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The Sirens of Suspense




Sara J. Henry is the author of LEARNING TO SWIM (which won the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel and the Mary Higgins Clark Award) and the just-released sequel, A COLD AND LONELY PLACE. She’s from Tennessee, has lived all over the United States and in Ontario, and now calls Vermont home. She was “discovered” at Squaw Valley Writers Conference, where she went to see if her novel was worth salvaging, and the post is a true story, with names deliberately left out. She never eats turnips these days, raw or cooked.

Sara will be appearing at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ on Wednesday, February 27th at 7PM.

Find Sara on Facebook and Twitter.

item1 On Social Acceptability and School item1

When I asked what this post should be about, Chantelle said, “If you want to tell us about a writing challenge, or publishing experience, great, if you happen to raise championship turnips or have an obsession involving Richard III, even better.” I then mentioned something involving turnips, and she said I was the first person who ever had a turnip story. So that seemed to be the story I should tell here.

I was at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference in California, sitting at lunch outside with an agent and three or four authors (I know this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke), none of whom I knew particularly well. I was there as a guest speaker, a published alumna: my first novel, the one I’d workshopped here, had recently been released.

I’m not at sure how the discussion turned to what we’d had in our school lunches when we were kids. For some reason I told my turnip story: my Kentucky grandfather had a large garden where he grew an enormous quantity of vegetables, and he’d send bags of stuff home with us. Including turnips—lots of them. So sometimes instead of an apple or carrots in my lunch, there would be a large white turnip.

If I had any degree of social acceptability at that point in my grade school career, this probably would have vanquished it. As it was, it was just another odd thing about me (I was also the only kid who had to take her lunch bag and sandwich bags home to be reused).

(Kids, this was back in the day when parents packed school lunches. Yes, you could buy lunch at school, but almost no one did, probably because it was so awful.)

If I thought this crowd would be appalled by my turnip story, I was wrong. They proceeded to launch into their school lunch-time stories, which trumped mine decisively. The agent told us his young mother had been going through a night club phase and couldn’t manage to get up in time to make his lunch, so she would swoop down on his school at lunch time and take him out to a nearby diner. Where he was, of course, the only school child eating out with his mother. One of the writers had a Middle Eastern background and one a Japanese parent, and I seem to remember that their mothers both would pack odd-looking or odd-smelling ethnic food in their lunches. One woman’s mother sent her school lunch in a large grocery story bag instead of a lunch bag.

But the topper, without question, was a fellow who came from a large family. His mother would sometimes run out of lunch fixings, and use whatever she had on hand. And if you have infants in the house, while you may run out of peanut butter or cheese, you never run out of … baby food.

Yes, this writer would get baby food sandwiches in his lunch. Baby food, between two slices of bread.

I don’t know what all this means. Kids whose night-clubbing mothers take them to the diner at lunch become agents, and those of us with humiliatingly odd lunches become writers? But it was both energizing and heartening to know that this random bunch of literary people, who happened to sit at the same table together, all had shared that experience of being the kid at school with the oddest lunch.

And that day was something I never forgot, sitting there in the sun with these bright and charismatic people laughing over childhood stories—a meal time where I was no longer the kid with the oddest lunch.



WHAT'S YOUR ODDEST SCHOOL EXPERIENCE, LUNCH OR OTHERWISE? Tell us or ask Sara a question by commenting below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win an copy of A COLD AND LONELY PLACE!


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