Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Devil is in the Details

I can’t speak for every author, but there are many I have had the pleasure to know and on this subject, I’m sure they’d agree.  One thing that can drive me crazy is when you think the manuscript is all done, that everything is perfect, or as close to it as you can possibly make it and then then publisher reaches out and says ‘just take one more look’.

After countless revisions and more editing than I’ll ever admit to, this part can be painful. My first reaction is to yell ‘I know the story inside out and upside down. There can’t possibly be any more corrections needed. Just roll with it.’  But then I pause, lean back and start to read it over once again.


Because mistakes happen. I read it numerous times before allowing some wonderful beta readers to check it out. The editor I’m working with has read it more than once. Yet still, little errors jump out at me. My intention is to provide you with an entertaining story, hopefully one that doesn’t include any glaring contradictions or screw-ups in it. But I’m not perfect. 

Here’s an example from “Your Turn to Die”, the manuscript in question. During a conversation, someone turns to Chene and makes reference to his heritage and says “You may be black, but you’re not a thoroughbred. More like a Black Russian. You know, Kahlua and cream.”

I liked that line and thought it fit well in the setting and the person’s attitude.   

The problem? 

There is no cream in a Black Russian. That’s just vodka and Kahlua. It’s the White Russian that adds the cream. Which is bad enough, but Chene’s character also spent many years tending bar.  He would have caught that quickly.

Despite the efforts of several people and multiple readings of my own, this goof almost made it to the final print.   

So it’s true what they say, the devil is in the details.

Here’s a little excerpt from “Stealing Haven”.  In this scene Jamie and Linda are out for a ride on Lake Michigan with Randy, whom them met on their first day of vacation.  Sparks are starting to fly between Jamie and Randy.

With the sun beginning to set, Randy steered us into a wide U-turn and headed back toward the marina. Reluctantly, I pushed off the bench and moved back to Linda. Dropping on the seat beside her, I could almost see my reflection in her dazzling smile.

“Thought you said the dog was going to be my chaperone.”

She gave me a rolling laugh. “Poor baby had to cover his eyes. He’s not used to seeing his aunt get frisky.”

“Was I really making out with him, or did I just imagine that?”

“Jamie, you certainly seemed to be enjoying the attention. Why do you find it so hard to believe that a nice looking man would be attracted to you?”

I shrugged. “I’m not blessed with your face and figure, so it’s not like guys are fighting over me.”

“You are a beautiful woman. Randy certainly seems to think so. Should I take Logan home and leave you two alone?”

We were entering the canal for the marina now. The boat was moving slowly. It made me think of cars exiting the freeway and blending in with traffic on residential streets.

“I’m not ready for anything else tonight.”

She smiled and hugged me. “Smart and beautiful. No wonder I love you.”

I helped Randy with the lines when we got back to the dock. He walked us through the marina to the main road.

“Thank you for the wine and the ride on the lake,” Linda said sweetly. She leaned over and brushed her cheek against his.

Here's this week's musical favorite, from Steve Winwood.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Miss Direction

A good magician will never tell you the secrets behind their tricks. Like a good 3 Card Monte dealer, it can be their patter, talking away to make it more difficult to find the lady and win the money.  

Mystery authors do the same thing. But sometimes, we might drop a hint or two to give you a clue.
Last week someone asked me about such clues. I gave the example of a character’s name.  When I’m developing a character, it’s not uncommon to start out with a basic name as a placeholder. Then as more traits are identified, that will lead me to research a name that fits and may give the readers a clue. 

One of my favorite characters of all time was Travis McGee, the protagonist in 21 mystery novels by John D. MacDonald.  Depending on the source, Travis means traveler, or someone at a crossroads.  Good name for someone looking for the next adventure, as was so often the case with McGee.


But misdirection can be more than a name. It can be something that appears in the story that the characters pay a lot of attention to but has little bearing in the actual case. Or it can be a subplot that gets your attention going one way, when the real action takes place elsewhere. 

I explained all this while answering the question about clues. But apparently my response wasn’t specific enough. The young lady listened closely, nodding all the time then asked, “So are you a gambler or a con-man?”

“I’m a storyteller, so that would be closer to a con-man.”

That was an answer she could live with.

Here’s an excerpt from Fleeing Beauty.  In this scene, Jamie and her friend Ian are cleaning her late father’s studio. It’s been more than twenty years since he passed and Jamie is slowly discovering more about the man he was. At Ian’s insistence, she is ready to come to terms with items stored in his roll top desk.

