How Mysteries Found Me . . . and Elude Me

Ever since I was a fourth grade nothing–and despite my disdain in book report writing during grammar school–my goal was to break into news reporting. Specifically, feature writing, soft-news reporting, or 1st POV investigative journalism. Thank the current events segment of school lessons, two National Geographic and Time magazine issues, and falling asleep to the opening 10 O’Clock news segments–after the announcer’s ask if parents knew where their children were?–of the usual Middle Eastern countries fighting. I’d be amiss if I didn’t give a nod of gratitude to the inimitable Paul Harvey for enriching my love of journalism until his still-missed narrative on said news. The dream became reality in features reporting for two college newsrags, an online site when the Interwebs was young, a stint with a New Orleans Pennysaver, a church tabloid, and scattered articles in First Draft, and in a Brooklyn, a Queens, and a small-town Texas outlets. But even with present-day current events growing scarier, stranger, and noticeably darker with each passing hour as news outlets are also noticeably more crowded and pointy-elbow competitive, I still follow them steadfast.

Much as I love words and what REM sleep-dreams surprise me with, it never occurred I’d write one book, let alone be earlobes-deep into projects spanning three separate series, this platform, newsletter-planning, and shoehorning in working flash fiction pieces and haikus. The universe and the Designer behind it had adventures in mind not involving conventional journalism. As one not believing in coincidences, I’m body-surfing this space-time wave unapologetically.

My now-deceased mother devoured anything medicine-related for a career in nursing, but my joyous arrival detoured those plans. My being born with albinism likely pushed her into the genetics end of biology of medicine, from the sneaks I saw of her Queensborough College class notes, and with her help during high school biology and organic chemistry, I aced the classes; to this day, I still remember most of the components. On her days off from working as a phlebotomist lab tech since early childhood, she watched every medical or crime mystery on TV. Perry Mason. Quincy, M.D. Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries. Hart to Hart. Ironside. Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I Spy. The Saint. Mannix. Barnaby Jones. Kojak. Nero Wolff. More often than not, she cracked the case before the show’s penultimate commercial block. She also read Sidney Sheldon, Michael Crichton–The Andromeda Strain stands out alongside Robin Cook’s Coma and another title with “Ophelia” in it, but I’m unsure which this is–Jackie Collins, and back copies of Ellery Queen. She’d offer these when I read everything in our area library or at home, but I did so lacklusterly (yes, I made up a word! 🙂 )–no kids were in it. Leastwise, no cute guys I could imagine as my book boyfriends. Sherlock Holmes was easier to listen to than to read, but even then, that story captured me as long as a rainbow lasts; ADHD much? Same with Nancy Drews (what WAS it with every 👏🏻 story 👏🏻ending 👏🏻 with 👏🏻 an 👏🏻 ice 👏🏻 cream 👏🏻 sundae 👏🏻 celebration?!? Who can even eat that much ice cream–NOT looking at you, Joey Chestnut! 🙂 Yikes!). The Hardy Boys were more fun than Nancy, as were a handful of classic Scooby-Doo episodes, but not for lack of trying. Aside from the aforementioned, there wasn’t much for kids to believably play in, and case-crack, good whodunnits. Sci-fi, sure. Judy Blume, Richard Peck, Heidi, Charlotte’s Web, Peter and the Wolf, Beverly Cleary, and Paula Danziger ruled the kid-lit scene as Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, The Dork Diaries, and the Percy Jackson reads do today, but the After-School Specials in book form tackled fitting in, boy-meets-girl, boy-loves-girl, boy-loses-girl or boy-claims-girl-again, bravery and honesty in friendships, humility, and standing up for oneself Cleary handled. Danziger and Blume took on heavier topics like divorce, drugs, puberty, sexuality, dysfunctional families, or weight struggles. So who’d believe a kid crime-fighter or a pint-sized spy in the same playing field genre as Sherlock, Nero, Bond, or Mike Hammer, let alone one grown-ups would take seriously? Heck, even teenagers Frank, Joe, and Nancy were grown-up technically, but they probably still did kid-stuff like ball games, pillow fights, sock-hops, and pajama parties offstage!

