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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Lauren Miller wrote her first novel, PARALLEL, while on maternity leave from her law firm job and blogged about it, an experiment she called "embracing the detour" (also the name of her blog). Many people told her she was crazy. When she realized they were right, she told no one and kept writing. Her second novel, FREE TO FALL, was released by HarperTeen on May 13th.

Born in NYC and raised in Atlanta, Lauren now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

 

Find Lauren on Facebook and Twitter.

http://laurenmillerwrites.com

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item1 HUNTING FOR STORIES WITH HARRIET item1
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Before we get started with this fabulous Memorial Day blog, I wanted to take a quick moment to remind everyone that there's still time to register for Bouchercon 2014, Long Beach! It's shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever, with fabulous guests of honor, tours of the Queen Mary, and much, much more. It's a conference I never miss, and I hope to see all of you there! For more information: Bouchercon 2014.

 

I had a notebook, a No. 2 pencil and a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.  It didn’t matter that I detested mayonnaise or that raw tomatoes had always reminded me of dead fish.  If mayo and tomatoes on white bread was good enough for Harriet, it was good enough for me.  

I was eleven, the exact same age as Harriet the Spy, and in my mind this was more than coincidence.  Harriet and I were meant to be.  It didn’t matter that Harriet was eleven years old nearly 30 years before I was because I didn’t know that.  Louise Fitzhugh’s novel never felt dated to me.  Not once in the thirty seven times I read it that year.

Like Harriet, I loved to write and thought this would make me an excellent spy. If you’d asked me then for a job description of a spy, I would’ve said “someone who writes about other people’s secrets.”  Ah. It wasn’t secrets I was after, it was stories  I mean, c’mon. If I wasn’t going to write about what I saw, what was the point of seeing it?  

Mostly I was tired of writing about myself.  I had this sense that “real writers” wrote about other people, most exciting people.  People with mystery in their lives.  “Mystery” was the word I used when I really meant “scandal."  My life was entirely devoid of both.  My spy route was supposed to remedy that.

The only problem was I didn’t live on the Upper East Side like Harriet.   There were no alleys in my neighborhood, no dumbwaiters to climb into, no apartment building window ledges to hang from.  I lived in Georgia, in the suburbs, on a busy street I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike on.  Had my nearest neighbors been mysterious, scandalous people, this might not have been a problem, but as it turned out, the houses on either side of ours were inhabited by people even more boring than we were.  

So I had to look elsewhere for material.  Since my life that year pretty much consisted of going to school and coming back home, my only real option was to spy on my classmates.  This required me to be extra-spy-crafty, lurking around hallway corners and ducking low in my seat on the bus to listen to their super secret conversations.  Turns out I was good at being spy-crafty, and it wasn’t long before my notebook was filled with spy dirt.  Coded spy dirt, of course, lest someone find my notebook on the playground (hey, if it could happen to Harriet, it could happen to me).  Of course, I was planning to publish everything I’d witnessed, using my classmates' real names (I had plans for a typed newsletter, with artwork), but I didn’t want to be scooped on my own stories.  

About a week into my spying, my class went to the art museum downtown for an afternoon field trip.  Dedicated spy that I was, I brought my notebook.  As we walked from the school bus to the museum’s entrance, I scanned the sidewalk across the street for some spy-worthy activity.  And I saw some.

My best friend’s mom, standing outside a hotel, kissing a man. A man who wasn’t my best friend’s dad.

I was only eleven, and didn’t really have a category for what I was seeing.  But even without knowing, I knew.  

While the museum docent talked to us about art, I took copious notes, writing down everything I could remember about what I’d just seen.  What my friend’s mom was wearing.  How she was standing. The expression on her face when she pulled back from that kiss.  I even wrote about my friend’s dad, imagining him at work, alone, oblivious to his wife’s mysterious (read: scandalous) lunch time activities.  This, I knew, was a really good story.  

I also knew I could never tell it.  

Looking back, it’s hard to know how I knew this.  I was only eleven after all.  But I discovered something that day, a truth that has shaped the writer I’ve become.

Not every good story is our story to tell.

 

WHO WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD INSPIRATION? Tell us by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of FREE TO FALL! (U.S. entrants only, please.)

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