Nine Plot Twist Ideas

Plot Twist Ideas

One of my go-to drinks when I don’t really want to drink is club soda with a twist of lime.

It’s refreshing and low calorie. Best of all, it looks enough like a vodka and tonic that it keeps those not so helpful people at bay. You know the ones I mean. The ones that can’t seem to enjoy a party if one person isn’t imbibing something alcoholic.

And they make it their mission to make sure everyone does.

But even that little twist of lime can get old. Boring. Routine. Predictable.

So I could try a twist of lemon.

Not much difference there.

How about a twist of pomegranate? That would be different. Almost exotic.

And the formerly clear drink would take on a vivid red hue.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Glad you asked.

Plot Twist Ideas

One great way to improve your fiction is to add a plot twist.

In other words, the reader thinks the story is moving in one direction. Suddenly you do something that changes everything.

What are some great plot twist ideas?

Here are a few to get you going.

  1. The main character is presented in a way that reader thinks she is young. Then suddenly it is revealed she is old.
  2. A character who doesn’t appear directly in the story is presumed to be male. Then it is revealed that he is actually a she.
  3. Or the other way around.
  4. Two feuding characters have all the right traits to make a tempestuous romance. The tension builds. Then one runs off with the less interesting, but more stable sibling of the other.
  5. You go to bed exhausted one night. You wake up in a straightjacket, confined to a psych ward.
  6. Your main character’s deepest desire comes true. Only then does she realize this realization is going to ruin her life.
  7. A man loses everything: wife, family, home, career. He leaves town, looking to make a new start. He finds love, remarries and has a job. Then he realizes his new wife is a serial killer.
  8. Your hero is on a journey to trace his roots. He’s having a grand time, meeting distant relatives who warmly welcome him into the family. Then a hurricane strikes and uncovers dark secrets from his family’s past.
  9. Your heroine is on a trip. She spends time on a long train trip chatting with a fellow passenger. Shortly after leaving the train, she’s kidnapped and held for ransom. It’s thought that it’s because she’s American. Then she learns who the passenger on the train was…and why she was kidnapped.

Using Plot Twists Well

There are two things to keep in mind when adding a plot twist.

First, you need to add enough clues or foreshadowing to set up the twist correctly. You don’t want the reader to feel cheated, like they would if the murdered turns out to be someone who hasn’t been in the story at all.

The best reaction to your twist is a sense of “that’s why she said this” or “that’s why he did that.”

Second, don’t overcomplicate things with too many twists. A few well done, clever twists will have more impact that several halfhearted or clichéd ones.

What are some other plot twists you can think of? Share them below in the comments.

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10 Awesome Blogs for Writers

Top Blogs for Writers

Most of the other indie authors I’ve met didn’t major in English Lit in college. Fewer started life intending to be writers. Somehow along the way, our gift demanded to be used and here we are.

Now that we have a new profession (or wanna-be profession), how to we refine our craft to create the stories or books we dream about?

I, for one, have no desire to get another college degree. (Nor the bank account, but that’s another story.)

What we all can do is use the same medium that made independent writing and publishing possible.

The internet. That almost unlimited, overwhelming source of information.

That can teach us what others have learned.

Blogs are a great way to find the most helpful, actionable information out there. I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorites…the ones I refer to over and over.

Writers Helping Writers

No contest, this is my favorite. Not only are the posts informative and helpful, but this site offers unique tools that help bring writing to a higher level.

Having trouble expressing a character’s emotion without relying on a cliché? Check out the Emotion Thesaurus. Want to add a flaw to your protagonist? Try the Negative Character Trait Thesaurus. Stuck on how to bring your setting to life? The Setting Thesaurus can help.

And that’s not all this awesome site has to offer.

K M Wieland

This is a great example of an author website blended with helpful articles and tools, like her story arc workbook.

Write to Done

The tag line says it best: “unmissable articles on writing.” There’s always something to be learned here, like how to structure a series, or how to avoid story collapse.

The danger is finding so much to read that suddenly I realize an hour’s gone by and I’m still reading and not writing.

CopyBlogger

Every writer is also a book marketer. We all have to learn how to persuade people to buy our books through a different form of writing—our advertising copy. Copy Blogger is a great site to help learn to do just that.

