I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns lately. Not dress patterns. (I WISH I had the talent to do something with a dress pattern.) No, I mean something more ineffable than that. I’m thinking about the patterns of our lives. For example...
A few months ago, I started wearing a Fitbit to track my exercise and my hours of sleep--and hopefully motivate me to get more of both. It’s been interesting. In the case of sleep, it’s even been eye-opening. (Ha ha.)
Here’s a question for you:
When you think about how much sleep you get each night, do you take a look at the time you go to bed and the time you get up, and add the hours in between? That’s what I used to do. If I went to bed at 11:00 and got up at 7:00... I’d say, boom: eight hours of sleep. Right?
Wrong. Fitbit would subtract all the times I woke up throughout the night. Evidently, it’s quite common to wake up several times during the night and not even remember being awake. (Especially if you've got a partner who crawls into bed after you or happens to gets up in the middle of the night. Sleep, interrupted!) According to the Fitbit, I’m awake an average of 11% each night. My goal is to get eight hours of sleep, and I haven’t done it on a week night yet.
The real problem, though, is not so much the waking-up part. It’s the going-to-bed part. I have the darnedest time getting myself to bed. This makes sense in the days leading up to a book deadline. As I was finishing up my manuscript for Book #4 last month, I allowed myself to stay up way later than usual. Here’s an example of one of those weeks:
According to the Fitbit app, my nightly average that week was 6 hours and 35 minutes. Not good. After I met the deadline, you'd think I should have been able to get more sleep. And yet...I still haven’t been able to get those ever-elusive eight hours. (Except on the occasional weekend when I can sleep in.) Last week, my nightly average was 6 hours 49 minutes. It could be worse, but still.... it's not quite enough.
So, what’s my excuse? What’s keeping me up? You name it-- laundry to fold, books to read, podcasts to listen to, new ideas to write.
So many things.
Here’s what it ACTUALLY is, though: It’s an ingrained habit. In spite of my best intentions, something always compels me to stay up. Even when my Fitbit buzzes me a reminder that it’s time to get ready for bed, I ignore it. I’ll think to myself, “I’m not tired yet,” or “This is more important.” Or I won’t really think anything at all. I’ll just carry on doing whatever it is I’m doing.
Then, the next morning, when I wake up groggy and less than refreshed, I’ll say to myself: "I MUST go to bed earlier tonight." Day after day, this is what I say. Make that year after year... And so the pattern continues.
And that’s what it is. It's a pattern. We have patterns of sleep, patterns of work, patterns of eating, patterns of behavior. Everything is a pattern.
Of course, not all patterns are negative. I used to have a pattern of faithfully posting on this blog every Thursday morning. That was a good one, except I had to let it go to focus on writing books instead. Then, to help me get my latest book finished on time, I created a pattern of writing during my lunch break every day, and after dinner every evening. Dinner with my family is another daily pattern.
If you think about it, our lives do have a certain rhythm and shape to them, don’t they? The Wheel of the Year tracks the changing seasons, which naturally lend themselves to rituals and traditions-- like spring cleaning, summer vacationing, fall decorating (and fall baking & raking & apple picking & leaf gazing & back-to-school shopping & pumpkin carving & .... yay autumn!)... and winter hibernating. Our holidays and celebrations connect us to the past and the future, while at the same time they bring our attention fully into the present moment-- to our current place in the recurring pattern.
If you want to get even more cosmic, take a look at the patterns in nature. I especially love spirals. From the prints on our thumbs to the stars in our galaxy, the same patterns seem to repeat throughout the universe. It’s so fascinating and beautiful.
On the other hand, if our daily routines start to feel too same-old, same-old—or, worse, like drudgery, that’s not so pretty. That kind of pattern is not inspiring at all. Besides feeling stale, our mundane patterns can seem beyond our control. They can seem predetermined by outside forces: our job schedules, our children’s or partners’ schedules, regular business hours, the clock on the wall, the growl in our tummies....
And yet, not everything is so regimented. I think we have more freedom than we often realize. We can still decide what to do next--or next, after that. Or next, after that. If you’re not completely satisfied with one of your patterns (like me with my sleep habits), you should, in theory, be able to change it.
