Walking along the Terry Hershey footpath in Houston, I have issues to ponder.
A couple of years ago I decided to write a mystery series. There seems to be a market for them. There’s nothing funny about murder, but I know myself well enough to know that the humor will come through. Would someone want to read a book on a serious subject that doesn’t take itself seriously? Sure; I do it all the time. I can think of several amusing mysteries where people die in bloody horror in every other chapter.
I wrote the first book, Caprock Snoop, and was pleased with it. The protagonist, Fran Furlow, is nosey and interfering; a control freak and a compassionate bully; tiny and feisty; and she comes with a compelling backstory. She lives to get to the bottom of things. She gets knocked around a time or two, but how else would I show her to be so impressively intrepid?
Now I’m almost finished with the second in the series, and half an hour ago I wrote myself to a complete stop. There’s no place to go except forward, but something about the previous chapters nags at me. Did I take a wrong turn? Write an inconsistent dialogue?
So, a walk to clear my head.
Here’s the plot: Someone’s murdering Caprock’s senior population and leaving their bodies in unexpected places—the back of a car, the gazebo in the park, the locker room at the city pool. Clues and suspects pop up everywhere and Fran sorts through the plethora. Meanwhile, she obsesses over her friends’ bad habits, attends support groups, and deals with her two co-workers who, after thirty years of working in the same office, decide to abandon their spouses and move in together.
Are the motives of the villains—a grandmother/grandson duo—believable? When confronted by Fran, the grandmother claims the deaths to be mercy killings—the victims are in pain and suffering from dementia; but the grandson has been robbing the victims, which is hardly altruistic.
My mind veers. I’m here in Houston to give moral support to my sister. Her boyfriend of twenty years died a couple of months ago, and last week our mother wasn’t able to get out of bed. It was time to call in hospice care. And now helpful strangers are popping in to do evaluations, discuss the legalities, and prepare Trina for what’s coming.
Trina is exhibiting undeniable signs of depression. I won’t get into the personal bits of it, but she’s really going through a hard time. I’ve seen her become desperately anxious, almost panicked, over what’s coming. She’s closely involved, almost intertwined, with our mother. This is going to be painful. As I put one foot in front of the other, I promise myself that I’ll do better, get down to Houston more often, call more. Trina needs to know she’s not in this by herself, though she pretty much is.
Back to my analysis. Why did the grandmother and her grandson leave the bodies in such peculiar places? It was an interesting turn when I wrote it, but in the end the purpose behind it seems weak. The explanation the grandmother offers is that they were trying to publicize the plight of the demented elderly, a lame rationalization. There must be another, more credible, reason for the weird choices. Perhaps some psychological significance to each location? This is the inherent difficulty in my organic method—sometimes I write myself into the back of a cave, at which point I’m forced to retrace, rethink, and rewrite. Hair-pulling is involved.
As the backbone of the book is the strong main character, is the inexplicable location of the victims really that important? Of course it is. An irrefutable component of the bond between the writer and the reader is that if a writer doubts what she’s writing, the reader will, too.
The air is warm and humid. The foliage is lush and green, and the birds are loud and cheerful. I take a deep breath of the heavy air and sigh it back out. All will be well. I’ll fix the story. Trina will get through this. Our mother will get to where she needs to be. Though I was glum when I started out, my heart feels lighter as I arrive back at the house.
I’m inside for only a minute when there’s a knock on the door. It’s the hospice minister. Not too concerned that I’m a sweaty mess, I invite him in. He seems a mild man, unexpectedly large and hairy. Trina greets him and leads him back to the bedroom where Momma slumps in the hospital bed and looks out at surroundings that are incomprehensible to her. She’s more feral than domesticated these days. Yesterday when she was hungry she lifted Trina’s hand to her mouth and bit it. I hope she doesn’t bite the minister!