Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Haunted by High School

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  So—high school. My reunion is coming up, and it got me thinking about what went on back then. 

There were the students—girls—who went away and didn’t come back. The  boys who were “hoody” as we called them, who did mysterious stuff.  We talked about the goat killer, of course. (Did you have him?) And one classmate died in a car accident—sad, but not sinister.
But we were all mesmerized by the killing of a local school-aged girl named Sylvia Likens—she was tortured to death by a gruesome landlady and her hideous collection of teenage crazy people. Yeesh. I still get chills. They called the killer The Torture Mother.
Anyway.
Susan Bickford's debut mystery, A Short Time to Die has its start and heart in high school. This dark tale of suspense opens as Mary Shaw hears gunshots on her way home from a high school dance in rural Central New York. A wild chase begins, ending in the death of two men and the start of her life on the run.
Susan, tell us more! (And whoo hoo—a giveaway at the end!)  
SUSAN BICKFORD: One of the biggest ah ha moments for me came in writing the middle part of A Short Time to Die. It took me down a dark path that I hadn’t intended to travel and challenged me to look at many aspects of human nature that I found disturbing. When I looked back over my shoulder, I was surprised by the rough road I had traveled.
The inspiration for the opening scene was much more simple and also easily compelling.
At the end of my freshman year in high school, two classmates from my homeroom did not show up for the last day of classes. They had gone to a local swimming hole in their bathing suits and never came back. There were whispers that they had “run off.”
They hadn’t run off. Their bodies were found several months later, but that didn’t stop the whispers, blaming them for their own deaths.  Their killer or killers were never found or identified.
Decades later when I started writing, I knew I needed to address the deep ache that episode had imprinted in my heart. I had to write about a girl who is confronted with mortal danger and escapes.  A Short Time to Die begins with a chase and the deaths of her assailants. She doesn’t go to the police. She doesn’t tell her family. She goes home as if nothing happened and makes her plans to get as far away from her this town and her family as possible.
That was the easy part.
I knew I had a compelling beginning, but what next? Why couldn’t Marly go to the police even though she knew it was the right thing to do? If she couldn’t tell her family, what kind of people were they? What about the community around her?
Marly’s life is dominated by her extended family, the Harris clan, a loosely connected gang of relatives who operate a criminal network out of the rural area where they live. What made these characters so twisted and cruel?
As I wrote, I realized that there is a side to all of us that comes from our ancestors who had to identify the weakest animal in a pack of deer, for example, or recognize danger.
Sadly, that instinct also can be used in a cruel way, to pick out others who are weaker or different and target them for bullying or abuse. Marly’s family is filled with people like this, who infect their own relatives and neighbors with violence and fear.
At the same time, there is another ancient instinct: empathy. The ability to feel the pain and emotions of others allowed our ancestors also to form bonds with those around them, ensuring safety and comfort.
Marly realizes that she cannot survive—let alone escape—on her own. She gradually sees that there are people around her who are ready to help if she will let them.
Marly and her step-father, Del, are opposite sides of the same coin. Both are smart, self-aware, and resourceful. Del succumbs to the crushing malevolence of his family, but that same environment pushes Marly to embrace empathy and that is what enables her to survive and build a life.
 A life I could have wished for my classmates.
Did anything happen to you in high school that haunts you? Or is there an event that’s haunted you for years?   I’d love to hear. I’ll be picking a commenter’s name at random to receive a gift copy of A Short Time to Die.
Hank: Yeah, so fascinating! It makes me realize that there as probably a lot more going  on than I knew. Now I’m thinking about Sylvia Likens again. The world was so much smaller then, right? Did that make us feel safer? Or not?  And do you have a haunting high school memory?
Susan will draw a winner tonight! 
 ******   

Susan Alice Bickford was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Central New York.
After she discovered computer graphics and animation her passion for technology pulled her to Silicon Valley, where she became an executive at a leading technology company.
She now works as an independent consultant, and continues to be fascinated by all things high tech. She splits her time between Silicon Valley and Vermont.
A Short Time to Die is her first novel.
Find her on Facebook and Twitter and on her website: www.susanalicebickford.com

A Short Time to Die 
Walking home on a foggy night, Marly Shaw stops in the glare of approaching headlights. Two men step out of a pickup truck. A sudden, desperate chase erupts in gunshots. Both men are left dead. And a terrified girl is on the run—for the rest of her life . . .