So, how DO you change a pattern? (No, really. I’m asking. How do you do it?) I imagine you have to first recognize it for what it is, and then replace it with a new pattern. Maybe you have to start by changing just one thing-- and then beginning again every chance you get. Whatever it is, I'm sure it will take time and will power. Perhaps most importantly, it takes self-awareness.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know one thing: Now that I’ve confessed my silly pattern of staying up too late every night, I’m going to try extra hard to change that habit!
Here’s to creating our own beautiful, self-selected patterns. :)
Do you pay much attention to astrology? Read your horoscope? Put any stock in the alignment of the stars?
This is a topic I've been thinking about for the past several weeks. This month has been filled with astrological excitement. There was a partial lunar eclipse on August 7th; mercury retrograde started on August 12th (my birthday!); and, of course, there was that rare total eclipse of my heart-- I mean, total eclipse of the sun (ha ha) on August 21st.
And, boy did people get excited over the eclipse! Did you? In Illinois, lots of folks pilgrimaged to Southern Illinois (which is where our Wiccan Wheel hero, Keli Milanni, lives, by the way) to watch the event in the "path of totality." Chicago meteorologist and hometown treasure Tom Skilling was one of them. I love this moving account of his reaction. (I got to see Skilling in person on a panel about climate change a few months ago. He really is the best.)
Some people even found that love was in the air during the eclipse-- including my cousin! (Congrats, Davi and Greg!)
Up here in Chicago, it was a disappointingly overcast day. The clouds did part in time for some kiddos to get a glimpse of the action. (Sage kicked back in the backyard.) Alas, I was in a meeting and missed the whole thing. (Kind of like I ALMOST missed posting on my blog this month. I've been busy writing!)
As I mentioned, August is my birthday month. (My actual birthday, not my book birthday, which was last month.) That makes me a Leo. But, I gotta say, when it comes to astrology, I don't entirely get the whole dealio. I can kinda relate to Keli (again, our Wiccan Wheel hero), when she said Midsummer Night's Mischief, "Astrology was a little over my head. Interesting to a point, but just complicated enough to make my brain hurt if I thought about it too long.” (Keli’s a Gemini.)
In fact, I've always felt a slight disconnect with my sun sign. Leos are supposed to be natural leaders: brave, strong, exuberant, out-front kinda people. The famous example always mentioned is Madonna. Me? I'm a low-key, introspective introvert. Sure, I guess I'm a leader in some contexts, but I rarely seek the limelight. I usually wield my influence (such that it is) behind the scenes.
On the other hand, when I look up other people's signs, I DO see some truth in their descriptions. For example, my daughter is an Aries: creative, ambitious, loyal, excellent sense of humor? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. My sister, the Libra: understanding, caring, an excellent debater with a keen intuition. Yes, to those. My other sister, the Virgo: keen mind, delightful to chat with, remarkable memory. Yes, to those, as well.
Not long ago, I learned that there's actually a lot more to astrology than your sun sign. Among other things, there's also your moon sign. Theoretically, the position of the moon during the exact minute of your birth can provide additional insight into your personality. (My moon sign is Taurus.)
But this raises the question that's been bugging me. It's the HOW and the WHY of it all. If astrology is a pseudoscience, where is the (supposed) science part? Why should the movement of the planets have any bearing on our lives at all? I had a hard time finding answers to these questions, until I happened upon this website: www.whats-your-sign.com.
I actually can’t believe I haven’t come across this website before. I use signs and symbols in the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries quite a bit. In my personal life, I believe in signs and omens too. I don’t always remember to pay attention to them, but it’s always pretty cool when I do. So, I’m looking forward to exploring this new-to-me resource. It seems to have a wealth of information.
As for astrology, the website author quoted Hermes Trismegistus who said: "That which is below is like that which is above. That which is above, is like that which is below. All to do the miracles of one thing only."
As she goes on to explain:
“If we return to our understanding of the universe as a large energy (macrocosm) identically reflecting humankind as a smaller energy (microcosm), we may come to a realization. We may realize that knowing about astrology is more than just memorizing zodiac sign dates, or zodiac houses and facts. It's more about connecting ourselves with the vastness of the universe in which we live. It's about gaining broad vision from a unique source of wisdom.”
Now, THAT makes a certain kind of spiritual sense to me. After all, as I learned from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, we humans are made of star stuff. Maybe astrology is just a way to tap into and interpret our connections to the universe.
Well, it’s a thought, anyway!
What do you think? Do you see any meaning in your star signs?
