Sunday, February 25, 2018

What's Next?

Along with music, I’m a big fan of movies and some television shows. I may not be up on the latest hits and pay no attention to the various ‘reality’ programs, but there are some favorites that hold a special place in my memory. There are times when memorable characters will deliver lines that just rock me. And every once in a while, I get the opportunity to borrow them.  

Yesterday proved to be the case. I’d been working on a short story featuring my favorite redhead, Jamie. Last October, I had the idea of doing a ‘short’ tale about Jamie, before she meets Malone. This would be an opportunity to expand her background. Some mystery. A little romance. Some humor, particularly shared with her lifelong friend, Linda.   

When I mentioned this in passing to Melissa, the publisher for the Jamie series, she asked, “How long will it be?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe ten thousand words.”

Melissa shook her head and gave me a knowing smile. “Twenty thousand.”

Turns out she had the idea of putting together a boxed set of short stories, with a summer-time theme, from several of the Inkspell authors.  I thought twenty thousand would be too much. Shows ya what I know. It worked perfectly. Which proves once again that Melissa is so much smarter than I am.

Anyway, last week I finished the first draft. Then I spent a few days polishing it, getting it ready for submission. Yesterday, I sent it in for her consideration.  There is great satisfaction for an author to write ‘The End’ and send the manuscript to the publisher.  But no sooner had I done that when two other words jumped to mind. 

‘What’s next?’

As those two words flared, an image jumped to mind of Martin Sheen in the excellent political drama, The West Wing.  Sheen plays President Jed Bartlet and he does it with style, winning two Emmys over the years.  Often during the length of the series, Bartlet would absorb the details of the latest situation, cast his eyes upon an aide and utter ‘What’s next?’

I’m always thinking about other story lines. There is a small notebook on my desk that’s crammed with scenes and characters and plots. Flipping through it always sparks an idea. So that’s where I’m at. Moving on to the next project. I don’t begin with an outline as you may know if you’ve read this blog before. I never start at the beginning anyway. That’s something Jamie taught me.

I’ll dust off a character or two, kick around some conflicts, and see what happens. Some scenes just take on a life of their own. 

Here’s an excerpt from “Fleeing Beauty”.  In this scene, Jamie and Malone are getting ready for a brunch date with Jamie’s mother, Vera.  This will be the first time she meets Malone. 

I was nervous about brunch Sunday morning. Vera insisted that we meet her at noon. I couldn’t even decide what to wear, changing my outfit twice. Malone finally took me by the shoulders to halt my jitters.

“Jamie, you need to relax. We’re going for a nice meal and some pleasant conversation.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know what Vera is like.”

He stepped into the closet and pulled out an ivory colored shift trimmed in lace. I’d been pacing back and forth in my underwear for the last ten minutes. 

“Wear this and some heels and you’ll be perfect.”

I was about to argue when I realized he was right. Since when did Malone become so knowledgeable about ladies’ fashions?  I glanced at him. He was wearing a gray silk blazer over a white dress shirt and navy blue slacks. There was a little flash of navy in the jacket that tied it all together. Malone looked like he just stepped out of a men’s catalog. I realized that while most of the time he was in jeans or his uniform, the dressier clothes he owned were very sharp. When the occasion demanded it, Malone could step up.

“You’ve got five minutes, Jay, and we have to go.”

“Shut up.”

He merely stood there, dangling the dress in front of me. Attempting to give him a disgusted look, I pulled the shift from the hanger and slipped it on. I stepped into some modest ivory heels and was ready.

We arrived at the restaurant right on time.  It was an upscale place in Bloomfield Hills, known for the talented chef and the five-star cuisine. It wasn’t uncommon to spot some of the movers and shakers from the area here.  The hostess beamed a smile and guided us to a table for four. On the way I saw two media personalities, a retired athlete, and one of the county executives. I’m sure there were other famous people about, but I didn’t recognize them.

Malone had been holding my hand since we got here. Now he gave it a squeeze as we sat down. “Jamie, you really do need to relax. I can’t remember ever seeing you this tense.”

“There is something I have to tell you.”

“You can tell me anything, Jay.”

I took a deep breath. I should have warned him about this before, but I thought there was more time. Clutching his hand, I let the words tumble out. “I’ve never brought a guy to meet Vera before.”

“You’re kidding?” What could have been a playful look crossed his face. 

“No, Malone, I’m not. She left when I started college and the guys from high school never stuck around very long. It’s so rare that Vera comes to town, it’s just happened that I have never been dating anyone seriously when she was here.”

Of all the reactions I expected, laughter was not one of them. Yet that was exactly how Malone took the news.  He just stared at me, letting a quiet chuckle escape.

“So I am the first guy you’re bringing to meet your mother.”

“Yes. Now do you understand why I’m so nervous?”

“No, I don’t.”


“Jamie, what we have is very strong. Despite some challenges—”

“What challenges?”

“—like your stubbornness, I think we have a pretty good thing here. You’re an independent woman. So despite what Vera may think of me, I don’t see things changing between us.”

Malone leaned over and kissed my cheek. “So breathe. Let’s just be ourselves and enjoy this nice meal.”

As I'm writing this, Tom Cochrane is keeping me company with one of his best rock and roll songs. 
Here it is.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The List

I’m often making lists. Sometimes it simple, like what I need at the grocery store. Others it can be more complicated, with projects and deadlines for work. At times I’ll have one going for my writing.

Recently my friend Liv sent me a text that read ‘If you had a playlist of songs specifically for riding your motorcycle, what would you include?’   

As Barney Stinson would say. ‘Challenge accepted!’

Since riding a motorcycle drums up visions of open roads, I opted for those with a driving beat and a faster pace.  

