Sunday, September 24, 2017


Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with Jerry and Bill, who were part of the writer’s workshop I used to facilitate. What began as a three-week seminar at my old job evolved into something far greater than anyone ever would have imagined. At the end of the third week, the dozen or so people who had faithfully attended each meeting barricaded the door.

“We can’t stop now. We want to keep going.”

Such feedback was a great reward. Arrangements were made and we decided to meet twice a month.  During the next two years, I watched the dynamics change occasionally, but a core group of people remained.  They all had stories to share. Each person brought their talents to the room. They’d read passages from their work, getting suggestions and encouragement from me and the others.  In some cases, I even gave them a homework assignment. Focus on dialogue, conflicts, character development, and settings were described.

It’s been about a year since I moved on to a new job. But the group continues to meet twice a month, a testament to their dedication. Periodically I get emails with updates. So when Jerry suggested getting together to grab a drink and some dinner, we made it happen.

Our conversation ran the gamut as we caught up. All three of us lead busy lives, but eke out some time each week to write. 

Bill’s nearing the end of his coming of age story.

 Jerry’s over 40,000 words into a mystery. 

And me…well, my main project at the moment is the sequel to Why 319. 

As we regaled each other with our current efforts, the feedback was flowing, right along with the laughter.

Writing is solitary work. Sure, you can interact with others, gathering information while doing research for part of the story. But bottom line, it’s just you and the keyboard or notebook, working away to tell your tale. The best feedback for a writer is when someone writes a review for one of your books. If they liked your characters and found the story engaging, that’s the reward for all of your hard work. 

Of course, sales are good too!

Here’s a little bit of feedback from “Devious”.  In this scene, Jamie and her step-father Bert, are enjoying a meal when he gives her feedback she wasn’t expecting.

He took me to Rocky’s, a great little tavern not far from the post.  The owner had previously been a top chef with a local chain of upscale seafood restaurants. He liked to experiment with unusual combinations. The special was lobster ravioli in a light cream sauce. It was accompanied by a mixed green salad including dried cherries and pecans. A small loaf of freshly baked cheesy garlic bread completed the feast. We both had the special and could hardly move after the meal.
“You eat this well all the time?” I asked.
“Hell no. I haven’t been here a dozen times in five years. But how often do I get to sneak away for lunch with a lovely young woman?”
“You feed me like this I’ll visit you for a meal every day.”
Bert sipped his coffee and nodded. “Yeah, and within two weeks, you’d be running for the border. Don’t kid yourself, Jamie Rae. You like that independence.”
I felt my cheeks flush. “What do you mean?”
“You know perfectly well what I mean. Since I’ve known you, it’s been only a matter of minutes before you wanted to be on your own. You’ve got a touch of your mother’s free spirit. That’s why you preferred freelancing. You can change your directions at a whim. There is nothing to tie you down.”
Silently, I considered his observation. I did like being on my own. There were no pets at the apartment, just a few plants for atmosphere. More often than not, two weeks went by before I remembered to water them.
“You think I really prefer being on my own?”
Bert gave me a muscular shrug. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m sure you’ve had your share of romantic relationships.  Maybe someday, you’ll find a guy you can tolerate who can tolerate you.”
“You’re starting to sound like a social worker with a twenty-two-inch neck.”
“I don’t get the chance to talk to you that often. I know it’s not easy to hear, but you might benefit from seeing things from my perspective.”
I lowered my gaze to the coffee cup. “Shut up, Bert.”
“Now there’s the Jamie I know and love. But don’t think I’m some kind of expert. The longest relationship I had was with your mother. That should tell you something.”
I didn’t comment while he paid the bill. Only as we were gathering our coats did I zing him back.
“I think what that tells me is that you’re a hopeless romantic. You fell in love one time with Vera and even though you’ve been divorced all these years, you still have feelings for her.”  I linked my arm with his.
“Now who’s the social worker?”
“You still love her.”
 It was his turn. “Shut up, Jamie,” he said with a playful smile on his face.
Bert walked me to my car.  The wind was gusting, yanking the last remaining leaves from the trees. The temperature had dropped dramatically. Soon winter would be upon us.  I leaned against Bert, stretching up to kiss his cheek. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“After high school and those teenage crushes, I’ve only loved three women my whole life. Not a lot, but enough for me. One was Elaine, my first wife.”
I nodded with the memory.  Bert kept a small portrait of her on his dresser, even when he’d been married to Vera. Elaine had died from an aneurysm. No warning at all. She was twenty-seven. One moment, she was walking down the aisle of the grocery store.  The next, she was dead.  “She was lovely. I remember her picture.”
He opened my door and waved me inside. “Still hurts sometimes, just thinking about her. Then there was Vera. And we all know where that went.”
Bert ducked his head inside my car and planted a kiss on my cheek. “Be good, Jamie.”  He pulled away and firmly closed my door.
He was almost to his car when I realized what he’d said. I drove across the parking lot and lowered my window. “You said three. Who else?”
“That’s you, Jamie Rae.”
Sometimes, I can be so dense.

