Sunday, January 14, 2018

Whatcha Know

Not so long ago, I had the great good fortune to be part of a writer’s workshop. While the numbers fluctuated each month, there was a core group of very dedicated, talented people who came together with one thing in mind. Becoming better writers. Our backgrounds were dramatically different.  So were the type of stories we were creating. 

Since some of my efforts have been published, they often turned to me with questions. I told them up front that my knowledge was limited, based merely on what worked for me. But we often discussed topics such as creating characters, polishing dialogue, and enhancing conflicts. 

Earlier today I received a message from one of the group. Even though I’m no longer part of that action, it’s a pleasure to keep in touch. And that message reminded me of one session when someone stated ‘You should write whatcha know.’  The ensuing laughter ran for several minutes. 

I write mysteries. They have always intrigued me. Following the clues, uncovering motives, spinning theories.  But I’ve never solved a crime. I’ve been in a few police stations for visits and tours (never in handcuffs, thank you very much) and did a ride along with a state trooper while researching “Devious”.  I’ve met a number of police officers and a couple of FBI agents over the years. On occasion, I may pick their brains. But do I know exactly what goes on in an investigation? Not hardly.

That’s where imagination comes in. A germ of an idea starts the process and begins to percolate. With a little nurturing and prodding, it may lead to something bigger. Or it may fizzle out. You never can tell.

Write whatcha know?  That sounds like flirting with disaster.  I’ll just keep making it up as I go along.

Here’s an excerpt from “Devious” that fits the bill.  In this scene, Jamie and Malone are still getting to know each other.

It was after ten when we went out for breakfast. My cupboards were barren. I promised Malone I'd go grocery shopping today. Over waffles and bacon, he caught me staring at him. I was having grapefruit and coffee. I was willing to control one appetite while the other was being satiated.
"What's on your mind, Jamie?"
"I don't know where to start."
"Make believe it's a book. Try the beginning."
I laughed. "I never start at the beginning. I usually work from the middle, then write the ending and work backwards."
"Okay, start in the middle." I noticed the twinkle had returned to his eyes when he smiled.
"Let's start with you. Do you realize, it's been two weeks since we’ve been seeing each other, and I know more about my dry cleaner than I do about you?" I swiped a piece of bacon from his plate, hoping he wouldn't notice.
"What do you want to know?" He motioned the waitress over to refill our coffees.
"Everything, Malone, I don't even know your first name."
"What’s in a name?” His eyes were turning me on, making it difficult to sit still. “Does it really matter?”
"I guess not."
He chuckled. "How about if I give you a profile? I'm forty-two, divorced, no kids, like skiing, sailing, baseball and football. I've been a state trooper for seventeen years and never wanted to be anything else. I like classical music but not opera, jazz but not reggae. Don't even mention rap. I prefer to sleep in the raw.  I drink coffee black, without any fruity flavors in it. Good enough?"
Some profile. My character sketches are more detailed than that. "For now. But you still didn't tell me your name."
"I only use Malone. Your turn."
"For what?"
"Your profile. Pretend it's for a famous magazine ad." He held his coffee cup in both hands as he sipped, letting the steam rise before his eyes.
"Okay. I'm thirty-one, never been married, seven kids by seven different men, I like opera and reggae and some rap. I like almost all sports. I have a degree in journalism. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be a writer. I don’t even know where my diploma is. I’m a packrat, but when the seasons change, I make it a point to throw stuff out, like old boyfriends, and get organized.”
The look on his face was a cross between disgust and humor. "Rap music?”
"Some of it’s good.”
"How’d you get the scar on your stomach?"
"Appendix burst when I was a kid." I got serious after the waitress cleared away our dishes. "Tell me more about work. How long have you been on afternoons?"
“Three years. I like it. We can request any shift every three months, depending on seniority. I prefer the afternoon slot. It gives me the mornings and early afternoons free. Sometimes we work seven or eight days straight. But every third weekend, I get four days off in a row.” Malone settled back against the chair and watched me.
“What about court appearances?”
He shrugged. “We go whenever the judge requests us. There is overtime pay for anything not part of your regular shift.”
“What was the big meeting about yesterday with Nowalski?” It felt funny referring to Bert by his last name. As far as I knew, Malone was still unaware of my relationship with his boss. For now, I wanted to keep it that way.
Malone’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You don’t miss much, do you sister?”
“Not if I want to do my job well.

There must be music. While I didn't originally have a song in mind, this one seems appropriate, particularly since I mentioned it above.  Here's Molly Hatchet with an rock and roll hit.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


“If it wasn’t for humor, I’d be dead a long time ago.”

Somebody famous probably said that. Or maybe it was just me. Despite all the craziness and projects and responsibilities that accompany each day, it’s a talent to find a little bit of humor. I admit to searching for humor in most situations on a regular basis. If I had to keep it serious all the time, I wouldn’t have made it this far. And the ability to share it is priceless. Sometimes, you just need a laugh. Sometimes we’re laughing at others. Sometimes, we’re laughing at ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. 

So no matter what I’m writing, it’s important to break it up with a little humor.  With a mystery, most of the story is very straightforward. I try to focus on the investigation, like in Why 319, and the dire consequences that will befall another victim if Chene and his team cannot identify and stop the killer. But even in those situations, a bit of humor works. Characters play off each other, using the humor to lighten the mood, even if it’s only for a moment. That’s important to me in my writing, because I strive to make the people as real as the rest of us. It’s something the readers can identify with.  

Here's an excerpt from 319 that fits the bill.  In this scene, Jefferson Chene and Megan McDonald are on their way to visit someone from their past who may be able to help them with the investigation.

Megan was quiet on the drive there. Even though the day was overcast, she was wearing her sunglasses. I guessed she was trying not to make eye contact with me. She probably wouldn’t have been able to keep a straight face.

