Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 1

Sylvia Meisner has been missing for two weeks. She lives alone in Maple Valley. Alone, but not alone. As it is with so many small towns, everyone knows everyone in Maple Valley, and there are plenty of folks who make it their business to know the business of everyone else.

It is challenging enough living in a small town, but many of the residents are related in one way or another. Sylvia Meisner is in her mid-thirties. She’s never been married but she has enjoyed the company of several men over the years. Sylvia is the niece-in-law of Mayor Alvin Thrashborn. Alvin has been mayor since the thirty-seven full time residents of Maple Township voted to become a town and changed the name to Maple Valley. Thrashborn’s second wife, Gwendalyn, is the sister of Arleta Forner, who owned Forner’s Drugstore until it burned down fourteen years ago. Arleta is Sylvia’s mother.

There was talk around town that Alvin had a “thing” for Sylvia. Oh, no one ever saw anything, really, but Alvin did seem to brighten when Sylvia walked into a room. Everyone knows what that means. And in Maple Valley, everyone notices when someone brightens.

Sylvia is an artist of sorts. Many of the signs around Maple Valley were created by Sylvia. She has a small studio behind her house where she paints. Oddly enough, Sylvia makes signs for businesses that don’t exist. They are shops she believes should be real, so she paints signs for them. For example, “Tom’s Used Blenders & Other Interesting Items” was one of her first. There has never been a used blender store. Anywhere, ever. No one complains because the signs add color to the neighborhood.

For whatever reason, Sylvia is gone. No one has seen her for two weeks. There wasn’t any concern at first. In fact, it was several days before someone said, “Have you seen Sylvia lately?” When the answer was, “No, I haven’t, come to think of it” the phones started ringing. And, believe it or not, there is no cell service in Maple Valley, so it happens to be the only town within five hundred miles that still has telephones hanging on walls. They ring the old-fashioned way, obnoxiously loud.

Everyone continued about their daily activities but concern about Sylvia grew. Last Tuesday morning, something happened no one has been able to explain. Two people were walking along the tracks near three tower bridge and found a car. The car, or, what’s left of it, is smashed and burned. At this point, there are no answers. No one knows where it came from or how it got there. Monday night, nothing. Tuesday morning, a burned car.

It wasn’t until officials looked more closely someone said, “That looks like Sylvia Meisner’s car.”

Sure enough. After a quick search, the car was confirmed to be Sylvia’s. There was no sign of Sylvia. Nothing remained in the car except charred seats and a melted steering wheel.

The two who discovered the car, Tom Swagmon and Patty Philers were questioned almost as if they were suspects.

“How could we have moved the car there?!” Tom hollered at Sheriff Terkinberry.

“When was the last time you saw Sylvia Meisner?” asked the Sheriff.

“Pete!” (Terkinberry’s first name. He and Tom Swagmon were best friends in high school.) “It’s me! Pete! You idiot! We have no idea where Sylvia is!” That was the end of the questions.

Sylvia doesn’t have any family outside Maple Valley. She went to school here. She stayed here. The farthest distance she has ever travelled out of Maple Valley was to Hamshover, Missouri, where she attended the “Young High-Minded Individuals” national convention. No one ever thought of Sylvia as being high-minded, but evidently someone did. She was invited as a delegate.

Sheriff Terkinberry is suggesting a door-to-door search for Sylvia. Since no one has seen or heard from her in two weeks, it’s hard to imagine a search like that is going to do anything but make a lot of people uncomfortable. After all, it’s very hard to burn a vehicle in a small town without someone noticing, and no one did. The car was destroyed somewhere else and moved back to Maple Valley. But why would someone do that? Is it meant to convey a message? And where is Sylvia?

Maybe the answers are close by. Maybe not. If something happened to Sylvia, something terrible, we may never know. But that doesn’t dismiss us from the responsibility of finding out as much as we can.

The problem with Maple Valley, especially with troubling circumstances like this, is that folks are better at making things up and calling them facts than really finding the truth. These days, truth is tougher to uncover in Maple Valley.

How to Avoid Writing Enemies

Let’s be honest. A lack of time really isn’t an enemy to writing. Literary masterpieces were written in the same amount of minutes in a day we have now. Poor use of the time is the real enemy. I am a master at finding all kinds of things to do instead of writing.

It’s amazing how much time is available to binge on Netflix reruns. It won’t matter if we just watch one more show. It would be irresponsible to stop watching now that we’re really into the plot. Let’s just keep watching to see what happens.

