Sunday, September 17, 2017

Setting the Mood

Years ago I discovered my own character trait. 

I cannot work in silence. 

Chances are it developed over the years, perhaps in rebellion to the nuns in Catholic school that ‘strongly encouraged’ us to remain quiet unless we were called up. Like that’s going to happen!

So when it comes to writing, I’ll turn on the stereo and crank up the music. Different genres of music can help me set the mood for whatever it is I’m working on. If there is a scene with a lot of action, something slow and gentle isn’t going to cut it. That works better for more descriptive, narrative passages. For action, it’s gotta be rock. Something that moves quickly. Think Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, George Thorogood, Robert Palmer, Chuck Berry. 

 Today I settled down to work on a scene for the sequel to “Why 319?”. What I had in mind was a little romantic activity between Chene and Simone, the young woman he met during the hunt for the serial killer. Often I’ll dial up something appropriate to help set the mood, anything from Sinatra, Motown or even a little jazz. At times I’ll even include the tune in my background as part of the scene itself.

When I cued up Pandora, the first selection that played was the great Marvin Gaye classic, “Let’s Get it On”.  That was just what I needed.

Here’s an excerpt from “Devious” that’s a perfect example of music setting the mood. In this scene, Jamie and Malone have recently started dating. She’s getting ready for him to stop by after work.

One night, last week, Malone had let slip that he had a soft spot for pink. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to see just how much of a softy he was. So in addition to my nails, I dug out some appropriate sleepwear. I don’t have a huge supply of slinky negligees. With the colder weather, I usually wear flannel pajamas. Not exactly the wardrobe of choice to spark romantic interest.  But I knew there was an item that would fit the bill tonight.

In the bottom of the drawer was just what I was looking for. Probably the most money I’ve ever spent on myself for something I’d only dreamed of wearing before. Actually, I’ve worn it twice, but never when I was expecting a visitor. It’s pure silk, in a very soft shade of pink, with thin spaghetti straps at the shoulders. It hugs my meager curves very nicely and stops about mid-thigh. It dips very low in the back, so if I’m feeling extremely naughty, I can always wear it backwards.  The gown comes with a matching wrap, the same shade of pink with a little black trim along the collar and the cuffs. The wrap drapes to my ankles. 

I wanted to get Malone’s attention from the moment he walked in the door. With that in mind, I searched the closet for a particular pair of shoes. They were black, with very high heels and open toes. I slipped them on and posed before the mirror. I sure hoped Malone had been taking his vitamins.

He was due any time now. I wanted no doubt in his mind what this evening had in store. The stereo was ready with a variety of discs, some soft sultry ballads by Diana Krall, James Taylor and light jazz instrumentals. There were candles lit, both in the living room and the bedroom.  I touched up my makeup, just lipstick and a little bit of blush. A quick spray of perfume and I was ready.

I was heading for the windows to see if I could spot his car, when the door opened. Malone stood there for a moment, not moving. I couldn’t see his eyes clearly. He was in that shadowy area, just inside the door and all the candles were behind me.  My heart did a little stutter. Was I coming on too strong?

“Hey, Jamie.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Hey, Malone.”  I wanted to pose for him in some seductive way, but I was frozen in place, halfway between my bedroom and the sofa.

He just stood there, staring at me. His head moved slowly. I could feel his eyes tracing their way down my body. A chill ran up my spine, but I still couldn’t move. Then I heard a clicking noise and realized he had managed to close and lock the door behind him. At last he moved.

“You are an incredibly beautiful woman.”

I blushed and lowered my eyes. “It’s just the gown.”

“Don’t do that.” His voice had taken on a thick, husky quality.

“Do what?”

“Downplay the compliment.” Malone reached out his right hand and took my left. Then he turned me and we started dancing slowly, moving in perfect sync to the music. I think it was Krall singing “The Way You Look Tonight”. “Just smile sweetly, say, ‘thank you’ and accept the fact that I believe you are an incredibly beautiful woman.”

I was having trouble finding my voice. “Thank you, kind sir.”

He twirled me around the apartment. It amazed me how well we moved together. With the heels, I was almost eye level with Malone. His right hand was now inside the wrap, resting lightly on my bare back just above the edge of the gown. “Do you have any idea how incredibly sexy this is? To come in that door and find you like this?”

