A Real Opening For Meghan’s First Mystery

Those of you who read Meghan’s first story, “Meghan’s Brush with Forensic Archaeology,” know that it grew out of a “normal” post. When I started the post, I thought I would be doing something like I had before, where I wrote a haiku and talked about our “poetic archaeologist” as an example. But at the end of that post, I found myself writing a few lines of dialogue. And a story was born.

As I work on her new story, I’m also working on revisions to this one, fleshing it out into a longer version like “Buried Deeds.” So I’ve drafted a real opening scene. For now, the story starts like this.

New Opening

Archaeologist Meghan Bode sorts through the artifacts on her lab table. Hand-wrought nails, tin-glazed earthenware, and blown glass all point to the 1700s—promising results for her new research project. She’ll spend the rest of the autumn analyzing the survey results and start the main excavations in December.

She reaches for another bag of artifacts but stops when she sees the time, nearly noon. Better eat lunch now, she thinks. That detective will be here in half an hour.

Her stomach flutters. She’s used to regular people bringing “something interesting” to the Anthropology department for her to identify. A farmer finds an “arrowhead” in a field and wants to know how old it is. A hiker stumbles over an oddly shaped stone in the woods and asks if it’s a Native American axe. But in her twenty years experience, no detective has ever called and asked her to look at a possible human bone.

He should meet with Irene, not me, she thinks.

Her colleague, Irene Kristoff, specializes in physical anthropology and has forensic training. But she’s away at a conference this week. The consultation falls to Meghan.

Relax, she thinks while chewing her salad. It’s probably a deer bone, or even a tree root, just like those “axes” are natural stones. He’ll think it was a wasted trip and be out of here in ten minutes.

She finishes her meal and checks her email. At twelve-thirty, she looks up at the knock on her open door.

“Dr. Bode? I’m Tom Sandberg.”

Meghan smiles. “Actually, it’s pronounced ‘Bo-duh.’ But please come in.”

She offers Sandberg a seat at the table. “So what do you have for me?”

Sandberg takes a plastic bag from his jacket pocket and hands it to Meghan. “A jogger’s dog did some digging out at Custis Park this morning. Came back to his owner with this for a game of fetch. The guy brought it in, thinking it might be human. It’s not, is it?”

Meghan studies the bag’s contents. “It’s definitely bone,” she says. “Let me take a closer look.”

She took human osteology and comparative faunal analysis courses in graduate school. She’s familiar with a variety of animal remains from her field projects and has excavated human burials. This six-inch fragment is no deer bone.

“It’s human,” she tells Sandberg. “The right humerus.  That’s your upper arm bone.”

Sandberg slumps in his chair and rubs his face. “Tell me it’s old. Really old. Like a thousand years old.”

“I can’t do that.”


And that’s where we’ll pick up the original Part 2. Of course, all scenes will be revised away from the “weekly serial” format, and this is still a draft. But this is the start of that process. We’ll see where it leads….

48 thoughts on “A Real Opening For Meghan’s First Mystery

      • Don’t rush it, that’s the best way and remember, frustration is part of the journey too. 🙂

        I don’t know if you save different drafts or just copy over your old ones with new edits. It’s always good to be able to look back and see your progress. 🙂


        • Oh, you bet I save previous drafts! Both hard copy and electronic files. And I keep backup files in multiple locations. Someday, there will be a final version of this and other stories. 🙂


  1. I love how Meghan is always whispering in your ear. I like the ending clincher. “Tell me it’s old. Really old.” In just a few words you set up some nice tension and suspense. “I can’t do that.” What? (scream)


    • I’d be happy if she’d whisper a bit more frequently. 😉 But this is turning into a busy month, and I probably wouldn’t have the time to write down everything if she did. So maybe it’s best that we’re moving a bit more slowly. I really want to see if I can work these into publishable shape. And that takes time and patience….


