Monday, May 30, 2016

One Step Closer

A Chinese philosopher named Lao Tzu had a number of famous quotes. A popular one is 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. 

I always liked that one.  That seems like the perfect way to describe an author's journey. Writing the story is only part of it.  Just finishing it is a major accomplishment. But knowing when it's really done is another part of the process, sometimes as difficult as that journey of a thousand miles. Most writers I know will complete the first draft, grab a glass of wine to celebrate this small victory, and bask in the achievement for a day or two. Then we dive right back in and begin to edit. We shape and polish and smooth out the rough edges.  And sometimes if we're lucky, we'll convince some other writers to take a look at it.

That's what I'm doing today.  Recently I asked a couple of people from the writer's group if they'd be interested in reading the first draft of my latest novel and giving me some feedback.  I was pleasantly surprised when they not only agreed but dove right in.  Peg actually read the whole book in two days and declared "I couldn't put it down!"  Jerry took a bit longer, but pointed out a number of glitches that needed my attention.  So with their help, I've kept going, making it shine.  Now I'm one step closer to completing that thousand mile journey.  With luck, I'll have it ready before the end of the week.  Then it's 'hurry up and wait' for a response to the query. A writer can do that thousand miles and never leave his desk.  So thanks, Lao Tzu.  We'll see where it goes.

Lao Tzu

Here are a couple of older posts that you might enjoy.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Favorites and Formulas

Earlier this week I was meeting with the writer's group and two questions came up simultaneously.  One guy asked about formulas.  "I've read every James Bond book Ian Fleming wrote. They were all the same. Bond meets the girl. Bond fights off the bad guy without getting himself killed. Bond gets the girl. The end. That's predictable," he said.

I pointed out the obvious. "But you kept reading every time. There can be comfort in knowing your protagonist is going to figure it out and survive. People want to see Bond succeed and get the girl!"

One of the others mentioned that the publisher may have preferred Fleming keep with the formula. After all, why tamper with success?  That's the foundation for many series, along with television shows.  Create a formula and if it resonates with your audience, stick with it.

At that point the first guy admitted that Bond was indeed one of his favorite characters.   Everyone threw out names of their characters.  Then they turned to me.

"I can't give you just one," I said. "I can't even give you just one of my own characters. Each one is unique and brings something different to the table. But I can name a few."

Here's a few names from the list.  Penn Cage from Greg Iles.  Thorn from James W. Hall.  Elvis Cole from Robert Crais.   Dismas Hardy from John Lescroart.  Chili Palmer from Elmore Leonard.  Travis McGee from John D. MacDonald.  Jack Reacher from Lee Child.

The group wouldn't let me go on to something else until I named one of my own favorites. So I included Jamie Richmond, my redheaded protagonist.  While each of the three books in the series is unique, I could be accused of a formula here as well.  Jamie gets involved in a criminal matter, refuses to let it go, despite the urging and distractions provided by Malone, until the villain is identified and captured.  If that's a formula, I'm guilty.  But each story has its own twists and turns. Here's an excerpt from "Fleeing Beauty".  In this story, Jamie and her friends are unpacking crates of priceless art work that her late father created.

                                                                 * * * *

This sculpture was titled “Fleeing Beauty”.
It was a woman caught in the act of running. Tendrils of slender marble in various lengths and thicknesses extended from her head, as if they were locks of hair billowing out behind her. Part of her face was obscured, turned against her shoulder as if attempting to hide her features from whoever was chasing her. The woman’s body was voluptuous, full of dangerous curves. There was something haunting about this piece. The guys became quiet, which was unusual. Linda slowly moved around it, taking pictures.
“Holy shit,” Ian muttered.
“Watch your language,” Malone said, cuffing him lightly on the back on the head.
“How did he do that?” Ian said, taking a step away. “She looks real.”
“She looks alive,” Malone said.
“Check the file,” I suggested.
None of us could take our eyes off the sculpture.
We spread the file out on the worktable. There were pictures of a woman standing in front of a drop cloth. She was blonde, with an impish smile on her face. She could have been in her early to middle twenties. It was impossible to tell how tall she was. Her figure was eye catching, with a tiny waist and round hips. Most of the pictures showed her in a one piece bathing suit. There was one where she wore a sheer negligee. There were shots of her standing on a pedestal, others with her arms outstretched, and still others where she was looking over her shoulder. In a couple of photos he must have used a fan to blow her hair back.
“She’s a doll,” Ian said.
“Jamie, I think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Linda said softly.
“You’ll get no argument from me.”