I parked in the lot. The buildings were gigantic, early-twentieth-century stone structures. To the south was the school, where even now rows of children were lining up outside. To the east was the convent, which in the past had also housed the small dormitories of the orphanage. On the west side of the quadrangle was the rectory. And the most dominating building, the church, was immediately in front of us, facing north. As we sat there, two of the massive oak doors swung open and a handful of people, mostly elderly women, began streaming out into the crisp air.

“Showtime, Chene.”

“One of these days, McDonald, I will get even with you for this.”

She laughed out loud and imitated one of the nuns in a high, squeaky voice. “God loves you, Jefferson.”

It was difficult to keep the disgust from my tone. “God must have a warped sense of humor.”

We walked up the big stone steps and into the vestibule at the back of the church. Only now, in the dim light did Megan remove her shades. Our heels sounded like gunshots on the thick marble floors as we moved up the aisle between pews. My eyes went to the gigantic stained-glass windows that lined the walls, reaching to the heavens. Their beauty was diminished on this overcast day. A boy, probably no older than ten, dressed in a cassock and surplice, approached the altar and began solemnly to snuff out the candles. He paused at the center of the altar, bowed his head, then resumed his duties.

“Bring back fond memories?” Megan whispered.

“Memories, yes, but they are not fond.”

A deep voice boomed behind me. “Well, I see some things haven’t changed. I’m surprised you remembered the way in, Jefferson.”

We turned around to face him. Just at that moment, the skies briefly cleared and a beam of sunlight shot through the stained glass, casting him in a rosy hue. He had removed the vestments from the morning Mass and was wearing his customary black slacks, with a black long-sleeved dress shirt and the white cardboard collar at the neck. A small wooden cross on a leather cord dangled from his neck. I always pictured him as a giant, so it surprised me to realize that he was only as tall as Megan, with a chunky frame. I could see the broken veins in his cheeks and nose, the sign of a heavy drinker. But his eyes were still sharp and black as coal. The gaze was piercing, giving you the impression that not only could he read your mind, but he’d edit your thoughts before putting them back.

Today’s musical selection comes with a humorous twist, thanks to Darcie Lynne.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

Like any other year, 2017 was filled with challenges. As a writer, an ongoing struggle is to find the time to write, to continue to develop my characters, to weave enough misdirection and subplots into the stories to keep the readers engaged. It was gratifying to complete the second book in the Chene series and ship that off to the publisher for consideration.  If all goes well, that could be released in the summer.  Here’s hoping.

2017 gave me the opportunity to participate in a number of book events, from Ann Arbor to Muskegon to Port Huron and Kalamazoo. While some were better than others, I always enjoy meeting readers and other authors.This was also the year that my first audio book was released. That was a goal I'd been looking forward to achieving for a long time.

So on this final day of the year, I’ll spend a little time with my characters. Jamie has a short story in the works that’s quickly grown to 7,000 words. Chene and Pappy are in the background, curious about what’s next for them. Time will tell.

So from me, Jamie, Malone, Chene and Pappy, we say farewell to 2017. Here’s hoping that 2018 will be filled with good times. May the New Year bring everyone health and happiness, a chance to build on existing relationships and to start new ones.  Peace.  


Here’s an excerpt from “Vanishing Act” that happens on New Year’s Eve.  In this scene, Jamie and Linda are preparing for an evening of dining and dancing. Jamie has set up her friend with the perfect partner for the evening, but won’t tell Linda who it is.

At seven-thirty on New Year’s Eve, the limousine picked us up. Malone informed Terrence, our driver, that we would be making two additional stops before heading to the Westin. The driver beamed a smile, touched his cap, and set off down the road.
  It’s not my nature to keep secrets, but I wanted to surprise Linda tonight. I had been on guard the last three days, expecting her to trip me up. She’d tried, but I somehow kept my mouth shut—even earlier today, when we’d been at the spa.
 Malone had sprung that on us yesterday. He’d arranged for mid-afternoon appointments so we could get manicures, pedicures, facials, and have our hair styled. If there was a gold medal given for pampering, he would have won it hands down. Linda had taken advantage of our time together to quiz me about her date.
“So what is he like, Jay Kay? Does he have a job, live with his mother, is he kind to animals? How come he was available on such short notice?”
 I took a minute to phrase my response. “He does have a job, lives alone in his own house, and I think he’s very good with animals. I also have it on good authority that he’s an excellent dancer, enjoys the finer things in life, and can be quite charming.”
 “Oh, great,” Linda said with a roll of her eyes, “he’s gay.”
 I almost sprayed Diet Coke out my nose on that one. “No, he is definitely not gay.”
“So he looks like a troll,” Linda said.
I shook my head in feigned disgust. “Would I set you up with a troll?”
“Maybe you would.”
“If I thought he was a troll, would I have bought you a red, satin thong to go with that gorgeous red dress?”
“Hey, even trolls need to get laid once in a while.”
 It had taken some effort, but I had managed to steer the subject away from her date.

Now, hours later, I snuggled down in the back of the limo with Malone. Outside, snow danced across the windshield as a light swirl of flakes descended from the clouds.
The limo made our next stop and picked up her date. He looked splendid in his tuxedo, almost as good as Malone. They greeted each other warmly. I got a kiss on the cheek. His aftershave was subdued, but sexy. We chatted quietly until the limo arrived at Linda’s house. He stepped out and moved quickly to her door. She opened it just as he reached the porch. Malone had put the window down so we could see her reaction and hear their conversation.
Linda, you become more beautiful each time I see you.”
There was a moment of hesitation in her eyes before her face broke into a wide smile. “Vince. You are the perfect date.”
As I wrote this, a great old tune from George Michael turned up in the shuffle on Pandora.  Here it is.