Sunday, March 18, 2018

Editing and Favorite Dates

Any author will tell you that crafting the story is only part of the process. Even after multiple readings and your own attempts to polish the manuscript, that doesn’t mean you’re done. Not by any stretch of the imagination.  

A few weeks ago I submitted “Stealing Haven” the new short story featuring Jamie Richmond to the publisher.  She liked it and a week later I got it back with her comments and edits. Now it was my turn to read over the suggestions, make a few changes and send it back. Done. Yeah, right!

We went back and forth a few times. She had many great ideas, a little addition here, cut this part there. Nothing major. Just a few touches. Like adding spices to a recipe, it makes it that much better.

Working together, we got it done. And just in time too. Because last week I received the contract for “Your Turn to Die” the second book in the Jefferson Chene series.  Excellent news. Now I need to take a deep breath and get ready to work on the editing for that story. The good news is, I’ll be working with the same editors who helped shape “Why 319?”

Here’s an example of editing from “Why 319?”  In the original draft, this was written from the point of view of a third person. Ally, the editor, encouraged me to revise it and use first person. At first I thought she was wrong. But after making the change, I realized how well it worked.

It was almost becoming too easy. They were everywhere. One plain Jane after another kept crossing my radar screen. Some nights it was like shopping for bananas, and they were visible in bunches.

Tonight was one of those nights. It was as if someone were holding up a sign, steering them in my direction. Like right now. Off to the left at one of those elevated stations, where you had to sit on a bar-stool in order to reach the table, were two perfect physical examples of the ideal target. Four women, each in their early to mid-twenties were crowded around the postage stamp-sized table. I ruled two out immediately. They were chunky, flashing lots of cleavage with large breasts. For a nanosecond, I wondered if the flesh was real or the results of surgical enhancement. It didn’t matter. They were unworthy of any further consideration.

But it was the other two who caught my eye. The one on the right was a bottle blonde, which was obvious by the dark roots showing and the dark eyebrows. The other was a brassy redhead. She was tiny, almost doll like. I was in a perfect position to observe her. She was wearing high-heeled red boots that came up over her knee, sassy-looking things that accentuated her legs. Her black skirt barely touched the middle of her thighs, but it might have been longer if she was standing up. She wore a heavy ivory-colored wool sweater that covered her from the throat to the waist. It was loose enough to keep the goodies beneath it a well-guarded secret. With the boots and the short skirt, she was almost too good to be true. And upon reflection, I realized she was.

Her attitude was a turn off. This was a girl who flaunted the little bits she had. As she sat on the stool, swaying to the background music, she kept crossing and uncrossing her legs, putting on a floor-show of her own. Her hands were constantly in motion. Now they were slowly, seductively sliding down her arms, dropping below the table into her lap. They lingered for a moment, then skittered down her legs to tug at the bottom of the skirt. This was no timid child. She was well aware of her body. By the way she was moving, she knew how to use it.

My focus returned to the bottle blonde. This one had potential. Her wardrobe was the polar opposite of the redhead. Loose-fitting slacks, with low heeled shoes that would have been rejected by a nun with an orthopedic condition, she wore a blouse buttoned to the neck and a jacket to help conceal her. The only thing that broke the mold for this plain Jane was the hair color. Upon a closer look, it was blonde highlights swirled in with the natural brown, a shade best described as mousy brown. Perhaps she was letting it grow out after getting it dyed for the holidays. What would she look like, sprawled naked on a bed, unable to resist, unable to stop, unable to do anything at all?

My body began to respond.

My heart rate kicked up a notch. A warm glow started in the pit of my stomach and eased out in every direction. I basked in the tremors of anticipation. My cheeks flushed with beads of perspiration.

Yes, she could very easily be the next one.

But first the stage had to be set. And it was a time for patience. The plans were perfection, which was evident by the lack of awareness of the public or any progress by the police. Those bumblers in blue would never put it together because of the meticulous planning. If by chance they somehow managed to get a clue, the misdirection was already in place. So there could be no deviation from the plan. It had taken weeks of study, of strategizing each and every move. Every step was plotted out. Every move was a smooth, choreographed motion. Every action triggered the next in a series of reactions. Just reflecting on the past efforts was enough to make me smile. The memory of my last victim, her limp body slowly cooling as the life force ebbed away was enough to bring a smile of triumph to my lips.

“What the hell are you grinning at?” Malcolm asked as he stepped up.

“Just thinking about how good a night this will be,” I said.

“I don’t want a bumpy ride tonight.”

I turned and looked him right in the eye. “You got nothing to worry about, man. Everything will be smooth.”

Malcolm hesitated a moment as he studied me, then nodded in agreement. “We can’t ever be too smooth.”

My smile widened. “That’s me, man, I’m too smooth.”

Monday is March 19. In addition to birthdays and anniversaries, that’s one that has special meaning to me. I look at it as ‘three nineteen’ which is part of the title of the first Jefferson Chene mystery.  Since it ties in with Chene so well, I’ll consider that his birthday.   Tell me what’s the best way to celebrate it and you might just win a free copy of the e-book.

This tune is perfect for the task at hand.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Creating Characters

Every story needs memorable characters. If the people who populate your stories are bland and dull, readers will have a difficult time relating to them or caring about them.  The expression ‘white bread and mayonnaise’ comes to mind. 