It was a square box, wrapped in the type of paper you’d use for a child’s party. The paper was faded, yet you could still see the images of colorful balloons floating around a white script that read “Happy Birthday”. With trembling fingers, I picked it up and turned it around, looking at each side as if expecting a clue to the contents.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

I gulped to get my voice back. “It might not be for me.”

He reached into the cupboard and pulled out a small envelope that had been beneath the package. My name was written across the front of it. I set the box down and worked a fingernail beneath the flap of the envelope.  The front of the card was an explosion of colors, like a fireworks display. Inside was a simple message. “May all your birthday wishes come true. You are the sparkle in my eye, the warmth of my smile, the glow in my heart. Love always, Daddy.”

Ian had stepped back to let me read the message in private. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and passed him the note. From the center drawer I pulled a letter opener. Carefully I slit the tape around the wrapping paper.  Inside was a cardboard box. I pried open the lid and slid the contents out.

“It’s a wooden box,” Ian said, peering over my shoulder.

“Not just any box. This is a puzzle box. I used to love to put puzzles together when I was small. Peter would sometimes help me.”  I handed it to him.

He tried to open it without success. He shook the box lightly and we could hear something rattle inside. “So how do you open it?”

“That’s the trick. Some of these boxes require a number of pieces being moved in the right order before the lid slides off. This may take some time.”

“I’m curious what will be inside.”

“Yeah, I’m wondering too.”

Here's a musical interlude that seems appropriate from the band Blondie. 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Deja Vu All Over Again

Last week I was reading “Deadline” by John Sandford. This is one of the Virgil Flowers mysteries and Sandford delivers a great story mixed with action, intrigue, greed, evil and more plot twists than you can imagine. Sandford is an expert at mixing in humor along the way, often at the expense of his protagonist.

One scene near the end of the story has Virgil in the midst of all kinds of craziness when a female TV reporter, who happens to be an attractive blonde, tries to get him to agree to an interview on camera.  Flowers deflects her attention and steers her toward his pal Johnson, who got Virgil involved in the case in the first place.

Johnson not only agrees to the interview but attempts to get a little friendly with the reporter. And it’s his girlfriend that calls him out on it!

This scene came to mind because I was interviewed by a local TV reporter this week to discuss my role in another business. While it’s not directly related to my writing efforts, it does allow a certain amount of creativity.  During the interview the image of Sandford’s characters were right there with me.  Unlike Johnson, I kept my hands to myself.  I didn’t want to push the envelope where life was imitating art imitating life.

Since I’m writing about interviews, here’s an excerpt from “Why 319?”  In this scene, the squad gets caught up in a deadly exchange with a suspect while trying to serve a search warrant. The action drew the attention of the local media.

The bomb squad did their job well. As Kozlowski expected, the garage was rigged with a couple of homemade devices, ones that were easy enough to deactivate by Myers as he entered the building. Naughton and his team disarmed them and cautiously checked the rest of the property. Inside the house, they found two small devices in the bedrooms, taped in a corner of the window where they would do the most damage to any intruder. Naughton also found a stash of weapons. There were two shotguns, several handguns, and an extensive collection of knives. Everything was meticulously recorded, tagged, and bagged by the team.

Cantrell watched as Fen worked without comment, moving with precision over the bodies. It was one of the few times I could remember Pappy going longer than five minutes without a cigarette. Eventually, he walked down to the street and fired one up. He took a call, then motioned me to join him.

“That was McDonald. They found nothin’ at the shop. Guy didn’t leave his tools there, just brought his gear with him. She’s going to the hospital. Ah told her to go home after that. Ain’t no need for her here.”

I nodded in agreement. Pappy seemed to be waiting for me, but I didn’t know what to say.

“Y’all had no way of knowing this would happen, Chene. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“We came to question him and to search the property. But a cop died because of me, Pappy. I must have missed something.”

He fixed me with a stare that shut me up. “Y’all can’t miss what ain’t there. He died saving that Bloomfield girlie. He knew what this job was about. Y’all do.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Y’all keep digging. Find sumthin that will make sense of this mess. Ah need to talk to the damn media.”

At the end of the street, I could see several of the local news vans, their antenna towers jutting out into the darkening sky. There were enough harsh lights from the camera crews to guide an aircraft in for a landing. As Cantrell trudged up the street, I turned back to the house.

 This last Friday was the funeral service for Aretha Franklin.  Here's one of my favorites from the Queen of Soul.