Gotham teacher Margaret Meacham recently saw the release of her mystery novel The Survival of Sarah Landing. It’s the story of a successful children’s picture book author/illustrator who has suffered writer’s block since the death of her husband. She also teaches writing, and is eager to help a promising student publish her work. When the student turns up dead, Sarah attempts to find out who did it.
Here is a glimpse of the first chapter:
I knew the manuscript was good the minute I looked at it. Better than good. It was great. And it was inspiring. Something about it flipped a switch in my brain, a switch that had been off for almost three years, and I was able to work again. Maybe that’s one reason why it became so important to me to find out what had happened.
In the weeks before it had come, I had been struggling desperately to make some progress on my work. For one thing, we were running out of money. Granted, I had decided to adopt a blithe, devil-may-care attitude about the situation. The roof was leaking? Ha ha, what was a little water? The mortgage company was threatening to foreclose—oh well, living in the Bronco could be fun. So cozy! So compact!
But it was more than that. The money situation was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as not being able to work. I wanted to work. I needed to work. I was desperate to work.
In my twelve-step program for grieving spouses, we were advised to trust that our higher power will take care of things. I had been trying; trying to believe that things would fall into place, that my once wonderfully amenable muse would come back from her vacation and help me get my new picture book underway. But they hadn’t. And she hadn’t. Hello? Higher power? Could you just ring up the muse and tell her vacation’s over? That’s all. A simple phone call. Is that too much to ask?
The day the manuscript came was cool and clear. It was still early September, but there was a definite hint of fall in the air. I was in my office, struggling as usual, staring out the window, and watching the water fairies dancing on the creek—Tom’s grandmother’s term for the shimmering rays of sunlight reflected on the water. Peach Blossom Creek was in full glory that morning, and the possibility that we might have to move was a hurricane-sized cloud on my horizon.
My meeting with Donald Brace, our mortgage banker, was still three weeks away, but I was already dreading it. Brace was about as empathetic as a cantaloupe, but I hoped that even he would hesitate to foreclose on a widow with three children. Especially if I cried. And I would cry. I wouldn’t even have to fake it.
The day passed with nothing but a Mt. Everest sized pile of crumpled paper to show for it, and it was a relief when I heard Geordie coming up the walk and I knew that, at least until another night had passed, I could stop this torturous, paper-wasting process.
Geordie had picked up the mail from our box at the end of the drive as he often did. As soon as he and Paddington, our bear-sized Chesapeake Bay Retriever, had finished their love fest, he handed me the usual bundle of bills and a held out a padded manila mailer. “What’s this, Mom?” he asked, studying the package suspiciously.
“I don’t know, honey. Let’s see.” I took the package from him and looked it over. Apparently someone had hand delivered it because there was no address, only my name, Sarah Landing, written in large, square, capital letters.
“I hope it’s not a mail bomb,” Geordie said. Geordie was eight going on sixty-five, with a serious penchant for worrying. He could out worry my seventy-six year old uncle any day of the week. His favorite bedtime story book was the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. He could tell you what to do in case of alligator attack, immersion in quicksand, or volcanic eruption.
Unfortunately he had no solutions for writer’s block or failing bank accounts. Actually, none of the children had any idea how serious our financial situation was. I figured they had enough to worry about without that, and I’d tried to keep it from them.
I opened the flap of the mailer and found a manuscript pressed between two pieces of cardboard and secured with rubber bands. A note scribbled on one of the pieces of cardboard said “Dear Ms. Landing, I will be taking your course at the Arts Center this fall and I was hoping you might have a chance to look this over before class. Many thanks.” It was signed Louisa Myner.
Reprinted by permission of Sunbury Press
Find more information on Margaret and her book at www.margaretmeacham.net