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Thursday, July 11, 2013


Carolyn J. Rose is the author of several novels and has also written one with her husband Mike Nettleton. Carolyn logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor. She founded the Vancouver Writers' Mixers and is an active supporter of her local bookstore, Cover to Cover. Learn more about Carolyn and her books at her website. – AP 

High School Mysteries

Unlike some, my high school years weren’t filled with glory days. Nor were they packed with torture and torment. They were mostly boring.

I went to high school in the age of lectures, blackboards, chalk dust, vocabulary drills, pop quizzes, essay tests, and homework every night. Monotony was broken only by tedium and ennui.

As we wallowed in the educational doldrums, my friends and I were always on the lookout for something different, something mysterious. We wanted to decide on our own what to wonder about instead of being told we should be curious whether x +145 really equaled 139, what the theme of a particular story was, or if political alliances laid the foundation for World War I.

The four major things I wondered about in high school were: What did teachers wear when they were off duty? What did they do on weekends and over the summer? What was the teachers’ room like and what went on in there? Did teachers have emotions like we did—specifically romantic ones?

This was back in the day when male teachers wore suits, conservative ties, and white, beige, or gray shirts. Female teachers wore dresses or skirts, blouses, and sweater sets. They always had on stockings and heels.

To answer question number 1, my friends and I considered the clothing our parents wore around the house. Then we ruled out the ratty and casual—cut-off jeans and T-shirts, shorts and sandals. Bathing suits, of course, were unthinkable. Our imaginations wouldn’t stretch that far.

As for their vacation time, we knew some of our teachers traveled. There would be postcards on bulletin boards in September and sometimes a souvenir on a desk. Once we spotted an embroidered blouse acquired in Mexico. We knew at least one of our male teachers worked a summer construction job—he’d been sighted in the company truck. But as for the rest, we imagined they passed the time reading textbooks and taking fiendish glee in developing tricky quiz questions designed to lower our grades.

We were forever detouring past the teachers’ room, hoping for a glimpse inside. Occasionally the door opened, but only wide enough for a teacher to slip out. Some kids claimed to have peered through that narrow gap and spotted a refrigerator and a sink, even a sofa, but they said the view was obscured by a dense cloud of cigarette smoke. Did teachers have a television in there? A record player? A vending machine? Reclining chairs? (For the record, when I finally got invited inside a teachers’ room while student teaching at Tucson High School, I wondered why I’d spent so much time wondering. The room was small, shrouded in stale cigarette smoke, and packed with cast-off furniture. The teachers inside were grading, snacking, or comparing notes.)

In an attempt to answer question number 4—the big one—we watched male and female teachers when they interacted. If we discovered that Mr. X and Miss Y smiled at each other a lot and both signed up to chaperone a field trip, we debated whether they were right for each other and (with giggles and blushes) what they might do on a date. We would be surprised or disappointed if the next year found Mr. X smiling at Miss Z. We would be stunned if we learned that Miss Y was engaged to someone who wasn’t a teacher, someone she met outside of our school, outside of our world. How was that possible?

When I went back to high school as a substitute 35 years after I graduated, I was amazed by all that had changed. But, despite computers and videos and interactive white boards, kids still battle boredom and still wonder about their teachers’ private lives. Often that curiosity isn’t limited to simply watching and wondering as it was back in the day.

I’ve had kids stop me in the supermarket to inspect the contents of my basket and question my choices. They screech their cars to a halt if they see me walking my dogs or raking the lawn. They ask me what kind of car I drive and how much money I make and which movies I like and whether I dye my hair and how long I’ve been married. Sometime they ask even more personal questions that make me squirm and rush to change the subject.

I’ve channeled a few of those uncomfortable moments into my cozy mysteries set at fictional Captain Meriwether High School in Reckless River, Washington. In No Substitute for Murder, sub Barbara Reed deals with a question about drugs by intentionally misunderstanding and stalling until the bell rings. In No Substitute for Money, she wrestles with speculation about the state of her love life.

What did you wonder about when you were in high school?

Share your memory in a comment and get into the drawing for a copy of No Substitute for Money.

No Substitute for Money
Substitute teacher Barbara Reed knows better than to say the word “perfect.” Using the P-word is a sure way to jinx romance, finance, and circumstance.

Despite a chronic shortage of funds, things are looking up for Barb after the events of No Substitute for Murder. She’s completing grad school and hoping for a job at Captain Meriwether High School in Reckless River, Washington. Her drug-cop boyfriend, Dave Martin, wants to move in and his daughter is all in favor. Even Barb’s tiny dog Cheese Puff has no objections—undaunted by size, he’s infatuated with Dave’s partner Lola, a drug-sniffing Golden Retriever.

Then Dave uses the P-word. And Barb’s luck leaves town.

Her car breaks down, her domineering sister comes for a visit, the condo manager plots to ban dogs, her jailed ex-husband begs her to be a character witness at his trial, a computer hacker creates chaos at the high school, and a hulking thug threatens violence.

Just when it appears things can’t get worse, Lola sniffs out a package in her car and a drug dealer decides Barb and Cheese Puff are his tickets out of trouble.

