Sherlock Holmes the Next-next-next-next-next-next Generation

This is a fabulous series by an even more fabulous author!

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Our latest guest blog comes from journalist and podcast producer, Paula Berinstein of The Writing Show. Also California-based, Paula talks to us about the first book in her Young Adult detective series, which introduces us to Sherlock Holmes, the next-next-next-next-next-next generation…

Amanda Lester cover

…or to be more accurate, G. Lestrade the next-next-next-next-next generation.

Amanda Lester, the twelve-year-old protagonist of my book Amanda Lester and the Pink Sugar Conspiracy, is descended from Inspector Lestrade and couldn’t be more embarrassed. The man was a twit and everyone except her parents knows it. They think Lestrade is the bee’s knees and want their daughter to follow in his footsteps, but she wouldn’t be caught dead being a detective. She is a filmmaker extraordinaire. So when they send her to a secret school for the descendants of famous detectives in the English Lake District, it’s no wonder she freaks out.

Now you wouldn’t think…

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For the last time, I am not angry

I hate pictures of myself, always have. My Facebook profile pic is a few years old and I am not one to agonize over the perfect selfie to share just because I want to say “Good morning!” to the world.

The worst ones, however, are those candid shots, the ones where I am in the background, unaware someone is snapping a pic.

If my grandmother was the photographer, she usually took the shot when I was shoveling in a forkful of something, mouth wide and eyes closed.

But those are almost bearable compared to the others – at least those are good for a laugh as she would proclaim, “And look, another one of Sudie with her mouth hanging wide like a garage! You can get a Buick in there!”

No, the ones I hate are the ones I am completely oblivious anything is going on and I am just sitting there.

“Who are you angry at in this photo?” Mama has asked.

“No one, I am just sitting there.”

“You look like you are going to stab someone.”

“Nope, I was perfectly happy. Just sitting there, listening.”

“Were you hungry?”

“Nope, see the plate on the table. I had just ate.”

“Did you eat gluten and were having a bad reaction? Sour tummy, maybe?”

For the love of Hello Kitty – no.

It’s just my face.

I have, and have suffered from a disorder that many women are plagued by. It’s Resting – I’m going to let you guess the next word – Face.

In other words, I look like an evil Disney queen when I am not smiling.

I was not aware there was such a thing until recently; I haven’t been clinically diagnosed – who has? – but I have symptoms of it. More importantly, others have recognized the symptoms before I realized anything was occurring.

“What’s wrong?” Cole will ask me at least 12 times a day.

“Nothing,” I reply.

“Are you angry at Daddy?”

“Why? What has he done?”

“Nothing! You just look…angry.”

I’m not. I am just sitting there at my computer, working. My face is void of the smile that makes me look like some circus clown, gaping at a monkey riding a unicycle.

Which brings me to another annoying point.

“Smile!” I am encouraged by people, some who don’t even know me, at random times, because they think I look all downtrodden and morose.

I am not nearly as macabre as I look, I just don’t go around smiling all the time.

I am not sure why, I just don’t.

And when you have this disorder, people automatically think you are angry, depressed, or on the verge of stabbing someone rather violently.

“You do look like you are about to punch someone,” Mama commented, seeing a photo with me in the background just sitting there, all RBF-ed.

“Punching someone was the furthest thing on my mind then,” I said. It was eking into my subconscious during this conversation though. “I was wondering when they were going to move on to the dang cake. I can only ooh and ahh over so many onesies at a baby shower until I am ready for the nonsense to be over with. I was told I could have the corner piece of cake with all the icing and dangit, I wanted cake.”

Cake, or more specifically, icing makes me smile. And smiling makes the obvious symptom of go away.

Because when you are smiling, even when you are thinking devious thoughts, you give the appearance of being happy, joyful and pleasant.

You know, you don’t look like you are going to pull someone’s ears over their head – as long as you smile.

Most of the time when my look is in full force I am probably doing the worst thing imaginable: Thinking.

I am not thinking sad or depressing thoughts; just thinking. Deeply, intently and more than likely, overthinking as well.

The look is evidently hereditary.

Granny never smiled and could look like she was going to shoot someone even when the old gal was not angry, which was rare. Mama may not realize it but when she was younger, she had it too.

Her post-middle-aged fluffiness has somewhat softened the effects, but she still has it.

For those that are used to a loved one having RBF, a fleeting, random smile can be alarming.

