Friday, December 14, 2012

Help Wanted

A reminder: For the month of December, we're offering my Christmas novella, A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown, (read 1st chapter here) for $5, including shipping. It's a fun story for the entire family, in a beautiful hardback, with dust-cover  To order, email me through our Contacts page. Order soon to ensure you have it before Christmas.

I’m taking you on a bit of a detour today, leading you in a very roundabout manner to the topic my title suggests. But since we’re friends, I want to share some of my life experiences before I take you there, and maybe garner some sympathy.

One of the most unanswerable questions in the universe is: Where is a man when you need one? Mine could be anywhere in the world. Siberia, Cuba, Brazil. And trust me, if something’s going to go wrong, it will go wrong when he’s gone. Take last week for example. He left at 3:30 a.m. for the airport. Later, when I woke up that morning, I heard someone whistling in my kitchen. Whistling. In my kitchen. I was debating the great “fight or flight” issue as I stood there in my nightgown when I remembered, Oh, yeah, my cell phone whistles when I have a voicemail. My daughter, bless her heart, chose that setting for me.

Well, things went from funny to not-so-funny that night when I went into my office to check email, and – oh, Lord – there was a mouse on my desk. A mouse. On my desk. We’ve lived here for 10 years and have never had a mouse in the house. In the garage, yes, because we live sort of in the country and sort of not, but we've never had a mouse in the house. It’s bad enough that it was in the house, but on my desk? My Desk?! Where I write and create and, and ... My desk is sacrosanct! And not only was it on my desk, it left droppings between Roget’s Super Thesaurus and Harbrace’s College Handbook, 11th Edition! Droppings! And do you think Rick was here to play the hero? Of course not.  So I did what I always do in such situations, I called my daughter ... NOT the one who set my phone to whistle. She said what she always says in such situations, “Mom, just come over and spend the night.” It was tempting, but I just couldn’t. I had to deal with this. So with her on the line, I went to the garage to get one of the mousetraps Rick had set out there. In the process I set off the alarm, which I forgot to disarm before I opened the door. Great. But I got one of the traps, put it in a strategic place, then went to my bedroom, where I settled in to watch TV –  with my feet off the floor. Not 10 minutes later I hear a SNAP! Oh. Lord. Sure enough, I’d caught the critter. So now what? I wasn't going anywhere near it. Bottom line, my son-in-law came over first thing next morning and got rid of it for me. He earned points that day, believe me, lots of points.

And then there was a December night a couple of years ago when I was sitting watching TV about 10:00, when suddenly it sounded like Santa and his reindeer had landed on the roof. As much as I hoped that was the case, I had a feeling there was another reason for the racket. So I called my daughter, said I was going outside to investigate and wanted her with me, so to speak, you know, just in case ... Again, she invited me to spend the night, and it was tempting, especially as the racket continued to escalate right above my head. But I mustered my courage and went outside to see what I could see. Which was nothing. And yet the noise continued. Which meant it wasn’t on the roof, it was in the attic space of my house. Crap. To make a long story short, whatever it was occupied that space the entire week Rick was gone, and made its presence known every single night when the sun went down. It woke me up from a dead sleep one night, sounding like it was dragging an anvil across the attic floor – right above my bed. What was it?! Where was it?! What was it dragging?! More important, could it see me through the heating and air conditioning vents? We’ll never know, because I never heard it again after Rick got home. Not ever.

Then there was my personal favorite. Several years ago, when Rick and I became empty nesters, he built a lovely home for us in the country. To me, it was like living on the backside of the moon, but Rick was in heaven. He decided to raise longhorn cattle, and got two calves to start our herd. We named those calves after our two little granddaughters, so don’t you know they were the safest cattle in the county? Not gonna land on anyone’s dinner plate. Ever. Well, Rick was in the Philippines, and the phone rang early one morning, waking me out of a sound sleep. A woman said to me, without even a hello, “Your cows are in my yard,” and she hung up. I lay there with the phone in my hand, trying to make sense of this crazy call. “Your cows are in my yard ... your cows are in my ...“My cows? Are in your yard?!? What?! ” I throw back the covers, get dressed, pop my contacts in, grab my purse, run to the car, back out of the driveway, and— Wait. Who called? Whose yard are my cows in?? I have no idea. But I drive around the “neighborhood” looking for my cows, feeling like Little Bo Peep. I can’t find them. And what the heck am I going to do if I do find them? So I go back home, wondering what in the world to do, when the phone rings again. This time it’s my neighbor, Kathy, who lived on the acreage behind our acreage, who was like the unofficial, self-appointed neighborhood watch captain. She knew everything that went on, at all times. And she said to me, “Sharon, are you looking for your cows?” Am I looking for my cows? Really? How could she possibly– I felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. “Yes, I am," I said. "I’m looking for my cows.” And she tells me they’re in so-and-so’s yard. So I drive over there, and sure as the world, there’s Haleigh and Katelyn in my neighbor’s yard, and her husband is trying to herd them back to our pasture. City girl that I am, I am not equipped to handle such a crisis. I don’t even own a pair of boots. What am I going to do? And then I remembered ... one of the guys who worked for my husband was a real, live cowboy. He came, rounded up our cattle and mended the fence so they couldn’t get out again.

