Monday, October 15, 2018

What's Cookin'?

I like to cook. 

In my youth I worked in a few restaurants in different roles. On occasion I might jump behind the line with the trained culinary people to help out, but that was not my primary function, so for the most part, I left that to the people who knew what they were doing.  

Sometimes I’ll fire up the grill and roast some chicken or burgers and corn on the cob, smeared with butter and sprinkled with a little bit of sugar. Trust me, it’s worth it. Wrap the corn in aluminum foil, give it four minutes on a side with a hot grill and as Gleason used to say, "away we go"!

There are a few dishes I make that have become family favorites. Chicken picatta and stir-fry beef with asparagus and red peppers are a couple that come to mind. I still recall the boys charging down the stairs for my banana bread coming fresh out of the oven. 

Chene and Malone, two of my main characters, both cook. This happens in stories where it seems like the most natural thing in the world for them to do. And it works.  Cooking is a form of creativity and when you’re done, you and your guests (or readers) get a tasty treat.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Inkspell, which publishes the Jamie Richmond series, was going to put out a cookbook.  Along with recipes there would be some writing advice as well.  So I dusted off a favorite and sent it along. Turns out the collection from over a dozen authors will be released November 1. Check it out and head for the kitchen. 

Talking about food brings this excerpt to mind from “Why 319?”.  In this scene, Chene has returned to the apartment of the serial killer’s latest victim, at the request of her roommate, Simone Bettencourt.  

Simone might have reached for me. Or I might have reached for her. It was one of those things that I could never definitively answer. All I know is that one moment I was standing in front of her, the next she was in my arms. She buried her face in my chest and started sobbing. Somehow, I guided her back into the apartment and closed the door behind us.

At some point in time, Simone seemed to slowly run out of tears. She pulled back a little, wiping her face with her fingertips. Her body was warm. I could feel it through the thin material of the sweater as my hand slid slowly up and down her back. She started to turn away and stumbled. I caught her around the waist and steadied her. I was surprised at how little she weighed.

“I should be all cried out by now.” Her voice caught. “You must think I’m some kind of basket case.”

“Not at all. People deal with grief differently. Some never let it out. Others get angry, resentful. Some seek vengeance.” I realized I was still holding her. It took some difficulty, but I guided her over to the sofa. She collapsed onto the cushions.

I went into the kitchen. The muffin tin she had used yesterday morning was still sitting on the counter, residue from the batter stuck hard to the surface. There were four fingers worth of cold coffee in the pot. I sensed she hadn’t eaten since we’d been here.

Back in the living room, Simone stared vacantly at the windows. I’m no therapist, but even I could tell that her body would start shutting down if she couldn’t get past this point. She would also need fuel in her system. I turned back to the kitchen to check the supplies.

What the hell was I doing here?

The kitchen was surprisingly well stocked. I would have expected two young, single women sharing an apartment to eat out frequently. Apparently, one of them liked to cook. I found some boneless chicken breasts in the refrigerator, along with a fresh box of mushrooms. There was a lemon just starting to shrivel and a bottle of Chardonnay already opened. Hunting around, I discovered a bin with flour and some linguini noodles. I got started.

After slicing the chicken into thin strips, I dredged it in flour. The skillet was heated with a chunk of butter slowly melting in the center. I added the chicken and sliced the mushrooms. While it was browning, I found a pot for the pasta and got that boiling. With the chicken brown on both sides, I added the mushrooms, the juice from half the lemon and a generous glug of wine. I found a small skillet and used it to sauté some onions and minced garlic in a few spoons of olive oil. When the pasta was done, I drained it, then tossed it in the oil mixture. I was serving it onto a platter when Simone appeared in the doorway.

“You’re cooking?” Her voice was incredulous.

“Somebody’s got to. I’m betting you haven’t eaten since Friday night.”

She shrugged. “I haven’t had much of an appetite.”

I guided her to the table and set a plate in front of her. She looked at me suspiciously. 

“It’s comfort food.”

There's been plenty of classic rock on my stereo this week. Here's a favorite from the Eagles.  

Sunday, October 7, 2018


This week someone asked me about my background.  It was unclear whether they were referring to education, work experience or my efforts writing. Turns out she was curious about my nationality.  