“What made you smile?” Lamar will ask.

“Someone posted the cutest puppy photo,” I respond.

I hate to break it to him; there is no cure, although scores of puppy photos and kitten videos offer a brief reprieve from the most predominant symptom.

It can be quite useful in some situations. There have been instances where people have not been very cooperative and while I was trying to come up with a solution, they misconstrued my facial response to be one of premeditated fury. It actually comes in handy then.

“You’re sure you’re not angry?” Cole will ask.

I’m not angry. I’m not upset, or mad, or any of those emotions.

I just look that way.

Sweet victory

There comes a point in every child’s life when they have a very startling reality revealed.

It has nothing to do with where babies come from, either.

It’s the harsh truth that – as much as it pains me to say this – I am not perfect.

Cole made it almost 11 years before the illusion he had of me, his mother, being perfect and flawless was shattered.

Realizing Mama is not perfect is more devastating than other truths we find out in childhood. I remember the day I realized my own Mama wasn’t.

I was only four, but it was life changing nonetheless.

Granny was far from perfect but she considered herself a limited edition, so her flaws were part of what made her unique.

That, and she’d just as soon slap you silly if you told her otherwise.

But my son thought I hung the moon and the stars and was right about everything.

If I said it, it was gospel. He believed what I told him – he knew I wouldn’t lie to him and if he heard me utter anything to his daddy, he took it as truth.

Mama could tell him something and he would tell me he wasn’t so sure.

“Nennie said she has scorpions that fly. Do you believe her?”

I shook my head.

“She thinks everything is a scorpion. And she thinks everything flies. She is also fairly certain one of their cats is trying to kill her.”

She may not be far off on the cat.

Since the first time I realized Mama was not perfect, I have learned to accept that sometimes, Mama was wrong.

Sure, she was right about somethings – the ex, for one – but some things she was horribly wrong about.

Like that Lancome powder she keeps trying to give me that makes you all shimmery.

No one, unless you’re an extra in a show with vampires, needs to shimmer that much.

Just like she was wrong in the ‘80s when she wore parachute pants with high heels.

So while I love my Mama, I am very aware that she is not perfect.

My child, however, was still living in the fairy tale of me being perfect.

“My Mama said if you do that, it will explode and your brain will melt,” I heard him saying on the phone one day. “And she’s the smartest person I know, so yeah, I wouldn’t do it. Your brain will ooze out your eyeballs.”

As long as I was instilling fear into the elementary crowd and avoiding impending explosions, I was doing my job. And, they believed me.

I was still perfect. I was still right.

Being right was kind of my thing with Cole.

I told him if he touched the gas heater, he would get burned.

“What did I tell you?” I asked. “See – I was right! I am always right!”

I cautioned him on various and sundry other things, all ending with me being right.

“How do you always know what is going to happen?” Cole asked after another brilliant example of my omnipotence.

“Because I am always, always right.”

Oh, oh, oh, how those words can come up and bite you in the tater when you least expect them or want them to.

We were out running errands when we decided we needed to run through a drive thru for ice cream.

I was happy to see coupons for free ice cream in the dash. And Lamar gets on to me about not cleaning out my trash when I exit the van – I just saved a few bucks by being lazy.

See how right I was?

I gave our order and told the clerk we had coupons for the ice cream but not the smoothie.

When she gave the total, it was a lot more than just a smoothie.

“Something’s not right,” I said. “That’s too much.”

“Maybe Daddy got a bigger smoothie?” Cole suggested.

“No,” I said. “I think they are overcharging us. They overcharge you in the drive thru.” The scene from the “Lethal Weapon” movie with Joe Pesci played through my head.

“Leo Getz was right,” I muttered.

“Mama, they are not doing it on purpose, it was just a misunderstanding.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t,” I said convinced.

“Mama-“

Lamar cut him off.

“Cole, don’t question your Mama about money; she can take a glance at a buggy and tell you how much it will be. If she’s saying they messed up, she’s right.”

“I am just saying it was a mistake. They aren’t doing it on purpose,” he said. “You think they are doing some horrible crime against you personally. They are probably a very nice person. And it is a simple mistake.”

How dare this child attempt to reason with me.

Lamar drew a sharp intake of air.

“Cole, I am sure it is not a mistake. I am right – just you watch.”

My child didn’t miss a beat. Where do you think he gets his dogged stubbornness and relentlessness from?