It wasn’t long after that we sold the house.

What does any of that have to do with writing? It’s all fodder, my friend. All fodder.

Okay, so here’s what this post is really supposed to be about. I’m getting ready to start a new novel. I’m excited and scared all at the same time. This is the longest period of time I’ve gone without writing (several months), and I’m feeling very wobbly, hoping I’ll soon get a good grip on the handle bars. In my plot there’s a woman in her late 20s who is guardian to her 12-year-old niece, and has been since the girl was 4. She’s a good provider and very loving, but there’s a threat that she may lose custody ... and I need to know why. I don’t want the reason to be cliche, i.e., child protective services stepping in for some reason; health issues for the woman, etc. I have a direction I’m considering, but I’d love to get your thoughts. Any suggestions?


Megan Sayer said...

Oh dear. Sorry to hear about your mouse...they are NOT fun. I did laugh about your cows though :)

And as to your first thought was financial. I don't know if bankruptcy would sway the court, but homelessness probably would - if she'd lost her job and was about to lose her house because of it there could be some serious issues.

Or cows. I'm sure we could think up something amazing to do with cows. With guns, perhaps?

Sharon K. Souza said...

Hey, Megan. When I saw there was a comment I knew it had to be you -- on the other side of the world. It's 2:30 here and I'm finally on my way to bed. It's been a long but productive day. Thank you for your suggestion. I'm jotting everything down to see how all the suggestions (and I hope there are many) work in with my plot.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Your post brought me out of lurkdom ... because, I mean how could I not comment after you shared such escapades? And really, while I don't have any inspiration to offer you for your work-in-progress (not enough caffeine in the system yet), I do believe if you sift through your life fodder, you'll discover something. Or have your husband leave time again and just wait until bedtime. And have your daughter on speed dial. It'll come to you. It'll come.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Sharon, I love these stories. They are fantastic fodder for sure!

Could the 12 year old have had a rough time growing up, being raised by her aunt? Could she have some kind of personality disorder? The aunt doesn't know how to handle her pre-teen issues (hormones...ack) which would be amplified by a mental issue. The 12 year old might become attached to another family (typical in borderline personality disorder) and lie to that family about her aunt... Just an idea.

Oh! And I tried to click on the "contacts" page. It wouldn't let me through. But I would like to order 4 copies of your book. Can I do that another way?

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Something to do with the other side of the girl's family? Perhaps the birth mother finds Jesus after years of an addiction or being in jail in Mexico. Or the father gets the light through a new wife's 12 year old daughter that he needs his daughter. Or a grandmother decides Azerbaijan is a healthier environment for a teenager, only she has a plot to sell the child into slavery. (Not that you have writing experience in this topic and riveted a reader's attention, or anything). Job transfer to, or romantic interest in another country where the child is not allowed to travel...
My only comment about the mouse is: get a cat. Or a terrier. My beloved furry feline friend woke me up one night dashing across my body in bed. In the morning I lowered my bare warm tootsies onto a decidedly cold, furry....visitor.

Summer Ross said...

Have you considered fantasy where a shapeshifter turns into the mom for a while causing all sorts of problems.

Or you could take a government approach where the child needs to be studied for some special reason.

Good luck

Bonnie Grove said...

Sharon, I'm still laughing because, on your way to round up your cows, you thought having your purse along with you was a good idea.

I KNOW--driver's license, right? City kid.

Plot wise: I think someone wants to hurt the woman. and/or the girl is not who we think she is and someone wants her for what she can do for them.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I', thinking either the law doesn't like the fact that she became guardian when she was underage - OR- some here to for unknown secret relative has come on the scene and wants a lovely 12 year old.

By the way, your "fodder" was a fun read.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I'm, thinking either the law doesn't like the fact that she became guardian when she was underage - OR- some here-to - fore unknown secret relative has come on the scene and wants a lovely 12 year old.

By the way, your "fodder" was a fun read.

Sara said...

coming out of lurk-dom as well.

what if one of the natural parents was trying to get custody back, and whether they were fit was questionable? Dad out of jail, or Mom saying, " I really do have my life back together *this* time."

Sharon K. Souza said...

Beth, welcome! I love your suggestion. I'll go pack a bag for Rick ;)

Susie, don't know why you couldn't get through, but I have your address. I'll put the books in the mail today. Thank you!