 ‘Get Out of Denver’ by Seger was first, followed by ‘Rockin’ Down the Highway’ by the Doobie Brothers.  ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-out’ and ‘Thunder Road’ by Springsteen. ‘Call Me the Breeze’ and ‘Gimme Three Steps’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd.  ‘Pretending’ by Clapton. ‘Roll with It’ by Winwood,  ‘R.O.C.K. in the USA’ by Mellencamp and ‘Johnny B. Goode by Berry.  Those were just the first ones that jumped to mind.  There are plenty more in the archives to choose from.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Music is like breathing for me. You gotta have it. Different types of music help set the mood, whether it’s in life or in writing. I don’t know if that’s true for others, but this is what works for me.

Making lists and notes crops up in the books too. Here’s a scene from “Why 319?” where Chene finally gets a break in the case of the serial killer.

I was the first one at the squad at six. With a fresh cup of coffee and two bagels inside me, I was energized. The caffeine was churning when Kozlowski walked in twenty minutes behind me. He slumped into his chair and started working on his own coffee. His eyes went to the large brown bag filled with bagels. I’d brought in a dozen for the squad. I hadn’t bothered with cream cheese.

“Do me a favor.”

“This early on a Wednesday morning, it better be good.”

“Call Megan and Laura and tell them to get here right away. Then wake Pappy and tell him we’ve caught another break.” Normally, Cantrell was in early, but yesterday he mentioned a district conference on his calendar for today. He had planned to hoist a few drinks in Barksdale’s honor last night.

Without a comment, he called the others. Since he didn’t know yet what it was about, he didn’t waste time trying to answer their questions. He took great pleasure in rousting Cantrell from his bed.

“Pappy said one hour. It didn’t sound like he was alone. He also said it better be worth it, and if you start without him, there would be hell to pay.” He extended a hand across the desk. “Give. You ain’t gonna make me wait an hour.”

“What about Cantrell’s warning?”

“Letting me read it does not qualify as starting.”

I flipped him the folder. There were copies ready for the others. Inside was the little bit of information I was able to garner this morning. I made a list of which steps we should take next, and how I would break them out among the team. While he was reading it, I went over the notes, rearranging a couple of points here, adding a few things. Koz scanned the list. He made a couple of suggestions and propped his feet on the desk.

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re on to something. But this is a twisted piece of work, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“You think this is the one?”

“I think within forty-eight hours we’re going to find out.”

I haven't heard this one in a while, but since I mentioned the Doobie Brothers great hit, it seems appropriate to share it.  Hope you enjoy it. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

On The Radio

Robin Williams
A long time ago in a place not so far away, I was a regular on the radio. The public radio channel in Detroit had a separate frequency for listeners who were visually impaired. Each day volunteers and a few staff would go on the air and read sections of the local daily newspapers or weekly magazines. It was a popular service and something I enjoyed doing. When asked by a friend if I ever thought about doing that on television, there was a moment’s hesitation before my response. 

“I’ve got a face that’s perfect for radio.” 

As Pappy Cantrell would reply, ‘nuff said.’

So I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to be interviewed for the Dr. Paul’s Family Talk program on Impact Radio USA.  We talked about all four of my novels, and a both works in progress (the sequel to Why 319 and a new short story featuring Jamie Richmond) along with several other writing related topics.  

One of the areas we touched on was using an outline. I can’t do it. To me, they are too restrictive when writing fiction.  I told Paul about going to Catholic schools and having an assignment from one of the nuns to write an outline and then a paper. Despite my protests, she insisted that the outline was part of the project. I couldn’t do it. Then inspiration struck.  I wrote the paper first, then went back and wrote the outline.  When I turned it in, the good nun smiled and said ‘I knew you could do it.’ 
My response: ‘You were right, Sister.’  

I hope that part makes the cut.

The interview will play several times starting on Friday, February 16 at 11:00 a.m. EST.    Here’s a link to the show.

One of the other segments we discussed was the relationships between characters in the stories. It’s one of my goals to create believable characters and the interactions between them should be something readers can relate to.  Here’s an example from “Why 319?”.  In this scene, Chene and Megan, one of the other detectives, are meeting at the residence of the latest victim to notify the family.

After getting the address information from Koz, I called Megan to meet me there. It was a small apartment building in Berkley, one of the suburbs just west of Royal Oak. It was a quiet community, filled mostly with older homes built in the fifties that were used to raise families—affordable bungalows and colonial houses, not nearly as expensive or upscale as the northern suburbs were. I waited until Megan pulled up behind me before getting out of my car.

“You look like hell, Chene.”

“Good morning to you, too.” I jerked a thumb at her Mustang, which was parked within three inches of my rear bumper. “Still don’t know how you can afford the insurance on that thing, let alone the gas and the monthly payments.”

“Don’t pick on my baby. I’ve wanted a Mustang since I was ten years old. I think you’re just jealous that I finally got one.” She patted my arm, like an exasperated mother trying to explain something to a six-year-old boy. “Leasing, Chene. Nobody buys cars anymore. They lease them.”

“So you basically rent the vehicle, making the same monthly installments you would if you were buying it.”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you picked yellow?”

The exasperated look returned. “You’re so out of it, you’ll never understand.”

It was my turn to pat her arm. “Just admit it’s a chick thing.” I had to take a step back before she popped me on the chin.

Our conversation was simply a stall tactic to prepare for the meeting. “You ready for this?” I asked.

“Yeah. I got the basics on the phone. Do you want the lead?”

I nodded. Chances were this was the victim’s apartment. We’d probably have to repeat this process with her immediate family, once we learned more.

While writing this column, I kept spinning to different tunes that would be appropriate. After all, it’s not every day that I’m going to be on the radio. It was time for something different. That’s when the old classic from Van Morrison came to mind.  Hope you enjoy it.