A Compulsive Story Maker and the Mayor’s Grandpa Mug

I was in the thrift store looking for tolerably attractive coffee mugs. I kept very few when I downsized and moved, and I’m clumsy with crockery, so I needed to resupply. A friend who recently retired from running our local bookstore was also shopping. She told me she could never buy the mug I found especially pretty, because it had words on it promoting a business systems company, and she was a compulsive reader. “It would drive me crazy. If there are words in front of me, I read them. Even if I’ve read them before, I read them over and over.”

This doesn’t happen to me. I’ll read them once and then enjoy the elegant blue and gold stripes around them.

But then she picked up a mug with pictures and words. “Oh my goodness,” she said, “it’s Jim Smith.”* The mayor.

Happy Father’s Day. We love you, Grandpa Smith was inscribed above a picture of his three smiling grandchildren. On the other side of the mug was an image of the mayor, his son, and his dog. The men looked handsome and happy; the dog, slobbery and goofy. This was the mug that could drive me crazy. I’m not a compulsive reader, but a compulsive story maker.

“He’s such a lovely man,” my friend said with a touch of concern

“And a good mayor,” I added.

We acknowledged we were both thinking about stories that would emerge. Would the mayor appear inconsiderate of his grandkids’ feelings? People would speculate. Had he had a split with his son or grandchildren? Had a person in one of the pictures died or been kicked out of the family? It’s possible he had so many grandpa mugs he needed to clear out the excess, or he quit drinking coffee, or the unflattering shot of the dog bothered him. But the mug felt wrong there.

I bought it for a quarter along with the pretty mug with words on it, but I’m not drinking coffee out of the grandpa mug. I bought it so other compulsive story makers wouldn’t invent tales about the mayor.

And then I quietly disposed of it, so I wouldn’t keep thinking of stories. Someone else’s family pictures suggest so many, and I write about a psychic who can see past events connected to a person by holding an object imbued with their energy. I felt like I’d be drinking in the mayor’s energy if I drank coffee from his grandpa mug. There’s a possible story there, but I can write it later. Not every day at breakfast.

(*Not the mayor’s real name.)

Would the grandpa mug drive you crazy? Are you a compulsive story-maker?

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Shamans’ Blues, book two in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series, is on sale for ninety-nine cents on all e-book retail sites.

Bad Actors

Mysteries, even the lighter ones, touch on the darker side of human nature. There is a wrong to be righted, not just a puzzle to solve. Since I don’t write about murder, I alternate between what I think of crimes of the spirit and actual crimes. The antagonist is usually based on someone who made me angry, created a sense of outrage, or gave me the creeps. In The Calling, Mae Martin encounters a professor who appears to be unethical in his relationships with female students and colleagues, and there’s a dark spiritual power around him as well. Shaman’s Blues starts with missing people, one who may be connected with a ghost, and one who claims to read auras and gives strange advice. She was inspired by someone I met many years ago in Santa Fe and never forgot—because people seemed to believe her, despite the dubious nature of her guidance. The exploitation of others’ spiritual longings and desire for healing is a theme I explore often. Living in New Mexico, where alternative medicine and spiritual seekers are a big part of the scene, I’ll never run out of material. There are many excellent practitioners here, but there are some questionable ones as well.

Because of the hot springs, the land where my home town, Truth or Consequences, is situated was a healing place for the Apaches long before Europeans arrived. Visitors come here now for retreats and to recover their health and peace of mind. I set my most recent book, Death Omen, here, for that reason. Some of it takes place in Santa Fe and on the road, but much of the third act takes place in one of Truth or Consequences’ hot springs spas. The antagonist claims to be a healer and a visionary who can see past incarnations. If she’s not what she says she is, her followers may be risking their lives.

*****

Shaman’s Blues, book two in the Mae Martin series, is currently on sale for 99 cents.

How a series is like a spider plant

spider-plant

My writing process reminds me of a spider plantsprouting new plants which have potential to live and thrive if I cut them off the parent plant and pot them. But I have to choose how many little spiders I want to do that with, and how many I’d rather leave attached or simply trim off.

My last book, Ghost Sickness, took root from two stories I discarded. A scene that ended up being close to the end of it was originally the beginning of one of the rejected plots, while several key characters and settings came from the other. Maybe I should have entitled this post “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” because when I’m cutting, I store a lot of the cuts in a Scenes to Recycle file. It often ends up being the gentle way to kill my darlings, but it can also lead to creative recycling. Shaman’s Blues, my second book, hatched from a subplot in Soul Loss, which was originally going to be the second book and ended up being the fourth.

I’m well along in the first draft of the sixth book in my series, tentatively titled Medicine Buddha, and I can see that it’s going need trimming. I like the subplots better than the main plot. The antagonist doesn’t feel strong enough. My protagonist doesn’t have enough at stake. But I like the theme I’m working with and I love the settings. I’m also happy with reintroducing some characters from prior books, giving them important roles in this one.

This work in progress hatched like a baby spider plant from a second draft of Ghost Sickness. I cut scenes and subplots from it which are now the opening scenes of the main plot of book six. My protagonist, Mae Martin, attends a workshop on energy healing and medical intuition. There she encounters a fellow student, Sierra, who makes claims about reincarnation and self-healing and causing one’s own illness because of karma. She also claims that Mae’s boyfriend is part of a special soul group with her and that Mae isn’t in it. When I dropped Sierra into the workshop scene, I had no idea she was going to be my main antagonist and I’m still not sure she is.

I don’t like to repeat myself. Since the crimes in my books aren’t murders, I have to think of new types of wrong-doing for each book. Sometimes the malfeasance is on a spiritual and ethical level; sometimes it’s a criminal act. I’m trying not to make Sierra an echo of Jill Betts, the neo-shamanism expert in Soul Loss, and I’m also aware that I can’t repeat the manipulations done by Charlie, the shady professor in The Calling, who misuses his knowledge of spirituality and alternative healing.

Maybe this antagonist will evolve, or be replaced as the real “bad guy” in the book by a person who’s in her shadow right now. Maybe she’ll end up being a victim of sorts. That was my original plan but my characters acted differently than I thought they would. Still, I think it would be interesting if Mae had to protect and help a strange, difficult person she dislikes. I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll recycle that idea in the next book. It could work better there. First, I need to wrap up the current WIP. Then I’ll see which little spiders need to be trimmed and set aside for possible other books, and which will get to remain part of the big plant.spider_plant2

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The first book in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series, The Calling, is on sale for 99 cents through the end of December.callingebooknew