I still have the earlier one in my back pocket), though a mob handle was the too-easy idea. Someone mistaken for a mob guy with a ridiculous nickname had real comic and conflict potential.
The second older idea came from my travels. Among the best places we’ve experienced was Curaçao. It’s a remarkable island of cactus scrub landscapes, warm people, and Dutch Colonial color. And it’s a crossroads, for good or ill. Lots of tourists come through–and lots of trafficking from South America only 65 kilometers away. The island is a perfect exotic mix for crime stories, if I had a decent idea.
I write characters more than themes. A strong character will find those themes and guide my premise into a plot. The guy who started speaking to me was a pompous dope. A shady dope, but the more he spoke, the more his motive became self-aggrandizement and not simple greed or malice. Vincent Dunzo doesn’t see himself as a crook, only a creative handler of other people’s money.
But he is a crook. He had to be for story parallel. If he would get mistaken for the world’s most notorious mob figure on the run, then he needed to be a small change operator on the run. He’s bracketed on the straight-and-narrow end by his rock-solid sister, a prosecutor exasperated with his shenanigans. The snacking and eating dessert first springs from his self-centered desires.
After-action recaps make writing sound easy. It’s not, at any length. It took eighteen months or so for “Vinny Two Snacks” to gel. “Vinny” had many rewrites, multiple critiques, and even a market rejection in its first submitted form. I almost scrapped it thinking that I was blind to one or more fatal manuscript problems. Almost scrapped it, but I liked the story vibe and its twist-ish ending and Vince as a clown character. I decided to give “Vinny” another push.
Here was where luck plays into writing. Luck, not belief or dietary habit. On The Premises happened to use “missing things” as the theme for their latest contest. “Vinny” is inherently about missing things. Missing people, missing money, missing connections, missing moral codes. I submitted it. “Vinny” did okay. It’s a second piece they’ve taken, after 2013’s “The Transcendence of Pi.” 2013 also being the year we traveled to Curaçao.
They say you make your own luck. Sometimes you do. Rewrite and creative sweat matters. But most times you can’t control luck. You can control your snack schedule, though. You might need a couple bites to get there.