The relationship with my author, Nancy G. West, is unsettling.
I was her star for four Aggie Mundeen Mysteries. Then she went AWOL and was cruising along as if she didn’t know me anymore. I was pretty upset.
This month she finished a novel about eighteen-year-old baseball player Decker Savage, whose parents are divorcing. In January of his senior year, he sits depressed and alone in a dark diner when a scruffy stranger in the far booth captures his interest. His mother walks into the murky place and sits across from this man. They chit chat, she smiles, then she says something that causes the man to jump up and blast out of the eatery. She looks perplexed, then angry. What does this creep have to do with Decker’s family? He has to find out. He follows the man out the back of the diner and into great danger.
What does the baseball player have to do with me? That book probably isn’t even funny. Nancy has obviously lost the plot. If she loses the plot, I’m a goner.
I do, however, have encouraging news. I just learned there are Second Editions of the first two Aggie Mundeen Mysteries, Fit to Be Dead and Dang Near Dead. Cool! And a Second Edition of Nine Days to Evil—prequel to the Aggie Mundeen series. It is graduate student Meredith Laughlin’s story of psychological suspense. Meredith is facing a life-threatening dilemma when she meets me and Sam.
Nancy’s next project is to write an Aggie Mundeen Lake Mystery for a new spin-off series. After Sam and I nearly drown in a raging flood in The Plunge, our outlook and relationship change. Near death experiences have that effect.
Having survived the flood, I grow close to other survivors and want to help them rebuild their lives. My new friend Connie is director of Pecan Paradise, a retirement home in Seguin not far from the lake. She asks me to work there as Activities Director. Seguin is thirty-five miles from San Antonio where Sam is an SAPD detective. A new beginning? A temporary relocation? A permanent shift?
Will I have the opportunity to root out injustice? Without a wrong to set right, I get bored. Will Sam be involved?
Nancy hasn’t told me, so I’ll have to wait and see. At least I’m in her head again. I was beginning to worry.
Nancy and I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by the San Antonio River. We started at La Villita, the oldest riverside village. The Little Church of La Villita, built in the village in 1879, is now home to a non-denominational congregation holding regular services and hosting weddings. Hundred-year-old buildings around the church housed art and crafts. In a pathway behind the church, food booths offered Irish, German, and Mexican delicacies and green beer. Delightful.
A short walk through La Villita led to concrete seating on a grassy slope across from the Arneson River Theater. Seating was separated from the theater by the San Antonio River, which was green on St. Patrick’s Day. Music groups and dancers performed on stage as river barges cruised by. Floats carried The Irish Singers and The Harp and Shamrock Society, interspersed with barge loads of tourists. Nancy spotted a flat bottom boat of Scottish invaders playing bagpipes.
Thirty-four and a half million Americans list their heritage as primarily or partially Irish – seven times larger than the population of Ireland (4.68 million). Irish is the second-most common ancestry among Americans, falling just behind German.
Nancy is English, Scottish, and Irish. She’s thoroughly English when she’s reading or writing, Scottish when she’s thinking about business or bookkeeping, and Irish when she’s having fun. With surnames in her mother’s family of Scanlan and Duffy, Irish probably predominates. But her father William Phillips Glass’s ancestors were from Glasgow. Naturally, there was a wee bit of slipover.
I identified with the Irish contingent and insisted that Nancy tell my stories. Aggie (Agatha) was reminiscent of Agatha Christi, and the surname Mundeen (never mundane) was surely Irish. Of almost six million surnames in the US Census, however, only about five lines were Mundeens (originally Munden). The origin of the name was unknown, but the meaning was said to suggest “an inquisitive and inventive person who likes to get to the very bottom of things and to rummage in books.” No wonder.
An Irish proverb says, “There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were.”
Photos of St. Patrick’s Day by the San Antonio River are at https://www.facebook.com/authorNancyG.West
–Have you faced catastrophe? What happened?
–How did you survive?
–Did surviving catastrophe change you?
–How did it change your life?
–How were other survivors you knew affected?
–Is your outlook on life different now? How?
–Do Aggie and Sam react as you expect?
–Will they change more in the future?
In The Plunge, Nancy really led me and Sam into a catastrophe. We went to a lakeside cottage for some relaxation away from crime. That was the idea previously when we planned to rendezvous at the hotel on San Antonio’s River Walk in River City Dead. Didn’t work.