There is always something more demanding than writing. Projects on the house are endless. Errands requiring no more than thirty minutes turn into an afternoon after a trip through Starbucks, an unplanned stop at Home Depot, waiting at the train station long enough to catch a freight run-by, and deciding to pick up a few things at the grocery store. Once I’m finally headed home, I remember something I should have purchased so I turn around and go back.

Remember, poor use of time is the enemy. That’s not to say errands aren’t important and we shouldn’t spend any time watching a favorite show. It’s just amazing, however, how fast the time flies when we’re doing things that don’t produce good writing.

How do you stop wasting time? (C’mon, I know you do it too.) Start with a plan. Decide on a time and place during the day you will commit to writing, and only writing, and then stick to it. Don’t let a fleeting idea lead you to start scrolling the internet. Jot the idea down (on a real piece of paper with a pencil – remember those?) and don’t click away from the screen you’re working on.

If you work at it, you can get really creative with your writing opportunities.

Here are some options:

1. Early morning – a quiet house can be a writer’s best friend. Allow enough time to write without rushing.

2. Late at night. Same idea.

3. On your lunch break at work. Here’s where a real piece of paper and a pen might work for you. Pick up an inexpensive journal and use it when you only have a few moments of writing time between bites.

4. Use your phone. I have lists of writing topics in my reminders app. It’s easy to jot a line and come back to it later.

5. Dedicate a weekend to writing. If you have a busy family life, maybe a full morning or afternoon will work.

6. A writing get-away. Do you have a RV? A cottage? Do you have a friend with a cottage? Do you have a tent? Do you have a car? (I have spent many afternoons at the train depot with an iPad on my lap. And I’ve even been lucky enough to see several trains!) Do you have a garage? A yard? Do you have a closet? Is there a local library? You get the idea.

7. Your favorite coffee shop. Every writer’s idea of the perfect setting is the laptop on a table with a steaming brew close by. Coffee is the universal inspiration for fantastic writing.

8. A doctor appointment. Really. Do you have any idea how many hours you have wasted waiting? Waiting rooms should be called writing rooms. Then patients might begin to understand they are not required to handle magazines that have been fingered through by very sick person within fifty miles. Writing while waiting is a great idea!

9. A dentist appointment. It’s the same idea as the doctor’s office with a few variables. At the doctor’s office you don’t have the option of breathing that wonderful mixture of novocaine, formaldehyde, alcohol, polycarbonates, cleanser, and sweat. Fear can be an incredible writing motivator.

10. Church. If you go to church, maybe go back to what we used to do as kids. Draw during the sermon. Instead of drawing, write. (Just a caveat, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to laugh out loud at your own whit when you write a brilliant line.) It might be a little bit like when the preacher was being all fake humble and said, “Now, folks, I know you have heard preachers who were much better than I.” And an old woman in the back said, “Amen!” (That really happened at our church when I was a kid. Remember it like yesterday! (Wait a minute, I can’t remember anything about yesterday.) I remember it like it was over fifty years ago!

11. If you’re a student, write at school. Your teachers will think there’s something wrong with you. When I was a middle school counselor, I loved encouraging students in their writing. There were a few that were actually brilliant, at least I thought so. It was worth every minute to read and then watch the glow on their face as approval washed over them.

12. The car wash. What do you do while you’re sitting in your car being pulled through the whale’s mouth, swallowed, digested, then spewed out the other end? See? You could use those few moments of solitude to write!

13. Family reunions. NO ONE likes family reunions. If someone tells you they do, they’re lying. “You look just like your father!” “I remember changing your diaper once when it was running all down your leg! What a mess!” “You don’t remember throwing up on Uncle Elmer, do you?” “I once thought you stole money out of my purse! I’m so sorry, I know you didn’t really do it. It was your brother!” Hearing Aunt Mable fart during the saying of grace was worth it. And the time a calf was born during the prayer. That was a classic. Family reunions are only meaningful to grocery store owners. More pineapple chunks, cottage cheese, Jello, potatoes, mustard, celery, and baloney are sold during family reunion season than at any other time of year. Use the family reunion to sneak into the haymow and write. (Alone.)

14. The bathroom. C’mon, seriously. What if, instead of scrolling, reading news, deleting emails, rereading texts, checking bank accounts, writing grocery lists, looking up the definition of “fart”, or sorting photos, why not write?

Our lives are full of opportunities to write if we just look.

Do you have a treehouse? What a great place to write!