The Goldilocks Syndrome

Today we are simply delighted to welcome guest Shelley Costa to the Wickeds.

Shelley is a 2004 Edgar nominee for Best Short Story Imageas well as the author of the new Italian Restaurant Mystery Series, which debuted with You Cannoli Die Once (Simon and Schuster Pocket Books, 2013).  Her stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands,The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and Crimewave (UK), and she’s the author ofThe Everything Guide to Edgar Allan Poe.  The second book in the series, Basil Instinct, comes out in June 2014.  Shelley is on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Art, where she teaches creative writing.  Find her at

Thanks to the wonderful Wicked Cozy authors I palled around with at the Albany Bouchercon back in September for inviting me to guest post on the blog.   I can even claim to be an honorary New Englander since my ancestors Samuel and Tacy Hubbard were among the founders of Newport, RI.   Back in the 1600s, the Hubbards left Massachusetts with Roger Williams and settled into what was then called Aquidneck, where they farmed and had children on their little plot of land.  Lucky them: One place not so good?  Go to another.  Four hundred years later,  I feel the same pressures at work on me, but I doubt whether old Sam and Tacy would be very sympathetic.

I can’t find a place to write.

I’ve written two novels now at my local Starbucks in Chagrin Falls, OH.  When I walk in, the baristas announce: “Shelley’s here.”  They know my drinks and my favorite table.  I smile at them wanly, because nobody likes to be that predictable.  But then a few months ago something unexpected happened: the Muse left Starbucks.  I have been on a hunt for the Perfect Writing Spot ever since, and nothing and nowhere has been quite right.  I’ve tried other Starbuckses (too noisy, too dark, too cold), tried the local library (no outlets, no silence – remember silence?), tried the cabin we have up in Canada (too stark, too quiet – wait, was that a bat?), even various rooms in my own house, where I’m up against the siren song of the laundry.Image 13

Which brings me to the Goldilocks Syndrome.

It’s not that any of these places are terrible.   Each is sort of okay.  But I feel like a mystery-writing Goldilocks doomed to roam in search of nourishment, comfort, rest – in short, the ideal setting for producing another novel.   Every place I try is either Papa or Mama Bear’s porridge or Barcalounger. Everything’s too. . .well, something.  Whence this food and furnishing perfectionism?  Even muttering encouragements to myself like “Suck it up” gets me nowhere.  But then, I turn the problem around and look at it differently.  Maybe it’s not about the place.  Or the flat, square seat.  Or the way the light comes in at a bothersome angle.  Or the way the air hums implacably in the vent.  Maybe the real problem is about a different kind of interior space – mine!  Maybe, after writing two books in nine months,  the writerly self is resting right now.  And when it’s done resting, any place – regardless of heat or noise or laundry – will miraculously become “just right.”

If you’ve ever experienced Goldilocks Syndrome, I’d love to hear about it!

6 Thoughts

  1. I think you might have hit on it, Shelley. Letting the muse take a nap for a bit is still part of writing! (And two books in nine months? Wow.) Thanks for joining us today.

  2. Hmmmmm, I think you are on to something. I hit send on my first novel last week and am worrying about where the second story is coming from. And yes I’ve been avoiding my office. Thanks for joining us today. Maybe I’ll let my muse rest a bit longer.

    1. I wondered about that second book after I finished my first, Sherry. It wasn’t there. I didn’t have anything substantial to begin with. There was no story, just an opening scene. Then, a good six months later, the story came to me while dressing. It had evolved in my subconscious until it was ready to reveal itself. Oh, and that led to an entirely new opening scene and perhaps a change in voice. I’m experimenting with first person POV for book 2.

  3. Welcome, Shelley!

    My daughter is going through the exact same thing right now. Her local coffee shop just isn’t working. Sometimes she takes the T over to my neighborhood and works in my local coffee shop. But nothing is “just right.”

  4. I think you’ve got less of a Goldilocks problem, Shelley, and more of an inner self problem. Indeed, two books in nine months! There’s a reason why sports are played in seasons – the body needs to change it up a bit and do something different with its muscles. So, too, the brain it seems.

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