The Wiccan Wheel Mystery Series officially turns one today! It was born on July 26, 2016, with the release of Book #1, Midsummer Night's Mischief.
To celebrate, I decided to give away one signed advance reader copy of Book #3, Yuletide Homicide. Book #3 comes out on September 26, 2017, but one lucky reader will get an early copy.
Enter for a chance to win below.* The winner will be selected at 12:01 a.m. (central time) on Wednesday, August 2, 2017.
**BOOK GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS**
The Book Giveaway Raffle begins on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. and ends on August 2, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. CST. Open to residents of the US and Canada only. One winner will receive one (1) paperback Advance Review Copy (ARC) of YULETIDE HOMICIDE, by Jennifer David Hesse. Winner will be selected randomly via Rafflecopter.com and will be notified by email. Each winner will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Jennifer David Hesse will send the prize to the winner directly. The prize offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. The winner’s entries will be verified. Jennifer David Hesse is not responsible for any technical failures, nor for any lost, broken, damaged, or stolen prizes. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery of prize, unless otherwise noted. Facebook and Twitter are in no way associated with this giveaway. By providing your information in the raffle form, you are providing your information to Jennifer David Hesse alone. She will not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send me an email!
I’ve always been a little envious of professors who get to take a sabbatical. To me, it’s like they’ve won the lottery. They get to take a whole (paid!) year off from their regular jobs to go off and pursue some passion project. How lucky is that?
I decided to give myself my own one-week “sabbatical” this month—aka, a vacation. My husband teaches at a jazz camp downstate, so my daughter and I decided to go along. We stayed at my parents’ house and enjoyed lots of quiet time. It was our own little writers retreat. (My daughter writes too.)
I figured I would get lots of writing done this week. At home, distractions abound. If I had taken a staycation, I’d have felt obliged to clean and de-clutter, pull weeds, read the newspaper, and tackle any number of projects that have been waiting for my attention. Plus, it’s more quiet and peaceful down here.
It’s been a nice week—I’m on the tail end of it now. But I didn’t actually get as much writing done as I expected. Besides working on my manuscript, there were also meals to prepare and eat, laundry to do, family to see, and a Fitbit watch that kept reminding me I should get up and move now and then. We’ve also been dog-sitting and house-sitting for part of our stay.
Yeah, I suppose there’s no such thing as a completely distraction-less vacation. Even at a real writing retreat, you still have to eat, sleep, and move your body. Maybe even talk to another person or two!
I’m reminded of that old Twilight Zone episode where the character played by Burgess Meredith wants nothing more than alone-time to read his beloved books. Then, a nuclear bomb hits while he’s sheltered in a bank vault. He survives—and so do all the books in the town library. So, his dream came true: He’s the last man on earth, free to read without interruption. Only then (spoiler alert), he steps on his glasses and can’t read a word. Oh, the irony!
I guess the best we can do is make the most of our free blocks of time—an hour here, ten minutes there. This is why I carry a notebook with me just about everywhere I go.
Still… I am enjoying the break from my regular life. Summertime was meant for vacationing. Perhaps most people would use a week-off to take a trip. (Lately, I keep hearing about people I know going to Hawaii. Now, that sounds special!) But not everyone uses their time-off for travel. One of my brothers-in-law took this week off from work to play a new, immersive computer game with his sons.
And me… I take a week off to write. Mostly.
What would you do with a free week of time?
* Landscape photos by Scott Hesse
My husband and I started taking a tai chi class a few weeks ago. It's something we talked about doing for well over a year and kept putting off. There seemed to be too many obstacles. (Okay, excuses.)
Where would we go? How would we pick the best place out of so many choices in our city? When could we find the time in our busy schedules--consistently, week after week? What would our daughter do while we were away at class?
Finally, one day, I decided to go on line and try again. I searched for a place near our home, found a beginner's class that would be starting soon, and signed us up.
Just like that.
We've been going for six weeks now, and it's worked out just fine. Turns out, it doesn't matter if we have to miss a class or two. Each class involves lots of review time, where we practice the prior week's moves. And it doesn't matter if I'm feeling tired after a long day at work. The class proceeds at a slow, forgiving pace and even includes a built-in tea break.
Oh, and our daughter is old enough to stay home alone for a couple hours. Plus, she's welcome to come along and watch our class anytime if she wants to.
All those obstacles weren't so big after all.
