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Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Those of you who follow this blog and have read the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series know that decorating editor Jeanie Sims loves yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales. Today she invites author S.W. Hubbard to discuss the lure of estate sales and why they can be a such great inspiration for writers.

S.W. Hubbard’s most recent novel is Another Man’s Treasure. She is also is the author of three other mystery novels, and her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and several anthologies. Learn more about her and her books at her website. -- AP
The big sign in front of the house reads: Dead People’s Things for Sale.

Usually, estate sale signs aren’t quite that blunt, but that sign sums up what an estate sale is.  Garage sales are cheerful events, where homeowners delight in clearing out items they no longer need, like high chairs, and tricycles, and ugly wedding gifts from Aunt Mabel.  But estate sales are poignant affairs that mark the end of a life lived in a particular house.  When you go to an estate sale, you get to wander through some, if not all, of the house’s rooms speculating on the people who lived there. 

For a writer, estate sales are gold mines.  Whose hand embroidered those pillow covers?  Who chose that Wedgwood pattern?  How could anyone relax in a room with such a hideous oil painting? How can the same house contain a collection of innocent Hummel figurines and an array of brutal hunting knives? Estate sales provide an opportunity for writers to practice what they do best: weave an elaborate tale around a few random details.
I only have time to attend the occasional estate sale, but estate sale organizers get to poke around in the homes of dead people every day of the week.  What a life!  Is it any wonder, then, that I made the protagonist of my latest mystery, Another Man’s Treasure, an estate sale organizer?  Audrey Nealon is always discovering the unexpected hidden in unlikely places—cash in the freezer, diamonds in the toaster oven, drugs in the silverware drawer.  Who put them there and why keeps Audrey—and my readers—guessing.

Estate sales are also great sources of conflict, and conflict equals story.  There’s nothing like a death in the family, even a natural death of old age, to bring out the worst in people.  Relatives squabble over who gets what, the value of heirlooms, and the significance of the bequests in great-grandmother’s will.  An estate sale organizer often gets to witness some of the strife, providing even more grist for the novelist’s mill.

A good estate sale organizer (and of course, Audrey is a great one) is an expert in many fields: antique furniture, china and glass, textiles, art, collectibles, and even kitch.  She has to be in order to get the best prices for every item in the sale.  Organizers get a percentage of the take, not a flat fee, so they are motivated to sell as high as possible while still getting rid of everything in the sale.  Audrey’s business allows me to share a few fun and obscure facts with my readers, as the keen-eyed Audrey spots treasures mixed in with the trash in dead people’s homes.
I originally planned Another Man’s Treasure to be a stand-alone romantic thriller.  But I had so much fun writing about Audrey and her work that I’ve decided to create a few more adventures for her.  Next up—Audrey and her assistant Jill try to help a hoarder deal with his obsession and unleash a whole lot of trouble in the process.

On a snowy Christmas Eve, a beautiful young mother goes out to buy a few last minute gifts and never returns….
….thirty years later, her daughter picks up her trail.

As the owner of an estate sale business, Audrey Nealon knows a lot about art, antiques, and the unlikely places old people hide their treasures.  But the shabby home of an elderly widow holds alarming surprises: street drugs in the silverware drawer, a trunk full of jewels in the attic, and the distinctive ring Audrey’s mother was wearing the night she disappeared. Believing the truth will bring her peace, Audrey relentlessly pursues clues to her family’s troubled history. But each fact Audrey uncovers drags her further away from the love she craves, and puts her on a collision course with people more determined, more ambitious, and more dangerous than she can fathom.  Ultimately, some truths are too awful to bear, and too terrible to share.


Edith Maxwell said...

Another Man's Treasure is such a great story, I'm really glad you've decided to continue the series!

S. W. Hubbard said...

Thanks, Edith--I'm glad you enjoyed it. I need to step up my word count to get the sequel done!

E. S. Abramson said...

There are different categories of estate sales. High end estate sales are overseen by attorneys according to the instructions left in the deceased's will. The first thing the attorney does is call in a certified appraiser to appraise the contents of the house. A copy of that appraisal is usually sent to the IRS. After the estate sale is completed, often by an auction house such as Christies or Sothebys, a final accounting is sent to both the IRS and the heirs. As to fighting over pieces, that can only happen when the deceased does not leave a will specifying who gets what. It is the will that determines who gets the piece or the funds from the sale of it or if it goes to charity. E.S. Abramson, Appraiser and author of the Susan Goodwin-Earl Appraiser/Detective Mysteries.

LynnHolt said...

Interesting take on the difference between garage sales and estate sales. You're right. It really is rife with conflict as family members jockey for certain items and such.

S.W. Hubbard said...

Yes, and conflict is what we novelists feed on!