Being Forgotten

We all fear being forgotten whether we admit it or not. The next time you’re in a cemetery, take a look around at the elaborate headstones and mausoleums. Memorial providers make big bucks “pre-planning” funerals, burials, and other ceremonies because many people want to manage the way they are remembered.

Being forgotten after death is one thing, but what happens when you’re forgotten while you’re still alive? When people retire or lose their jobs for other reasons, they often feel “invisible” or irrelevant. While some people rejoice at fading into obscurity, others launch into charity work, write a book, or take other actions to retain their relevancy. This need to remembered is a human, universal reaction to a change in our environment. 

In Murder in Madden, both Enid and Jack feel forgotten. How does this drive the actions they take? You’ll find out when you read the book.

The Meaning of Food

Lately, I’ve been thinking about food. I don’t mean in the usual sense, although I love a good meal as much as the next person. During the recent holidays, I didn’t even have to think about food–it just magically appeared before me everywhere I went.

The reason food has been on my mind is because of its role in certain kinds of mystery novels. The publishing world calls these “cozy” mysteries. Typically, owner of a cupcake shop or a bookstore finds a dead body in the freezer or in the alley behind the shop. And it’s an amateur sleuth who shows up the local police by solving the crime. (Think “Murder She Wrote”) Besides amateur sleuths, food typically plays a role in cozies.

Murder in Madden is not a typical cozy, but it does have elements of that genre. For example, the protagonist is not in law enforcement, and she’s a female who is old enough to know better but young enough to get herself into trouble anyway. And then there’s the food that somehow kept showing up in the manuscript.

Which made me start thinking: What’s the role of food in our lives and what meaning do we ascribe to it? I don’t have a professional response, but I do have an opinion. As I said in earlier posts, family relationships play a key role in Murder in Madden. When I think of family, at least the pleasant moments, I often recall family gatherings during holidays, which all things center around huge spreads of food. Or I recall special meals by candlelight to celebrate birthdays. Or I think of my deceased mom’s cooking. As I’ve been writing this novel, family has been on my mind a lot, ergo food has been on my mind.

My point in all this is that once you get past the physiological need for feed on Maslow’s hierarchy, food takes on a different meaning for each of us. I didn’t set out to make food an element of Murder in Madden, but somehow it crept into my writing. Like family, food is primal. It’s basic to life.

Well, enough thoughts about food. I’m going to wrap up this post and join my husband by the fireplace for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and some freshly baked mushroom and cheese focaccia bread I picked up from the bakery this afternoon. Fire and food and, well, you know … now that’s primal. 

Redemption

As I talked with Enid this week about her story, the word “redemption” kept popping up in my mind. According to Merriam Webster, redemption is the deliverance from the bondage of sin; emancipation or liberation through payment of a price. Perhaps redemption wasn’t Enid’s to pay. Perhaps it was … well, you’ll have to read the book to answer that question for yourself.

We all pay for our deeds in some way or another. Some might call it karma. As a former life coach, I used to tell clients that what they put out into the universe is returned to them in like kind. I’ve come to realize that the only way to be free of the obligation of our deeds is through redemption. There’s no way to escape the past, but through redemption, we find a way to live with ourselves.

Redemption does play a role in Murder in Madden. Is that why Enid was driven to pursue Rosie’s story? Is that why I am driven to write Enid’s story? What are we trying to redeem?

Families and Christmas

This will be my last post for the year, and as I reflect on the holiday season, I am reminded of Christmases past and times spent with family. No, I’m not going to make a Hallmark statement here. In fact, just the opposite.

Family dynamics are complex, and this complexity often fuels suicides, murders, depression and a host of not-so-great emotions like envy and fear–especially this time of year. Having said that, you may be expecting me to pass long pearls of wisdom gleaned over the years on how to deal with family issues. Ha!

My best advice to you is to become a mystery writer. That way, you can kill off the in-laws or anyone else in a story. Don’t like Aunt Tillie? Then get rid of her! Change her name, of course, but think of all the delightful, creative ways you can dispose of her body. It’s actually quite therapeutic.

Okay, enough of the dark humor. My point is, just try to laugh it off and find a way to release your family frustration. Christmas comes only once a year, and then you can resume your normal life again.

One thing I learned from Enid as I was writing this book is that you can’t always make everyone in your family happy. Sometimes you have to do what’s right for you–and then deal with the consequences. As I’ve said in previous posts, Enid is much more courageous than I, although she doesn’t always make the right decisions. But do any of us?

