Monday, October 12, 2015

What We're Writing: Hallie drops a clue...

HALLIE EPHRON: It's WHAT WE'RE WRITING WEEK on Jungle Reds and I love getting to kick it off.

For a change, I'm not taking you to a journey into one of my copious OUT-files. This is from the book I'm working on. Some of you may remember the blog I wrote about a trip I took to the doll hospital -- that research is what kicked this book.

The book tells the story of three generations of women, all of them haunted by the disappearance of a child forty years ago. A porcelain doll, made by the girl’s mother in the image of that child, may hold the key to finding out what became of her.

In this small excerpt, Lila tells what happened that broke up her marriage and eventually forced her and her daughter (Vanessa) to move back in with Lila's mother (Miss Sorrel).   
Miss Sorrel, bless her heart, had reveled in taking care of Vanessa. Maybe it was because having Vanessa there helped Miss Sorrel feel less alone after her husband's death, or maybe it was because Vanessa was four years old, the same age that little Jane had been when she disappeared. With her fine fair hair and pale complexion, Vanessa even resembled Jane.

She’s no trouble at all, Miss Sorrel used to say of Vanessa, even when Vanessa was a surly, hormone-riddled teen. It’s as if God sent her to me.

Of course God had nothing to do with it. It was Charlie who couldn't keep his fly zipped. Lila still stung with humiliation remembering the phone call that ended it. She couldn't even recall why she'd called Charlie at work that day. The receptionist had answered. Charlie was on the phone, she said. Did Lila want to wait? They’d gotten to chatting, as they often did since Charlie’s work had him on the phone most of the day.

“You always sound so nice, Mrs. Applebaum.” The receptionist had said. Lila hadn’t bothered to tell her that she’d never taken Charlie’s last name. Then there’d been a long pause. Later Lila would wonder, had that woman even paused to reconsider what she was about to do, the thing that put a hairpin turn in Vanessa’s life?
“I can connect you now,” she’d said, a little too cheerily, it seemed in retrospect.


Then “Mmmmm.” Lila heard a woman's soft, warm voice. “We’ll have to try that. Sounds. . . exciting.” Lila had felt herself flush and she almost hung up, thinking there'd been a mistake -- like she'd pushed open the door to a bathroom stall that someone was using.

She realized there'd been no mistake because the chuckling she heard was oh so familiar. Then, the voice she knew by heart. “Maybe some time this weekend? I’ll call you. I miss you, too, Honey Buns. ”

Honey Buns? She’d stared, open-mouthed at the receiver. Honey Buns was Charlie’s pet name for Lila. Later she laughed about it -- always knew the guy hadn’t an original thought in his pea brain. But at the time, she’d found herself on her knees, doubled over and sobbing, the receiver on the floor beside her.

And a little insider info: this situation, where a telephone operator (remember them?) plugs her boss's wife into a phone call that ends their marriage, really happened to a friend of mine... who shall go unnamed. 

You'll have to wait 18 months or thereabouts to get your hands on the book. But this time I DO know how it ends. Or I think I do.

Today's question: Has a telephone mix-up ever put crimp in your life?


  1. Wow, that's a l-o-n-g wait . . . but thanks for this great preview. It sounds deliciously exciting.

    I remember we had a party line when I was little, but I can't really say the phone put a crimp in my life. Telephone switchboard operators always make me think of Sam [Mary Tyler Moore] on "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" . . . .

  2. Mary Tyler Moore was on Richard Diamond? Why did I not know that? (And what about the wonderul Marcia Wallace on Bob Newhart... and Lily Tomlin's "Ernestine" - So much potential comic relief was lost when switchboards went the way of the dodo.

  3. Back from Bouchercon and sorry to have missed the Reds not in attendance.

    I post-date the party line, so I've only seen it in TV and movies. But oh the possibilities for mischief. So much better than caller ID now, which lets you avoid calls from numbers you don't know or people you don't want to talk to.

  4. Love the scene, Hallie. But why does she refer to her mother as "Miss" (and why is a mother from the past a Miss, anyway)?

    No crimp that I can remember. But my parents used to say that the other party on our family's party line seemed to be a bookie. Being a big reader in a house full of books, I just thought that meant the other person also loved reading!

    Heck, Mary, I missed one of the Reds that WAS at Bouchercon - never managed to cross paths with Debs. ;^(

  5. The modern version of this is when auto-fill puts the wrong email recipient in an email address. But it's worse because it's in writing. Oh what fun divorce lawyers are having in the age of electronics and social media!

    My grandmother had a "party" line. I can remember her picking up the phone and saying, "Peg, can you make it quick? I've got to make a call." Can you imagine in this day with cell phones anything like that?

