Sunday, August 12, 2018

Shooting Craps

Yesterday I was at another book event. This one was filled with more than 60 authors, with every genre under the sun represented. Before the doors opened, I took a stroll, looking at many of the displays. Some authors had more promotional items than books overflowing their tables. Some had banners set up like floor mounted window shades, towering behind their chairs. Others were more basic, while some aimed for a middle ground, striving for that balance of ‘just right’.

As I was headed back to my table, I bumped into Andrew Allen Smith. We’ve attended some similar events before and his friendly demeanor is always well received.

“Think we’ll do well?” he asked.

“It’s a crap shoot,” I responded. “You never can tell at these things.”

We chatted for a minute more before taking up our stations behind our tables. While waiting for the potential customers to arrive, I realized how accurate that statement was.  Events like these and writing in general, can be like shooting craps. Or flipping a coin. Whichever image works best for you.

When writing a story, I don’t have a specific audience in mind. First and foremost, I write for me. It’s a challenge for my creativity, my imagination, to mix fiction with facts, to weave an interesting story. At times I’ll be working on a piece and life gets in the way, so a few days will pass before I can get back to the keyboard. Reviewing what was last written may lead to some shaping or editing. 

Sometimes it can make me smile and share a knowing wink with my character. Occasionally I might mutter, ‘damn, that was good’.  

But when it comes down to a sale at a book event, it really is shooting craps. Earlier this summer a mother and two teenage daughters approached my table. Turns out the youngest girl, who was about sixteen, is an avid reader. She is the one who will find a new book, read it and then pass it along to her sister. When the sister is done, mom gets her turn.  So ultimately, it was the youngest daughter who was my customer.

“I don’t tell her what she can read,” the mom said. “But she always picks a good one.”

I watched while she checked the back covers on all four books. She hesitated in front of the Jamie Richmond series, but kept drifting back to Why 319.  When she made her choice, that was the one she wanted. She wasn’t interested in the romance/mystery stories. It was the story about the serial killer that caught her attention. The mom read the back cover and agreed. 

With the sale completed, they moved on.  

I thought about this yesterday after talking with Andrew.  It’s true. It really is a crap shoot.


Since this caught so much attention yesterday, I thought featuring the back cover of "Why 319?" would be appropriate.

A serial killer is on the loose in metro Detroit. Three female victims have been discovered in motel rooms in different suburban cities surrounding Motown. The only connection is that each body is found in Room 319 and the killer leaves the taunting message 'Why 319?' on the bathroom mirror, written with the victim's lipstick.

Detective Jefferson Chene heads up an elite squad of detectives assigned to the case. With no home life, he devotes every waking moment to catching killers. But this one is more elusive than most. With no clues and no apparent link between the victims, Chene is at a dead end. But a startling revelation busts the case wide open. He's closing in on the murderer, but will it be before another young woman loses her life?

Today's musical feature is from Otis Redding.  Enjoy!

And you can check out Andrew's books right here. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

On the Side

Recently I was having lunch with a colleague who had a truckload of questions about my books.  Several times he made reference to it as working ‘on the side’.  Then he began to offer advice, such as how to renegotiate my contracts with the publishers, how to demand more free copies, to ask for a larger percentage of the royalties, have more input on the cover art and final approval of all marketing materials. I let him ramble on until he ran out of steam. While he understands some types of business, the publishing industry is foreign to him.

“If I were selling as many books as Michael Connelly, John Sandford or Stephen King, I would be able to use those tactics. But chances are, all three of them have literary agents and business managers to take care of the details,” I said.

“What about movies?” he asked. “Don’t you have input into the movies?”

I shrugged. “It depends on the contract. If there is interest from a production company to turn one of the novels into a movie, I’d work with the publisher. This is a collaborative effort.”

He didn’t understand how I could venture into a business and not to have greater control.  I explained that my control comes from the creative side. The novels are mine. The storyline, characters, conflicts and twists are all part of my imagination. Weaving the scenes together, developing an engaging story is all on me. It’s my part of the business. 

But to me, this is not ‘on the side’.  Writing is a passion. It’s something I’ve been doing for several years. While fame and fortune would certainly be a nice benefit, I’m driven to share my novels. Having an audience is great. It’s my challenge to come up with a story that will capture your imagination, make you curious about my characters and wonder what it would be like to step up to the bar with them and have a drink or three.   

But the bottom line is, I write for me. That’s my goal.  Is it ‘on the side’?  That’s for you to decide.  All I know is, I’m going to keep writing. I'm in it for the long run.

Since we’re into August, thoughts of sunshine, the beach and a gentle breeze come to mind. Here’s an excerpt from “Stealing Haven” the short story with Jamie Richmond that is part of “Once Upon A Summer”.   In this scene, Jamie and Linda have just had a relaxing lunch with a couple of local guys.

Randy stood. He focused his attention on me. Did I have something in my teeth? I ran my tongue over my mouth. How odd.
“So, drinks around seven thirty?” she prompted.
“I know just the place.” From a pocket he pulled out a business card. He scrawled something on the back and passed me the card. “See you then. I’ve got to get back to the office.”
Linda reached over and snagged the business card. “Really, it’s a wonder you ever get laid, Jamie. That guy was practically drooling over you and you’re oblivious.”
“Why would he take a second look at me when you’re here?”
She flicked a crumb from her plate at me. “His eyes were only on you. I’m surprised he was able to eat his lunch.”
There were a couple of times when I noticed his gaze on me, but thought he was trying to be polite. I said as much. She laughed and pushed away from the table.
“You’re beautiful, Jamie.”
“Next to you, I look like a stick figure.”
She put an arm around my shoulders. “You’re hopeless. Let’s go back to the beach.”

