Friday, April 22, 2011

True Writing Crime

By Cindy Jones

I’m thrilled to be a guest of the Stiletto Gang today. However, now that I find myself in the bosom of mystery writers, I feel the urge to confess a crime.

I stole a house.

What can I say? I needed a house for my novel. An English Country House to be exact. We don’t have them in my neighborhood so I looked on the internet. Bingo. When I found the house, I knew it was perfect. I studied the pictures, read everything I could find, and began lifting that house, brick by brick from the website, via my imagination, into my story. I did not reproduce any pictures or commit plagiarism, and if the operation had stopped there, I could live with it. But I visited the scene of the crime (in England). And that’s when it got bad.

The downside to helping yourself to another person’s house (without actually seeing it) is that you might get it wrong. If my understanding is flawed or incomplete, the depiction will seem inauthentic. So there I was driving on the wrong side of the street in a foreign country, worrying that I might have missed the point of the house I’d already appropriated for my book. Or missed the point of English Country Houses, which might mean I’d missed the point of England, for all I knew. What if I had to re-write the whole book? My hands started sweating and butterflies danced as I anticipated actual reunion with the house I’d spent years imagining.

When I finally found the sign on a rural road in the middle of nowhere directing me to my Manor House’s parking lot, I was giddy with excitement. A man on a backhoe was shoveling dirt. I got out and stretched my legs, making sure I had my camera. The man on the backhoe asked if he could help me. When I told him I was there to see the house, he told me they were closed.


Backhoe Man did not care that I had come halfway around the world to see my house. The fact that the concierge at my hotel spread misinformation about their hours of operation was my problem, not his. The fact that I was an unpublished novelist in love with his house was also my problem. He would not even allow me walk close enough to glimpse the house through the thick copse of trees.


We got back into the car and pretended to leave. My mother (who loaned me her wedding dress when I needed a queen costume in 6th grade) masterminded the plan to stop the getaway mobile at the end of the driveway long enough for me to run up and look at the house. Backhoe Man was shoveling dirt again. There was no time to lose.

Frightened and desperate, I snuck up the drive. It was worth it. The house rose magnificently from the grounds, far more beautiful in reality. I memorized the look of the old bricks, the swirly glass windows, the serene grounds. I’d gotten it all completely right. I hated to leave. But it was too late. Backhoe Man saw me looking at his house. He dismounted and came after me, not even civil.

I offered to pay.

Writing can lead to a life of crime. Being creative—joining unlike things to make something new—is not a crime, but sometimes acquiring the unlike things to be joined raises problems. (My sisters never greet me without first narrowing their eyes and asking, “Is that mine?”) The English Manor house is just the tip of the iceberg.

So don’t show me your membership roster or your high school yearbook—I’ll be memorizing names to use in my next novel. Don’t talk on the phone around me, I harvest unguarded conversations. Do not tell me secrets because secrets are pure gold in my business. Above all, do not reveal your humanity to me, because I will take that glimpse of your inmost heart and apply it to my character, breathing your life into my creation so that my fiction might resonate with readers I’ve never even met.

If you would like to tour the house I virtually stole for my novel, check out My Jane Austen Summer. The House first appears in all its glorious splendor on page 42—brick by virtual brick.

**The gracious Cindy is giving away a signed copy of My Jane Austen Summer to one lucky Stiletto Gang reader!  Just leave a comment sometime on this post between now and Sunday, April 24 at noon (Central Time), and Cindy will randomly drawer a winner!  Thanks, Cindy, and good luck, everyone!

About Cindy:  Born in Ohio, I grew up in small mid-western towns, reading for escape. I dreamed of living in a novel and wrote my first book in fifth grade. After a business career, husband, and the birth of four sons, I wrote My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, winner of the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest. I have a BA from Mary Washington College, an MBA from the University of Houston, studied creative writing in the SMU CAPE program, and belong to the The Squaw Valley Community of Writers. I live with my family in Dallas where I have discovered that, through writing, it is entirely possible to live in a novel for a good part of each day.


  1. Cindy, I steal things all the time! Lines, names, good stories, etc... It's in the name of art, so I think it's okay though ;)

  2. Welcome Cindy.

    I love Jane Austen and love your tale of, shall we say "borrowing" the English manor house (oh, okay, stealing!). Fun adventure and the payoff was totally worth it.

    Good luck with your book launch and please visit the Stiletto Gang again.


  3. I guess I will take a chance and back you up on the house stealing as I sure would love to read the book and guess I would then be receiving stolen goods. ha ha I truly believe there is a clause some where stating you can BORROW ideas and the crime is less in charges. ha ha I am in need of a good book and sure hope to be in the contest for a chance to win this one of yours. I just want to also say Happy Easter if you celebrate the day and if not ..have a great day anyways. susan L.

  4. Thanks, I feel so much better already!!

  5. Cindy, thanks for joining us today! I love that story so much (and I love your gorgeous cover!).

  6. I love that your mom helped in the great picture adventure! Can't wait to read the book.


  7. LOL, Cindy!
    What a great story ;). Like Maria said, we all steal lines...and the name of art. I stole someone's Queen Anne Victorian for a story once!!
    Wishing you and everyone here at the Stiletto Gang a wonderful weekend!

  8. I think so many of us rely on the author ro transport us to a place and when it is a real brick and mortar building or living, breathing person, deatil is so important. Bravo for going all the way there and seeing the beautiful house. : ) Perhaps you can send an autographed book to backhoe man and thank him!

  9. oops! I forgot to check for typos before I sent in my comment.

    Oh, by the way where exactly is the house in England? I may find myself there in a few months and would love to see it too.

  10. If your house happened to be Fritwell, I can tell you some stories about it. My Canadian grandmother and her sisters rented it during the Great War to be close enough to France for their men to visit when they had leave. I have snapshots of them playing ring-a-rosy. The tower room is haunted.

  11. What a great blog post! I love the way you began, with the stolen house.

    The book sounds great and I look forward to reading it.

  12. Thank you for your comments! When the book sold to HarperCollins, I emailed backhoe man for permission to use the pictures I took. He did not respond.

  13. LOL!! it's not stealing, Cindy!!! if one can see something in an open, public surrounding, it's for everyone!! yeah, i'm sticking w/that one!!!!!

    i don't steal, however, i 'borrow', just w/o permission and/or authorization!!!!

    good luck & many congrats, Cindy!!!!


  14. Great post! Thanks for visiting today. I think every author is guilty of stealing. I love to eavesdrop on conversations when I'm in a restaurant. I've written about houses I've visited when interviewing someone, sometimes making an elegant one rundown.


  15. Cindy,
    As I read My Jane Austen Summer, I am spotting all kinds of references I am familiar with. I love it!

  16. Don't think of it as stealing; think of it as immortalizing. Some day backhoe man will tell his grandchildren about the day he chased you away and they'll hiss at him.

  17. Is there an author who doesn't steal--thoughts, emotions, eccentricities, names, etc? A house seems tame.

    Enjoy your Easter.