Mothers

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I admit that, for the most part, I eschewed it as just another Hallmark moment. Yes, it’s nice to remember our mothers—alive or deceased—and it’s nice to set aside a national day for it. It’s the commercial hype I rebel against.

In spite of my rebellion, I spent most of yesterday missing my mother who died years ago. Instead of putting flowers on her grave, as I usually do, I set her photo on the kitchen counter and burned a candle in her memory all day. It was nice to see her smiling back at me while I was making lunch. Her presence was palpable, and very loving and comfortable.

In Murder in Madden, Enid misses her mother and that grief plays a part in her actions. Rosie’s behavior was also driven by the loss of her mother. But … that’s all I’m going to say for now, because I don’t want to give anything away. You’ll just have to read the book.

The Next Chapter

As I reach the end of the process for this first novel, I know I will miss spending time with my characters, especially Enid. Being a restless soul, much like Enid, I am ready for change. I toyed with the idea of the second novel being a totally new story—new characters and a new setting. But while the idea of change is enticing, in reality, I’m much like my cats. I like familiarity and the comfort of knowing the people I hang out with, even if they are only in my imagination.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for doing a sequel to Murder in Madden, rather than a totally new novel, is that the story isn’t complete. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging without a resolution to the story, but Enid’s story won’t end on the last page. She’s too complex to capture fully in one novel. In fact, she’s been talking a lot to me lately about the next chapter in her life, and I keep telling her to be patient—let me finish this one before you bug me about the next one. But, like me, she’s not very patient, so I need to wrap this one up and listen to what she has to say.

Stay tuned.

Letting Go

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about letting go. Yes, I know that phrase has become somewhat of a cliché, and I’d like to replace it with something new and catchy … but “letting go” still works.

I have a friend who can’t let go, mentally or physically, of things or the past. She is both blessed and burdened by a lifetime of memories. She holds onto physical things that belonged to dead relatives, because she’s afraid if she discards the item, she’ll lose the memory too.

I’ve also noticed that as she ages, she has become prone to rewriting the past. Mistakes and bad judgments have now been rewritten as happier memories. I suppose that’s easier than admitting you have made bad choices. Perhaps I will do the same one day.

In Murder in Madden, Enid has made some choices that may, or may not, be bad ones. She may live to regret those decisions. Or not. As Enid’s creator, it has been painful to let her make choices I feel are bad ones. But, just as I’ve had to let go myself and allow my friend to choose her own path, I’ve had to do the same with Enid.

Not Just for Kids

Last night, I drove to Charlotte to attend John Claude Bemis’ presentation on writing children’s books. Mostly, I went to accompany a friend who has written one. My assumption was that the discussion would interest her far more than it would interest me.

I was wrong. Bemis’ message was universal to all genres and ages. Children’s books, he said, are about self-discovery, in which kids are trying to figure out themselves and the world round them. Well, aren’t we all in this boat together—trying to figure things out? And isn’t that what most fiction is about?

In a typical novel, the protagonist is a flawed person who needs something, even if that person is not sure what it is. What the characters says they want, and what they really need are usually different. The need is usually a primal desire: love, acceptance, recognition, revenge, etc. The characters’ strengths and flaws are revealed through the story as they try to fulfill that desire. In the process, true character is revealed and self-discovery takes place for them, as well as the readers.

Enid, my protagonist, is working through some “issues” from her past, while dealing with family dynamics. She is trying to figure herself out, as well as the world around her. Through this process, I’ve learned a lot about her … and about myself.

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.