Thirteen years later, human bones discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California are linked to a mother and son from Central New York. Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Detective Vanessa Alba and her partner, Jack Wong, dive into an investigation that lures them deep into the Finger Lakes. They find a community silenced by the brutal grip of a powerful family bound by a twisted sense of blood and honor, whose dark secrets still haunt the one family member who thought she got away . . .
****************** 
 Sylvia Likens photo courtesy: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42564231 



98 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your book, Susan . . . .
    Your high school story, with your classmates’ deaths, is so sad.
    High school was, more than anything else, a minefield . . .

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    1. That's such a great way of putting it, 'Joan. It was just a question of getting through without disaster, right?

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    2. Joan it sounds like you would agree that high school is a formative time. So many people tend to dismiss the intensity of the experiences.

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    3. growing pains is not fun. high school is when you go through the big change from being a kid to being an adult.

      my mom taught high school when I was in kindergarten. I remember she called them her kids and I said "no, they are not kids because they look like grown ups to me". From the perceptive of a kindergartener, people in high school did look like grown ups!

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    4. Oh! I remember that "grown up" part so clearly. I was 10 and a babysitter came one evening. She was about 14. And suddenly it struck me that she was a **woman** (boobs, makeup, hairdo, nylons...) and in just a few short years I would be like that too. The horror!! I think I even asked her if she got her period. What a dork I was :-)

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  2. Susan, this will haunt me for some time... going now to find your book. Congratulations. (great cover!) No major traumas in my high school class that I recall... except a classmate died of cancer. So sad. Though I barely knew her, I remember going door to door with my friend Leonora Horwin to collect for a fund in her name. What we did have were a fair number of suicides--mothers who killed themselves. Just plain awful and sad.

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    1. Mother suicides? That is heartbreaking, you're right Hallie, we never had anything like that. I wonder if that was… Hollywood? What do you make of that?

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    2. Hallie, I did lose several friends (and some parents) to cancer and accidents but no suicides. It makes me think that high school today could be a very different since suicide seems to be much more common. And opiate addiction hits so many now.

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    3. Hallie, when I visited the museum exhibit about California, there was a mention that there was a higher rate of suicides in Los Angeles / Hollywood, perhaps because there was no sense of community? However, I know people who grew up in LA / Hollywood and these people had a sense of community.

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  3. Susan, congratulations on your first novel!
    Hank: wow, the Goat Killer and the Torture Mother!

    No major traumas for me either in high school. Ontario was one of 2 provinces that had high school until grade 13. I went to a large academic school with over 1800 students in Toronto, It was the only Toronto high school with a geology program. I also took 6 other geography courses which heightened my wunderlist to travel in real life and to major in geography at university.

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    1. Well, math was a trauma, THAT's for sure. And wow, 1800 kids! My high school had 400. For all FOUR grades!

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    2. Ha ha, well math was a trial for me, too. But I agree that it is amazing that there were no deaths, tragedies in such a large high school. Suburban north Toronto was pretty safe and boring.

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    3. It sounds like you had a fabulous high school experience. I was very fortunate to go to great schools that were very small -- about 100 students per class. Academics were not my problem. Socially - ugh. We moved twice in high school and those were wrenching.

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    4. Yes, same here, Grace. My suburban Toronto high school (Cedarbrae) was even bigger (2200 at its peak) and had so many streams it was like 4-5 different schools in one. And I remember absolutely NO tragedies of that kind. Well, it was the mid 1960s.

      PS: Just GREAT meeting you last week, Hank. That was a truly memorable SinC meeting.