The Passive Voice

The tag line to this site is “a lawyer’s thoughts on authors, self-publishing and traditional publishing” doesn’t do justice to this highly entertaining and highly informative site. It relies heavily on curated content, so there’s always something well worth the read.

Goins, Writer

Jeff Goins has developed blogging for writers to an art form. His blog is packed with tips and resources for writers and bloggers wanting to actually make a living from their work.

Author Kristen Lamb

One of the most engaging bloggers I follow, Kristen Lamb combines an entertaining style with practical advice for writers. Her specialty is using social media for book marketing. She calls herself a social media Jedi. Reading her tips, I can agree. She is a master and has much to teach.

Anne R Allen

Anne R Allen’s blog is “writing about writing. Mostly.”

Some of the most valuable posts I’ve ever read are here. Whether the topic is tips about writing or how to avoid being scammed by an editor, the information here has proven its worth over and over.

Janefreidman.com

Jane Friedman started in traditional publishing. Then she branched out to explore new business models for writers that were made possible by digital publishing.

I have found her deep insight into the publishing industry of great value in navigating the wild world of independent publishing.

Writer Beware

The Writer Beware blog (and its companion website) warn authors about scammers in the form of literary agents, editors and publishers. They’re not afraid to name names and publish mug shots. This one is always worth checking before signing any deal.

What are some of your favorite writing and publishing blogs?

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Story Ideas are All Around

Have you ever been stuck for a story idea?  It happens to all of us.

But it doesn’t have to. Story ideas are literally all around us.

Sometimes we just can’t see them. But they really are just about anywhere you look.

My Favorite Sources of Story Ideas

I have three ways I come up with stories.

  1. Use a painful experience as a starting point

Anything painful can work here. Change what led up to it, change how it turned out, make yourself the hero (or the villain).

  1. Use an odd news story and try to imagine what led up to it

I’m thinking about old ladies with 73 cats and a boa constrictor. Something had to happen in their lives to get them to that point.

  1. Take a random phrase or image and use it as a prompt to just start writing

This is giving the muse the most freedom. I’ve stunned myself with what come one phrase will lead to.

Occasionally, these sources fail me. So, I turn to my good friend the internet for help.

Three Resources to Help Dream Up Great Story Ideas

On my last search, I found these great resources.

There’s a Story Everywhere

This little list of 21 ways to find story ideas is a gem. It’s geared for journalists, but lots of tips that other writers can use.

I especially appreciated #20.

Short Story Ideas

A little more searching turned up this list of 72 ideas. Each one is better than the last.

The beauty of this list is each idea can be tweaked in multiple ways. Some of the ideas in the humor section could easily morph into dystopian fantasy or horror.

Ethically Stealing Story Ideas

Then I found this fabulous post over at The Write Practice.

It’s widely known that famous writers borrow ideas from each other all the time. CS Lewis, for example, admitted to being heavily influenced by George MacDonald. If you read both of their works, you can see traces of MacDonald in Lewis’ Narnia books.

No one, of course, is promoting plagiarism. What is certainly ethical is borrowing an idea and giving it your own twist and spin.

Check out the post for some ways to ethically borrow story ideas. All kinds of interesting story possibilities came to mind as I read it. Who knows, some of them may end up as the basis of a novel someday.

What are some of your favorite ways to come up with story ideas?

 

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The Theme of the Story and What it Does

Theme of a Story

 

Remember how lots of stories ended with the phrase, “and the moral of the story is…”

We don’t hear much of that anymore. But the moral was the thing you were supposed to remember, the thing that gave the story its deeper meaning.

That’s what themes do for stories and novels.

How Theme Adds Meaning and Depth

The theme another layer of meaning to the story, similar to the way the moral added a layer to the children’s stories.

For example, Dorothy Sayers’ novel Gaudy Night explored themes of choosing career over family, and personal loyalty over anything else, and the consequences of these choices.

In the novel, one character is shown to have sacrificed her career for a family. She chose to elevate personal considerations over academic success.

Another character chose academic honesty over any personal concerns, even though it led to tragic results.

The contrast of people’s choices helps deepen the theme. It makes the reader wonder how he or she would decide in similar circumstances.

