Fondly Remembered

Memory as a Resource for Characterization

I’ve completed the almost final draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and it’s in the hands of my readers. (Thanks so much, Gail, Denise, and Barbara.) And I’m working on the cover. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’ll take copies of the current versions to my art class tomorrow for help.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on some of the people from my past who have appeared with fictional disguises in the Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries.

First off, a riff on naming characters, often a chore for fiction writers. Some authors run contests among their fans for the right to name characters after the fans, but right now I’m mining out my memories of the past in three ways.

1) The first two characters I’ll discuss soon are named for the people who inspired them.

2) Desperate for names for a group of four men who appear in Wings, the sequel to Walls, I recalled the last names of my mother’s brothers-in-law: Walen, Young, Johnson, and Morse. Ha! Nailed that.

3) Soon after that I realized that I have a resource of character names in the teachers I’ve had over the years. Since I have a Ph. D. and went to school for twenty-three years altogether, we’re talking lots of names. So when the cook in Wings needed a name, I called her Mrs. Swetnam after my professor in Romantic Poets at the Ohio State University.

And now to a tribute to three women important in my life:

1) After I left my husband and returned to Huntington, WV, my hometown, I found a job in the Acquisitions Department in the library of Marshall University. So I needed a babysitter for my very young daughter. And my former Sunday school teacher and longtime family friend graciously agreed to care for my child while I worked. So Jessica spent weekdays for the next eight months or so in the loving care of Vi Sullenberger and her husband Delbert, a retired clock repairman, in their little house filled with clocks. When Sophie, Cinderella’s youngest child and only daughter, needed a nanny, I gave her Nana Vi.

2) In the first Cinderella, P. I. story, written in 1996, later in “Cinderella and the Missing Queen,” Prince Charming’s mother was simply the Queen, but by time I came to write Walls, I realized she needed a name. Now, the Queen in these stories loves to dance and at one point, she taught it, too. And so I named her Frances after Frances Nestor with whom I studied the ballet and other forms of dancing for eleven years. Mrs. Nestor was my first teacher who was passionate about the subject she taught. As such, she made a wonderful role model for me as a teacher.

3) And now I’ll talk about my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith, called Middie for Midget by her family members and Susie by my dad and their friends. I was my mother’s only child and my daughter her only grandchild. But she was the stepmother of my older half-brother, Homer Dale Willman, Sr. So I got to see first-hand how a stepparent operates and how a stepmother in particular can feel that her relationship with her husband is challenged by the presence of another woman’s child in the household.

Although the relationship between Cinderella’s father and stepmother in Walls and Wings resembles my parents’ relationship before my dad’s retirement, I do want to make it clear that my own mother isn’t the direct model for Cinderella’s stepmother. There’s one very important difference between the two women: the fictional character lacks my mother’s inherent generosity. For instance, my mother went without new clothes for years, so that I could have the dance lessons with Frances Nestor that I so loved when I was young, the lessons that I still benefit from in terms of self-discipline, health and happiness early in the eighth decade of my life.

Thank you so much, ladies. You are all fondly remembered.

<> <> <>

Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-0-4) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is also available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-2-8) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-9899504-3-5).

COMING SOON: Wings, A Cinderella, P. I Novel, second of two novels featuring Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball; and two more fairy tale mystery short story collections featuring Cinderella, P. I.: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

Giving Thanks for Mysteryscape

Among the many things I’m giving thanks for this year is Mysteryscape, the independent bookstore at 7309 West 80th Street in old downtown Overland Park, Kansas. How come?

As a reader, I love fiction. And though I’ve downloaded eBook versions of several works of fiction to my iPad, including my own stories and books, I still prefer reading books with paper pages. (I’m not alone in this.) And when I’m choosing, the lists, blurbs, samples, reviews, etc. of on-line sell pages just don’t quite do it for me the way browsing the shelves at a brick and mortar bookstore do. For one thing, I like to pet books. I like to be surrounded by them.

Sadly, there aren’t  many places around the KCMO area anymore where I can page through books since Borders has folded and several other bookstores have as well. Our local libraries are very good, but honestly, I’m often too impatient to wait till my name tops the waiting list for popular titles. Besides, I like to support my favorite authors by actually buying their books.

And now, let’s take a little, verbal visit to Mysteryscape.

The broad, windowed façade promises Young Adult, Supernatural, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, New & Used on the left and on the right Coffee, Tea, & Nosh, Gifts, Events, Book Clubs. Believe me. Mysteryscape delivers on all these promises. Racks in the windows also display, for instance, seasonal offerings and favorite authors’ latest works like the most recent V. I. Warshawski or Stephanie Plum.

Stepping between two carts of used books parked outside and entering the store, you’ll see on the right a large antique table covered with stacks of goodies. These currently include Airball, My Life in Briefs, a William Allen White selection, by my friend and former student Lisa Harkrader.  Historical, British and international mysteries line shelves on two side of this table.

Straight ahead on the right side of the aisle stands a small table holding books from the Mystery, Ink series, edited by my friends Suella and Larry Walsh. And across the aisle shelves labeled Great Escapes hold works by local authors including my own Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel with its distinctive cover.

Directly to your  left sit comfortable leather chairs and a couch that invite you to pluck a new hardcover from a favorite writer off the shelf and plunk yourself down for a brief browse.

A little farther south from the new arrivals on the east side of the store, you come to more treasures including the “First in Series” shelves. These might be unique to Mysteryscape now that the late and lamented I Love a Mystery is gone. A recent study of this section bagged me Storm Front, the first in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, and Wool, Hugh Howey’s first book. I was immensely cheered to discover that Howey originally self-published this New York Times bestseller as it gives me hope my own self-published books will do as well.

Next comes the local author section. Here you’ll find more copies of Walls. Soon the trade paperback of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories will join it.

Turning your back on the local authors shelves, you’ll see many more packed shelves offering mysteries in assorted subcategories. Here you’ll find your culinary and craftsy mysteries, for instance.

Beyond the cozies lies Mysteryscape’s popular section for Young Adults with many intriguing offerings. Next to this section looms the door to the bookstore’s back room that holds small tables and chairs. Here you can linger over coffee and a nosh.

If you do a 180 from the Young Adult section, you’ll spot the desk and probably one if not both of the storeowners, Acia Morley-Hall and Cheri LeBlond. They will smile in welcome and possibly call you by name as they do me.

Since the store’s launch in 2012, Cheri and Acia have worked very hard to make Mysteryscape a place for book-lovers. They offer several different clubs including the Women of Intrigue group focused on women mystery writers and sleuths. They host book signings and other author events, including the upcoming Local Authors Book Fair on December 14 from 1 till 3. They provide a location for the meetings of Border Crimes, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Recently, Border Crimes held its fifth anniversary celebration at Mysteryscape. Our special guest was Hank Phillipi Ryan, author of best-selling The Other Woman and also the immediate past president of the national Sisters in Crime.

All of this provides a clue to the biggest reason I’m giving thanks for Mysteryscape this year. For all that on-line booksellers do for readers and for authors, they can’t supply the company of real, living and breathing readers that you can talk to and share your love of fiction with. You’ll find us at Mysteryscape though.

Thank you so much for all that you do, Acia and Cheri.

To keep up with Mysteryscape events, go to www.mysteryscape.com.

Best, Juliet