Wednesday, February 23, 2011


An Orderly Mind?

I never win anything. But the call had come. Salvation for my closet chaos was at hand.

My Closet Confidential reader’s prize basket was delivered by Charlotte Adam’s creator herself --- the indefatigable Mary Jane Maffini. As a lucky, ‘local’ fan, the visit included MJ’s canine pals Daisy and Lily ― bundled up in their matching pink puffy parkas against the bitterly cold, Ottawa day.

In preparation, I’d studied up on the handy tips headlining each chapter. I was psyched. We’d taken our tea and cookies and I was assessing where to put each of these professional organizer’s tools to use in my small-space flat.

"You seem like a woman with an orderly mind," my guest said.

Mary Jane’s statement floored me. How’s a pack rat to reply?

If I had such an organized mind, why had I not yet written my novel? The one I’d
researched, nurtured and brought to life in my brain, lo these many years. Strong evidence to the contrary for Ms. Maffini’s intended compliment, wouldn’t you say?

MJ had just been in my kitchen while I made our tea, hadn’t she? Seen the miscellanea taking up real estate on the counters? Surely her never-misses-a-detail, snapping eyes had spied the milk crate in the living room --- the one holding the dog’s brushes, my address book, an atlas and the dictionary that have no permanent resting place near my recliner.

I mumbled something. Maybe it was, "Well, I do have an MBA." or "I was born with a photographic memory." I stifled, "which I outgrew about thirty years ago."

"What do you think of my new cushions? Home Sense specials," I brag. "Don’t you think my empty walls need some real art?"

I employed --- successfully I hoped --- these social tricks of misdirection and illusion to divert my charming guest’s sharp observations away from the room’s trouble spots and onto other topics of conversation.

Eventually our time together wound down. I offered MJ the use of my 50’s retro loo before my visitors ventured back out into the biting wind. Meanwhile, I hustled my dog and our canine company out into the back yard for their quickie constitutional. Kind hostess? Not in the least.

This was all part of my nefarious plan: to prevent Mary Jane from seeing the jumble of hats, gloves, boots and doggie towels by the back door; or the clothes hanging from the bedroom and closet doors jambs; or attempting to open the closed door to the disaster room (part office/part library/part laundry room). Eeeekkk! Talk about dark, shameful secrets.

An orderly mind? All around me ― evidence to the contrary devoured every cranny!
Crime writers need order, right? Names, places, time, scenes and suspects must be kept straight. The social injustice righted.

But let’s be honest. How would you feel if your favourite author got all her facts straight and failed to provide you with the thrill of the chase, the workings of the criminal mind, a revolving slate of suspects and a challenging puzzle? Would you close the back cover with a sense of satisfaction for time well spent ― or with a bored yawn?

A crime writer needs to be able to dissemble, misdirect, create illusions and plot detours. They need to know where and how to bury the evidence so the reader races ahead, wondering, positing. She needs to know when to shut the door on a line of inquiry and when to reveal the story’s deep, shameful secrets.

These skills I call nefarious thinking ― an ability to think in circles and undulating waves, to weave scenes and layer detail, the willingness to manipulate the readers’ senses so they experience a thrilling outcome.

Shortly after my prize arrived, I managed to fit in a half-hour to tackle my linen closet jumble. In the light of day, I tossed stained towels and frayed facecloths. Only the sheets and pillowcases deployed in the past year are allowed back into the closet. Beautiful stacks of folded linens were corralled ― by size and function ― within sturdy, wooden-handled sea grass baskets and returned to their shelves for easy access.

Weeks passed. Yesterday I opened the linen closet to replace a clean towel. Somehow I’d completely forgotten my organizational stint. I experienced disproportionate feelings of contentment and satisfaction at the sight of my neat, tidy and ordered closet. Its transformation was both thrilling and satisfying. Just the way you feel at the end of a great novel when the bad guy is behind bars and justice restored.
I yearn to experience the same satisfaction and thrills when my novel is written, sold, published and in my hand.

It can happen. For I now realize I have the right crime writer’s tools lurking within the four walls of my home --- an orderly mind and nefarious thinking.

Now, wish me discipline.

Susan C. Gates is a reformed banker and a recovering policy analyst living in Ottawa. Her works of short crime fiction are published in recent editions of the Ladies’ Killing Circle anthologies. A member of Capital Crime Writers since 2000, Susan has served on its executive. Her first novel, Paper Daughter, has gestated longer than an elephant’s embryo. Well overdue, its delivery promises to be an arduous one.


  1. I stopped to read this as I packed a no longer needed recycling bin (we now have those megamonsters) with goodies to go to Goodwill. I did this last year and no doubt will have to do it next year. My theory is that possessions breed quietly while we're not looking and before we know it they're moving to take over our houses.

  2. Impressive, Susan. You've organized yourself down to 2 skills! Why clutter it with a third?
    Joan -- an inspiration as always. I have turfed out many old, outdated spices in the past week.

  3. Susan, thanks for the chuckle. It was a lovely afternoon from my perspective and the dogs' and not nearly as dramatically disorderly as your writerly instincts insist. But maybe that novel is behind the door of the off-limits room.

    You are a winner in every way!

    Love the linen closet.

    Cheers, MJ

  4. The linen closet? Courtesy of Martha Stewart's conglomerate --- someone else who knows quite a bit about order & control and the after-effects of crime!

  5. The crime writer always wonders... What's behind that closet door? From such unpredictable chaos, great stories grow. You're on your way, Susan!

  6. Nefarious thinking. I really like that.

  7. This is NOT your linen closet.....even if it has been reorganized since my last visit!!

    Your sister :o)

  8. Busted! By Anonymous. Claims to be my sister. Those who live in organized chaos should not throw seagrass baskets. I've seen her linen closet, too!