Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Long Reach

Four years ago I was asked to create a workshop for people interested in writing. The idea was to cover some of the main topics, such as settings, conflicts and characters and give examples. The concept would cover an hour once a week for three weeks.  It sounded like fun, so I agreed. Three weeks would be no problem.

At the end of the third session, a group of a dozen people basically blocked the door and demanded more. They were engaged in the material and wanted to continue meeting.  The hour was expanded to ninety minutes and we began gathering twice a month.

It’s my nature to share information with others, particularly those interested in writing. While I’m quick to remind anyone who listens that I don’t know everything and can only talk about my own experiences, that’s often enough to keep the conversation going.  So when facilitating the workshops, I gave examples of editing, submitting manuscripts, creating memorable characters, using humor to break the tension and ending a chapter on a note that makes the readers anxious to know what happens next.

About two years ago, I left the group to take a job in a different area. While I’m not in contact with them every month, some of the crew keeps in touch with emails and phone calls.  Not only have they continued, but they group has grown, frequently adding new people.   

Last week in a message with another update. Jerry, one of the people who took over the reins with my departure, describing how things we shared four years ago are still helping people write. Some are working on memoirs, others write poetry, fiction or even a travelogue.

That's a long reach. To still be having a positive impact on people even two years later is remarkable. My reward is hearing how that information is still pertinent and being passed along to other writers.  That was a nice note for a holiday weekend.

Hooking the reader early is something I always try to do. Here’s an example from “Fleeing Beauty” the third book in the Jamie Richmond series.

I don’t want to die.

I’m not ready for it. There are too many things I haven’t experienced yet. Places to go, people to meet, adventures waiting to be discovered. I want to gaze at the stars over the Mediterranean Sea while making love with Malone. I want to fly in a sailplane. I want to stand on a beach in Key West and dip my toes in the ocean and the gulf. I want to travel to exotic lands, dine on their cuisine and dance my little ass off to the local music. I want all of that and much more. 

But I don’t think any of that is going to happen.

We’re all going to die.

Once this gang gets what they’re after, there is no reason to leave us behind. They’re not going to lock us in a closet and make a run for it. We’ve all seen their faces. We know their names. We can identify them. There is no way they will let us live. Their leader has a violent streak and it’s only a matter of time before he lashes out again.

My mind is flashing through ways out of this. But nothing makes sense, nothing that will allow me to stop them, to guide us out of here safely.

I don’t want to die.

But there is nothing I can do to prevent it.

It's too early for Christmas carols for me. So here's an oldie from The Stray Cats that popped up this week.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

700 Pages

A long time ago, a professor in a creative writing program imparted those great words of wisdom: “If you wanna be a writer, you gotta be a reader” or words to that effect.

As an avid reader going back to my youth, that part has never been a problem. On average, I read a book a week.  While my preference leans toward mysteries and thrillers, there are times when a good horror novel beckons me.  

Last week was the perfect example. While perusing the aisles of my local library, I stumbled upon a copy of “Sleeping Beauties” the collaboration by Stephen King and Owen King.  I read the cover flap. That was enough to hook me on the story. Out of curiosity, I flipped to the back, just to see the number of pages in this hefty tome. 700. 

Many novels run around 300 pages (including my own). So part of me expected to spend two weeks with the Kings. But the story kept drawing me in, ‘Just a few more pages’ I kept telling myself late in the evening as another hour ticked by.  Bottom line:  One week to the day from beginning to end and it was finished. 

I must admit that Stephen King has done this to me before, going back to “The Stand”, where the epic battle between good and evil among the survivors of the super-flu kept me reading all night long.

Authors love to hook the readers and have them get swept away in their stories. I’ve had a few comments along those lines over the years. That’s always nice to hear and it keeps me going. That’s my plan, to keep you engaged and asking for more. And if you get hooked in one book, chances are you’ll pick up another. I don't know if I'll ever write a novel that runs 700 pages. Guess it just depends on where the story takes me.

Here’s a little bit from “Why 319?” that has garnered some great reactions.  In this scene, Chene, Megan and the rest of the detective squad are going to interview a suspect in the serial killings and search his home, where the reception is not what they expected.


        It was reflex, plain and simple.

My mind must have registered the movement an instant before the window disintegrated. I don’t remember doing it, but I wrapped an arm around Megan’s waist and dove to the left, pulling her off the stoop. My shoulders hit the driveway. Her head snapped back, catching me on the chin. The back of my head kissed the pavement, and I saw stars. She slid off me and banged her head on the driveway. 

She rolled left, aiming her weapon and rising to her feet in one smooth motion. Movement in the street caught my attention. One of the troopers who had been on the surveillance assignment had moved to the sidewalk, directly in front of the picture window to back us up. I saw his legs go out from under him, and he clutched at his thigh. His partner rushed over, used a parked car as a shield, and dragged him back. In the distance, I could hear sirens. Somebody must have called it in. This whole thing made no sense. We had a warrant to search the place, and we were going to bring him in for questioning. What triggered this attack? I swung my gaze back from the street.

“What the fuck?” Megan’s face was filled with rage.

Before I could respond, we heard gunfire coming from the rear of the house. Myers must have company, or he’d been waiting for us.

“Front door?” Megan hooked a thumb at the stoop.

“Damn right.”

Lots of classic rock on the air this week.  Here's one of my favorites from Bob Seger.

Sunday, November 4, 2018


One of my favorite components of writing is introducing characters. This is your opportunity to share details with the audience about your players. You can tease the information out in dribs and drabs, or make it read like an FBI profile. It’s entirely up to you. 

