Lost Not Found

By Patrick aka Herjolf via Flickrs Creative Commons

Yesterday I lost something. To be specific, I can’t find it. This thing—something recently given to me, a tiny book—is personalized. And highly personal. Truly priceless in its contents.

I’ve gone through every obvious place it should be . . . like the table where I last remember seeing it, on bookshelves, and in drawers of paper products. But I’ve also searched not so obvious places like piles of folded laundry and car glove boxes. I searched through the box of batteries and the junk drawer, too. I’ve looked through bags and boxes of all kinds of things.

When my son was a teenager, I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses—they disappeared out of the car. I searched high and low but never found them. My kids laughed along with me as I questioned each of their friends for months about my sunglasses, every time I drove one home from school or a group of kids to the beach. It became a joke, but it bugged me. I never did find the sunglasses and eventually agreed with the likely hypothesis that they fell out of the car.

Once when we were packing for a move—this before we had children—MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I misplaced a hammer (how do you do that?). We looked for weeks but never found it. We’d been using it in the old house, packed the last box, loaded it in the car, but never found the hammer in the new house. We searched both houses to no avail.

“Maybe I left it on the roof of the car,” MEH mused back then. We’d lost several coffee cups that way.

A pack of peat pots disappeared once. My son’s pre-school backpack (that really did disappear off the roof of the car, but when we turned around, seconds after we saw it fly off in the rearview mirror, we couldn’t find it anywhere). Socks, of course. A favorite nightshirt.

But nothing as irreplaceable as this.

In all other regards, it’s been my lucky month—my son and daughter have both been home. But I’ve been out of my usual routine, so I’m imagining I tossed the book aside as I ran to greet them, to chase the dog, or to pull a boiling pot off the stove.

But I wonder.

“I have a mystery on my hands,” I mentioned to my son when he came downstairs for coffee in the morning. He’d come home in the middle of the night, so the book had already gone missing before he arrived.

My daughter, though, had been home; I’d shown it to her and her boyfriend the day it disappeared. Had it somehow slipped into their things? They’re both in medical school and they always have plenty of books and papers, laptops, bags of more books—endless studying!—maybe I placed it on one of their stacks?

Déjà vu all over again (as an old boss of mine used to say)—like the sunglasses. After they left, I emailed them:Had they accidentally scooped it up? They checked and re-checked their things—

No such luck.

Last night, just before we went to bed, MEH went through the trash. (He’s nice like that; he kindly takes on many of life’s less savory tasks.) Then the recycling. We both looked under the couches and the dog bed, through the sock basket, through stacks of books. My folders—again.

Still no luck.

It’s missing. Gone at least for now.

I Googled missing things (of course I did), wondering—do other people go through this? Big things disappear. The whole city of Atlantis. Blackbeard’s Treasure. There are countless stories about those kinds of losses. But also . . . a story about a woman who lost her wedding ring while gardening, found it sixteen years later growing on a carrot. Another woman who lost an autographed book, only to find it five years later when she ordered a used book on Amazon—it was her very own personalized book.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think either of these extreme things will happen. I think in the distraction of everyday life, I put my lost item somewhere unexpected. Just waiting to be found. I fully expect that someday when I least expect it, I’ll open a drawer I’ve opened a hundred times and there it will be—in plain sight.

At least that’s what I’m hoping.

UPDATE: Four hours after I posted this blog, I found the little book…  it had fallen down into the mechanism of an office chair. Keep your eyes peeled for the hammer, the peat pots, and Blackbeard’s treasure, though!

Have you ever lost anything valuable? And irreplaceable? Did you find it? Any suggestions on where I should look?

"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?


Goodbye Maggie True

I’ve gotten used to the fact that I can’t “go by” my daily name (Julia Martin) as a writer—there are writers, authors and artists by the name Julia Martin. When I got married, I was cautioned by a friend: “Don’t change your name—I already know another Julia Martin.” 

It’s why I write under my full name (maiden as middle): Julia Munroe Martin.

Because of my own name issues, I’m used to checking and double checking names on Google and Facebook. Character names. So a couple of years ago, when I thought up the premise for my current WIP (a mystery novel) but before I committed, I googled the main character name I was going to use for my amateur sleuth: Maggie True.

Nothing. And so it was that Maggie True came to be. My MC and Joe True’s loving wife.

Now I’ve finished the first draft, onto revisions. And the other day on a whim I checked again. Sure enough there she was: Maggie True—and I’m not talking about a real person (although there is one). I’m talking about a fictional character. And not just any fictional character. A character in a mystery novel. And not just any character in a mystery novel: the main character in a mystery novel.

It’s an unpublished book (except on the web) and unfinished (hasn’t been added to in a couple of years), but still definitely a reason to change a character’s name. Right? But here’s the thing. I love the name. Everyday this summer I’ve sat down with Maggie True (86,000 words worth of keeping company), and even before that—on this blog—I’ve written about stepping into my character’s life, imagining what Maggie True would do when she encountered the mystery of the blue bags or tried to figure out what neighbor called the police about a woodchuck in her shed.