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  4. The book sounds fascinating, Susan, and I really love the upstate New York setting. My high school classmates suffered the usual assortment of car accidents and teen pregnancies, but if there was trauma, they held it close and hid it well. What puzzles and intrigues me still, from that era of my life, is the story of Ken Rex McElroy. I lived at the opposite end of the state from Skidmore, Missouri, but we all heard about the day McElroy was murdered. He was, by all accounts, a petty criminal who bullied the tiny town of Skidmore. The only law up there was the state Highway Patrol, and they weren't able to build a strong enough case against him, so the townspeople took the law into their own hands and killed him. In broad daylight, with tons of witnesses on hand, somebody shot McElroy as he came out of a restaurant, and nobody ever confessed. Nobody ever pointed a finger. By now, most of the main suspects have grown old and died. Here we are, 36 years later, and the case remains unsolved. It speaks to me of the clannishness of small towns, and how sometimes a community can band together to decide that somebody "needs killing," then carry out the sentence and move on without a backward glance. It's primitive, but in Skidmore, Missouri, it worked.

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    1. Wow, Gigi. Fist, what a name. Second, that is so ...lord of the flies. Wild west. What a story.

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    2. Is vigilante justice ever the best answer? I doubt it, but sometimes it is the only answer.

      Just realized that you grew up about three counties north of me.

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    3. My book has aspects of that you describe, Gigi. Nothing quite as blatant. No spoilers :-) The people of Skidmore must have been terrified and frustrated. I certainly don't personally condone vigilante justice but conflict makes for a good story!

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    4. I don't condone vigilante violence either, but I'm like Hank--very Lord of the Flies. It freaked me out at the time that a whole town could band together like that--for whatever reason--and then never speak of it. I always figured someone would tell eventually, but apparently not. I grew up in southwest Missouri, Finta, down around Springfield.

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    5. When it comes to writing, Moral Ambiguity is my middle name. Love that. In real life it's more complicated :-)

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  5. I loved this book, Susan. I found out yesterday that "Feral Girl" Genie was found on my own street (but a mile away, so not a neighbor) in my town the year I graduated from high school. I never knew! I was away in Brazil that year as an exchange student and somehow never heard, although I heard about her later in my life. Stunned to learn it.

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    1. Oh, gosh, that's chilling.. Poor thing. (Her, not you :-) )

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    2. Truly. And then she was treated like a lab rat, not a person. She's apparently still alive in a senior residence somewhere.

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    3. I hadn't heard of Feral Girl Genie before. I took a quick peek and will read more later. Really disgusting. It amazes me how people can be so cruel. True crime is much more brutal than we (I) can imagine.

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    4. Amen to that, Susan! That's kind of reassuring, I think, that most of us would never dream of such brutality.

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    5. Yes, there are a lot of people who are mean, sad, struggling but they don't cross the line.

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    6. Oh, I so agree! It is terrifying. Very very disturbing

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  6. Congratulations on the book Susan! It seems like a big jump to write a novel, coming from a background in technology. Tell us something about that transition?

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    1. The whole transition thing is fascinating, Lucy. We've all done it,right? In some way or other?

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    2. I have had a life of interesting transition, Lucy. In college, I started as a comp lit major, switched to fine arts and even got an MFA in studio art. But midway through the MFA, I became interested in mathematics again and since I had done some cel animation to make money, I took an internship with one of the first computer animation companies. Somewhere in the credits for TRON, I'm in there.
      I was captivated by computers and high tech. I had a blast. I had my own company a couple of times. Silicon Valley is quite a place. But I still wanted to tell stories. I had studied creative writing with Natalie Babbitt in college. When I hit a break in my high tech career, I found I just had to write, write, write. It hit me like a disease.
      It took a while, but eventually I knew I had a story I could stick with.

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  7. Congratulations on your debut Susan. Let this be the first of many.

    High school trauma? Oh yeah. I was bullied from the third grade on by Jill and Daisy, what a pair to draw to. Daisy dropped out by the eighth grade, whew. One bullet dodged. And Jill was disarmed by the absence of her cohort. Then she got hepatitis one summer, didn't come back to school in September with the rest of us. By October she was dead. What made this so very odd was that I was called into the office first and given the news before the school wide announcement. I burst into tears as only a 15 year old can and went off to share the news.

    Once in a while over the years I've thought of Jill and Daisy and all the misery they caused me. I'm sorry their lives were so fraught with troubles, and, for Jill, so short. But I can't say I missed either one of them.