“Do you have any idea how sexy you make me feel, Malone?”

He stopped moving at that moment and dipped me, just as the song ended. “I’ve never had that effect on any woman before. At least, not to my knowledge.”


“Yes, Jamie?”

“Are you going to kiss me?”

That killer smile crossed his face. “I thought you’d never ask.”

***In case you're interested, here's a duet by Krall and Tony Bennett of the song mentioned in the excerpt. ***

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Not My Problem

Not My Problem

In a perfect world, I’d be able to write mysteries full time, my novels would be on the bestseller’s lists and Hollywood studios would be knocking at my door, anxious to pick up the rights to the books and make movies out of my stories. Yeah, it’s nice to have dreams.  Maybe someday, one or more of those components may actually come true.

In reality, I work a full time job (after all, I do like to eat and have bills to pay, just like you do) and write whenever I can find the time.  So I couldn’t help but laugh the other day when two female colleagues came to me with big plans. They wanted to trade office space and move a number of people to different offices. Currently there is no extra rooms to be had, so although they both had adequate space for their individual operations, they were anxious for a change. After listening to their plans, I simply nodded.  

Then the crux of the matter became known. They wanted me to do the manual labor, moving desks and computers, file cabinets and more. My response: N M P. They exchanged skeptical looks. 

“What does that mean?” one asked.

“Not my problem. It’s not my job to move furniture. You two want to make changes. You both have your own staff and resources. It’s up to you to figure out how to do it. My only involvement will be if someone gets hurt.”

Disappointed, they left, grumbling all the way out my door.

When I’m writing, the actions and motivations of my characters is my problem. That’s what it’s all about. I follow along with the story and when an idea presents itself for a problem or a conflict, it’s up to me to figure it out.  That’s when it becomes my problem.  So it was a refreshing change to be able to let someone else find a solution, particularly when it wasn’t a project that I had any involvement with.  

Here’s an example of writing my characters into a problem. This scene is from “Vanishing Act” where Jamie’s best friend Linda has been kidnapped. The police investigation is stalled and Jamie is struggling to find her.

Waiting was driving me crazy. I needed to do something. The computer held no appeal. I couldn’t concentrate on the story, or revisions, or even reading over my notes. I clicked on the folder with digital pictures and tried to get my mind on happier times. But every other picture was of Linda, or me and Linda. There were a number of recent ones, when she’d come back from Raleigh. I stared at the one from New Year’s Eve, where the four of us were together, beaming smiles and enjoying life. My heart ached for Linda.
    I missed her. I was worried about her.

    All right, I’ll admit it. I was scared about what might have happened to her.

    Logan must have sensed my discomfort. He raised his head from the dog bed that Malone had tucked into the corner of the office. Those brown eyes pleaded with me. I got up and went into the kitchen for some tea. Logan padded after me. I knelt down and hugged him.

    “Where are you?” I whispered.

    He didn’t answer.

    Back at my desk, I switched to a mapping program on the computer and brought up the New Baltimore area. According to the techno wizard with the Farmington Police, this was where that message had been sent. It still didn’t make sense. Linda was a west side girl. She was born and raised over here, just like me. She used to joke that if you went east of Woodward, you needed to take your passport with you. I don’t think she knew anyone over there, unless you counted Derek Bishop.

    Staring at the map wasn’t getting me anywhere. I moved the mouse to go back to my homepage, but somehow clicked on the icon to change the view of the map. Curious, I waited to see what was around there. Maybe New Baltimore wasn’t their destination. Maybe it was just a spot where they were driving through.

    The screen refreshed. When it did, I jumped so fast my mug of tea went flying across the room.

    I knew where Linda was.

    And I knew who had taken her.

Monday, September 4, 2017


I’ve had many different jobs over the years in the business world. Nowadays, whether you work or not, you’re liable to come into contact with people from several different generations during the course of the day. 

The difference in ages is evident whenever I’m at work. This summer I had a couple of college interns helping me with projects. At the end of a very busy day, someone mentioned movies. A great line from the original “Die Hard” came to mind, where Bruce Willis finally succeeds in getting the attention of a police officer. ‘Welcome to the party, pal’.   But in order for the quote to make sense with our situation, I had to explain the context of the movie and the scene.  

