By Alan Sorensen
Do you know how hard it is to come up with something you and your kids can do together as a family?
My kids were taken out of state when they were 7 and 2, respectively. They came back when they were 11 and 12. It was too late to convince them to take advanced swimming lessons, learn fancy dives off the 1- and 3-meter boards, hit a sinking fastball, or protect a basketball court baseline.
After reading about 1,000 murder mysteries and half as many classics, including four by Louise Erdrich, Ive come up with an activity we can share writing a mystery.
We could use this book as a means of getting closer, Spud and I, and maybe even Jeremy, David, and Chy-An. Other dads play ball or go fishing and hunting with their kids. All the boys and I have is skiing and theyre always off in the side trails with their ladies. Im not adept at their interests hackey sack and stereos.
Even nephew Dr. Matt and mentee Matt could chip in with chapters.
The idea is to write a story in Erdrichs style. Each of her chapters is a first-person account by one of her many characters. The accounts eventually tie into the plot and theme of the story.
But why limit the number of contributors? How about we all get together, everyone within 50 or so square miles with an interest in fiction, and write the thing? Everyone is welcome to write a chapter of between one and 20 pages double spaced.
I think that format is perfect for multiple contributors. The chapters dont have to deal directly with crime; they can be social, landscape, or character studies. Remember, theres nothing to say that murder mysteries cant be humorous.
Seasons dont matter, but it would be premium neat if each chapter contained some location unique to our area: Ice Dome, Legion Field, Bear Paws, ski hill, Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap, Mission Canyon, Milk River, golf course, horse trails, powwow grounds, Canadian border, whatever strikes the writers fancy.
And dont forget the black powder shooting range behind Fort Assinniboine, the skeet range behind the softball complex and across the dike from the model airplane airfield, the police range across the road from the softball complex, the Havre rifle and pistol range in the Badlands near the rookery, the Border Patrols indoor shooting gallery, and the VFW Junior Rifle Clubs range in the basement of city hall.
Anyone and everyone from 2 to 92 is invited to submit chapters. In the event that the submissions should turn out to be publishable, contributors would be awarded proceeds in accord with their contributions that make it into the final work. Syntax and grammar are nice, but a strong story is better. Thats why God created editors.
Ive already written probable first lines of the first chapter:
I told him it was unwise to go, but he didnt listen. He never did. Now I have to convince the judge that it wasnt his fault, maybe even take the blame myself.
Here are a couple of examples of things to watch for when writing medical and historic copy:
Kathie N. told me when I first took over her beat about nine years ago that stable can modify a medical condition, but is not a condition in itself. A person can be stable while in serious or critical condition or even while perfectly healthy. The ultimate stable condition, from which there is no change, however, is death. You cant get more stable than dead.
Erdrichs latest novel, Antelope Wife, begins with a vendor making his plans to hit the Arlee, Elmo, Missoula, and Rocky Boy powwows and Crow Fair. He ends up kidnapping his antelope woman at Elmo and fleeing with his catch to Minnesota.
Later in the book, Erdrich reveals that the Ojibwa came up with Minnesotas nickname. They referred to the Swedes who settled the state as gophers because they dug in the earth planted crops.
There doesnt have to be a limit to the number of people done away with in our whodunit, but I do have an idea for at least one victim.
The state engineer responsible for erecting a 10-mile fence through Beaver Creek Park would be a likely victim with upwards of 17,000 viable suspects. Fictionally speaking, of course.