    Ann in Rochester, 20 minutes from the Finger Lakes.

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    1. Ann, oh, how confusing and terrible. And what did you think about them calling you in first? They KNEW what they'd been doing to you...and did nothing?

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    2. This makes me think the school knew and didn't help you very much, Flinta. In adult life, I try to remember to speak out when I see things. What a conflicting spot to be in.
      My sister and brother were both bullied, but I wasn't. I was shunned a bit as a newcomer and my own awkwardness didn't help.
      I went to high school near Rochester. Wheatland Chili Central School. My classmates who were killed lived in Balantyne, a part of Chili.

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  8. Wow-powerful stories here this morning! And Gigi, I remember reading about the case of the town bully being shot. If there were major traumas in my class, they were well-hidden also. The story I can't forget happened two decades ago--in a rural area near Columbus, Ohio--a young girl--about 15, was at the county fair with her sister and friends. She was at the gate, waiting for them--waiting to go home, when a neighbor offered her a ride home. It was that summer when all the young girls were wearing short-shorts with little girlie socks and white tennies--they looked so cute. They found her body the next day in or near a cemetery. The detail I can't forget is this: one of her little socks was found behind a tombstone. She'd gotten away, it seems, and was desperately hiding, crouching behind that tombstone. Sometimes I dream that she gets away.

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    1. Flora. Oh. The SOCK. And somehow, I JUST recently read a book with a plot just like that. The older sister was supposed to be watching her younger sister at a fair and she..ah. Anyone? Anyone? Know what book it was?

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    2. That story is somewhat similar to my friends, Flora, and also my response to it. I came from a very supportive family, I was one of the smart kids, we had a modest set of advantages. That summer when I turned 15 was when I started to realize just how creepy the world could be for teenage girls. It wasn't just my classmates. That's probably late by today's standards. I wonder if it's the same for boys.

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    3. I'm not making light of the story, but when I read this reply, the thought of entitling a thriller "One White Sock" gave me a chill and the wish I had the ability to write a thriller equal to that kind of ominous title.

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    4. Hank, was it "The Long and Faraway Gone" by Lou Berney?

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    5. Well, there is that excellent novel about two little girls playing with their special dolls in the front yard. The older is supposed to be looking after the younger, but then a puppy ran by . . .

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    6. Yes, what a terrific book!!! :-)

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    7. Yes yes, exactly! You are brilliant. Yes, I loved that book… Isn't it interesting how similar?

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  9. Oh my! All these experiences make me truly grateful for my boring life at my tiny high school in rural, upstate NY. Or was I just oblivious? Sounds like a terrific book, Susan and I can't wait to read it!

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    1. Yes, boring can be wonderful. xoo

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    2. Thank you Judi. Where did you grow up? I lived in Fayetteville until I was 13, then Scottsville (where the murders happened), and in Cazenovia before I blasted off to Hamilton College -- also in Central New York. I was just back there for reunion and did a lot of driving around. For the most part it was a wonderful, safe place, but gradually I realized that weird stuff did happen.

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    3. Love Cazenovia! I had an epic summer vacation in the Hamilton/Earlville area one year.

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    4. Practically next door. Lots of really fascinating nooks and crannies in those hills and valleys. My brother went to Colgate in Hamilton, I went to Hamilton in Clinton :-)

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    5. I grew up east of there in Schoharie County. Beautiful then and still beautiful now! I went to Hamilton college for a fraternity weekend and don't remember much but not for reasons you are probably thinking. It is just because it was so long ago and really wasn't all that memorable. I have more memories about the movie The Sterile Cuckoo, a movie with Liza Minnelli that I saw a few years later.

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    6. I was sort of in that movie. I had just started college and they were shooting on campus for several months. There were some big party scenes and many of us signed up to act raucously. However, the angles of the shots used put me just out of sight.

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  10. Congratulations, Susan! This was a hard story to write, and I applaud your perseverance. That story needed to be told.

