The Chicks are happy to welcome Sarah E. Burr to her first-ever Chicks post. Today she’s sharing a fascinating story about a mysterious gun unearthed on her family’s Maine property…
Hi, everyone! It’s so lovely to meet you virtually, and thank you to Ellen for inviting me here today. I’m relatively new to the cozy mystery scene, having launched my first paranormal cozy, You Can’t Candle the Truth, in November 2021. I have another book release (and new series!) just around the corner, too. #FollowMe for Murder, first in the Trending Topic Mysteries, slides onto bookshelves on February 15th. #FollowMe for Murder introduces mystery lovers to blogger and social media influencer Coco Cline. Murder just might go viral after Coco stumbles across a dead body in the back of a consignment shop.
As I was sitting down to figure out how I could write a hilarious, fun piece worthy of being featured on Chicks on the Case, I had a meaningful moment of self-reflection and ultimately realized I’m really not that funny. Being effortlessly witty is just not a character trait I have. What I do have is a serious obsession with imagining fictional murders. And honestly, I can pinpoint the exact moment when my fascination with the macabre took flight.
I was seven years old when my parents moved our family from the beautiful beaches of Florida to the quiet woods of Maine. The three of us moved into an old farmhouse in the dead of winter. As one might expect of a New England winter, the fifteen-acre property was completely covered in snow. For months, we had no idea what the rest of the land looked like. It wasn’t until the following spring that the slightly warmer temperatures revealed just what goodies awaited.
You know the saying, one man’s trash is another person’s treasure? In this case, the former occupants’ trash was also our trash. Those who’d previously lived in the home had, for decades, been using the backyard as their dumping grounds. We found chicken feeders, an old Jeep, a life-sized doll (which, despite the mold on it, I wanted to play with), tires, couches, bookshelves, tools, shoes, chairs…the better question would be what didn’t we find out there?
But the most exciting find was unearthed by my dad while he was rototilling a plot of land for my mom to grow her garden. He found a rusty, old gun.
Now, I was eight years old by this time and thoroughly immersed in the world of Nancy Drew. So, when my dad brought this gun inside to show my mom, I managed to catch sight of it before it was whisked away. My imagination went into overdrive with my totally normal ‘What Would Nancy Do’ mindset. Why was there a gun buried in our backyard? Would my dad find a *gasp* body, too?
The gun may have disappeared quickly, but my questions did not. Whose had it been? Were there any markings? Was it loaded? Missing bullets? Was there any blood caked into the rust? I asked my dad daily if he found any bones outside. His answer was always “None human.” I asked my mom if she knew whether anyone who’d lived in the house before us disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances. She’d give me a mom look and tell me to eat my green beans.
When no body surfaced that summer, I took it upon myself to figure out what happened in typical eight-year-old fashion. With no real-life answers, I began to craft stories of my own.
In the beginning, my main character was Nancy Drew herself. She happened to be visiting the old farmhouse of a dear friend and arrived for a restful weekend before stumbling across a gun buried beneath a rosebush. So many “Chapter Ones” were written, but Nancy never unmasked her culprit, nor did she figure out why there was a rusty gun in her best-friend-named-Sarah’s backyard to begin with.
Eventually, my characters became MCs I boosted from The Wonderful World Disney or Lizzie McGuire, and their stories always began with finding an old gun buried in their backyard. The circumstances surrounding this mysterious find, however, did differ depending on my mood. Maybe a dead body was found only a few feet away. Perhaps the previous owner had gone missing, and the gun was all that was left. Maybe a trail of blood was barely visibly in the dirt.
Two things these works all had in common? A gun was unearthed in someone’s backyard, and I never finished writing them. Even as I got into my teens and began creating original characters, I never got beyond writing that “hey, we found a gun” introductory scene. It was a mystery that plagued me for years; it was the ending I couldn’t write because it was too real, too close to home.
It would be a decade later before I finally finished writing my first bona fide mystery novel. The manuscript didn’t even include a gun buried in the backyard (in a shocking turn of events). I don’t think any of my thirteen-plus mystery novels have ever featured a firearm. Why? I just can’t separate reality from fiction in this case. My mind always goes back to seeing the rusty, old gun, and how the mystery surrounding it will be forever unsolved. The trail has long gone cold. But all those lingering questions and wild scenarios I imagined as a kid kickstarted this fascination with mystery writing that keeps my fingers typing to this day.
As I was puzzling out what to write for my Chicks guest piece, I shared this story with my partner about my dad digging up a gun, and his first question was, “Did your family ever report the gun to the police?” Um, what? No!
Immediately, my thoughts flew to legal ramifications (yes, the phrase ‘statute of limitations’ ran through my mind), and I didn’t want my parents getting in trouble with the FBI or something because I posted a quirky article featuring a story from my childhood.
So, I texted my dad if there he and my mom were obligated to report the old gun he found on their property to the authorities, to which he responded:
“Well, it was a toy cap gun, so I think we’re okay.”
Readers, have you ever found anything unexpected or lost something that turned up years later?
Sarah E. Burr lives near New York City but grew up in the small town of Appleton, Maine. Since she was seven, she’s wanted to be Nancy Drew, but, unfortunately, she wasn’t stumbling across
any mysteries in corporate America. So, Sarah left her healthcare IT career and started writing mysteries of her own.
Sarah is the author of the Trending Topic Mysteries, the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, and the Court of Mystery series. In addition, she currently serves as the social media guru for the NY-Tristate Sisters in Crime chapter. When she’s not writing, Sarah is either reading up a storm, seeing Broadway musicals, video gaming, or enjoying walks with her dog, Eevee.
Books by Sarah: https://bit.ly/authorsaraheburr