But that’s not all theme can do.

How Theme Builds the World

Some novels start with a character. Others a place.

Mine started with a theme.

Or rather, a bit of irritation.

I’d become aware of all the laws and regulations that are supposed to make us safe. But the reality is that disaster will strike or accidents will happen, regardless of the rules.

But some people don’t seem to get that. So they keep pushing for more restraints on our lives, all in the name of “Safety” or “Protection.”

Blech. Some of these laws I get, others are just silly or intrusive with little actual benefit.

So I started to imagine a world that traded all freedom for safely. What would that look like?

Village Construction

High wooden walls surround each village. The capital and regional centers employ stone as well. Guard towers are placed at intervals along the wall. Small villages like my heroine’s might only have one in the center.

The purpose of these tower is to watch for bandit or risker attacks, (as the residents all know these people are prone to attack the village at any time). Or to watch for fire, or any unsafe behavior. Unsafe people are called to court to explain themselves.

Volunteer Day

All must help preserve the safe environment, so once a month there is a volunteer day that all must volunteer for.  Children are put to work sweeping streets. Adults repair streets and village buildings, surrounding roads, or to the village wall.

Regulations about Travel

To leave the village area residents need to get permission from the village Ephor, who is the mayor and head of security. Overnight stays out of the village must be applied for and approved.

People can’t leave the village often, unless it is part of their job. This would include traders, guardsmen and road workers.

Traders need to inform the traders’ Guild Master of their planned route.

Regulations about Dress

Everyone the same, with occupation marked on sleeve. Helps indicate if people are in a place they should be. For example, the judge’s clerks shouldn’t be in the market in the middle of the day.  Monitor people’s movements cuts down on crowds, which are a potential source of danger in the form of accidents.

Regulations about Hair

Only professional barbers and hair cutters can use the sharp instruments needed. Everyone goes for the regulation haircuts as the prescribed intervals.

Regulations about Cooking

Only professional cooks and bakers can use the sharp instruments needed. The only bread baked in loaves is for public consumption in inns or at village events and is sliced by the professional bakers. Bread sold to be eaten elsewhere, at home or work, is baked in small rounds that can be bitten into or broken into pieces.

Regulations about Sewing

Most women learn enough during their schooling to do simple emergency repairs, such as replacing a button or mending a small tear. All other tailoring must be done by professionals, who are the only ones who can use the sharp implements needed.

Regulations about Marriage

Mates are suggested, but people don’t have much veto power. The idea to is ostensibly to create the most stable unions. In reality, it’s a way to exercise more control over the people.

Regulations about Schooling

All get a basic education (reading , writing, and minimal math.) They do learn much of the history of the country and the importance of safety, fairness and prosperity. As time goes on, each generation more fearful, as the emphasis on safety and avoiding danger becomes more ingrained.

Regulations about Occupation

Jobs are assigned, to maximize one’s usefulness to village and to control the unruly (big punishment to have unsafe jobs, like blacksmith or cook, worse to have job that takes outside like road worker or agriculture, or construction on heights.) Guardsmen are well-compensated with extra perks. One of the village elders carefully selects the bold for this job.

Over and over the village leaders emphasize that only highly trained professionals can do certain “dangerous” occupations.

Regulations about Housing

Only small fires are allowed in homes for heating. People are only permitted to heat water for tea, possibly broth in case of illness. No knives are allowed at home, except a tiny one as needed to cut thread or other minor jobs.

The lessons my exploration of this theme taught me could be summed up in two thoughts.

When you are afraid of something, you’re in bondage to it.

It’s impossible to keep everyone safe all the time through rules or laws.

Think about novels you’ve loved. Chances are, they had a theme that resonated with you. Share which ones they were in the comments!

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Story Writing

 

Writing a story isn’t as simple as it seems.

I realized this when I tried to follow of the writing advice I’d been given.

Write a short story, I was told. You’ll learn a lot, get some feedback. It’s a better way than trying to write an entire novel and then finding out it’s not any good.

But writing short stories proved to be hard for me. Much harder than writing a novel.

I wasn’t sure why.

So, I thought I’d take a look at what makes writing short stories different from writing novels.

After doing some research, I came up with nine differences.

