Sunday, June 17, 2018

Favorite Guests

Writing is a solitary pursuit. There may be plenty of interactions with other people, particularly when you’re doing research for part of a story. But when it comes down to it, writing is just you and the keyboard or the notepad. 

Different writers use different approaches. Some insist on total silence. Some will even go so far as to use noise-cancelling headphones. Others can write anywhere, at any time, no matter the distractions. For me, there has got to be music in the background. Not loud enough to sing along, but enough to keep me going.

While working on a story, it’s easy to imagine that one of my primary characters, like Jamie or Chene, is looking over my shoulder, like a favorite guest at a dinner party. I can envision my redheaded troublemaker prodding me in the ribs with an elbow, whispering, ‘yes, I’d take that attitude!’ while bobbing her head in agreement. 

Chene is more inclined to settle in, feet propped up on the edge of the desk, choosing the perfect moment to interject.So even though I’m the one at the computer, these favorite guests are right there with me.   

Yesterday while working on the revisions for “Your Turn to Die” the second book in the Chene series, I caught a few scenes where Chene momentarily stepped out of character.  But it worked well.  So I wrapped it up. Now it’s back in the hands of the editor. 

There’s a new Jamie Richmond mystery being released this week. “Stealing Haven” is part of a collection titled “Once Upon A Summer”.  You’ll find eight great stories here, perfect for vacation reading.  This is set before Jamie meets Malone. Here’s how the story begins.

I didn’t want to move. 

Moving would convince me I wasn’t asleep. The cool breeze caressing my bare skin was not the touch of some mysterious lover who appeared when the lights went out. He treated me like a princess, understanding how the slight nuzzle behind my knee had a very unladylike effect on me, how with just tiny encouragement, the little bits I wore would disappear in a heartbeat. How…

          “Jamie! We have to get moving,” a sultry voice said. “You’re going to sleep away the day. We could have stayed home and done that.”

          I waved a hand to push her away. Maybe the guy who’d been caressing my knee was still there. He was. I could tell by the wet tongue stroking my leg. I jerked awake and rolled over. Instantly, I was greeted by a mass of fur and several sloppy kisses. Satisfied, the dog moved away in pursuit of someone else to bother and I threw my arm up over my face.

          “Linda, can’t you control Logan?” My voice came out muffled.

          She flopped down beside me and tugged my arm down. “Of course, I can. He was simply following orders. We have miles of soft sandy beach out there, just waiting for us. Blue skies and enough wind to fill a sail. And who knows how many handsome men may be pining for us at this very moment?”

          I pried open both eyes to see if she was serious. She was. Then I took a good look at her. Part of me wanted to smack her, just because. She’d gotten the same four hours of sleep I had, yet, Linda could have stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Her luxurious dark curly hair was pulled back with a headband. The waves swept across her shoulders like gentle wings. Two weeks into June and she sported a bronzed tan I could never achieve. Her curvaceous body and shapely legs caused even sober men to stumble. But it was her angelic face that always closed the deal. She rarely wore makeup. She didn’t need it. 

Giving my head a shake to chase away the remnants of my dream, I realized she was already dressed for the beach in a modest red bikini with a white lacy blouse as a cover-up. Like that’d reduce the attention she’d draw.

          “Come on. We’re wasting sunshine.”

          “How long have you been awake?” I mumbled.

          “Fifteen minutes. The coffee should be ready.” There was no disguising the enthusiasm in her voice. “Get ready, or I’m tempted to leave you behind.”

          “I need more than coffee.”

          “There’s an adorable little bakery between here and the beach. I’ll buy you a muffin.”

          “What the hell.” I slid off the bed and trudged to the bathroom. 

God, she’s so annoying, at times. As gorgeous as a Hollywood icon and able to bounce out of bed ready to face the world with minimal effort, some days, I hated her. She gave the dog his daily praise, as I splashed cold water on my face and raked a comb through my red locks. In the background, I heard the screen door slam as the dog slipped outside. Shedding the camisole and panties I’d worn to bed, I stepped into a bright green bikini. From my bag in the room, I dug out a threadbare man’s dress shirt and slipped it on as a cover. Exiting the bedroom, Linda handed me a cardboard cup of coffee. Over one shoulder was a large straw bag filled with a beach towel, sunscreen, an extra pair of shorts, a floppy hat and a book. I had one just like it sitting beside the door. I grabbed mine as we walked outside. 

 Right now in Michigan it's hot and steamy. Perfect for this tune from the great Glenn Frey 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Looks Like

Yesterday I was at a festival in a small community. In between the occasional raindrops, I had the opportunity to talk with a number of people on a variety of topics. Somewhere along the way, two ladies heard that I’m an author. One became very excited and wanted to know more about my novels.

After chatting with her for a few minutes, her friend said, ‘you don’t look like a writer.”

As often happens, my mouth was responding before I had a chance to consider an appropriate reply. “Really?  So what does a writer look like?”

She became flustered. “Well, I don’t know. But certainly not like you!”

