Sunday, September 29, 2019

Story Ideas and Chainsaws!

Yesterday I attended an author’s event in a suburb of Detroit.  While talking with a reader who was very interested in the Chene series, she asked that popular question. “Where do you get the ideas for your stories?”

Politely I explained that they can come from anywhere. It may be something I observe, a conversation I overhear or just a snippet from the news. She didn’t seem satisfied with that answer so I gave her an example.

Checking my phone as I was leaving the house, I discovered a text message from my darling wife. It was sent at 3:57 a.m. and it was about buying a chainsaw. Since she was now sleeping, I left her a note indicating that it was rather creepy to learn she was shopping for chainsaws in the middle of the night.  Around noon she sent me another text, stating she was looking at the electric versions, because they were 33% quieter than the gas ones and I wouldn’t even hear it coming for me. 

She is such a considerate wife.

When I told the shopper that such a segment might become part of a story, she rolled her eyes, picked up a copy of “Why 319?” and said, “Now you’re talking!”

No other comment was necessary!


Another person and I got to talking about subplots and how they can move the story along and may even give you some incite to your main characters. That got me thinking about Ian, the teen-age boy who is Malone’s unofficial little brother. While he’s introduced in the second book of the series, he plays a larger role in “Fleeing Beauty”.

Here’s an excerpt from the book. In this scene, Jamie gets Ian to tell Brittany, the young girl from the neighborhood he’s been seeing, about his artistic talents.

A few days later Ian was at the house with Brittany. I was just finishing up some work on the computer when I remembered the sketchpad. Taking it from the bookshelf, I walked out into the backyard. Brittany and Ian were at the picnic table with glasses of lemonade. Her dog, Lucy, was lounging in the shade. The kids were sitting close together. As I set the sketchpad on the table Ian’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“We bumped into Krip the other night at the studio. He happened to see these and encouraged me to bring them home.”

Ian started to reach for the pad, but Brittany was faster. She snagged it and flipped it open, His sketches of her were right on top. She carefully studied the first one, then moved it aside to look at the next. Soon all three were spread out on the table before her.

“I can explain,” Ian said. His voice was soft and meek.

Brittany raised a hand to silence him. She kept staring at the drawings. 
Ian turned his gaze to me with a pleading look on his face. I shrugged. There was nothing I could say to diffuse the situation. We waited. A minute later Brittany turned to Ian and placed her hands on his shoulders.

“Did you draw these from pictures?”

He slowly shook his head. “No.”

“So this is how I look in your head?”

“Don’t be mad. I know you’re even prettier in person, it’s just that Malone challenged me and I…”
He never got another word out. Brittany raised her hands to his face and drew him to her. She planted a deep kiss on his lips that left both of them blushing. The fact that this happened less than three feet from me may have occurred to them only after they separated.

“That is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me,” Brittany said. “You think I’m pretty?”

Ian shook his head. “No, I think you’re beautiful.  Pretty was all I could do from memory.”

Was Malone coaching this kid in more than just baseball? The thought brought a smile to my face.

“So you think you could do even a better job if I was right in front of you?”  

 “Brittany, I don’t know, but I’d like to try.”

She pushed the sketchpad toward him. “Well, let’s try.”

Ian scrambled into the house for pencils. Brittany looked at me as if suddenly remembering that I’d been there all along. She glanced at the sketches spread out before her.

“He really did these?”

I nodded. “Yes. And Mr. Krippendore thinks he’s very talented. Krip is a painter. He wants to talk with Ian the next time we’re at the studio.”

“Would it be okay if I went to the studio sometime?  Ian’s told me all about it, but I’d like to see it firsthand.”

“Sure, we can go next week.”

Ian returned with several pencils and a big gum eraser.  Brittany moved to the grass and pulled the dog with her. She knelt down and coaxed the dog to sit beside.

“Okay, Rembrandt, let’s see what you’ve got.”

Ian picked up the pad and started to draw.

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Music this week was perfect for my road trip to Motown. Here’s Sammy Hagar.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Psychic Spouses

The other day I had the good fortune to meet up with my old friend, Jerry. He and first met about five years ago when I started facilitating a writer’s workshop. He was intrigued with the idea of putting some of his ideas and stories together. Jerry always delivered great work with the group. I have no doubt his efforts will be in print soon.

While catching up over a quick meal, we got to talking about wives and families. I mentioned that at times my darling wife will start a conversation in the middle. She doesn’t say, ‘did you hear about Betty?’ but jumps in as if I already know not only who she is talking about, but what the latest situation may be.

