I’m about to bump off several of my in-law’s—and I don’t feel bad about it all. Truth be told, I’m really looking forward to it.
This mayhem all began, you see, when my wife and I were invited to spend a couple days at the beach last October. We didn’t leave until later in the day and our destination was four hours away. I’d been burning the midnight oil in preparation for the excursion and felt myself getting really sleepy a couple hours into the drive. Over the years I’ve learned a number of secrets that help keep me alert: drinking large soft drinks (particularly if they are in paper cups setting between your thighs), chewing sunflower seeds, playing the A harp (blues harmonica) or singing along with my CD’s. Rather than resorting to those tried-and-true methods, however, I decided to try something different.
I turned to my wife and said, “We’re going to write a book together.”
Nancy is an unequivocal critic of novels—mine and others. A lover of crime/mystery novels, she is quite definitive in her taste. She was aghast at the thought of writing with me. “Besides,” she said, “every good idea for a murder mystery has been used again and again.”
“Then let’s come up with something new,” I persisted, “an idea you’ve never heard before. There will be some common themes, but let’s make the story as original as possible.” The more she resisted, the more determined I was to draw her into the creative process. “Who is the most unlikely hero you can imagine?” I asked.
She named her youngest sister, a person who is not only unassuming, unassertive and extremely dignified, but suffers from the sort of chronic illness that places certain restrictions on her physical activities. So we focused on little sister and upon recent actual happenings in her life (moving to a new, smaller community; an oldest child going away to college; meeting new neighbors).
At that point it began to be fun for Nancy. We started casting various members of her family in the story and plotting what sort of wonderful and tragic things might befall them in the novel. We found that, by using the personalities and characteristic traits of her kinfolks, we agreed on what sort of people they would be in the story and what roles they would fill. We figured out eventually where we wanted the story to go—including whom we wanted to bump off. We could not agree, however on the precise series of events that would allow us to bring about the desired conclusion (when it comes to actually typing out the story, I’m going to wait until she goes to bed and change things around to the way I want them).
So here’s where the story begins (and no, my sister-in-law did not have this happen to her and her family): the family of a woman in early 40’s moves from a large southern city to a small rural community. Doctors encouraged this move as a way of providing a bucolic setting for the woman to continue recovering from a near-fatal aneurysm that left her with severe stroke-like symptoms. The first night in her new home, she rises and walks through her darkened house to the kitchen, only to see what she thinks is her new next door neighbor stalking through her backyard.
What happens next? Mostly to assure herself that she only imagined seeing him, the woman begins a passive investigation. She discovers the previous residents of the house had a young daughter who disappeared ten years before. The boyfriend of the neighbor’s teenage daughter had disappeared the same night, and the little community had come to assume the teenage boy had abducted the girl, harmed her and then fled. After waiting and hoping there would be some resolution to their daughter’s disappearance, the family made the decision to give up on the tenth anniversary of the abduction. They put the house up for sale and moved away. As the main character discovers what has happened, she becomes quite alarmed because she has a young daughter who is sleeping in the very room from which the little girl was abducted. The working title of our little murder mystery is Come Home to Me, Child, the words spoken every night for ten years by the mother of the abducted girl.
Nancy assumed I would drop the idea once we made it home from the beach and back to our “real world” concerns. In fact it sort of irritates her that I still intend to write the book and list her as co-author (I have the perfect pseudonym picked out for her). I must press forward with this, of course. How can I resist snuffing out a few of my favorite in-laws? —Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday