The Making of a Mystery Author

First a little back story. For my birthday, my very lovely daughter, reached out to my friends, to create a memory book for me. The notes made me laugh and made me cry. One in particular made me laugh so hard I cried. Lynn Avelchas Smith is possibly the first non-family member I met. She was born the day after me at the same hospital so we assume our beds were next to each other in the nursery. and that we “talked.” We went to the same elementary, junior high, and high school together. Lynn sent in not one but three very funny memories. One of them is very telling and I had to share it with you!

Lynn: At Adams Elementary School Sherry, Amy and I were partnered in Mrs. Schroeder’s fifth grade class to write a diary, one that would have been written by a young girl making her way west to Oregon in the year 1850. We folded a piece of manila-colored construction paper in half to use as the diary cover and then inserted folded lined paper. We then hand sewed the inserted paper to its construction paper cover.

We filled those pages with a first-person narrative detailing the young girl’s adventures as she traveled along the Oregon Trail with her parents and her siblings, Sarah, Danny, and Billy. Sherry wanted the girl’s name to be Betsy Dean (I’m now certain Sherry must have been a reader of the Betsy book series.) Secretly, I preferred the name Barbie (thus exposing our depth of interests). Amy and I did not argue…so, Betsy it was.

A couple of pages into the diary, Indians attacked, and Sherry suggested that the brother of Betsy’s friend Anna dies. Oh, wow. This was getting serious, and sad, but Amy and I did not argue. It WAS a historical “novel,” of sorts, and this kind of thing did happen…so, Anna’s brother dies. Then, half through the creation of this diary, and argument DID ensue.

When the Dean family’s wagon train reached the mountains, Sherry had another suggestion. How about another Indian attack and this time Betsy’s little brother, Billy, DIES! I was flabbergasted! Is she out of her mind? This was getting out of hand. Just how many characters was she planning to kill off? Truly, I wondered how Sherry could be so heartless and really begin to worry about her psyche.

I argued, but apparently Amy did not…so, Billy dies. After the dairy was finished, handed in, graded (undoubtedly an “A”), and returned, Sherry and Amy graciously let me keep the dairy (maybe because I had illustrated the cover.) I was thrilled. The first thing I did when I took the dairy home was to edit it. Luckily, part way through this diary, Betsy had run out of ink and there were no berries around to make new ink, so she was forced to use a pencil. Billy’s death was in pencil! Billy’s death was erased. Billy was now ALIVE and well and made it to Oregon! I could sleep now and Sherry? She continues to write stories where she kills off her characters! True story!  

Sherry here: Thank you Lynn for sharing this story which I’d forgotten but have some vague recollections of. I must have had a bit stronger personality than I remembered. (Lynn also had a story about the day we were supposed to turn in our information cards to be Brownies.) I love that Lynn took the book home and rewrote it. Oh, that makes me laugh. And I did read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace and loved them. I still do!

Three Shots to the Wind, the third Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mysteries, comes out on March 29th. And someone dies. Maybe my new tagline should be: Killing people since fifth grade (fictionally of course).

Readers: Do you remember writing stories in elementary school? Or working on group projects?

41 Thoughts

  1. I am howling at this- hooray for longtime friends and great memories! My friend Mary Stuart and I used to write stories together in elementary school, but I’m a different way. We’d covwrite a story, but hand it it off to each other after one of us write a chunk. The rule was no changing the other’s words.
    It really was great reading practice as we had to keep rereading it. As I was a big Nancy Drew fan, (although George was my fave as Nancy just seemed too papered for me!) I would also keep changing the plot to be a mystery with danger and death everywhere.
    Years later, my daughter and I would round robin write- so much fun. Now she’s in a few writing groups, but hasn’t let me add to her work!

  2. Happy birthday, Sherry! What a great story about the childhood fictional diary. I kept expecting you were going to have someone mysteriously murdered.

    I wrote constantly as a child, and had a short published in the Pasadena newspaper when I was nine! There’s no murder, but it is an adventure – with a little girl protagonist, of course.

  3. I don’t remember working on group projects while I was in school. However, I do remember some stories I had to write. One story in particular was a story was kind of weird. The main character was a headache. And I wrote the story detailing how it was “killed”.

    I don’t remember all the details of the story but that was the gist of it.

    1. That is funny Jay. I wrote another more science fiction story that same year about a chair that came to life. The chair I sat on in science class had two metal screws that looked like eyes and a scratch on it that looked like a mouth. In the story the chair tried to kill me.