Henrietta, whoa! You're on a roll, girl. I'm taking notes.

Summer, love your photo. Shapeshifter, hmm, I hadn't thought of that ;)

Bonnie, you make me laugh. So much.

Oooh, Cherry, you're kinda warm.

Sara, yay! We love lurkers, especially when they identify themselves! And as to the natural parents ... Here is the brief prologue to my WIP. I'm leaving out the little girl's name on purpose:

My sister (not yet named) had never broken the teensiest law until the day she drove off a cliff into the Truckee River, taking my brother-in-law with her. I suspect I know what led up to her one brief crime spree but it's only speculation. I'll never know for sure.

Their daughter, (not named) was four and a half, and a witness. She hasn't spoken a single word since. You could say the whole thing was a tragic accident except that my sister flagged down a Good Samaritan, complained of car trouble, and asked if her daughter could sit in the backseat of his Jeep Grand Cherokee to stay warm until AAA arrived. My sister tucked a blanket around her daughter, put her little backpack beside her, and in the dark she wrote my phone number in purple pen on her daughter's palm. Then she climbed behind the wheel of her rusting Ford Fairlane, gunned the accelerator, and went right over the cliff, like Thelma and Louise, into the river below.

You could also say it was an odd thing that my brother-in-law sat compliantly in his seat while my sister pulled off her deadly deed. But the autopsy showed that he was dead before they ever took the plunge. So what we did say was, wow, we never saw that coming.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

So there is crime involved! And unless the parents come back as zombies or worse they are out of the picture....
I had a friend who almost lost custody because the medical people thought she was seeking too hard for a treatment for her son. Something about mothers inventing diseases for their children. By God's grace they lost and the boy is safe with his very loving Mum.
Maybe, as it turns out the girl's parents were somebody else and the deaths was to hide the kidnapping at birth.Or she was given to the one set of parents by a scared teen who suddenly shows up, mature and ready to care for the daughter she thought she lost. Or the scared teen father's mother looses him in an accident (mysteriously related to the crime) and wants some of her own blood line to care for/avenge herself on....

Sandy Frykholm said...

I'd recommend the books by Torey Hayden that deal with selective mutism as a good resource, if you haven't already read them. I found them fascinating. They are case histories (narrative non-fiction)from her work as a therapist.
Maybe the girl is found with drugs, and the aunt is suspect because of a past indiscretion in that area, though she is now completely clean.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Sandy, thanks for the reference. I am already doing research, and will add them to my resources.

Patti Hill said...

Sharon: Your protag is going to have to do something that really is reason to lose custody. The situation has to look absolutely hopeless. Maybe she did a hit and run, or she gets hooked on painkillers after a surgery and does something awful, or she leaves the girl unattended and something happens. I would talk to a social worker. It isn't easy to lose custody anymore.

LOVED your post. Maybe if you got a cardboard Rick and stood him in the corner, the mice would know better.

Jennifer Major said...

Patti Hill, a cardboard Rick? Hahaha! Funny!!
Losing custody is huge, so I agree with Patti, it has to be something big.
But why not focus the losing of custody onto something the kid did? 12 year olds are always testing theri wngs, even if they're good kids. What if 12 year old is at the mall without permission, sees a crime and is in big trouble. What if the investigating officer finds out kid was AWOL from home while 20-something was at a party she was obliged to attend? Flaming mean judge sees this as bad-guardianing (nice word, I know, you're welcome) and wants to put the kid in foster care?

S. F. Foxfire said...

I love that cow story, Sharon! I've had to round up cows before when we lived in Colorado, and when they get out, they get OUT.

Hmmm . . . I love a good plot-dig. :D Let me think for a minute . . . . Okay, I agree with Patti that the protag may have to do something that makes the case WORSE, but there has to be a reason behind the little girl's worker wanting her with a different home.

Maybe you could put a spin on it, something we don't expect. Depending on the time period, maybe the worker herself/himself is trying to get the little girl back because they're secretly a "collector" of children, and she/he maybe end up kidnapping the kid, but they're a serial killer that has a hiding spot no one has found yet, and the protag is kick-butt and ends up searching for the little girl and kicking some major tookus along the way and . . . . Breath.

I don't know, just an idea.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Sorry, I just got some more fodder (haha).

The collector has this backstory like her/his mother was abusive and had schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder and ended up killing the worker's sibling and dressing her up like a little doll, so the serial killer has this obsession with little girls that happen to look like the little girl the protag is taking care of.

(I can't stop myself! Someone, help!)

Cherry Odelberg said...

Well, Patti may be right (and, after horror stories I have heard, I hope she is right) about it having to be something BIG to actually get a child removed from your care; however, that doesn't stop the possibility and anxiety of threat or the hassle of burden of proof if others claim guardianship.