Long Fiction for Middle Grades: Cross-Country Mystery Chapter 1

Introductory Notes:

I have always wondered if I could write a long (book-length) piece of fiction.  Lack of time, confidence, inspiration and audience all conspire against me.

I do have one piece of long fiction that is about one third finished.  I think that with  the “pretend audience” of this blog, I might be able to get the motivation to finish it by writing the chapters out like a serial – maybe one a week with the occasional break for other types of writing. I figure it will be good practice for me, and maybe help me develop a routine of writing that could eventually lead to more relevant pieces of fiction.

This story is stuck in 2003 because that was the summer our family took a three week road trip from North Carolina to California and back. A trip like that is bound to make me anxious, but a sure fire way for me to combat anxiety in a situation like that is to imagine I’m going to write a story about our adventures.

So I planned to write a fictional story about a fictional family taking a similar trip. I got my children to help, and we continued to work on it for a long time after we returned.  

Because we had been reading children’s detective series, like Nancy Drew, the foundation of our story is:  what if “Nancy Drew” married one of the “Hardy Boys,” had a family like ours, and had a mystery-adventure while taking a trip like ours.  Those books are relatively straightforward and square, so I didn’t think I could go too far wrong. 

My 11-year-old’s input into the story’s plot conflicted a bit with my own vision.  He was adamant that we have time travel somewhere in the story.  I tried to convince him that time travel was overused, and that although the story would be a little exaggerated and absurd in places we didn’t need supernatural or science fiction elements. In the end,  he won, because I promised he could have input.

He later wrote a wild climactic chase scene/battle that I never did decide how to incorporate because I never got that far in the story. Since my “11-year-old” is now 24, I probably have more latitude to figure that out.

The story had a setback when my husband accidentally reformatted the floppy disk on which I had the story saved (remember those?) With the plot fresh in my mind, and some beautiful flowers I received as a peace offering, I reconstructed the story to where I last ended it.  Nevertheless, by then my motivation flagged and I stopped.

I must note a funny thing from later that year.  The kids and I were reading a book by James Howe, Screaming Mummies of the Pharaoh’s Tomb II .  That book is ostensibly written by Howie, a dachshund puppy who collaborates with Delilah, his girlfriend puppy, to try to write a more serious book than his earlier endeavors.  On Delilah’s advice, he starts out trying to be somber, telling the story of an angsty puppy struggling with memories and life on the prairie and who seeks protection from a tornado in a storm shelter.  Then Howie (to Delilah’s dismay) can’t help himself, and he ends  the chapter with the puppy suddenly finding a time machine!

“That is exactly what happened to me and my collaboration!” I said.

Another thing that happens in Screaming Mummies of the Pharaoh’s Tomb II is that Howie and Delilah fight over the title, changing it every chapter.  We didn’t exactly fight over the title, but we never did come up with a good one.  For now I’m just going to use the working title:  “Cross- Country Mystery.” Maybe by the end, I can find something catchier.

Cross-Country Mystery

Chapter 1


In the heyday of their youth, Nanette Painter and Frank Hale were both considered excellent amateur detectives.  Sometimes separately, and sometimes together, they tackled cases with perseverance, fearlessness, and cleverness. Rarely was a case or mystery left unsolved with either Nanette or Frank on the job.  Working together, they were virtually unstoppable.

With such a bright legacy built in their teens and early twenties, everyone expected them to continue into brilliant careers with the FBI, CIA, police department, or private investigating.

Surprisingly, they chose a different future.

Nanette and Frank retired from their dangerous hobby not long after they finally tied the knot.  “The Case of the Haunted Honeymoon,” as people came to refer to it, was their last amateur detective caper.

Time was one big issue.  Good detecting takes a lot of time, and the hours can be strange.  With Frank beginning his career at an engineering firm and Nanette finishing her college degree, they had precious little time leftover for each other, much less for chasing important clues.

Another obvious problem was the danger.  They had each faced peril, and even possible death with courage. Nevertheless, the thought of losing each other caused them to question the wisdom of a life that routinely included murderous enemies determined to stop them in any way possible.  When they found out they were expecting their first child, they knew they wanted danger to be a thing of the past.

And so they retired.

Sort of.

Although Nanette and Frank no longer investigated ghost sightings, jewelry thefts, and mysterious disappearances, nothing ever went missing from the Hale home.  They were both  expert finders. Sometimes the neighbors even called on them when contact lenses or spare keys went missing, and they were definitely the first ones contacted when pets were gone for too long.

The Hales also made quick work of little neighborhood mysteries, like disappearing newspapers (a new dog had taken to fetching them and hiding them behind a wood pile).  Likewise, a small time burglar who victimized the neighbors for a day or two should have thought twice before targeting an area near Nanette and Frank.

At work, Frank quickly rose to management with his uncanny ability to sniff out the best new hires, to uncover the secrets to negotiating with different companies, and to quickly locate clues to the root causes of bugs in new designs.  Nanette similarly succeeded  in her job, and her boss and coworkers mourned her loss when she chose to become a stay-at-home mom for a season.

By the time this story starts, the Hales had a happy life free of any real criminal detecting work.  They had four children, Nathan (age 11), Peter (age 9), Ashley (age 7), and Charlie (age 3), a friendly cockatiel (Sherlock II), an old dog (Watson), and plans for a three week cross country vacation in the summer of 2003. (The original “Sherlock” was a parrot they ended up giving to Nanette’s aunt shortly after the children were born.  He kept mimicking the baby’s crying and keeping the family up half the night.)

Yes, the Hales’ life was just about perfect.

But then Tim Trave showed up.  Again. For the first time.

If you think that doesn’t make sense, read on.

No one is sure of Tim’s real name.  He calls himself Tim Trave, which is short for Time Traveler, but most people don’t figure that out.

Tim Trave visited in the Hale home for the first time on Saturday, May 17th . He was a dinner guest  brought along by one of Frank’s friends from work.  That was when Tim first found out about Frank and Nanette’s past career as amateur detectives.  He was intrigued by their intelligence and detecting ability and surprised when they immediately joked about his name being short for “time travel.”

On May 18th, Frank and Nanette suddenly remembered that they had met Tim once before.  In fact, he had been the one who had sought their help in a mystery which they later referred to as “The Secret of the Pirate’s Medallion.”  How strange, they thought, that they hadn’t remembered a person who had become such a friend to them in the past.  Why hadn’t Tim mentioned it at dinner himself? Likewise odd was the fact that Tim hadn’t changed a bit. Frank and Nanette chewed on this mystery for a while but were embarrassed to tell each other their thoughts.

No one can really time travel—or so they thought. Yet what each thought separately was actually the truth.  After that dinner on May 17th, Tim had indeed traveled back in time to Frank and Nanette’s college days to seek their help in solving a mystery that was close to his heart.  In the process they became good friends, although he had never told them his time traveling secret. Yet due to the principles of time travel—principles that even Tim didn’t completely know or understand—the May 17th “first” meeting could not be altered.

On May 19th, Tim returned to their home yet again.  In need of their help yet again.

End of Chapter 1

The next installment can be found at Chapter 2: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders).



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