    • Thanks for stopping by! If you’d like, you can read the original serialized story here on the blog. At the top of the page above my header photo, you’ll see a tab that says “Meghan Bode Mysteries.” I have two stories archived there that I wrote “live” each week for the blog. The plan is to clean them up, expand them, and then—if they’re good enough—publish them as a compilation. Time will tell.


    • And I haven’t forgotten that it was your reply to one of my comments that led to the story. 🙂 “Maybe Meghan could find some bones”…. And that’s when she decided it was time to step out of the background of Poetic Archaeology. 🙂


  2. That’s great! I really like the opening paragraph because right away you’re getting into the interesting details of archaeology with the hand-wrought nails and bits of glass. I liked the ending too and how you show how Sandberg’s hope that he won’t have to open up another murder case.


    • I had to keep those lines of dialogue from the original Part 1. It was when I wrote those that I originally realized I had a story taking shape. And readers of “Buried Deeds” might pick up on that opening paragraph also being a reference to that story, which follows soon after this debut story. 😉 I still need a title for this one!


    • I don’t think you had started following me when I did this story originally on the blog. If you’d like to see the original draft, which I wrote “live” each week, you can find it on the “Meghan Bode Mysteries” tab above my header photo. If all goes as I hope, I’ll get this story (and Buried Deeds) revised into a traditional format, expand on them, hopefully write a third story, and then publish them as a compilation of three novellas. Now, if I can just get myself organized and disciplined enough to do it!


  3. I love this story – it’s going to be great.
    The first 2 sentences are so critical to grab readers with short attention spans.
    Anyway you can shove some of the second paragraph immediately on the opening stage?
    “Better eat lunch now, she thinks. That detective will be here in half an hour.” Reluctantly archeologist Meghan Brode gazes longingly at ” the artifacts on her lab table: the hand-wrought nails, tin-glazed earthenware, and blown glass all point to the 1700s—promising results for her new research project. Plans were to spend the rest of the autumn analyzing the survey results and starting the main excavations in December. Until that call this morning.
    “Her heart flutters…..”
    That’s rough, but the sort of the idea.
    I got nagged endlessly about not enough mystery/action in the first 2 sentences-or having wordy description as the first paragraph (your is much better than mine was even as it stands)
    Sometimes 2 sentences is all you have to get the reader to buy.
    (rewriting and writing at the same time…not planning to sleep? Glad Meghan won’t be quiet!)


    • Ah, you raise an excellent point. The opening sentences are critical. Bringing some of Meghan’s anticipation/nervousness about meeting with a detective to the forefront is a good suggestion. I don’t know how long it will take to revise these first two stories or to write the third one. I need to give Meghan some flaws, something I’m not good at, and I’m not yet sure what they should be. I want to get a better handle on them before I start the third story, too, so I don’t have to add them after the fact like I’ll need to do for the first two stories.

      I have to be patient, but also persistent. Not easy this month as things get busy at work and with family. Hopefully, I’ll have more time in June. Just so Meghan is willing to keep working with me despite the delays!


      • Meghan has flaws -(but I’ll have to think some more – I think they are surfacing…)
        her job means exact movements, methodical, measured care, planning and strong attention to the tiniest detail to see connections…
        (head down means you miss some big picture sometimes?)
        Does she like getting her schedule messed up – forced out her lab and away from her dig?
        How does she deal with abrupt sudden shifts of directions/changes ?
        Maybe less spontaneous than some (kid and do will try that?)
        Lack of patience with those not exactly on track in the direct her discoveries say they should be going ( like the B and B owners reactions and behaviors – was she annoyed with them at times?)
        Does she hate being nice/ dressing up and smoozing to get funding?
        Does she go to husband’s events/neighborhood and feel out of place as the “little wife”…or get into animated conversations about funding and the importance of archeology and it’s contributions to the general public?
        How would she deal with the suggestion of working full time with detective and put her first love, archeology, on the back burner?..even for more money and fame on talk shows? Her kid would love to brag about that
        Have a feeling Meghan’s just getting started…but she’ll wait up for you!