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Readers, remember, if you'd like a chance to win a copy of No Substitute for Money, leave a comment. The winner will be announced on the blog Sunday, so don't forget to check to see if you've won. You'll need to contact me so that I can put you in touch with Carolyn.--AP  


Yetta said...

I wondered if I'd get through the day. High school for me was full of mean cliques and ostracism. I graduated early and was glad to be done with it.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Yvetta - I know what you mean. I could have graduated early, but was more anxious about what was out there that I didn't know, than about the perils I was familiar with.

Unknown said...

I laughed at the curiosity about teacher's lounges. Been there, done that.

Beaj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beaj said...

High School was not a happy time for me and I was happy to be done with it..:)

Theresa de Valence said...

Wonderful post, Carolyn!

Anonymous said...

I was delighted when High School was over with, done, forgotten and never went back there! Thanks!

Carolyn J. Rose said...

So far we all seem to be glad high school is over. Does anyone out there have another view?

pam.stanek said...

Nope. High school in the 50s was just about like this for me, too. But mostly I wondered how many times I could take my texts, notebooks, and assignments home with me and not do a lick of homework before my parents found out. That moment of epiphany always came when they got my report card. Then I'd wonder what I could do to continue the farce until the next report card. It was always something more elaborate, more believable, and more deceitful. It was exhausting.

petite said...

High School was not an experience that I enjoyed. I felt I did not belong there, had no close friends and was happy when I graduated.

traveler said...

I believe that I have overcome the unpleasant experience although sometimes I wonder why high school was so bad and why I missed prom

Deadly Duo, Duh Blog said...

I remember coming home one day to find my strict, gruff-voiced 8th grade history teacher sitting in our living room having coffee with my mother. To my great and utter amazement, Miss Wahl had become friends with my parents. They were on a mixed doubles bowling team together. And, I found, out of her element, she was a funny. compassionate and considerate friend to my parents. As I grew into adulthood (still disputed by my wife, your guest author) she became my friend too. And, from that point forward, I viewed teachers in a different light.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Sometimes I think high school wasn't about the courses but about learning who I wanted to be like. Did I want to be the inflexible English teacher I had in 9th grade? Or did I want to be like the history teacher who humanized the subject by doing one-man skits to act out confrontations between kings?

Linda R said...

I actually loved high school, especially junior and senior year. My friends were all good kids, and no one tortured me. The teachers, for the most part, were dedicated educators. I look back at those times with fondness. I know, I'm weird.

Patty said...

School never ends when you work at a university, classes year round! I remember wondering more about the nuns and priests in my grade school than the teachers in my high school (switched towns thus public schools). I was trying to stay under the radar for all the bullies and the "hot cliches". I read my way through High School, reading anything I could to avoid the nasty other teens in class.

I loved your first mystery in this series, need to go out and get the 2nd one.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Linda - no, you're not weird, just fortunate to have had a good experience.

Patty - thanks for the compliment!

Unknown said...

I felt like an alien amongst my class mates and was very thankful when high school was behind me.

pibroch47 said...

I loved the learning, but was a social misfit for the first two years; then I went to a very demanding girls' boarding school. there the great learning continued, but I actually had to work! That was a shock, but the faculty was superb and the students diverse enough that I found friends and had a wonderful experience.
Now I teach kids who are bright and quirky, and I can repay those educators who gave so much to me.

Amanda Ball said...

What a great setting for a mystery. The drama, the extreme personalities....is there ever a facet of life as inclusive as High School.
Thanks for the posting. I really enjoyed it.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I love the "feeling like an alien" image. My stepson once said he felt like a giant zit with sweat glands and I could relate to that. And, of course, I always felt everyone was looking at me and aware of my faults. How self-centered is that?

Judy Dee said...

I was always curious about where the nuns were housed (but that was in grammar school days). I never thought of high school as mysterious but I have a feeling I will after reading this.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Judy, sometimes I think the biggest mystery is how we got through it - LOL.

Sarah Scott said...

Mostly, when I think back to high school, I marvel at how vivid the memory of those four years remains, as with the college years. Little did I know that by my 40's and later, four years could go by in a slow and unremembered wink. But while I mostly enjoyed h.s., I never, ever long to live those days over again or the acne and insecurity that went with them.

Carol Doane said...

I was in grade school when the mystery of the teacher's lounge was revealed and it was a plummeting disappointment to discover MY teacher smoked. High School? Had loads of fun, active in choir and drama, group dates and too much babysitting.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

Thank you, Lois, for having me hang out in your virtual living room.
And thanks to everyone who came by to visit.

Norma Huss said...

I was never in the 'in' crowd, but I had friends, and as it was a small school, the 'in[ crowd were still my neighbors, and also in my 4H club. So, it wasn't like we were strangers. I still occasionally correspond with one of them. And I was stunned to discover at our 25th reunion, she acted like a shy little mouse (and she'd been the ringleader at a skating rink fight).

r13webb said...

I had a different experience in HS - I attended a small Catholic HS where my mother was a lay teacher. She was *the* Senior English teacher - if you didn't pass her class, you didn't graduate. So, I didn't have a lot of questions about teacher's off hours . However, I had before school and after school activities, and took pre-college courses, and I was a true nerd - I spent all my time studying and reading. It wasn't until college that I discovered boys.