Saturday, May 28, 2011

Get Lost, Sister.

Most of my fiction writing begins with an image of a person or a place. When the image lingers—I’m hooked. There is something there. Certainly this was the case for Lethal Lineage. A female priest (Episcopal) popped up. She was passing the Chalice to communicants and a person whispered to her “I know who you are, and I know what you’ve done.”

This isn’t much to go on—certainly not enough to write a book about. But the image wouldn’t go away. And so it goes. Who was this person? What did they know? That’s the fun part. I love the work of making sense of all this.

So here, in a nutshell, is how this image became a full blown movie in my mind:

A sinister Episcopal Bishop ruins the joyful confirmation of historian Lottie Albright’s niece through a scathing fire and brimstone sermon. Already seething over the bishop’s insults, Lottie and her twin, psychologist Josie Albright, are catapulted into a murder investigation when they discover the body of the beloved priest, Reverend Mary Farnsworth, in the locked anteroom where she fled after dropping the chalice during the service.

Now alone with Bishop Talesbury, in her dual role as undersheriff of Carlton County, Lottie is aghast at the bishop’s indifference and terrified of his bizarre knife-wielding rituals. The fractious four county congregation’s brave new little frame Western Kansas church, St. Helena, appears doomed through this first service.

Lottie is still reeling from the bizarre death, when at the Fiene family farm immediately afterwards, a frail arthritic old woman, Edna Mavery, tells her a man kneeling at the communion rail “caused Mary’s heart attack,” by whispering “I know who you are, and I know what you’ve done.”  Skeptical that foul play was involved, nevertheless Sheriff Sam Abbot and Lottie treat the ante-room as a crime scene although the room was locked, windowless, in full view of the congregation.

That night, when the twins attempt to locate Farnsworth’s family through her office records in the neighboring county, they run afoul of the hopelessly inept Copeland County Sheriff, Irwin Deal, who arrests the two for breaking and entering. Incensed over spending a night in jail, Josie returns to help with an election to recall Deal. Alarmed, Keith, Lottie’s husband, knows the two women are antagonizing an extremely dangerous family, and becomes a deputy sheriff to protect them. Lottie is irate.

The twins are quickly confronted with an insolvable tangle. The beloved Reverend Mary was poisoned and has no traceable personal history. An unauthorized bishop performed an illegitimate service in an unconsecrated church occupying irregularly secured land. The real bishop of Western Kansas, James P. Rice, is livid over the illicit circumstances.

Lottie attempts to comfort Edna Mavery who is still devastated by the death by persuading her to contribute an oral history. Lottie hopes working on Edna’s story, as well as those of two other Carlton residents, will distract from her obsession with the investigation which has been preempted by the KBI. However, the three persons’ lives intertwine in unexpected ways. When Talesbury claims his inheritance rights to an ancient glebe, the land occupied by St. Helena, the distraught congregation learns they labored in vain, and the rogue bishop, raised in Africa, and a survivor of the Tutsi/Hutu civil war, is connected to the malevolent Deal family.

But for all Lottie’s investigative skills, and the prowess of the KBI they cannot trace Mary Farnsworth nor determine how the impossible murder occurred.

So image be gone. Vamoose. I’ve told your story, and a right complicated one it was too. Get Lost, Sister.


Donis Casey said...

I'm often plagued by people who pop into my head demanding that I tell their story. Then they only give me an incident or two to work with and I have to figure out the rest on my own. It's damn inconsiderate if you ask me.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

I recently had the experience of preparing a YA novel originally published in 1982 for reissue. It shocked my soul to see the young girl main character as alive as ever, as real to me as any living child.(Before the Lark, coming from Texas Tech University Press, September,2011.) So they never go away, my friends, these people we built from our brains, our hearts. They've only politely moved aside, and not very far.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis--I can "create" characters, but the strongest are the ones who just show up for the book.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Irene, Before the Lark was an outstanding book. I want my youngest granddaughter to discover your YA books. My grownup granddaughters vividly remember Skitterbrain.

H. L. Banks said...

I love your story on how the female priest popped up. I've never had that experience but I know it happens with writers. The only 'surprise' I got was in the ending of my short mystery story, I had it plotted out and then low and behold, the real killer jumped up and bit me! Writing is such a mystery. I'm new to the game and I simply love hearing other writer's stories. Enjoyed your post.

Charlotte Hinger said...

H.L., you are well on the way if you are keeping an open mind about the strange switches in stories. However, I'm a really wretched outliner. This stuff only comes to me during the writing.