I have to say, though, that learning the tai chi moves is more challenging than I expected. It's not that the actual movements are difficult, but remembering the sequence of the steps, and the precise positioning of the hands and feet, takes a lot of practice. So far, I still feel pretty awkward each week. But I'm keeping the faith. I think it will get easier in time.
Anyway, I guess it's a good thing I finally signed us up. Otherwise, I'd literally NEVER get the hang of it!
As they say, all journeys begin with a single step. And it's that first step that's often the hardest. This goes for just about anything, really: writing a book, planning a trip, cleaning a closet. Whatever it is you want to do, if you can just make yourself take that one first step, well... then you're on your way.
So, make that call, book the reservation, block out your calendar. (Sign up for the class!) Get the thing on your schedule.
Sometimes that's all it takes.
Then you take the next step, and the next. Assuming you know what the next step is! If not, then you ask. In life, as in tai chi, questions are encouraged. (Or you can always, you know, Google it.)
Is there something you've been meaning/wanting to do?
P.S. I looked up the saying above and found that it was actually Lao Tzu who said: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." This is so fitting, because Lao Tzu is known as the founder of Taoism... and the tai chi class I found is Taoist Tai Chi. Go figure!
Happy Summer Solstice!
I hope your summer is off to a great start. Lately I’ve been making a point to get out of the office on my lunch break as often as possible. I’ll go for a little walk and sit on a bench to eat my lunch and write in my notebook.
One day I wandered over here:
But the sun was too hot to sit in that area.
Usually I sit under the trees in the gardens at The Art Institute of Chicago… along with a few dozen other people with the same idea. It’s a pleasant little urban oasis.
School is finally out for Chicago Public School students—and my daughter is officially finished with her elementary school career. We went to her 8th grade graduation last Friday. So proud of that girl. (*sniff sniff*)
And now I’m officially the parent of a high schooler!
Since we’re just gearing up for summer—and already basking/roasting in a string of heat waves (in between summer storms and pleasant respites)—it seems a bit incongruous to talk about winter, December, or Yule....
And yet, I can’t resist sharing an update on my forthcoming book in the Wiccan Wheel Mystery series.
This just in: the advance review copies of Yuletide Homicide!
This week I’m finishing up my review of the page proofs for YH, then it’s off to the presses. (Or something like that.) The book is available for pre-order and will be released on 9/26/17… in PLENTY of time for Xmas.
In the real world, in the Northern Hemisphere we’re on the opposite side of the Winter Solstice on the Wheel of the Year. Today is the Summer Solstice, also known as Litha or Midsummer to Wiccans. (Hence the title of Book 1 in the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries, Midsummer Night’s Mischief.)
Whether you’re Pagan or Wiccan—or just a summer-loving, sun-happy nature girl/guy like me—this day is cause for celebration. Gardens are flourishing, fireflies are flickering in the backyard, and the outdoors is a welcoming place. There’s no time like the present for enjoying a picnic, strolling through a park, bumming on the beach... or simply stopping to smell the flowers.
For a few other Summer Solstice ideas, check out Patti Wigington’s informative articles at ThoughtCo (formerly About.com). Besides the rituals and other magic-focused ideas, there are some fun-sounding crafts. (Now I just need to grow some lavender, so I can make a lavender dream pillow next year!)
P.S. My daughter made me the sun picture at the top of this post several years ago, when she was a much littler girl... and look at us now. Carpe diem!
Have you ever had an "aha moment"?
I had one several years ago that still sticks out in my mind. It was like a flash of insight, a momentary knowing.
It was on a weekend afternoon when I was at home doing some writing. I don't remember exactly what I was working on. This was well before I had a book deal and way before the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries were born.
Whatever it was, I was in the zone. In the groove. I was writing because I loved to write. For a long time, I had felt called to write and knew I wanted to do it more (even though I often put it off). But on that particular day, for whatever reason, I suddenly realized that I could be happy writing no matter where I was or what my outward circumstances. It didn't matter if I was in a creaky old apartment, sitting at an ugly old computer desk, working on a clunky dinosaur of a computer, or surrounded by piles of distracting clutter (all of which were true at the time). If I was writing, I could block out all the externals and get lost in the story. And feel happy.