While writing this segment, the Eagles were playing one of their classics.  Here it is.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Little Steps

One of the many challenges authors face, beyond writing captivating and entertaining stories, is the book’s cover. It needs to be eye-catching, something that will make potential readers stop in their tracks and say, ‘Wow, check this out!’ or words to that effect.  As a reader, I know this has resulted in the purchase of many books over the years, often leading to the discovery of some very talented writers.

Sometimes what I have in mind for the cover doesn’t translate well for the artist or the publishing house.  There may be conflicts with models or stock photos or areas that I have absolutely no experience with.  One rendering for a Jamie Richmond mystery had a close-up of a redhead woman’s face, with a gun pressed to her temple and a hand clamped over her mouth. It was unsettling and did not correlate with any segment of the story line.  I vetoed that one in a heartbeat.

So I was pleased this week to get the final approval on the cover for “Your Turn to Die” the second Jefferson Chene mystery. We don’t have a release date yet, but this is a little step in the right direction. 

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

It was supposed to be a friendly round of paintball. But blood, not paint, covers Kyle Morrissey’s body. Though admired by the public for his charity, the businessman was no choirboy. 

Could it be that more than one person want him dead? 

Sergeant Jefferson Chene and his detective squad catch the case. With two new faces on the team, he finds himself in the unfamiliar role as mentor. He is also cautiously beginning a relationship with Simone Bettencourt, the beautiful woman he met while pursuing a serial murderer. Complicating the case are two retired gangsters, a fortune in jewels, and Detroit’s history of organized crime. But the squad must utilize every resource available to catch a killer.


Here’s a little bit from the first Chene mystery.  In this scene, Chene and Pappy are meeting to discuss the latest homicide and their plans.

Captain Prescott “Pappy” Cantrell was in his office when I arrived. The fluorescent lights were off, but the brass floor lamp in the corner was lit. Behind him, a window was always cracked open, no matter what the weather. Despite the state law banning smoking in public buildings, Cantrell continued to light up whenever the mood struck. As a chain smoker, he was perpetually in that mood.

He was tipped back in his chair, gangly legs crossed at the ankle. The bottom drawer of his desk was open, allowing just enough space to prop his feet. In faded khakis and a blue checked shirt, Cantrell looked nothing like the stereotypical police captain. Maybe that was part of the reason he was so successful.

Taking a seat on the other side of the desk, I waited for him to start.

“Crime scene look the same?”

I nodded. “From the photos we viewed last week, it looks identical. No signs of a fight. No struggle. The victim was on her back. No splatters. No bruising. The girl was spread-eagled. It was like she’d been posed, as if she was waiting for her lover to arrive. For all intents, she could have been asleep.”

“Same message?” Cantrell worked a pen across the back of his knuckles. This was an old habit. He claimed it helped him concentrate.

“Yeah. Didn’t measure it, but I’m sure Fen will include that in his report. Lipstick will probably be the victim’s.”

“Y’all got a name?”

“Janet Calder. She drove a four-year-old Honda. We found it in the saloon parking lot next door. She checked in after six. Room had been reserved with her Visa card.”

“What else ya got?”

I checked my notebook. Koz called while I was on the way back with more details. We had yet to find her purse or wallet, but he’d pulled the information from the driver’s license when the Bloomfield cops brought the copies.

“She was twenty-five. License shows her at five foot three, with green eyes. She was tiny. Nails polished, some makeup, but not overdone. She fit the profile of the other victims.”


“None at the scene just like the other two. The killer strips them down to nothing. Think he keeps the wardrobe as mementos.”


I shook my head. “Her ears were pierced. She had two holes in the right lobe and three in the left. But she wasn’t wearing earrings. There were indentations on her right hand, fourth and fifth finger, that were probably rings. It looked like thin bands that would have been more evident in the summer time if she was tanned.”

“Family notified?”

“Not yet. Koz will call me when he’s leaving the motel. We’ll meet up at the address on the license. I think it’s an apartment building. The car registration has a different address. That could be her parents.”

Cantrell paused to light a fresh smoke. “Tell the giant to give y’all the details. Ah pulled Megan off the chop shop surveillance. Take her with ya.”

I hesitated, trying to follow the logic. “You got something against Koz?”

“You two can look about as copasetic and unnerstandin’ as two linemen going after a quarterback’s fumble in overtime. It won’t hurt to have a woman there.”

I chewed on that for a moment. “You’re pulling in the whole squad, Pappy?”

By tilting his head back, Cantrell was able to blow a plume of smoke directly at the opening of the window. Like an ancient signal, it drifted quickly through the screen. “Yep. We got the green light. It comes all the way from the capital.”

Our involvement in this case was a fluke. Normally, we only get a case when it crosses into multiple jurisdictions, at the invitation of a city when their own investigation has stalled, or when we get orders from the governor. Our cases tend to be complicated.

 “So Laura and Barksdale?”

“Ah put out the calls. They’ll join Kozlowski at the scene. Megan’s on her way. Y’all notify the family, then we’ll caucus.”

“You decide how we should handle the investigation?”

“Ah’m working on it. Y’all better clear your social calendar. Ah think we’re going to be very busy for the next few weeks.”

I slumped lower in my chair. “Or longer.”

On the jukebox today was a classic from the Rolling Stones.  Enjoy!