Aghast and disgusted with American journalism’s willful descent into madness during college, post graduation and zero job prospects, I pondered what I’d next write, where I’d next go. Diary-keeping–meh. Blogging wasn’t a thing. I loved emailing, but didn’t know a soul I couldn’t easily talk to in person or on the phone. And most family members had passed away or weren’t on speaking terms with me to engage in letter-writing. My imagination? Then, like now, is too friggin’ big to contain in a short story if I tried. Still reading though–Harry Potter, in this case–while cleaning my kids’ bedroom one afternoon, a teenage boy on his bed in his messy room, looseleaf open on his knees as he dozed, flashed to mind like C.S. Lewis’s lit lamppost in a snowstorm-shrouded forest popped in his. This fully formed Wyoming high school sophomore, oldest of three siblings and sans girlfriend, was Jay Vincent. Upon hearing stock car racers Tony and Cruz Pedregon’s surnames later that evening, I stole this to tag as J.V.’s. Add in Keenan Alexander, the name Keenan influenced by the Wayans brothers on a youngish FOX network, and Casper McGuinness from another false-start novel, I had my central cast in need of a story. A few turns of the imaginative Phillips head, Keenan became Casper’s street-smart, smart-ass, and lady-killer cousin Logan.

2005 was pivotal for news and personal events. New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer made headlines in regular trysts with a prostitute and for it, shamed out of office. Not long after, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey lost his post for hiring a PI to track his gay boyfriend’s affair at taxpayers’ expense. Iconic comedian Richard Pryor, and R & B artists Luther Vandross and Rick “Superfreak” James died, but Pryor made ink with his birth allegations the result of a hooker-john union. In that year, I happened into a long-forgotten neighbor around the corner from my then-residence who remembered my being a non-conformist curiosity preschooler, and a ball of near nonstop energy. A ten minute exchange of hellos and are you so-and-so’s daughter turned into a year of visits, teas, desserts and hushed conversations I deserved to know, including confirmations behind our 1980 cross-country move, how my maternal grandmother had been an alleycat, and my dad’s acidic bigotry to Caucasians were explained.

Even with my questions and suspicions acknowledged, a deeper why thickened the current events and history soup I mentally and emotionally digested: What if two high school kids learn they’re sons of prostitutes, set to be slain to keep them from discovering why they are? From that, I the composer to sleuth-to-be Jay Vincent Pedregon and cousins Casper and Logan McGuinness, the players of the music in pouring out my heart in anger, shock, astonishment, rage, and sadness in my experiences-backstory-explained on paper, mixed with current events in the novel’s plot, found a story home. In the storm and its cleansing, JERSEY DOGS was born.

Was that to shamelessly plug my inaugural mystery? Nope. It’s to illustrate why I’m an author in the first place, and how my ancestry’s sordid and unapologetic past drop-kicked me here. My mother’s love for this genre, and learning she used to write before her vocation in peripheral medicine? Partly. But it’s broader and more intense than having messy creative fun in streaking watercolors to blend word forms, characters, scenes, plots, and settings. If I’m gonna be ugly-crying honest with myself and with you, I need to be constantly okay with my father’s homicide in 1991, that I may never uncover why that now Pluto-cold case ever happened, or that his putrid ethnic views might’ve factored in his death. I’m also good with not knowing my mother’s deepest fears in having daughters with albinism, or her fright behind her uprooting my 14yo self and its bustling, never-sleepy Metropolis life to a podunk northern Arizona town with one traffic light and one post office. Forensically, though, albeit fictionally, my curiosity Qs and As are a little more sated with each story crafted, crime solved or gotten away with, and growth steps my characters take. That, too, is okay. If there isn’t enough time to read all the books I’d like to, then in a world where the 5Ws and an H are often plain, aspects of how my author life came to pass is a sweet enough mystery for me.

Hi . . . Missye K. Clarke, Newly-Realized Synesthete

**The title is solely from the author’s imagination, and is not looking to do disservice to those with this neurological condition or for ones familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous.**

Live Streaming from The Saturday Show on WQXR’s app: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Great song if you want an explosion of colors bouncing in your mind’s eye like blown dandelion puffs on a breeze like I have now.

Allow me to share a funny, true story. And thanks for the “Hi, Missye!” hellos for being part of this incredible platform, by the way.

My youngest son devours chocolate milk, especially if it’s a lovely blend of soft-serve and imported dark chocolate of Michelin Star grade. I found a great little seafood place in Lancaster PA called Mr. Bill’s (est. 1974), and took the last of their blueberry, strawberry, and orange cremes in stock after remembering the picture he’d showed me from online. One orange creme I snagged was his. Past tries of blueberry and strawberry milk left me gun-shy for another go; the sugar content may as well have been akin to rocket fuel-boosters for the Apollo 11 mission.

Our drinks deliciously cold hours later, I left my orange cremes be. He insisted I sip his strawberry and blueberry after saying, “It’s a liquid form of a great blueberry muffin–seriously.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“No, Mom, it’s not the sugar version of Thurgood Stubbs’ salt addiction. You’ll like it,” he pressed.

