Guest Post by Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

Guest Post: Mother by Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our tour. Today we’re exploring the neighborhood in which our new thriller, Mother, takes place. Think about the street you grew up on. Much like every other neighborhood, it was probably complete with the mean old man who yelled at kids who dared step on his lawn, the neighbor who walked his dog and didn’t pick up the droppings, the nosy neighbor, the noisy neighbor, the neighbor who had the worst-looking lawn, and the one who had the best, the drama queen, the street organizer . . . and on and on. Now imagine what that same neighborhood would look like if you were able to get inside the houses and minds of your neighbors.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at this seemingly innocuous neighborhood and peel back some of its layers. As you’ll see, Morning Glory Circle, built in the early seventies, looks like any other cul-de-sac in the picturesque little town of Snapdragon, nestled in California’s Gold Country, but as we’ll soon find out, everyone has their secrets, every family has its shadows, and every home has dark rooms – rooms that no one else is allowed to enter. Follow us, and enjoy the tour …

The street, you see, is filled with houses representing Americana at its finest, from Colonials and Georgians to Cape Cods and Ranches, it’s all here on Morning Glory Circle. Lovely street, isn’t it? You should see it at Christmas when they all decorate – well almost all – with six-foot tall candy canes staked into every yard, along with twinkling lights and good cheer. About a third of the houses have animatronic Santas, too, and Priscilla Martin, who lives in that big white Federal-style home at the end of the sac, will make sure the yard and bake sales bring in enough money to add more next year. Let’s walk, shall we?

If you turn right, the first house you’ll see is that of Roddy and Bettyanne Crocker. It’s a single-story California bungalow, painted in a fresh green so pale that it’s nearly white. Isn’t it lovely? Bettyanne can induce flowers to bloom even in winter. The entire yard is a bouquet of greenery and with their two white cats sitting in their picture window, it looks like a greeting card all year long. As for Roddy, he’s a police officer with a no-nonsense approach to life, and a nearly superhuman sense of smell, which has served him well in his years as one of Snapdragon’s finest. It’s said that he can smell a fire five minutes before anyone even sees the smoke. Perhaps this is just neighborhood gossip, or maybe there’s some truth to it.

Roddy and Bettyanne met under unsavory circumstances many years ago when Roddy was called to handle a … shall we say, legal issue, that involved Bettyanne. It was love at first sight, and the two of them have lived, very happily, on Morning Glory Circle, ever since.

Next door to the Crockers live the Dunworth Sisters, Bertie and Nellie. Though their beige ranch home is attractive in a rather plain way, the Dunworths haven’t the income to do major landscaping, so the yard is rather barren with only a big flower pot filled with snapdragons for color. They’re nice ladies who keep to themselves, though Nellie can be seen at least once a day touring the cul-de-sac on her EZ Scooter. These ladies are not overly concerned with what the neighbors think and, for the most part, are on good terms with everyone except Priscilla Martin – Mother – who wishes they’d do something about that yard. They ignore her … as well as all the neighborhood speculation about what the sisters actually do for a living.

And now we’re in front of the home of the Deans – Earl and Earlene and their twin daughters, Daphene and Delphine. The neighbors refer to the girls as “The Shining Twins,” because they’re pale and odd, their hands nearly always clasped, and usually smeared with fudge. Earl and Earlene, who are nearly as odd as their whey-faced daughters, own The Fudge Depot downtown and are written up regularly in newspapers and magazines like Westways for their fabulous candy – never has fudge tasted so good. It’s no wonder their house is painted the same color. The Deans are a thorn in Priscilla Martin’s side because they are the only neighbors who won’t participate in any of the street’s events. Why, they won’t even donate any of their fabulous fudge for other neighbors to sell. Steadfast in their disregard for such events, they won’t even decorate the outside of their home for the holidays. Why, last Christmas, Prissy even had the giant candy cane driven into their lawn for them so they’d be uniform with all the other neighbors – but her efforts were rewarded with the sight of the candy cane in their garbage can on trash day. Some people. Now it’s planting time, but the Deans are content with their juniper bushes – they never plant a rosebush, let alone a snapdragon.