Jerry’s eyes went wide. ‘My wife does the same thing!’ 

We compared notes and came to the conclusion. Our spouses think we are psychic, so we automatically known what they are thinking about. If that were the case, we’re both grateful that it doesn’t work the other way, or we could be in deep trouble.

Perhaps a little more research is in order. But the concept could be worth looking into for a story.  You just never know where those ideas come from. 

Hey, if I am a psychic spouse, does that mean some of these thoughts were originally my wife’s?

While he may not have psychic powers, Jefferson Chene does have the ability to unravel the knots in a twisted murder investigation.  Here’s an excerpt from “Your Turn to Die”.

In this scene on the first day of the investigation, Chene and Detective Donna Spears are going to interview the victim’s widow.

Donna and I drove to the Grosse Pointe Park address for Morrissey. The house was a miniature castle, probably built in the late thirties. It was three stories high, with a gabled roof and lots of leaded glass windows. The block was tree-lined, with oaks and maples towering beyond the rooflines. We parked at the curb and studied the dwelling for a moment before exiting the car.

“Check out the garage, boss. I’d swear that’s a classic Camaro ragtop in there. Right next to the Jaguar.”

The two-car garage was separate from the house, set back toward the rear of the lot, at least fifty yards from the street. “How old are Morrissey's kids?”

Donna checked her notebook. “Dale, a boy, is sixteen. Janice is fourteen.”

“All they need is Scruffy the dog to complete the All-American family portrait.” 

As I spoke the side door of the house banged open and a gangly boy stepped out and turned toward the garage. Behind him bounced a large, furry dog.

“I didn’t know you were psychic,” Donna said as she opened her door.

We went up the front steps and knocked discreetly. I was expecting a relative or maybe a neighbor to respond. But I recognized the woman framed in the doorway from the publicity photos I’d studied a few hours ago.

“Mrs. Morrissey, I’m Sergeant Chene and this is Detective Spears with the Michigan State Police. We're part of the team conducting the investigation into your husband's death. I know this is difficult, but if we could ask you some questions---”

She frowned in annoyance. “I was expecting someone hours ago. The governor assured me this was being taken care of. I also spoke with a man named Cantrell. I don’t appreciate being kept waiting.”

“My apologies.” I didn’t think it was necessary to explain where we’d been.

She fluttered a hand at me. “Come in.”

Mrs. Morrissey ushered us into a formal living room and gestured toward a pair of stiff upholstered chairs. I pocketed my sunglasses inside the sport coat I had slipped on when getting out of the car. Donna tucked hers into the V neck of her blouse. When we approached the house, she had switched on the digital recorder tucked into her jacket pocket. This was Donna’s first interview with a victim’s family. I wanted to see how well she’d follow my lead and what observations she made. 

As the widow settled herself onto one end of the sofa, I let my eyes sweep over the room. There was a plush area rug by the sofa in a soft rose color. Beyond the rug hardwood floors gleamed with multiple layers of wax. Pale gray marble surrounded the fireplace hearth and the two columns that supported the mantel. The plaster walls had been recently painted an eggshell white, then touched up with a sponge to set an unusual pattern, accenting the color of the carpet. Other than the sofa and two upholstered chairs, there was only a teak coffee table, strategically placed in the center of the room.

Above the mantel was a family portrait, probably done in this very room by a professional photographer. The parents were on the couch, flanked by the two kids. Both children favored his wife. According to the details I’d reviewed earlier, Colleen Morrissey was thirty-eight, the high school sweetheart of the victim. She had worked with him during the early years, slaving together to get the business up and running. Morrissey had named the company Vagabond Enterprises. Once it began to flourish, she stayed home to raise the kids. While Donna made some comforting comments to put the widow at ease, I took a good look at her.

Colleen was about five four and if she weighed more than a hundred and ten pounds, I'm the greatest detective since Holmes. Auburn hair with some blonde highlights fell to her shoulders, curling gently behind her ears. Her green eyes were bloodshot and puffy. She was wearing skinny jeans and a sleeveless white silk blouse that was so sheer, it left little to the imagination. I could see the pattern of a lacy bra that scooped up her breasts and put them on display. Her feet were in expensive sandals, little more than ornate straps of leather around the heel and across top of her foot. The toes were exposed, with bright red polish on the nails.

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Music this week comes from Norah Jones.