Sunday, January 19, 2020

Telltale Signs

Last week I got a message from my friend Jerry. He was at a doctor’s appointment and his lovely wife, Jane, had accompanied him. While they were sitting in the waiting room, Jane pulled a book from her bag.  Curious, he leaned over to see what she was reading.  It was “Your Turn to Die”, the second book in the Jefferson Chene series. 

Jerry had a moment of concern that she was looking for ideas that might be used on him. I suggested he show that book to the doctor, just in case anything strange ever happened to him.

It was just another example of a sign. There are days where they pop up with frequency, if we’re paying attention.  As a writer, it’s part of my nature to notice things that could find their way into a story.  Sometimes it can lead to be a significant part of the book, having an impact on the character’s interactions. Since I don’t work with an outline, anything is possible.

It’s the middle of January and I’ve spent the weekend digging out from a heavy snowfall.  It’s a perfect time to share an excerpt from “Vanishing Act” which takes place in the same time period.
In this scene, Jamie and Linda find a way to address the winter blues.

“Grab your wallet and your workout gear,” Linda’s voice was way too excited for my serenity. “It’s time to hit the gym. We can sign up for classes tonight and start getting back in shape.”

It was the third day of January and I had been writing most of the day. Now I looked up and realized it was almost dark outside. Malone had cooked French toast for brunch with crispy bacon on the side. Before he left for work, he’d put together a big garden salad for dinner. There was also half of a roasted chicken from last night’s meal in the fridge. “What’s wrong with the shape I’m in?” I asked, standing up and checking my reflection in the window.

Linda laughed warmly in my ear. “Nothing’s wrong with you. But we could both use a little muscle toning. And if you want to keep Malone’s attention, you need to get some physical activity outside of the bedroom.”

“Does wrestling on the sofa with Malone count?”

“Only if you can sustain your heart rate for sixty minutes,” Linda said.

“But it’s so nice and warm and cozy here. I don’t want to go out in the cold.”

“Stop being a wimp. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

It was pointless to argue with her. I’d be the first one to admit how stubborn I was. But Linda can take stubbornness to a whole new level. When she made up her mind, there was nothing that could talk her out of it. And deep down, I knew she was right. I had gotten lazy and the workout would probably do me some good.

After switching off the computer, I dashed into the bedroom for my gear. All I needed was a quick change into yoga pants, an exercise tank top, sweat socks, and gym shoes. Then I pulled my hair into a ponytail and dug out a hoodie. I grabbed my down jacket, wallet, and keys just as Linda pulled up in the driveway. It took only a minute to lock the doors and run out to her car. She was bundled up against the chill as well, her curls pulled back with a wide headband. In the rack on the dash were two water bottles.

“Check out the schedule on the seat,” she said as she focused on driving. I dug the listing out from under my leg and looked at the classes she had highlighted.

“So you’ve narrowed it down to these three,” I said, “Yoga, kickboxing, and Latin dance. I don’t know what the last two are. Which one are we going to take?”

A devilish smile crossed her face. “We’re taking all three.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am definitely serious. The new gym offers a variety of classes and they have a lot of equipment available that we can use as well. There’s also a pool, in case you want to swim.”

“But three classes are too much. Are you planning on working out daily?”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Get real. Each class only meets once a week. But in order to really get the most out of the season, we can go more often. The best schedule for me is Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday morning. There’s no way I want to work out Friday night and we’ll consider Sunday to be off limits. So this makes perfect sense.”

I had no response to that. Despite my protests, I knew she was right. It would be easier to get into the habit of working out now, to keep the figures we had, rather than waking up one day and discovering my clothes were too tight. I also had an ulterior motive. I wanted to maintain Malone’s interest. He seemed to like my body the way it was, so I had every intention of keeping it that way.

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Music this week comes from a favorite rock and roll tune by The Faces.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Happy New Year

The New Year began a couple of days ago.  Due to some other commitments and preparations for teaching the new college semester, I’ve fallen behind in my blog. Blame it on the holidays, football, too much food and wine, or tackling too many issues simultaneously.  As Chuck Berry would say C’est la Vie. 

