Sunday, April 29, 2018

Ain't Nuthin' But a Number

I’m a music fan. Whether it’s classic rock, blues, jazz, swing or big bands, I enjoy a variety of genres.  And that variety often comes into play with my writing. I’ve been known to dial up a certain type of music to help set the mood for a scene.  Something slow and romantic like Sinatra, Van Morrison or Diana Krall can fit the bill when passion is in the works. For action, it’s more likely something with a driving rhythm will be blasting from the speakers.

Hey, whatever works.

There’s a scene in the upcoming “Your Turn to Die” that’s a perfect example. Chene and Simone are having a quiet moment, where he’s telling a story from his past.  During the conversation, Chene makes the comment ‘I am so going to hell’ in reference to his behavior at the time.

When I was writing that segment, a heavy metal classic by AC/DC was on the air. Some people are surprised to learn that I’m still a big fan of rock music.  I merely shrug and respond in the voice of Pappy Cantrell: ‘age ain’t nuthin but a number’. Usually I remind them that The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and many other rock and roll giants who are all qualified for their AARP cards are still performing today. 

To prove that point, here’s a little video that crossed my radar today.  Just remember, you can’t tell a book by the cover.

With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from “Fleeing Beauty”.  In this scene, Jamie, -her mother Vera and her step-father Bert, are at the studio when one of the art experts arrives to appraise the collection of her late father’s sculptures.

“This is Nicholas Cullen.”

 I remembered the background on Cullen. He seemed too young to be an art expert. Actually he looked more like a surfer. He was tall and lanky, with bleached out hair that swept over the collar of his suit. There was several days’ stubble on his cheeks and chin. Or maybe he only shaved once a month, whether he needed to or not. According to the biography, Cullen was from California. He currently represented two museums and a number of galleries along the Pacific Coast. What surprised me was when he saw Vera. 

“Vee, darling, it has been ages!” 

“Nicky, is that you? I had no idea you were going to be here.” 

Bert appeared beside me. Together we watched Vera and Cullen give faux hugs and kisses and chatter away about socialites they had in common. Eventually he took a portfolio and clutching Vera’s elbow, went to view the collection. 

“How could she not realize this guy was going to be here?” I muttered to Bert. 

“You don’t think she really read any of that background do you? Vera trusts Banning to do the dirty work. She also knew that you and I were going to be here. There was no reason for her to do any heavy lifting.” 

“I’m glad we did. And I’m also glad you’re here, Bert. Even if this feels uncomfortable for you. Your opinion means a lot to me.” 

He winked at me. “Actually, Vera asked me to be here too. I don’t know what her reasons were, but I let her believe I was doing it as a favor.” 

“You didn’t mention that I asked you too?” 

“What, and pass up having Vera owe me?”

 I looked at him closely. “You rat. She came in yesterday. You had another booty call.” 

Bert looked away and adjusted his tie. “I refuse to comment. And what your mother and I did or didn’t do in the privacy of her hotel suite is none of your business.” 

“I don’t believe you for a minute,” I said, biting back a laugh. 

“Just don’t ask me to explain the location of certain rug burns.” 

“Are those on you, or on Vera?” 

He winked at me again. “Yes.” 

“Whatever. I just hope she doesn’t have to pay for the damages.”

Here's a shot of what Bert and Vera might look like.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

You Never Can Tell

Last week I heard from a couple of people with the writer’s workshop. Turns out that Peg and Annette had collaborated on a poem while on vacation.  During their trip, they happened to hear a local band playing.  Somewhere along the line, they connected with members of the band, who decided to use their poem as lyrics for a song they were writing.

This pair has taken my advice to heart and continue to submit their efforts for publication.  While I must confess to having absolutely no expertise in poetry, their short stories have always been a treat.
I recall a session with the group when someone was reluctant to submit their work. After comments went around the room, they all looked at me. 

“Why not?  Be smart about it. Look at the guidelines for the contest, if that’s what it is, or the magazine or publisher’s requirements. You write because you have stories to share with others. If your material sounds like it would be a good fit, why not submit it?”

“But what if it’s rejected?” someone asked.

“That could happen. Just remember what hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said. ‘I miss 100 percent of the shots I don’t take.’  So take the shot.  Because you never can tell when where it might lead. You never can tell.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared an excerpt from Chene.  The sequel has been accepted for publication and I’m waiting to get the editing process started.  With luck that will begin next month.  Meanwhile, I’m doing some research on the next book for the series.  

So here’s a scene from “Why 319?”.  Chene and Megan McDonald are back at the scene of a deadly shooting, searching for clues.

The kitchen was a mess. Blood smears covered the floor where Myers had been gunned down simultaneously by me and Laura. The walls were splattered too. We stood in the doorway and surveyed the room.

Megan clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Why is it we always end up in a place like this when I’m wearing a new pair of boots?”

I glanced down at her feet. These were bright red ones, with a rounded toe and a short heel. It was difficult to determine how far up her leg the boot went.

“How the hell can you run in something like that?”

“I’m a woman. I can adapt to any situation and do it with style.”

With a disgusted smirk, I turned my attention back to the room. There was a cheap table pushed against the wall, an old drop-leaf thing that had seen better days in the 1960s. Two padded vinyl chairs flanked it. There was the usual kitchen clutter, salt and pepper shakers, a sugar bowl, and a small bottle propped against the wall. There was also a stack of magazines and mail scattered across the surface. I pointed those out to Megan. She picked her way across the room, taking great pains in where she placed her feet.

I focused on the cupboards above the sink and counter. There was a jumble of mismatched glasses and plates, along with souvenir coffee mugs from various casinos and restaurants. It was obvious Myers didn’t care much about the furnishings of his kitchen. I was about to close the last cupboard when something caught my eye. Up near the very top of the door, close to the hinge, was a small round hole. The hinge was too high up for me to see it clearly.

