"Yeah, I’d Kill Someone for 110K"

From Wikimedia Commons
(by Francinegirvan)

“Yeah, I’d kill someone for 110K.”

You might think this is a line from my nearly-complete WIP (a mystery novel). But it’s not. It’s what I overheard at the grocery store the other day…in the produce section to be exact. I don’t think they were serious. Actually I’m pretty sure absolutely certain because I lurked around for a little a lot longer. Let me be honest, I stayed as long as I could without raising (too much) suspicion.

I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, and snippets of conversations raise my curiosity. But so does everything else. For instance, the other day MEH (My Engineer Husband) couldn’t find his navy blue slacks. He looked high and low. As he left for work, he said: “Don’t take that bag of stuff to Goodwill, I think my pants are in there.”

The thing is the day before we’d cleaned out our bedroom—went through all the drawers, the closet too. And MEH had a large pile of clothes to give away. By the way, MEH and I came to the conclusion as we sorted through things, that MEH has a lot more clothes than I do. (In truth, I called him a clothes horse.) This isn’t really a mystery, though—MEH works outside the home and I sit at the dining room table all day…in my sweat pants or other extremely casual wear (I admit it, some days I don’t even get dressed unless I’m going out of the house).

Anyway, I digress. The navy blue pants. MEH told me not to bother looking—he’d take care of it when he got home. But I couldn’t help myself. First I went through the hefty bag of Goodwill. Nothing. Then I started going through laundry baskets, drawers, our kids’ rooms, still nothing. I finally gave up. I knew they didn’t just walk away so they’d turn up sooner or later.

Although, there were those peat pots we lost once and never found. And the hammer. What about all the missing socks? Maybe MEH’s pants joined those notorious items?

A while later, I went to do a load of laundry, and when I opened the washing machine, I solved the mystery of the missing pants. During the cleaning frenzy, MEH had started a load of laundry and forgotten all about it. I put the blue pants in the dryer and declared “the case of the missing pants” closed.

The Next Big Thing

I want to thank writer friend KarenWojcik Berner for tagging me in the “The Next Big Thing”—a fun blogger tag game in which participants answer the questions about their WIPs. Here are answers about my new mystery. 
What is the working title of your book?

Desired to Death

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve had the protagonist (Maggie True) in my mind for some time—since my son left for college. The specific premise for the plot in this book came from a conversation with a friend.

What genre does your book fall under?


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I truly have no idea.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Maggie True’s ex-best-friend is arrested for the lurid murder of her hot young lover, “Tattoo Boy,” the now-empty nester puts her intuition to work as a sleuth and enters a seamy underworld far from her typical mom routine.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

To be decided.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two months.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book when faced with the empty nest—just like my protagonist Maggie True. For me it’s a bit of a time of turmoil, of figuring out what I want to do next, of lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here’s an excerpt… I hope you like it!

Maggie couldn’t keep herself from asking. “Who is that guy?”

“Oh em gee,” Jessie said, rolling her eyes. “A.J. Traverso. He teaches kickboxing or something. The old women go crazy over him. They call him “Tattoo Boy.” Think you might want to take up kickboxing, Mom?” Jessie gave Maggie a playful push.

“Of course not…” Maggie could feel herself flushing and hoped Jessie didn’t notice. She didn’t. She was already gone, heading to check in at the lifeguard station. As Maggie turned to leave the Club, she couldn’t help herself and took another look over her shoulder in the direction of the group of women, forming such a thick circle she could only see Tattoo Boy in glimpses. As she watched, Tattoo Boy reached up and stretched one muscled arm over his head, flexing and turning his head with his hand, like he was loosening his neck muscles. When he moved he looked like a jaguar—with spots of tattoos on one side of his back, a vine of flowered tattoos on the other, leading to jagged dark lightning bolts down one arm, another jagged tattoo on the back of his neck. Maggie watched as he repeated the stretch with his other arm, his fluid movement mesmerizing. But he also looked as dangerous as a wild animal.

Instead of tagging specific writing friends, I’d like to tag all of you reading this! What’s your next big thing? And (I’m curious, naturally!) what mysteries do you have going on in your house and life?


To Mumsey & Dad

Red Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes
) from Wikimedia commons
public domain, photo by Ken Thomas

This post is a writing new year’s resolution.