    No traumas for me in high school, but a few years later, the boy I double-dated with to Junior Prom murdered the girl who was his date. She was his wife by that time, and it took 8 years to solve her murder. She'd been buried in their back yard the whole time. I should have known this guy was no good. My mother never liked him, and my mom likes everyone.

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    1. What?? Wow. Incredible. Man. What a prom theme.
      (And isn't that a song?)

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    2. Thanks to you, Ramona, this story has finally seen the light of day. I've taken several other writing courses, but the ones I took from you really, really made a difference. You even helped with my query letter.

      I remember your story of that girl. What fascinates me these days is what makes people predators. Not necessarily sociopaths. Just plain mean.

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    3. Hank, Ramona's story made me think of the Warren Zevon song "Excitable Boy".

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    4. Hank and Jay, I checked out the lyrics to "Excitable Boy." Yikes. This was a domestic abuse case, then a cops-don't-care case.

      Susan, thank you for the kind words. I loved having you in every course. Your work has paid off!

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  11. Oh my, trauma would have to be pretty strong to last over 50 years... yet. ...There were around 2400 students in my HS. The walls were full of teen angst most likely. I think the thing that bothers me the most when remembering the tragedies from my high school -- the murder/suicide of a classmates parents, or the mental breakdown from schizophrenia of another classmate, or the death of four students in a car accident, is that my over whelming feeling back then was relief that it did not happen to me. Teens = self centered. The other thought is happiness is short time, guilt lives forever.

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    1. Coralee, yes, which means we should embrace the happiness. And guilt is so teemingly personal, right?

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    2. I think your reaction is very normal, Coralee. Young people can also be very cruel. Those 3 AM moments when I toss and turn and cringe over past things I can't undo.
      Even now I find myself thinking *whew - there but by the grace of God go I* These days I try to be more grateful and appreciate how fickle fate can be.

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  12. Susan, welcome to JRW.

    My high school was beset by budget cuts due to the majority of voters voting for less taxes, which meant less money for public schools, police/fire, the public library and so on. That meant my school had no drivers' training classes. So I did not get my driver's license for a long time!

    Yes, I often hear about the traumatic experiences from people who remember their high school days. I was reminded of a JRW guest last week or two weeks ago - Emily Amstruder (sp?) who wrote a YA novel.

    My worst school experience happened on my first day of kindergarten when I was bitten by a kid in class. That poor kid was born to drug addicted parents and was abused before adoption a few months before kindergarten started.

    My high school years were spent studying 24/7 because the classes were very challenging!

    There was an incident that haunts me. It did not happen at my school. It happened at a high school in the same county. This was a high school in one of the wealthy districts where the voters voted for local bonds to give more money to public schools and everything. I cannot recall the names though. One high school student had stabbed and killed another high school student. It rocked the wealthy community. The stabber went to jail as a juvenile and the family of the student who died moved far away after the trial.

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  13. Yeah, the families always leave town, don;t hey? The kid who lived next door to us burned down our barn when I was in high school. Kevin. I was out on my first (and just about only) date,and I called (somehow) to see if I could stay out later. My mom said: come home. The barn is on fire. That family moved, too.

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    1. Hank: Well, that was a dramatic end to your date! "Come home. The barn is on fire"? I wonder what she expected you to do?

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    2. I'm glad not everyone had a traumatic time in high school. My ex LOVED high school. He peaked in high school. I think that was part of his problem later. :-)

      I was definitely a late bloomer. And, aside from this incident, most of the nasty things were far enough away.

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    3. I served lemonade to the fire fighters! I am not kidding… The ladies auxiliary brought sandwiches. Seriously.

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  14. Congratulations on the book, Susan.

    No traumas (well, of the sort you talk about - plenty of trauma caused by being "the girl on the outside of everything") while I was in high school. I did hear that one of my classmates was murdered well after we graduated, her body cut up and found in a garbage bag. But I don't think that happened in my hometown - she'd moved away.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Since we moved twice in junior and senior high school, I suffered a lot from feeling on the outside of everything. I relate to your phrasing. I was able to push through and also had a lot of fun too. On the other hand, when I wish I was younger, I don't wish to be a teenager again. 25 would be nice.

