Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 7

Not wanting to be that foolish fiction female, the one that doesn’t call the cops when they should, I’d called Sinful Sterling as soon as the shock had worn off, which was after I’d dashed into the house, slammed and locked the door behind me, and dropped the note on my kitchen counter as though it carried the plague. Sinful didn’t answer, so a detailed voicemail it was. Okay, maybe not detailed, exactly, as much as it was frantic. Whatever.

Careful not to touch the note again, I pinned it down on the counter with an empty glass, and then paced around the kitchen for a while. Finally, I ran upstairs to grab a quick shower. For some reason, I just felt dirty after the morning’s bizarre events, and I figured the hot water would be soothing. Slipping into a pair of well-worn jeans and a loose-fitting tank top, I was trying to decide whether I should start working on my date-night makeup or call Fred to cancel, when the doorbell rang.

“You changed,” stated Sterling after I opened the door. Suspicion dripped from every word. I stared at him in confusion. He looked rumpled, hot, and smelled vaguely of pipe smoke. Odd, I was pretty sure he didn’t smoke. Wait, what did he say?

“Um, yeah. I’ve got a date tonight, although I’ll probably cancel, and I didn’t really want to go in the first place, but, warm water is soothing, so there’s that, and besides, I just felt…gross after everything that’s happened today.” I was rambling. His expression softened slightly, and he looked sympathetic. Then he closed up, and his eyes got hard. “May I come in?” That was odd. What did I say?

“Yes. Please. I’m a little freaked out.” After he stepped in, I closed the door, locked it, and checked the porch through the peephole. Turning back to Sinful, I caught a glimpse of confusion on his face. “The note is in here.” I gestured toward the kitchen, and he nodded for me to lead the way.

“What the hell, Persephone?” he exclaimed, after running into me. I’d stopped when I realized we had a problem. A big problem. I turned to face him.

“Sterling, it’s gone. It’s gone! He’s been in my house!” Sinful’s grip on my arms was hard, and he shook me slightly.

“Persephone, slow down. Take a breath. Look at me. Look at me, now.” Slowly, I met his gaze, as a tear slid down my cheek. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I swear, I don’t know. But Sterling, the note was right there.” I pointed to the counter. “The glass was holding it down. You can see the glitter on the counter. It was there when I went upstairs.” Eyes squeezed shut, I whispered, “Someone was in my house. While I showered. He was here.” Freaked out did not even begin to describe my mental state right now. Sterling’s arms came around me, and suddenly I was sobbing into his shoulder. After a few minutes, he managed to ease me onto a kitchen stool, and handed me a paper napkin from the counter. I snuffled into it for a minute. He laid his palm on my cheek, his thumb wiping the wetness from under my eye. Sterling took a deep breath, and I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say next.

“Persephone, I have to ask. Is there any proof that the note existed? All I see is glitter, and that’s a problem.” Closing my eyes, I counted to ten, and then twenty. “Look at me, please.” One deep, shuddering breath later, I met his gaze.

“I know you have to ask Sterling. I also know I don’t have to like it. Yes, there is proof.” I pulled my phone out of my back pocket, and opened the gallery application. “You can scroll through them yourself,” I said, and handed him the device. He kept my hand in his for an extra second as he took the phone, and then he began swiping through the last few photos.

After I’d put the glass on the note, I’d taken a few photos—one of the whole note, and a couple close-ups of the letters. The note would become evidence, and I wanted time to study it. My phone was with me in the bathroom while I showered, because I used it to play music. Who knew those photos would become the only proof of the note’s existence? More important, who was determined to make it disappear?

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies

They found the right shoe first. Which was puzzling, because the grumpy neighbor on the corner hadn’t had a right leg in decades, due to misadventure with some sort of animal trap. (Or so people say; I haven’t verified the story.) Regardless, the whole situation was odd. I’d been taking a rare break from the project I was working on when I noticed the gathering crowd at the end of my street, not to mention the collection of flashing blue and red lights. I’d walked down to get some fresh air and to see what was going on. Apparently, from what the onlookers were twittering, our grumpy neighbor had been found dead this morning. There was a right shoe on the walkway to the porch, a left shoe on the porch, and somewhere out the back was the neighbor.

I leaned over the crime scene tape, trying to catch a snippet of conversation between two police officers. My feet started to slip due to a combination of my extreme leaning and the completely inappropriate shoes I was wearing—strappy, glittery silver sandals with a four inch heel, which I had been wearing inside the house to break them in. A strong hand gripped my upper arm firmly until I was stable again. I glanced over, but wasn’t surprised to see the somewhat annoyed countenance of my favorite police officer, Detective Sterling Spreadbury.

