Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother Made Me Do It - Redux

How My Mother Drove Me to Murder

He's stone cold dead in the market
Stone cold dead in the market
Stone cold dead in the market
I killed nobody but my husband

My mother used to sing that ditty to us as children. While other families sang 100 Bottles in the car, we sang Frankie and Johnny. I've known all the words  since I was ten years old - maybe younger - so do my  daughter and nieces. (My son doesn't like songs with words.) Add shelves full of the collected works of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout -- some of which my mother had brought with her from England when she emigrated -- no wonder I turned to crime writing.

Mum, 1952, British Passport
The setting of my first mystery novel was inspired by an interview I did of Guelph's then Chief of Police. We talked about the future of police services and the evolution of community policing. Over the intervening decade, I've seen a lot of what we talked about come true. This has been problematic since I decided to set my series in the near future and that future has been coming faster than I anticipated. For instance, I gave my police officers law enforcement grade, personal communications and data management devices. This was before the Blackberry and I-Phone were household names -- let alone standard equipment for police.

The setting and characters kept evolving as I learned more about police procedure, technology, and life in general. I had pages of notes but I was missing an essential ingredient - a plot. I had an overall story arc for the key relationships, but I couldn't plot the mystery until I had a mystery to solve. I was a crime writer without a crime.

In the midst of this, mother died. For a while, everything was set aside while I dealt with my mother's estate, my sister's cancer and my father's failing health. (Add four kids ages 0-9 - two mine, two my sister's - shaken not stirred.) While taking care of my sister, I completed my first fantasy novel at her insistence. Editing the first draft of Cod Squad gave my sister something else to think about. But that's another story (see Joey and the Turtle, Canadian Voices Volume 1, Bookland Press, 2009 and NorthWord, 2012).

Aunty Yang, Nana and Mum - Family Matriarchs
Shortly after my sister's death, we were visiting my mother's sister. (Aunty Yang and Uncle D  are like my other parents.) Aunt Yang and I were talking about sisters - hers and mine. There are things you tell a sister that you don't tell anyone else. I learned things about my mother that she never revealed when she was alive.

I learned that Mum was more upset about my sister's marriage breaking up than she let on. Aunt Yang confirmed that Mum also considered leaving Dad, but didn't feel supported in her decision, so stuck it out "for the children". I always knew Mum and Dad weren't suited. They loved each other, but they didn't always like each other. I also know that neither Joey nor I knew what to do about it.

Having gone through postpartum depression, I understood, in retrospect, that my mother had been depressed for the last years of her life. Talking to my aunt, I learned that it had less to do with her health problems and weight issues than being forced to take early retirement. I started thinking about how engaged Mum was in her work -- how proud she was of what she did.

Mum at Work
Before coming to Canada, the woman who would become my mother was the first female insurance adjuster in England and the first examiner. When she emigrated, she became the first in Canada. After taking a dozen years to raise a family and go back to school, Mum returned to her old profession and swiftly rose in position until she was bumping her head on the glass ceiling. Typically, of the men she trained became her supervisor. When the layoffs came, he stayed and she was retired. She felt betrayed.

We (the rest of the family) never knew how she felt. She made the retirement package seem like it was her idea all along. Mum and Dad went on a trip to Spain and Morocco immediately. The golden years had begun. The downhill slide into depression went unnoticed by most, if not all of her nearest and dearest.

The conversation with Aunt Yang was illuminating. It confirmed my suspicions, revealed new aspects of my mother's situation, and - because writers need to be opportunistic - it gave me an idea for a murder. I looked to my mother and all those boring conversations about insurance I endured as a teen whenever Mum invited a colleague home for dinner. I thought about who my mother would like to kill (other than her husband, in the market, with a frying pan) and who I could get to do it for her. It was her legacy.

To Mum:
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
Thanks for Deadly Legacy.


Note: This is an updated post from 2010 - when I was still looking for a publisher for Deadly Legacy. Ironically, it wasn't until this year that I finally heard the full version of Stone Cold Dead in the Market which I will share with you.

(Mum only taught us the chorus.)

6 comments:

  1. What an inspiring and candid post, Alison. I think your Mom would be very proud of how you turned tragedy into success (and murder).

    You cracked me up with her song--I don't think I've heard that one. And I love the "my mother drove me to murder" line.

    I can't say my Mom did the same. It seems that the people who die in most of my novels are Moms though. I'm not sure what that means.

    Your Mom left you a great legacy. They always say, "Write what you know." ;-)

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif
    www.cherylktardif.com

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  2. Greta post - I am still chuckling a bit over here.

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  3. Tales about strong women and dedicated mothers inspire me. What a wonderful tribute to your mother, Alison. It sounds like you've inherited her strength as well as her love of the macabre!

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  4. I hit him over the head with a frying pan
    Hit him over the head with a frying pan
    Hit him over the head with a frying pan
    I killed nobody but my husband

    Thought you might like the rest of the song. No wonder I'm a single mom.

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  5. Way to go, Alison! (heh heh) I'm sure your mother would agree with me when I say, "I'm glad you're on our side!" Terrific motive for literary murder... ;=D

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  6. Sam is a jazzbo in the making! :D

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