On that note, I’ll end. Enid and I wish you Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year! See you here next year.

Life’s Intersections

Sometimes in life we come to an intersection where we have to make a decision about which path to take. One decision takes us in one direction; another decision in a different direction altogether. We’ll never know what might have happened had we made a different choice at that intersection. What if … ?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the tragic shooting in San Bernardino last week. Farook and Malik likely came to several intersections where they could have taken different paths. Their choices ultimately affected not only the victims and their families, but the entire country. What if they had made different choices?

Rosie’s killer faced such intersections, and then a decade later, Enid faced her own decisive moments. As a result, her actions took her in a direction she had not intended. Or was her fate so strong that she was destined to take the path she did?

 

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S., and we have much to be thankful for. The “we” is both my family and the United States. Nationally, in spite of our differences and problems, we are far more fortunate than most countries. Beneath our skin and political bumper stickers, we are all red, white, and blue, and that’s something we should be proud of. We’re not perfect, but we are family.

Personally, we have a comfortable home, joyful meals together, and a loving, supportive family. I couldn’t ask for more.

I’m also thankful for the privilege of writing this story about Enid and her search for truth. Being a fiction writer is an honorable quest for the truth beneath the lie, as Stephen King said. I’m thrilled, and thankful, to join Enid on her journey. I hope you will join us too.

Danger often comes disguised

As I get older (but not necessarily wiser), I realize I’m getting pickier about what I read. For years, I’ve read mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels of all kinds. Many of them, like The Da Vinci Code, were set across several countries and had sweeping, world-changing plots. Some dealt with global and national political themes and organized crime. While I enjoyed those books, I now prefer to read books with plots and settings on a smaller scale that focus on the threats closest to us.

This morning, I read an article in the Washington Post about an English author that sums up my current reading habits. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Wilkie Collins liberated the mystery story from drafty castles and clanking chains. He realized that creepier forms of terror can be found in the suburban house next door, that villains need not be one-dimensional incarnations of malignity, that harm is likelier to come from a con man than a ghoul.

Perhaps it comes with age: you learn that sometimes the people you trust the most are the the ones you cause you harm. And how well do we know anyone these days? We’re all connected–and yet so disconnected. The people you think you know on Facebook and Twitter … but don’t. That’s what scares me these days.

As Enid discovered in Murder in Madden, danger often comes disguised as someone you wouldn’t suspect.

The real Rosie

Rosie is a young girl who was murdered in Madden. Her story was inspired by a real-life murder that happened years ago in Columbia, SC. My husband’s cousin Hope, like Rosie, was a troubled teenager who turned to drugs. She fell in with the wrong crowd and was murdered. Her body was found tossed in the woods and covered with an old mattress.

Hope’s murder was never solved, and it has haunted me for years. I suspect that because of her “bad girl” reputation the police didn’t try too hard. I didn’t know Hope well, but I plan to dedicate this book to her. I don’t want Hope to be forgotten like Rosie.

The protagonist, Enid Blackwell, was also haunted and was determined to find out what happened to Rosie. As I’ve said earlier, Enid is far braver and more determined than I. The book is about her quest for the truth.

Disclaimer: Murder in Madden in fiction. All of the characters are figments of my imagination and are composites of multiple real-life characters I’ve known.

The past is always present

The past is always with us. Events we think are behind us can significantly influence our present thinking in ways we can’t imagine. Unresolved issues can cause us to make decisions that might seem right at the time.

Enid is haunted by a decision she made years ago, and she’s trying to rewrite her past … but can she?

The cost of determination

Enid Blackwell is determined, no question about it. Even I, as her creator, questioned at times whether she was admirably determined or just bullheadedly stubborn. Perhaps both. Either way, she has more courage than I.

Over the past three years, as I’ve been working on this novel, there have been many moments of “why am I doing this?”  In those low moments of self-doubt and frustration, Enid kept me going. Her steadfast determination to accomplish her goal, which I won’t give away here, encouraged me to stay focused on mine.

Enid also reminded me to be mindful of the cost of the decisions we make. She paid for hers, and I’ve paid for mine. I’ve only put three years of my life on the line to accomplish this book, often at the expense of spending times with friends and family. I’ve also spend restless nights agonizing over scenes I was struggling with. None of my angst compares to the price Enid paid.