The Big “What If?”

Remember that hilarious scene in Home Alone where the McCallister family runs around the house like crazy people before they leave for the airport and everything’s a mess? Yep, that is my house right now. And those people are me. I hope you’ll read on, but you’ve been warned…

My son is getting married in Cartagena, Colombia this month, and the holidays are officially here. I have work projects, a manuscript due, presents still to shop for and wrap… Blah blah blah. And in the middle of everything going on in my tiny world, the planet is under attack from a mysterious viral variant and climate change looms. The world economy is teetering. But really, if you are a writer like me, there’s nothing to worry about. Because there’s always the big “What If?”

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Let me explain. Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away (actually, it was NYC), my boss at a large book-packaging company gathered us young editors together to brainstorm new series for a publisher who wanted 25 new book series on their schedule within a few, short months. And we were the ones who would come up with said series—starting with the premise hooks.

Our boss, who owned the company, was married to a very famous and prolific series author. After ordering in every kind of sugary soda and salty/chocolatey snack—also gummies, to put in the popcorn and raw cookie dough for extra kick—she explained that all we had to do was use his trick: Think about the big “What If?” (The “what if” is always preceded by “the big.”)

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

What if a normal high school was infiltrated by students from another galaxy? What if vampires and werewolves and witches had to fight each other to rule a kingdom under the sea? (Okay, that’s probably not a good example.) What if a new girl at school tried to impress a boy by casting spells, but it turned out he had powers, too, and they froze the whole town? Well, you get the idea. The bigger the If, the better the story.

Lately, though, I’ve found that the big “What If ?” is everywhere. Each morning (and afternoon and evening) I’m served with breaking news headlines by the bots who follow my alleged click-bait interests. I’ve learned the hard way to avoid all immediate Covid and political news, or I am paralyzed for an hour until the next breaking story. The bots have given up on those. So what do I get now? Check these out—all true:

–Just when I breathed a sigh of relief that it is winter and the murder hornets are sleeping (for now), I find out that authorities in Colombia (yes, where I am set to travel) stopped a couple of Sticky-Fingered Bandits trying to smuggle (gulp) giant bugs of the nightmare variety out of the country. NoNoNoNo. If there are two things I fear, it’s snakes and planes. (You can bet I didn’t see the movie). Bugs and planes: Almost as Bad.

–Oh, and this one’s fun. You can always get my attention with a giant-asteroid-that-might-hit-Earth-the-day-I-am-flying story. Stay alert, NASA. I’m counting on you (and possibly Bruce Willis). It’s the size of the Eiffel Tower. You can’t miss it.

–And then there was the recent revelation that a certain kind of robot is able to self-replicate now, and scientists don’t know how to control them. The robots were created with…frog skin (add frogs to the snakes and bugs list). Might this be of concern? Nah.

As a writer, you know I’m going to click on these stories every time. Because, really, aren’t they a lot more interesting (and terrifying) than those high school kids with special powers? Ho-ho-hum. And on the added-plus side, I no longer worry that any stories I come up with are “unrealistic.” (Take that, Inner Editor!)

So Cartagena, here I come. Just last night I rewatched a very young Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone. She was a scaredy-cat, overly cautious (at first) romance novelist. Hey, what could go wrong? Hmm. What if…

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Readers, do you have any fun headlines or stories you’d like to share this holiday season—or any advice for Lisa?

39 thoughts on “The Big “What If?”

