by Leigh Perry / Toni L.P. Kelner
Today I went out into my own backyard--well, I thought it was my yard. I faithfully pay the montly mortgage, but today I felt like an interloper. As I stepped onto the porch, four birds flew away and I swear the fifth one glared at me for intruding before taking to the air. Two squirrels scurried away as if I was about to use a bow to go Hunger Games on them, and a chipmunk panicked and ran out into the street as I walked toward my car. I had no idea no idea my yard was so thoroughly inhabited, and I almost felt as if I should apologize for invading their world.
Of course, as a writer I invade other people's worlds all the time, and I expect to feel like an interloper if I'm researching and writing about a world that's one that's unfamiliar to me: historical eras, police stations, pirate ships, detective agencies. But high schools? I did attend one, after all, though I admit it has been a few years. But I drive to my daughters' school every day, and attend meetings and open houses and plays there. Yet there are some things I just never knew.
Right now I'm working on some scenes set in a high school for The Skeleton Takes a Bow, the second Family Skeleton book. I want my character Georgia to attend a faculty meeting at her daughter's high school. Easy, right? But I didn't know where teachers typically meet--in a classroom,
the auditorium, the cafeteria? What do they discuss? How long does the meeting last? Are they fun or tedious?
I'm also having to learn about standardized test proctoring. My SATs were long long ago, and taking them weren't such happy moments that I've memorized every detail. Besides which, I don't know who those proctors were. Did they like the job, did they get paid and if so how much? I have no idea.
In later scenes in the book, I'm going to writing sections set backstage at a school play, and I'm starting to realize that while I've waiting outside rehearsals for uncounted hours and attended umpteen performances, I've never really snuck behind those curtains.
It's becoming clear to me that before the book is done, I'm going to have to invade a lot of worlds, possibly places where I'm about as welcome as I was in my yard this afternoon. On the good side, I can use that set of feelings. In that scene when Georgia walks into a faculty meeting, she's going to feel like just I did in my yard today--only it'll be math teachers glaring at her instead of an irritated chipmunk.