The Moment of Inspiration and a #giveaway

by Barb in Portland, Maine on a beautiful fall day

There are big inspirations for books–the stories you want to tell, the characters and themes you want to explore. But there are also inspirations for the little moments–things that have happened to you, stories you’ve been told by friends and family.

There is one such little inspiration in the second Jane Darrowfield book, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, coming October 27, 2021, exclusively from Barnes & Noble. I’m giving away one Advance Reader Copy of the book to a lucky commenter on this blog. (If you want to up your odds, you can also enter the Goodreads Giveaway for one of these ARCs here.)

There’s a moment in the book when Jane gets a call from her friend, Detective Tony Alvarez of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Department. He’s next door at Jane’s neighbor’s house. A work colleague is with the detective and is insisting something is very wrong. The neighbor, Megan Larsen, an attorney on the partner track at a big Boston law firm, has failed to show up for an important client meeting. She’s not at her house, though her phone and laptop are there. The colleague swears something terrible has happened to Megan.

Alvarez calls Jane not because she lives next door (which she does) or because they have worked together on two previous cases (which they have). He calls because Jane’s name and phone number are written on the blackboard above the built-in desk in Megan’s shiny, white kitchen.

This is the moment that has echoes in my own experience. One day, probably twenty-five years ago, I was sitting at my desk when our landline rang. I answered and a man’s voice said. “This is Detective So-and-So with the Brookline Police Department. Do you know xxxx?”

I searched my memory. The woman’s name he mentioned sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “I don’t think so,” I answered.

“She’s a hypnotherapist in Brookline,” he continued. “She’s been missing for three days. No one has seen her and she hasn’t been in contact with her family or friends. I’m in her office now and your name is written on a pad of paper. It’s the only thing on her desk.”

My heart skipped a beat. When he said hypnotherapist, the penny dropped. In those olden days before the internet, professionals advertised services in the classified section of the weekly local papers. I had seen the woman’s ad–the usual hypnotherapy thing for quitting smoking, weight loss, help with sleep problems. I had read the ad many times, weekly probably, as I skimmed the classifieds, and had been intrigued by it. But I had never, ever called her.

I assured the detective I wasn’t the Barbara Ross he was looking for. As I’ve written on this blog before, it’s a common name. I pointed him in the direction of a few other Barbara Rosses. He thanked me and hung up.

Of course I was curious. I scoured The Boston Globe for weeks looking for some followup about the hypnotherapist who had disappeared. Nothing ever appeared. I had to assume she turned up or, in any case, there was no evidence of foul play.

But I’ll never forget the feeling of picking up the phone. Of hearing the detective introduce himself and ask if I knew anything about this woman who was missing. Many times, I have pictured that pad of paper, the only thing on her desk, my name scrawled across it.

In Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, Jane knows exactly why her name is on Megan Larsen’s blackboard. Jane runs a small business as a professional busybody. Megan has hired Jane to figure out if she’s paranoid or if someone really is out to get her. “I want you to figure out if I’m crazy,” Megan said.

I had to imagine how Jane felt when, awakened from sleep, only two days after she took the case, Detective Alvarez says her client is missing. Jane knows Alvarez and knows Megan–feels responsible for her, even. But I didn’t have to imagine how it would feel to pick up the phone and have a detective tell you the one piece of evidence a missing person left pointed him in your direction. That bit of the story I’ve lived.

Readers: Have you ever received a mysterious phone call? Tell us about it! Or simply say, “hi,” to be entered to win an Advance Reader Copy of Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door.

83 Thoughts

  1. No mysterious phone calls here.That must have been unsettling, Barb. Thank you for the chance to win!

  2. I don’t recall getting any kind of mysterious phone call myself. However, my mother got a phone call one day. They were asking to speak to my father. My mother said that he wasn’t available and could she help them. They hemmed and hawed a bit before finally revealing that they were from a dating service.

    My mother held off chuckling long enough to clear up the fact that they’d dialed the wrong number and that it was impossible for my father to have enrolled in a dating service.

    You see, they called two years after my father had died.

      1. They were trying to scam my mother I think because they knew my father’s name but she was savvy enough to know what they were pulling. So she basically screwed with them until they hung up.

