Just when I was about to slide into one of my “My life has been cancelled and I miss my grandkids” breakdowns, some lovely things happened this week.
First off, I typed “THE END” on the first draft of my fifth novel, tentatively called Missed Clue. It needs tons of work. But, as I learned in grad school, “You can’t fix a blank page,” so I’m very glad to have this first draft to revise. This novel’s a police procedural for adults, not my usual writing turf. It started out as an expansion of my short story, “Missed Cue,” which just came out in Malice Domestic’s 2020 anthology, Murder Most Theatrical. But as writing projects tend to do, it ended up veering off into some unexpected directions.
On the promotional side, I’m delighted to be among the authors whose books are featured on this year’s SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) BookStop which runs through November 30. I’d love for you to check out my YA romantic mystery, It Should Have Been You, as well as the hundreds of other children’s and YA books on the site. This is a great place to shop for children’s and YA readers on your holiday list.
This week, I also received an invitation to appear on @pagestreetya for an IG Live on November 12th at 12 pm Eastern. I’ll read the first chapter of It Should Have Been You, answer questions, and offer words of encouragement I’ve found helpful as an author to writers participating in NANOWRIMO or working on other projects. I’d love for you to join me!
Finally, yesterday, I wrote something way out of my comfort zone, which turned out to be absurdly fun. My Sisters in Crime chapter, Derby Rotten Scoundrels, has been invited to present a murder mystery play set at Frazier History Museum’s exhibit on speakeasies. The coordinator of our “create-a-play” volunteer group invited us to submit pitch ideas for a “light-hearted” play. Believe me when I say I know nothing about writing plays, let alone funny ones. But once I got started, I had so much fun being totally absurd. Below is a writeup of my ridiculous idea:
When traveling salesman Ricardo Lovelace shows up at Friendly Fred’s Speakeasy, all he wants is a few drinks and a good poker game. What he doesn’t count on is having his last drink there. Ever. Friendly Fred’s patrons turn out to be folks who all have reasons to want him dead, and one of them gets the job done.
Victim= Ricardo Lovelace– traveling salesman whose pitch to married women for his best-selling product, Love Potion Number Nine, is: “Ladies, are you tired of making excuses when your husband’s furnace is running on high, but your pilot light is on the fritz? My tonic, Love Potion Number Nine, is guaranteed to re-light your fire and get the steam turned back on in your bedroom. Private demonstrations available. Guaranteed results, or your money back.”
Mickey Dittsman, a ventriloquist, and his dummy Sammy– Seven years ago, Ricardo Lovelace swindled Mickey’s mother out of her life savings, and Mickey and Sammy have had to be on the vaudeville circuit for years to pay the bills. Sammy, Mickey’s dummy, is especially burned out and wants to retire and “rest” his voice.
Elmer Gripefeld, Chief of Police– On Ricardo’s last swing through town, he gave Elmer’s wife Thelma a “personal” demonstration of Love Potion Number Nine. Now Thelma claims the potion works great— but only with Ricardo. Chief Gripefeld is not amused.
Paulie Gottsman, Pharmacist and Local Bootlegger– Paulie spent years in his home lab developing the formula for Love Potion Number Nine, only to have Ricardo steal the formula and patent it as his own. Three years ago, when Ricardo was in town selling hot water bottles to Paulie at his drug store, Paulie made the mistake of bragging to the salesman about the formula and how well it was working with his wife.
Kitty Kopeckal, Friendly Fred’s hostess and waitress– it’s been ten years, but she recognizes that Ricardo Lovelace is her ex, now with a lot less hair and a handlebar moustache. His real name is Alfred Biggs, and Biggs is a first-class bigamist. When Kitty married him, she had no idea he had three other wives stashed in various cities, and she didn’t like sharing.
Detective Henry Goodfellow– the newly hired detective who arrives on the scene to investigate after Chief Gripefeld calls him. He’s never worked a homicide before and enlists the help of the audience in solving the case.
Ideas for Order:
Opening scene- Mickey and Sammy, as well as Paulie and Chief Gripefeld, are all sitting at the bar. All we can see is their backs. Kitty is behind the bar. The radio is playing, and we hear Ricardo’s radio ad for Love Potion Number Nine. Ricardo arrives in the middle of the ad playing carrying a big billboard for Love Potion Number Nine, his black bag with samples, and a thick wad of bills. He’s wearing lots of jewelry, and it’s apparent that his sales business must be doing pretty well.