I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with many authors over the years. Top of my list was Elmore Leonard, whose crime novels and writing style were inspirational. Others, such as Don Levin and Stacey Rourke, may not be as well-known or as popular, but they are write engaging stories.


Not wanting to be cruel and make this poor lady more uncomfortable by challenging her to elaborate on her comments, I merely shrugged and moved along. But it got me thinking. Is there some stereotypical image of a writer? Authors are as different as people in any other profession. What we look like doesn’t matter. It’s all about the stories we create. The characters, plots, twists, conflicts and surprises are what keeps readers interested and begging for more. Who cares what we look like? So be forewarned, you just never know when you’re standing next to a writer.

Maybe that lady had something like this guy in mind. 

Here’s an excerpt from “Vanishing Act” the second book in the Jamie Richmond series.  In this scene, Jamie’s best friend Linda has discovered that she’s caught the attention of a stalker.

“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, 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 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 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.”

If I'm working, there's gotta be music. Rocking out of the stereo today is a classic from Aretha. She never fails to get my attention.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Great Feedback

Recently I received a notice from the great people at Wild Rose about a contest for mystery novels. Now, I’ve never been inclined to submit to such things, but after a discussion with my darling wife, who basically said ‘Why not?’ with a few colorful adjectives thrown in for good measure, I went for it.  

This ties in with a recent blog I wrote, encouraging others to submit their work for publication.  While it’s not exactly the same thing, as Pappy Cantrell would say, ‘close nuff!’

Last Friday I received an update on the competition. While “Why 319?” was not moving forward to the next round, I did receive some excellent feedback from the judges that was very helpful. 

You might wonder about that. But I knew going into this that there would be some serious competition.  Novels were judged on a number of categories, including the opening, pacing, characterization, dialogue and more.  Three judges would read the book. They could be authors, agents, editors or others in the publishing industry.  

So getting their comments and feedback is important. Because writing is something that can always be improved on. A little more description here. A little more attention to detail. Flesh out the characters. More conflict. More tension. This can all be utilized as I work on the next story. It’s something to keep in mind.  I take it as constructive criticism.

One judge wrapped up their comments with this thought.  

The story immediately drew me in and I had a difficult time doing anything other than reading the last few chapters. Fabulous job! I hope we meet one day...

Hey, when it’s all said and done, that’s not bad.

Here’s a little excerpt from “Why 319?”.  In this scene, Chene is having a quiet moment with Ted, the old saloon-keeper who befriended him years ago. 

I sat there for a while, listening to the rain, staring out at the lake, and slowly twirling the wine glass. I tried not to think about serial killers and young women ending up dead. It didn’t make it any easier that they were a trio of plain Janes. Watching Ted work the bar reminded me of the thousands of hours I’d been under his tutelage. I realized how much I missed it.

I was fifteen when we met. I’d been going into restaurants, having a meal, then sneaking out without paying the bill. I’d leave a paperback book or a newspaper on the table, as if I’d simply gone to the bathroom. It worked for weeks, until I walked into Sharkey’s. Ted caught me trying to slide out the door at the end of the lunch rush. He’d given me three choices. Pay up, work it off, or he’d call my parents. Rather than go into details, I opted to work it off.

Within a week, I came back twice more. Scrubbing dishes in exchange for a free meal led to a regular job. It was an arrangement we maintained all the way through high school and college. I ended up tending bar when I was old enough, then managed the place occasionally. I have no family. Although I thought of Ted as a surrogate father, he preferred the favorite uncle approach. I caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window as he slid onto the opposite bench.

“Tough case?” He brought a pot of coffee and two glass mugs. “It’s decaf. The last thing you need is caffeine at this hour.”

“Homicides. Young women.” I took a mug and sipped it. Ted was known to lace his coffee with Bailey’s Irish Cream. I wasn’t disappointed. It went down easy.

“Don’t know how you can do that, Jeff. Looking at innocent people who got killed, then trying to work backward to catch the bad guys.”

I shrugged. “It’s from all those mysteries I read when I was a kid. I figured if I could solve one of those, real crimes would be easy.”

“And is it?”

I gave him another shrug and stifled a yawn. The effects of the wine, the food, and the warm booze coffee were catching up to me. “Sometimes. Often with a homicide, we find out they are committed by someone the victim knows. Maybe it’s the result of a crime of passion, anger, money, or jealousy. You just never know what will tick somebody off. Push them over the edge.”

“Is this one like that?” He was leaning forward, his elbows propped on the table, palms cupping his chin. It’s the pose he takes when he’s concentrating, giving anyone else his full attention. Ted can block out the rest of the world that way.

I thought about it for a minute. “No, this one’s cold, calculating. Son of a bitch knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s deliberate. He’s…taunting.”

“Taunting? Like egging you on?”

“Uh huh. This guy is making it into a game. Sort of like, catch me if you can.”

Ted stared right through me. “You gonna catch him?”

“We’re sure as hell gonna try.”

While I was writing this, a classic from U2 came on the stereo.   This song always makes me think of this scene from the Tom Cruise movie "Knight and Day".  Here's the scene and the song.