  1. A short story, to state the obvious, is short. It’s generally thought to be 1,000 to 20,000 words. If your piece is between 20,000 and 40,000 or 50,000, it’s a novella. Under 1,000, and you’ve got flash fiction.
  2. Novels unfold their stories gradually, usually in three acts. Short stories focus on one main event.
  3. Novels have many characters. Some, like War and Peace have over 100. Short stories focus on one main character, with an opposing antagonist and a few supporting characters, at most. Some short stories have only one main character, and his antagonist is not human. Things like disease, weather, or the government take on that role.
  4. Novels can have a much longer time frame, and some cover generations. Think James Michener’s Centennial or Edward Rutherford’s Russka. A short story, by contrast, often takes place in one day.
  5. Novels have subplots and twists. Short stories don’t. They only have time to focus on the core conflict, with maybe a twist at the end.
  6. Novels often give the back story of their main characters. Short stories give very little back story. What they give is highly condensed and only what the reader absolutely needs to know.
  7. The pacing in short story has to be much faster than in a novel.
  8. Novels give the writer the time to weave more complex stories that have many facets that all work together. Short stories must stay simple and focused on the main event.
  9. Novels usually has more meaning and can delve deeply into a theme. Short stories may have a theme, but only one aspect of it is displayed.

Maybe this explains why I enjoy reading novels much more than short stories. With a novel, you can get immersed in the plot and characters. I love the complexity and the subplots. With a story, it seems you’ve just gotten into it and it’s over.

And maybe this explains why I have a hard time writing short stories. My mind goes to the complex rather than the simple. That “focus on one core conflict” is hard for me to do. I just can’t stick to one idea.

Which do you like better, either to read or to write?

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[VIDEO] How to Write an Award Winning Novel

We’d all love that, wouldn’t we? Writing an award-winning novel. And not just any award, but a prestigious one.

Here’s a little video with a seven step guide. Some of these made a lot of sense to me. None of this is rocket science (how’s that for a tattered cliche?), but they are well worth remembering.

He makes good points about failure, and how to respond to it.

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Fresh Book Marketing Ideas

Any of us who write know the challenge of marketing our books.

Not only are there literally millions of books available via sellers like Amazon, but the prices have gone down. Way down.

Now eBooks routinely sell for $1.99 or less.

Go ahead…do the math. How many books would you need to sell to pay the mortgage? Or even just go out to dinner?

And with all those millions of books out there, how will readers find yours?

The Best Book Marketing Solution

Nearly every indie author who enjoys good sales says the same thing.

It’s all about the list.

If you’ve got a good email list, then you’ve got a head start on your marketing.

So how do you go about building said list?

Start With a Blog or Website

Most authors have web presence, either a simple blog or full-blown website.

If you don’t have one, it’s easier than you think to get one up and running.  Software like WordPress makes things simple. Here’s a long (but informative and helpful) article on how to get a WordPress site up.

But why bother with a blog or website?

Because this is the place readers can connect with you. And these days, it’s all about the relationship. Making connections with readers is your chance to get and keep their attention.

Build That List

Once your blog is up (and don’t forget to post to it regularly, at least once a week), now you can start building your list.

And now for the question of the day….how do I get people to join my list and stay on it?

To get them to join, offer something for free. You could offer a short story. Or an excerpt from an upcoming book. Or an alternate ending to one of your novels. Or a look ten years into the future showing what happened to your characters.

You get the idea.

Once people are on your list, you need to communicate with then so they remember you.

This is crucial.

Because some day you’ll send out emails announcing your new book. And you want them to open those emails with excitement, ready to buy.

And hopefully, once they’ve read your new release, they’ll leave favorable reviews.

You might be thinking, wouldn’t it be easier to advertise?

Maybe. If you have unlimited funds and can compete with big publishing houses. And even then, if you have no reviews, not too many people will take a chance on an author they’ve never heard of.

You’d need, hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to make any headway with advertising.

Think again. How many books would you need to sell at $1.99 each to pay for $200 of advertising?

The list is probably looking like a better idea.

If you need more list building ideas, take a look at this article. It truly offers some great tips I haven’t seen anywhere else.

What other fresh book marketing ideas have you come across lately?

 

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Resurrection and Redemption

It’s the Easter season. A time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and new life.