“Find anything good?” I asked Megan.

“A couple of old newspapers, the kind filled with coupons. His bills for the internet service and cable, along with his cell phone bill. There is a magazine about weapons that looks like he bought it somewhere.”

“Hand me one of those chairs.”

Her eyes flicked to the open cupboard. Megan grabbed the closest chair, then swung it to where I could take it from her without disrupting the mess on the floor.

“This guy was a slob. He couldn’t even put shelf paper in the cupboards,” Megan said with disgust.

“Men don’t bother with shelf paper.”

“Yet another piece of evidence that proves women are superior.”

“Can you see anything odd from there?” I stepped onto the chair.

“Just the usual stack of dishes.”

I took a good look inside the cabinet. Mounted high up against the back wall was a small video camera. It was aimed so that when the cupboard door was closed, it would be able to film through the hole by the hinge. My guess was that it would easily take in the occupants of the little table. If the camera had a wide angle lens, it might capture everything within the kitchen. Glancing over to Megan, I described what I had found.

“But you knew yesterday he had security cameras on motion detectors.” There was a touch of curiosity in her voice. “You told me about those this morning.”

Before our summit with Cantrell, I met with Anton Yekovich, the lead technician of the cyber squad. I gave him a set of photos of our three victims, in the hopes that we would see them entering the house. His team had already begun the slow process of analyzing the hundreds of hours of video files.

“Yes, but those were all focused on the exterior of the house and were fed into the laptop computer. But we didn’t know about this one. And if there’s one…”

“…there have got to be others. The question is where do they feed into?”

I stepped down from the chair, narrowly missing a sticky patch of blood spatter on the floor. Megan followed me into the hallway.

“Give Yekovich a call. See if they have discovered any video footage on that laptop for the inside of the house. We’ll check the other rooms for more cameras.”

Okay, so I’ll admit today’s title came from the song. But you can’t do much better than the great Chuck Berry. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Other Part of the Story

When I’m working on a project, there are always little distractions from the main action that crop up in my imagination. Sometimes these bits and pieces work out well. These are the subplots.  They are everywhere. 

For example, watch any episode of a popular television show, like NCIS. While the main story is usually catching the bad guys, there are often one or two little side stories that are a counterpoint to the primary story. It could be about dating or marital problems, looking for a new apartment, family issues or the latest project Gibbs is working on in the basement. It adds more depth and dimension to the characters. Somehow, it all ties together.

Since I don’t work with an outline, I usually draw these ideas from everyday life. Something I may have witnessed or been a part of can weave its way into a subplot. Like this recent conversation with my darling wife.

‘I’m really achy today,’ she said.

“Did you try aspirin or Tylenol?” I asked.

She shook her head. Suggestions of ice or heat were waved off. 

“How about tequila?”

Her face lit up. “And prune juice!”

“What the hell is that? A senior’s version of a Margarita? A Seniorita?”

Laughter ensued.  After which she pointed a finger at me. “That’s goes into the next book.”

You get the idea.

Here’s an example of a subplot from “Fleeing Beauty”.  In this scene, Jamie is talking with Ian, the 15-year-old boy who has become an unofficial kid brother to Malone.  Ian has been working with Jamie on the project, unpacking all the artwork that was found in her late father’s storeroom.

The desk and the cabinets were locked up tight. I boosted myself up on the worktable, letting my legs dangle. Ian finished zipping up the camera bag and looked at me. I patted the spot beside me. With the grace of a natural athlete, he swung up and landed lightly beside me. 

          “Do you want to talk about it?” 

He gazed at me for a moment before lowering his eyes to the floor. “It’s no big deal.” 

“I think it is a big deal. You obviously are very talented. Why hide it?”

 He gave me the teenager’s answer to everything, a shrug of the shoulders. I poked him with an elbow. “Talk to me, Ian. There’s no one else here.” 

“It was my dad. He always teased me about drawing. He said I’d have more luck making it in baseball than I would with art.” I took a moment to digest that. It was almost a year since the accident that had taken his dad so abruptly from his life. There was no way I wanted to harm the memories of his father. 

 “From what you and Malone have told me, your dad was a great guy. His whole life was wrapped around his family.” 

Ian knuckled a tear away. “Yeah, he was always encouraging us, cheering us on at games, taking us on trips and picnics, making us all laugh.” 

“Do you think people change?” 

“I dunno.” 

“Don’t you think you’ve changed, even in the last six months?” 

He considered it. I got another shrug. 

“Ian, since we’ve met, I know you’ve changed. You are growing, both physically and intellectually. And you’re probably growing emotionally as well.” 

“I dunno,” he repeated. 

I put an arm around his shoulders. “If you had met Brittany six months ago, would you have been comfortable talking to her. Or kissing her?”

 He brought his head up. A grin began to touch the corners of his mouth. “No way could I have kissed her.” 

“See, you have changed. I’ll bet if your dad was around and saw how you’ve grown, he wouldn’t tease you about your artistic talent. There are a lot of career possibilities for someone with an art background. Besides, nobody says you can’t play baseball and be an artist.” I gave his shoulders a squeeze. “And I’ll bet your father would be proud of the young man you’re becoming.” 

“Thanks, Jamie. It’s just so hard sometimes. I think about something that happened during the day and want to rush home to tell him. For a minute, I forget that he’s gone.” 

“I understand.” I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. 

“I just really miss my dad.” 

I nodded, the words sticking in my throat. Ian turned and wrapped his arms around me and started to cry. I hugged him tightly. “I miss mine too.” We sat there on the worktable, letting the tears flow, surrounded by this room of artistic wonders. Nothing else mattered.

This week's musical interlude comes from Eric Clapton.  Enjoy!