Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

by Sally Carpenter

The inspiration for this post came in an unusual way. In my day job, I work at a community newspaper. Recently an editor asked if I’d cover the opening of the “Vatican Splendors” exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, a mere 20-minute drive from my house.

So I went on the “Splendors” press tour a mere two days before the library closed for Nancy Reagan’s funeral preparations. Talk about timing. Anyway, the exhibit has many artifacts and artworks rarely seen in or outside Rome.

One of my favorites was a large oil painting from the Renaissance titled “The Supper of Emmaus” by the workshop of Francesco or Leandro Bassano (sons of the better known Jacopo Bassano).

The work is an unusual retelling of the story from Luke’s gospel of the resurrected Jesus having a meal in the town of Emmaus with two of his disciples, who don’t recognize him at first.

The house and clothing are from the 16th century. Servants are bustling about, cooking dinner in a fireplace. Plucked chickens hang from the ceiling. A dog barks at a cat. I was the only person in my tour group who notice that the cat was clutching a mouse (a common sight in my yard). In the center of the picture a seated man, probably the homeowner, gazes off in thought.

Tucked back in the right hand corner is a table with Jesus, the two disciples and a servant boy waiting on them.

What the painting says to me is that the household residents are so preoccupied with their daily work that they are oblivious of the special guest under their roof. Not even the disciples can see the greatness in their midst.

As mystery writers our job is to find the extraordinary events taking place in the mundane world. Our amateur sleuths go about their usual habits when bam! A dead body appears. Their routines are disrupted and chaos ensues until the killer is found. Plenty of tension for the hero, but fun for the reader.

Most people live uneventful lives that would make for dull reading. It’s that extraordinary incident that kicks the story into high gear.

In my series, my hero is either the one who finds the body, or the victim dies in his arms. This gets him out of his rut and off on his own investigation.

So I keep my eyes open for those exciting events that I can use to write a good story. I try not to miss the special guest in the house.





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