“It’s going to be an honest mistake – and they are going to be a nice person — and I am going to be the one who’s right. Not you.”

Lamar shook his head.

“He’s just a child; remember that.”

I turned around in my seat and looked at my precious monkey in the back of the van.

“What?”

He lifted his chin.

“I’m going to be right.”

“We’ll see.”

I don’t want to get into specifics. It was not only an honest mistake, but, the young lady told us she’d see us Sunday at church. I felt like a heel.

“How’s your ice cream?” Lamar asked.

“Delicious,” Cole said. “It tastes like victory.”

The little stinker was right. And we all knew it.

Sour lessons and sweet victory.

It was all because of a dog

Some love stories begin with chance meetings, glances across the room, or even horrible blind dates that actually work out.

There’s conflict, fights, breaking up, making up, drama – all that great stuff Danielle Steele writes about in romance novels.

Maybe I should feel like something is wrong, because we celebrated our 12th anniversary on Tuesday, and we haven’t had any of that.

But our unconventional story began with the goddess of love herself, Venus.

Venus, the German shepherd, probably didn’t intend to play Cupid – or maybe she did.

I am pretty sure she felt like she orchestrated our whole relationship.

She was our unintentional yenta, after all, escaping from her kennel at Lamar’s mother’s house while she was supposed to be dog-sitting while Lamar was out of town working.

The dog ran wild for a week.

I was the one who rounded her up a couple of days before Lamar came home to get her.

I am not one to believe in love at first sight. Unless there is a dog involved, and then, it is empirically possible.

I fell in love with this dog the minute I saw her, scratching her ears and letting her lick my hand through the gate as I put her back in her kennel.

I didn’t know who her owner was, but I knew somehow, that dog was supposed to be mine.

Lamar showed up at his mother’s Estee Lauder counter a few days later, not too happy she had lied to him about his dog.

I was at my Clinique counter, telling a friend about a new cream eyeshadow.

“Gotta go, cute guy at Lauder,” I said, hanging up the phone.

Lamar has said he knew then he wanted to marry me, standing in my stocking feet, hair piled on my head and decked out in a Clinique lab coat because I had been good to his dog.

I’ve joked he wanted to marry me because I had food and cable -which he does not really refute – and I married him to get the dogs.

“Daddy didn’t really marry you for cable and food, did he?” Cole will question, not 100 percent sure. “Y’all loved each other.”

Being a hopeless romantic, Cole thinks everyone has a fairy tale romance like Pam and Jim on “The Office” or Waddles and the goat on “Gravity Falls.”

So naturally he thinks our backstory involved a lot of romantic gestures like roses, poems and candlelight. I have to remind Cole real life romance is not like you see on TV.

And that his father is not really good at the woo part of a relationship; Lamar hasn’t even officially proposed.

“Do you think you would have even met Daddy if it hadn’t been for Venus?”

Maybe.

Who knows?

He was about ready to move back to Colorado – if he had, I probably would have never met him.

Lamar’s kind of shy, too.

He may never had a reason to speak to me if he hadn’t thanked me for saving Venus, let alone ask me out.

His mother was the one who called me later to ask if she could give him my number.

She had a caveat though: “He’s got two more of those big German shepherd things at home – three of them. And they are inside. They shed everywhere.”

I pretty much judge people based on how they treat animals. And being an animal lover is on the top of my list of redeeming qualities in people.

The fact he had three and they were inside gave me a pretty good idea of what kind of person he was. So I gave her the OK.

During one of our early dates, he asked me if I wanted to go meet the dogs.

I said yes and wondered if Venus would remember me.

She did, running straight to me, leaning against my legs, and doing her signature paw on my foot move she would do, as if to say I was her person.

And I was – for the 10 years I had her after we married, she was my soulmate and constant companion.

“So, I am here, and we’re a family, all because of Venus?”” Cole said, thinking all of this over.

“Yup,” I said. “All because of a dog named after the mythical goddess of love.”

Pretty appropriate, if I do say so myself.

You’re only as good as your word, so mean what you say

When you give someone your word, it’s a pretty big deal.

Long before our society became so litigious, people made business deals based on verbal agreements. Pop sealed many deals to do roofs with a handshake and his word of when it would be done.

I’ve tried to uphold that standard, but often times, it can be tricky.

Our emotions get the best of us and we make a promise that we intend to keep, but don’t.