“You know, if you step—or fall—past the crime scene tape, Ms. MacGillivray, I just might arrest you. Nice shoes, by the way. They really make that outfit.” I glanced down. In my distracted state, I’d left the house in a ratty oversized sweatshirt with the neck cut out (Flashdance, circa 1983), black leggings, and the sandals. At least the sparkles on the sweatshirt matched the shoes. I winced. Not my best look, for sure.

“So, why’d you save me, if you’re so anxious to arrest me?” Detective Spreadbury always brought out the worst in me. He was tough, by-the-book, and so sinfully gorgeous he ought to be illegal. It wasn’t fair. As a lifelong klutz with an aptitude for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, well, let’s just say I didn’t need any help embarrassing myself.

“Maybe I don’t feel like arresting anyone today. Unless that someone is a murderer.” He paused. “Murder anyone lately, Persephone?” I stared at him in horror. He didn’t really think I murdered anyone did he? I mean, I was a walking catastrophe sometimes, but certainly wouldn’t murder anyone. The twinkle in his eye and brief flash of dimple interrupted my crazy train of thought. Holy cow! Was Detective Sinful being funny? He used my first name! I glanced up to see if pigs were flying. He looked at me strangely.

“What are you looking at?” he asked. I shrugged, causing my sweatshirt to slip further off my shoulder. Sinful stared at the suddenly exposed skin. Hmm.

“Nothing. Just wondering…” Wondering what? I couldn’t spoil this moment by telling him what I was really thinking. “Um, just wondering what happened to Grumpy.”

“Grumpy? You mean Mr. Fries?” I nodded. “You know I can’t tell you anything.” He stared at me for a moment. “Anything you care to tell me?” My eyes widened.

“Me? How would I know anything?” I spluttered.

“Well, you do always seem to be in the wrong place at the right time, and you live right up the street. See anything you’d like to share?” A dark, raised eyebrow just made Sinful Sterling look even more delicious. I licked my lips nervously as I tried to gather my thoughts. His clear gray eyes focused on the movement, and if I’m not mistaken, those pupils dilated a bit with interest. Fascinating. I realized he was back to meeting my eyes, and I still hadn’t gotten it together.

“Oh, um. No, I don’t think so. I’ve been working against a deadline, so I’ve been holed up in my office. It’s at the back of my place, so I wouldn’t have seen anything lately. Not that I recall, anyway,” I said, shrugging. “I wish I had something to share. But, I do have another question.” He raised an eyebrow and waited.  Gesturing with my chin, I asked, “What kind of cop shows up to a crime scene in a Maserati?” We both stared at the shiny red car parked as the edge of the crime scene tape, a portable  blue flashing light attached to the roof, still flashing.

“Um, well…” he mumbled, “It’s kind of a long story.”

 

Before the Seed

“Before the seed there comes the thought of bloom.”
–  E. B. White

There are times when I’m perusing news of various book launches, contract awards, or other delightful writerly news shared by friends, acquaintances, or authors I’ve never met. And I dream. I dream of what the cover of my first published novel might look like, of having some sort of major signing, or speaking at a major conference (although that last one comes with a mix of excitement and terror, in equal parts). The dreams can be about a brilliant, ground-breaking plot that has everyone talking for years, or a series that readers simply can’t get enough of. Sometimes they’re realistic, and most of the time they’re not, but that’s okay; dreams should be big, and bold, and sparkly bright.

I think of how my writing ideas can bloom into a reality of exciting events and the sharing of my own delightfully good news. Of course, dreams do not become reality without hard work, a significant investment of time and effort, and a willingness to simply keep trying. Seeds must be planted in the proper soil and location, watered, and so forth. I love digging my hands into rich earth, watering my new plants, and waiting anxiously for them to bloom. Likewise, I love starting a new story and having absolutely no idea what it might turn into–a short story, a novel, or often nothing at all.

But that’s okay, too. When we sink the seeds into the soil, we use more than we will need as plants. As the seeds sprout into seedlings, we thin them out, keeping fewer than sprouted. We might move them into bigger pots or a garden, and more still will be eaten or not get enough sun, and only the heartiest will survive to the point of blooming.