 

We’d better move on. Earlene’s watching us from the window. We don’t want to upset her …

Here is Stan and Aida Portendorfer’s big beautiful creamy yellow Colonial, two stories of good taste and more snapdragons than Prissy Martin approves of. Stan and Aida married young and are approaching their 50th anniversary. Their children are grown and live far away, but the Portendorfers are vital members of their little community. If you hang around long enough, you’re sure to bump into Stan, who takes daily walks with his and Aida’s miniature collie, Pookie-Bear.

Aida, a round, pink-cheeked woman, prefers to get her fresh air in a much different way. As evidenced by the pair of binoculars that hang from her neck at all times, Aida Portendorfer is the eyes and ears of Morning Glory Circle. There’s isn’t much that goes on that Aida doesn’t know about and, in fact, she is our go-to woman, keeping us informed of any changes and interesting tidbits that we might add into our tours. Aida is a very busy woman, indeed, and when she’s not helping Priscilla Martin with yard and bake sales, she can often be found next door, spending time with her friend, Phyllis.

Which leads us to the Stine’s mold-blue two-story. Aren’t all those white roses lovely against the home? Word on the street is that Phyllis had the house painted specifically to match the penicillin-blue eye shadow she favors. Clyde Stine met Phyllis Welling many years ago when she was a dancer at Whisky a Go Go. They fell in love, were quickly married, and have lived on the sac for many years. There’s a lot of talk on Morning Glory Circle about Clyde and his wife – specifically, concerning Phyllis’ true age, and Clyde’s rather unusual sense of fashion, but as devout members of the Church of the Holy Sacramental, most of the neighbors are content to allow the Stines their little half-truths and questionable eccentricities.

As a side note, we should mention that Phyllis Stine is older sister to authoress Constance Welling, who was brutally murdered in the highly-publicized Cliffhouse Lodge murders in Cliffside, California not long ago. You can read an account of her life – and grisly demise (as well as the other terrifying and unspeakable events that took place at the lodge) in the Thorne & Cross novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting.

And here we have what Prissy Martin refers to as “The Halloween House.” The Lowell family is comprised of Hank, who owns a motorcycle shop, his wife Crystal, their sons Harley and David, and their standard poodles, Ben and Jerry. As if the burnt-pumpkin color of the home isn’t enough of an eyesore as far as Prissy Martin is concerned, there are several motorcycles parked in the driveway – and sometimes on the lawn. And then there’s Crystal’s fire-engine red hair, which Priscilla feels is not at all appropriate. And speaking of Priscilla Martin …

Here we are at the halfway point. Let’s all pause and take a moment to admire Prissy’s big two-story home with its white wooden siding and neat black shutters. This home is called the “White House” by the neighbors because the house – and Prissy – seem to be in charge of the rest of the cul-de-sac. Notice that Prissy’s lawn is the only green one on the street this time of year – this is because it’s AstroTurf. Her flower beds are the talk of the neighborhood – she always wins the Snapdragon Festival competition on Morning Glory Circle – and indeed, the town-wide competition. Some say her flowers aren’t worthy of winning, but they always do, prompting some to wonder who she’s bribing.

Prissy’s BMW isn’t in the driveway, which means she’s probably out on one of her legendary grocery shopping trips, or perhaps she’s presiding over the Ladies Auxiliary at Holy Sacramental. Since she’s away, let’s go up the driveway and peek in her backyard. There’s the three-car garage, with the upstairs apartment. Her backyard is as neat as her front with AstroTurf lawn, a waterless bird bath and rose bushes between many storage sheds – white with black shutters to match the house. There’s a swing set in one far corner and a never-used hot tub in another.

Now, turn around and look at the second story! There’s her invalid husband, Frederick Martin, watching us from his balcony. Wave! You know, no one, not even Priscilla’s best friend, Babs, is allowed upstairs. Everyone wonders why, though Babs has her suspicions. As much as we’d love to introduce you to Prissy’s daughter and son-in-law, Claire and Jason Holbrook – who’ve recently moved into the upstairs apartment – we’d better get back to the sidewalk before Aida spies us through her ever-present binoculars and tells Priscilla we were snooping.