Anyway, Sam’s friend from Houston had his boat stolen from the dock at his Lake Placid cottage on the Guadalupe River. Sam would discretely investigate the theft while we took care of his friend’s cottage for the weekend. The cottage, nestled on a slice of paradise, promised renewal and retreat overlooking a peaceful, meandering river. Instead we faced a rampaging river and impending doom. Aggie tells how it began:
We spent time on the Lake Placid this summer, one of a string of lakes separated by dams on the Guadalupe River in Central Texas. The kids and foolish adults ride the Sea Doo, a two-person water craft, up and down the lake. Nancy decided to take a turn but was afraid she couldn’t dock the thingamajig. New carpet on the dock glides was slick. If she managed to maneuver the Sea Doo up onto the glides, the craft’s weight would probably carry it backwards into the water. So she asked Connor to swim out and get on the craft behind her. She would slip off the side into the water and swim to shore, and Connor could dock the craft later.
Connor climbed up behind her, rocking the small boat. After Nancy finished clutching the plastic windshield while hyperventilating, she was ready to slide off.
“Here goes,” she said and plopped into the lake. But her foot and ankle didn’t clear the craft and banged against the side. With three appendages operational, she dog-paddled to the dock ladder, the worthless ankle swelling into a goose egg. As she struggled to climb up the ladder, a sympathetic dog came over to lick her face.
Nancy limped to a patio chair where the kids brought her ice bags for the lump. As they issued instructions, admonitions, and poked way too close to her injury, she contemplated the extent of the damage. There was no pain, and she could walk, despite an eggplant-colored foot and ankle the size of a cantaloupe. The other empathetic dog stood guard under her chair until he got sleepy and crashed, paws gallantly wrapped around the chair leg. A small injury provokes a lot of sympathy.
Sometimes it’s worth it.
- Have you ever tried to start life over? Single? Did you have problems like Aggie’s?
- Is Aggie’s health club like yours? If you don’t exercise, did you relate to her experience? (except for murder)
- Does Aggie, from Chicago, adapt to Texas ways?
- When SAPD Detective Sam, the man Aggie loved, appears at the health club to investigate the murder, how does he view Aggie?
- How do you see their relationship developing? Will tragedies in their backgrounds make it impossible for them to ever have a healthy relationship?
- What characteristics make Aggie a good amateur sleuth? Are her strengths also her weaknesses?
- Grace is Aggie’s friend and neighbor. What’s her role in Aggie’s life?
- Besides Aggie, are there other people in the book you enjoyed? Why?
- Of these themes, which interested you most:
- How people’s choices shape their lives
- How the past affects people’s mindset
- The value/harm in keeping personal secrets
10. Can crime co-exist with humor?
11.The rocky road of romance
12.What scene grabbed you or surprised you?
Aggie and I would love to hear your book club’s answers.
Email us: ngwest at sbcglobal.net )
I haven’t made any New Year’s Resolutions since January 2013 when Nancy and I clashed brains on the subject. I try to make worthy plans, but my good intentions tend to evaporate. So I gave up. Nancy, however, has a bunch of resolutions, which worry me.
She says she will:
- Work on house plans with interior design software she got for Christmas. (Is this for fun or is she actually planning to build a house?)
- Have a furniture maker she knows help her design a table she sketched. (Okay. I can deal with a table.)
- Work on two short stories she found in a drawer. (There were several, and I read them all. The others were lousy.)
- Talk to interested groups about River City Dead during San Antonio’s 2018 Tricentennial celebration. (This is the story of my recent rendesvoux-turned-fiasco with Sam on the River Walk, so it’s okay with me.)
- Investigate participating in CASA, Child Advocates San Antonio, which recruits, trains, and supervises court-appointed volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children and youth and help place them in safe, permanent homes. (This sounds like a wonderful program and a MAJOR commitment.)
So where does that leave me for the future? Is she finished telling my stories? This brings us to her sixth resolution—the most important one. She’s working on a story about the most dangerous situation Sam and I ever faced. She resolves to:
6. Lengthen and polish the story. (It’s written, but she’s been thinking since November about how to intensify it.
There you have it. I have not been cast aside. Not yet. And Nancy is better at keeping resolutions than I am. I still worry, however, about the brain clash we had back in 2013 over New Year’s resolutions, especially numbers 7, 8, 10 and 11: https://stayyoungwithaggie.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/brain-clash-west-vs-mundeen/
If you have an opinion, let me know.
