Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Books in My Drawer

Compared to most authors I know, I've been pretty lucky. Many people make lots of attempts at getting books published before they actually sign a contract. I had been working on a book for years, and put it aside, when I wrote what became Paper, Scissors, Death.

I still think that other book is marketable. It's called The Friday Night Mystery Club. Yeah, I picked that name before The Friday Night Knitting Club came out. The book is set in Decatur, Illinois, in the early 1980s, which was when the local paper converted from petroleum inks to soy based inks. The story is about Cragan Collins, a young woman with a lot of problems. Her boss wants to can her, her ex-husband wants to run her out of town, and a killer wants to see Cragan in her coffin.

Cragan's best friend is a gay business reporter at the paper where she works. When Robert's body is found in a local park, in the middle of winter, Cragan refuses to believe his death was due to a casual sexual encounter. Not only does she get can read part of the story below:


Freezing Rain Blankets Area

(Headline in Wednesday’s paper)

The hairdryer I was training on my car stopped blowing. “Hey!” I shouted to the empty air. I turned to see what had happened.

“Cragan Collins, you are some kind of fool.”

Zahara Williams, my housemate, pal and all-around wonderful person, stood two feet behind me with an angry look on her face. The dryer’s cord dangled from one of her hands. She was bundled toasty-warm in her blue-striped cashmere scarf and her long navy coat, but her tone was definitely frosty. She stomped toward me. Three winters in Decatur had taught me the best way to unfreeze your headlights and locks was not by throwing hot water on them. That only worked until the hot water cooled and turned to ice all over again. Instead, each morning about a half an hour before work, I used the extension cord that draped out my bedroom window, plugged in my hairdryer, and heated my car to unlock it.

Zee got right up in my face. “You mean to tell me a close friend of yours dies, and you don’t tell me? Hello? I had to hear it on the radio? What’s with that? Tell me all about it. First National and my boss can wait.”

I plugged in the hairdryer and did as I was told, talking over the noise. After a few groveling apologies on my side, Zee calmed right down.

She’d listened to the news report while she got dressed. “The police are calling Robert a tragic victim of casual sex. Leastways that’s what the reporter said.”

“What?” I took an ice-scraper and tried to chisel off some of the frozen mess on my windshield. “That’s ridiculous!”

She gave me a long look. “And you know better than the police?”

I huffed. Since I knew she didn’t think much of the local men in blue, her comment surprised me. “I’m not stupid. Why on earth would Robert have been cruising for sex? Outside? In the cold? In daylight? Right before work? That’s a crock! Think about it, Zee, it’s just plan stupid. Does this--” and I waved my arm around our frozen surroundings “—make you eager to have sex? It’s too damn cold!”

Zee nodded her agreement. “Wasn’t he living with another guy? A piece of God's best work? Even though they both were gay, I’d say he was in a monogamous relationship. Wasn’t he?”

“Yes. And Robert was careful. He knew the risks with a casual encounter.”

Folding her arms across her chest, she looked me up and down. “So?”

“So, that can’t be what happened. In fact, I know it’s not what happened.”

Another snort. “Oh, you do, do you? You planning to bring this up at The Friday Night Mystery Club?”

The Friday Night Mystery Club had been my idea. When I discovered my housemates all loved a good book, and they were avid mystery readers, I suggested we get together every Friday night for food and discussion. There were five of us, Zee Johnson, an administrative assistant at First National Bank; Rosita Sanchez, the owner of a tea shop and mother of Julio; Pru Davis, an exotic dancer trying to get her masters in history; and me.

“Maybe. Why not? We’re pretty good at solving mysteries. Zee, Robert had a lot of enemies. He dug deep in his investigative reporting. There were threatening phone calls. People leaned on the managing editor and tried to get Robert to back off. You should have seen the menacing mail he’d gotten.”

“Here? In this quiet little corner of the world?” Her jaw tensed. She wiggled cold fingers inside leather gloves. “Although that does make sense. I remember a couple of months ago when he broke that story on insider trading at one of the soybean processors. The board of directors at the bank went ballistic. You should have heard the whoopin' and hollerin'. If you and I can figure out that his life was threatened ‘cause of his job, don’t you think the police will too?”


Charmaine Clancy said...

Sounds like a fun read!

Linda O. Johnston said...

It intrigued me, Joanna. Maybe it belongs out of your drawer!

Monica Ferris said...

I love reading fragments of unpublished novels. Intriguing!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thanks, everyone!