My favorite part of Southern Living Magazine comes in the form of a one-page journal entry on the last page. After wallowing through glorious gardens that I could never grow, designer kitchens too beautiful to make a mess in, floor plans that resemble a medieval labyrinth, and holiday menus replete with impossible gourmet tidbits and edible flowers, I welcome a touch of humor to bring me back into the reality of my comfortable but definitely lived-in little Tennessee condo. The issue that arrived today, however, offered me more than just a smile at the curious things that make life in the South special. This one brought me a challenge as well.
In his article, "The Quill and the Mule," Rick Bragg suggests that anyone who aspires to be one of the great southern writers must include a dead mule in his work. Then he goes on to cite dozens of examples, starting with Faulkner, whose niece has a lovely interview in this issue. Now, I don't really expect to ever be called a great southern writer, but if I insist on setting my books in South Carolina during the Civil War, I suspect I had better start looking for my own dead mule.
My first thought was that this would be easy. After all, I'm writing about slaves on cotton plantations this time. They must all have had a mule or two, either their own or one they cared for. The trouble is, as Bragg points out, there have already been so many dead mules in southern novels that there seems to be little hope of finding a new way for my particular mule to perish.
So I'm looking for help. In a setting full of newly-freed slaves and northern abolitionist missionaries, greedy cotton agents, restless Union soldiers, and Confederates lurking in the woods, how can I murder my mule? I need a plausible motive, a weapon, and an opportunity. Here's your chance to commit the perfect crime. If you come up with the most appealing plan for this dastardly deed, I'll give you full credit in the "Author's Note" at the end of the book. Leave a comment below, or email me with your idea.