We mean what we say, when we say it. But the value of the intention fades as time goes by.

Sometimes, it can be a big thing – a marriage vow forsaken.

Sometimes, it may seem little, but those little things can often have a bigger impact.

And sometimes, it is those promises made to those little folks in our lives that mean the most.

There’s times I have promised things, like one particular Ben 10 Monster Lab, where apparently you can create your own monsters, and been unable to keep my promise.

Failing to keep my word was not intentional by any means – it was a special promotional item that just unfortunately, ran out.

This fact did not diminish the disappointment of a then 8-year-old.

“I’m so sorry,” I apologized. “I’ll make it up to you.”

‘Cause we all know, the best way to make up for a broken promise is to counter with another promise.

He nodded. “It’s OK,” he assured me. But I could tell by his voice the disappointment still stung.

He found something else he wanted and we promised it.

To be more accurate, we promised him Santa was going to bring it.

Santa didn’t bring it, though; and when Santa’s little helper ran into Walmart on Christmas Eve, they were out.

“Maybe Santa will bring it next year,” Cole said, disappointed yet again.

The guilt was palpable.

Twice, I had let him down.

Yes, it was just ‘things,’ but I had told him I would get them.

“He won’t even remember what he asked for,” Lamar said. “He will outgrow those things and move on to something else.”

But, he didn’t forget. Cole’s memory is better than mine and he never, not ever, forgets anything.

However, he doesn’t dwell on it or stew over it, leaving the disappointment behind.

Even if the disappointment came from a broken promise.

As I finished my thesis a few months ago, I found myself with less time than ever before.

“Mama, can we play?”

“Later,” I said.

“When’s later?” he demanded.

“Later,” I emphasized.

But later to a child is an eternity.

Hours passed; he approached me again.

“Is now later?”

“Not yet.”
He sighed.

A heart-heavy sigh, dropped his head, and walked away.

When he approached again, I was too tired to play.

My eyes were tired, my brain hurt. I was mentally and physically exhausted.

“I’m so sorry,” I began, seeing the pleading in his eyes.

He dropped his head again. “I understand…”

We repeated this for several weeks.

“All I want is for you to spend some time with me,” he said.

“Cole, we spend time together all the time. I work from home, you’re homeschooled – we spend all of our time together.”

He shook his head.

“It’s not the same. You’re focused on what you’re doing and not me. All I want is for you to play with me.”

“Let me get through this thesis, and we will play. I promise.”

But for Cole, “get through this thesis” meant the minute I turned in my paper, I was supposed to play.

He sat up with me until midnight the night before it was due.

I re-read it, checked my citations, and chapters, looked for spelling errors and made sure everything was perfect. I uploaded the document and hit submit.

“Yay!” he squealed. “Now, we can play!”

“Cole! It’s midnight. It’s time to go to bed, not play time.”

His smile turned sour.

“I waited till you got through so we could play. You said to let you get through this paper, and we’d play.”

Bless his heart, he takes things very literally, like his mother.

“Tomorrow, after I finish work, we’ll play.”

“When will that be?”

“I don’t know.”

He looked at the floor, possibly fighting back tears.

“But we will play tomorrow?”

“We will. Promise. Just let me get through everything I have to do first.”

6 p.m. came and went, and I had finished my regular work and moved on to another project.

“Are you done?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I replied.

But again, when I finished I was too tired to play Pokemon, Battleship or Crazy Bones.

Too tired to do anything but fall asleep.

It was Cole who woke me when he moved my laptop off my lap.

“I’m so sorry,” I began.

“I know,” he said. “And you’ll play with me tomorrow. I know, Mama. It’s same promise you made before.”

That reality slapped me awake.

I had been promising to play with him and hadn’t, thinking I could put him off and put him off until some later date.
A later date when I supposedly would have everything done, a day when he will probably have children of his own and not have time for me.

The next morning, I took out an index card and listed out my priorities. I knew I needed to go over the list with Cole when he woke.

“What’s this?” he asked, looking at the card.

“This is the important things I need to do,” I said. “They are top priority and have to be done, first and foremost. So I need you to understand how important these are, OK?”

He wrinkled his head in confusion.

“But, Mama, this says ‘play Pokemon,’ ‘go putt-putting,’ ‘go to our park,’ and stuff like that.”

“Yup. We are going to do all of those. And this time, I mean it.”

And so far, I have kept my word.