BENEATH THE SURFACE—A New Books Essay
By Anne White
Scene, Summer 2005,
I say. “You talkin’ to me?” The words are vintage
De Niro, straight out of Taxi Driver, which for a woman,
especially for a woman of a certain age, isn’t that easy
to pull off.
kid behind the counter at the dive shop repeats his question. “Want
me to sign you up? Class starts in five days.”
manage an answer. “Negative. Need to check my schedule.”
I check my schedule or not, I’m as negative about what
he’s suggesting as I am about death and taxes. This muscular
Adonis, barely out of his teens, is proposing I join a scuba
diving class to be held at—make that in—Lake
George. And as if that isn’t bad enough, the class is starting
this week, before spring gains more than a toehold on our upstate
New York landscape.
the ice out of the lake yet?” I ask with a small smile
makes a dismissive gesture. “You’ll be wearing a
wet suit. You’ll be so caught up in what you’re doing,
you won’t even notice the cold.”
I’m trying to hide my cowardice, I consider how I got myself
into this mess and how I can get out of it.
back several years. I decide to write a mystery novel, maybe
even—I think confidently—a mystery series. If I set
the books at Lake George a few miles from my home, I’ll
have plenty of material to draw on.
begin with An Affinity For Murder,
subtitle it A Lake George Mystery,
and love every minute of the prep work. Since Georgia O’Keeffe
spent fifteen summers at the lake and painted some of her best
loved masterpieces there, I’ve picked a fun topic. The
research means trips to libraries, museums and art galleries
(heady stuff for a librarian), and I’m delighted when Affinity is
nominated as a Malice Domestic Best First Mystery Novel in 2002.
I forge ahead with the series. Lake George, the 32-mile-long
lake, located not far from the New York/Vermont border, boasts
a rich and colorful history. Since 2005 kicks off the lake’s bicenquinquagenary,
a five-year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the
French and Indian War, I’ve got—not Georgia, but—history
on my mind. I’ll call my second book Beneath
the Surface and explore what’s under the
lake. Fabulous material there, although diving through icy waters
to find it is not what I had in mind.
psyched—just not that psyched.
make a mental list of what someone might find on the bottom of
of boats, with emphasis on the bateaux or longboats, relics from
the French and Indian War, many of them sunk deliberately by
the British to keep them under the ice and out of the hands of
the French during the winters. (Two hundred fifty sunk in the
fall of 1758 alone). The best known survivors—the Wiawaka
Seven, at the southern end of the lake—are much too fragile
to raise, my new friend tells me, but can be explored by divers.
He’s sure I’ll want to check them out.
he bombards me with information on the bateaux, I realize I’m
getting a treasure trove of usable material. I can describe the
difficulties experienced by the provincials as they build the
bateaux, fill them with sinking stones, then pound holes
in the bottoms to scuttle them. Not an easy task, but nowhere
near as tough as diving into the icy water in the spring and
lugging those sinking stones to the surface so the bateaux
can be raised and readied for new battles.
I’m complaining about diving into the lake in a wet suit.
course, my buddy goes on, the bateaux are only one example of
what’s under the lake. Remains of boats, large and small,
cannon balls, dishes and glassware from the old hotels, sunken
fishing shanties and docks, even trucks and automobiles whose
drivers thought the ice was thick enough to support their weight.
dive shop gets called in for these lost vehicles, he says. Their
divers use a VRS-2000, a self-contained vehicle recovery system,
to raise a truck or automobile from the bottom and float it along
the surface until it can be pulled out.
stuff to include in a mystery, I agree.
if the divers can’t locate the object, sometimes a dowser
can help. Now I’m onto another super topic. A character
who’s an accomplished dowser leaps full-blown into my head.
He’ll explain how dowsing is the search for hidden things—certainly
an appropriate subplot in a mystery—and although most of
us think first of dowsing as a search for underground water,
it can also be done beneath the surface of a lake and
involve searching for a lost boat or vehicle.
I am psyched. I sign up for the scuba diving course. Of course,
I do ask the last date I can withdraw and get my down payment
I leave the dive shop, my mind is reeling with ideas. The more
I think about the title I’ve chosen, the clearer I see
how Beneath The Surface can apply not
just to the lake itself, but to the happenings in my fictional
world as well. My character, Mayor Loren Graham, will discover
dark deeds taking place beneath the surface in the sleepy
little town of Emerald Point and that discovery will put her
own life at risk.
may be a coward about scuba diving, but I’m not afraid
to mangle a metaphor until it begs for mercy.