  3. I got a call at 2:00 am from the police asking if _____ _____ was my son. When I answered yes, he wanted to know if he was home. I checked and he was in bed sleeping. Apparently two of his friends were not home and their parents had called the police. It turns out they had walked to a local fast food restaurant as they had the munchies, but because they were only 16, the police were investigating. Scared me when that call came in.

    1. I’ve gotten that call for real. Fortunately it was only the high school senior prank gone slightly awry. I’ve also made that call. I called my brother-in-law to tell him his daughter and her boyfriend had broken into our summer cottage. His daughter was upstairs asleep in her bed. It turned out one of her friends had given the police her name when they were caught.

  4. Great story, Barb! And excellent that you used it as the seed of a book.

    A couple of decades ago, when cell phones were new and bulky, I was power walking at lunchtime on a street with leaves at the side of the road. It was a nice day and people had their windows open. I heard a phone ringing. As I walked it got louder. I realized it was ringing in a pile of leaves! I picked it up and answered it. In real life, a guy who had been working on a road crew had lost it. I took it back to my workplace and he retrieved it.

    Of course I wanted to use that scene, so in Murder on the Bluffs, it’s a threatening call…

  5. Never had a mysterious phone call, but had a relative show up at my grandmother’s funeral memorial who knew my name and who I was but I had no idea he even existed! My mom had already passed away and probably could have ID’d him…

      1. Yes! I was thinking the same thing as I was typing it – I’ve thought about all the bizarre situations my family has been in , any could be a ‘great beginning’ to a book- maybe I should try my hand at writing!

  6. Hi I guess I have never had a mysterious call and frankly wouldn’t want one. Love to win though.

  7. The only strange phone call that I can recall was the one that the called said that I needed to get to the hospital. They gave no name and as soon as they told me they hung up. Being a mother with a daughter who wasn’t home and only living a few blocks from the hospital, I figured it was better and easier to just go check instead of calling having to go through asking several times before I could find out anything. What did I have to lose but looking like I was nuts. Sadly and life changing, it was our daughter. She had been there some time after a car accident, but with no purse or ID and the others involved either having passed or unable to speak, they hadn’t been able to call us. Always been extremely grateful for the mysterious caller. We asked everyone and everyone said they weren’t the one to call. Back then there was no such thing as caller ID and I wonder if they would have called if there was. Or if I would have answered if I hadn’t of known the caller.

    Can’t wait for the opportunity to read ” Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door” which is on my TBR list. To win an ARC would be awesome! I’ve share and hoping to be the fortunate one selected.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  8. Spooky, Barb. Glad it came in handy.

    I’ve never had a mysterious call. When I was in college during my sophomore year, we used to get “dead” calls. The phone would ring at 2am, we’d answer, and there was nothing. They weren’t hang ups, just dead air…no breathing, no noise at all. We joked it was the ghost who allegedly haunted our room (the story was a friar had died in our room, nothing sinister just sickness, back when the dorm was the campus friary – we called him George).

    1. Back in the day of Code-A-Phone answering machines I came home to the message “I’m dead, bye.” The voice sounded odd, hollow in a way that wouldn’t be familiar for years. Completely freaked me out since it was the third message on a machine that only showed two calls. I called a friend who was the editor of a magazine and who had just interviewed a psychic and played the message for her. The psychic came over and I played the two messages. The third message was gone entirely. He believed me only because my friend had heard the sequence. The psychic told me that spirits like to play with tape recorders and suggested I leave a tape running in my house when I was gone. I did and captured some odd conversations, but no useful information. It was like listening in on someone else’s party line.

  9. In my life experience, usually the mystery calls are unexpected bad news. Deaths, accidents, and problems. So it would be nice to get more mystery calls that are good news, unexpected surprises. I did have a nice mystery call this morning. My mom’s elderly and when she called twice in a row this morning, I was worried she had fallen or was hurt, or needed something. But she was actually calling to say that an article about my first novel, The Green Beach File, had made today’s New Haven Registrar. That was nice news. Finally, a good mystery call.

  10. The only odd phone call I’ve gotten was when someone called and said I had called them, my number was on their Caller ID. I never had….I guess there’s a name for this occurrence, it’s like a spam call. Thanks for the giveaway.