He made me laugh; I got the joke, took his container. Well . . . if Sam-I-Am liked green eggs and ham . . .

I dared a taste.

And delightfully found it to be exactly what pastel purple would taste like!

We sipped the milks again, but I barely contained my excitement.

My son: “Totally a liquid blueberry muffin. Yeah!”

Me: “I see that. But it’s what pastel purple taste like if more people could taste colors.”

He, looking at me like I’m bats (which is often): “Mom . . . are you saying you’re tasting a color?”

Me: “Well, I see musical notes in colors, too, so . . . yeah, I guess I am.”

And later that night, the orange creme, breathtakingly delicious, I tasted a lovely dream.

You’re A . . .Who?!?

A synesthete (pronounced sin-UHSS-theet, or sin-ESS-theet). It’s the medical term for one having sensory pathways crossed, which is synesthesia (from the Greek syn, meaning “together,” and thesia or thaesia for “sensation.”). According to dictionary.com, it’s an “involuntary neurological condition where the individual activates a second sensory pathway when the first is stimulated.” Apparently there’s more than 60 ways to either instigate or innately have synesthesia–one way to be part of this is to drop acid, but that’s not surprising (Sidenote: I’ve never in life dropped acid, nor will I, research or no. I’m taking zero chances of lasting side-effects, I’m scared I’ll become addicted to the substance, and/or what it’ll do to me during and after consumption. I know me–if I’d’ve had a positive, lovely trip, I’d want to do it again to get that back. If I’d’ve had a bad, negative trip, I’d be tormented for hours like I am in one of my asleep-dream nightmares. Best that door stays welded closed and moved on from altogether). There’s no real statistics in how many have this condition, because baseline science is only just putting the call out to those with such exceptions to how the senses are so crossed to be double-blind studied, or done so objectively.

In my mind’s eye since I was young, I’ve always seen musical notes in colors; the blueberry milk episode, obviously external, only recently. Until now, I thought everyone heard music this way. For others affected with this still-understudied condition, it manifests externally and has a strong run in families. Synesthetes can also become such from a stroke, blindness, or another health anomaly. In one extreme case, a British woman, according to a special about her documented on NatGeo in 2011, had to get rid of her television; any time food, cologne, or laundry advertisements aired, she could literally, just by hearing the ad described, “taste” the human and pet foods; laundry detergent, soap washes, and dish liquid; colognes and perfumes, too. But the times she found her synesthesia pleasant was during certain weather days. Sunny days, she’s reported, the sunshine tasted of lemons, pineapples, or bananas. On rainy days, she heard the raindrops in random musical notes the way wind chimes sounded on blustery days, and saw the raindrops on her patio table in sprays of colors. When she used the products she could “taste” by hearing them on ads, when actually using then, she didn’t have this sensation.

Weird, right?

I remember asking my mother could she taste the color blue when I was about four. Trying not to laugh, she said, no, honey, blue’s a color. I told her I could taste it. She asked–amusing me, probably–what did it taste like? Like ice. Or snow. Or ridonkulously really cold water, I said, and does today. As for my musical notes in colors–they range in dark blues and greens, with pops of distant bright white and silver for the A major chords. C majors are royal blues, shamrocks, bold reds, deep golds. F majors: red, bright yellows, bright whites . . . and pretty much so on.

Inspired by the NatGeo doc, my experiences and its scientific term, a character in MccGuinness/Pedregon Casebook #3 has this condition. Gregory Street is afflicted with synesthesia and a key component in helping the crew solve why former top five music competitors are homicide targets. Unfortunately, he’ll make the killer’s crosshairs in his main goal of murdering my narrator, but I wanted a way to fold in this condition with solving this crime. I just hope I do Street’s death justice not only in believability, but showing his condition with grace and dignity in the honest portrayal I’m offering. Moreover, it’s my biggest hope neurological science not only finds a way to explore, deep diagnose, and explain why this occurs, but shows its daily impact on affected individuals. Do they “taste” fire like they see the flames, hear them roar, feel its heat? Do they “hear” mud, or dirt as they feel, smell, or see it? Can they “see” petrichor–the way a geographical landscape looks and smells after a hard, fast, and intense rain? Can they “touch” sounds the way we can feel the differences in sandpaper, or petting an animal, or holding an ice cube?

Have you known someone, or maybe you yourself, have this sensory cross-stimulant? Have they shared their experiences with you? If you’re beset with tis condition, what’s your experiences been like? Do you find this condition strange in a good or bad way? I’d love to know your thoughts, so please share in the comments.

