In 1975 I was fifteen. Watergate was current news. The Weather Underground was also making news. Charlie Chaplin was knighted. It was the time of the Convoy of Tears, for those familiar with Vietnam. In music, Glen Campbell was singing Rhinestone Cowboy and I sang When Will I Be Loved along with Linda Ronstadt. My husband, out there in the world unbeknownst to me, was thirteen, which is just really weird to think about. I think I had a crush on a senior at the time. Definitely was not interested in thirteen year old boys.
And I bought a new release book for seventy-five cents. Crocodile on the Sandbank.
That book started a love affair with mysteries, and is probably why I write mysteries. For thirty-eight years I have been reading books by Elizabeth Peters. And books written under her pseudonym, Barbara Michaels. And books under her real name, Barbara Mertz.
Thirty-eight years. Think about that a moment.
Can you imagine the amount of paper she, as a writer, accumulated? You writers will know exactly what I’m referring to. We collect scraps. Scribbled dialog overheard at the laundromat, bits of news that might make a good story some day, notes on writing craft, deleted scenes from drafts that might work in a different tale, and so on. And we always swear some day we’re going to organize all those pieces of paper.
What does that have to do with Elizabeth Peters? Well, she died recently, and it feels like losing a close friend. I have lived thirty-eight years within her imagination. Her words have sent me to places I have never physically been. She has inspired me and made me laugh. And I can’t imagine a future without the anticipation of a new Amelia Peabody or Vickie Bliss. And that made me wonder how her family was doing, and that got me thinking they are probably going through years and years of scraps of paper.
To her family, those scraps will be incomprehensible. I can hear them saying to each other ‘why did she keep that?’. I bet those scraps will make them shake their heads, cry, laugh, and grieve together. But only the writer who saved the snippet will understand the reason.
Someday my son will probably be found kneeling by boxes trying to figure out why in the world his mother kept a list of true things police officers have said to people they pull over (I might have a character in that situation some day), or a very tattered book called 2000 Baby Names (character names). Or maybe the book on how people lived in the 1800s (I think I have a western story in me some where).
I am willing to bet Elizabeth Peter’s family decides to hold on to some of those scraps.
Because even if the reason is unknown, they will still understand that words were of value to the writer.
Rest in Peace, Elizabeth, surrounded by stories.