Regardless, I’m back at square one. On the one hand I feel lucky I realized it before starting to query (or self publish) my novel. On the other hand, I’ve grown very attached to the name so I’m in a bit of a funk about it. Maggie True has become my daily companion—her name synonymous with her actions and the story. 342-manuscript pages worth of adventures we’ve gone through together. But Maggie can be no more. Joe has lost his Maggie. And I have lost one of my favorite character names.

Which means….I’m back to looking at names again. She’ll still have the same last name (True), and the name needs to go well with her husband’s (Joe). Some early ideas I’ve had are: Meg, Agnes (Aggie), Katie, Trudy. Unfortunately nothing sounds quite right—not in my writer’s mind. Granted, it’s not quite the same angst I went through naming my children, but it’s a big deal. So, I’m turning to you, writing and reading friends.

Any name suggestions? Or should I just keep the name as is? What would you do?
Writers, how do you pick character names? Do you google them? Would you change Maggie’s name or stick with it? Have you ever changed a MC’s name late in the game? Would you be, like me, sad to say goodbye to a character name?


Quiet Stillness on the Coast of Maine

Sunday, September 11, 2011, 7:50 a.m. EST, 50 degrees F

For the first time this late summer, it was colder than 50F degrees when we got up to take the dog for a walk. I’m here to say that 48.9F feels pretty cold after a hotter-than-average summer, and I’m a little nervous about the impending winter.

By the time we got to the bridge overlook it was just 50 degrees on the water. A beautiful, glorious clear day with almost no clouds in the sky. The video is remarkable by its uneventfulness.

We talked to two birders today (first ones we’ve encountered on these Sunday mornings!): one, a young man on the bridge with binoculars and a camera with a long telephoto lens—photographing “migratory birds” he said. I asked him what kind, and he simply responded: “oh, loads.” The woman, who we met on the way down to the beach (we took our dog down to walk by the water), when asked if she’d seen anything interesting, first said…. “oh, a little,” and then casually commented on a “Pileated” (Woodpecker) that was exhibiting “weird behavior.”

I found it mildly intriguing that for the first time in seven months we met our first birders by the bridge—and this time two of them—and both independently were looking in the same direction and seemed to be purposeful in their activities. Yet both were vague with what they were looking for when we asked them and were not very specific in what they had seen. My vivid writer’s imagination kicked into overdrive.

Meanwhile in the garden….wabi-sabi is setting in, and I am trying to enjoy the late-summer overgrown and fading garden. We continue to harvest eggplant, beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. We made two large pots of tomato sauce this week. And we will harvest apples from our apple tree for the first time since we moved into the house more than 10 years ago—for some reason it’s apparently a good year for apples!

The row of sunflowers outside our living room window is now about 9 feet tall!

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?


Seen (and Scene) Through Photography

The friendly church I often walk by

The setting for my current WIP is—perhaps not coincidentally—a small town in Maine. And without question there are specific buildings near where I live that play key parts in the story. One of these buildings is an old meeting house built in 1796.

I pass this building often in my daily life, but I also make a point of visiting it at different times of day and during different weather conditions.

In my story, there are some suspenseful scenes involving the church and the cemetery next door, so I want to trying to create a mysterious, even evil, mood and feeling in my writing. To imagine this, I want to try to see the church differently than it usually appears to me.

When I make these visits, I will often take photographs. Since it’s a building I see often, it’s hard to visualize it as anything but an everyday, friendly landmark. But the photographs can help my imagination take the church out of the context of my daily life and help me see it in a new light (or dark!).

Here are some of the other photos we’ve taken.

The church looked more ominious on this stormy day
I think the church looks a little creepy at dusk when lit up by a nearby street light
At night, especially when photographed at an angle, it’s possible for me to
imagine all kinds of diabolical things happening here or nearby

Do you ever use photography to help you establish settings in your mind? Do they help you see everyday objects in a different way that jog your imagination so you can describe them with new eyes?


