Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happy Holidays

‘Twas the week before Christmas. Snow covered so much of the Michigan landscape, it’s as if Mother Nature was thoroughly pissed off at humanity. Those brave of heart were facing the conditions head on, trudging through drifts and bitter winds in pursuit of that perfect, elusive holiday gift.  Others who lived for weather like this were reveling in this frozen Xanadu, bundled up against the elements, riding sleds and skis and snowmobiles.


At the moment I’m snug and warm inside, fingers dancing across the keyboard while instrumental jazz oozes from the speakers.  Holiday music?  I’ll save that for Christmas Eve.  

“Scrooge!” you retort with annoyance.

“Nah. Just writing.”  

For the first time in months, I’m working on a new manuscript. The sequel to “Why 319?” has been impatiently awaiting my return. Those characters are like several old friends, clustered around the table, drinks in hand, tales to be shared, just waiting for me to start the conversation.  And since the story takes place in June, holiday tunes don’t exactly help set the mood. As a writer, you gotta stick with what works.  For me, it’s jazz.

So no matter where you are, may your holidays be filled with love and laughter, shared with family and friends.

If you want a little bit of Christmas, here’s an excerpt from “Devious” that might fit the bill.

Christmas Eve Malone was scheduled to work a sixteen-hour shift. Some of the guys traded duty, to fit in with their family plans. Malone worked from noon until four the next morning. We would spend Christmas Day together, and he would go back on duty the following afternoon. It was tough, but I managed to wait for him to come home. He slipped into the apartment quietly and almost walked past me. I was curled up on the sofa, only my nose visible.
"Hey, Malone," I whispered.
He jumped. "Hey, Jamie."
Malone slid beside me and covered my face with kisses. After a while he sat up and started to unzip his jacket.
"Keep it on." I struggled out of the sofa.
"Because we're leaving, that's why."
"Where are we going?" His eyes were barely visible in the dim light from the window.
"It's a surprise. Trust me?"
There was a moment’s hesitation. “Mostly.”
Can you believe it? The guy was using my own line on me again. "Then shut up and follow me."
"There’s nothing quite like a demanding woman."
In the car I handed him a blindfold and wouldn't start the motor until he'd slipped it on. After a little grumbling, he did as I asked.
"Kidnapping is against the law."
"You're too old to be a kid. I’ll let you take the blindfold off soon, if you’re good."
He sat there patiently while I drove to the house. It was only a few miles away and traffic was nonexistent. A light dusting of snow had fallen earlier, making everything sparkle. I parked by the curb and helped him from the car. He held my arm gingerly and followed me up the walk and the two short steps to the front entrance. Inside I made him stand by the door and wait. Only after I lit the fire in the hearth and turned a couple of switches on did I let him take the blindfold off.
"What's going on?" Malone blinked as his eyes swept the room.
"Welcome home." I patted the sleeping bag beside me. I was sprawled on top of another one, clutching my long, wool winter coat around me. A queen-sized air mattress was beneath them, giving the nest a bed-like quality.
"It's my new place. I rented it last week."
"Room for two, Malone, if you're interested."
He stood there by the door, staring. I couldn't read his reaction from here and started getting nervous.
"Aren't you going to come in?" I pleaded. "Take the chill off, get cozy."
In front of the picture window was our tree, five feet of Blue Spruce, trimmed with little lights, ornaments and strings of popcorn. Outside I'd wrapped the railing in tinfoil and red ribbons. The fire was burning strongly, throwing heat toward the sleeping bag nest. Beneath the tree were a dozen packages for Malone.
"I don't know what to say, Jamie." He spoke so softly it hurt my ears.
"Don't say anything. Just haul your ass over here. "
He peeled off his jacket and came to me. I tried to convince myself I was trembling because of the cold but even I didn't believe it.
"Aren't you going to take your coat off? It's warm in here." Malone knelt beside me and took my face in his hands.
I shook my head. "You do it. First present on Christmas Day."

And if you really want Christmas music, here's a link to my favorite holiday song.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Finding Your Passion

During a conversation with a student the other day, she was struggling to come up with the right word to express how she felt about something. 

“I’ve been around horses my whole life,” she said. “I can’t remember a time without them. Everybody in my family grew up that way.  It makes sense for me to want a business with horses. I guess you’d say it’s my hobby.”

I shook my head. “Sounds like more than a hobby.”

“Yeah, but what is it?”

“I think it’s your passion.”

That response drew a big smile. “That’s exactly what it is!”

Finding your passion isn’t easy. Some people will try different things, whether it’s a series of jobs or activities.  At one point along the road, they might stop for a moment and say, ‘damn, I really like doing that’.  Others might recognize it quickly. And there’s no rule that says you can’t be passionate about more than one thing at a time.

