News, On Writing

A Study in Mystery

question markFor six weeks, my husband and I have been taking a writing class.  A Study in Mystery, taught by the entertaining and highly knowledgeable Johnny Worthen, has taken us from the history of the mystery genre to inventing our characters, to outlining scenes and figuring out where to put the clues, and on to actually writing the mystery novel.  I have enjoyed every minute of it.  It’s forced me dig deep to create solid characters and understand their back stories and motives.  I’ve always been a pantser, so it’s been very good for me to outline and study the flow of my story and see whether everything all fits together.  I have enjoyed hearing all the ideas from the other members of the class.  My husband has an exciting novel in the works as well.  My book in progress, The Sea Child, has seen some major improvements. (The Sea Child is a YA fantasy murder mystery involving Selkies, a mythological people who live as seals in the sea, but shed their skin to become human on land.) Thanks to Johnny Worthen for a great class.

Here’s an excerpt from The Sea Child.  Enjoy!

A body lay on the beach.

For a few moments I didn’t recognize it as a person. A storm had raged last night, and a lot of flotsam had washed up on our part of the California shore – seaweed, driftwood, a dead seagull — and it might have been my eyes playing tricks on me, kind of like what happens when you’ve had so little sleep that you start seeing things out of the corners of your eyes. But then my eyes adjusted, and I saw that it was indeed a body. Human.

“Jack, Barney, stay here. There’s a body on the beach.” I left the breakfast dishes, dried my hands with a towel, and started for the back door.

If I’d been thinking, I wouldn’t have said anything. My brothers had had enough tragedy in their lives, and they didn’t need any more. Of course, being boys, they raced to the back door, clattered down the wooden stairs that led down the cliff to the beach, and were almost to the body before I’d got out the door.

Cursing myself, I chased after them. Tad, our Airdale, loped down the steps, and Biggie, our Jack Russell Terrier, bounced behind him. They both outran me, barking and wagging their tails. They circled the body and sniffed, but didn’t growl. With growing dread, I approached. I should have just called the police. I should have called… who? There wasn’t anyone I could trust, and I knew it.

I stared at the body. It was a girl, maybe about fifteen, with black hair reaching to her waist and tangled in seaweed. Her skin was the color of pearl, as if it had never seen sunlight. There was something exotic about the shape of her face, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. She wore a full-length, green dress with gold embroidery around the neckline and armbands — something you’d wear to a wedding or a high society party. The green would have been emerald if it hadn’t been saturated with sea water.

“She’s beautiful,” Jack said.

I caught his expression and sucked in a breath. My brother was fifteen, and as far as I knew, he hadn’t fallen for a girl yet. The past six months had been too traumatic, and he’d been too busy with sports before that. But now he had that look on his face. Sort of dreamy, as if he’d found his one true love. I didn’t like that at all. Not one little bit. I had enough to do taking care of my brothers without having to fend off potential girlfriends.

Barney’s reaction, being only nine years old, was more of fascination, as if the girl was a new kind of bug he was examining under his magnifying glass. “Is she dead?”

I gazed at her and felt an overwhelming sadness. If I’d known about her last night, I could have come and helped her. But then, maybe she’d been dead a long time. How was I supposed to know? We hadn’t been allowed to see our parents’ bodies. Too much damage from the car accident, they’d told us. For us, it had been as if they’d gone away for the weekend but had decided to extend their vacation. But they weren’t ever coming back.

I crouched beside the girl, wondering if I should try CPR or rescue breathing or something. She didn’t look or smell rotten. Should I feel for a pulse? I took her wrist. Her skin was so cold.

“Should we call 9-1-1?” Barney asked.

I was about to say, yes of course, and why hadn’t I thought of that before? But then she opened her eyes.


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