On the drive out to meet the guys, this classic from Stevie Ray Vaughan came on the radio. It was the perfect tune after a long day at work.  Hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Setting the Mood

Years ago I discovered my own character trait. 

I cannot work in silence. 

Chances are it developed over the years, perhaps in rebellion to the nuns in Catholic school that ‘strongly encouraged’ us to remain quiet unless we were called up. Like that’s going to happen!

So when it comes to writing, I’ll turn on the stereo and crank up the music. Different genres of music can help me set the mood for whatever it is I’m working on. If there is a scene with a lot of action, something slow and gentle isn’t going to cut it. That works better for more descriptive, narrative passages. For action, it’s gotta be rock. Something that moves quickly. Think Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, George Thorogood, Robert Palmer, Chuck Berry. 

 Today I settled down to work on a scene for the sequel to “Why 319?”. What I had in mind was a little romantic activity between Chene and Simone, the young woman he met during the hunt for the serial killer. Often I’ll dial up something appropriate to help set the mood, anything from Sinatra, Motown or even a little jazz. At times I’ll even include the tune in my background as part of the scene itself.

When I cued up Pandora, the first selection that played was the great Marvin Gaye classic, “Let’s Get it On”.  That was just what I needed.

Here’s an excerpt from “Devious” that’s a perfect example of music setting the mood. In this scene, Jamie and Malone have recently started dating. She’s getting ready for him to stop by after work.

One night, last week, Malone had let slip that he had a soft spot for pink. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to see just how much of a softy he was. So in addition to my nails, I dug out some appropriate sleepwear. I don’t have a huge supply of slinky negligees. With the colder weather, I usually wear flannel pajamas. Not exactly the wardrobe of choice to spark romantic interest.  But I knew there was an item that would fit the bill tonight.

In the bottom of the drawer was just what I was looking for. Probably the most money I’ve ever spent on myself for something I’d only dreamed of wearing before. Actually, I’ve worn it twice, but never when I was expecting a visitor. It’s pure silk, in a very soft shade of pink, with thin spaghetti straps at the shoulders. It hugs my meager curves very nicely and stops about mid-thigh. It dips very low in the back, so if I’m feeling extremely naughty, I can always wear it backwards.  The gown comes with a matching wrap, the same shade of pink with a little black trim along the collar and the cuffs. The wrap drapes to my ankles. 

I wanted to get Malone’s attention from the moment he walked in the door. With that in mind, I searched the closet for a particular pair of shoes. They were black, with very high heels and open toes. I slipped them on and posed before the mirror. I sure hoped Malone had been taking his vitamins.

He was due any time now. I wanted no doubt in his mind what this evening had in store. The stereo was ready with a variety of discs, some soft sultry ballads by Diana Krall, James Taylor and light jazz instrumentals. There were candles lit, both in the living room and the bedroom.  I touched up my makeup, just lipstick and a little bit of blush. A quick spray of perfume and I was ready.

I was heading for the windows to see if I could spot his car, when the door opened. Malone stood there for a moment, not moving. I couldn’t see his eyes clearly. He was in that shadowy area, just inside the door and all the candles were behind me.  My heart did a little stutter. Was I coming on too strong?

“Hey, Jamie.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Hey, Malone.”  I wanted to pose for him in some seductive way, but I was frozen in place, halfway between my bedroom and the sofa.

He just stood there, staring at me. His head moved slowly. I could feel his eyes tracing their way down my body. A chill ran up my spine, but I still couldn’t move. Then I heard a clicking noise and realized he had managed to close and lock the door behind him. At last he moved.

“You are an incredibly beautiful woman.”

I blushed and lowered my eyes. “It’s just the gown.”

“Don’t do that.” His voice had taken on a thick, husky quality.

“Do what?”

“Downplay the compliment.” Malone reached out his right hand and took my left. Then he turned me and we started dancing slowly, moving in perfect sync to the music. I think it was Krall singing “The Way You Look Tonight”. “Just smile sweetly, say, ‘thank you’ and accept the fact that I believe you are an incredibly beautiful woman.”

I was having trouble finding my voice. “Thank you, kind sir.”

He twirled me around the apartment. It amazed me how well we moved together. With the heels, I was almost eye level with Malone. His right hand was now inside the wrap, resting lightly on my bare back just above the edge of the gown. “Do you have any idea how incredibly sexy this is? To come in that door and find you like this?”

“Do you have any idea how sexy you make me feel, Malone?”

He stopped moving at that moment and dipped me, just as the song ended. “I’ve never had that effect on any woman before. At least, not to my knowledge.”


“Yes, Jamie?”

“Are you going to kiss me?”

That killer smile crossed his face. “I thought you’d never ask.”

***In case you're interested, here's a duet by Krall and Tony Bennett of the song mentioned in the excerpt. ***