Looking forward to the new year. The old year was one big disaster. I write books. Mystery books. I published exactly zero books in 2020. My least productive year since I began this writing thing. I started writing books late in life, really late. Spent a lot of time and energy trial-and-erroring my way through some false starts but eventually managed to publish my first book in 2015, The Bootlegger’s Legacy. To date I have written ten books and once this disastrous year is over, I believe I will publish many more.
What happened in 2020? A few accidents and a couple of health problems combined to cause me to accomplish almost nothing in the whole year. Along with being depressed about the world in general and the pandemic in particular; I’ve just gotten by. I’m sure everyone has periods like that where the best you can do is “just get through it!”
As I’m starting to write again (working on Durango Two Step the number four book in the Vincent Malone series), what occurs to me is how quickly I forgot what I had written. I have reread the manuscript to get up to speed on where I left off. It is amazing how much I had forgotten about this complicated story. As always, it’s a murder mystery, which means there are many clues/hints left at the very beginning of the story that will be part of the conclusion. Some in a meaningful way and others just red herrings.
When your mind gets all cluttered up with “real world problems,” trivia, politics, money, health, bullshit of all stripes, it is hard to write a mystery story. For me at least, I need full concentration on laying out the various paths which will lead to the “surprising” answer to “Who Did It?”
My father owned his own shoe store. It was a dream of his to be self-employed. He worked two jobs for many years to be able to start his own business. His first store was in a new shopping center in a suburb of Oklahoma City. Next to his store was a dress shop owned by my mother’s good friend Libby. The next store over was a hardware store owned by my friend Joey’s father. Who had retired and opened the hardware store because he loved hardware stores. Next to the hardware store was a Jewelry store owned by a husband-and-wife team who were from somewhere foreign but who were the nicest people I had ever met. This was a large strip center that went on like that for maybe a dozen more stores—all owned by “normal” people providing goods and services to their neighbors.
The people who owned these stores also belong to the Kiwanis, the Lions Club, the Elks Club and Garden Clubs. They were on the school board, they were members of the city council, they were leaders in the local churches. They were a community.
For many years communities like that one thrived all over America. Then one day it started to change. Malls opened with thirty shoe stores from national chains. They offered more selection and cheaper prices. Soon Walmart was every where selling the same goods at close to the cost of the small store owner. Customers loved the small local store with the owner who was the backbone of their community, but cheaper was more important. Large hardware stores opened that were twenty times the size of the mom-and-pop hardware store.
The small stores slowly closed. The school board became mostly extreme advocates for rapid change in the way school was taught, or maybe the manager of the Walmart who had just moved to town. Businesspeople who lived and worked in their community were replaced everywhere by people who had agendas.
I saw my father struggle and eventually lose his dream. Walmart thrived and grew, and soon there was no local shopping district with stores ran by fathers and mothers of kids you went to school with. A community no longer existed; only shoppers looking for the best deal.
It was not a good deal.
One of my favorite stores during this era was a toy store. It is hard to imagine a toy store like they used to be. It was magical. The one I visited was owned by a very old man who absolutely loved model planes. The ceiling was covered with these hanging wonders that he had built. I must have gone into that store hundreds of times without buying a single thing, and every time he would treat me like I was his best customer. He talked about models and his love of flying. He seemed ancient and almost magical. I asked my father once about him and he said he had lost his son in the war and he was still grieving. I wasn’t sure what that meant, I just knew he was the most interesting person I had ever met.
One day the toy store did not open. It never opened again. My father said he died of a broken heart. That didn’t make any sense to me; I just knew I had lost a friend.