So I thought I’d look around for some books with themes of resurrection and redemption. Books about new lives and starting over.  Books that tell stories of great loss or destruction and the triumph that comes through overcoming.

You know what? There’s lot of them. (Warning: there may be some spoilers).

We’ll start with one of my favorites.

Persuasion

Jane Austen’s Persuasion isn’t one of her better known books, but I found it as enjoyable, if not more so, than some of her more famous works.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliott, who was persuaded to give up her unsuitable fiancé. Twelve years later, she’s still unmarried, still attached to the man who won her heart.

She’s reconciled herself to remaining an old maid. Then her former beau comes back into her life. In spite of herself, in spite of his justifiable feelings of resentment, the two come back together.

Suddenly, the pain of the last twelve years has been redeemed and Anne finds herself in a new life. We’re led to believe that she lives happily ever after. (Not something we can say for everyone else in the story.)

Rite of Rejection/Revelation/Redemption

Sarah Negovetich’s trilogy grabbed me to the point I had to read it straight through.

The story opens with the heroine, Rebecca, getting ready to go through a coming of age ritual. All sixteen year olds are screened by a machine, to determine if they are suitable members of society, or criminals in the making.

Rebecca, the good student, was sure she’d be Accepted. Instead, she was rejected and sent off to a penal colony. For life.

Her world has fallen apart. She’s devastated at the idea of living in a lawless camp populated by criminals.

She does what she must to put a new life together. She joins a misfit band and acquires a fiancée she’s not sure she loves.

But she’s willing to do anything to get away from the label of Rejected. Along the way, she deals with betrayal and loss. And learns that the price of freedom and redemption can be extraordinarily high.

How Shall We Love?

Precarious Yates’ story of Cornelia takes the reader on an amazing journey. Cornelia’s intellectual parents raise her to ask questions and research everything she wants to know. As her family fractures, she starts to research how we should love.

How she finds answers, builds a life, and reconciles with her father takes her in unexpected directions. There’s no pat answer in the end. Just the joy of her new life, and the hope of redemption.

What other books have you found with redemption or resurrection themes?

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The Secrets of the Mud Room Part 2

This week I’ve got the conclusion of The Secrets of the Mud Room. Enjoy!

The neighbor kids had their own ideas. When we were small, their thoughts centered on toys. One thought she kept all the lost baseballs and roller skate keys there in one big mound.

Some of the other kids had other hopes. “Do you think she has my slinky?”

“Or my yo-yo?”

“And mebbe all the marbles you’ve lost?” another asked, poking his little brother.

As we got older, other ideas came to mind. One girl was convinced that Aunt Sharon was a zombie hunter and the mud room was where she stashed her victims.

An older boy said he had it on good authority that Aunt Sharon was a Russian spy. That mud room held her signaling radio, weapons and James Bond gadgets. “Or else,” he said with a smirk, “she keeps her handcuffs and whips in there. The ones she uses on your Uncle Otis.”

I couldn’t see that. Aunt Sharon chasing zombies? Or spying like James Bond? Not her. Not the woman who wore pink curlers in her iron gray hair at night.

Not the woman who never, ever spanked me. Not even when  I was five and tried to climb into her aquarium because I wanted to marry one of her goldfish. Instead, she nearly wet her pants laughing. She paused a little when she realized I’d stepped on her favorite fish, but then let her sense of humor overtake her again.

She didn’t laugh so hard the time when Bruce the neighbor kid convinced me to let him stick the toilet plunger on my face. She gave Bruce a talking to I don’t think he ever forgot. 

Oh, Aunt Sharon could get riled up, alright. She’d be downright bloodthirsty when it came to smashing the grubs that turned the leaves of her hostas into lace. Or scary enough to chase off zombies when she saw the rabbits nibbling on her strawberries. But a spy? No. Impossible.

Now Uncle Otis, I could see him as Maxwell Smart. But what he would have done that was so awful Sharon would whip him was beyond me.

All the talk from the neighbors was making me wonder. Surely Aunt Sharon wasn’t mixed up in anything dangerous or illegal. I hoped not. If she went to jail, then where would I end up?

