Violet Celucci is a better angel and an inner demon. A frigging genius is how Vi might describe herself, a bastion of sanity in a disorderly world, a process improvement-seeking missile. An over-obsessed stickler for efficiency is how she’d never describe herself. Sorry, Vi. The truth hurts, and so can life. Tough as you are, I see the breaks in your armor.
I can write Vi because over the years I’ve worked with my share of consultants and industrial engineers. You know the folks I mean: big-brained and unapologetic process nerds committed to life by timetable. And we need those folks. Process folks dream up boxes that fit our mail-orders just so; they reduce plant emissions and build supertankers; they took our rover to Mars. This month Vi took my story “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson” into Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s May 2015 humor edition. The company she and I are keeping there is humbling.
We have a Venn diagram overlap, she might say.
Vi sprung from a high-caliber question: what if those big-brained engineers lived every livelong moment the way they worked their flowcharts and daily operating reports? How they shopped, for example, or how they cooked, how they sought–or didn’t–friends and lovers. Surely in the end that kind of quest would make life more difficult. Extra balls juggled, needless battles fought, friends and family distanced. That’s Vi. Her obsession demands she take the hard road to make it more efficient next time. And it might work, if immovable reality ever played along.
Like all of my characters, Vi is an amalgam of experience and imagination. Certainly Louisville is in my very bones, and my travels used to take me to New England a good bit. The rest would be for psychologists and magicians to figure out. But a quick bio on Vi: Rhode Islander, mid-30s, moderately attractive, MIT-educated, lots of quality certifications. Fish-out-of-water, confident but flappable, obsessed with calcium carbide production. Someone attempting to make sense of the world by measuring it into improvable slices. She’s funny–I hope–as a roving neighborhood engineer out to optimize the dry cleaners and delis of Crescent Hill, like it or not. Vi clicks for me because her humanity by turns leaks and jumps out onto the page. She truly exists to make the world a better place. Her way.
A few years back, early in my return to writing, I binge-wrote Vi stories, unleashing her upon various situations bound to set her off. Most of the lot ranged from inconsistent to terrible, though a funny one did get published. Eventually I shelved her, thankful to have met and learned craft from and with a colorful character. Ever pushy, though, soon Vi again had me wondering about her. What if there was a crime out there for her to solve? That she couldn’t help but try to solve.
But not murder.
What stopped a dead body in Crescent Hill was Vi. How she needed to grow, become less literal and more intuitive. “Two Bad Hamiltons” is about mountains made out of mole hills, and murder is the Mt. Everest of crime. Vi had to stumble–and stumble she does–over small-scale stuff, but a crime to rattle the steel polymers of her being. Falsehood. Deceit. Intentional error.
Counterfeiting. Of which I knew zero. That research montage is for another post, but I did try to portray counterfeiting as realistically as the story allowed. Key word, allowed. I suspect–and greatly hope–Secret Services investigations are pursued with more tenacity. But hey, not here.
Crescent Hill and Clifton are as true-to-life as I could make them. No, there is not a Dunkin Donuts on Lower Brownsboro unless it has opened quite recently. I grew up in this part of The Ville and learned to love stories in its library. Today the neighborhood is fine dining mixed with fast food buffets, historic mansion houses and bland apartments, forever gentrifying but somehow shopworn, good paychecks and bad paychecks, a healthy ladle of the modern American melting pot. Vi would be drawn to its refurbished quarters, its proximity to downtown and affordable chic, and deep where she is starting to access, its place in her heart.
That’s what displaced Vi protects in “Two Bad Hamiltons.” Her new home.
What else would a better angel do?