From a Turtle Poem to True Crime: A Writer’s Journey
March 26, 2023. My love affair with books began before I could walk. The best part of the day was when my father would read to me. He’d help me turn the pages of a cloth book with buttons to button, shoelaces to tie, and fuzzy creatures to touch. I was always more interested in my father’s questions than in manipulating what was on the pages. When he read Margaret W. Brown’s classic Good Night Moon, he asked, “Janie, what do you think the rabbit’s thinking? Who’s your favorite character? What do you think a bowl full of mush tastes like?”
“A bowl full of mush probably tastes like squished oatmeal.”
“That’s interesting,” Dad would say. “Have you ever said goodnight to your room?”
“No, Daddy. I say good night to you and Mommy. My room doesn’t talk.”
I had more books than toys, I had more books than dresses, and I never went to sleep without a book next to me. I loved the way books felt in my hands and the pictures books put in my head. I liked the sound of words like pumpkin, locomotive, and velvet. Most of all, I could hardly wait for the prickly feel of my father’s whiskers when he kissed me goodnight after an hour of storytelling.
My happiest memories of my father were the Saturday mornings we’d walk to the Elmhurst library. We’d each pick a book, read in big chairs set by the fireplace, then walk five or six blocks to the ice cream shop. Vanilla for him. Chocolate for me.
I knew I’d be a writer when I grew up. There was nothing else that thrilled me.
In elementary school, my favorite subjects were English and History. I wrote poems, character sketches and kept a journal. My father edited my assignments, questioned my rationale for thinking a certain way, and we continued our Saturday trips to the library.
At New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, I wrote my first short story about what it would be like if the characters in a stack of cards came to life. The Queen of Hearts would fight like a tiger with the Jack of Clubs. The Ace-of-Spades would fall in love with the Two-of-Diamonds. I’m certain the idea came from my parent’s Saturday night bridge games.
My favorite professor taught the class that awakened my interest in American literature. Dr. Bassan came to class wearing a tweed sports coat, and dark brown slacks, and he always smoked a pipe. He read from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dreiser. Maybe he reminded me of the nights my father read to me. Whatever it was, I never felt more alive than when listening to those stories.
The road from “The Little Turtle” to a book contract for “Jigsaw and Jane: Thirteen Years of Murder and Mayhem with Badge Number One” was long and winding in one sense. But in another, the destination was almost predictable. I look forward to sitting at my desk trying to manage characters who get into big trouble, live in ordinary or unimaginable places, and face unintended consequences. What if a gorgeous Texas heiress falls in love with a Wall Street banker who launders money for a Russian oligarch? Will she join him in his criminal life or unleash her secret desire to become a detective and infiltrate his world of murder and money?
The only way to find out what happens is to start writing. The characters will tell the story.
Please, writers! Share your journey on these pages. I look forward to reading them.