In this ninth and final interview we pause to reflect. To help us in this regard is a character not yet introduced who nevertheless (and paradoxically, given her abrasive nature) charms every reader who encounters her. I speak of none other than Mrs. Figgins, of course, the frighteningly competent receptionist at the C. Carroway & Associates office, located at the intersection of Wall St. and Broadway in New York.
As she sits straight-backed at her typewriter (Underwood, of course), she can type a blistering 60 words per minute. The double row of buttons and high collar of her gray-blue dress are intimidating, but not as fearsome as her Bronx accent, delivered with percussive diction.
I’m thoroughly spooked, actually. I tried to get Mr. Bigg Faquir for the interview, but the penitentiary warden was, shall we say, cool to the idea. So I have no choice but to welcome Mrs. Figgins in for a chat. I hope I make it through the interview with a few shreds of self-esteem left.
Here she comes now. I must say, that hat with the berries and netting is very stylish. Stylish for the year 1890, anyway.
GW: Greetings, Mrs. Figgins.
Mrs. Figgins: Doctor Worthey, I presume?
GW: The very same. I’m glad to meet you.
Mrs. Figgins: Charmed, I’m sure. I have a list of questions.
GW: Yes, that’s the idea of—
Mrs. Figgins: Stifle. First question. Why did you start writing the Ace Carroway books?
Mrs. Figgins: Speak up.
GW: Well, for fun. And also, they’re feminist. An illustration of one way gender equality can play out. Maybe an unlikely way. You’re taking notes? Egad.
Mrs. Figgins: Second question. What are Ace Carroway’s flaws?
Mrs. Figgins: Stop starting every sentence with “well.” What are Ace Carroway’s flaws?
GW: Oh, my. I mean, she has insecurities that crop up now and then. She’s smart, yes, and strong, and that limits her reservoir of fears. She thinks she’s not good-looking. She feels disfigured by her scars. She is completely and utterly unprepared for romance. She has a fear of biting ants. After book 2, she’s paranoid about bombs in her plane. Oh, and she’s several notches too rash.
Mrs. Figgins: Third question. What are you working on, now?
GW: The title is ACE CARROWAY AND THE GROWLING DEATH.
Mrs. Figgins: What else?
GW: The next two after that are ACE CARROWAY AND THE MIDNIGHT SCREAM and then ACE CARROWAY AND THE DEADLY VIOLIN.
Mrs. Figgins: Will there be a Mrs. Figgins spin-off?
Mrs. Figgins: It was a joke, young man. Close that open jaw. Sit up straight. There, that’s better.
GW: How many more questions are there?
Mrs. Figgins: Wouldn’t you like to know? Fourth question. Is this science fiction? Or what?
GW: Yes, technically, it’s science fiction. The setting is not quite the earth we know. That said, I don’t use science fiction tropes like ray guns. I aim for a realistic historical feel, colored by noir and steampunk influences. I’m hoping the category “noir fantastic” catches on. Basically, steampunk with gas.
Mrs. Figgins: …
GW: Gas as in gasoline.
Mrs. Figgins: That’s better. Fifth question. If you were stranded on a desert island with one of the associates, who would it be and why?
GW: Well, Ace of course. She’d know how to build a boat from scratch and navigate home.
Mrs. Figgins: Nix on that. One of the associates, I said.
GW: Oh! Well, they’re all agreeable fellows for the most part. I might choose Sam or Quack. They both have peaceful philosophies. They wouldn’t mind a bit of quiet, and I tend to like a fair amount of quiet time.
Mrs. Figgins: Nix. One, I said. One associate.
GW: Gracious. Very well; Sam.
Mrs. Figgins: Why?
GW: Because I’m under pressure to choose!
Mrs. Figgins: Calm yourself. Your collar’s about to pop. Sixth question. In future books, is Mrs. Figgins getting a raise?
GW: What? No.
Mrs. Figgins: Incorrect. The correct answer is ‘yes.’
GW: But. I. But.
Mrs. Figgins: Glad you agree. Final question.
GW: Oh! Whew!
Mrs. Figgins: What’s the moral of all these stories?
Mrs. Figgins: What did I tell about starting sentences?
GW: Mrs. Figgins! Gracious. I’m trying to tell you. There are themes about the value of friendship, the considerable merits of truth, the advantages to thinking ahead, and the potency of logic. Ace has a creed, too.
Mrs. Figgins: She does?
GW: Yes. It comes in three short sentences. I am the cat. I can feel the sun. We are one.
Mrs. Figgins: That’s abstract.
GW: I think so. I’m fairly sure they’re not meant to be taken literally.
Mrs. Figgins: It’s not our job to be Ace. We just tag along on her coattails.
GW: Exactly so. Thanks for coming, Mrs. Figgins.
Mrs. Figgins: Goodbye.
Quotes from Mrs. Figgins, taken from ACE CARROWAY AND THE HANDSOME DEVIL.
- Imagine the nasal tone, the bored delivery, the New York accent: “Carroway and Associates, Investigations.”
- On keeping up with dictation: “Not a problem. I use Pitman shorthand.”
- On small dogs: “The yippy ones? No. Can’t abide them.”
- To Ace: “Don’t get kidnapped, please. I like working here.”
- Looking over the tops of her half-glasses: “Do you have an appointment?”
- Returning to her typing: “No visitors without appointments.”
And in closing, a limerick!