  11. No mysterious phone calls for me. When we lived in Bethlehem, my dad’s name was the same name as the star football player’s name from a local high school, so we would get a lot of giggling teenagers on the phone asking for Tommy Cochran. My mom would chuckle and hand the phone to my dad, and when he said hello they would promptly hang up. Mom thought it was funny, Dad not so much.

  12. What a fascinating story of the phone call! My scariest call was one from the Pentagon in the middle of the night when Bob was out of the country. It took a few minutes of back and forth before I realized Bob was okay and the man calling realized Bob wasn’t home. I didn’t want to tell a stranger on the phone that he was out of the country.

  13. Eons ago when phones were still attached to the walls and the idea of a smart phone was one in a shoe used by a TV detective, we had a long distance calling card number to use when away from home. We were up in the mountains at a business meeting for my husband and I needed to get in touch with our family back at home. I could not get the number to enter correctly, so I ended up talking to a telephone operator and told the person our number saying it in what I thought was a whisper, but someone somewhere close by must have heard. When we received our phone bill the next month it was over $900. We gave all the information about the situation to the phone company and did not have to pay for the calls we did not make on the bill. Our calling card was cancelled and we were issued another number. Turns out our calling card number had been stolen and sold to some people in another part of the world. A week later we received a phone call at home from a heavily accented person who wanted to know why his calling card number was not working. I answered the phone at the time and explained that the number was stolen and had been cancelled and no longer worked. The other person paused and then replied, “This is not good!” And, hung up! It was a very strange experience and we were most careful about our calling card number from that point forward.

    Jane Darrowfield is who I would like to be if I were more adventuresome! I loved the first book and can’t wait to read the second in the series.

    1. So funny that kids today will never understand the world of long distance charges. Until she died my mother called me on Sundays to keep the cost down. She had a cell phone and knew I wasn’t neither of us was being charged for the call, but she couldn’t change the habit of a lifetime.

  14. No mysterious calls, but I do remember visiting my grandparents cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee and picking up the phone and hearing someone talking because they had a party line. It’s amazing to think of now. My grandmother also always had us call and ring twice so she’s know we got home but wouldn’t have to pay toll charges. Can’t wait to read JD#2!

    1. We had a party line when I was little. My sister-in-law bought her mother-in-law’s house and kept the number. They had a party line at least into the 00s. Long after I think everyone assumed they were gone completely.

  15. No, I have never received such a call. My initial reaction is that would be very scary. And yes, I’d wonder what happened. Very intriguing book idea. I love the idea of a professional busybody!

  16. I don’t think I’ve received a really mysterious phone call, although I’ve made a few. (I was a real detective when my now ex-husband was cheating on me. I tracked down the woman, her husband, etc.

  17. What crazy inspiration. Glad you were able to use it in a book. I think that would make a great start to a novel as it happened to you, only the person begins to investigate and find the connections. Is she the next to disappear?

    No crazy phone calls here, unless you count the bill collectors who called because the person they were looking for used to have my phone number. Or had the same last name as me. Seriously. Baker isn’t a rare last name, and I hardly know any of the other Bakers out there, so cold calling other people asking if they know the particular Baker you are looking for is a waste of everyone’s time.

    1. My husband has an unusual last name and debt collectors always tried to bully us as if we knew every single other person with the same name, their location and contact info. It drove us crazy for awhile.

  18. I’ve gotten a few odd calls, usually just telemarketers, scams, or political stuff. A lot of times I think they don’t check where they’re calling. One was someone asking how I intended to vote in the Minnesota election. I informed them I have never lived in Minnesota and therefore don’t plan to vote there. I got one about a local fundraiser in Texas, also never been there. My grandpa used to get calls at 3 am from a guy in Hawaii trying to sell him lightbulbs.
    We had a nurse at my work that used to really get some odd calls- another staff member called to say they were in jail and wouldn’t be in. One woman called out then showed up anyway, blaming another for impersonating her to get her in trouble-thing was she had a very distinctive voice so everyone knew better. Once the nurse known for odd calls was the one making it-she also worked with home health and accidentally answered the nursing home phone that way. Luckily it was another nurse who was calling and understood. She just gently reminded her where she was working that day.