Years later, this is still true. I write in lots of places now--at restaurants, at the public library, on my living room couch. In those places, I write longhand in a spiral bound notebook, jotting down scribbly first drafts. I'll take it to the computer later. However, now--even though I CAN be happy writing anyplace--I'm even happier to say that I finally have a nice dedicated writing space: in a fresh, clean home office in a lovely house, on a decent, modern computer, and, as of very recently, at a brand new writing desk. Yay!
When we first moved into this house--and when I first started this blog two and a half years ago--I was still using the same old too-small computer desk. It was functional, but not very pretty. It also didn't have enough surface space for me to spread out with my notebooks. Here's a "before" picture.
Well, after receiving an unexpected tax refund this year (it pays to hire a professional sometimes!), I finally ordered a new desk. I also got a nice, fresh coat of paint in my office thanks to the generosity and hard work of my awesome dad. 😊
It feels good to have a special place dedicated to my writing work. Writing is a priority in my life and deserves to be treated as such. I think there's something powerfully affirming about making space for your priorities. It's like a signal to the Universe: "This is important to me. I'm serious about this."
The same is true, of course, when it comes to how you use your time. Our time is limited. We have limited hours in a day and limited days in a life. We have no choice but to set priorities--whether we do so consciously or not.
"You define what's important to you by what you dedicate your time to."
~ Ben Affleck
Of course, sometimes our priorities are established based on deadlines we want to meet. In my writing life, I have exactly three months left to finish the manuscript for Book #4 in the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries. This is going to be one writing-filled summer! Because of that, I’ve decided to cut back on this blog a bit. For at least the next few months, I’m going to post a new blog entry every other week instead of every week. I'm sure you understand... and won't be too disappointed. (Ha Ha.)
In the meantime, I hope you're able to find time--and space-- for the priorities in your life.
P.S. Last weekend I made time for family & fun in Milwaukee. Here are a few photos:
For my final post this merry month of Mystery May, there was one more mystery game I thought I would try. It sounded unique and intriguing and fun. However… I didn’t do it. I’ve been too busy this month finalizing copy edits for Book #3, sorting out my ideas for Book #4, and generally trying to keep up with my responsibilities at work and at home. But maybe I’ll still give this thing a try one of these days, when I have more time (and cash) to spare....
And what, you may ask, is this mystery game of which I speak? Why, it’s another interactive and immersive mystery-solving entertainment experience: the mail-order mystery.
Have you heard of this? I’m not sure where or when I first came across the idea—maybe I read about it in a magazine. But recently I looked it up online and found out that this is, indeed, a thing.
For future reference, here’s a list of the mail-order mystery options I was able to find:
~ Mail Order Mystery: Aptly named, this one is geared toward kids with three themes to choose from: pirates, fairy tales, or spies. It’s a weeks-long mystery with multiple deliveries. Just choose your mystery, and a series of letters, documents and curious objects will arrive in the mail. Cost is $73-$81 each, plus shipping.
My thoughts: Sounds fun if you have elementary school-aged kids. But my fourteen-year-old probably wouldn’t be interested.
~ Mystery Mail: This is a family-friendly game with multiple mailings. As it says on the website: “Something peculiar arrives in the mail. Opening it reveals strange elements, items, leads, ciphers, and conundrums. Use the clues in the mail, hidden web pages, (free) apps and online resources, and common household items to unlock the secrets and solve the game." Total cost is $125 (to the U.S., from Canada).
My thoughts: This sounds like a fun, though challenging, group activity. You’d definitely need to find a bunch of willing participants to share the fun—and perhaps the cost.
~ The Mystery Experiences Company: This is a subscription-based monthly mystery club. As it says on the website: “Each month, you will receive a mysterious package in the mail. Use the items and clues inside to solve a compelling mystery-- hunt serial killers, find your way out of escape rooms, conduct crime scene investigations, search for lost artifacts, and much more! In most of our mystery experiences, you can also interact with characters through email and telephone. …Items from past mystery packages have included maps, FBI files, artifacts, newspapers, suspect profiles, cryptic letters... and much more!” You can also join the Facebook group to chat with fellow detectives. Cost is $29.99/month (plus shipping).
My thoughts: This is the one I had thought I might try, with the plan in mind to play one or two and then cancel. But you can’t just start anytime. Everyone’s game is mailed at the same time, during the last week of the month prior to the game month. AND, they can sell out. As of now, the next chance to play is in July….
