06 October 2011

Inspirational Smiles

by Deborah Elliott-Upton

This photo was taken by my daughter when I needed a new head shot for my press kit to accompany an essay I wrote for the 2009 Bylines Writers Desk Calendar. If you're not familar with the calendar, you can check out their web site at www.bylinescalendar.com I must have one every year.

The story behind the photo is my own Mona Lisa smile moment.

My daughter is pretty clever at constructing the setups for photo shoots. She had this great hat and I already owned the Trench coat. After more than several attempts, both of us admitted we weren't happy with the way the photos were turning out. I'm not the most photogenic person, so it's always difficult, but this one was frustrating. If I described the photo we both wanted, it would be fabulous. In reality, I appeared stiff, the props dead on the page. I just wasn't "feeling it."

When I wanted to quit, my daughter suggested I think of something very serious. Just when I had something in mind, she said something that made me laugh. This picture is the result. The Byline editor loved it and told me I should use it for all my publicity. Nice people say it captures my personality. Truthful people say it shows my decidedly wicked personality. What's the secret words behind the smile? Only my daughter and I know the truth causing this particular smile and neither of us are talking.

Following is the article inspiring the photo shoot. I hope you enjoy it.

Evergreens packed the landscape around Lake Tahoe like sardines in a tin. My brother-in-law, Charlie, drove along the lake's perimeter with one hand on the wheel, the other directing our attention to points of interest. My sister, Connie, had invited my husband and me along on their Reno vacation. I wanted to see the Ponderosa where Pa Cartwright raised those three strapping, good-looking sons. My sister wanted to visit the casinos. Our guys just wanted to relax in the skit resort cabin. Now driving around the lake, my mind wandered.

Connie turned halfway in her seat to face me. "What do you think?" she asked.

Studying the steep drop to the lake, I answered, "How easy it'd be to roll a dead body at midnight down the slope, watch it bounce among the trees like a pinball machine and finally plop into the lake."

When I glanced up, three sets of raised eyebrows and stone-cold silence reminded me I was a mystery writer and these three were not.

Writers imagine tragic stories about the new school teacher's background and give the librarian a secret, lurid past. The letter carrier may be a spy. Our dog's grromer sends secret codes via implants in our household pets.

Being a writer is fun using a wickedly delicious sense of imagination for ideas. All we have to do is look beyond the ordinary for inspiration.


  1. I've long admired the hat and now I enjoy the story behind it.

  2. You don't have to imagine that the librarian has a secret lurid past. I can tell you all about it. Nice picture, too.

  3. Great pic and great article, but you don't have to worry about teachers' backgrounds. We're given a new one each time we change schools.

  4. LOL, I have always suspected some of my former teachers must have been aliens and others just looked like they needed a new life. I've spent my time in the teacher's chair, too and my students know I am not what I seem on the surface, but who is???

  5. Just a note to let everyone know that I bought the
    October 17, 2011, issue of Woman's World today and the mystery story is "The cover-up" by John M. Floyd. Thought some of you might want to give it a read.

  6. Thanks, Fran, for the plug! Those little mysteries are a lot of fun to write.

    Good column as usual, Deborah. I've always liked that picture.

  7. How true about mystery writers, Deborah, and the picture is fabulous. Is your daughter a pro? I'm about to pay serious money for a cover shot for my Outrageous Older Woman CD. The photographer who's doing it is a kindred spirit and I hope to get a photo with as much pizzazz as yours, but having it in the family--wow!

  8. My Significant Other can tell you when I wake up from a nightmare my first thought is "I've gotta go write this down!"

  9. My daughter has many talents, but she isn't a professional photographer...I think she could be though. She is a creative genius. Gee, I wonder where she gets that from? LOL

  10. Mystery writers are indeed a breed apart. As you mentioned, we look at the world in a different way and see potential plots, sticky situations and nefarious characters who are more than willing to...

  11. All I want to know is why you already had a trench coat and for what reason.....sounds like a story to me........ :-)

  12. There is always a story, alisa! And you would be one to ask...


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