When facilitating a writer’s workshop or meeting with a high school English class, I’ve often used this quick video from the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. It’s a great example of sharing details with the audience. While it’s not the first glimpse you catch of Captain Jack Sparrow, it’s definitely a memorable one.

Just like my characters, it’s important for me to mix up the introductions.  In some novels, I’ve started with just a taste.  Others it’s been a more formal introduction. At times I’ll write one of each, then go back and forth until I decide which one works best. Usually I’ll defer to the way my players interact. Jamie may shake her head in dismay, impatient with little information, demanding more. Hey, she’s a stubborn redhead. What more can I say?

Often I’ll look at it from the narrator’s perspective. After all, they’re the ones telling the story. I’m just running alongside, writing it down.

Here’s an example from “Fleeing Beauty”.   In this scene, Jamie and Linda are meeting Harrison Mundy for the first time. Jamie hopes that Mundy may have information about the robbery from her father’s studio.

We arrived at the Townsend Hotel five minutes early. Something told me that Harrison Mundy was not the type of man who would like to be kept waiting. At the hostess stand, an attractive young woman wearing way too much makeup and perfume gave us a vague smile.

“Are one of you Miss Jamie Richmond?” she asked in a breathy voice, as if she’d just run up two flights of stairs wearing stiletto heels.

“That’s me. We’re supposed to be meeting someone.”

She nodded twice. I noticed that her hair didn’t move when she did that. “Your party has already arrived. Right this way.”

We followed her across the room to a private corner table. I noticed there was no one else within twenty feet of it. A distinguished looking man with a full head of silver hair was already seated. As we drew closer he rose smoothly and extended his hand.

“You must be Miss Richmond.”

“Please, just call me Jamie,” I said, lightly taking his hand. 

“Thank you, Jamie.” He turned smoothly to Linda. “May I presume that you are Miss Davis?”

She took a step back in surprise before taking his hand. “I prefer Linda.”

He flashed a charming smile at both of us. “I would be pleased if you will call me Harry. Let us sit down.”

I noticed the place setting that was to the right of his chair was disturbed. Linda took the seat on his left and I took the one opposite him. Before we were settled, an exotic looking beauty with silky black hair came over from the bar and took the empty seat.

“This is Jocelyn.”

She smiled and nodded. A waiter appeared with a tray of food.

“Perhaps a drink would be in order?” Mundy said.

I ordered tonic water and lime. Linda asked for a glass of chardonnay.

“How did you know who I would bring along?”

Mundy flashed a smile at me that was almost blinding in its brightness. “I prefer to know as much as I can about the people I am meeting. Even though I am retired, I like to keep my senses sharp.”

“So you’ve retired from a life of crime?” I asked.

“Really, Jamie, you know I am not a criminal. I was never convicted or even accused of an illegal act. I have many interests that have been cultivated over the years. Is there a particular area of my expertise that appeals to you?”

I took a moment to study him while phrasing my response. He was very handsome, with the dazzling smile, smooth complexion, and thick silver hair. He was fit and trim, perhaps a little taller than me, which would put him about five-foot eight-inches tall.  I had no doubt the suit he was wearing was tailor made for his frame. He spoke with an educated tone. His nails were manicured.      

“I would like to know about art thefts, particularly the best way to do it. Did you always have a buyer in mind?”

He chuckled dryly. “Jamie, what makes you think I know anything about thievery?”

“Perhaps in your studies of the subject, you learned how thieves work.”

“That is a very good answer,” he said. “May I presume your interest stems from the recent discovery of your father’s work?”

“He really did do his research,” Linda said quietly.

“You may,” I replied somewhat sullenly. It dawned on me that I was mimicking his precise way of speaking. This wasn’t like me at all. And it was obvious that Mundy was in complete control of the conversation and the situation. Disgusted with myself, I speared a prawn with my fork and focused on sawing it into bite sized pieces.

“Miss Davis is quite correct. Before I accepted your inquiry, I researched your background. It is somewhat unsettling to discover how much information can be so readily available on the Internet. Shall we dispense with the formalities and the subterfuge?”

“What the hell. I’d appreciate that.”

“Then tell me what it is you are really interested in?”

“If you were going to steal some of Peter’s artwork, how would you do it?”

Mundy leaned back in his chair. “Suppose I give you a hypothetical example of the theft of some artwork. Would that be helpful to your situation?”

 “So if you were hypothetically going to steal some of Peter’s artwork, how would you go about it?”

“There are many ways to execute a perfect crime. But each one takes a great deal of careful planning and preparation. Contingencies must be calculated as well.” Mundy raised a hand. "Pardon me, Jamie, but I do not want to know what is missing. You are asking me to postulate a hypothetical robbery. I will need some time to consider various options. I must ask your indulgence.”

Puzzled, I glanced across the table at Jocelyn. She smiled and rose smoothly from her chair. I realized Mundy was now on his feet as well.

“You’re leaving?”

Harrison Mundy dropped his linen napkin on the table. I noticed his glass was empty and the appetizers were gone. He shot his cuffs.

“Jocelyn and I have another commitment.” He turned slightly toward Linda and lifted her hand. Smoothly he bent forward and grazed his lips across her knuckles. “It has been a delightful pleasure to meet you both.”

Linda’s cheeks flared red. “Thank you,” she stammered.

Mundy turned to me. I was standing now, trying to figure out how to prolong the conversation.  His eyes were twinkling as he looked at me.

“Your reputation is well deserved, Jamie. I must admit to be intrigued by your—situation.  When the time is right, I will be in touch.”  With that he gently, but firmly, took my hand and did the knuckle grazing kiss.  I felt a flush run through me. Who was this guy?

This week's musical selection is from Stevie Wonder.  Hope you enjoy it.