Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sounds Like

One of the challenges for any writer is to give each character a different voice. As a reader, in addition to an image in my head about what a character will look like, it’s important to find that distinctive tone that makes sense to me. 

For example, Pappy Cantrell in the Jefferson Chene series is a country boy. Despite living in Michigan for many years, he still talks with a southern drawl and has a penchant to mix his metaphors.  Expressions like ‘my daddy learned me that’ reflect not only Pappy’s upbringing but his disdain for proper grammar.

Late last week, I received the first chapter of the audio file for “Your Turn to Die”.  This is with a new narrator, so I was more than a little curious as to how close he could come with making the character’s dialogue distinctive. Mel Brook’s famous line “Hope for the best. Expect the worst,” danced through my head.

 I cued up the track, notepad and pen at the ready, to log the minute and second for any errors or mispronunciations. And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Thirty minutes later, the track ended. My darling wife, who anxiously listened in, raised her eyes in delight. “He’s good!”

There was no argument. This guy was in fact good. He used different inflections for tone of voice in close to a dozen characters that appear in the prologue and the first chapter. He nailed them all. After hearing it a second time, I still had nothing written on my notepad. 

One chapter down. Twenty-five to go.

Hope for the best. 

Here’s an excerpt from “Why 319?”.  In this scene, Chene has approached Pappy to fill him in on a new aspect of the case, trying to find a serial killer. You can get a sense of Cantrell’s character in his comments and actions.

Cantrell absorbed the idea of the religious angle without much reaction one way or the other. During all his years with the department, he’d seen many bizarre crimes. The motivating factors were as complex as quantum physics. He gave me a nod, then wagged a finger over my shoulder. I reached back and swung his door closed.

“Y’all know the governor’s on my ass now.”

“We expected as much. But we haven’t even had the case for forty-eight hours. How are Barksdale and Jarrett doing with the latest victim?”

He shrugged and pulled a fresh cigarette from his pack. “Jarrett might just surprise us. She’s sharp. Ah expect she’s giving Barksdale fits. The boy thinks he’s in charge, but she’s workin’ him just the same.”

“We’re going to interview family and friends today. Maybe we’ll catch a break.”

Cantrell stood and with a practiced motion flipped his cigarette into the air. It floated toward the ceiling, turned over once and arrowed toward him. He leaned out slightly and caught it in his mouth by the filter. A cocky smile crossed his wrinkled face as he winked at me.

“How many hours it take you to master that trick?”

“Hell, Chene, that one’s easy. My daddy learned me that when I wasn’t but six. He said it would help me charm the ladies.”

“Does it work?”

“Every time.” He raised his lighter, then had a change of heart and walked toward the exit. “Git out of here, Chene. Go find me a killer.”

Here's a shot of what Pappy Cantrell might look like.

 Buy link for Why 319?

This week's music is from the Doobie Brothers.  

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Never Can Tell

Valentine’s Day was earlier this week, so my darling wife and I went out for a nice meal to celebrate.  As we were leaving the restaurant, an older couple, probably in their eighties was approaching.  They were holding hands and walking slowly on the frozen sidewalk.  I paused to open the door for them when my wife spoke up.

“You’re adorable. How long have you two been married?”

“Four months,” the old guy said, cracking a smile.

That surprised both of us.  He explained that he’d been married to his first wife for over fifty years.  I didn’t want to ask how recently she had passed, in case this sweet little old lady was merely waiting in the wings to snare him.  We wished them a happy Valentine’s Day and watched them disappear into the restaurant.

“I had no idea,” my wife remarked.

“You never can tell.”

Inspiration for scenes and characters strikes me at the strangest times. I have no doubt that somewhere in the next story, I’ll incorporate a segment in honor of those two elderly lovebirds.  Maybe they knew each other beforehand. Or maybe they met at a senior center. Or through an online dating site. The possibilities keep dancing in my head. Time will tell where this little bit of inspiration will turn out.

