When to Change the Locks

my first Bulgarian apartment bloc
my first Bulgarian apartment bloc

That’s odd,I thought. Didn’t I leave the blinds open? I glanced around my room and everything looked okay. I couldn’t point to anything that was out of place. Or missing. But still, something struck me as different.

I was home a couple days early from my stay in Sophia. I went into my kitchen. Two dirty coffee cups sat on the table, but they weren’t mine. I didn’t drink coffee at home. Dirty spoons had dried rings of coffee in them and around them. I didn’t even have any coffee in the apartment.

Leaving the kitchen I looked at more closely at everything. But who breaks into an apartment to have a cup of coffee? I called a colleague, a Bulgarian English teacher whose apartment overlooked mine. “Radina,” I said and told her about the coffee. “Did you see anyone around my apartment.” Bulgarians do not use their balconies for staring off into the distance. The odds were small she’d have answer.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “You know, don’t you, that the headmaster and his girlfriend go to your apartment?”

I look out my window and I can see Radina’s balcony. “He does what?” The apartment belonged to him. Of course, he had a key. Two buildings from this one he had a wife and daughter. I’d met the mistress at a school party. She’d worn a tight leather dress. “Thanks for telling me,” I said.
I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

Hanging up the phone I stared at my narrow bed. They wouldn’t. I grabbed the pink coat I’d left hanging in my entryway. I’d go for a walk. See Radina. I thrust my hands in my pockets. There was something in there. An open packet of coffee. She’d worn my coat.

That evening the locksmith Radina called for me changed my locks. In the morning and wearing my pink coat, I showed up at my headmaster’s office. “You are back here early,” he said, eyes wide.

I smiled. “Yes! I am.” I put my old key on his desk. “Oh, and I changed the lock on my apartment door and only I have the new key,” I said. “Have a wonderful day.”

He told many lies about me after that. But it was worth it.

Revenge is tempting. Most of the time I don’t bother (and the times I have are stories for other days), but, like a few of you commented on yesterday’s post, a character is annoying if they do nothing. The danger is taking revenge in fiction. That is, using a story to get back at someone in real life. (Not so foolish as to say who.)

There’s using true experiences in your fiction, and then there’s venting frustration and hurt. Not necessarily bad things unless they get in the way of the story. Or get you sued. I’m not above taking people I’ve known and tossing them into a story in some wicked fashion, but I try not to let my anger hijack the work.

Ever written a story to get back at someone? Did it work?

18 thoughts on “When to Change the Locks

  1. For some years I was one of the many contract writers for the Nick Carter novels. Carter, a holdover from the old dime novel pulps, was set forth as a blue-collar James Bond. I modeled a Carter antagonist on my former department chair, including the fact that he gave poetry readings in which he passed along information coded into his poems.

    On the other hand, one of my students, who later went on to a Ph.D. and an assistant deanship, has written a series of police proceedurals in which I became a Detective Sergeant on the Bronx Police force . He and I are close; the old chair and I are not.

  2. D.F. Rucci

    That’s terrible, I would be scare from my wits end, someone being in my apartment and doing who knows what.

    That’s interesting. I’ve never, ever done that before. Honestly, that’s never even come to mind. It’ve very intriguing though, that could be like a stress reliever; using fiction to overcome your inner demons. That’s a brilliant idea, did it make you feel any better after you did it?

  3. My novel has a storng component of “getting back at” a kind of culture and attitude that I greatly dislike. The challenge was to not make it one-dimensional and in doing so, I was able to come to terms with it, at least somewhat. It also helped me work through some fears. The next challenge for me, is to write about someone who has long been a source of unhappiness, without making that person recognizable (because they’re still alive). I could write around it, but I know it (and they) will continue to haunt me until I do.

    BTW- Shawn Colvin has a song called “get out of this house” that got me through some hard times…

  4. p.s.- this person I mentioned is even affecting my blog writing- do you fellow blog writers ever censor what you write in your blog because of who might read it?

  5. Shelly, even though I might use someone I know as the basis for a character (much changed, of course!), I’d be surprised and unsettled if someone wrote about me.

    DF, I can’t say it made me feel better as it put certain experiences in a new light. And in the end I always left the real person behind and let the character be their own selves.

    Sarah, somethings I will never write about here because of who will read it. But I suppose that frees them up for the fiction…

  6. I’ve never used fiction to get back at someone… but I have used it to process my emotions.

    And poetry! Oh yeah. That’s how I process breakups and mean things people say to me. Or at least, that’s how I used to do it. Poetry, she is a silent lady, lately.