Here’s the thing. Last week I went to look up a bird that my friend Milli (@millivrstravels) tweeted a photo of. I reached for one of my bird books. I’m a bird nerd so, yes, I have several bird books. My personal favorite is Peterson’s Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies—a gift from my daughter about 5 Christmases ago.

And this blog is about that one particularbird book that I reached for to look up that woodpecker—did I mention it was a woodpecker Milli tweeted a picture of? I riffled through the pages of the book, annoyed I couldn’t immediately find the woodpeckers. Then I flipped to the back of the book to look in the index.

That’s when I saw it. On the inside back cover of the book, an inscription:

To Mumsey & Dad—May you enjoy identifying from Alle alle to Zenaida macroura & beyond to discovering those species “waiting” to be found. Pam/1982

I stopped looking for woodpecker in the index. In fact I stopped cold. Because a) I’ve never been called Mumsey (except as a joke), b) I was not even close to being a Mumsey in 1982, and c) I had never before seen that inscription in my bird book that was given to me by my daughter (whose name, incidentally, is not Pam and who was born 9 years after that inscription was written).

In short, I have no idea where that book came from. No idea. And yet, that book was in my bookshelf and was given to me by my daughter. Or so I thought.

I flipped through the book again. On the inside cover, another notation of a different name—again, one that was not familiar to me—and a place, a nearby island. Tucked inside the book I found three more things: an old newspaper clipping of “Maine Animal Tracks,” an old typed flier describing the best kind of bird seed to use to attract birds to your feeder, and a small sticker that said YES! and No. on it.

None of these brought me any closer to figuring out who Mumsey and Dad are and how their book got in my house. But I figure there are a few possibilities.

Something innocuous like someone left the book at my house? One of my kids borrowed it from a friend during a school project? The book was buried in a box of books that I bought at a yard sale or brought home from the Town Book Barn? Or something a little more mysterious—it was left by the last owner of our house? Old Mr. Able did have that parrot in the window.

The truth is I may never know. And this mystery will likely join the annals of the other unsolved mysteries of the Martin family. What happened to the hammer that disappeared from the back of a U-Haul truck when we moved in 1992? Where are the peat pots that disappeared from the pantry in 1997? And where did those blue bags come from?

The sticker
Even if I never find out, it’s started 2012 off in a good way, with a reminder that life is full of unexpected stories and mysteries. I just need to keep my eyes open to find them. Which brings me back to my new year’s resolution: to observe and note all that I see, to pursue my passion wholly, to fully embrace the writing life.

Like the sticker says, I can choose—YES! or No.

How are you resolving to start your new writing year?

Happy New Year!


Getting into Character

Today I took a field trip to do a little research for one of my works in progress.

I didn’t go very far, I didn’t need to. I live in a small town on the coast of Maine: a town where many people know each other—if not by name then by sight.

In fact, a lot of times people know each other by car or by house, as in:

“Oh, I didn’t recognize you, did you get a new car?”
Or (when someone who you only just met needs to deliver something to your house and you start to give them directions) they say:
“Oh, I know where you live.” In that tone that makes you realize they know a lot more than just where you live.
Anyway, one of my WIPs is a mystery set in a small town on the coast of Maine. And one of the places I get fodder for this mystery is from the local weekly newspaper’s Police Beat. (I wrote about the Police Beat in another blog when someone was stealing branches from my apple tree; you can read that here.)
Back to today’s field trip. Here’s why I took it: I wanted to get inside the head of my WIP’s protagonist, Maggie. Yesterday when I picked up the local weekly paper, I turned first to the Police Beat (like always), and I found this:
A resident of West Elm Street contacted police to report there was a family of woodchucks living under the shed. Really? (I’m telling you, you can’t make this stuff up.) 
So, as I’m reading this, I’m thinking: what would compel someone to call the police about a family of woodchucks (purportedly living under their shed), knowing they well might end up in the police beat? Then, more importantly, what would someone, like my protagonist Maggie, do if she wanted to figure this out? In short, I made the kind of plan that Maggie might make.
This was my thinking as I set out on my field trip with my legal pad and pen in hand. I also took my iPhone (of course, I never go anywhere without that. I did not take my camera, I figured my iPhone would do in a pinch. We’re talking about a 1.3 mile stretch of road, right around the block from where I live, for cryingoutloud. I figured I could always book it home and get the camera if I needed it.