My ideas kind of work the same way. I have lots of them. Sometimes I write a paragraph before I get bored, sometimes a few pages. But then there are the ones that bloom. Big, bold, and there to be enjoyed until it’s time to plant another batch of seeds.

 

 

Cheap Medicine

Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine

George Gordon Byron

This month we talk about laughter, and I’m so excited! I love to laugh. I’m not at all funny, and I can’t tell a joke to save myself, but I adore things that make me laugh, and books within my favorite genres that make me laugh? Those are my FAVORITE favorites.

The Bobbie Faye series by Toni McGee Causey is one such favorite.  While some consider the series a comedy caper, I argue there’s plenty of serious content: relationship angst, crime, heartbreak, and more. The main characters have depth and dimension, the community is diverse, and the stories are deliciously twisty. Sure, the action is over-the-top, but that just makes these stories even more tasty.  However, Causey also weaves in these moments that cause the reader to laugh and connect with the protagonist, Bobbie Faye, as though she’s a friend or favorite cousin. We cheer for Bobbie Faye on every step of her journey because Causey has given us a character with weaknesses, foibles, strengths, and yes, one who makes us laugh. It’s a killer combination that invites the reader to connect on an emotional level with a character.

In a 2005 Psychology Today article, Hara Estroff Marano wrote, “Laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain.” That emotional connection, when achieved between characters and readers, results in a truly special reading experience.

Of course, I’m not always in the mood to laugh; sometimes, I like my reading a bit darker or more serious. But I love knowing that there are amazing writers out there that can write rich, robust characters and stories that do make me laugh, right along with the characters.  Darynda Jones‘ Charlie Davidson series (paranormal mystery), Amanda M. Lee‘s Aisling Grimlock series (paranormal suspense), and Deanna Raybourn‘s Veronica Speedwell Mysteries (historical fiction) are some of my other favorites.  These writers have found that magical sweet-spot where well-rounded characters, twisty-turny stories, and a healthy dash of humorous writing converge into an amazing dessert buffet of books.

We’ve all heard the saying that “laughter is the best medicine.” The website Helpguide.org explains: “Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.”All the more reason to read more books that make us laugh, right?

I wonder if I can get my doctor to prescribe my favorite books as medicine….

 

If Wishes were Horses, Beggars would Ride

For March, we’re talking about “If Only I’d Known.” I’m excited to see what our fab Mysteristas have to say about this theme, although I’m a bit challenged by it myself. However, I found inspiration this morning from my mom. My mother, as a middle school educator, is full of funny and poignant quotes. “If wishes were horses…” was always a favorite, and one that sticks with me. It took a few years for me to really understand what she meant, this idea that you can’t simply wish for things; you have to make things happen (and that usually means work, effort, and patience).

During the past few years, I’ve embarked on a purposeful journey to reduce the baggage I carry with me. In a practical sense, that means I try not to carry anything around that isn’t absolutely necessary, which includes regrets and a certain amount of hindsight, in addition to physical objects.  This weekend, I re-arranged my kitchen. Part of that exercise included reducing the number of coffee mugs (we don’t drink coffee) and shot glasses (we don’t do shots, either) living in the space. I’ve kept them over the years, moving them from apartment to apartment, rented house to owned house, as they served as placeholders for certain memories. The K-State shot glass from one of my first conferences as a presenter, as a graduate student, the coffee mug my parents bought for me when I was young with my name on it, and others provide sweet reminders of past moments. But, do I need the tchotchkes to have the memories? Perhaps not as many. Plus, these things need space and have to be dusted! (The dusting is a deal-breaker. I hate dusting.)

Likewise, I am actively refusing to carry regret. I can’t change the past, I can only learn from it. Wishing for something to happen or be true doesn’t make it so. Beating myself up for choices I’ve made isn’t helpful, productive, or healthy. Instead, I’m trying to own my decisions, good, bad, and ugly. It’s a process, for sure. But, I find that I get stronger the more I practice it; this exercise definitely adds tone and definition to my psyche! However, the lessons I’ve learned are invaluable. Carrying the lessons, but not the emotional baggage, is the tricky balance I’m still working to achieve.

So, what do I wish I’d known sooner? That confidence comes from within. If I don’t believe, no one else will, either. That it’s okay to invest in myself and the things that make me happy, like writing time. Revision is work, but the rewards are worth it. Wishing my novel complete won’t make it happen; butt in chair, fingers on keys is what needs to happen. I’ve learned it’s okay to change my mind, and that doesn’t mean I’ve failed, only that I’ve learned the lesson, and I’m smart enough to move on to the next one. That famous authors are real people, and almost universally kind; they love readers, and are happy to speak with fledgling writers. Use those opportunities!

