Sunday, August 26, 2018

Still Got It

Recently I’ve been involved with a new business, assisting with many different aspects. One of the most enjoyable of these is working with a group of teenagers. For some of these young people, this is their first job.  A few of them are very eager to learn. They also seem to enjoy hearing stories about some of the experiences I’ve had throughout my career.

During these conversations, I have to remind myself that many of these people have never seen some of the movies and musicians that I’m referring to. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I’ve been able to show them video clips.  Some of their reactions are priceless, particularly when they realize the performer is not some twenty-year-old musician, but someone who has had a long, successful career.

“Wow, he’s still got it!” a young colleague said, after viewing a clip.

“Did you notice the crowd’s reaction? There were people of several generations who were singing along with him,” I said.

“Yeah, that was amazing.”

 That made me think about authors. Some very successful authors such as Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Henry Miller and JRR Tolkein didn’t publish until after their 40th birthday.  Maybe having some life experiences is part of it.  


While I don’t agree with the statement ‘write what you know’, being able to call on those bits and pieces of my own life has definitely impacted my writing.  And you just never know what little tidbit may appear in a story.  There are several that work their way into “Your Turn to Die”.

For example, here’s an excerpt from “Devious”.  In this scene, Jamie is trying to persuade her step-father, Bert, who is a captain with the state police, to let her accompany a trooper during patrol for research on a new character.

“I recall when you were fifteen and went through a phase where you were going to be a vegetarian. That lasted until I was grilling steaks.” He grinned at the memory and gave his head a slow shake. “Level with me, Taffy Ass. Why are you here?”

“Taffy ass? I haven’t heard that in years. I keep hoping you’d forgotten that by now.”

“Not on your life. That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

Maybe to him, but to me, it was one of my most embarrassing moments ever. It happened when I was sixteen. There was a dance at school and I had gone with a group of kids. It wasn’t an official date. But Nicky Valenti had been very attentive that night. He bought me a Coke and a slice of pizza. We shared a few slow dances. Nicky was a senior. All the girls thought he was charming, with a sly smile and soulful brown eyes. I was junior. He had borrowed the keys to a friend’s car.

On the way out to the parking lot to ‘look at the stars’, he’d bought me a few pieces of taffy. I was young. I was na├»ve. I slid them into the back pocket of my jeans. After an hour of passionate kissing in the backseat of the car, we returned to the dance. The taffy had melted through my pocket, staining my jeans, my underwear and my bottom. My face was as red as my hair when I tried to explain it away to Vera. Bert didn’t believe a word of the story I came up with that night, and had tagged me taffy ass. He only used it in private and always with impeccable timing.

I couldn’t con him. He was far too sharp to accept anything but the truth. 

Here's the video that inspired this article, from Sir Tom Jones.

Monday, August 20, 2018

In The Mood

Everyone gets moody. People can be happy or sad, bored or excited or anything in between. Your mood can be impacted by people around you or those you interact with on a regular basis.  Sometimes your mood can change for no apparent reason.

When I’m writing, I want my characters to feel the same way. Their moods can be driven by the circumstances they find themselves in. Anger, frustration, sadness, delight or peaceful can all be shattered by a twist in the story. But that’s what can happen in every life. Every day. So that’s something I want my characters to experience. Because the readers can relate to many of these same feelings.

Here’s an excerpt from “Fleeing Beauty”.  In this scene, Jamie is struggling to learn about her late father, and recognizing how little she knows about him.

There was no sense in putting it off any longer. The house was quiet. Malone was at work for at least another hour. So now, in the stillness of the night, I pulled Peter Richmond’s will from my desk. The thick sheaf of documents felt heavy and serious in my hands. Slowly I began to make my way through the legalese.

     Lincoln Banning was named the executor of the estate. The actual will had been drawn up by another attorney, so there was no possibility of a conflict of interest. Yet Banning did not have sole control over the finances.  Each year he gave a report to three people, one of whom was Vera, my crazy mother. My eyes grew wide when I recognized one of the other names. This was a very well respected judge from Oakland County. The other was a name I didn’t know. An attachment to the will included copies of the financial statements.

     There was a list of assets. The converted factory which had become the art studio was at the top of the list. There were several other properties scattered around metropolitan Detroit. There were stocks in some technology firms, one of the automotive companies, a pharmaceutical giant, and a food conglomerate. Whoever was advising Peter from the beginning encouraged him to have a very diverse portfolio.  There were also three life insurance policies that were worth significant money, all paid to the estate at the time of his death. One of the last pages indicated that any and all works of art created by Peter which were unsold would remain as assets until the estate was distributed on my thirty-fifth birthday.  Only the executor, with agreement from all parties, could sell any assets.

     I got up, went for a walk around the block in the dark, came back, and read it all over again. Without even considering the sculptures in the storeroom, the estate was worth millions. Vera was awarded a stipend each month. This was based on a budget from when they were married, adjusted to the current cost of living. Knowing her love of shopping, entertaining and travel, I doubted she saved any money at all.

     Thoughts of my mother made me wonder again where she was. Somewhere along the line, Vera became a nomad. She was a constant fixture with a very wealthy crowd. Winters were usually spent in a warm climate, like Arizona, Florida, or maybe the Caribbean Islands. When the seasons changed, so did her mood. Vera loved being the social butterfly, jumping from one locale to another. After her sixth marriage a few years ago, she told me that it no longer made sense to marry. She was going to enjoy herself and if a relationship developed, so be it.

     “Hey, Jamie.”

     I was sitting on the rocker in the living room, with just the kitchen light on low, so absorbed in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize Malone was home. I jumped at the sound of his voice.

     “You scared the crap out of me.”

     He moved to me and pulled me up for an embrace. “What’s got you so wound up?”

     “I read the will. It’s amazing how thorough Peter was. And it got me thinking about Vera. I wonder if her craziness impacted his actions.”

“Do you realize you always use her first name when speaking about her?” His hands were making slow circles around my shoulders and back, lightly rubbing away the tension.

     “When I was sixteen, she forbade me to call her Mom or Mother. She said people wouldn’t believe she was old enough to have a daughter that age. She insisted I call her Vera. I was already referring to Bert by his first name, so it made sense.”

     Malone pulled me tighter. “That sounds kind of sad. Kids should always refer to the parents as Mom and Dad, or some variation of that.”

     “I had no idea you were so sentimental.”

     “I have a few surprises.”

Today's music comes from Glenn Miller. But you probably already knew that.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Shooting Craps

Yesterday I was at another book event. This one was filled with more than 60 authors, with every genre under the sun represented. Before the doors opened, I took a stroll, looking at many of the displays. Some authors had more promotional items than books overflowing their tables. Some had banners set up like floor mounted window shades, towering behind their chairs. Others were more basic, while some aimed for a middle ground, striving for that balance of ‘just right’.

As I was headed back to my table, I bumped into Andrew Allen Smith. We’ve attended some similar events before and his friendly demeanor is always well received.

“Think we’ll do well?” he asked.

“It’s a crap shoot,” I responded. “You never can tell at these things.”

We chatted for a minute more before taking up our stations behind our tables. While waiting for the potential customers to arrive, I realized how accurate that statement was.  Events like these and writing in general, can be like shooting craps. Or flipping a coin. Whichever image works best for you.

When writing a story, I don’t have a specific audience in mind. First and foremost, I write for me. It’s a challenge for my creativity, my imagination, to mix fiction with facts, to weave an interesting story. At times I’ll be working on a piece and life gets in the way, so a few days will pass before I can get back to the keyboard. Reviewing what was last written may lead to some shaping or editing. 

Sometimes it can make me smile and share a knowing wink with my character. Occasionally I might mutter, ‘damn, that was good’.  

But when it comes down to a sale at a book event, it really is shooting craps. Earlier this summer a mother and two teenage daughters approached my table. Turns out the youngest girl, who was about sixteen, is an avid reader. She is the one who will find a new book, read it and then pass it along to her sister. When the sister is done, mom gets her turn.  So ultimately, it was the youngest daughter who was my customer.

“I don’t tell her what she can read,” the mom said. “But she always picks a good one.”

I watched while she checked the back covers on all four books. She hesitated in front of the Jamie Richmond series, but kept drifting back to Why 319.  When she made her choice, that was the one she wanted. She wasn’t interested in the romance/mystery stories. It was the story about the serial killer that caught her attention. The mom read the back cover and agreed. 

With the sale completed, they moved on.  

I thought about this yesterday after talking with Andrew.  It’s true. It really is a crap shoot.


Since this caught so much attention yesterday, I thought featuring the back cover of "Why 319?" would be appropriate.

A serial killer is on the loose in metro Detroit. Three female victims have been discovered in motel rooms in different suburban cities surrounding Motown. The only connection is that each body is found in Room 319 and the killer leaves the taunting message 'Why 319?' on the bathroom mirror, written with the victim's lipstick.

Detective Jefferson Chene heads up an elite squad of detectives assigned to the case. With no home life, he devotes every waking moment to catching killers. But this one is more elusive than most. With no clues and no apparent link between the victims, Chene is at a dead end. But a startling revelation busts the case wide open. He's closing in on the murderer, but will it be before another young woman loses her life?

Today's musical feature is from Otis Redding.  Enjoy!

And you can check out Andrew's books right here.