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    2. Heh, I didn't move, but I didn't seem to fit in anywhere. A lot of the anger faded over the years. I went to my 10-year reunion, but I have no desire to go to another one. College, however - I go back there all the time.

      My daughter is entering her senior year and is now dealing with being the target of a "drama queen." She said something about high school and I said, "They say these are the best four years of your life. They lie." Fortunately, she has a lot of friends on her side against the Drama Queen. I would never be 18 again. Ever.

      Mary/Liz

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  15. I had a normal high school experience. Nothing bad nor difficult. When I went to high school we wore uniforms and were respectful. When I read the comments it sounded like another world compared to where I lived.

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    1. We didn't have uniforms, but those were the days where girls had to were skirts or dresses, even when the winter temperatures were well below zero!

      When my classmates were killed I think we were all baffled because it really was a safe, supportive community on the whole. It did open my eyes.

      And these days, I doubt I could survive high school.

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  16. Congratulations Susan. What stories which have been posted. Nightmares that I am stunned by. In high school we were innocent children and protected. I was fortunate.

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    1. Yes and I feel fortunate too. Considering how clueless I was, I was lucky to be in an environment that was tolerant and forgiving.

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  17. Hank, perhaps Miss fisher's murder mysteries by Kerry greenwood?

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  18. This sounds like a very interesting book, I'll have to add it to my TBR list/pile.

    There wasn't any kind of event in high school that haunts me. The principal used to start every year by addressing each class and used the same speech all four years. By senior year, I could do the speech word for word. So when he came to the part where he said, "look around you, you'll probably never see most of these people again after high school." Though Facebook has made that statement false these days, my response that got me to the office in trouble on that first day of senior year was "What makes you think I wanted to know any of them in the first place?"

    If I carried anything away from high school that formed me as I am now, it is probably the rejection of basically being unpopular both in general and with the ladies. It is probably why I'm mostly closed off to people except on my terms. And why I don't really look to get involved with relationships. I used to coach games, I don't play them and have no time for the games that come with ridiculous mating rituals.

    Perhaps that is a kind of event that "haunts" me to this day after all, I don't know.

    I do know that I have zero interest in attending a high school reunion though.

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    1. I think adults used to be (still are?) dismissive of what kids go through in school, particularly as teenagers. It is a time that really molds us in so many ways. I know I became a more inward person along that route. It's not so much the big events, but the drip drip of daily struggle sometimes.

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  19. Hi Folks - I'm California so I've got some catchup to do on the comments!

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  20. When I was in high school, I lived five miles outside a small town, and went to a Catholic regional high school 15 miles away. I had glimpses of all kinds of lives -- dinner at a classmate's home; hanging out with my best friend's boyfriend at the Chevron station where he worked; going to the Grange for square dances; showing my heifer at the county fair; riding a public bus to school;dealing with an alcoholic, abusive father; taking care of my younger siblings; church choir. Looking back, I realize what a complicated set of images that was! No real mysteries, though. Except, how can I get John to call!

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    1. I'm sorry about your father. So many people have had to learn how to cope with that. It wasn't until I got to college that I realized than not every one had families like mine - less than perfect but very supportive. Aside from that, your experiences sound fantastic. Based on the Grange comment, I assume you were in a rural spot too.

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  21. Congrats on the book, Susan, and welcome! Isn't it weird how so many of us were separated by just a few degrees from some horrible tragedies? In middle school, one of the mothers went for a walk on the beach on a family vacation and never came back. She just disappeared. Also, a boy in my high school, about five years after I graduated, was abducted by a stranger and killed. It was horrible.

    I didn't love high school, not because I was bullied or left out. I just think I was born an old soul who had little interest in drama and angst. I'm always a little suspicious of people who loved high school! I

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  22. Looking back, I'm very appreciative of the schools I went to. Still, I couldn't wait to get out. I left after my junior year and went straight to college. I had a fabulous time in college both socially and academically.

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  23. Susan, your book sounds very good! I will add it to my list.