        • You’ve made some excellent suggestions here! Let’s see which ones Meghan will agree to in order to show she’s human and not always nice or in control. Readers will like her better because of that, even if it makes us uncomfortable to write her that way.

          This interaction between writers, sharing ideas and suggestions is one of the reasons I love blogging. The fact that it’s also helping me become a better writer is another. And helping get out the word about my blog buddies’ projects is yet another.

          I have a feeling that Meghan is already going through your suggestions and choosing the ones that strike her as the best fit. That’s going to be a great help for me, so thank you very much from the both of us!


  4. JM, I know I’ve said it before but I have to say again, I love that I get to see your process AS it happens! It fascinates me to learn how writer’s write and with you, I feel like I’m getting to see it all unfold. Thank You for that glimpse!

    This is a great beginning and I’m hooked (again)! I’m back to looking forward to what Meghan has to say 🙂 Good luck with the rest of it.


    • Thanks, Arlene! I think Meghan’s still a bit grumpy that we’re not writing an episode a week. But she’s coming to understand how difficult that was for me. 😉 So this “thinking ahead” is as new for her as it is for me. Of course, she still found a way to take center stage on a Tuesday, didn’t she. 😉

      But she also has to share some of her faults with me. Nothing other than some nervousness around Sandberg or extemporaneous speaking in front of an audience has come out so far in these first two stories. This is still one of the weak areas in my writing, and I’ve got to improve at it if I’m going to find a long-term audience.


    • Writing the story in those weekly snippets means some extra work on the revisions. Transitions need to be redone, especially when bringing in new scenes. I want to bring this to 15,000—20,000 words, and the original was only about 7,500. So far I know we’ll see more of Sandberg’s heavy work load and his wife’s idea about getting a position closer to DC. And we’ll see more of Meghan’s home and work life, too. We just haven’t decided on what that is yet….


    • I’d really like to expand it to about 15,000–20,000 words. No matter the length, though it needs a real opening, not a blog post as an intro. 😉 We’ll see what Meghan and I can come up with….


  5. Pingback: Many Thanks + What’s to Come | Kourtney Heintz's Journal

  6. As I’ve said before, I really like that this is an “accidental” character. You’ve probably heard the story that Post-It Notes were created by mistake, so sometimes great things come from places we don’t expect. This happens when we’re doing something–anything!–which most people don’t really do, but you are. “Luck” happens when you put yourself in a position to get lucky.

    An example I know from real life. A dude I know had a restaurant that was, not quite failing, but not exactly doing a brisk business. He started selling homemade taffy as an extra from the restaurant. That was close to ten years ago. Today that not-very-successful restaurant is long-gone, sold years ago. He owns two successful taffy shops now.

    Poetic archaeology? I’ve got a haiku:

    Meet Meghan Bode,
    sex-kitten with a big whip.
    Okay, so no whip.

    I’m sure you agree that it’s a crime that my verse has yet to receive the recognition it so clearly deserves.

    And in all seriousness, if I was ever lucky enough to find an arrowhead by accident (as a kid I was with a group at camp that found one, but in the ensuing years I’ve come to suspect it was a “plant”), I would definitely want to know how old that sucker was. If I couldn’t find the information on my own (which to my thinking would be just finding out when aboriginal peoples lived in that area and at what point they began using bows), I would want to consult an authority like an archaeologist or historian.

    One time while hiking near Sequoia I stumbled across several hollows in a rock that had been used by the natives for grinding stuff. I knew what it was instantly, and felt thrilled by my discovery. I shortly thereafter found a sign that told all about them, but because I stumbled across them BEFORE I found the marker, I still felt a little bit like an explorer.


  7. I have the same views about luck. Last spring I did a post called “Preparing for Luck” that covered exactly that idea. Few of us “luck” into anything major. We have to work at it, suffer setbacks, lose close matches, until we’re ready for the “lucky break.” And honestly, sometimes we still don’t reach that goal. But I’m reminding myself that I enjoy the writing itself, and any success is icing on the cake.