It’s one of my goals when writing, to make my players memorable.  Mix up the ethnicities names, descriptions, traits, education and family influences.  Make them tall or short, fat or thin. Happy go lucky, or sad and lonely, like Eeyore. Shake them up! Imagine how boring life would be if we all looked the same, acted the same, had the same background, the same experiences and the same ideas. And stay away from stereotypes. Unpredictability is important. 



The second book in the Chene series is at the publisher’s now. With any luck, this will soon be accepted. Then we’ll start the editing process, trying to polish the manuscript to give the readers a great product.  That takes time. 

Developing characters is top of mind because I’m starting my next novel. Chene won’t sit idly by. There is work to be done, so let’s get to it. While some old favorites like Ted, Kozlowski, Pappy and Simone will appear, there will be new faces. That means creating their profiles, with more details than just physical descriptions. We all want to know more.

Here’s an excerpt from “Why 319?”.  In this scene, Chene is introducing Pappy Cantrell and it captures some of his demeanor and attitudes.

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.”

“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.”

Today’s musical interlude is from Sting.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Spring Break

Along with my full time job, I teach a business course at the local college.  It’s a great opportunity to share personal experiences from the business world, and broaden my knowledge of a variety of topics, from entrepreneurs to legal matters. But what adds to the appeal for me is the interaction with the students. There is usually a mixture of traditional students and those who have been in the workforce for a while.  Sometimes the discussions can get loud and occasionally off topic, but that’s all part of learning.

This week the college is on Spring Break. Some of the students were capitalizing on vacation plans and heading for warmer climates. The rest of us will continue to work.  But the idea of Spring being just around the corner triggers many ideas of getting outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. It will be here soon.

While working on a project, I often have to draw on memory when it comes to the season and the setting.  The short story featuring Jamie that I recently completed takes place in early June. I began writing that in the dead of winter. At times I would be outside, clearing the driveway from a foot of snow, before settling down at the keyboard. Visions of people frolicking on the golden sand and gentle breezes of Lake Michigan were certainly not something that was happening outside my window.  Authors have to be able to adjust, using whatever methods work to put you not only in the right frame of mind, but the right setting and time of year that ties in with the story. 

Sometimes it’s easy.  Dialing up some Beach Boys on the radio helps. Finding some pictures on the internet can be good too. Every writer is different. You find what works, at give it a try. 

Yes, Spring Break is here. But I’ll be at the keyboard, working on the next story. I need a good opening. So far, I’ve got:  A man walks into a bar…   Hmm. Think that needs a little work.

Since Jamie is on my mind today, here’s the opening from “Fleeing Beauty” which also takes place in early June, where Jamie learns more about her late father.

I should have known better. Everything had been calm and quiet the last couple of months, which was very unusual for me. But I had been lulled into a false sense of security. The warmth of the late afternoon sunshine could have been to blame. That made perfect sense to me.

I was in the front yard, kneeling on a thick foam pad, my fingers caked with dirt. This was an unusual activity for me. But Malone had pointed out that it was the perfect spot for some flowers and at his urging I bought a flat of brightly colored flowers that would liven up the space. So on this sun-swept day in early June, I was discovering my abilities as a gardener. There was about an hour before Linda, my best friend, would arrive. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back and shoulders. Days like this made me want to break out the tanning lotion and sprawl on a blanket in the yard. But no matter my efforts, I could never achieve the golden brown color that Linda was capable of. I just get pink. 

As I was tamping the last bit of earth back in place, my cell phone started ringing. Wiping the excess dirt on my shorts, I pulled it from my back pocket. I answered without even looking at the screen. 

“Jamie, this is Bert. Are you anywhere near a television?” My step-father’s deep voice boomed in my ear. He didn’t sound angry, nervous, or upset. 
            “I’m at home. Let me go turn it on. What’s happening?” 

“Look at Channel Four. This should be one of the lead stories.”

 I ran inside and fired up the television. A commercial was wrapping up and I watched the five o’clock anchor open the broadcast. As I watched, I lowered the phone from my ear. My eyes flicked to the ticker across the bottom of the screen. In bold letters ran the words “Treasure Trove Discovered”. The anchor tossed the story to one of the onsite reporters.  

“Thank you, Carmen, and good afternoon. I’m standing outside one of the many converted commercial buildings that serve as art studios populating the area around Wayne State University. It was here today that workmen found what appears to be a trove of previously undiscovered artworks created by local legend Peter Richmond in the months before his death more than twenty years ago. The workers were called in to repair a broken water pipe. During their efforts, they learned that water pressure had punched a hole through a wall. Further inspection revealed a hidden storeroom adjacent to the studio Richmond himself used for years. It is uncertain how many pieces have been discovered or what condition they may be in.  

“Richmond is known for his dramatic works in a variety of mediums. Many of his larger pieces are prized possessions in museums, including our own Detroit Institute of Arts. Other examples of his work can be found at Meadowbrook Theater in Rochester and on the campus of Wayne State University. I was able to interview a representative from the DIA, who said that if it can be confirmed these pieces are indeed the work of Peter Richmond, the collection could be priceless. Attorneys for Richmond’s estate were unavailable for comment. Additional police units will be stationed around the site to ensure security is maintained. 

Reporting live from Detroit, I’m Lauren Podell, Local 4 News.”

Since I mentioned them earlier, here’s one of my favorites from the Beach Boys. Hope you enjoy it.