Sunday, October 13, 2019

Works In Progress

The other day I was tagged on a Facebook post by author K G Fletcher.  She listed a few key points about her current Work-in-Progress or WIP and asked me along with four other authors to do the same.  Just as I was about to respond, there was a moment’s hesitation.

Which one?

As in, which book should I mention?

Occasionally, I’ll have more than one story idea at a time that I’m working on. Chances are many other writers will be in the same situation. I get an idea for something that is just begging for my attention. It will haunt my subconscious, tugging here and there whenever possible for a few moments of focus. 

Currently I’ve written about 80 pages in the first draft of the next Jefferson Chene mystery.  This one involves a cold case murder investigation, where the primary suspect is Leo Agonasti, the retired mobster who makes his first appearance in “Your Turn to Die”.  When Agonasti learns that the FBI has a warrant for his arrest, he gives his associates brief instructions, “Get Chene”, in the hope that Chene and his team can solve the crime and clear him in the process.  That’s the story idea.  

But 80 pages is just getting started.

Meanwhile I’ve had this other idea that keeps trying to elbow its way into my free time. Unlike a mystery, this one will be about crime. It’s not to the point where I want to share much yet. So it’s like the beginnings of a skeleton. I just need to get more of the bones in place before starting to flesh it out. Hey, Halloween is just a few weeks away. Deal with it.

For Kelly’s prompt, I went with the Chene story.  There is a lot of history in the Detroit area about organized crime, that will provide some background to the story. Who knows, I might even throw in a bit about the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Now there’s a cold case that would be great to solve.

Meanwhile, back to the keyboard.

When I started writing “Stealing Haven” it was just as things were wrapping up on “Your Turn to Die”.  The idea of sending Jamie and Linda on a vacation, before she meets Malone, couldn’t be ignored.  So once I got started with the idea, the story just flowed.

Here’s an excerpt.  In this scene, Jamie and Linda are exploring South Haven. Last night they had gone on a boat ride with Randy. Things started heating up quickly for Jamie, much to Linda’s delight. In this scene, Jamie and Linda are exploring South Haven when they bump into Jared, Randy's friend who they met at lunch the day before. 

Tuesday morning was another picture perfect day. At the rental place, we opted for small scooters. Together, we zoomed around the area, drove beyond the marina, and explored the northern part of the city, where a number of million-dollar homes faced the water. Some looked like palaces, others more laid back. We discovered rows of shops and even more white sandy beaches. Dressed in tank tops and shorts, we garnered more than a few waves from people as we cruised along.

We stopped at a coffee bar for a jolt of caffeine. Linda was examining the menu board when a deep voice sounded behind me.

“Think I’ll let you two off with a warning this time. There has been half a dozen near-miss accidents caused by guys watching you instead of the road.”

I turned around, laughing. “Some things are beyond our control, officer.”

Jared chuckled. “Actually, it’s sergeant. Having a good time?”

“The best. How bad was the school bus?”

He waved a stubby finger at me. “Almost forgot you’re a reporter.”

Linda pushed playfully at my shoulder. “She does not have a tape recorder or note pad tucked into her clothing. But I’d understand if you had to search her, just to be certain.”

He chuckled again and threw a broad wink at her. “Why do I get the feeling you expect me to search her?”

“Well, if you’re reluctant to do it, perhaps you could recommend someone who would. In the name of public safety and all.”

I felt the flush of embarrassment start at my toes and rocket through my body. Subtlety was not her style. I gestured at the menu board. “So what do you recommend?”

“I’m an old fashioned guy. Just coffee. But I take mine with a short blast of caramel. My daughters got me hooked on it.” Jared grinned. I was happy to move on to safer ground and avoid Linda’s hints at searching me. 

Coffees in hand, we walked outside to one of the patio tables with Jared taking a chair where he could watch the traffic going by, both vehicular and pedestrian. Maybe cops were always on alert. Linda and Jared were chatting about the area. I let me guard down for a minute and relaxed, soaked up the sunshine.

“Bumped into Randy this morning by the office. Said he had a great time on the lake last night.” Jared’s eyes bored into me. I choked on my coffee.

Linda nodded sweetly. “Yes, it was a great time. Don’t you agree, Jamie?”

“Absolutely.” The warmth had returned in full force.

Jared’s phone beeped. He apologized, then checked a text message. “Gotta run. Hey, if you’re in town Wednesday night, there’s a great band concert in the park. Starts about 7:00. Lots of good music.”

“We’ll check it out,” Linda said.

Jared saluted with his coffee cup. “Have fun. Maybe we’ll bump into each other again.”

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.” 

We watched him move quickly to an older sedan and drive away. Linda had a devilish expression on her face. 

“You do realize you were as red as your hair. And, don’t tell me its sunburn.”

“No, it’s windburn. From riding around on the scooters.”

She shook her head. “Jamie, you are so full of shit.”

“I can’t believe you were encouraging him to frisk me. And suggesting someone else should do it!”

“He’d already talked to Randy. Maybe, he mentioned getting to second base last night.”

I wanted to smack her. “He did not. Randy was a perfect gentleman.”