~ The Mysterious Package Company: This one is to gift only—and not to yourself. As it says on the website, the creators are “Purveyors of strange and unannounced deliveries, designed to intrigue, befuddle, and delight.” In other words, you’re supposed to anonymously buy the experience for someone else, so they get to receive mysterious packages out of the blue. Supposedly, they might actually think it’s all real. The site itself is very cryptic and mysterious. You have to sign up for a free membership in order to learn more details, including the price. Cost: ?? I’m guessing it’s pricy, based on how slick the website is. Oh, and the fact that one of the testimonials is from Neil Patrick Harris!
My thoughts: I don’t think I could pull this off—at least not for someone I see or speak to on a regular basis. It sounds too much like a prank, which I don’t dig. Sure, the mystery itself might be fun, but… I don’t know. It seems like either an elaborate trick, which is too much like lying for my tastes… or else it’s super hokey.
However, this one does remind me of that Michael Douglas thriller, The Game. Did you see that movie? Now that was an absorbing mystery—in a creepy, freaky kind of way. Hmm, I wouldn’t mind watching that again, now that it’s been a number of years…
So, what do you think? Have you—or would you ever—try a mail-order mystery? I think playing one could be fun. But as a writer, I think I might have even more fun creating such a game. When I was a kid, I would create treasure hunts for my younger sibs and their friends, hiding slips of paper with riddles and instructions around the backyard, one clue leading to the next. I liked making up stories to go along with the hints.
As a matter of fact, I do have a rough idea for an interactive mystery computer game. It’s on my mental list of creative projects to pursue… someday. (That ever elusive someday!)
For now, however, it’s back to the mystery writing.
Continuing with this month's theme of "all things mystery," I've been thinking about other ways we immerse ourselves in mysteries--besides getting lost in a good book. As I mentioned before, we can play detective in board games (such as Clue and Mysterium) and computer games (yay, Nancy Drew!). Another game I played as a kid was sort of a combination board game and computer game, called Electronic Detective. The game box featured a picture of Don Adams and the suspects had funny names such as Candy Roll and Ripp Rapp. I still remember the computerized music it would play: Dun Dun Dun Dun....
But if you want to go even deeper than tabletop or screen games, you can always seek out a live action experience such as mystery dinner theater. Have you ever been to a mystery dinner? This is where professional actors put on a show during a three or four course meal. There is typically a lot of audience participation and definitely a lot of comedy. In fact, they're really more like a comedy improv act than anything else. ("Come to our show and solve a hilarious murder!")
In big cities such as Chicago, mystery dinner shows are performed every week, and you have several places to choose from. There's even one that takes place aboard a train! (Murder on the Orient Express, anyone?)
However, you don't have to go to a large city to join in the fun. I went to a mystery dinner show about a year ago in a small town. The traveling theater troupe consisted of just two or three actors who played multiple parts. Certain audience members were also assigned characters and given lines to read. In the end, everyone voted on who they thought the culprit was. I don't remember now if the votes determined the outcome, or if the villain's name was drawn from a hat. Either way, there wasn't really a single answer you could piece together from the clues. Still, it was an entertaining evening.
Other dinner shows have bigger productions. In addition to the actors telling the story from the floor, some are secretly planted among the audience members at their dinner tables. (Incidentally, this was the type of mystery dinner Keli Milanni attended with her friend Farrah in Bell, Book, and Candlemas. Of course, Keli was secretly on a mission to solve a real mystery!) In these types of shows, dinner guests mingle with one another as they try to flush out the murderer.
Another option is to host your own private mystery dinner. You can hire actors to come to your place of business or other location. Or you can just buy a boxed game and do it all yourself. This is what I did the other night-- sort of. My mom had found an old “How To Host A Murder” party game at a yard sale recently, so we decided to give it a try after dinner last Saturday.
I say we “sort of” played, because we didn’t really have the full experience. I didn’t send invitations or provide costumes or anything. In fact, we kind of sprang the game on my brother and his fiancé without much preparation. And we only had seven players instead of the required eight, so Sage played two characters, which got a little tricky.
All in all, the game was neat, but it involved a lot of reading: reading at the start and reading all throughout. Besides that, the thing I found most challenging was being both a detective and a suspect—for much of the game, I actually suspected myself!
But it was all in good fun. Like mystery theater, at-home mystery games include plenty of laughs and silliness. (Some of the characters’ names were Hamilton (Ham) MacTorr, Anne T. Ickwitee, and Arthur (Art) E. Faxe, which was appropriate since the mystery took place at an archaeological dig... at the “Rock of Vages.” Lol.