  4. SHERRY: Happy birthday! This childhood story with you writing the fictional Betsy Dean diary for school is priceless. And I did not expect that you had murderous tendencies (on paper) so early in life, LOL.

    I don’t remember writing any stories or doing ay collaborative work with my classmates. But I do remember in grade 4 we had to dress up in “Little House on the Prairie” era long dresses and hat bonnets to spend 2 days in school at the historic Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto. I sat side-by-side with my best friend Laura and we wrote our lesson on slate tablets and chalk like Laura Ingalls.

  5. Terrific story, Sherry! We can see where your mystery writer roots developed. A group project I remember was one I instigated in fourth grade. I was obsessed with a Helen Keller biography I’d read and was determined to bring it to life. I worked chapter by chapter, adapting each for “stage” and then forcing my friends to read and act out each chapter at recess. We didn’t get very far: enthusiasm for the “show” waned and I valued my friendships over the stage adaptation. Looking back, I’m amazed those friends even agreed to giving up recess time! Now, I get to hop into my studio and read stories aloud for a living, playing all the characters. And I needn’t pester my friends!

  6. I do remember writing stories in elementary school, and doing group projects, but not any particular ones. We did put on a play in 4th or 5th grade that we wrote ourselves – wish I still had that script! I am sure it had no relationship to reality but we did have fun doing it.

  7. We did work in pairs or groups in school. I think it was our teachers way of teaching us to compromise and working well with others. Both were skills need in life as well as logic and common sense. The one that stands out in my mind was making sputniks and molecule models.

    Cant’ wait for the opportunity to read “Three Shots to the Wind”. Love the title and the cover!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  8. What a cute memory!! I do remember writing stories and group projects – I wrote one about a mummy that even scared me lol!

  9. Sherry, that is too funny. It’s like the time I tried to write a romance. Yep, someone died. Oh well. It tells me where my roots are, right?

  10. I love this story! And I definitely think you should adopt the tagline, “Killing people since fifth grade.” Just leave it like that and let’em wonder.

  11. I can’t remember any group projects from school. I do like the killing people since the fifth grade tagline. It would definitely grab people’s attention.
    Congratulations on the newest book. It’s a good series

  12. I remember group projects, but not any that turned out as well as this one.

    Thanks for the laughs this morning. I needed them.

  13. Happy birthday, Sherry!

    Oh yes, we wrote stories in elementary school, and poetry. Even had they not been assigned, I so wanted to be Jo March that I wrote stories using a fountain pen for fun. Reams and reams of them.

    I think I was destined to be a mystery writer though. The first poem that I remember writing contained the immortal words “Pop, Pop, Pop, here comes the cop.

  14. I never had a group writing assignment until college, but I did have a very strange English teacher in high school who had a write one “thing” (story, poem, whatever) everyday for a week. Of course, I waited until the last night and had to come up with seven “things” at one time. I’m normally not all that creative, but I guess the pressure got my juices going. I came up with seven very different writings. They certainly weren’t great writing (or even good, at that), but the teacher was impressed. I got a very undeserved “A”, I think because I was one of the few who actually did the work as assigned. Also, the teacher was really very stupid. 😮

  15. One year when I was in elementary school (maybe fifth grade) my mother signed me up to go to a summer school program for Academically Able students. We were put into groups to write stories and one girl in our group told the rest of us that she would write the stories at home for us to edit, but when she came in with the word done so well…we all agreed we should just turn them in as is. I was OK with it since my idea of going to school in the summer was that it was a very bad idea! Who wants to be punished for doing well in school by going in the summer???!!! Funny moment: my mother answered the door one day while I was in school and I think it was the Avon Lady. Mother told the lady that her daughter was at AA and the dear woman was so sorry to hear that I was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at such a young age. My mother was shocked, but laughed and explained where I was. I was notorious for only one moment!

    1. PS Happy, Happy Birthday Sherry!!! Please keep writing and “killing” people for years to come!

  16. What a friend! In 4th grade I wrote a ‘book’ for English and my teacher called my mother to see if I was having issues at home. Everyone died in the story. lol I read an ARC. It is wonderful!

  17. What a wonderful memory! And such an amazing idea by your daughter to compile these. Wishing you a very happy belated birthday!

  18. Yes, I do. I had to write an autobiography that included pictures. My Mom still has it somewhere. We did not do a lot of group projects. When I was in junior high, I had to do a science project. Thanks for sharing. God bless you.

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