“Well, you got the perfect part right,” she said with a laugh.

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Music this week comes from Bob Seger.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Getting it Right

I enjoy going to used book sales. It’s a great opportunity to discover new authors and fill in the blanks of my collection for some of my favorite writers.  Yesterday the local library was having their sale, so that was one of my early morning stops.

In the past, they used to pack a room with unmarked shelves. This gave you the chance to wander the aisles slowly, checking out catchy titles and artwork. I liked it that way, because you never know what could be propped up next to John Sandford, Michael Connelly or James Rollins. 

But now they’ve taken to grouping books together by author. Volunteers and staff tack a sign on the rack to direct you. That’s not to say you won’t still find a stray copy here and there, but it takes some of the adventure out of the search, as people young and old shuffle through the books, looking for treasures.

At the end of an aisle there was a small table with a stack of books by Agatha Christie.  I started to turn away, but something caught my eye.  At that moment, I have no doubt Dame Agatha was rolling over in her grave with dismay. Because the sign on her table read:

“Agatha Christy”.  

An older gentleman happened to be coming towards me. When I pointed this out to him, he laughed and said “good thing we’re not in a library where they would know how to spell!”

All they had to do was simply look at the cover of any of those tales for the proper spelling. Later I mentioned this error to one of the volunteers. She hurried away in search of a marker to correct the problem.

As a writer, it’s important to me to get it right. Details about events, locations and character names have to be good. Because if you make a lot of little errors, that can be enough to turn someone off.  As a college professor, I see homework assignments each week that are filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. I do my best to explain these to students, urging them to learn from their mistakes and do better next time.  

I can only hope.

Here’s an example of getting it right.  In this excerpt from “Your Turn to Die”, Sgt. Jefferson Chene has stopped by the victim’s office to follow up on a lead. Since the widow is unavailable, he turns his questions to Valerie Mann, a key employee of the operation. 

Valerie laced her fingers as if she wanted me to admire her manicure. It still looked as polished as it had on Monday when we’d first met. I waited while she drew a breath and let it out slowly.

“I know you have a job to do. It’s just a very difficult time for all of us.”

“I understand. Are there any concerns about the business continuing?”

“Why no! Colleen has assured us that we will maintain operations, just as Kyle would have wanted. Each unit is profitable, although some more so than others. I doubt she would consider selling.”

I wasn’t convinced. “Are there potential buyers for the business?”

“There have been a few overtures the last couple of years. But nothing Kyle took seriously. The movies and the bookstores are like his children. He’d never sell.”

“I met with the company’s lawyers earlier. Do you know if Kyle and Colleen have a personal attorney?”

She hesitated. I watched her eyes flick away. Here it comes.

“I’m sure they must, but I have no idea who that might be.”

“It’s a bad idea to lie to a cop, Valerie. Sooner or later, the truth comes back to bite you in the ass.”

Her body jolted as if I’d slapped her. “There may be something in Kyle’s contact list. He didn’t keep business cards. When someone gave him one, he’d put the details on his computer.”

“And you have access to that file?”

“Yes. It’s on the network.”

“Let’s take a look.”

I could have had the Cyber Unit scan the files but there was a chance she’d give me more than just a name and a number. Valerie turned to the computer and pulled the chair closer to the desk as I came around beside her.

“Why did you lie to me?”

She shifted her head just enough to look me in the eye. “I don’t like you.”

“It’s not a popularity contest. I’m trying to figure out who killed your boss.”

“You’re abrasive.”

I shrugged. “If I have to be.”

“Your mother must be so proud.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“I wouldn’t know. I never met her.”

Valerie opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Her cheeks and throat flushed scarlet. She swallowed once and turned her attention to the computer. I watched as she scrolled through a list of files and brought up a folder labeled ‘contacts’.

“So there must be some other reason you lied, other than not liking me.”

“I just don’t see how any of this could help you find his killer.”

I pointed at the computer monitor. Slowly she ran through the list of names. Valerie stopped occasionally to jot down the details for several people listed as attorneys. It was tempting to see if there were any recent emails between them and Morrissey. I was about to ask but figured Yekovich and Pinky would be able to tell me. We finished with the list. Valerie switched off the computer.

“Want to tell me about the lie?”

She let out a ragged breath. “You’re impossible.”

I rested a hip on the desk. She remained in the big chair. Self-consciously she crossed her legs, then tugged the hem of her skirt down toward her knee. It didn’t cover much. “I’m in no hurry.”

“I thought you were trying to catch a killer.”

“I am. But my boss gets pissed if I do a sloppy job and miss something.”

Valerie folded her hands in her lap. “I have nothing more to say. Unless you have questions related to Mr. Morrissey’s business dealings, I’m going to ask you to leave. We have a number of things to finish up before tomorrow’s services.”

I decided not to push it. She was obviously holding something back. Whether it was pertinent to the case was anyone’s guess. Tucking the papers into my pocket, I pushed away from the desk. Valerie stayed in the chair.

“Good-bye, Sergeant.”

“I’ll see you around, Ms. Mann.”

It obviously wasn’t the response she was hoping for.

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Music this week comes from John Mellencamp.