I’ve thought, more than once, about story ideation as feeding the sausage grinder. I’ve made sausage many times over the years. I can remember making caribou sausage in Alaska, and making sure we ground bacon into it, because otherwise there’s just not enough fat. And when you make your own sausage, you know what’s in it… although that is also a myth. The whole thing about being grossed out over sausage making? Because unless using every scrap from the animal and paying it due respect by not allowing it to go to waste bothers you… Upton Sinclair made up a bunch of what went into his ‘expose’ that was really fiction. Just like a lot of documentaries on Netflix, it’s all about the shock factor, not so much the actual data and science. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Back to my story sausage. Feeding random bits into the grinder and seeing what comes out the other end is always interesting, because even though sometimes I have an idea when I start researching, other times it’s far more, shall we say, random than that? Or, in the case of my prompt serial (The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack starts here, if you want to see how that works) I have to try and come up with a way to work something very specific into a story without making it stand out like a sore thumb. One author, with hammer… Puts hammer down carefully. Maybe I need this planer, instead, to smooth it out!
Take today’s tabs, for instance. I’m working on something that the First Reader and I dreamed up. It all started with the line “I’d like to write a straight mystery…” and the conversation took twists and turns through subverting modern attitudes on women, farming, and housewifery into a story about a farmwife who winds up solving mysteries in her small town while being pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen a lot when she isn’t in the farmyard raising heritage breed livestock, to the bemusement of her husband who is staunchly a cow man, himself. This being set up, my mother is helping me with my research inadvertently, telling me she just bought Delaware pullets at the feed store. Oh, those are pretty chickens, I responded, and then I thought… they need to go in the book. Mom has been interested in heritage breeds for a long time, so I grew up with a neverending series of pretty chickens (which does not tempt me to keep them again. Foul are called Fowl for a reason!).
So I have chickens. Also, pigs, and sheep, but those are connected to things deeper in my past (I once had a bottle lamb named Brendan who I would walk on a leash. As he was dark brown, and people assume ‘dog’ when they see a leash, I got a lot of amusement from the startled reaction when he would look up and Baaa at passerby). Now, let’s see… conflict in the country side, bucolic and calm? Whodathunkit? Well, anyone who has had to tangle with wrongheaded gov’t bureaucrats, that’s who. Doesn’t matter the party, having distant regulations formed by people who have no idea what they are talking about is galling. When they are based on junk science? Even worse.
Add on top of that the sheer insanity of my trip to the grocery store yesterday, and I miss living on the farm with a basement full of canned goodies. I once was that farmwife, only it’s nothing like portrayed in the movies. Or by recent comments delivered by raving morons who somehow managed to make more money while missing a lot of brain cells. Mike Rowe has a great response to that (link leads to facebook, sorry, can’t avoid it) and I enjoyed it, as I do many of his comments on life and trades.
“To state the obvious, farming is not merely a “process,” it’s a way of life that requires expertise in many areas, and the fact that just 2% of our population feed 300 million people three times a day, is nothing short of a marvel. The modern farmer is a businessman, an entrepreneur, a soil specialist, a crop specialist, an environmental engineer, a logistical whiz, a shrewd negotiator, a real estate expert, a prognosticator, a climatologist, and a technology expert. If he’s not all of those things, he’s out of business.”
All of those are going into my head to come out in the form of the story. Is it what I should be writing right now? I don’t know. But it’s what my muse is asking for! And the cherry on top is my mother giving me permission to use my sister’s name as the main character.
Here’s the opening bit from Death on the Farm
Was it too early in the day to commit murder? Juniper Allen wondered as she leaned over the steaming pile on the entryway carpet. Armed with a wad of paper towels, she enveloped the offending object and waddled hastily toward the compost bucket. Mouse guts would break down. Her nerves might, also.
Mission accomplished, she stood at the bottom of the stairs, hand on her aching lower back, and glared upward. The dim landing at the top remained empty. Oh, there was going to be bloody murder if that man did not come down on time…
The door opened behind her, and June tried to spin around, momentarily forgetting her altered center of gravity.
John caught her around the waist, which was more clock-shaped than hourglass these days. “Whoa there, lady. Steady on.”
He smiled down at her, and June, her irritation dropping away in an instant, snuggled into her husband’s embrace for a quick cuddle.
“I’ve brought the conveyance around for your convenience, milady.” He kissed her on the forehead. “Art thou prepared?”
June giggled. It was pure silliness, but this was part of why she had fallen in love with the big farmer boy when they met at college. On the outside he was a phlegmatic bearded man with hooded eyes and a steady gaze that either caused people to look away, or stare back in growing comprehension that there was a mind under that hayseed exterior he put on.
“I need to get my coat.” She tossed over her shoulder as she opened the closet door. “Your favorite murderer has been at it again.”
“What?” He took the coat from her and held it while she wriggled in. It was so old-fashioned, and June loved it, especially now when she couldn’t move so well. “Oh, Gawain got a mouse?”
“Why does he insist on leaving the gut pile right there?”
“If you would wear shoes…” He opened the car door for her.
“I do, outside.” She got in. This was an old, well-rehearsed argument. “Inside, I always forget where I put my slippers.”
They pulled into the long driveway. He grinned. “Well, if stepping on what remains of a mouse doesn’t jog your memory, I don’t know what will.”
The drive to town was pleasant. June had learned that the baby liked long car rides. It lulled the tiny being nestled under her heart to sleep. Since the latest trick involved stretching muscles by bracing against mommy’s ribs and bladder simultaneously, June was just as happy there was none of that while they were too far from a bathroom.
The Allen farm was in a good location, June thought for the umpteenth time as she looked out the window at the passing landscape. Not too far from the little town of Barnett where they were headed now, and within easy drive of the city of Elizabethtown where she sold niche produce at the farmer’s market and they sold beef on subscriptions for far more than they got wholesale from the slaughterhouses. Rolling hills covered in grass, just turning green with spring rains, interrupted by scattered houses and patches of trees.
Header image: By Linda from Chicago, USA – Speedy in repose, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5028306