Shortly after I posted the ten songs for Valentine’s Day, I started thinking of a few others.  “Loveshack” by B-52s, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” with the by Annie Lennox and Al Green, add even “Loves Me Like a Rock” by Paul Simon. These are memorable, but not exactly right for the theme. I’m sure the list has infinite possibilities, but I’ll stick with my original ten.

Jefferson Chene is not exactly a romantic guy. In truth, there’s a lot about women he doesn’t know or understand. In a tip of the hat to him and so many other guys (myself included) here’s a little excerpt from “Your Turn to Die.”  In this scene, Chene has invited Simone to dinner but her demeanor when she arrives has him puzzled.

The waitress returned with our wine. Simone took a quick glance at the menu, then closed it and looked at me. I ordered sushi dinners for both of us.

“That’s what we had last time,” she said quietly.

“I remember. And for the record, I didn’t think that was a date.”

She shook her head and gave a little laugh. “You bought me a nice dinner and a glass of wine. We sat over on the other side of the room. We talked for a while. I learned about your background, you learned about mine. That was a date.”

“Okay. It was a date.”

“Our first date. You being a detective and all, I thought you’d remember.”

I took a sip of wine. “I do remember. It was late March. I remember the conversation, the wine and the meal. You were wearing a yellow blouse with a gray wool skirt and a gray leather jacket.”

She smiled. “So observant. But you gave me more than fifteen minutes to get ready that night.” 

“You could have said no tonight.”

“Chene, for such a smart guy, you can be kind of dumb when it comes to women and dating.”

“So I’ve been told. What exactly did I do wrong?”

She laughed and shook her head again. After another sip of wine, she put her chin back in her palm and stared at me. Her eyes were glowing now. Apparently I was about to be forgiven for whatever gaffe I’d made.

“What am I wearing? Look me in the eyes, Mr. Detective, and just tell me what I’m wearing.”

I complied with her request. “Black high heels with open toes. Navy blue slacks, tailored to fit your shape. A white linen blouse with very fine blue and red stripes. One thin gold necklace and a pair of gold earrings that dangle. Another pair of diamond stud earrings. No watch, no rings, no bracelets.”

“Impressive. So what do you think?”

“I think I’m still confused as to why you’re upset.”

I was saved from further humiliation by the arrival of dinner. Simone graciously changed the subject. We talked about her work and the Morrissey case. I told her about the recent interviews and the goldmine of photos and notes from Jamie Richmond, Malone’s lady friend. We worked our way through dinner and another glass of wine and kept the conversation light. It was only as we walked out that I had a chance. Recently, when we walked together, I’d taken to sliding an arm around her waist. That’s how we were as we stopped beside her car.

“Have you figured it out yet, Jeff?”

“Not a clue.”

She stepped away from me and put her hands on her hips. “When was the last time I wore slacks when we went out? Not jeans, but slacks.”

I thought about that. “I can’t recall you ever wearing slacks before.”

“Exactly. Do you know why I’m wearing slacks?”

“Not a clue,” I repeated.

She huffed out a breath in frustration. “Because I haven’t shaved my legs in a few days and wasn’t expecting to see you tonight.”

“So if I’d given you more than fifteen-minutes notice…”

“…I would have shaved my legs and worn a skirt.”

Simone was struggling to keep a disgusted look on her face. It wasn’t working. I took her hands and pulled her close.

“Next time, I’ll give you more notice.”



She hugged me. “You’re still kind of dumb about women, Chene.”

“I know. But there is one thing you should keep in mind.”

Simone leaned back. “What’s that?”

“I would pay to shave those legs.”

She burst out laughing. Pushing me away, she got in her car and started it up. I watched her pull out of the parking space and start to exit the lot. Then she stopped, backed up alongside me and lowered the window. Her eyes were dancing as she took a moment to look at me.

“One question.” 

“What’s that?”

“How much?”

For today's musical selection, there's one tune that fits perfectly with the title.  Thanks to Chuck Berry, who is probably leading a jam session in heaven as I write this.