Saturday, November 16, 2013

Finding Time for Murder

by Sara Hoskinson Frommer
Author of the Joan Spencer mysteries

You know how all the parts of our lives impinge on all the other parts? I knew it was true when I had small children, but now that I’m old, it’s still true.

Back then I’d grab my only chance to read a mystery while the baby nursed, and I never minded washing cloth diapers–the easiest laundry in the world, especially if you could dry them outside and take them down smelling sweet. Now I juggle writing with tutoring a literacy learner, scheduling volunteers for the local homeless shelter, and doing my cooking from a wheelchair, because my balance is too iffy to carry food around when I’m on foot. I like being involved in the community, and my sourdough oatmeal whole wheat rye raisin bread is a joy to bake and a joy to eat, if I do say so as shouldn’t. So I juggle. Not as efficiently as I could back then, I know. But so what if the phone rings too often and the bread rises too far? I can punch the bread back down.

At 75, I don’t pretend to be the age of the character who’s hardly aged since I started writing about her when I was her age in the 1980s. But Joan Spencer and I still share a lot about our lives. Multitasking, for starters.

Both of us have held down jobs while playing viola in a community orchestra, and Joan later becomes her orchestra’s manager. I never managed ours, but I paid attention and now write about what I remember. She copes with an irascible conductor who interrupts her life with demands no one should have to live up to, and I know people willing to run roughshod over what matters to me.

You know people like that too? So, do you kill them off in the next book, or keep them around for a continuing source of conflict? I’ve done both.

Killed off an obnoxious oboe player in the first book, but Joan’s conductor is still with us, seven books along. Still full of herself and oblivious to everyone else’s concerns. Joan’s ex-con brother marches back into her life a week before her daughter’s wedding and turns it upside down, even while charming the conductor. Then there’s the daughter’s mother-in-law-to-be, with every intention of running the wedding and the lives of the young couple. A victim or a keeper? And Joan’s own mother-in-law, slipping into Alzheimer’s, but landing in the middle of a bloody murder for the second time in her life. Victim? Killer? What?

Choosing a victim was the assigned topic of an afternoon-long conversation at Magna cum Murder a few weeks ago, with authors coming and going throughout the afternoon. Not surprisingly, mystery writers in that small group tended to meander off the topic over to how to promote a book.

Thinking about who’s good to kill or have be the bad guy did have its points, though, and I keep messing with it as I continue to plot the book I’m already writing. Oh, I think I know whodunit and all that, but a character with any gumption will morph from the one I have in my head when I start out to someone different, and if I’m smart, I’ll let him get away with it. So long as he doesn’t get away with murder. That’s my job.

A job that distracts me from things looming ahead. When you’re 75, all kinds of things loom, let me tell you. Some of us are fine traipsing around to mystery conferences or even the Galapagos, but many of us find our world shrinking. The hard part isn’t adjusting to the shrinking, but outguessing what’s ahead. Am I old? Sure, and my feet and fingers don’t work the way they used to. But I still can do a lot of my favorite things.

Is it time to give up the old house, even though with a ramp and a stair lift and some other handy gizmos I enjoy a lot of freedom? This familiar place my husband and I have made so convenient is paid for, and retirement homes aren’t cheap. So do we downsize now, and move to a place that isn’t nearly as good in some ways while offering benefits in other ways? Or stay put and hire helpers when we need them, as we already hire the yard work done? One good friend who just turned 90 is still out and about. Who knows, I might live that long or even longer. It’s a guessing game.

On a practical level, you check out your resources, internal, financial, familial, community, and beyond. If you’re still young enough and healthy enough to get it, you look into long-term care insurance, the best investment my sister ever made, both for herself and for us. Back when our mother had Alzheimer’s, I spent 40 hours a week with her, but my sister’s insurance is taking care of her assisted living expenses, all but the cable TV. I hardly have to lift a finger.

You do all that stuff and make your best guess, for now anyhow. Then, hey, you go write the book.

ara Hoskinson Frommer, author of the Joan Spencer mysteries, lives with her husband in Bloomington, Indiana. They have two adult sons. A veteran of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra's viola section, Sara is a self-taught quilter who did indeed quilt the quilt on the Buried in Quilts ebook cover. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and has served on the board of directors of Mystery Writers of America.