Oh, I drove, because did I mention that it’s raining, again? So instead of walking, I took the car, our “other car,” because MOD (My Outstanding Daughter) is home from college, and MOD always drives my car (a newer but still pretty old white station wagon) because it’s (a) safer and (b) more reliable. But this “other car” actually works out better because it’s a nondescript much-older blue sedan. No one would ever think I’d be driving it. (MEH (My Engineer Husband) used to drive it before he got his bike and bikes to work.)

Naturally, in MEH’s car, I know no one will recognize me (small town, they know me in my white station wagon). Which is probably good because I was driving somewhat slowly, somewhat erratically with my pen clenched in my fist so I could easily take notes on the legal pad next to me on the car seat.

Here was my plan: drive the length of the road (like I said, 1.3 miles) and look for all the sheds. But of course I didn’t know that it was 1.3 miles until I set the trip odometer, which took me three times around the block to figure out how to do. I’m sure that wasn’t conspicuous at all. Not with the pen clenched in my hand and fiddling with the car controls.

Oh, I forgot to mention that before I left home I texted MEH to let him know I was going out to investigate the woodchuck-shed incident. (Every good detective lets someone know where they’re going, just in case something goes horribly wrong. I know Maggie will always do this.)

Here’s what I wrote in my text to MEH:

“Toughie’s back; off to research woodchucks on West Elm Street”

(“Toughie” is a cat that has been hanging around our house way too much. Our dog is getting old, and apparently is not nearly scary enough to keep cats away. Toughie seems to have some developmental issues, tipped off by her unusual gait, perhaps hit by a car at some point in her life…she’s a really nice cat, but we’re not in the cat adoption market, and I’m afraid Toughie (with her issues and all) is confused and thinks she lives at our house…)

My handwriting is usually better than this
but I was driving at the time…

Anyway, after I finally figured out how and set the trip odometer, I set out. As I said, my plan was to count all the sheds—first on one side of the street then all the sheds on the other side of the street. I was hoping if there weren’t too many I could do a door-to-door search for whomever called the police. Then I could interview them. Because, I’m thinking, that’s what I’d have my protagonist do.

Better yet, I was hoping I (and more specifically my protagonist) would actually KNOW the person—as in recognize them from the house they lived in.

On the second side, the east side (again, weird, huh? the east side of West Elm Street. Go figure.) I counted five sheds. Now, I need to say, it’s pretty woodsy these days—trees really grow like weeds here in Maine in the summertime—and West Elm goes from pretty dense, town-style housing to less-dense more country-style housing (with a lot of weedy-woods) once you go by the high school. But I tried hard to look through the woods and miss none of the sheds.

I even pulled over twice to let cars pass me. It was still raining so there weren’t many people out (I passed two male and one female runners, one man with a huge big bushy black beard and a blue baseball cap, and a kid on a bike)—which made pulling over on the side of the road logistically possible without driving too erratically or recklessly.

In addition to the sheds, I was actively looking for woodchucks because I assume that even if the police and/or animal control captured the entire woodchuck family out from under that shed, there may be other woodchucks in town. (For the record, I saw no woodchucks. I did see a squirrel, two chipmunks, and two cats.)

I’m sorry to report that none of the sheds I saw were behind houses of people I know who live on West Elm Street. And I didn’t really have the guts to approach all eleven houses with sheds to ask the people if they had, in fact, been the person who called the police and appeared in the weekly Police Beat. (Maybe I would have had the guts if there were only a couple sheds. Maybe.)

So I’m also sorry to report that I didn’t solve the mystery of the woodchucks under the shed or even who called the police to report it. And I probably will never know who on West Elm Street doesn’t mind taking a chance of being in the Police Beat about a family of woodchucks (although I may find out when I least expect it—living in a small town and all). But doing the research, thinking like my protagonist (who really will have to talk to people if she wants to solve mysteries, for instance a murder), taking notes, and writing this blog post, have been extremely helpful in the writing process.

And that’s really all I have to report. Except that once again, the kooky lady of Orchard and Main streets got safely back into her house without herself making it into the Police Beat despite the reckless driving with a pen in her hand.

What kinds of research do you do for your WIPS? Do you ever try to walk in your characters’ shoes?


The Mystery of The Blue Bags

One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Harriet the Spy. I read it the summer I went to horse camp with my friend Jane. We wanted to be Harriet the Spy, and Jane kept a notebook about the other campers. Of course when someone found the notebook, life imitated art, and we were ostracized by the other campers. It was pretty miserable.

