Sunday, May 28, 2017

Pride and Joy

Last week I received the advance copies of “Why 319?”.  It’s really something special to hold in your hand a book that you created, after countless hours of writing, editing, reviewing and more editing.
When discussing this with a colleague at work, she said, “it must be like holding your child for the first time.”

“Close,” I said, “but it’s just a book.”

I’m a fortunate guy. And while life has thrown me a few curves and some ups and downs over the years, I’ve had the love of my life beside me for a long time. She still laughs at my jokes and tolerates my crazy ideas.  But the icing on life’s cake has been my sons, Travis and Cameron. They are as different as night is to day, but they are definitely brothers. 

Some of their antics growing up have appeared in scenes in various books and stories. They’re just too good to pass up. They are grown now, living their own lives. But no matter where life takes them they are always on my mind.

I still remember the first time I held them. So when my colleague made the comparison to holding a print copy of my book, it brought those memories up fast.

“Close, but it’s just a book.”

And in case they didn’t already know it, here’s the dedication for the book.

“For Travis and Cameron, my pride and joy.”

While the great blues song has a different take, I always think of them whenever I hear it. 

Here’s an excerpt from “Why 319?” which is officially released on May 31. In this scene, Chene and Megan McDonald are approaching a suspect’s home when things go awry.

It was reflex, plain and simple.

My mind must have registered the movement an instant before the window disintegrated. I don’t remember doing it, but I wrapped an arm around Megan’s waist and dove to the left, pulling her off the stoop. My shoulders hit the driveway. Her head snapped back, catching me on the chin. The back of my head kissed the pavement, and I saw stars. She slid off me and banged her head on the driveway.

She rolled left, aiming her weapon and rising to her feet in one smooth motion. Movement in the street caught my attention. One of the troopers who had been on the surveillance assignment had moved to the sidewalk, directly in front of the picture window to back us up. I saw his legs go out from under him, and he clutched at his thigh. His partner rushed over, used a parked car as a shield, and dragged him back. In the distance, I could hear sirens. Somebody must have called it in. This whole thing made no sense. We had a warrant to search the place, and we were going to bring him in for questioning. What triggered this attack? I swung my gaze back from the street.

“What the fuck?” Megan’s face was filled with rage.

Before I could respond, we heard gunfire coming from the rear of the house. Myers must have company, or he’d been waiting for us.

“Front door?” Megan hooked a thumb at the stoop.

       “Damn right.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017


“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Robert Frost from The Death of the Hired Man. 

Everybody’s from somewhere.  Some of us are from big metropolitan areas, others from rural villages and towns. I’m not saying one is better than the other.  As a city dweller, I’m more comfortable with concrete and blacktop than with cows and corn. That’s my preference for where I live. It also has an impact on my stories.

Setting can play as important a role in a story as a character can.  Imagine Spiderman residing in a small rural town in Kansas, rather than the skyscraper filled Manhattan. What in the world would he swing from?

My novels are primarily set in the metro Detroit area, where I lived for many years. I know that territory so well, that I can still find my way around the various freeways and highways without breaking out a map or God forbid, a GPS device. But it’s not enough to know the roads. You need to know the stores, the classy restaurants and the dives, along with the numerous great bars.  It’s my goal to include some real establishments in my tales, so those who live there or are familiar with the area, might recognize them. It builds a connection with the reader. And you never know where that little connection might lead.

Here’s an example from “Fleeing Beauty” where Malone, Jamie and her step-father Bert, have just left a meeting with the lawyers handling her father’s estate.

     Although Bert had taken the day off, Malone was still scheduled for duty at three.  Bert took us for a late lunch at the Elwood Bar and Grille. Directly across the street is Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play. When the new stadium was being constructed, the bar had been uprooted and moved to this new premiere spot.  After ordering, Bert leaned back in his chair and looked at me for a moment without speaking.
     “What?” I asked.
     “Do you want to tell me your plan? Not that I have any doubt in my mind you can do it, but I am sort of curious.”
     “Peter Richmond has been a mystery to me for most of my life. Vera did very little to keep his memory alive. This is an opportunity for me to find out more about him. And I couldn’t stand the idea of a bunch of strangers, who have no idea what they’re looking at, tearing open those crates and drooling over his art.”
     The intensity of my response surprised all of us, including me. Bert folded his hands on the table. Malone chose that moment to take a sip of his coffee.
     “Well, if it was up to me,” Bert said, “I’d start with a whole bunch of dust mops.”
     “Shop vacuums will be one of my first purchases. I’m thinking two, along with some brooms and a few tools.”
     Malone nodded sagely. “I’ll help you pick out some tools. A good heavy cleaning will be necessary before you do anything else. Are you thinking about putting Ian to work?”
     “He is definitely on my short list of candidates.”
     Bert knew all about Ian MacKinnon. He was just finishing his freshman year of high school and as fate would have it, he went to the same Northville high school where Linda taught. His father, Asa, was an old friend of Malone’s who was killed in a car accident last August. Malone was an unofficial big brother to the kid and he spent a few nights a week at our house. I knew that by the end of the week, Ian would be out of school for the summer.
     “Do you think his mother would mind if I hired him?”
     Malone shook his head. “She’ll be happy to get him out of the house. But you’ll need to work around his practice schedule. And they may have a couple of tournaments in early July. But I don’t think that will be a problem.”
     Our food arrived, mushroom cheeseburgers for me and Malone, a bacon blue cheese burger for Bert. Conversation faded as we ate, but my mind kept spinning about the possibilities that I might find in those crates.  I glanced down at my purse, where the keys to the building were buried under a copy of my father’s will. Was all this really happening?

 By the way, if you're a fan of rock and roll,  NPR Music just released this great music video. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Know Your Audience

One of most important lessons I learned years ago in a creative writing class was to know your audience.  You have to know who you’re writing your stories for in order to connect with them.  I remember one old fellow in a writer’s workshop who wanted to write children’s books for 3 and 4 years old. But his stories were overloaded with technical jargon that would have left the youngsters running out the door. Despite suggestions from others, he really missed the point.

This was brought to mind the other day at work. A couple of college interns were in the office with me and the IT guru, who were discussing some new equipment. We kicked around ideas about securing the remote control devices. After we came to a decision, I said “That will keep me from imitating Columbo to track them down.”  The guru agreed with a laugh. The two interns greeted me with puzzled expressions.

“You guys have heard of Columbo haven’t you?”  I asked.

The both shook their heads. I explained about the popular television series, the rumpled raincoat, the quirky mannerisms, the modern day Sherlock Holmes character portrayed by the great Peter Falk.  Still blank expressions. I mentioned the same actor had played the grandfather in The Princess Bride.  One intern perked up at this but the other was clueless. Watching that movie became a homework assignment.

So knowing your audience came back to mind. References to music, movies, actors and comics have to been in the proper context.  Otherwise, the audience may not have a clue what you’re talking about.  If they’re engaged in the story, they may take the trouble of looking it up.  If not, they could just as easily stop reading and move on to something else.

Just in case you're curious, here's a clip from the old Columbo series.  Falk was nominated several times for awards and won the Emmy twice for playing Columbo.  He also starred in a number of great Hollywood films during his lengthy career.