A few days ago, a post advertising the novels of Mary Roberts Rinehart popped up on Facebook. Rinehart has been called America’s Agatha Christie. More likely, Christie should be called England’s Mary Roberts Rinehart as Rinehart published her first novel The Circular Staircase in 1908, twelve years before Christie published The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
In 1925, Rinehart published a novel titled The Red Lamp. The Red Lamp is a creepy, paranormal story that most reviewers panned in 1925—and apparently still do. The novel freaked the heck out of me the first time I read in the ‘70s, while staying up until 2 a.m. on a work night.
Fast forward to 1995.
I was finishing the requirements for my B.A. in English and taking a required class in critical reading. I had an assignment due in a few weeks, and I needed to choose a novel to critique. I wanted to pick something different, something no one else would ever think of choosing. So, of course, I chose The Red Lamp.
However, I couldn’t find the book at any of the local libraries or at the only bookstore in the area. Instead of doing the sensible thing and choosing another novel, I procrastinated. In my defense, I also had been voluntold to design a signature pin for the big box store where I was employed. The powers-that-be (PTB) expected me to submit my design a couple of days before the critique deadline. I had NO IDEA as to how I should proceed with THAT project.
I felt overwhelmed. Actually, I was frantic. What to do? I needed the job, so I didn’t think I should tell the PTB that I couldn’t complete the signature pin project. On the other hand, the critique had to be my priority. I needed to pass the critical reading class in order to graduate.
And then I got a bright idea as to where I might be able to locate a copy of the novel.
I previously had lived in Tucson, Arizona. I called long distance information and asked for the phone number of the mystery bookstore on Broadway Boulevard. Fortunately, the owner had one copy of The Red Lamp. She agreed to sell it to me for five dollars, postage included.
Although re-reading The Red Lamp freaked me out again, I did manage to write a critique that was acceptable to the very picky Harvard educated professor. I confess that I wrote it at the last minute because I couldn’t make up my mind about how to slant the project. Truthfully, I couldn’t make up my mind about how to slant it while I was writing it. I started writing the final draft the afternoon before the assignment was due. I stayed up all that night and finished typing the conclusion two hours before I turned in the critique.
After the class ended, I went home and took a nap.
I later learned that most of the class members received Cs or Ds for the assignment. The professor gave me two grades: A B- for the content and an A for my writing skills. As difficult as that class was, I ended up with a final grade of A-.
And, yes, I also met the pin design project deadline.