    I had two kind of interesting things while I was in high school. One was that for a while there was a guy locally known as the West Side Slasher who would pick up a woman, tie her up, cut all her clothes off, raper her, then release her somewhere. He was eventually caught, and he was a kid a few years ahead of me in school. Nicest, most upstanding guy you would have wanted to meet, planning to go into either the ministry or medicine. He had been giving a pregnant friend of mine rides to night school in the same time period. Said he had "voices" that told him to do it.

    The other was a girl in my class who was murdered in a nearby park one night and run over so many times that at first her remains weren't recognizable as human. It looked very intentional and kind of drug- or gang-related, but NO ONE questioned associated her with any of those kind of activities. The murder was never solved and that one still really haunts me.

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    1. There was a guy two years ahead of me in school who gave me a ride home from a church event. Instead he pulled into a parking lot and insisted that we make out. Our discussion got a bit heated but eventually he drove me home. He became a cop. I wish I'd turned him in or at least told my parents.

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  24. My high school years were pretty normal or I was pretty oblivious. I attended HS in Houston for 3 semesters. I loved the school; our class was between 900 and 1000 students. Then in the middle of my junior year Dad was transferred to New Orleans. I attended a public all-girl school in Metairie. THAT was traumatic. Segregation by gender was Jefferson Parish's answer to integration. Bleah. One semester at that school. Then a private school for my senior year. 60 people in our class. That was also a weird experience. I managed all right but wouldn't want to repeat it. I feel sorry for people who peaked in high school. Just imagine the big successes in your life way, way, way back in the rear view mirror.

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    1. I agree! I remember thinking when I was in high school, that these had better not be the best years of my life.

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    2. To continue that metaphor, you can't drive forward very well if you are looking back all the time. Sometimes it seems like a blessing that I had to work hard to get good grades, etc. When things come too easily it can lead to a sense of entitlement.

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  25. Hi Susan! Congratulations on your first novel! What a fascinating story, and I love the upstate New York setting, too.

    High school for me was something to survive, not enjoy. While there were no murders or big newsworthy crimes, quite a few of my friends died young and tragically. There's never been anything I wanted to revisit, except I keep in touch with a few friends on Facebook that go back as far as elementary school.

    It always seemed to me that most of the "early bloomers" didn't do so well later in life.

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    1. That's what I think too, Debs. I wonder if that's really true…

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    2. I have several friends who are in the perpetual talented neophyte pool. They always start each new challenge with a bang but can't push on through the part where you can't just rely on inspiration and raw talent. I do know some who manage to make it.

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  26. I'm leaving for my 45th high school reunion on Thursday, and I can't wait. We had so much fun at our 40th, and I reconnected with some people who have become great friends again at this older stage of my life. We have fun! Of course, my high school experience was a positive one. I was involved in everything from cheerleading to academics to student council to school plays to school newspaper to speech competition to, well, you get the picture. However, I wasn't someone who only ran with the popular kids. I genuinely liked people, whether they fit a certain "type" or not. So, high school was the first place in my road to becoming who I am where I felt inclusiveness was the right path to living one's life. To this day, I hate to see someone looking excluded in a group or left out. The one thing that I probably should have been in high school was a little less serious about academics, not uncaring about them, just not so hard on myself in needing perfection in that area. So, in two days, I will be getting together with some gals and guys who will party like it's 1972. Hahaha!

    Oh, I almost forgot. There will be a rather interesting creepy element to our reunion. A guy from our class joined FB this last year and began requesting friendships and getting in touch with all of us. That wasn't unusual. But, he has very strange social skills, which is to say, he is really lacking in them. Several of the girls have had him make comments on the inappropriate side, not sexual really, but a bit strange. I had a strange conversation with him on my FB page. This guy is the same one who left a note on my car when I was a senior stating how much he liked me and would have liked to gotten to know me better. None of what he has said or done has been outrageously inappropriate, but there is a creepiness to it all that one feels, that warning bell that goes off in your head. He would definitely make a good suspect in a murder mystery set at a reunion. Oh, yikes! Maybe I shouldn't have put that out in the universe.

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    1. I have to say that reconnecting through social media has been a real blessing. I've been reminded that despite being clueless, I did make some wonderful friends. There have also been a few like your car-note-guy.