Once a neighbor woman tried to come in through the mud room, one day when she was bringing over a gooseberry pie “just to be neighborly.” Sharon chased her off with a hoe. Uncle Otis and I heard a lot about nosy parker busybodies for hours afterward.

A few nights later, I was snuggling down under a handmade quilt in her spare room. The silence of the night was only broken by the chirping of the cicadas and the gentle hum of the air conditioner.

A loud crash like a dozen pots and pans hitting the floor cracked the silence. I sat bolt up in bed, listening. Was that swearing I heard coming from below? Some of those words my nine-year-old ears had never heard. Surely that wasn’t my Uncle Otis?

No, it wasn’t. I heard the door to the other bedroom open. “I told you so,” said Aunt Sharon.

There was a low mutter that had to be Uncle Otis’s response.

Since neither of them seemed to be disturbed by the ruckus below, I slid out of bed and went into the hall. “What’s going on?” I asked.

Aunt Sharon was already halfway down the stairs. “Come and see, girl. It’s time you learned a thing or two.”

Uncle Otis rolled his eyes and pointed down the stairs. “You might as well.”

The swearing got louder as we descended. Aunt Sharon led the way into the kitchen. My eyes widened as she marched over to the mud room and swung open the door. Finally, I would learn the secrets of the mud room.

The first thing I noticed was the open door that led to the yard. Then a volley of cursing brought my attention to the mud room. Or rather, the gaping hole in front of the outside door where the mud room floor should have been. Leaning over to look, I could see two men, one lying on the floor clutching his ankle.

“It’s my burglar alarm,” Aunt Sharon said with a smirk. “My free burglar alarm. Otis here was after me to get one you had to pay for. Waste of money, I told him.”

She looked down through the hole at the two men, who were now demanding to be freed. “We had a flood here, years ago and the mud room floor fell in, that spot in front of the door.” She pointed to the hole. “We had a feller come out, he said all the joists would have to be replaced. We’d have to tear the whole thing out, floor and supports, to get it fixed.”

“We could have got done it, you know,” said Uncle Otis.

She shook her head. “Who’s got that kind of money? So, I got me an idea. I just covered the hole with a mat. And I hung all kinds of metal pots from the bottom of the mat so it would make a big crash if someone fell through.” She grinned at me. “I never locked the back door after that. If someone came to break in, I knew they’d come in that way. And get caught.”

Uncle Otis hung his head, shaking it back and forth. “Ok, ok. It worked. Now can we fix the floor so we can use the back door again?”

“See?” she said, directing her words to me. “It worked, but he wants to give up on it. All to use the back door. For what? To save a little time? Time is what we’ve got, not money.”

When the police came, it took them awhile to understand just how Aunt Sharon caught two members of a gang that had been responsible for a rash of break ins in the area. Then it took longer for them to free the would-be burglars from their temporary jail to take them to another one.

All the commotion brought the neighbors over. Sharon shooed everyone away from the house.

“The show’s over, folks,” she said. “Otis here heard a noise in the night and came downstairs with a baseball bat. Had to whack one of ‘em on the ankle. Go on home now and let us get back to bed. And don’t walk all over my snapdragons on your way out.”

I looked at my Uncle with wide eyes. He winked at me and shrugged. “It was nothing, really,” he said.

That was when I finally understood that the people around me didn’t always mean what they said. Some just told stories for no reason. Others had a reason, a motive that wasn’t always a bad one. I started to listen a little more carefully to what people told me, and to not take their words at face value.

Aunt Sharon wore a smug grin for two weeks and celebrated by baking my favorite cookies with the sprinkles on top.

As for Uncle Otis, I think he gave up on ever using the back door ever again.

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The Secrets of the Mud Room Part 1

This week I’m sharing with you the first installment of a short story I wrote for my writer’s group. They got a chuckle out of it. Hope you do, too!

The Secrets of the Mud Room

For long as I could remember, my great-aunt Sharon refused to use her back door, the one that led from her kitchen to the back yard. The neighbors thought she was odd. The neighbor kids called her crazy. I didn’t know what to believe.

Summers, she’d fill that back yard with a massive vegetable garden, growing everything from tomatoes to okra, onions to watermelons. I don’t think there’s a vegetable she didn’t try, at least once.