  19. Not mysterious, but in the days of answering machines I received a call from someone speaking in German who left the date and time of her arrival at Miami International Airport and expressed sorrow for the loss. No airline or flight number. Caller ID had been invented, but I didn’t have it then – I tried to get the overseas operator to trace back the call and she failed, I called the airport to see what flights were arriving thinking if it was only one or two I could leave word with the staff and they might be able to locate someone hoping for a pick up. There were 15 flights arriving on multiple carriers. I often wondered about that woman and if she made it to her destination.

    1. One of the other local Barbara Rosses was an accompaniest. I often got messages cancelling rehearsals or changing the location. I always pictured her walking into empty rehearsal halls.

  20. Oh, wow, that must have been so unnerving. I’ve never received any phone calls like that, thankfully. One of the benefits of having an uncommon name, I suppose!

  21. Nothing very mysterious, but a lot of “wrong” numbers. Many years ago, our daughter, who was still in college, was being dunned for her student loan. Somehow the dunners got our home number and called all the time. However, they had her name wrong (tho’ it was obvious they were calling about her). We could honestly say that we had never heard of her and she had certainly never lived at this number. This went one for a couple of years.

    So looking forward to Book #2. We will be reading Book #1 for our book club in October!

  22. I once got a call at work but no one was on the other end. I said, “Hello? Hello?” then hung up. When I got home, there was a message on my machine of my own voice saying, “Hello? Hello?”

    Turns out a friend had called me at work, and thinking I wasn’t answering, hit the switch hook and then dialed my home number, hanging up before the answering machine kicked in, or so he thought. He had actually managed to set up a three-way call without realizing it, then hung up, leaving me talking to my own answering machine.

  23. Wow, Barb, fascinating! I once got a phone call in NY that was a wrong number. But it turned out I knew the person they were looking for, got to fill them in on what she was up to, and share her number!

  24. No mysterious phone calls like that, but I have been lucky in this new social media age to have someone somehow find me and get in touch after many years.

  25. No strange phone calls, but I have experienced some uncanny coincidences involving my name. Once I went to a dental appointment and signed in at the desk. A few lines above where I signed, there was my name. Someone with my name had been to see the same dentist on the same day. I have a common name, but still.

  26. No mysteries calls here, Barb. My life has gotten kind of dull since I stopped answering calls where I don’t recognize the number. And if no one picks up, they usually don’t leave message. I did get one very creepy call years ago from a former boyfriend from college, who started asking me very personal questions, so I hung up. My friend Toby, on the other hand, loves baiting telemarketers by telling them the person they’re trying to reach is dead, or by pretending to be an idiot.
    Interesting source of inspiration, which just goes to show that those small moments matter. Look forward to reading the next Jane Darrowfield, having been present at the creation of the first one.

    1. If you recall our old friend Marge Leibenstein loved screwing with telemarketers, including pretending to be her own cleaning lady, or telling people cold-calling to sell her stock that she’s just inherited five million dollars, she was going on a cruise and to be sure to call back in 6 months when she would be ready to talk to them.

  27. No mysterious phone calls but I did once get a call from someone from the Montel Williams show asking me if I wanted to be on the show as a psychologist. I politely declined since I was about 6 months pregnant at the time but I always assumed it was legit.

  28. Came home from a late night shift and checked message machine from a Doctor’s office asking for a return call about some lab work findings.No names so couldn’t call the other person and wondered if they ever connected.

  29. Enjoyed your first book so much and looking forward to the next one. We met briefly at USM OLLI course. Loved all your books

  30. No mysterious phone calls here… nothing that exciting ever happens to me. Not that I’m complaining about that at all, I like my boring, drama free life! Lol!

  31. I did way back when I was 22 years old I kept getting a phone call from a older woman saying hi Peggy this is your grandma I kept telling her she has the wrong number and my name was Penney then she kept calling saying Hi Penney and just kept on talking, Both my grandmas were long gone so in the end I just let her talk. I just thought maybe her grand kids didn’t want to talk so I just let her talk. The calls lasted about 5 to 8 minutes and once a week

    1. You were so kind to let her talk. She probably was delighted to talk to her “granddaughter”.

Comments are closed.