Once someone told me that could do an excellent impression of me. That took me by surprise. I don’t even think I could do an impression of me. I said, “Okay?”
He said, “Why, why, why?”
I guess he had me pegged. I do question everything. For me life is a mystery. I have so many questions, but I guess the big one is why am I here. But, then, a string of other questions arises from that one.
I was asked to write this blog post by my good friend, Vicki, who is one of the team working on Mystery Thriller Week which takes place on February 12-22, 2017. Wow, it’s almost here. Time flies, especially when your old. Why? Why do I have to get old? Why can’t aging be like it was for Benjamin Button?
My life has enough mystery. Mystery isn’t really my genre, or then maybe it is. My bookshelves are mostly filled with self-help books, or spiritual books, or books on mysticism. There are a lot by Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, probably a whole shelf dedicated to Yogananada. Aren’t these people unraveling the mystery?
This all started after I retired from weaving. Before writing, I wove on a loom, traveling about doing art/craft shows. I asked my husband, “What should I do?” Not long afterward, we were cleaning out shelves and he came across some poems I had written in high school. He said, “Why don’t you write?” There was that word again, Why. I thought, but what do I have to write about? Sally came to me.
Around a decade ago I embarked on something I thought would be simple—finding out about a lady I had met when I was eight. My plan was to write something about her and that would be that. But, it took a good portion of three years of my life. I ended up writing a few small pieces about her on a site called Gather and on my blog and for several newspapers in the area. One article was called The Mystery of Sally. Sally was a woman born into slavery in 1858. I had heard my family talk about her, and then I got to meet her when I was eight. She was one hundred and three and mopping the floor when I saw her. Sadly, I waited until most who really knew her were long gone. Isn’t that the way it always happens? Why?
The first thing I found was her obituary. I wanted to know a little more. Based on who was listed in the obituary, I started making blind calls. I found that the obituary was wrong or seemed to be wrong. The clues didn’t add up. So, I called some more. I found people opened up more when you talked face to face. I dragged my husband all over the countryside with me. I don’t like to drive. It was sort of like Driving Miss Daisy. He didn’t protest and I didn’t really have to drag him. He was into it as much as me. We even hiked through woods and found where houses once stood, where Sally more than likely trekked. Each time I found some spark of information, a new mystery cropped up. I had folders of family histories, those families connected with Sally, census reports, but mostly just hearsay when it came to Sally. I was beginning to suspect there were two Sally’s. Like Columbo I persevered. There were two Sally’s. I found nice little anecdotes about her and some horrific stuff about her life in general. Like I said people opened up when you talked face to face. There was always the preface, you don’t want to write this, but…. And, there were some denials with my over the phone follow-ups after visiting. After all, we are talking about a woman born into slavery and living her life in a time when things were not too much improved. There were some huge cover-ups. After three years of digging, I tried to write about her but it fell short. My husband said it would have to be fictionalized. He was right.
I put Sally aside for other projects, but continued to blog and write short things. In 2015, I got serious about this writing endeavor. Since then, I have published three books, Jessica Lost Her Wobble, The Color of Cold and Ice, and The Missing Butler and Other Life Mysteries (A Collection of Short Stories). The first two were done during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It is the last book that is included in The Mystery Thriller Week. Sally was still on hold. The time wasn’t yet right.
The lead story from my third book, The Missing Butler, came from entering the NYC Midnight Writing Competition. You are giving a genre, a subject and main character and are told to complete this in a week’s time by midnight. I was given the genre of mystery, the subject of a bank account and the character of a butler. I thought No, No, Mystery is not my genre. But, like Columbo I persevered. My story won Honorable Mention.
I have completed three NaNoWriMo’s. Two of the works which came from them, mentioned above, have been published. Another, The Innkeeper on the Edge of Paris, awaits my rewrite and editing. In the meantime, the 2016 NaNoWriMo rolls around. What shall I write? Sally kept haunting me. I felt I could put it off no longer. But I was no closer to finding out the truth about her life than before. And, I had forgotten a lot, although I still had my notes. Plus, a lot of the people would have died during the interim. Most were old when I interviewed them. My husband kept repeating the mantra, Fiction.
I struggled. During the last three days of NaNoWriMo, it came to me how to write it. I think 20,000 of the 50,000 words were done in those three days. I put it aside for the holidays. Now, I’m ready to continue. Call it a 2017 resolution – completing Sally and The Innkeeper on the Edge of Paris, all the while asking Why.
My proposed book cover for Sally. She is one hundred and one in this picture.
Thanks to J. Schlenker for writing about her methods of creating a story. Her books are worth reading. I have read them all and each one deserved the 5 star rating I gave. They are filled with interesting characters, and her books do indeed ask Why?
J. Schlenker, a late blooming author, lives with her husband out in the splendid center of nowhere in the Kentucky foothills of Appalachia where the only thing to disturb her writing is croaking frogs and the occasional sounds of hay being cut in the fields. Her first novel, Jessica Lost Her Wobble, published in December 2015, was selected as a finalist in the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition and was awarded five stars from Readers’ Favorite. One of her short stories, The Missing Butler, received honorable mention in the first round of the NYC Competition
Jessica Lost Her Wobble https://www.amazon.com/Jessica-Lost-Her-Wobble-Schlenker-ebook/dp/B0198UX0BI/
The Color of Cold and Ice https://www.amazon.com/Color-Cold-Ice-J-Schlenker-ebook/dp/B01ITYEIJM/
The Missing Butler and Other Life Mysteries (A Collection of Short Stories) – Illustrated by the Author https://www.amazon.com/Missing-Butler-Other-Life-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B01N41RJP7/
Besides Amazon, the books can be ordered through any online store, or ask your bookstore to order them for you.