And stay tuned.
Shelly Miles, host of San Antonio Living on WOAI TV, invited Nancy to join her in a segment about Aggie Mundeen Mysteries. Naturally, I paid close attention.
Having never been on television, Nancy worried about attire and make-up. The sofa on the set was cranberry red. Should she wear a navy or black business suit to appear professional? She’d swelter under the studio lights. Rivulets pouring down one’s face is not a good look. She opted for a casual blue pantsuit with a loose top: light-weight cool fabric, long sleeves and demur neck. A microphone would be clipped to her somewhere.
She emailed TV host Shelly: “Does the studio have a make-up artist?” TV cameras made a person look pale, old and ten pounds heavier, none of which Nancy needed. They had a bathroom and mirror. No make-up artist. She consulted Melody, the master stylist who does her hair. Melody could apply TV make-up, but unfortunately, she would be out of town. She gave Nancy hints: “Apply eye liner above your lashes and blend it upward at the outside corner.” (Nothing on one’s face should trend down. Gravity took care of that.)
Nancy practiced. She wore contacts, so she had to keep the liner out of her eyes. She managed to draw a smooth line above her lashes, but when she swept the outside edges upward, they resembled curly mustaches. After multiple line drawings, scrubbing off a series of smudged flying corners and replacing two sets of contacts, she was able to draw lines—when she managed not to blink—that curved in subtle upward sweeps. She stared at the mirror bug-eyed, while her sweeps dried.
Melody said her cheek bones needed definition, so she bought several shades of blush at the grocery store. Poised at her bathroom mirror, she sucked in her cheeks and swept the pinkest shade on the bone from under her pupils toward her ears. She looked ready for a pow-wow. She tried a lighter color that looked more natural—so natural that a microscopic camera lens probably wouldn’t show it. She applied more of same figuring that should do it.
Her eyebrows, blonde and squiggly, did not make a nice frame for her eyes and would probably disappear under lights. What to do? Make arched brown bars totally foreign to her face? She tried it. Not good. Her brows would remain natural.
Dressed and made-up, she cruised with her husband down Highway 410 toward WOAI TV, which was located ten miles ahead on the access road. Then the traffic stopped. Vehicles came to a standstill, their motors idling and drivers fuming. There must be a major wreck ahead, and there was no other route to the TV station. After waiting in stalled traffic for twenty minutes, her husband suggested she call the station.
“This is Nancy West,” she said. “I’m supposed to be on San Antonio Living at ten o’clock, but the traffic on 410 has stalled. I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
“Yes,” the receptionist said, “a four-car pile-up. Thank you.” Click.
As soon as Nancy hung up, cars miraculously began to move. Police must have cleared the wreckage. Hopefully, no one was seriously injured. They arrived at the station where people zoomed back and forth at warp speed between swinging doors on each side of a reception desk across from a small waiting area. She signed in, and they sat. A young lady brought a waver for her to sign: She agreed the station would own her television image in perpetuity, which undoubtedly included defined cheekbones, along with whatever words she managed to utter. The young lady asked if she could attach a microphone to Nancy and clipped a battery pack the size of a thick cell phone inside the back of her pants. Nancy shivered: she said it was cold and would remind her to sit straight for the interview. The girl had Nancy snake the wire under her clothes and clip a small microphone to her collar. Cool.
After “Finding Gently-Used Clothing for Back-to-School Fashion” and a segment about a school for boys practicing to be Ninja Warriors, Nancy was told to sit at the end of the rose sofa. Shelly Miles would sit on the adjoining sofa. Her books were placed on the coffee table in front of them, and images of the covers formed a portrait on the back wall.
“Just face me as though we’re having a natural conversation, ” Shelly said. After a countdown, the segment began. The lights were even brighter than we imagined. Shelly was charming, asked great questions, and Nancy had practiced some answers. The interview seemed to go well, although I doubt Nancy’s ratings rose to the level of Ninja Warriors.
Later, we watched a video of the show at home. Since Nancy had turned sideways to talk to Shelly, we mostly saw a woman with blonde hair talking to a younger woman who smiled radiantly for frequent camera close-ups. The woman resembling Nancy looked old and pale with invisible eye make-up, nondescript cheeks and squiggly eyebrows.
But she had fun.