It’s All a Mystery

New visitors to my blog might be a bit confused. Is this a poetry site? A place for flash fiction? One in which I go off the deep end in a depressive heap?

You’re not alone; I am also confused.

There may not be a term for what I do here, specifically, besides ‘impulsive’ or ‘whimsical’ or maybe even ‘nonsensical.’ If pressed, I like to say that I write on “many topics and in many styles of expression.” (That’s from my résumé.)

Despite this, there are two genres that I avoid: romance and mystery.

We’ll go into the former later, Dr. Freud. I only want to talk about the latter today, because I …can’t. I can’t write a mystery. “It’s not that difficult,” you might say. Or, “But, but, but -many of the stories I’ve read of yours reveal something the audience didn’t know. That’s mystery, you know.”

They’re really not, because of my approach to writing new stories. That approach is, basically, having a general idea of a theme or direction and then writing. Little details, dialogue, descriptions, and humor crop up as appropriate while I write. In a sense, I am as much in the dark as the reader until a resolution presents itself somewhere as I go.

So, today’s question is: How does one write a mystery? Plotting? Red herringing? Do you know every twist and turn and intentionally-wrongly-accused character? Do you *gasp* know whodunit from the outset?

If so, how is it any fun to write?

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Looking to solve The Case of What I Did Last Week? Here are the spoilers:
Wednesday, January 16: “How to Win Friends and …Nevermind,” my admittance to social ineptitude.
Thursday, January 17: “The Cure for Depression,” the beginning of a series originally posted over at The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog.
Friday, January 18: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Congratulations to second-time winner, Molly Stevens.
Also, a re-post of Peregrine Arc’s writing prompt. VISIT; WRITE SOMETHING!
Saturday, January 19: Announced the tenth Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. Enter, if you dare!
Sunday, January 20: “Home Life Poetry.” I may need to get out more on Sundays.
Monday, January 21: Some answers to Len‘s Sunshine Blogger Award Nomination.
Tuesday, January 22: “Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty.”
Also, “A Day in the Life” (a re-post of a poem I wrote on this site) at my mothering blog.
Wednesday, January 23: Today!

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty

Wil contemplatively chewed on what may have been a carrot.  She was happily absorbed in the remainder of her crossword, and ate without tasting her least favorite meal the school provided: meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

CENTRAL connected with FLOWER and left space for AB and BOTTLE. Lower down, however, SEED wasn’t working with HAND. She hadn’t heard whatever quote was listed for that clue. As such, Wil would have just skipped those few blank squares and moved on. Unfortunately, the beginning letter was important.

After reading over the paper in the locker room before Gym class before lunch, Wil had noticed that some squares had a darker outline. She guessed they formed key letters of a puzzle that would give her a message once she had them all.

She absentmindedly scooped up some instant potatoes, and tried to think as she slurped them off her spoon. “One in the hand is worth two in the what?” She said quietly.

The barely glinting sunlight outside the tinted doors shone randomly on the courtyard beyond. She watched its dance and remembered stepping around the silent area just yesterday. Wil cut off a piece of soggy meat, placed it in her mouth, chewed a bit, and swallowed.

Slowly, she repeated, “One in the hand is worth two in the …?”

“Bush,” an old woman’s voice near her finished.

Startled out of her reverie, Wil looked to the speaker. To her left hunched one of the lunch ladies who patrolled the cafeteria. The woman’s face looked just like the pre-packaged croissants they served sometimes, if one added two beady eyes and gray curls under a hair net to the top.

“Oh,” Wil stammered. “Uh, thank you.”

The creases turned upward as the older woman’s small eyes lit up slightly. “Oh, you’re welcome, dear.” Lunchlady Croissant turned thick-soled off-white sneakers around, and went back to her usual duty of glaring at irresponsible teenagers. Wil heard bits of something about kids these days and old sayings.

Remembering her task at hand, she turned back to her paper. “B-U-S-H,” She intoned as she wrote. Her key letter was B.

Excitedly, she penciled in more and more answers. The contents of her lunch tray diminished as the spaces filled with letters and Wil’s stomach filled with substance. She washed the bad taste down with milk and viewed the results happily.

Capitals boldly filled every black square, interlocking and completing chains and paths of words. The crossword was finished; at least, she was fairly certain it was.

She scanned the chart in traditional Arabic writing fashion of left to right and wrote the key letters at the bottom of the page: T, M, E, E, Y, B, R, R, L, I, A, B, Y, R, E, F, A, T, S, C, H, O, O, L.

The bell and the recognition of yet another puzzle punctured Wil’s spirits like a small cut near the base of a latex balloon. She stuffed the paper and her pencil into her binder, and gathered her lunch things together.

She carried her tray over to the washing area, where she once again saw the helpful worker. “Thanks, dear,” Lunchlady said, and Wil was more certain of a smile this time.

Smiling a rare, truly pleasant response, Wil went back to collect her things from the table.

 

Continued from Twenty-Nine.
Keep reading to Thirty-One.

 

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twenty-Nine

“Me llamo Señor Carrrrrl,” Sr. Carl (who else?) intoned. He had a deep voice forever tainted by New Jersey influence. “Me tengo dos perros. Me gusto rrrojo.” His black, heavy brows seemed to droop further over his deepset, dark eyes as he read the words he’d written on the whiteboard.

Turning an ever-tired, middle-aged face to the class, he sighed. “Ahorrrra, escrrrriba sus prroprrrias rrespuestas,” he over-accentuated slowly. Blank looks returned his droopy half-gaze.

He sighed again. “Take these sentences. Write your responses,” he translated. Still blank. Wil stifled a yawn, and she wasn’t the only one to do so.

Sr. C. blinked a few times. He’d been told teaching junior high was difficult, but he’d also been told his Spanish wasn’t good enough for a job at his own brother’s family business.

“Get a paper, you guys,” Sr. C. directed. “Then, write some sentences about you.” His eyes shifted to the left as he thought of another necessary direction to pass on. “In Spanish!”

His young pupils slowly began pulling out papers and pencils, squinting at his example up front as if it were foreign to them. They opened Spanish/English dictionaries, their textbooks, or spied over their more responsible friend’s shoulder at common vocabulary.

Wil rose and grabbed a student dictionary off the shelf. She picked the largest one, to double as a cover for solving her secret puzzle. Sr. C. wouldn’t bother them while they worked, but she worried about classmates spying.

Meanwhile, Sr. C. had turned his desk radio on. As usual, he tuned it from AM Sports News to the first Spanish station that came through. An excited radio advertisement rapidly babbled about some product or service no one in the room could understand. Sr. C. sat heavily in his desk chair and tiredly extracted a pile of last period’s assignments from the mess on his desk.

“Me llamo Wil,” Wil said under her breath as she wrote. She stopped to chew on the end of her pen. She couldn’t think what else to write, since her Spanish was slightly less rudimentary than the teacher’s. She glanced at the example sentences, but she owned no pets and didn’t have a favorite color.

Carefully, she slid her newest note discreetly from under the dictionary. She would fill in a clue, then write a sentence in Spanish.”Two birds with one stone,” she told herself. Then, “I wonder how they say that in Spanish?”

Shrugging, she looked at One Across. “Name of school: C-E-N-T-R-A-L.” Wil carefully penned her response.

She thumbed randomly through Spanish phrases, then wrote under the sentence about what she called herself, “Me gusto limonada.”

“Plant starter: seed.”

“No tengo un perro.”

“F-L-O-W-E-R”

“Tengo pelo castaño.”

An upbeat mariachi pop song played in the background as both of her assignments slowly took shape.

 

Continued from Twenty-Eight.
Keep reading to Thirty.