Let’s move on. Here is the lovely – if very pink – two-story traditional home of Milton and Candy Sachs. The cotton-candy-colored home is yet another thorn in Prissy Martin’s side, as is Candy Sachs herself. For reasons no one quite knows, Priscilla seems to have a vendetta against poor Candy. Some say it’s the woman’s stately beauty. It’s understandable that, at nearly six feet tall with a tumble of gorgeous blond locks and a heart-stopping figure, Ms. Sachs’ extraordinary beauty might have Prissy hot under the collar, seething with animosity and envy, but we’re inclined to think there’s a little more going on than petty jealousy. Though Milton and Candy are well-liked – as is their young son, Billy, who is responsible for all the shining, freshly-waxed cars you’ve seen in the driveways – everyone has their secrets. And if there’s anything Priscilla Martin excels at, it’s ferreting out those things we try to keep hidden.

The light olive home belongs to contractor Duane Pruitt and his husband, Jerry Park. That’s Waldo barking and wagging his tale at us from behind the white wrought-iron fence.  Duane and Jerry have been together for just a few years – before that, no one suspected Duane wasn’t straight. No one cares, though Prissy’s prejudices show in more ways than one.

And here’s the home of the Collins family – Burke, Geneva-Marie, and their two sons, Chris and Barry. The Collins home has recently been remodeled and enlarged, much to Prissy’s horror. The two-story traditional is now a peach-colored Spanish hacienda, that’s been extended to take up most of the backyard and the second floor of the formerly single storied detached three-car garage. It very nearly dwarfs Prissy’s house and that’s probably more upsetting to Mrs. Martin than the fact that she thinks it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb on a street that is, otherwise, pure Americana.

Burke owns Collins’ Fine Furniture downtown and there are rumors he’s having money trouble because he has a taste for the drink – no one really knows for sure, but our sources say that Priscilla hopes the rumors are true. Mrs. Collins wants to run against Prissy for the presidency of the Ladies Auxiliary and this infuriates Prissy, who’s served as president without opposition for twenty years. According to our sources, that is. *glances pointedly at Aida Portendorfer’s home*

Anyway, next, there is Barbara and Carl Vandercooth’s pale gray Colonial home. Isn’t her yard beautiful? Babs loves to garden. She’s Priscilla Martin’s best friend – they go back to Babs’ elementary school days when teenaged Prissy used to babysit little Barbara. Babs is Aunt Babs to Prissy’s daughter, Claire. She took care of her, helped her with growing up, homework, Halloween costumes, and everything else, and she thinks of Claire as her own daughter.

It’s too bad Babs isn’t out here gardening, you’d love to meet her. She actually bears a striking resemblance to Betty White, back when she was in her early fifties, both physically and in some of the things she says. Babs’ sweet personality is why she’s been able to deal with Prissy’s demands all these years – but rumor has it she’s tiring of her position as lieutenant. She’s always been willing to pass out flyers and lists to the other neighbors telling them what Prissy wants them to supply for various bake sales and block parties, but it’s gotten very old. Now that Claire has returned to town, she’s remembering a lot of things about Prissy that she really didn’t care for – and we hear that Babs is not only happily losing her status as Prissy’s lapdog, but she’s becoming quite a force to be reckoned with.

The last house on the sac – the turquoise cottage – belongs to the editor and owner of the Snapdragon Daily, the town newspaper. His name is Lance Etheridge – Ace to his friends. His divorced daughter, Iris, has been happily living with him for the last five years. She teaches elementary school in town. Ace is good friends with Officer Roddy Crocker. As an avid writer, Ace Etheridge keeps to himself, but everyone knows there’s more to the, uh, story, as it were. The question on everyone’s mind, of course, is What is he really writing about during all those hours in front of his computer? We may never know the answer …

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our tour of Morning Glory Circle. We hope you’ve all learned enough about the residents to have an idea of what you’ll be stepping into when our novel, Mother, is released in April. Please exit the neighborhood single-file, and be sure to tell your family and friends about our tours. Finally, keep in mind that Morning Glory Circle is only the tip of the Mother iceberg – the real action takes place in the home of Priscilla Martin … behind closed doors, just the way she likes it.

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