    Meghan is getting a chuckle out of your haiku. Sex kitten is not how she views herself! She’ll tell you she’s an average-looking, real woman. Attractive enough, but nothing that would intimidate anyone or have you wanting a poster in your room. She’s got a great field hat, though, come to think of it….

    These days, you can use the Internet to look up artifacts you might find in the field. Some points, though, are similar looking to others from different time periods, so it helps to have someone familiar with the different types look at them. If you did find an arrowhead, they first came into use in North America about AD 600. Most people would call all projectile points “arrowheads,” but they’re not. Others are spear points and darts. Then there are knives scrapers, drills, spokeshaves…. Well, you get the picture.

    I’ve always enjoyed that feeling of discovery and figuring out what something is. A good trait for an archaeologist to have. It goes hand in hand with the feeling of “wow, I’m the first person to hold this item in a thousand years.” And even though I have other characters who are archaeologists, Meghan seems to be the one who is catching readers’ attention. One Madeleine O’Brien should be getting jealous….


  8. Nicely done. The last few lines are perfect cliffhangers and grab the reader by the collar and won’t let him go. 🙂


    • Thanks, Kourtney. 🙂 Now if I can just bring those into the sci-fi manuscript. Somehow it’s easier to write them with Meghan than with those other characters! I’m not sure why that is….


    • Well, I’m not sure that I’ll post the further revisions on the blog. 😉 But I did want readers to see how I’ve drafted a real opening for this one. I’m still thinking I’d like to try publishing three of these stories as a compilation of novellas. We’ll see how it goes….


  9. Nice job, JM. I’m glad to see you going back and reworking this project, as it really is quite promising. It’s especially fun to see your process. Having already met Meghan et al, I like going in deeper so that we get to see the various layers. How she corrects his pronunciation of her name made me laugh, because it’s not easy to do that, for fear of embarassing someone. Great job.


    • At times like this, I think she wishes she had kept her family name. She doesn’t like correcting people, but she also wants them getting the name right. 😉

      The writing/outlining is still going slow, but I’m just really busy with “real” life right now. My fingers are crossed that things ease up in June. I do know for this story that we’ll see more of the families. If you remember, Sandberg’s wife has been suggesting he take a job in a bigger city. That might make some good tension for him. And philosopher mouse made some excellent suggestions for potential flaws/tensions for Meghan. She’s trying them on for size, and seeing which ones she might be able to make part of her stories. 😉

      I hope we’ll see you posting again sometime soon!


    • I just hope she’s willing to put up with my schedule for the rest of the month. Come June, we should be able to work more on her stories. We’ll see what develops from there. 🙂


  10. Very solid introduction of Meghan and Sandberg, here. I can already see the formation of the camaraderie that comes later, despite – or maybe because of – the correction of her name. 🙂

    One thing I’d say you don’t need to bother with is indicating “she thinks” every time. Just speaking for me personally, I think once you’ve established that format as her inner monologue, you don’t necessarily have to specify the thinking verb each time. For example, her thought about Irene shouldn’t need the “she thinks” at the end; it reads well and clearly enough as just the thought. But, that’s just me.

    I hope you enjoy going back to stories as much as you do the first writing. I love that re-read phase, myself. Though, be careful you don’t get so sucked up in an edit that you don’t move forward with the new stories! You’ll have some disgruntled Meghan fans on your hands, then! 😉


    • Yes, those tags are something that need to be edited out as the draft is polished. Looking back on it the other day, I realized there were too many of them.

      Come June, we’ll see how things go with picking up her stories. I’m exhausted from the wedding celebration, and we’re still trying to catch up with visits the next few days. So writing is taking a definite vacation right now. I’m hoping that will help clear my head and get my creative process going again. It’s been at too much of a low since winter. But I catch stray thoughts from Meghan sneaking through my mind, so I’m taking that as a good sign. 🙂


    • I have! And I think she’s decided on one “character trait” that helps keep her from seeming too perfect. She’s still deciding on a “flaw,” though, and we do need that, too. 😉


Comments are closed.