Some did better than others. The watermelon never got bigger than cantaloupes (and yes, she knew they were fruit. She just called the whole thing a vegetable garden.) The strawberries, on the other hand, took over and just about choked out the green beans. The corn, the one year she attempted it, didn’t grow higher than a dog’s eye, let alone an elephant’s.

Tomatoes and zucchini, those she could grow. We were eating salsa and zucchini bread long before they became popular. And if only iPhones were around then, we would have documented her zucchini lasagna, probably the first people in the world to eat it.

Raised beds of flowers circled the vegetables. Marigolds and begonias, impatiens and violets all raised a riot of color during much of the summer. The hostas and day lilies did their share as well, the cool green and white leaves of the hostas contrasting with the bright yellow of the lilies.

Aunt Sharon loved that garden. From dawn to dusk she’d toil away, weeding and deadheading, tilling and fertilizing, anxiously calculating how much water to give her tender plants. She’d only come inside for lunch, then head back again.

But she’d never use the back door.

Even though her house had a large mud room at the back, she never set foot in it. She’d leave the house by the front door and walk all the way around, through the dim coolness of the side yard with its six maples and a birch, then get her tools from the garage that stood twenty feet away from the house. To go back inside, she’d repeat the journey. At the front door, she’d shuck her gardening shoes and replace them with a pair of slippers she left just inside.

Uncle Otis tried to reason with her. She’d just wave her hand at him like she was shooing a fly. “You just listen what I tell you, old man,” she’d say. “Just do what I say.”

Sometimes he’d get frustrated and go all passive aggressive on her. One day he wanted to eat his lunch in front of the TV so he could watch the ball game. Aunt Sharon said fine, I’ll bring the ice tea if you bring the sandwiches.

The next-door neighbors told me they could hear her raging at him for bringing just the sandwiches, not the plates she’d laid them out on.

His defense was he’d listened to her, and done what she said. She hadn’t said anything about plates.

Oh, the neighbors had a good time telling me how Aunt Sharon would make trip after trip, carrying groceries in the front door, even though it would have been so much easier to go the back way.

And the time Uncle Otis fell on the ice and broke his leg, what did she do when she got him home from the hospital? She drove him up to the curb in the front and eased him up the long walkway with its eight steep steps and in through the front door, cast, crutches and all. Uncle Otis was a least a foot taller than she, and chubby to boot. The back way was much shorter and had only two steps. Why Uncle Otis didn’t argue I never heard.

Sometimes I’d overhear him, asking her if they could get it fixed. “It would be more convenient,” he’d say.

She’d always refuse, saying it worked fine and they didn’t need to spend the money. “Besides, it’s good exercise, taking a few extra steps.”

I lots of time with her and Uncle Otis, most of the summers and school breaks, handed off by my parents who were either on the brink of divorce or travelling the world together. “We’ll be right back for you, darling,” my mother would say. Usually that meant I’d be at Aunt Sharon’s for at least six weeks.

The first year it happened, I got up every morning and packed my bag. I’d pester Aunt Sharon all day. “When are Mommy and Daddy coming for me?”

She’d gently hand me a cookie or enlist me in helping her with some task. “They’ll be here when they get here,” she’d say. “In the meantime, we’ve got stuff to do.”

Sometimes my mother would drop me off and say, “I don’t think your dad loves you anymore.” I’d spend a week in misery, missing him, thinking I’d never see him again.

Then I’d get long letters from him, twice a week like clockwork, all telling me how much he missed me. All the back and forth and contradictory messages made it hard for me to know just what was what and where I fit in. And who, if anyone, could be believed.

I was small for my age, with limp red hair and stick-like arms and legs. It took some time for the neighbor kids to allow me into their games. Egged on by them, eager for their approval, I tried a few times to peek into that mud room to see what was in there.

Once time Aunt Sharon caught me with my hand on the door handle of that back door. “No!” She screeched so loud I jumped almost high enough to hit my head on the ceiling. “Never,” she told me, wagging a finger in my face, “never use the back door.”

Her brilliant blue eyes probed mine. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I looked at my feet. What was the big secret?

I was too scared ask. But over the years I wondered what was in the mud room. Treasure? Dead bodies?

Come back next week for the conclusion.

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