He sits down at the poker table in the middle of the room, and says something like, “Pretty good ad if I say so myself.” One by one, the folks at the bar turn and look at him with expressions of surprise, shock, and/or hostility. Sammy, the dummy, pipes up with, “Whoa! Didn’t expect to see him here.”
Ricardo calls out to Kitty to bring him a bourbon. Each of the folks at the bar are doing things (reaching in pockets, rubbing their hands, offering to help Kitty pour, etc.) which could be clues that they’re doctoring Ricardo’s drink.
Kitty brings over his drink and says, “Here you go, Alfred.” He looks at her and says, “You must have me mixed up with someone else.” She grabs off her red wig and flings it off, and Mickey catches it. Sammy says, “Ooh, let me try it on.” Mickey arranges it on his head, while Kitty says to Ricardo, “Remember me, Al? Wife number four?” He insists she’s gotten him confused with somebody else. He opens his wad of bills to pay for his drink, and she snatches a few extras “to make up for that alimony you forgot to pay, you four-timing fool.”
Ricardo takes a nervous swig of his drink and then calls over to the bar, “Anybody up for a game of poker?” They wander over. Ricardo deals, and they play a hand. He cleans up and announces he’s gotta take a leak. He gets up, disappears for a couple of minutes while Chief talks to Kitty about what she knows about this guy.
Ricardo staggers back in, foaming at the mouth, and stumbles around before doing a dramatic death fall.
Paulie races over, listens to his heart, and announces that he’s dead as a doornail.
Chief Gripefeld says, “Kitty, call it in to my new detective, Henry Goodfellow. None of you saw me here, okay?”
While they’re waiting for Detective Goodfellow, Mickey grabs Ricardo’s wallet, counts the money, and divides it up between all of them. Kitty goes over to Ricardo’s sample bag, grabs a bottle of Love Potion Number Nine and chugs it.
When Detective Goodfellow arrives, he greets the Chief and asks him how he got here so soon. Chief says he was “just in the area.” The detective examines the body and says, “Yeah, he’s bought the farm alright. Nobody leaves here until we get to the bottom of this.” He pulls the Chief aside and admits he’s never really investigated a murder case before. “What do I do?”
Chief says, “Ask questions, you bumble-breath.”
Detective Goodfellow pulls out a pad and asks audience members what he should ask.
Then he goes back and starts interviewing folks. Sammy keeps pointing to Mickey and saying, “He didn’t do it.” Detective Goodfellow tells Mickey to shut his dummy up, which Sammy announces is “very rude and unbecoming of an officer sworn to protect and serve.”
Meantime, Kitty, who by now has finished off an entire bottle of Love Potion Number Nine, keeps making goo eyes at the detective and trying to put the moves on him, which clearly scares him.
When he asks why the dummy is wearing a red wig, Kitty says she loaned it to him. She can put it back on, she says, if he likes redheads. He shivers and says “No, no, that won’t be necessary.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Chief Gripefeld giving the corpse a good kick. He asks him if he knows the guy, and the Chief admits this is the guy who demonstrated the love potion with Thelma, his wife. Kitty descends again and paws the detective, saying, “It’s very effective, trust me.”
As the detective interrogates each person, he learns that each one of them had a reason to hate Ricardo Lovelace, but they all insist somebody else must have done the deed. When he inquires as to who handled the bottle of bourbon from which Ricardo’s last drink came from, they all raise their hands.
“Well,” Detective Goodfellow says, “that certainly narrows it down.” Thoroughly frustrated, he turns to the audience and asks for a vote. Which one of these people at Friendly Fred’s do they think did it?
As he’s taking the vote, Paulie follows Kitty over to the sample bag and struggles with her. “I’ll take those of you don’t mind. I invented the darned formula, and you’ve had quite enough,” he says. In their struggle, she drops a vial of poison she was about to sneak into the bag.
Detective Goodfellow wheels around and Paulie tells him, “Look what I found her trying to slip into this bag.”
“Aha,” Detective Goodfellow says, as he snaps the cuffs on her. “I didn’t think it was you. You seemed to have other things on your mind.”
“Don’t you ever read?” she snaps. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, you know. The jerk had three other wives and never paid me a dime when I divorced him.”
On the way out, she tells Sammy to give her back her wig and Mickey arranges it on her head. She smiles flirtatiously at Detective Goodfellow. “You know you like redheads,” she tells him as she leers at him.
He shrugs and puts his arm around her as he ushers her out. “Well… “
So there you have it. I don’t think anybody’s going to be hiring me anytime soon as a playwright! But creating something totally different from what I usually write just for the fun of it really helped me chase those pandemic blues away. I recommend it and am so thankful to celebrate a good week during these tough times.