Sunday, January 29, 2017


With any good mystery, ya gotta have a villain. At least one. Sometimes you can have a group, but often there is one who is the epitome of cruel, the ultimate bad guy that every reader wants to see get his due, in some form or another. We all like stories where good conquers evil. That’s natural.

As a writer, it’s always a challenge to create a villain that’s a little different. One who in other circumstances, may be a guy you cheer for. It’s not easy. Often the first draft has a villain who not even his own mother could love.  In some stories, that’s a good place to start. But every once in a while, I strive to make my villain a little bit different, someone with a touch of class, a bit more awareness, a bit more intelligence than normal.

In my research, I'll dig into real life criminals, to get a sense of what drives them. News articles often have details that can provide excellent background.  Not every criminal comes from a broken home or has had to struggle through life to get what they want.  It's my job to find out what motivates all of my characters, including the bad guys.

One of my favorite cinematic villains of all time was Alan Rickman’s character Hans Gruber in “Die Hard”.  This was a very cunning, intelligent man whose meticulous plans were designed to be carried out without wrinkling his expensive European suit. That is, until Bruce Willis shows up to disrupt everything.  So in some respects, I’ve always want to incorporate some of those traits in my villains.

Here’s an example of a villain from “Fleeing Beauty”.  In this scene Jamie and her mother Vera comes face to face with the person behind the theft of her late father’s sculpture.

There was a double tap at the conference room door.  Two burly men in jeans, boots, and work shirts marched into the room. One held a shotgun with a pistol grip, the barrel dangling alongside his leg. The other held a small revolver is his right hand. Behind them marched a slender man with an olive complexion and a neatly trimmed mustache. He was wearing a business suit with a white shirt, the collar undone.  
 "I am Anton Tancredi.”
The name meant nothing to me. My face must have told him as much.
“But that is not important. I’m afraid you’ve disrupted my plans.” He glanced at the others. “We’ll have to speed up the timetable.” 
A thousand questions raced through my mind, but I was too numb to sort them. I took a tentative step toward Vera. No one tried to stop me. I bent down next to her.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded. “I’m scared, Jamie. What is all this about?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, but I think you do know,” Tancredi said. He tapped revolver guy on the shoulder. “Put that away. Go to the shop and get the truck.”
“Tanc, you can’t be serious! You said we were gonna wait until after midnight.”
“Paulie, there are always contingency plans. Besides, it will be less suspicious if we’re out in broad daylight. So many people will be celebrating the weekend, a stray truck here or there will hardly be noticed. George and I will be just fine. Have Skeech come with you. We’ll meet you at the loading doors in an hour.”
Paulie hesitated for a moment. He shrugged and went out the conference room door.
Tancredi smiled at me. “I’ve heard about you. The quick tempered redhead.  You’ve certainly been a complication to my plans. But I enjoy a challenge.”

Here's a link to a one of my favorite scenes from "Die Hard".  Enjoy!


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Every Picture

There’s an old rock and roll classic “Every Picture Tells a Story” that always resonates with me.
Sometimes it’s a simple picture that will jolt me.   

At the strangest times, that image will float back to the surface of my memory.  I can almost see it beckoning to me as if to say ‘You just have to incorporate this into your next piece’.  

Like last week at the grocery store where I witnessed a little old lady ‘accidentally on purpose’ ram her cart into that of a gentleman shopper.  Maybe that’s a pick-up method for the septuagenarian group. There was a spark in her eye every time she did it. I made it a point to steer clear.

One of the many challenges for a writer is to paint a vivid picture with words that will help the reader ‘see’ what’s going on in the story. It’s not easy to do. But sometimes, it all comes together.  And sometimes when you're working with the artist for the cover of your novel, everything works.  I've had many compliments on the cover of "Fleeing Beauty".   It has a tendency to draw the reader in. 

Here’s an example from “Fleeing Beauty” that worked well.  In this scene Jamie and her friends are unpacking one of the crates of sculptures that was found in her late father’s storeroom, more than twenty years after his death. Hope you enjoy it.

I watched from behind the video camera as Malone and Ian pulled the burlap off the sculpture.  This one was a marble titled Fleeing Beauty.  It was the body of 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 as she ran. 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 with the other camera.
“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.
Ian ducked back into the studio. The three of us were now leaning against the worktable that held the laptop computer. None of us could take our eyes off the sculpture.  After almost two weeks of doing this, I thought I was becoming accustomed to unveiling these incredible works of art. But this one stopped me in my tracks. And it wasn’t just me.  Linda and Malone were staring at it as well.
“He used a model,” Ian said, holding up the file.
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 the photographs he must have used a fan to blow her hair back from her face. She had bottle green eyes that were very expressive.
“She’s a doll,” Ian said softly.
“I wonder who she was,” Linda said.
Pushing the pictures toward Malone, I started flipping through the other papers in the file. There were sketches and notes in Peter’s now familiar handwriting.  Across the top of one page was a name. Meredith Bell. I showed it to Malone.  He turned over one of the pictures and pointed. The same name was written across the back.
“Jamie, I think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Linda said softly.
“You’ll get no argument from me.”

And now that I can't stop hearing that song, here it is.

Sunday, January 15, 2017



I’m always making lists.  Sometimes its story ideas, or scenes I want to work on. Other times it’s related to work or teaching or even a run to the grocery store. I don’t always follow the lists and get exactly what’s on there, but they can be a form of guidelines. Or a nudge in the right direction.

Recently I picked up a copy of “Broken Prey” by John Sandford. He always has a way of creating the kind of characters that you’d feel comfortable dropping in on for a cold beer or three. A subplot in this story has his protagonist, Lucas Davenport, trying to create the top 100 rock and roll songs of all time to load on a IPod his wife gave him.  Throughout the story, various characters bombard him with their recommendations.   

Since I’m always listening to music, especially when I write, that’s the kind of list I can relate to.

Here's a link to Sandford’s number one rock and roll traveling song. 

Winter is definitely upon us.  Thoughts of freezing temperatures, icy conditions, and blizzards are part of every conversation. Which got me thinking about “Vanishing Act” which takes place in the dead of winter.  Jamie’s best friend Linda has caught the attention of a stalker.  Here’s an excerpt I hope you enjoy.

Talking quietly, trudging through the clumps of snow and ice, neither one of us heard him at first.
“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 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 foot shot out from underneath me.
My right 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 adrenaline churning in my gut. The guy let out a low groan. He made no move to get up.
Suddenly lights flared around us. Linda managed to start her car and pull it into the aisle. She lay 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 days’ 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.”