The Life of a Nomadic Mystery Writer
The Life of a Nomadic Mystery Writer
by Sally Goldenbaum
Recently, I picked up a magazine and there, staring back at me, was my office: A clean room with windows framing sweeping views, a smooth white desk and built-in bookcases. At either end, a window seat with bright, plump cushions that whispered to a weary writer. Rest here for a while. A perfect place to sink into writing a mystery. Perfect.
But, sigh, it wasn’t my office at all. It belonged to Sue Grafton. The wonderfully framed alphabet covers on the wall, the many awards, proved it beyond a doubt.
So with thoughts of a holiday mystery in my head, I put the magazine away, packed up my laptop, climbed into my car, and headed…where? A coffee shop near my home? Would that be the place to ponder the death of a young man scuba diving off the coast of Cape Ann in a new mystery? Or maybe my friend Nancy’s new apartment with the comfortable leather chair and view of a pond, perhaps a perfect place to find a body in the next Seaside Knitters’ mystery, Angora Alibi.
The ten mysteries I’ve written to date have been given life in nearly every coffee shop and library in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Sometimes the weather determines where I go (the Plaza Starbucks has a comfortable, shaded writing patio, perfect on warm sunny days), and sometimes it’s my mood and emotional needs (Nancy’s apartment is comforting and comes equipped with Nancy—a wonderful writer who is always there to brainstorm the progression of clues in A Fatal Fleece, or to help figure out the murderer’s motive in Angora Alibi).
I devour other writer’s stories of where they write; I admire and sometimes envy those who walk upstairs or downstairs to an office, close the door to block out the world, settle into an ergonomic chair and write write write. Right there in a cozy office in a cozy home, with all the book’s characters settled close by, waiting to march across the computer screen.
I have a home, too. And it has a spare bedroom that I turned into an office when my youngest child left the nest. But hard as I try, I haven’t been able to break free of the homebred lures of doing laundry or cleaning out drawers or checking the refrigerator—tasks which often—too often—pull me from the middle of a murderous chapter.
And so I resort to places that don’t allow such tasks to interfere. I wander—to coffee shops and libraries and a writer friend’s deck where I spent many hours pondering the abandoned infant seat that lay on the beach in Angora Alibi. Where was its owner? The baby? The smell of coffee sometimes brings me out of my reverie, but only briefly. Then the invisible wall between the espresso maker and me goes up and I sink back into figuring out how Nell, Izzy, Birdie and Cass will tackle the fact that things aren’t all that they should be in the Sea Harbor obstetric clinic.
I didn’t always wander. A lovely porch provided a great writing space for several summers and for the writing of Moon Spinners and The Wedding Shawl. But only with another writer sitting across from me, working on finishing her own book. We held each other captive, working though plot points in her own book and mine—talking aloud about how a young girl died in a Sea Harbor quarry and what secrets the new gardener in town was hiding in The Wedding Shawl.
But when my son’s family of five moved in with us for a spell—along with toddlers who loved the porch as much as we did—my friend found an office with two desks and a six-month lease, a sunny room that kept us writing for a winter and spring and took us through three seaside knitters murders, a fictional tornado, and many red herrings.
But all good things come to an end, and when the chapter that was ‘our office’ closed, the wandering began again.
So…today is Tuesday. Chapter 17 on Angora Alibi is waiting for resolution. Why did the old man guard the roof so jealously? There’s work to do and mysteries to write. My MacBook Air is packed up in its worn backpack, a power bar and bottle of water are tucked into the pocket.
The day is sunny, chilly.
Nancy’s deck with a blanket, perhaps?
But maybe the first stop should be for a latte at the coffee shop down the street—where the friendly baristas will greet me by name …
Sally Goldenbaum is a sometimes philosophy teacher, knitter, and editor, and the author of more than two dozen novels. Sally became more serious about knitting with the birth of her first grandchild and the creation of the Seaside Knitters mystery series. Her fictional knitting friends are teaching her the intricacies of women’s friendship, the mysteries of small-town living, and the very best way to pick up dropped stitches on a lacy knit shawl.
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