I’m a third of my way through my WIP, a Jazzi Zanders mystery. I called my daughter (and critique partner) and she asked, “Who did you kill this time? Why did he die?” So, I told her the new victim is a guy who loves to race cars on weekends at the derby track in town.
“What did he do to get himself killed?” she asked.
“He was a sneak. He smiled to your face and went behind your back.”
And she understood immediately.
When she and her sister were growing up, I was a stay-at-home mom. The only one in our neighborhood. My husband worked second shift, (from 3:30 to midnight), and would be working it for a long time because he was one of the youngest people his company had hired, and he wouldn’t have seniority to move to first shift for a long time. He didn’t want me to go back to work because we’d only see each other on the weekends, and he said (rightly) that we’d only be dealing with kids on the weekends, so we wouldn’t have time for each other.
Two of his friends at work had already been through that–them working second shift and their wives working first, and they both ended up divorced. He didn’t think it went well when husbands and wives didn’t see each other very often. I had plenty to deal with at the time anyway. His mom needed to be in a nursing home. I needed to make arrangements for that and then check on her once a week. The girls were young, and my dad had just died, and my mom was a mess. So, we decided I’d be the “deal with whatever crap happens” person, and he’d work. The offshoot was that neighborhood kids ended up spending a lot of time at our house, because their parents worked, and they wanted an adult in their lives.
Kids crave an adult. They might fuss about rules and moan about homework, but they need structure, encouragement, and just having someone THERE. I ended up being that person for quite a few of them. And I’ll never regret it. BUT one of the boys, a nice boy that I felt really sorry for, never felt like he fit in with the other kids. He was an only child, and both of his parents worked, and somehow, he felt like an outsider. I had two girls, so he didn’t quite gel with them. Neighborhood boys ended up at our house, but he didn’t quite gel with them either. So….when he got really upset, I’d find something broken when he left. A toy. The trim in our basement. A swing on the swing set. And I knew he’d broken it on purpose, but no one ever SAW him do it. It was all small stuff, so I told myself he’d outgrow it. He’d learn to control his emotions. But that’s not how it worked. It got worse, and bigger things broke, until I finally had to tell him he couldn’t come to our house anymore. And I felt TERRIBLE. Because I knew he needed us. His mother called and yelled at me for being so mean to him. But she got him a babysitter during the day and then in the evenings, he went to play at another neighbor’s house, and she had to ban him, too. Same reason.
I felt so sorry for that boy. But he grew up and turned into a together adult. Not wonderful. I won’t lie. But he was okay. He met a girl and got married, and he’s had a decent life. But that’s how Sparks was born for my book. A sneak. He smiles and compliments you while he’s sabotaging you behind the scenes.
My mother hated sneaks. My dad detested lying. They said they were the worst kind of humans. You couldn’t trust them. I don’t know where I’d rate them on the severity of mortal sins, and thankfully, I haven’t met that many of either, but they make great characters for stories.
Happy September! And happy writing.