The MYSTERY BOOK draft is up to 14,936 words, so I wanted to share this excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 7 and, like, explain its secrets.
Here we go:
“You look lovely today,” Josephine said.
“I’m your darling daughter,” Larkin said. “You’re supposed to tell me I look lovely every day.”
“Well, you look exceptionally lovely today,” Josephine said. Larkin had achieved this compliment by dressing exactly like her mother. She wore a nicer pair of jeans paired with one of the loose floral blouses she’d worn to her many unsuccessful job interviews—she wondered if it had bad juju, and then decided that, as a white woman who didn’t even know where juju originated, she couldn’t claim it applied to her blouse—paired with a cornflower-blue cardigan that her mother had thrust upon her two Christmases ago. Josephine, standing between the coffee maker and the toaster and waiting for their respective dripping and popping, was wearing the same cardigan in a slightly darker shade.
“You’re also supposed to tell me that the beauty standard doesn’t matter.” Larkin had even dressed her hair like her mother’s, after trying and failing to remember how to braid. Dean Day wore her just-below-shoulder-length dark hair with a single barrette in the back, keeping the strands that might have fallen in her face at bay; Larkin wore her should-have-gotten-it-trimmed-two-months-ago hair, in its matching shade, with a barrette that she had swiped from her mother’s shelf in the bathroom. She had positioned herself in the kitchen so her mom couldn’t see the back of her head.
“But beauty is truth,” Josephine said. “And truth beauty. That’s the standard, and it does matter.” She put a slice of toast on a saucer and handed it to Larkin, along with a knife for the plastic butter tub that currently sat across from Josephine’s laptop on the kitchen table.
“Are you sure Keats didn’t mistranslate the words he found on that urn?”
“Larkin.” Her mother laughed so hard she slopped coffee over the side of her mug. “Do you actually think that beauty is truth, truth beauty was written on the urn?”
“It’s in the title of the poem,” Larkin said, biting into her toast. “He finds an ode on a Grecian urn.”
“I cannot believe I gave birth to you.”
“So glad you did, though.” Larkin folded the rest of her toast into her mouth, scootched past her mother to wash the butter off her hands, quickly explained that she was meeting another friend for coffee and would be back before lunch—Josephine was thrilled that her daughter had made a second friend, never mind that this “friend” was really “a woman Larkin planned to interrogate about the death of her ex-husband in order to solve a murder and/or win a contest”—and was out of the house in just enough time to justifiably pretend she hadn’t heard her mother say “are you wearing my barrette?”
So we’ve come a long way since the first seven sentences of the book, in which Larkin and her mother are sitting in two different areas of the house (it’s an open-plan) and arguing with each other. Now they’re both in the kitchen! They’re becoming closer, literally and metaphorically!
However, Larkin is still reverting to adolescent behavior and/or not respecting her mother’s space, as demonstrated by The Swiping of The Barrette. The character growth is not yet done!
Josephine Day, like many mothers, has this habit of saying some tiny thing that’ll stick in her daughter’s head for the rest of the day and influence her decisions (for good or for ill). In this case, it’s the Keats reference. Beauty is truth, truth beauty is a CLUE. For THE MYSTERY.
Also, I got to make the joke about the ode on the Grecian urn. Do you know how much fun it is to get to write a book that has jokes in it? And humorous descriptions of murder suspects and their forty-seven succulents?
Yes, I know that this is a book that hinges on a human being killed by another human, sooooooooooo early in the draft I let the characters give themselves permission to be funny:
“He had a flask in his bag,” Larkin said. “He told me not to tell anyone.”
“Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead,” Anni said. That might have been the moment they decided to stay friends. “I’m sorry—can we make jokes? I think we have to. I’m going to say we can.”
Eventually, of course, there will be a moment when Anni decides they can’t make jokes anymore. And then, at the end of the book—well, you already know how this is going to go, and that’s the point. Half the fun of reading books like these is knowing how they’re going to go, so that when Anni finally says “I think we can start making jokes again,” you feel as relieved and happy as the characters in the story. ❤️