Now that I think about it, I guess mystery and comedy often go hand in hand. Think of Scooby Doo, Inspector Clouseau, and Maxwell Smart, just to name a few comedic detectives. And I can't forget one of my all time favorite movies, the Woody Allen flick Manhattan Murder Mystery.
Yeah, I guess I do like my mysteries with a few laughs. How 'bout you?
One Christmas many years ago, when I was a young woman living in New York, my husband and I made a trip back to the Midwest to visit our families. This particular year my mom had bought a game—I don’t remember if the game was a gift for one of my younger sisters, or if it was a house game for everyone to play. But I do remember gathering around my parents’ computer to check it out—one person in control of the mouse and everyone else backseat driving. My brothers might have been in on the action at first, but playing this game soon became a favorite obsession of my sisters and me—much to the vexation of our husbands! We spent hours at the computer, searching for clues, talking to suspects, solving puzzles…
The game was Nancy Drew: Treasure in the Royal Tower. It was actually #4 in a series of games by Her Interactive, but it was brand new to me. After that first Christmas, every time I’d go home to visit my family, I’d sit down at the computer and play a bit more. Eventually, I ended up taking the game home and playing it on my own with my toddler on my lap. Sage played along with me, watching the action and helping to choose our next move.
After solving that first game (which, for some reason, took an inordinate amount of time!), I went online and ordered another Nancy Drew game, and then another. Sage and I played Message in a Haunted Mansion (where we participated in a séance, taught ourselves Chinese, and learned San Francisco history, all while renovating a B&B); Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake (where we learned about birds, and Roman Numerals, and Prohibition); and Secret of the Scarlet Hand (where we learned about the Mayans). These games were educational! And they were very fun.
On average, I probably bought a new game every year or so for several years. But we would also go back and replay games that we’d already finished. It didn’t matter if we already knew who the culprit was. (As they say, it’s all about the journey, rather than the destination!)
Some of our favorites have been: The Secret of Shadow Ranch (with a ghostly horse and hidden treasure!); Secret of the Old Clock (a historical version that takes place in 1930); Trail of the Twister (not the most popular among fans, but Sage liked it a lot—probably because of her fascination with tornadoes); The Creature of Kapu Cave (snooping around in a cool Hawaiian setting); Shadow at the Water’s Edge (a good and creepy mystery, with lots of interesting Japanese culture); and so many more.
Believe it or not, we haven’t played them all. And we haven’t even loved them all. A couple very early ones were kind of boring, and a couple of the newest ones didn’t really grab us. But most of them have been pretty neat. In addition to the intriguing story lines, there are several running jokes throughout the series, including some recurring characters, references to past games, and hidden “Easter eggs” that are literally eggs. Nancy’s trusty friends, Bess and George, and her boyfriend, Ned, even get in on the action in many of the games.
As Sage gets older and busier, our game playing has slowed down quite a bit. But that’s not to say we won’t still pop in a disk now and then. I also like to keep an eye out for the new releases. (I’m eagerly awaiting game #33, called Midnight in Salem!)
But the best part, to be sure, is the mother-daughter bond we’ve formed playing this game. I can’t tell you how many times something in real life, or in a movie, has reminded me of something from one of the games. When I mention it, Sage knows exactly what I’m talking about. I feel like we’ve traveled the world together. We’ve visited Venice and New Orleans, Edinburgh and Egypt, a foggy castle in Ireland and a snowy resort in Canada; and even Nancy’s hometown of River Heights. We’ve puzzled and persisted, and we’ve given each other high-fives when we survived the final challenges, time and time again.
Come to think of it, though, the bond is much greater than the two of us. My sisters still enjoy playing these games now and then—we were the original Nancy Drew detectives! On a larger scale, fans of these games must surely number in the thousands upon thousands. There’s something timeless and infinitely appealing about Nancy Drew.
So, I know I'm part of a larger group-- that group of fun-loving gamers who know the satisfaction of finding lost keys, unlocking tricky puzzles, piecing together random clues... and of course, trapping the bad guy and saving the day. : )
Here's to Nancy... and many more years of playing detective.
A nature-loving, mystery-reading, magic-seeking, daydreaming kinda gal, Jennifer is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries.