Sunday, July 29, 2018

Little Steps

One of the many challenges authors face, beyond writing captivating and entertaining stories, is the book’s cover. It needs to be eye-catching, something that will make potential readers stop in their tracks and say, ‘Wow, check this out!’ or words to that effect.  As a reader, I know this has resulted in the purchase of many books over the years, often leading to the discovery of some very talented writers.

Sometimes what I have in mind for the cover doesn’t translate well for the artist or the publishing house.  There may be conflicts with models or stock photos or areas that I have absolutely no experience with.  One rendering for a Jamie Richmond mystery had a close-up of a redhead woman’s face, with a gun pressed to her temple and a hand clamped over her mouth. It was unsettling and did not correlate with any segment of the story line.  I vetoed that one in a heartbeat.

So I was pleased this week to get the final approval on the cover for “Your Turn to Die” the second Jefferson Chene mystery. We don’t have a release date yet, but this is a little step in the right direction. 

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

It was supposed to be a friendly round of paintball. But blood, not paint, covers Kyle Morrissey’s body. Though admired by the public for his charity, the businessman was no choirboy. 

Could it be that more than one person want him dead? 

Sergeant Jefferson Chene and his detective squad catch the case. With two new faces on the team, he finds himself in the unfamiliar role as mentor. He is also cautiously beginning a relationship with Simone Bettencourt, the beautiful woman he met while pursuing a serial murderer. Complicating the case are two retired gangsters, a fortune in jewels, and Detroit’s history of organized crime. But the squad must utilize every resource available to catch a killer.


Here’s a little bit from the first Chene mystery.  In this scene, Chene and Pappy are meeting to discuss the latest homicide and their plans.

Captain Prescott “Pappy” Cantrell was in his office when I arrived. The fluorescent lights were off, but the brass floor lamp in the corner was lit. Behind him, a window was always cracked open, no matter what the weather. Despite the state law banning smoking in public buildings, Cantrell continued to light up whenever the mood struck. As a chain smoker, he was perpetually in that mood.

He was tipped back in his chair, gangly legs crossed at the ankle. The bottom drawer of his desk was open, allowing just enough space to prop his feet. In faded khakis and a blue checked shirt, Cantrell looked nothing like the stereotypical police captain. Maybe that was part of the reason he was so successful.

Taking a seat on the other side of the desk, I waited for him to start.

“Crime scene look the same?”

I nodded. “From the photos we viewed last week, it looks identical. No signs of a fight. No struggle. The victim was on her back. No splatters. No bruising. The girl was spread-eagled. It was like she’d been posed, as if she was waiting for her lover to arrive. For all intents, she could have been asleep.”

“Same message?” Cantrell worked a pen across the back of his knuckles. This was an old habit. He claimed it helped him concentrate.

“Yeah. Didn’t measure it, but I’m sure Fen will include that in his report. Lipstick will probably be the victim’s.”

“Y’all got a name?”

“Janet Calder. She drove a four-year-old Honda. We found it in the saloon parking lot next door. She checked in after six. Room had been reserved with her Visa card.”

“What else ya got?”

I checked my notebook. Koz called while I was on the way back with more details. We had yet to find her purse or wallet, but he’d pulled the information from the driver’s license when the Bloomfield cops brought the copies.

“She was twenty-five. License shows her at five foot three, with green eyes. She was tiny. Nails polished, some makeup, but not overdone. She fit the profile of the other victims.”


“None at the scene just like the other two. The killer strips them down to nothing. Think he keeps the wardrobe as mementos.”


I shook my head. “Her ears were pierced. She had two holes in the right lobe and three in the left. But she wasn’t wearing earrings. There were indentations on her right hand, fourth and fifth finger, that were probably rings. It looked like thin bands that would have been more evident in the summer time if she was tanned.”

“Family notified?”

“Not yet. Koz will call me when he’s leaving the motel. We’ll meet up at the address on the license. I think it’s an apartment building. The car registration has a different address. That could be her parents.”

Cantrell paused to light a fresh smoke. “Tell the giant to give y’all the details. Ah pulled Megan off the chop shop surveillance. Take her with ya.”

I hesitated, trying to follow the logic. “You got something against Koz?”

“You two can look about as copasetic and unnerstandin’ as two linemen going after a quarterback’s fumble in overtime. It won’t hurt to have a woman there.”

I chewed on that for a moment. “You’re pulling in the whole squad, Pappy?”

By tilting his head back, Cantrell was able to blow a plume of smoke directly at the opening of the window. Like an ancient signal, it drifted quickly through the screen. “Yep. We got the green light. It comes all the way from the capital.”

Our involvement in this case was a fluke. Normally, we only get a case when it crosses into multiple jurisdictions, at the invitation of a city when their own investigation has stalled, or when we get orders from the governor. Our cases tend to be complicated.

 “So Laura and Barksdale?”

“Ah put out the calls. They’ll join Kozlowski at the scene. Megan’s on her way. Y’all notify the family, then we’ll caucus.”

“You decide how we should handle the investigation?”

“Ah’m working on it. Y’all better clear your social calendar. Ah think we’re going to be very busy for the next few weeks.”

I slumped lower in my chair. “Or longer.”

On the jukebox today was a classic from the Rolling Stones.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Everybody Sells

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an arts festival in Muskegon, a beautiful city on the shores of Lake Michigan. This was my second year participating in the event, and if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll gladly do it again next year.

There were about twenty authors in our group. In addition to a few mystery writers, there were authors who specialize in young adult stories, science fiction, fantasy, history and children’s books. Since we were all grouped together in a couple of sizeable tents, I had the chance to browse the efforts of my colleagues.

Near the end of the first day, one writer was making the rounds, asking people how they were doing. He seemed surprised to learn that several of us had already sold quite a few books. With a perplexed expression, he paused by my table.

“How are you selling so many books?” he asked.

“I talk to people. Find out what they’re interested in. If they don’t enjoy mysteries, I direct them to whatever type of books they do like.”

During our conversation, he admitted to staying behind his table, just watching the people come and go. He was making no effort to engage potential customers as they walked past. I checked out his table. He had nothing on it beside copies of his book.

I encouraged him to create and utilize promotional materials. Bookmarks, business cards and hard candy are some of the items I had. Additionally, there were two small bottles of wine adorned with the cover art from two of my books. If someone bought a copy of all four of my books, I would give them a bottle of wine.

“Everybody sells. You need to figure out what works for you,” I said. “Find something that ties in with your book. Engage people in conversation as they approach. Don’t try too hard. Just be friendly. Ask if they’d like to hear about your book. Come up with a ninety second sales pitch.”

He looked skeptical. Then he observed as I shifted gears and had a brief conversation with a lady who stopped by my table. He drifted back to his own area. I sold her a book and happily signed the copy. 

I never heard if his sales improved on the second day. It was busy for me, with a steady flow of people enjoying the sunshine and the festival.  All I know is, if you want to sell, you need to be approachable and engaged people.

As I write this, the galleys for “Your Turn to Die” have been returned to the publisher. I’m anxiously awaiting word as to the next steps and when this sequel starring Jefferson Chene and his crew will be released.  While I can’t share clips from this work, I will tell you that Jamie Richmond appears in this book as well.  It’s more than a cameo appearance. Think supporting role in your favorite movie or television series.  

So with that in mind, here’s a clip from “Vanishing Act” where they first meet.  In this scene, Jamie stops by the post to talk to Malone.

Malone was leaning against a desk, quietly talking with two other people. I hesitated in the background until I caught his eye. He smiled and waved me over and introduced me.

“Jamie, this is Sergeant Jefferson Chene and Detective Megan McDonald. They work with the multi-jurisdictional investigative squad.”

Chene gave me a thin smile and shook my hand. “We prefer Squad Six. It’s a lot less glorified, but it gets the job done.” His voice was low and deep.

“I’ve heard about you,” Megan McDonald said. “You’re the one who cracked the Kleinschmidt shooting. That was good work.”

I smiled at the compliment. “According to Malone, it was just a stubborn redhead with an active imagination. Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Chene easily shook his head. “No, we were just on our way across town from Ann Arbor. Thought I’d stop by and pick up the fifty bucks Malone owes me from the Patriots and Broncos game.”

“I told him not to bet against New England, but he wouldn’t listen,” I said.

Malone shrugged. “Hey, I’m a Denver fan. What can I say?”

While the cops bantered, I took a moment to study them. Chene was a light-skinned black man, close to six feet in height, with a solid build. His black hair was clipped short. He was clean-shaven, with piercing, dark eyes. He had a short, jagged scar on his left cheek. McDonald was almost looked too pretty to be a cop. She had shoulder length blonde hair and hazel eyes. She was about my height. Her frame was muscular, but she still looked feminine. I had no doubt she could hold her own with the male officers.

“So what does a multi-jurisdictional investigative squad do?” I asked.

Megan gave me a wink. “We catch the bad guys. We can’t leave all the work to the civilians.”

“Most of our cases span different communities,” Chene said. “Sometimes they are in the same county, other times, it can involve several counties.”

“Do you collaborate with the different communities in your investigations?” I asked.

“Well, in some cases we do,” Megan said, “but usually they turn to us to take over the case. Sometimes it’s a matter of manpower or experience. Our boss kind of likes it when we’re left to work on our own.”

“Without the help of any nosy civilians,” I said.

“That goes without saying,” Chene said with another thin smile.

 I looked at him closely. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t make the connection. “Your name is Jefferson Chene. Isn’t that an intersection in Detroit?”

Chene nodded once. “Yes, that’s right.”

I waited for him to elaborate, but there was nothing else coming.

            Malone paid his debt. Chene made a show of holding the bill up to the light, as if to make certain it wasn’t counterfeit. Then he and McDonald headed out.

There has been a lot of time on the road this week, which leads to a variety of music to help the miles go by. Somehow this tune by Lynyrd Skynyrd kept coming up. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

New Faces

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the Lakeshore Arts festival.  Along with a variety of artisans, there were twenty Michigan authors under two large tents. So I gathered up extra copies of my books, promo items, a few bottles of distinctive wines and all that jazz and headed for the Lake Michigan shore. Events such as this have the potential to be a great time. Authors get the chance to meet with the public, talk about our characters and stories and if we’re lucky, we might sell a book or two.

Just about every genre imaginable was represented. There were books for children, young adults, romance, mystery, historical, non-fiction, sci-fi, and more. 

At least three times I was approached by people who were interested in writing and wanted to pick my brain about the creative process and the challenges faced.  I’m always willing to discuss the subject. It’s one of my passions. If I can encourage someone to pursue their own endeavors, that’s part of the fun.

During the occasional lull in traffic, many authors would share stories about the writing experience, their own works or projects.  While connecting with my old friend Donald Levin, I also had the chance to chat with Jean Davis, Melanie Hooyenga and Clay Boura. Check out their books on the links below.

A beautiful summer weekend brings the latest Jamie Richmond adventure to mind. Here's an excerpt from "Stealing Haven" part of the short story collection "Once Upon A Summer".  In this scene, Jamie and Linda are just starting their vacation with a dip in the lake.

With our spot secured and sunscreen on, we didn’t wait a moment longer. The sun beat down on us with nary a cloud in sight. My toes hit the water and a chill raced through me.

“It’s ice water!”

“It’s Lake Michigan, Jamie.” Smart ass. I knew exactly where we were.

“Feels more like Lake Superior.” The northernmost lake rarely warmed above freezing.

Linda gave me a disgusted look and stepped further into the water. Together we walked out until it was waist deep. In the distance, a number of people rushed across the water on kiteboards, letting the wind fill their odd shaped sails. I watched one execute several flips and turns, expertly working the breeze. Linda scraped a fingernail on my shoulder.

“Race you to that buoy.”

“What boy?” I smiled.

She pushed me. As I fell, I saw her dive and swim toward a marker that bobbed about thirty feet ahead. Laughing, I took off after her. There was a gradual drop off from the beach so I could have waded out to it, but it was more fun to swim. She stood there, hands on her hips like Wonder Woman. 

“I’ve been waiting.”

“For me?”

She shook her head, water spraying from her curls. “For this vacation. We’re two beautiful women, unencumbered by the demands of the world. Nobody is looking for us. There are no papers to grade, no deadlines to meet, no expectations.”

“At least, for this week.”

She hugged me. “What more could we ask for?”

“Well, a couple of gorgeous guys would be a nice change-up. Preferably those with jobs and some money to spend on us.”

“I suppose you want them to be single as well. Never married. No ex-wives or children to clutter the picture.” She flashed me a wicked smile. “Perhaps a virile young monk in training going over the wall.”

“A girl can dream, can’t she?”

Sometimes a song gets stuck in my head and just won't go away. Since I mentioned it above, here's a version of "All That Jazz".  Enjoy!