This summer I've been working on the first in a new mystery series, the Family Skeleton series. The protagonist is Georgia, a single mother and adjunct English instructor who moves back home and has to deal with the family skeleton. A skeleton named Sid. He walks, he talks, and he makes bad bone jokes, and he wants Georgia to help him solve his murder. The first one is The Skeleton in the Armoire and it'll be out next August from Berkley Prime Crime.
We don't have a cover yet, but here's an artist's rendering of Sid celebrating. (The artist is my daughter Maggie, by the way.)
I confess that I love this idea. It's wacky, and provides some unusual situations for a mystery. I picture it as kind of like Bewitched or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. But without the romance--I'm not going there with a skeleton!Obviously it's going to be light-hearted--after all, somebody has to supply Sid with all those bone jokes. So I couldn't wait to get started. But here's the thing. The book hasn't been going as quickly as I wanted or expected it to. I've been having a hard time being light-hearted.
What's up with that? I'm a pretty cheerful person. I make jokes all the time, admittedly not all good ones, but I laugh at them anyway. My family and I laugh a lot at the dinner table, and in the car, and when just hanging around. Our humor may not be sophisticated, but there's a whole lot of it. And I've always had a fair amount of humor in my books--some of it was even intentional. So what was slowing me down?
I started to think the issue was the world right now. Or at least my world right now. Excuse me for whinging, but I've got a lot of stresses right now. Work-related issues, family illness, some family discord, the rapidly approaching time when my daughter goes to college. (Okay, that last one isn't for another year, but I'm whinging about it preemptively.) Then there are world issues like divisive politics, natural disasters that seem to keep coming, shootings at movie theaters, and so forth.
All that has combined to make it harder for me to take an ambulatory skeleton seriously. Or maybe itmade it harder for me to take myself seriously. When there are so many bad things happening, what right to I have to write a silly novel about a skeleton? Shouldn't I be doing something more meaningful? Or even Significant?
Today this seemed more true than ever. I got some bad news about the health of my big sister Brenda, and I just wanted to go cry. Then I heard that Jerry Nelson, the man who created the Count on Sesame Street had passed away. You might think that it would have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but oddly, it make me feel better.
No, I'm not glad the world has lost a talented performer. It's just that when I saw people posting their memories of watching Sesame Street, and found YouTube clips of the Count singing with Kermit and the others, I remembered laughing at the Muppets myself. A lot. It ralso eminded me of our visit to Sesame Place in 2003, when Steve got to meet the Count in person. (So to speak.)
Then I thought about a recent visit to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA, and the wonderful exhibit they had of Jim Henson's muppets. They even had a muppet of Henson himself.
Here were two beloved creators who'd added tremendously to the world, so much so that when they died, people mourned them as if they were friends. Was their work meaningful or Significant? Not hardly. The muppets make us smile and laugh and sing along and feel better--if they manage to teach us something along the way the way the Count does, that's okay, too.
I remembered that making people laugh so they can forget a little of the yuckiness in the world is a worthy goal to aspire to. That's worth a little hard work, even when I'm feeling bad.