Please welcome our newest blogging author, K. K. Beck, whose book TIPPING THE VALET Perseverance Press will be publishing this coming fall, September 2015. It’s a light-hearted, satirical mystery on everything from parking valets to annoying foodies at upscale restaurants to the Russian mafia. It takes its place in Beck’s previous oeuvre as a Workplace Mystery. Like The Body in the Cornflakes, The Body in the Volvo, and We Interrupt This Broadcast, it features the same (sometimes clueless) two Seattle cops, and it’s about how ordinary people in everyday jobs can be much smarter than the professionals in solving mysteries. Anyone who’s been reading in our genre for a while will recognize K.K. Beck’s byline from both the Iris Cooper and the Jane da Silva series, as well as over 10 stand-alones. We’re longtime fans and are thrilled to be publishing her new book!
By K. K. Beck
When I was a child, one of my favorite books was about the Brontë’s literary output as children. Everything was so romantic with Branwell, Charlotte, Emily and Anne—brilliant motherless children in a grim, isolated parsonage—making it all bearable by creating fabulous worlds of their own with dashing characters and dramatic doings. And there was also the appealing aspect , of course, that the books they wrote were teeny tiny books in teeny tiny letters. ( I couldn’t see them on line, but now you can.)
A few weeks ago I came upon a stash of my own juvenilia. I naturally didn’t expect it to be up the Brontë’s level, but I was curious to see if would reveal some sort of evidence that I would grow up to write books.
I discovered that not only was I no Brontë, it turned out I couldn’t plot worth a damn and was a pandering hack by the second grade. My books were written on 8 ½ by 11 stationary, stapled together and lavishly illustrated by me. The earlier ones, before I could write, were dictated to my mother.
In the unoriginally-titled Pippi Longstocking, the mousy protagonist bears no resemblance to the real Pippi Longstocking. One senses in her a sad yearning for some sort of excitement, rather like an Anita Brookner character. She goes shopping for toys with her mother but doesn’t find any. She sees a tall building so she looks up. She walks home with her mother, and, in what is clearly the climax of the narrative, some mean boys stick out their tongues at her. She and her mother go home and have dinner with her father.
The title of another effort promises something more lively. The Story of Susie the Wonder Girl starts with plenty of action when the wind blows away the heroine’s umbrella. She sits on a bench for a while, “and forgetted the umbrella,” then goes home and cooks dinner. Her father arrives home late from work and reads the paper. Suddenly, a police car pulls up, but all that happens is the policeman shakes hands with someone named Joe, and then the police car goes away. The next-to-last last page, with a picture of a friendly spectral creature reads “At midnight a ghost went in her room to wonder what was going on.” As well it might. The answer was, well, nothing was going on, actually.
Undaunted, I learned to print and put together books without my mother’s help. In Mr. Fiddlesticks, Mr. Fiddlesticks is an unhappy protagonist who has been saddled with a nickname he doesn’t like. He solves his problem by throwing a party and wearing a shirt with his actual name, Billy, on it. Everyone starts calling him Billy. Plotting was improving. The book is also branded. On the cover, it says it is “A Gold Pot Book,” and on the back is a logo consisting of a row of yellow trapezoids, all clearly a rip-off of the Little Golden Books that made up the bulk of my personal library.
The next Gold Pot Book shows a creeping commercialism and a banality that starts on page one. “My Kitty by Kiki Beck,” my childhood nickname, begins “I had a kitty and her name was Fluffs. She had a bell and ate on the floor.” The back cover promotes more Gold Pot Books, including Jesus, At the Lake, At the Farm and Merry Christmas.
It was pretty depressing to see what dull, derivative juvenilia I had produced. In the same file was a series of crayon drawings that looked like the kind of “Hey Kids!” content that I used to read off the backs of cereal boxes at the breakfast table back in the 1950s. They are pictures of cutesy animals, with names about as exciting as Fluffs the Cat—Sally Squirrel and Ed Elephant. Buddy Mouse wears blue pantaloons and a little scarlet jacket with brass buttons. Now that I think about it, perhaps I copied these creatures off a cereal box.
I turned hopefully to my later work—the issues of Family Journal typed on my mother’s Smith Corona portable. By now I was eleven. “Kiki will try to make a vest to wear over a blouse. It will simply be two rectangles of knitted squares,” and “The washing machine was hooked up recently … and Mother washed four loads. ” Write what you know is usually pretty boring when you are a kid, or any age really.
The Want Ads showed a little more oomph. I’m sure I felt really sophisticated writing, “wanted: a typewriter with capital letters—e.e. cummings,” and witty with “Wanted: One bird cage. Apply Polly Parrot. (no home address)” and “Young man with stove would like to meet young lady with frying pan. Object: Fried egg.”
But I also saw the beginnings of what might actually work for me someday. Another ad read “Wanted: 1 crowbar, 1 machine gun, 1 saw and chisel. Apply: prisnor(sic.) no. 64963012, State pen, Penn. State.” In the personals, “Joe—have the car ready at 12:00 in front of the 1st National Savings Bank. Mugsy,” might make the reader want to know more. Maybe crime would provide me with a creative outlet. And parody, which I used a lot in a real book I wrote called The Revenge of Kali-Ra, may have had its roots in the Family Journal want ad that read, “All Believers in the Eye of India come tonight to the Field of Destiny—The SUPERIOR.” Finally, it seemed, I had found my voice.
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