There are several projects I’ve been working on, including revising an old short story in preparations for submission, working on a new novella in a different genre and doing some research for the next Chene book.  It’s just a matter of which one is going to be finished first, so I can move on to what’s next.

I’ve also been considering creating a monthly newsletter.  Several authors I know currently have one and it may be a good method to share more information, insight about writing and bits regarding any new releases.  Once that plan has been finalized, I’ll post details on the blog.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  I hope that everyone had a fantastic New Year’s Eve and that 2020 will bring us all success.  May our days be filled with laughter and love, shared with family and friends. And peace.

New Year’s always makes me think of “Vanishing Act” the second Jamie Richmond mystery.  Here’s an excerpt from that book.  In this scene, Jamie and Malone are going out with to welcome in the New Year with her best friend Linda and a surprise escort. 

The limo made our next stop and picked up her date. He looked splendid in his tuxedo, almost as good as Malone. They greeted each other warmly. I got a kiss on the cheek. His aftershave was subdued, but sexy. We chatted quietly until the limo arrived at Linda’s house. He stepped out and moved quickly to her door. She opened it just as he reached the porch. Malone had put the window down so we could see her reaction and hear their conversation.

    “Linda, you become more beautiful each time I see you.”

    There was a moment of hesitation in her eyes before her face broke into a wide smile. “Vince. You are the perfect date.”

    Linda flashed me a dazzling smile as she slid into the limousine. Vince sat beside her. I nudged Malone lightly when I saw Linda slip her gloved hand into Vince’s and lean back to enjoy the ride. We chatted about the holidays and what to expect for the evening while the sleek car cruised through traffic. I felt like a fairy tale princess as our carriage pulled up in front of the glamorous hotel. There was a flurry of activity as the valet raced to open our doors. I watched Vince and Linda move out, and then I took Malone’s hand and followed them.

    The lavish hotel was beautifully decorated for the holidays. The ballroom was enormous. We were escorted to a cozy table for four near the center of the room. From here we could see the dance floor and the orchestra. But before dancing, there would be dinner. The Westin has a history of featuring some of the most renowned chefs in the area. I had no doubt they would have spared no expense to put together a scrumptious dinner.

    And I was right.

    The courses flowed smoothly, from appetizers, to soup, salads, and entrees. There were two wine buckets beside our table. One held a bottle of chardonnay for Linda and Vince. The other had sparkling white grape juice for Malone and me. Since I found out he’s an alcoholic, I haven’t had a drink of alcohol either. Although Malone said it doesn’t bother him to be with other people who drink, I decided I could do without it, too. We all opted to hold back on dessert, needing some time to let our gourmet meal settle. At one point between courses, Linda crooked a finger at me. We went to powder our noses.

    “Jay Kay, you could have told me Vince was going to be my date,” she said with a laugh. “I probably wouldn’t have objected.”

    “Are you kidding? I wanted to surprise you. He looks quite dapper in his tuxedo if you ask me. I even made sure he knew you were wearing red, so his tie would match.”

    “How did you ever con Doc Schulte into this?” she asked, leaning toward the mirror to touch up her lipstick.

    “There was no con. It took me all of a minute to tell him what I had in mind. He agreed immediately. He even insisted on paying Malone for the tickets. And I know for a fact he’s an excellent dancer.”

    Vince Schulte has been my doctor for the longest time. While he may not be as physically fit as Malone, he was nearly as tall, which would work well with Linda and her high heels when they got on the dance floor. I’ve always thought of him as a Dutch uncle. About once a month since I graduated from high school, we’d go out to the theater or for dinner. His presence has always been a good stabilizer for me.

    “Look, I know Vince isn’t as young as Malone, but with only three days to find you an appropriate date, I thought he was a good choice.”

    We turned away from the mirror, heading out of the crowded ladies room. Linda looped her arm through mine and leaned close to my ear. “Don’t worry, Jay Kay, he’s not that old.”

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Music this week comes from Don Henley.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Always Learning

I am quick to admit that I don’t know everything. Although I know a lot, there are some areas where I have absolutely zero expertise. That’s when research comes into play. With the wonders of technology, you can often find the answers to questions with a few clicks.  But that may not give you the complete picture.

