This sweet note, out of the blue, made me feel better about everything.
This sweet note, out of the blue, made me feel better about everything.
In my writing, here and there, I’ve frequently returned to the idea/metaphor of fingerprints. Probably most cogently in The Fall, a book about identity and figuring out who you are (among other things).
And I’ve also been writing about trees (Blood Mountain, mostly, and in some new work not yet published). Not only writing, but trying to learn about them. Reading, stopping to look, researching.
So when I saw this meme, it resonated.
You never know what’s going to be in ye olde in-box. In this case, more sophisticated questions and, in return, more realistic answers.
Michael writes . . .
1. The writing, when it is going well. There’s a lot about the business that is wonderful and parts that are heartbreaking and awful. The act of creating is the thing that pulls me back every time. It’s the core of what I do. The pleasure and satisfaction of making things, of self-expression, of putting something out into the world that would never exist without me.
This one came the old-fashioned way, so here’s a snap of it . . .
My reply . . .
It’s a mystery. Your letter is dated “September 3,” but the envelope is postmarked “21 Oct.” And here we are in November. Time flies, I guess. Or maybe it’s just a really, really long walk for you to the post office?
Anyway, we’re here now, altogether!
Thank you for reading my Jigsaw Jones books. I like your strategy: If bored, read book. Works for me, too.
The trick to the Secret Valentine, by the way, was that it centered on a gender assumption. You see this technique in other mysteries in movies, books, and television. It’s a magician’s trick, too, called a misdirection, where essentially the “trick” is to get you looking at the wrong thing. The detective assumes that the perpetrator (the person who carries out the “crime,” in this case, simply sending a card) is female. Well, not always!
I liked Jigsaw’s complaint to Mila early in the mystery: “You know what the worst part is. This girl is ruining a perfectly good holiday. I mean, I like Valentine’s Day. You get to eat cupcakes. Why does she have to drag love into it?”
So, you suggested a book title: The Case of the Neighborhood Gaser. But you neglected to describe the plot. Is this a book about someone who FARTS A LOT??!! Are you suggesting that I write an entire book about flatulence?
Scene one: Jigsaw and his friends enter a Mexican restaurant. “Tacos all around,” Joey orders . . .
Anyway, thanks for the idea.
Er, I guess.
You wrote, “If you don’t get to read my letter it’s fine.”
Too late, my friend, too late.
I’m always glad to hear from my self-proclaimed #1 fan (though, be warned, you have rivals). Thank you, too, for the Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (SASE). I appreciate that. Stamps ain’t cheap!
Probably the book I’m happiest with, if you asked me today, is titled Blood Mountain. It’s a wilderness survival thriller. You might also like my “Scary Tales” series: Swamp Monster, One-Eyed Doll, Nightmareland, etc.
I hope this letter finds you well & in good spirits. By which I mean to say: I sincerely hope you aren’t a turkey. Thanksgiving is around the corner and things might get rough on the old ruffled feathers.
In this scene, early in Upstander, Mary is visiting at Chantel’s house. Readers of Bystander should recognize Chantel Williams as the name of a character who was on the receiving end of some internet bullying. In Upstander, we meet her as a fully-formed character. An athlete, an older sister to three brothers, a friend.
Chantel’s phone buzzed. She glanced at it and shook her head. Mary sensed the message had upset Chantel, because she grew quiet and had a far-away look in her eyes. Chantel held out her phone and said, “He keeps asking me to send a picture.”
At that moment, Mrs. Williams entered the kitchen. Chantel hurriedly pocketed her phone. “It looks great, girls, thank you. Mary, you are welcome to stay if you’d like. I believe Chanti had her hopes on a horror movie. I’d be happy to drop you home if you can’t get a ride.”
Mary looked at Chantel, who smiled and nodded.
“That sounds great, Mrs. Williams. I’d love that!” Mary replied. “Thank you very much.”
Mrs. Williams pointed two index fingers toward the ceiling, reminding Mary of an old Western gunfighter. “Listen, I’ve got the three amigos up there. Jamel and Keyon are in the tub. I have no idea on God’s green earth what Darius is up to. I think he’s building a Lego space station or alien prison or some such folderol.” She waved a hand, amused by it all. “We haven’t had any drownings yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I can help—” Chantel began to offer.
“No, Chanti, you entertain our guest while I wrestle those rascals into bed.” Mrs. Williams made a loud whew sound, as if she was exhausted, but her eyes told a different story. They twinkled brightly. Maybe she didn’t mind all that mothering after all.
The girls didn’t pay close attention to the movie, except for the really good parts. They’d both seen it already. Instead, they huddled close, sharing one light blanket, and talked.
“Who is asking you for a pic?”
“Hakeem,” Chantel answered, her voice barely above a whisper. “Promise you won’t tell. It’s so stupid.”
“Of course,” Mary said. She paused a beat. “What did you do?”
Chantel craned her neck to make sure her mother wasn’t nearby. “I didn’t even understand him at first,” she admitted. “I was like, a picture of what?”
Both girls cackled.
“You didn’t, did you?” Mary asked.
“No!” Chantel answered. But after a pause, she admitted, “I didn’t say no, either. I made excuses like, ‘I’m busy’ or ‘I look bad right now.’ You know?”
Mary nodded. She didn’t know, she’d never been asked before, but it was exciting to think about. Mary wondered if Hakeem had asked Alexis or Chrissie. Some boys were like that. She’d heard that older guys collected pics of girls and swapped them like trading cards. It was pretty gross. But also a little flattering. Like it might be nice to be asked by the right person, even if the answer was still definitely no. Some girls said it was no big deal, that sharing a photo was the new first base.
“I like him,” Chantel said. “Hakeem’s nice and funny and—
“—kind of good-looking,” Mary added, exaggerating slightly.
Chantel let out an embarrassed laugh. “I guess, yes. But he keeps asking me. ‘Send a pic, send a pic. You look so good.’ All that stuff. Persistent, you know? I’m afraid if I shut him down, he’ll stop talking to me.”
They both stared at the movie for a few minutes.
Someone was getting stabbed with scissors. “Lupita Nyong’o is so beautiful,” Mary said, admiring the actress on-screen.
“I know,” Chantel agreed. “Her skin is perfect.”
“Boys can be such idiots,” Mary said.
“Are they all like that?” Chantel asked.
Mary shrugged. She didn’t know. “It seems like a lot of them are, maybe. Like it’s normal for them.”
Chantel shook her head. “He says the pictures fade away after seven seconds . . .”
“Yeah, but they can take screen captures,” Mary warned.
“Hakeem keeps saying he’s not a screenshotter,” Chantel said. “And you know what? That makes me think he is. If I sent him something, he’d have it forever.”
“Yeah,” Mary said. “And who knows what he’d do with it after that.”
UPSTANDER IS A 2021 JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION!
Addendum: In order to write this scene, or even to imagine it, I had to do a lot of reading, reflecting, digging around for stories, experiences, attitudes. Most if not all of what appears in the above scene is a direct result of things I “overheard” in my research.