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  27. Regarding kidnappings, I remember when Stagner (sp?) was kidnapped by Parnell when I was a kid. The kid escaped captivity as an adult only to be killed in a motorcycle accident a few years later. Stagner's brother was working at Yosemite and he got arrested for killing a family visiting Yosemite. I cannot recall all of the details.

    And Susan, Congratulations on your new book!

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    1. Thanks! It's been a fun ride.

      Steven Stayner was the brother who was kidnapped. Cary Stayner is the murderer. He is still sitting on death row. Apparently it was his parents' fault because they were so upset about Steven. I stayed at that motel once.

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  28. Wow. As far as I know nothing like that happened at my high school. Of course, I haven't gone back for my reunions, either, so maybe there's a hot bed of sordidness that I am missing out on. I love the premise of your book, Susan, and I enjoyed reading about your process of getting to a darker place. Fascinating. Can't wait to read it!

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    1. Thank you Jenn. I like getting feedback and questions. Feel free to let me know what you think.

      I see (mostly via FB) that many of my former classmates are doing well but some died very young or had a rough time. But at least they got to live their own lives as adults and thrive or survive.

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  29. Congratulations on the book, Susan! The band of misfits I hung out with in high school didn't have a great time of it, but not too bad. The one trauma I still remember relates to the high school prom and good friends. My boyfriend of a year-or-so broke up with me not-quite two weeks before the prom--stating that he now knew he was gay. So, of course that was high school misery, but not the real-life bad part. My two gay friends stepped in to act as my "dates." I graduated from a suburban CT high school in 1987, so it was unlikely that two boys would have gone together as a couple. I had the great satisfaction of being escorted by two really cute guys who both thought my gold lame dress was the best thing that ever happened to fashion. My gay ex stayed home, dateless. The troubling part is that after graduation my dates went off to enjoy a few college classes and life in New York City. Late eighties. Young (fantastically cute) gay men in New York City. Well, they were both dead of AIDS within five years. Awful times those were. I guess, looking back on that decade, here's one place things have definitely changed for the better!

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    1. Wow! So many things have changed for the better. Sad that the world lost two bright lights who understood the power of love and standing up for your friends. Hopefully others will pay their kindness forward.

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  30. Congratulations, Susan! I appreciate this topic, because there were a lot of incidents when I went to high school in west Akron, Ohio. Among people my age, there were fatal car accidents, rapes, drownings, an accidental suicide by Russian Roulette. Sad but not uncommon. But then the assistant soccer coach's wife was murdered getting into her car one night. The rumor was the assailant had hidden under her car and cut her achilles tendons. That murder was never solved. Then Jeffrey Dahmer's first victims were found in his parent's yard down the street from my friend who went to the next school over. Then my mean old neighbor stopped terrorizing the little kids who walked through her yard on the way to school (there was no sidewalk), and when we finally convinced the police to break in and check on her, she'd been dead for weeks among hoarded newspapers and insulin syringes and journals filled with paranoid delusions about... us neighbors. But the worst happened a year or two later, when another neighbor kid heard screaming from the house next door. When the SWAT team finally breached hours later, they found a gruesome scene. The man who lived there, Henry Heppe, told them his mother was a demon vampire, and he had "cut out both her hearts and it still took her hours to die." All of these things really happened, and they made the usual urban legends about "friends of friends" seem that much more believable. It's amazing any of our parents ever let us out of our homes.

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  31. That is quite a horrifying list, Kate. I'm reminded of a story I heard recently where an inner city middle school took a poll of the students and found out that 97% (as I recall) reported that they had been personally impacted by gun violence -- a family member or close friend injured or killed. And looking only a little further than our borders, we can see that and worse. Still, there is that other side of our humanity that is empathy and try to let that fill our hearts.

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  32. Thank you everyone. I had a great time reading your comments. Announcement of the book giveaway winner tomorrow AM since it isn't quite midnight yet here in California :-)

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  33. The winner of the book giveaway for A Short Time to Die is Gigi Norwood. Gigi - email me at susan dot bickford at gmail dot com with your snail mail information and how you would like the book personalized - signature only, signature + name of your choice ... Thank you JRW.

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