Maybe I need to quiz potential interns on classic movies and music. Or that should become part of their training.

As a writer, an attributes that comes in handy is the power of observation.  Recognizing the differences and capturing the details is part of the life. 

One of my goals is for readers to be able to connect with my characters. Nobody’s perfect. Every one of my ‘cast’ has their own flaws and weaknesses, something that makes them stand out in your mind while you’re reading the story. Imagine how boring it would be if everyone was the same.  No thanks!

An example of a different generation appears in “Vanishing Act”.  In this scene, Malone’s unofficial little brother Ian, has arrived to spend a few nights with Jamie and Malone.

Malone had Wednesday and Thursday off that week. So he picked up Ian after school Wednesday and brought him to the house. He had a duffel bag filled with extra clothes, a backpack jammed with books, and some extra athletic shoes. When they arrived, Malone showed Ian the spare bedroom. The kid immediately dumped everything on the floor and headed for the kitchen. I was standing in the doorway of the office, watching this play out.

    “Not so fast, hotshot,” Malone said.

    “What’s wrong? I’m hungry.” Ian groaned, raising his palms like it was a given.

    “And we’ll get some food after you put your gear away. I’ve seen your room at home. That’s not going to happen here.”

    Grumbling, Ian returned to the bedroom. Under Malone’s supervision, he unpacked his clothes and neatly put everything away. Then he emptied his backpack and arranged his books on the desk.

    “Now can I eat?” Ian whined.

    “Come with me.”

    I had jumped back behind the desk, pretending to be writing away. Now I snuck out and followed them into the kitchen. Malone led him to the refrigerator.

    “Bottom left drawer is filled with fruit. Apples, oranges, and grapes are always there. Bananas are on the counter. You can have fruit as a snack. There are usually two kinds of cheese in the drawer. You can have some with crackers.”

    “I’m hungry,” Ian groaned. “Can’t we order a pizza?”

    Malone slowly shook his head. “It’s three in the afternoon. Dinner will be at five thirty. A snack will tide you over until dinner.”

    Ian grabbed two apples from the drawer. “What if I don’t like what’s for dinner?” He spied me sitting on a kitchen chair. “Is Ms. Richmond a good cook?”

    I bit back a laugh as Malone leaned against the stove. “Tonight, I’ll be cooking. We’re having marinated chicken, with potatoes, salad, and green beans. Maybe some fresh biscuits if I’m feeling motivated and appreciated.”

    “I appreciate you, Malone,” I said.

    Ian took a huge bite out of his apple.

    “And on some days, you will help cook,” Malone said.

    Ian scoffed. “Cooking’s woman’s work.”

    Malone folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes at the kid. This was more fun than Saturday morning cartoons.

    “Do I look like a woman to you?”

    The kid realized he’d put his foot in his mouth along with most of the apple. Suddenly he was shaking his head, trying to find a way out.

    “For your information, most of the greatest chefs in the world are men,” Malone said. “Furthermore, while you are here, you are a guest in this house. That means you will be polite, you will keep that bedroom neat and you will do whatever chores Jamie and I feel are appropriate, such as helping clean up the kitchen after dinner. Clear?”

    Ian managed to swallow his apple. “Yes, sir.”

    “Good. Now you’ve got time to hit the books. Get some of that homework done before dinner. We’ll have a quick billiard tournament after we eat.”

    “Sweet,” Ian said. He finished the second apple, dropped the cores in the garbage can, and headed back toward the bedroom. I waited until he was at the far end of the hall. Malone was still leaning against the stove with his arms crossed. He winked at me.

    “You were a little tough on the kid,” I said, rising from my chair and moving to him for a hug. Malone slipped his arms around me and nuzzled the top of my head.

    “I’m just setting the ground rules. We all want this to work, so we may as well get started on the right foot.”

    “And if you want him to keep coming around, you’d better not let him taste my cooking, Malone.”

I couldn't think of a more appropriate tune to go with this post.  Here's a little classic rock and roll for your enjoyment.