The Police Beat

When you live in a small town (like I do), you get used to hearing gossip—and, conversely, being careful what you say and do to avoid being the topic of gossip. You expect to hear things at ball games, the grocery store, or even when you walk your dog around the block.
Like whose basement flooded—from a neighbor, at the corner down the street. Who’s getting divorced—I can’t count the number of divorces I’ve found out about at the grocery store. Or who’s having an affair—the baseball diamond. Or having a baby with someone else’s husband—at a field hockey game, I kid you not. Or whose kid had a wild party when their parents were out of town and trashed their house—at the neighborhood coffee shop. Every place you go, hotbeds of information.
But perhaps one of the biggest sources for town gossip is the Police Beat of the local weekly newspaper. This simple column has been known to make or break people. Certainly almost everyone I know thinks twice before calling the police about everything from something as simple as a missing dog to something as serious as a household break-in. I even know people who hesitated to call the police when their kids were missing! Really!
Why? They don’t want to appear in the Police Beat.
Maybe if you live in a larger town or a big city, this is hard to believe. I mean, how bad can this really be? You have no idea.
For instance, a while back, a friend’s dog (who was known for being “mouthy”—he was a golden retriever, what choice did he have?) stole an elderly woman’s purse on Main Street. Yes, as “Stealer” was on a walk—by himself—he grabbed the poor woman’s purse right out of her hands and made off with it, and she called the cops (of course). “Stealer” and his “parents,” you guessed it, headlined the Police Beat the next week.
Or what about the woman who called the police because she was outside in her garage one night and heard footsteps outside in the dark. She was terrified! The police arrive, sirens blazing only to startle away a herd of deer. Yep, Police Beat.
But perhaps the most bizarre—a woman (yes I know her) who was “taken in” to the police station for allegedly running over a police officer. Apparently, if I’m to believe what I read in the Police Beat and heard at the grocery store and at the ball field (this was a big story in town, folks), said woman was pulled over for speeding on her way home. She was in her bathing suit (yes, this was noted in the Police Beat); she was pretty p.o.’d (maybe I’d have been too, thinking about what the Police Beat would say, no doubt), and after she got her ticket, she pulled out a little too fast and then (allegedly) ran over the police officer’s foot. Embarrassing? Well, let’s just say, this was about the only thing anyone talked about for days, weeks, and (in my case) is still talking about in a blog—years later.
Because here’s the thing: it’s a small town, so each of these people is easily identifiable by everyone else just by what’s mentioned in the Police Beat. So, you can well imagine, the reluctance to call the police about ANYTHING for fear it will end up in the Police Beat. Then what? To be labeled the Kooky Lady at the corner of Orchard and Main streets (no, not my real street address, but I do live on a corner in the middle of town).
Still, sometimes you just have to call. Such it was that the Kooky Lady at Orchard and Main streets called the police to report that someone was stealing her apple tree—branch by branch.
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I really am said Kooky Lady, you should know that I’m very passionate about my garden, the birds in my garden, and nature in general. You know this if you read my blog very often or if you follow me on Twitter. (If you don’t follow me on Twitter, please do, @wordsxo) Or ask my bird watching buddies on Twitter, @crytzerfry @thebirdsisters @erikamarksauthr @litlinx @cmsmith57 @amymackinnon, just how passionate I am about birds and flowers and spring and such. Right now it’s all about the lilacs about to bloom and the mourning doves nesting in the eaves of my porch and the orioles’ return to Maine—gorgeous!
Still, there’s the apple tree theft; I don’t want to forget about that. If you aren’t familiar with apple trees, you don’t know that their flowers (called blossoms, that actually produce the apples) are BEAUTIFUL and smell AMAZING. And what you also might not know, even remotely, if you are unfamiliar with apple blossoms, is that before they actually bloom all the way to their complete loveliness, they are tightly closed. As the weather warms—or, in this case, if you cut the branches first and bring them into a warm house—the blossoms open and are beautiful and smell AMAZING. But outside when the smell of the lilacs and the smell of the apple blossoms and sometimes the smell of the beach roses all merge together, it really is one of the most spectacular things in life, to be treasured and protected. You’ll have to take my word for it!
Back to the apple tree. In a corner of our yard, close to the street. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there were more than several (I’d say 12) small branches snipped off the apple tree. Obviously with a pruning shears. To say I was mad would be an understatement. I was incensed. If you’re a gardener, you know that if you prune a bush or tree in the wrong place, then the tree grows badly. (Not to mention, the blossoms were gone!) And said random pruner did not prune in the correct place.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed…
I asked a couple of my retired neighbors (who are always home, and are always interested in the goings-on around the neighborhood), and neither had seen anything. So, I put up a sign, yes I did, that said: This is private property and Don’t steal my apple branches, you scumbag. Or something like that (probably without the scumbag part because I’m too polite to say that).
But guess what? The next day, the very next day, I went out there and you guessed it, more branches were cut off! First I changed my sign to add the word scumbag to it (no I really didn’t, I’m still too polite), then we took pictures of the mutilated branches, and then I swallowed my fear of the Police Beat and called the police.
I’m sure you can only imagine the amusement of the police officer when he arrived. (He didn’t overtly laugh, but I know he was thinking he was laughing.) He didn’t take it too seriously, actually he suggested that it was deer or just a neighbor interested in “forcing a few apple blossoms on the kitchen table” (forcing is the technical term for making flowers bloom out of season), but I pointed out that pruning shears were obviously used and that “they” had taken about two dozen branches. A little too much for a kitchen table.
I convinced him that my apple branches were being sold on the black market. Illicitly and for probably a LOT OF MONEY. Basically, the very nice police officer politely agreed with me and told me that there wasn’t a whole lot he could do without catching said-thief in the act. After a brief second of eye contact, he wisely added that a stake out was out of the question, but that maybe I should buy a motion-detecting camera to protect my priceless apples, lilacs, and sea roses.
Then he headed back to his patrol car.
“Oh, one more thing, Officer Friendly,” I called out, as he walked toward his car, his back to me. I tried to sound casual. “Will this be in the Police Beat?”
He turned around. “Only if you file an official report, do you want to?”
“No, we’re good.”
And the Kooky Lady of Orchard and Main streets headed back into her house.
How does gossip news spread in your neck of the woods? Is it useful to you as a writer?

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?