Over the years I’ve met many people with unique backgrounds. There was a young woman at a writer’s conference who was a forensic scientist with the state police. Her specialty was paint chips. She could analyze the minute fragments from a hit and run auto accident and give you details on the make, model and year of the car involved.  She became a great resource for many of my bizarre questions. So talking with people about their occupations or their hobbies can help fill in background details for characters and their actions.  

Personality traits can be difficult. Sometimes you can get a glimpse into a person’s behavior just by observing them for a few minutes. 

Here’s an example from last week.  We attended a holiday hand bell concert at a local church. The pews were tightly packed as the performance began. Sitting beside me was a middle age woman obsessed with her smart phone. At one point she thrust both arms in the air to capture on video a couple of children dancing in the aisle. In her excitement, she nearly smacked me in the head.  As soon as the number was completed, she took to social media to tell all of the people in her world what she’d witnessed.  She spent so much time on her phone that she rarely looked up to enjoy the performance. And it was very distracting to everyone around her. 

I know absolutely nothing about this woman. But her annoying behavior bordered on obsession. Which no doubt will be included as a character trait in the future. 

Here’s an excerpt from “Your Turn to Die” that’s an example of the research.

In this scene, Chene stops in at the Cyber Unit to see what the crew has learned from analyzing the victim’s devices.

Yekovich led me down the hall to where his team of technicians were working. He stopped beside a skinny young woman whose platinum blonde hair was cut in ragged lengths and dyed several different colors. Her fingers were dancing across the keyboard like a concert pianist. I noticed a rainbow of colors on her nails. The cubicle was decorated with action figures and drawings of comic book heroes. 

“Pinky, this is Chene. He’s the lead on the Morrissey case.”

The fingers stopped their dance and she swiveled around to face me. “I heard of you. Nice to finally meet.”

“Thanks. I’m hoping you’ve uncovered some secrets.”

She thumped a silver polished nail on the counter. “Most of the files in the system are strictly business. Proposals, spreadsheets, income statements, that kind of stuff. I’m almost done with the first pass. Then I’ll go through it again, looking for anything that was recently deleted, rough drafts of documents, internet history and all that.”

“Anything worthwhile?”

Pinky shrugged. “It’s all good background. Financial figures reflect a profitable operation. Lots of promotional events with some video and still photos. No ghosts or shadows that look suspicious. But we have a long way to go. There are drives that were shared throughout the company and a couple of ones only Morrissey had access to. I’m going to focus on those today.”

“Was the system backed up internally on a server?”

Pinky flashed a quick smile. “Pretty good, Sarge. No, it was cloud based. I’ve already hacked his password. That’s on my list as well.”

Yekovich chimed in. “Anything on that email Kozlowski flagged?”

She shifted her eyes to him. “The numbers for the senders account appear to be a random jumble. But that could mean something to whoever created it. This looks like it was only used to send that one message.”

“Aren’t most email accounts linked to a phone number?” I asked.

“Yes, but chances are this one was tied to a disposable phone. It’s not active. Whatever details I can pull will be in the report.”

“What time was the message sent?”

Pinky swung back to her keyboard and clicked away. “It showed up in his email account at exactly nine in the morning.”

No other questions came to mind. I thanked Pinky and let her get back to work. Yekovich walked me outside.

“Don’t let appearances fool you, Chene. She’s one of the sharpest people I’ve got. Some kind of computer wizard.”

“How’s that?”

“Pinky taught herself how to write code when she was twelve. Started a business at fourteen designing websites. Got her degree in computer science from Lawrence Tech at sixteen and a Master’s degree by the time she hit eighteen. Like I said, she’s sharp.”

“So how did you land her? With that type of talent, she could name her price and work anywhere.”

Yekovich grinned. “Turns out she’s a mystery junkie. Loves the idea of using her computer skills to fight crime.”

“Yeah, I noticed the action figure theme.”

“A couple of the guys call her Batgirl. I think she encourages it.”

I drummed my fingers on the roof of the car. “Ask her to focus on that email account. There’s got to be something tangible in that message.”

“Will do. Good hunting, Chene.”

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 Music this week comes from Stevie Ray Vaughan