But this early experience did not daunt my interest in mysteries—fictional or real. As a child I read every Nancy Drew, and during my teenage years I went on to read every Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot book Agatha Christie ever wrote. As I got older, I moved on to any and every mystery I could get my hands on. I don’t read quite as many as I used to, but I still love a good mystery.

In fact, the truth is, I just want to know why. Not just in a mystery book, but in real life, too. I like to figure things out and get to the bottom of things.

Like why is one of the houses in our neighborhood only occupied for three months of the year. Is it true, like everyone says, that the husband is an international pirate? That they own four houses around the world? Who knows?! I don’t, but I sure want to.

Or the mystery of the blue bags. Why are there neon blue bags melting out of snow banks all over our neighborhood? Dozens of them. Some have dog poop in them, sure, left by tired-of-carrying-them dog walkers, no doubt. But others? Empty. Flung by a disgruntled newspaper carrier? Who knows! But again, I want answers!

And I’ve pulled MEH (My Engineer Husband) into my mysterious life, too. One day this winter, when we went to a nearby Starbucks, MEH and I sat in our car drinking coffee. It was a super cold day, around noon, but because it was so cold not many people were out.

A shiny new, silver Mercedes SUV pulled in, two parking spots away. A tall, young, attractive man in blue medical scrubs got out, holding a small, flat amazon.com box.

He stood for a moment by the SUV, fishing around in the box, finally pulling out something—we couldn’t see what—and threw it into the back of the SUV. Then, he closed the car door and walked purposely down the sidewalk, away from Starbucks. With the amazon box firmly in hand, he made a bee-line for a nearby trash can that was almost directly in front of our car. With his back to us, he opened the box, and shook it over the open can—something fell out, we couldn’t see what. Then, mission accomplished, he turned and walked swiftly back to his SUV, tossed the box inside, and continued on, into Starbucks.

So intent, he didn’t notice us, a mere six feet away: sitting in our car, sipping coffee.

“What do you think that was?” I nudged MEH, whispering. (I don’t know why I always whisper. Standard conspiratorial practice, I suppose.)

“Who knows. Packing material.”

“No way. He’s hiding something!” MEH hasn’t read as many mystery books as I have, so he has no idea how many secrets there are all around us.

I nudged MEH again. “Go see what it is! Hurry before he comes out!”

“NO!” MEH is a curious guy, too, but he has his limits. “It’s nothing. Just some packing paper.”

“It’s something more. And you know it. Why a public trash can? He’s hiding something. What if it’s needles? He’s a doctor!”

“Julia! Forget it. If you’re so curious, you go.”

“I can’t go, what if he sees me? I could be in danger!”

“He should find me instead? Oh, ok!” MEH opened the door and got out, still mumbling something about “nothing.” (Later, I asked MEH why he eventually gave in. And he said that, as usual, he got caught up in the swirl.)

I watched as MEH approached the trash can. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some imaginary piece of trash. Then he leaned casually over the trash can, looking intently down, and flicked his piece of imaginary trash inside. So convincing! I smiled with pride.

Quickly, he turned, and strode back. Wide-eyed, he got back in the car. He closed the door.

“I’ll be darned. You were right. He is hiding something.”

“Needles? Drugs?”

“No. Porn.”


“Yep, porn.” MEH laughed. “I can’t believe you were right that the guy is disposing of evidence.”


“Yeah. Now that’s a mystery. He buys the stuff then throws it away. What’s up with that?”

“It’s his son’s or…he’s a sex addict. I mean, who wants a brain surgeon or…worse… a pediatrician that’s a sex addict, for god sakes?”

MEH started the car, and we drove home, discussing the possibilities the whole way. One mystery solved, with many more opened. And I just want to know why. But unlike Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, or Miss Marple, I may never figure it out. Or will I?

I got home, sat down at the computer and started to type:

“The Mystery of the Blue Bags

Maggie sat in her car outside Starbucks. It was sub-zero cold, and she hunched over her latte, inhaling the heat. A brand-new silver Mercedes SUV pulled into the next parking place over. A tall, handsome man in blue scrubs got out, holding a small, flat amazon.com box. He fished around in the box for a minute then threw something into the backseat of the SUV….”



p.s. Are you like me, do you love a mystery? Are you inspired by the mysteries around you? What stories have come out of things you’ve observed?