Born in Chicago to Hoosier parents, Sara grew up in Hawaii and northern Illinois. She has degrees from Oberlin College and Brown University, and studied at the university in Tübingen, Germany. She has worked with a transportation economist, ethnologists, and foreign exchange students (having been an AFS exchange student to Germany herself). None of that has anything to do with writing mysteries, but her lifelong love of reading does. That, and getting mad at an oboe player.  Visit her website:


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sara,

I enjoyed reading about your mystery series. Just the kind of novels I like to read! I also like the cover art of your book. Wishing you much success with your new work!

Susan said...

Thanks for this inspiring read. You have had, and continue to have, such an interesting life! One of the reasons I write is to keep my mind sharp, and, after reading your post, I find that you prove the truth of my writing motivation.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sara, welcome to Poe's Deadly Daughters and thanks for writing about the life challenges we have to juggle along with everything else as we get older. With a big birthday a few months away, I'm telling everyone that 70 is the new 39. And so it is--until something goes wrong. On the other hand, thanks to the new technology, things continue to get more convenient, from the virtual book tour to depositing a check via my cell phone, which I did for the first time the other day.

Kay Kendall said...

Your message intertwines several themes in a masterful and interesting way, Sara. Of course these are themes that I, as a mystery author and boomer at the group's leading edge, am facing too.
So many books delve into lives of the young and so few on the aging. We'd all be better off--better able to face inevitable slowing down and ceasing to be--if people shared their experiences in the last decades of their lives much more often. Congratulations to you, and write on!

Sara Hoskinson Frommer said...

Been fighting first the computer and then WordPress this morning to try to answer you. One more time . . .

Thank you all! Kay has it right. Aging shouldn't be some dirty little secret to be hidden from the young, as if they'd never have to figure out how to enjoy life when it comes along.

Elizabeth Busey said...

Yikes! Perhaps if all the winter shelter volunteers knew you were a mystery writer, they would NEVER cancel last minute without calling you.
I am amazed at all you juggle...and your newest release in one my reading list.

Sara Hoskinson Frommer said...

Elizabeth knows I spend hours on the phone finding last-minute subs. Never thought of threatening murder, though.

Kay Kendall said...

I was going to write that threatening murder, even if only fictional, might be just the ticket. Then I thought better of it. If words like that get scooped up in meta data nets, from the phone or computer, who knows where THAT will lead? Nowhere pretty, I bet.
As one of the oldest boomers (I do prefer calling it "leading edge" though), I have reason to fight AGE-ism. Some years back when assorted rock bands' members began turning sixty (oh the horror), I was angered when even such august newspapers as the NY Times talked about "geezer" rock. Yesh. Everyone should be so live many, many decades. What happened for reverence for the old? When I think of the hours and hours I sat listening to my grandparents talk and remember the obeisance we all gave them (much deserved), I do wonder where that went...and why. Oh right, I forgot. It was the boomers' fault.
Nah, let's blame that on Nixon too! LOL.

Sandra Parshall said...

Thanks so much for being with us this weekend, Sara. Isn't it wonderful to be a writer and just keep going as long as you have the interest and energy? No mandatory retirement age for us!

Sara Hoskinson Frommer said...

Just back from the opera--Indiana University's wonderful music school is one of the best features of this small city/big town, depending on how you look at it. This time it was Hansel and Gretel, so we had lots of little kids in the audience, and a few onstage (the gingerbread children, remember?). The next ballet will be Nutcracker. Ditto, but some in tutus.

As for being geezers, my sister says it beats the alternative. Most days, anyway.

I knew about a man in his mid-90s who, though he too had balance problems, didn't want to be seen outdoors with a cane, because it would make him look old.

Kay's blaming stuff on Nixon because I told her about breaking an elbow when I was in my 30s, because I used a ladder wrong while washing windows. How come it was Nixon's fault? Because I was looking for quiet jobs to do while listening to the Watergate hearings.

About for threatening volunteers, I wouldn't dream of it. Again and again even the ones I ask to stay up for crazy late shifts (2:45-6:15 AM, for instance) thank me for asking. Not that they always say yes, you understand.