  1. Fun post, Lisa. Congratulations to your son on his wedding. I’ve been to Cartagena and really enjoyed my visit. The historic section, a world heritage site, is absolutely lovely. Have a great time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Grace! I’m really looking forward to it. Our hotel and the wedding are in the Old City. (Think I spotted one of the cupolas in the movie!) I also hope to visit the emerald place.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m pretty sure those bug smugglers were attempting to clear them out of the country before your arrival. They’ll be working on the snakes and frogs next. I’ll keep my fingers crossed your trip is nothing newsworthy and you have a wonderful time!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Now that’s positivity, Marla!! How very kind of them. It will be an adventure, for real. Trying to imagine the reaction of people in Germany (that’s where the bugs were headed) when the creepy-crawlies showed up at the local Kringlefest.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Congrats on your son’s upcoming nuptials, Lisa! I did find the recent report that $600,000 was found behind a bathroom wall of Joel Osteen’s church by a plumber interesting. Especially since that is apparently the same amount he reported being stolen back in 2014 or so. Hmm…

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Ha, Tom: See above. I assure you, I did not see that movie. I would have shared Samuel L. Jackson’s reaction, though, I’m sure. And that is a quite a headline you’ve offered. Hmm…Did he just want the last word, or…? Brr.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I used to love creating wild and crazy spoilers for shows when a friend would say, “I haven’t watched it yet, so don’t spoil it for me.” It would be something like “So you don’t want to hear about the time traveling assassins that come and kill the main character at the half way point?”

    That still works for some shows. However, for the shows I watch now, mostly fantasy/superhero type shows, there is nothing so wild and crazy you can’t throw it in and they wouldn’t believe you. It’s a shame since I miss doing that.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Ha, love it! Though I guess you’d have to be very sure to watch the show first, just in case you offered an actual spoiler by mistake. Ya never know these days what those writers will come up with.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Robots that can replicate and no one can stop them? For realz? Ay yi yee!

    Great post, Lisa. My advice? Enjoy every minute of your trip, be in the moment, and share tons of photos for those of us stuck at home!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Lisa, the wedding in Cartagena will be absolutely beautiful! And don’t worry about the giant bugs, I’m sure they all will have been removed before you arrive. Speaking of which… have you seen the news about hundreds of cockroach farms in China? They’re used in the manufacture of cosmetics and animal feed, and are apparently quite profitable. And they probably don’t escape from the farms. Hardly ever.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pretty much the only news I want to read these days is about bugs, bots, and stolen bootie…

    Your trip to Columbia sounds like it’s going to be absolutely wonderful, Lisa–and congrats to the happy couple (and parents)! Let us know what the menu was!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Leslie! I believe there are several menus planned for various wedding-related events. My Spanish is un poco feeble, but I will take pix! (Also using Babbel and Google Translate.)

      Liked by 3 people

  9. My eyes! My eyes! I should have known better to click a link to giant nightmare bugs. [shudder]

    Congrats on your son’s wedding! My advice is to channel your inner Joan Wilder (yes THE Joan Wilder), and say yes to adventure. As long as that adventure doesn’t involve frog-skinned robots of Skynet ilk. [double shudder]

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Kathy! Joan and I are on it. We’ll make a great pair. (Actually, when I rewatched the movie, Joan reminded me a bit of you. Hmm.) Sorry about your eyes. I chose the least horrible bug story, really.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip, Lisa!

    As for headlines, I have a file folder at least 3″ thick with intriguing newspaper and magazine articles. I’m a sucker for the weird true crime stuff. I use the articles as a jumping off point from my own “what if” game … which I’m also a sucker for!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Oh my gosh, Lisa! Shivering about the bugs. And worrying about things doesn’t take away any of your general bravery status at all. Even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes!

    I have fallen into the clickbait rabbit hole more times than I care to confess. I read something that said social media companies learned very quickly that they get more clicks from outrage than anything else. That is so sad…and another reason why I think cozies are so important. For balance!!! We need humor and positivity and justice in the world.

    Good luck with all of your projects, wow! Hugs! And happiest wedding to your son and fiancee (and to all of you who attend)!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True on all counts, Cynthia! I just know that the first book in your new Starlit Bookshop mystery series will be the perfect antidote to any pre-trip jitters. (Am I correct in assuming no bugs, asteroids, or robots? But even so, I am sure your MC would defeat them in swift, heroic fashion.)

      Liked by 2 people

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