                                                                       * * * *

So the question I didn't ask the writer's group is "which actor is your favorite Bond?"  Here's a couple to choose from.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Perfect Weather

Okay, it's the middle of May.  In some parts of the country, winter is long gone and thoughts are turning to spring.  Yesterday the temperatures here in West Michigan were stuck in the forties, with strong gusty winds and the presence of sleet. That's freezing rain to you southerners. At the local farmer's market, people were bundled up like they were going on a polar expedition.  Vendors were hopping from one foot to the other in an attempt to stay warm. 

As I moved among the stalls, a pair of young women walking in front of me were deep in conversation.  The one on the right, wrapped in layers with a green and white Michigan State University ball cap jammed tight on her head,  was doing most of the talking.

"I've had enough of this!  I want to go on a picnic. I want to feel the sun on my skin. I want to run barefoot through the grass. I want to feel normal!"

"Get in line," her friend muttered. "We all want that. You just gotta wait."

I couldn't agree more.  A picnic in the sunshine sounds very good right now. And it made me remember an indoor picnic scene  with Jamie and Malone from "Vanishing Act".  So when the weather isn't cooperating, you just have to get creative.  Here it is.
                                                                                  * * *

            I stood in the doorway to our bedroom and watched him. Even asleep, Malone could affect me like no other man I’d ever known. Not that there were that many. He stirred and reached across the bed for me, instinctively seeking that physical contact. I leaned against the doorway and sipped from the mug of tea I was holding in both hands.
            “Hey, Jamie,” he said, his voice a bit raspy. Malone stretched beneath the quilts.
            “Brunch is ready, Malone. But first you need to shave and shower.”
            “I was hoping to spend a very lazy day with you, Jamie.”
            I could feel my eyes twinkle with delight. “That’s exactly what I had in mind. But first you must shave and shower.”  I set the mug on the dresser and leaned over, rewarding him with a long, lingering kiss. When he tried to pull me down on top of him, I stepped back and pointed toward the bathroom.  Grudgingly, he slipped out of bed and headed for the shower. When I heard the water running, I returned to the living room and urged myself to be patient.
            A little while later, Malone stood before me. He was wearing a thick terry cloth robe that reached almost to his knees. And I knew that was all he was wearing.
            “Jamie, what did you do with my clothes?”
            Innocently I batted my lashes at him. “What clothes?”
            “All the clothes from the closet and the dresser that belong to me are gone. The only thing in the bath or the bedroom is this robe.”
            I moved from the rocker to stand before him. “Today, you will not need clothes. We have a sumptuous feast awaiting us. It is a winter version of a picnic. There is a nest of blankets and pillows to sprawl upon in front of a roaring fire and soft music playing on the stereo. And if you get chilled, I promise to keep you very, very warm.”
            Malone’s gaze shifted from me to the array on the coffee table. There was a plate of shrimp, a bowl of hummus, crackers and chunks of dark rye bread, several different types of cheese and dips, a platter of fresh fruit and two steaming mugs of hot and sour soup. Then he looked briefly at the fire. Gradually he turned his gaze back to me. I was wearing a black satin robe and some of Malone’s favorite perfume and nothing else.
            “Welcome to a lazy day.”
            He drew me into his arms and we slowly sank to the nest of pillows. He didn’t say a word, just slowly began kissing me. As he worked his way down my neck, I felt his fingers slowly untie the sash on my robe.
            “I’ll give you back your clothes tomorrow, Malone,” I managed to gasp.
            He paused and leaned back to look at me. “Suddenly clothes don’t seem very important.”

Here are a couple of older posts that you might enjoy. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Vanishing Act

My second novel with Inkspell Publishing is “Vanishing Act” the sequel to “Devious” and you’ll recognize some of the same main characters. Yet each book can be enjoyed on its own.  Jamie Richmond, my heroine, is still enthralled with the attentions of Malone.  
The story opens just after Christmas when Jamie’s best friend, Linda Davis, makes her first appearance.  With plans for a romantic New Year’s Eve filled with dining and dancing, Jamie sets up Linda with a blind date that turns out to be more than she ever imagined. Soon Linda finds herself captivated by her own budding romance, to the delight and confusion of Jamie. But Linda has captured someone else’s attention as well. A stalker suddenly makes their presence known and Linda’s life is thrown into a tailspin. When she disappears without a trace on a snowy Saturday, the police are baffled. But Jamie is determined to figure out two important things: who took Linda and where she is, before it’s too late. 