  6. I'd forgotten about party lines! It's actually easy to do this today, too, with conference calling. One click and you can connect a third party.

    And "Miss Sorrel" is what everyone calls her. Her friends her kids. Her granddaughter calls her Grandma Sorrel. (Sorrel is her first name.) I'm setting the book in the South Carolina where (I'm told) that kind of thing is more common.

  7. Michele... or the dreaded REPLY ALL. I'll just bet divorce lawyers are having a field day.

    We had a party line when I was little. And of course I used to try to listen in on my sisters' calls. But they could always tell.

  8. Mary Sutton: Ah, caller ID. I have a friend who calls and when she gets into voicemail she says "Are you screening your calls?" Long pause before she leaves an actual message. And sometimes I am. Screening.

  9. A year is how long publishers usually need between when the author finishes the book and when it hits bookstores. Still. Unless you're writing the unauthorized Whitey Bulger bio or some other potboiler based on current events.

  10. A story involving a doll!!!!! I love that! I want this book asap to read. I am always on the search for books involving haunted or supernatural dolls. This just made my Monday to find. I want to read and review this one as soon as I can.

  11. Edith, love your misreading of the word "bookie"! I'd have done the same, I suspect, and been excited for some recommendations.

    Hallie, love this tease, and can't wait to find out what happens.

    The only thing that ever happened to me on a phone was a lovely wrong number. The guy was trying to call a woman, and we ended up talking for an hour. Never did connect in person, but he was so interesting--and interested. I chickened out, though, on a meet up.

  12. OMG Karen, that's a short story! But you have to give it a different ending. Man of her dreams? Man of her nightmares? Long lost twin??? The possibilities boggle.

  13. Sheryl, I know, what is it about dolls (and clowns and...) that tips over into woo-woo? Just watched The Babadook in which it's not dolls but pictures in a children's book that... take over.

  14. Tell you the truth, Hallie, I'd completely forgotten about that incident until this morning. Your post jogged something loose!

  15. Yes, I DEFINITELY think it's the rely/reply all/forward disaster that takes the place of the switchboard. I have had two such incidents, and truly, I cron;t even want to think about them!

    Ah. Once I instantly called the recipient, and said: you just got an email from me. ANd over the phone, I actually heard the ping of its arrival.

    I said--trust me on this--delete it. ANd I heard her (I hope do that.

    Then I said--now deleted it from the deleted file.

    And I heard her (I hope) do that.

    What would you have done???

    Hallie, LOVE this idea.

  16. I would have had a hard time deleting it Hank--you made us so instantly curious!

    This happens with text messages now too. The phone fills the name in and sends to the wrong person. For a while, I was letting people know, but now I figure they better figure it out:).

    Can't wait for the book Hallie!

  17. Hallie, you are such a tease! I love that little glimpse--can't wait to read it. And I am so glad you're happy now with where the story is going.

    Karen, that's a great short story. I want to know what might have happened...

  18. Can't wait to read it, Hallie. Sounds wonderfully enticing. What amazes me more than the cord board disaster is that it didn't happen more often.Those things look like spaghetti bowls.

  19. Oooh, I love this premise, Hallie. There's something about dolls ...

    Like Mary, I'm post-party lines and telephone operators. Social media in general feels like a giant party line. Seems like every six months or so I foul something up communication-wise. :-)

  20. Oh, Mary Tyler Moore, as Diamond's phone operator/receptionist/whatever. Only her hand and arm reaching for the switchboard and her long lovely crossed were on screen ... and the dialogue -- always short and suggestive. 😉
    Waiting impatiently for this book. Love the excerpt.
    I have Southern acquaintances who refer to their mothers as "Miss" first name. A lingering from gracious living...when no grown up had a first name?
    Thank you for interesting thoughts this afternoon.

  21. Thanks for affirming, Elisabeth: "I have Southern acquaintances who refer to their mothers as "Miss" first name." I got worried for a minute that I'd made it up... which I've been known to do.

  22. Bunch of bookies here . . . ;-) I used to get wrong number calls for a Discovery Zone children's play place. I gave them the correct number and a good review of the place, and when my niece came to visit, they gave us free passes. ;-)
    My ex-MIL once called by accident, and after the initial confusion (other DIL also named Mary), it turned out that I had the answer to the Apple computer problem she wanted to ask her son. Sometimes I think there are no accidents.
    We had a party line until I hit high school and started spending more time on the phone, helping my friend with her algebra homework . . . algebra, a whole OTHER story . . .

  23. No mixup, but I do remember party lines -- and the childhood fun of picking up and listening in!!

  24. Oh, Hallie, this story sounds so good! Eighteen months seems a long time, but I expect it will pass before we know it. Thanks for the delicious excerpt!