One of my favorite editors gave me an assignment that requires me to speak to police at half a dozen different agencies. So for the past two weeks, I’ve been hounding detectives, public information officers, and even a sheriff or two, trying to confirm some facts of alleged crimes. And it’s been kinda hilarious.
The first officer I made contact with was a friendly guy who willingly confirmed and corrected the facts I submitted to him. He volunteered additional information I had not thought to ask for, and even provided me with some funny quotes.
But there were still five more agencies to go.
I emailed the one in a foreign country, and got a fairly prompt automated response assuring me my request was being handled. In one Midwestern state, I had a hard time figuring out where a particular detective had been assigned, until one very amiable officer provided me with five different possible phone numbers, the reasons why two of them were the best ones to try first, and the name of the substation where my guy was currently working. In one Eastern state with a surprising variety of law-enforcement agencies, I couldn’t even figure out which one to contact—and then someone returned my random call and told me the name of the correct agency. After I left a message for the PIO, he left me three voicemails, persistently trying to get in touch with me.
But then there were the other agencies. The PIO at one was reticent, at best. I found myself thinking of all the big things police need to do on the job… and here I was, asking this guy to confirm facts for a children’s magazine. I am accustomed to feeling silly (want proof? You must not have read my previous entry), but I don’t necessarily like it. This time I sure didn’t.
And then there was the guy who So Did Not Want to Talk to Me. Every time I phoned—probably 11 times, all told—the person who answered the phone said, “Just a minute,” then paused and added, “Who is this?” And when I revealed my identity, the person inevitably said, “He’s not in.” Humph.
Nevertheless, everything was moving right along. Then I realized I had to call back the cranky PIO. To ask him even sillier questions. Questions like, “What do your uniforms look like?” and “What breed of dog was that?”
So I breathed in deep and reached for the phone. And let me tell you, it was like talking to a completely different person. He was amiable. He answered my questions without making me feel like an idiot. He put me on hold to make a call to get a detail that I needed, and when that effort was not successful, he promised to call me back when he got the detail. And he did!
Which only left Mr. I Hate Talking to Feature Writers.
And then he called me back. And he was amiable. And he was perfectly willing to talk, after he relayed all my needs to his superior and got the necessary permission.
So once again I had to shake my head at the self-focusedness of us human beings. Here I’d wasted some of my writerly energy, angsting about cranky officers who didn’t like me (and they don’t even know me!)… When they were actually busy working. Or had just had a fight with a colleague or a spouse or a kid. Or something.
I know there are people out there who don’t take offense at stuff like this (yes, logical people! I’ve heard they exist!), and I know there are people who are even worse than I am (girls, mostly, it must be admitted. Although I can’t imagine there are no guys out there counting the days since a particular girl last phoned). And it’s so, so easy for me to assure those worse-than-me people that they’re overreacting, that surely that snarky attitude they just encountered is a result of a problem at home or too-tight socks, and not a reaction to them at all. Or that people are busy, and time goes by so fast, and surely there’s a logical reason why he hasn’t called in three days.
But when I’m on the receiving end of a perceived rebuff—well, that’s a very different story.
Oh—I can connect this to writing! I've been reading The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (by Christopher Vogler), and there's a very interesting point in there: Everyone is the hero of his own story. Villains included. Which I interpret as: we each of us—fictional characters and real people alike—believe ourselves to be the center of the universe. I’m going to try to keep that in mind as I re-approach the characters in my finalfinalREALLYfinal draft of my MG fantasy novel—and also as I begin submitting, and not perceiving rejection where there is none. (Save it for when the letters arrive in the mail, right?)