The Virginia mystery I concocted for the Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II anthology features a secret between two 19th Century girls, Tessing and Lettie, from different cultures, races, and “stations” who share a friendship in rural Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Theirs is a simple secret, attributable to young girls and their playtime. The secret is not harrowing or dark, and because of that, the story does not frighten or worry the reader. “Lacks tension” is an accurate judgment of one reviewer. Still, bear with me. This blog post is about how ideas emerge.
I learned that mystery fiction should have one or more of these bases: something unexplained, something missing, or some secret. Questions of who killed Professor Plum, how did Jane Doe die, and why was the bakery torched suggest plots for the unexplained. An abduction or a theft may fill the bill for a missing situation. The secret base; well, to paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, “[Rosie], you’ve got some ’splaining to do!”
After visiting Clarksville and Mecklenburg County, I started a story about the disappearance of a woman with clues provided by the apparition of a 19th Century manor resident. Then I began a story about Clarksville, greed, and a boating murder on Buggs Island Lake. Neither of those stories panned out. Instead, the history and charm of Prestwould Plantation stayed with me, and the interesting account of the Skipwith Family’s provincial reign won out over my attempts to fictionalize dastardly deeds. In the formula for a mystery using a basis of a secret, the revealed confidence should be of life-changing magnitude. The secret of “Artifact of a Friendship” doesn’t rock the world, I’ll admit, but it does reveals much about relationships, and about the power, healing, and gifts of memory. I plead “guilty” to writing a gentle mystery. It's the story, in the end, that I wanted to tell. Maybe next I’d write about the friendship from Lettie’s perspective, and deceit, theft, and murder could then abound at Prestwould Plantation.
This story’s tone, style, and setting, however, do contribute to Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II by delivering an uncommon offering. With its window into Southside Virginia that toggles across time, the story provides a lively jaunt for the reader.
Rosemary Shomaker writes about the layers beneath seemingly ordinary happenings. She’s an urban planner by degree, a government policy analyst by practice, a fiction writer at heart, and a member of Sisters in Crime. Rosie’s short stories populate several anthologies. “Death in the House” appeared in Virginia is for Mysteries. Follow Rosie on the Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia Facebook page.