On A Collision Course With Words

On the radio: Live-Streaming a NYC station playing Willie Nelson’s version of Hoagy Carmichael’s,”The Nearness of You.”

Hi, y’all! Been a long time I’ve blogged, and I’m thrilled and grateful to be part of a stellar group of talented authors on this platform of LADIES OF MYSTERY. I’ll do my genuine best to be a good egg . . . but I can’t promise I’ll always play nice with the other kids. If some of you know me from the SinC boards, I kinda have a big mouth. Not intentionally mind you, but, well . . . I think I’m just naturally antagonistic. And naturally a big mouth. Shy writers, don’t go–I’m really nice, honest. I’ll just save that why-I’m-a-big-mouth post for another time (Teaser–it’s why and how I began writing to start with).

I’ve always thought words were incredible, powerful tools. Onomatopoeias (words that spell out sounds–remember the series Batman? “POW”! “CRASH!” “ZAP!”? That.), And, according to family members, I was reading by three, and I remember spelling my first big word when I was four: “Freedom.” When I discovered the dictionary at 12–my fault for telling my Granny I was bored, what could I do?–I found out homophones, synonyms, antonyms, and pseudonyms were ugly cousins to one another. How cool to know ew, ewe, you, yew, yoo, whew, and hue are close enough to pass, but only just. Now I see why the English language is so hard to master. Once done, it’s wonderful to unearth the mysteries behind why it’s still the most widely accepted language spoken on the planet.

Before I wrote or read, I talked. And sang. A LOT. I never shut up–and gee, big surprise, that got me in trouble more often than not. When I wasn’t in trouble and other kids weren’t around, I’d either sing or talked to imaginary friends in whatever words or worlds my fictitious playmates and I dreamed up. Sometimes the play was fun, sometimes I sang to the radio to my pretend audiences, or sometimes I was bored and moved onto my dolls, Play-Doh, or Hanna-Barbera cartoons on TV. Or my radio set to WABC in the middle of the night (yeah, I never shut up then sometimes, too). There, I’d pull the cartoon characters from the storyboards and craft fan-fiction stories and games before that became a thing. Oh, if I could go back in time . . . Rocky & Bullwinkle Tag Team Casper and Wendy! Underdog vs. Might Mouse. Tom & Jerry Meet Heckle & Jeckle. The killing I’d’ve made, too . . . but I digress.

But I discovered words were so strong, so impressionable, so damned fun, so I used them often. And sarcasm, too, when I learned what that meant. Putting those words to paper in book report form when I was a kid, not so much, and I refused to do it. It was easier to give oral reports on the books than written ones–this way, I could act out my favorite characters in the stories I devoured. Whether it was a great story a spelling test–I don’t have to tell you I almost always aced those–a vocabulary quiz, or something involving ways to express myself, I was, as report cards home oft said, never at a loss for words to do this. Couple in being born and raised in 1960s-1980s NYC, and, well . . . Big Mouth, par excellence 🙂.

So how does this relate to writing? And writing mysteries?

Two ways.

The first–my mother, her desire to be a nurse, was an avid fan of crime shows with a medical twist, Ellery Queen, Michael Crichton, and Robin Cook. She turned me onto my first mystery, an I Can Read story titled The Case of the Cat’s Meow, and later, The Hardy Boys Mysteries. The Cat’s Meow book I have to this day, ready for when my first grandchild is old enough to discover new universes and boundless imaginations books hold.

The second way came when my father’s death, in a collision with a NYC Transit uptown-bound A train in 1991, marred the birth of his first grandchild by his oldest child–me–that same year. His unexpected end is still listed in the NYPD rosters as a cold case/unsolved homicide to this day.

So I suppose in all rights, mystery writing found me.

Although I wrote plenty in journalism since my teens, I didn’t ever think I’d write a book, much less I’d want to. Now I’ve three series plans in blueprints, and several books within said blueprints in varied states of progress. But past events, not excluding my move to a speck of town called Page AZ from gigantic Gotham on a lie discovered after the parties involved died, prompted wonderings how could a mystery work. Peppering in tales from my past, people who knew my parents still living to share their stories, and strangers who remembered little me when I was four and spelling “Freedom” for them, all began to weave a tale in my thoughts.

In writing, I hope to never stop asking why or have my curiosity’s thirst ever quenched. I hope my cast of zany characters never stops asking why I’m as zany as they are. Most of all, I deeply hope to inspire a lonely, bored, or imaginative kid–or said kids at heart–to be transported into the stories as I’d been at their age, and still am today, fostering a love for words I vow to never let die.

Until next month . . . dew the best yew ewe were born two due.

Stay Awesome!
~ Missye