I’ve got at least a couple. Writing is definitely one. Teaching is another. There are some characteristics that appear in both. I thoroughly enjoy writing a story, no matter the length, that will engage or entertain the reader. Part of my challenge has always been to create characters people can identify with. Maybe some of their actions or behaviors remind the reader of themselves or someone they know. I want them to get familiar with my people, to wonder what it would be like to perch alongside them at the bar and hoist a cocktail or two.

It took me a long time to realize my passion for writing. But once I made that connection, I have no intention of ever stopping.  Because like any passion, the more you do it, the better you become at it. Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, baking cookies or writing a great story.  So find you passion. And hold on tight.

Here’s an excerpt from “Vanishing Act” where Jamie’s best friend Linda realizes she’s become the target of a stalker.

Linda was a little unnerved when we went to work out. But the physical activity, the pounding music, the noise of the other women grunting and groaning through the moves helped to improve her mood. We bundled up afterwards and were headed for the car. The lot had been crowded when we’d arrived, so we had ended up parking at the far end. Talking quietly, trudging through the clumps of snow and ice, neither one of us heard him.

“It’s getting to the point where I just want to stay home,” she said quietly.

“You can’t hide, Linda. If you become a prisoner in your own home, then he wins. And you are much too strong a person to let that happen.”

She gave me a wan smile. “I know, Jamie, it’s just…”

“Hey!” a gruff voice snapped at us from only a couple of feet away.

Linda let out a shriek of surprise. She lost her footing on the ice and crashed to the pavement. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a blocky shape, hidden in the shadows beyond the reach of the overhead lights, gliding close to the back end of a parked car.  He took a menacing step forward, one hand clutching something tightly, and he was extending it towards us.

“Run!” I screamed at Linda for all I was worth.
“Hey,” he snapped again, still reaching for us. 

I took a step toward him and planted my left foot on one of the few dry patches of pavement. Then I swung my right foot as hard as I could, as if I was about to nail a fifty yard field goal to win the Super Bowl.  Without realizing it, I braced for the impact. To this day, I’d swear I was aiming for his crotch. But I missed.

Maybe the pavement wasn’t dry after all. Or maybe suddenly shifting my weight to make that kick caused me to lose my balance. Or maybe subconsciously I couldn’t really kick a guy in the balls. Or maybe he sensed what was happening and he took a step back.  I’ll never really know.

In my peripheral vision, I could see Linda scrambling to her feet, already racing toward her car, clicking the remote control to unlock the doors. My leg continued its arc and just before making contact, my left leg shot out from underneath me. 

My foot slammed into the bulky guy. I caught him square in the chest. With my body going horizontal, it must have looked like some kind of ninja move. Whatever it was, it was enough to take him off his feet and he went down with a thud. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like his head bounced off the pavement.

I landed on my side and scrambled immediately to my feet. I was crouched in a fighting stance, anger and adrenalin churning in my gut. The guy let out a low groan. He made no move to get up.

Suddenly lights flared around us. Linda had managed to start her car and pull it into the aisle. She laid on the horn, a long deep-throated wail that cut through the night. A few people who had been moving across the parking lot came running over.

Illuminated by the headlights, I looked down at the attacker. He was an older man, with a couple of day’s worth of stubble across his face. His left hand was pressed against his chest, roughly in the spot in which I’d kicked him. Slowly he raised his right hand in my direction as our eyes locked.  His voice made a throaty rasping noise as he spoke.

“She dropped her glove.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

One Man's Poison

Yesterday I was one of several authors attending an event at the local library. This was a chance to meet some readers, talk about our stories and the work that goes into them, and maybe, just maybe, sell a book or two.  After all, what better gift for the reader in your life than an autographed copy from what could become their new favorite author?

While the library had the best of intentions, we didn’t draw as many readers as we’d hoped. That goes with the territory. Sometimes you get a steady stream of people stopping by to chat. Other times, you end up networking with the other authors.  Either way, it can be a good way to spend a few hours.

I sold a few books, which is always good. And I got to talk shop with some of the others.  At one point, three of us were gathered around a table.  Turns out I was the only one who writes fiction.  “I can’t do that” one author admitted. “I have to stay with non-fiction.”

Explaining that I’ve always been drawn to fiction, both as a writer and a reader earned me a smirk and a stare.  So I elaborated.

“I write to entertain. To tell a story. My books are all character driven. It’s these characters that people might identify with, because they see similarities in themselves or in people they know.”
That was treated with another smirk. Maybe she didn’t believe me. Maybe she thought I was just making it up. After all, that’s what fiction is. Making up the characters and seeing where they take me. And I don't plot out every move in advance. That has never worked for me.

Fortunately, the conversation turned in another direction and I drifted away. But it got me thinking.  We’re all different. We can’t all be expected to like the same things. That’s part of life. I like to read and write fiction. She didn’t. But like they say, ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’.

It could have been worse. She could have wanted to talk about poetry.