    But I don’t mean those things to hurt people, just to deal with things. And in fiction, all my characters are different parts of me.

    I may just be too egocentric to bother with getting back at people. It’s all about ME, baby. 😉

  7. Hmm… Don’t think I’ve ever used my fiction that way, no. (Tempted sometimes though. :)) I’ve written some very p!ssed-off letters which have gotten me into major trouble.

    A girl whom I was dating for a while, many years ago, thought it was interesting that (at the time) I was trying my hand at writing poetry. She wanted to know, though, why I never wrote poetry about her. I came up with what I thought was a pretty funny poem (narrated in a sort of quasi-Irish dialect, and very Robert W. Service-y in technique), but she didn’t care that much for it for some reason.

    […trying to remember…]

    Part of it went something like “Me girl’s eyes drive the boys/Back to playin’ with toys/(Mattel’s offered an annual fee)/For their aspect’s so reddened as to leave the mind deadened/With a riddle: How CAN the girl see?”

  8. rowena, processing my emotions may be more accurate. I mean, it’s not like what I wrote would have any real impact on whoever was in mind. And all my characters are part of me–so maybe it isn’t to get back at that person, as much as it is a way to get back at myself for being so stupid as to let some idiot into my life in the first place. Or something like that.

    JES, that may be an excellent way to tell a girl is not for you–how she reacts to a poem. I rewrote a rhyme to make it about a friend’s exboyfriend. He heard it once and thought it was funny–though I meant to be funny to my friend.

  9. Your posts are great – they have such an immediate pull. No, never written about anyone (my fiction is very different from the blog entries, and those are deliberately nebulous about the people around me). I read once if you write bad things about someone, they never recognise themselves anyway. I suspect all fictional characters are the lovechildren of the author/inspiration/creation – in other words a bit of you, a bit of them, a bit of their own selves. The strange thing about fact is that if it were presented as fiction, few people would belive it to be true.

  10. Kate: I read once if you write bad things about someone, they never recognise themselves anyway Funny; I’d always heard the opposite — that when family/friends read your fiction, you must be prepared for questions (generally insulted ones) as to why you’ve defamed them so publicly. 🙂

    All this is probably why so many of my characters seem to end up as different aspects of my own self — I’m heading off those questions before they get asked!

  11. JES and Kate, I’ve read both and came to this conclusion–if you write about someone and take away the obvious trait (no more Dr. Suess tattoo or no longer the mother of four children each with a different father) and stick with, instead, things about them they fail to even know about themselves (self-important & smug or bad picker of men and neglectful parent), then they have no idea. And if you happen to give one of those distinctive traits to a character who no other respect is like the real person, the real person will see themselves anyway (hero or great beauty).

    Then there is what Anne Lamott suggests for those male characters in regards to size. He’ll never say anything then.

  12. Pamela

    When people broke into my apt. & years later my home, they took the valuable stuff. I was creaped out by your story of them having coffee, and at the same time wished my intruders only wanted to have coffee and borrow my clothes.

    Revenge…oh, how I love it! Reading about revenge is a great release in your own life. How many people wanted to burn their ex’s belongings and then exhale! Really, Rebecca deserved to be shot!

  13. JES, Ms. Lamott is worth the read. So, don’t be put off by one little comment!

    Pamela, having been robbed too, I know how you feel. Coffee is better. Mistress wearing my clothes while doing I don’t know what… best not thought about too much.

    Karen, I know.

  14. Wow, your blog just keeps getting better and better. These recent posts are wonderful, and I’m loving the photos.

    Revenge in writing? Yeah, I do that. I had a teacher once tell me that I blow up pretty balloons in my writing and then proceed to pop holes in them. I took it as a compliment because that’s exactly what I like doing with my stories.

  15. I don’t know if I’d call that revenge. I’d call that Suh-Weet assertive action. Little bastard was infringing on your space and his girlfriend was wearing your things and I don’t even want to think about what they were doing to your sheets. Yuck.

    I don’t write stories for revenge, but I do DO things for revenge. It’s rather juvenile, but I don’t always have the patience for karma to come around and bite some idiot that I have encountered in the ass with the appropriate strength.

    Your stories are awesome and I love reading about your very fully-lived Life.

  16. Sophie, I’m not usually a vengeful person. Or to be more accurate I don’t usually go out of my way for revenge. If, however, an opportunity presents itself…

    I’ve not really thought of my life as fully-lived, but I’m glad you’re reading.

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