At the heart of this story is romance. Here is an excerpt from the story. In this scene, Jamie and Linda are on their way home from exercise class when they decide to stop for coffee and a chance to catch up.


We pulled into a coffee shop that she likes to frequent. I got a slice of iced lemon loaf and a cup of tea. Linda got a vanilla coffee and a raspberry muffin. I waited until we were seated at a little table far from the doorway or anyone else.

“So are you going to tell me what’s going on, Algae? You’ve been beaming a thousand watt smile since you picked me up.”

I saw the color radiate on her cheeks. She lowered her eyes and took a sip of her coffee. I waited. Finally she drew a deep breath and raised her face.

“I think I’m in love,” she said quietly.

I sat back in amazement. This was the same woman, who, not three weeks ago, had sworn that they were just getting to know each other, just going to take it slow. Suddenly she was talking love. Before I could respond, she waved a hand at me.

“Just be quiet and listen, Jamie. I know that’s difficult for you, but please just hear me out.”

I tore a corner off the pastry and popped it into my mouth, then closed my eyes to savor the lemony sweetness, and let it dissolve on my tongue. I imagined this was how a sunbeam would taste. When it was gone, I opened my eyes and gazed at her. I extended my right hand and just looked at her.

“Vince came over last night. I wanted to cook for him, so I made shrimp with angel hair pasta. You know the way I do it, with mushrooms, red peppers and fresh parmesan cheese.”

My stomach growled. It’s one of her signature dishes. I started to comment but Linda waved me quiet.

“So we had some good, Italian wine, a white one that really went well with the pasta. I had the stereo on, something soft like Diana Krall and Van Morrison. After dinner, we moved to the sofa. The fire was lit and we only had one light on low. I had been in a bit of rush to get dinner ready when I came home from work, so I hadn’t bother to change.”

She paused to sip her coffee. I couldn’t keep quiet. “What were you wearing?”

“You know that turquoise sweater with the cowl neck?”

I nodded. It does magical things for her eyes.

That and a black, wool skirt, some stockings, and those black leather boots that come up to mid-calf.”

Linda loves boots. She has several pairs and usually likes the ones with a two-inch heel. I knew exactly the outfit she was describing. It could stop traffic any time of the day or night. Like she couldn’t do that already! I waited for her to continue. She took another taste of her coffee, and then started talking quietly again.

“So we’re on the sofa, sitting there, just listening to the music. He had an arm draped over my shoulders. And I mentioned that I had to get out of my boots. My feet were starting to cramp. That’s when things got…different.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear this, but there was no stopping her now. “What do you mean, different?” I asked.

“Vince told me to move to the other end of the sofa. Then he slowly unzipped my boots and pulled them off me. My legs were in his lap. He started to massage my feet, chasing away the aches and pains. Then he moved up to my ankles. And the whole time, he just kept talking, keeping his voice very low and soft.”

“What did he say?”

Linda shuddered with the memory. “He told me all of the things he was going to do to me, all the ways he wanted to please me.”

I pulled back the sleeve of her jacket. Her arm was covered in goose bumps. “Do you really want to tell me this, Linda?”

“I’ve got to tell you, Jamie, because I still can’t believe it happened. It was like I was hypnotized. He was in total control of me. I couldn’t even move.”

Somehow no words found their way out of my mouth. I just stared at her so she kept talking.

“I swear he touched on every fantasy, no matter how dark, I have ever considered. And the whole time, he just kept talking softly, massaging my legs. I thought I was melting from his charms on New Year’s Eve. That was nothing compared to last night. Jamie, by the time he finally undressed me, I was so far over the edge, I didn’t think I’d ever make it back.”

I would have never believed my good and kindly doctor would be capable of fulfilling all her fantasies. And even if I had, I could never have imagined how dark these fantasies would turn out to be.

Could this be Linda?