After considering it for a moment, I shrugged and said, “I’m a mutt.”

Her response was a stunned expression. “A mutt?”

I went on to explain that my ancestors can be traced to Ireland, Scotland and Russia, with a bit of England and the French part of Canada thrown into the mix as well. I’m a long way from a thoroughbred. So that’s where the ‘mutt’ came from.  That explanation was met with a smile.

Which also works with my characters. I remember reading stories in my youth where everyone looked the same, sounded the same and had similar upbringings. While the overall story may have been entertaining, I found the cast of characters to be somewhat…boring.  

So in my own efforts, I strive to make each player distinctive.  They should have characteristics or traits that the reader can identify with. Perhaps it reminds them of someone from their own life.  

Or maybe themselves. 

For me, that mixture makes for memorable characters. Which makes for better stories. And that’s what it’s all about.

Here’s an example of a different background.  In this scene from “Why 319?” Chene is coming from the crime scene to debrief with Pappy Cantrell.

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.”

“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.”

I've been on the road a lot lately.  This classic from Wilson Pickett popped up more than once.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Devil is in the Details

I can’t speak for every author, but there are many I have had the pleasure to know and on this subject, I’m sure they’d agree.  One thing that can drive me crazy is when you think the manuscript is all done, that everything is perfect, or as close to it as you can possibly make it and then then publisher reaches out and says ‘just take one more look’.

After countless revisions and more editing than I’ll ever admit to, this part can be painful. My first reaction is to yell ‘I know the story inside out and upside down. There can’t possibly be any more corrections needed. Just roll with it.’  But then I pause, lean back and start to read it over once again.


Because mistakes happen. I read it numerous times before allowing some wonderful beta readers to check it out. The editor I’m working with has read it more than once. Yet still, little errors jump out at me. My intention is to provide you with an entertaining story, hopefully one that doesn’t include any glaring contradictions or screw-ups in it. But I’m not perfect. 

Here’s an example from “Your Turn to Die”, the manuscript in question. During a conversation, someone turns to Chene and makes reference to his heritage and says “You may be black, but you’re not a thoroughbred. More like a Black Russian. You know, Kahlua and cream.”

I liked that line and thought it fit well in the setting and the person’s attitude.   

The problem? 

There is no cream in a Black Russian. That’s just vodka and Kahlua. It’s the White Russian that adds the cream. Which is bad enough, but Chene’s character also spent many years tending bar.  He would have caught that quickly.

Despite the efforts of several people and multiple readings of my own, this goof almost made it to the final print.   

So it’s true what they say, the devil is in the details.

Here’s a little excerpt from “Stealing Haven”.  In this scene Jamie and Linda are out for a ride on Lake Michigan with Randy, whom them met on their first day of vacation.  Sparks are starting to fly between Jamie and Randy.

With the sun beginning to set, Randy steered us into a wide U-turn and headed back toward the marina. Reluctantly, I pushed off the bench and moved back to Linda. Dropping on the seat beside her, I could almost see my reflection in her dazzling smile.

“Thought you said the dog was going to be my chaperone.”

She gave me a rolling laugh. “Poor baby had to cover his eyes. He’s not used to seeing his aunt get frisky.”

“Was I really making out with him, or did I just imagine that?”

“Jamie, you certainly seemed to be enjoying the attention. Why do you find it so hard to believe that a nice looking man would be attracted to you?”

I shrugged. “I’m not blessed with your face and figure, so it’s not like guys are fighting over me.”

“You are a beautiful woman. Randy certainly seems to think so. Should I take Logan home and leave you two alone?”

We were entering the canal for the marina now. The boat was moving slowly. It made me think of cars exiting the freeway and blending in with traffic on residential streets.

“I’m not ready for anything else tonight.”

She smiled and hugged me. “Smart and beautiful. No wonder I love you.”

I helped Randy with the lines when we got back to the dock. He walked us through the marina to the main road.

“Thank you for the wine and the ride on the lake,” Linda said sweetly. She leaned over and brushed her cheek against his.

Here's this week's musical favorite, from Steve Winwood.