What do you wish you’d known? What things might have changed?

Beginning at the Beginning. Again.

Full disclosure: I completely forgot to prepare this blog post, and I’m late. Apologies!

Every other Sunday, my writers’ group meets. In theory, we each take 10 minutes to read our most recent work aloud, the other members each get 3-5 minutes to offer a critique (depending on how many members are present), and if there’s time at the end of the session, we might have discussion. We try to stay away from author response (less affectionately known as the “writer arguing with the critique” effect), but we do allow questions for clarification.

I love writers’ group Sunday. It makes me happy, even when I don’t have new writing to share. But, sometimes, the best part? That’s the after meeting time. Our group meets at Barnes & Noble, because it’s free and they have coffee. It also keeps any member from having to clean his/her house, which is a factor. The advantage, however, is that because the meeting is not at anyone’s house, we can stay as long as we like. For me, that means I can’t see the dirty dishes/dog needing to be brushed/laundry needing to be folded/child needing to be reminded to do her homework/etc. It’s almost like a mini-vacation!

When it works, I get to stay at the bookstore for an extra hour or so and just write. This week–I revised. Yes, I began at the beginning again (see, you knew I’d tie in the title, right?).

I re-read my short story. I read the comments and feedback received by both my local group and my Mysteristas critique group. I reviewed my outline. I documented plot holes. And, I began filling in the gaps.

It was lovely. For me, I can get so lost in a project that I forget exactly where I started. Sometimes, I even forget that there’s good writing! When I’m stuck, I start to wonder why I ever thought I could do this. Then, I re-read, and I remember.

Beginning at the beginning serves all sorts of purposes for me. It can get me in the groove of my story if I’ve been away for awhile. It reminds me that I can actually write well, at least sometimes. Re-reading allows me to get excited about my story all over again! And the ideas–oh, so many ideas come to me when I go back to the beginning again.

This past Sunday was one of those delightful days when I began at the beginning, and the excitement and pleasure of writing and revising is still with me today. How do you feel about beginning…again?

Setting Your Intention: Beginnings

Happy New Year! This year, as I look forward to all the lovely beginnings any new year brings, I’m exploring the concept of intentions.  As we flew home from our holiday vacation–we spent Christmas on the lovely island of St. Thomas, and celebrated New Year’s Eve at 30,000 feet somewhere south of Boston Logan International Airport–I began thinking about what the new year might bring for our family, and for me as an individual.

St. Thomas (c) P. Oberg, 2017
St. Thomas (c) P. Oberg, 2017

I’ve never been much of a resolution kind of girl; it just never made a lot of sense to me. No one ever seemed to accomplish their resolutions, so what was the point, I reasoned.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, speaks to me. In recent years, I have learned a lot about the concept of mindful living. So, when I spotted articles in the magazines I toted along on our flights about setting intentions, rather than resolutions, I was intrigued.

According to mindfulminutes.com, “…an intention shouldn’t be confused with a goal—it’s not something you attach an expectation or evaluation to. It’s just something you want to align with in your life. It’s an aim, a purpose, or attitude you’d be proud to commit to.” For me, I love this idea of focusing on how we choose to engage with those around us and where we choose to aim our focus, rather than trying to count pounds lost.

A great post on Wanderlust  includes this tantalizing tidbit: “Connect with the elements of your life that are most significant to you and bring you the greatest joy, satisfaction, and energy. What gives you passion and fills you with a sense of purpose? Listen to that inner voice.”

I love this so much.

At my office, we’re working on a new management philosophy, one based on positive assessment of strengths vs. the traditional focus on weakness. (If you’re interested, start here.) We’re learning to identify our strengths, and focus on them; what are the natural talents that lie within you? It’s a lovely change of pace, and inadvertently fits right in with where my head is these days.

I haven’t quite figured out my intentions yet, but I’m working on it. It’s a beginning within a beginning, really. But as I think about what purpose or attitude I’m proud to commit to, and follow that with what brings me joy, satisfaction, or energy, a picture begins to emerge. It’s still out of focus, but I see giving myself permission to make my writing a priority, to enjoy the act of writing with a lessened focus on the product. I intend to place a greater focus on the positive, the things I can impact or change, rather than the things outside my control. And I definitely intend to think more about the all things that bring me joy, true happiness.