Monday Musings: There’s A Dead Guy in My Cellar (Pass the Cookies)

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by Kathleen Valentine

knitting lady2A few years ago I got this bright idea – yes, I know, I get a lot of them – for a story. There was this character knocking around in my brain. Her name was Cecelia McGill, called Cece for short, and she reminded me a lot of, well, me. Cece is a woman of a certain age, as they say, and she is single. She’s an old hippie who is an accomplished needleworker who loves to knit but has also spent years sewing, weaving, gardening, canning, baking – all the things a lot of us old hippies are fond of. In her youth she was a bit wild but then life butted in and she had to straighten up, get a job, and at least try to act normal. Until she decided to kill someone.

For nearly two years this story nagged at me when I was working on other projects. When I would be in between stories, Cece would show up and say, “Hey, writer lady, what about me?” Eventually, I got around to listening to Cece’s story and writing it down. The result was The Monday Night Needlework & Murder Guild.

The story revolves around a group of women in their forties, fifties, and sixties who have been meeting regularly on Monday nights to work on their needlework and discuss murder mystery novels. The organizer of the group, Miss Serena Pitts, is an elderly spinster who owns a lovely house but, when she kicks the bucket at the age of ninety-seven, the group is faced with a disappointing situation. None of them have a living room the size of Miss Serena’s and they don’t know how they will keep their guild together. This is when Cece takes it into her head to have the cellar in her home finished and transformed into a meeting room for the guild.

However, as the cellar is being worked on, a new problem arises. There is a guy in town, something of a good-for-nothing but relatively young, relatively handsome, and very good at flattery, who is causing problems among the ladies of the group. Cece finally decides that enough is enough and takes matters into her own hands. Right from the beginning we know that Cece has put an end to the guy’s misbehavior but the why and the how is what makes the story happen.

I LOVED writing this story because, while it is essentially a crime story, it is the psychology of each of the characters in it that made it interesting to write. How can one guy get away with what he does? How indeed. And how is Cece able to be immune to him? Well, that’s what the story is about. I think Cece is one of the most psychologically interesting characters I’ve ever written about. And, despite its gruesome content, the story has a lot of humor in it.

Last night I had dinner with a writer friend who, like so many people, asked where I get my ideas for characters. I told her the Cece story and she listened and then said, “She sounds wonderful but where did you get the idea for her?” I said that she just showed up in my head—I had no idea where she came from. My friend seemed puzzled by this and said, “But how did you know the story would work?” Well, I didn’t. I had to write it to see how it would turn out. I really don’t think she believed me.

Sometimes I wonder how other writers get ideas for stories. Mine just seem to show up and say, “Write about me please.” That’s what Cece did along with all of her friends. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, Writing is magic. I have no idea how it comes about most of the time. The actual writing itself is hard work and often challenging. But the ideas for writing are always a mystery to me.

Thanks for reading.

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