Imaginary Friends by Karen Shughart

When I was in elementary school, one of my best friends and I would walk home after school each day and create stories about an imaginary friend named Ponytail.  It was the 1950s, and many girls of that decade sported ponytails at one time or another. There were rock and roll songs that mentioned girls in ponytails, and TV shows and movies where the ingenues, in their swirling, petticoated dresses and bobby socks, flitted about, ponytails bouncing. Ponytails were part of the culture and fashion of the day. It was a fitting name.

I don’t remember Ponytail’s adventures, but I do remember being excited when we began our journey home to resume our ongoing saga and looking forward to continuing it the next day. Then, as my friend and I got older, the stories we created about our imaginary friend stopped, and we moved on to other discussions. Preteenagers don’t admit to having rich fantasy lives, at least they didn’t when I was growing up.

Last month I was interviewed by author LeAnna Shields on her podcast, The Cozy Sleuth. It was a lot of fun, and at the end I offered to turn the tables and interview her. Two weeks later, that’s what happened. During that interview, LeAnna mentioned that while many people have one imaginary friend, she had a multitude of them when she was growing up, which is partly what motivated her to become an author.  After I thought about it a while, it made sense. If you’re an author of fiction, that’s exactly what you do-create characters that are birthed strictly from your imagination.

As I look back, I realize that Ponytail was the continuation for me of a love of creating poems and stories that began when I was about five. It started when my brother and I were on a trip with our parents, and we had a flat tire. It was a rhyming poem about the frustrations of young girl whose trip was delayed because of that tire, and I blurted it out to my mother while my dad was fixing the tire. She loved it, wrote it down, and taped it to the refrigerator when we got home.

From the time I started to read, I immersed myself in almost anything I could get my hands on, sometimes appropriate for my age and sometimes not- my parents never censured my choices- and trips to the library were frequent,. Later, in the literature classes I took in school, I was transported from my daily life into the adventures and travails of characters created by a diverse group of authors. I became an English major in college and after that, each job I had was one where I wrote,  although back then it wasn’t fiction. But I always yearned to write stories with characters that were mine.

The idea of becoming a fiction author remained an unattainable dream for many years. For me, like so many of us, life got in the way.  Five years ago, finally retired and with children grown, I decided to do something about it.  I created and was fortunate to get published the first of the Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery series ( Cozy Cat Press), replete with my own imaginary characters. The mysteries take place during the present, but with historical backstories starting in the 1700s and moving ahead in time with each successive book, providing clues that help the sleuth solve the crime. I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but if I keep on going, perhaps someday one of those backstories will take place in the 1950s, and one of my characters can have an imaginary friend named Ponytail.