Friday, January 30, 2015

The Coincidental Killer

I’ve been researching  serial killers this week. It’s not one of my favorite things.


Not that I don’t enjoy the chilly creepy pleasure of the occasional serial killer thriller, but too often serial killers are used as a means of having to avoid writing a real mystery. These fictional serial killers always make it easy for the detectives by contacting them first because they’ve inevitably formed a weirdo attachment and they’re planning the de rigueur cat and mouse game in which the serial killer does all the real work.


I’m not saying that can’t be entertaining. Sometimes it’s very entertaining. There’s a reason serial killer stories continue to sell well.


Part of the horror of real life serial killers is that -- like other forces of nature -- there’s no real way to guard against being randomly targeted by a lunatic. That’s also part of the fascination. It’s like spontaneous combustion. The chances of it happening are phenomenally slight, but at the same time there aren’t any real preventative measures you can take. Don’t eat too many jalapeƱo peppers?


Well, let me qualify, there aren’t any real preventative measures beyond the preventative measures we all hopefully take on a regular basis. Lock your doors, don’t walk alone at night down a dark alley, etc.


What is more preventable are the crimes that occur simply out of bad luck and the opportunity for evil. The night you have a fight with your boyfriend and go to a bar...and end up giving a stranger a ride home...that's arguably preventable. But someone’s car breaking down on a lonely stretch of highway -- nine times out of ten this results in nothing more than a long walk and a lousy night. But every so often, bad luck and evil collide.


Black coincidence. A different day, a different hour, sometimes a matter of minutes can make the difference between life and death.


Of course fiction is not real life and the number of coincidences a reader can swallow are fewer than might occur in real life.


Also, although smart people do dumb things, in fiction the dumb things have to be believably dumb. Also limited in scope and few in number.


Anyway, I’m not sure what my point was. The fact that humans are capable of vile and depraved action is not news. Humans are also capable of heroism and self-sacrifice. Evil and insanity are over-represented in fiction. From a reading standpoint, I prefer small, intimate stories over grand scale slaughter. Motive is the single most interesting element to me in any crime story. Crazy is not a motive. But when you write, you have to mix it up.

What do you love in mystery stories? What makes your scalp tingle and your pulse thump?  Do you intricate puzzles or romantic cozies or bloody thrillers?

Friday, January 23, 2015

What I Did on My Winter Vacation

This post is a little overdue -- mostly because I wasn't sure what I was going to say!

Generally, around this time of year I share my writing plans for the months ahead. With various degrees of accuracy. Midway through last year I was planning on 2015 being a very busy and very prolific year (much like 2014 was turning out to be with three full-length novels, two novellas, and an Advent Calendar as the end score).

However, as the year wound down and I began to evaluate the past months, I came to the conclusion that it was time to consider long term strategy.

The thing about publishing right now is we're all -- at least those of us without seven figure advances to keep us afloat -- on a hamster wheel. We're writing constantly in order to keep up that steady influx of cash. Which a lot of the time is fine for someone like me who really doesn't know what to do with myself if I'm not writing.

But this is a different kind of year. I plan to travel and I want to buy a new house. And those are both time consuming -- thought consuming -- things.  But more importantly, last year I was ablaze with creativity and the drive (need) to write. I don't feel that at the moment.

I'm not burnt out -- I know only too well what that's like -- but I'm just not ready to write. I suppose part of it is just the projects that I do have planned for this year are a little more complicated. They require more research and more prep than usual.

And that's a good thing. Both for me and for you.

So...fewer but bigger projects for 2015.

Winter Kill (Spring/Summer)
Jefferson Blythe, Esquire (Fall/Winter)
A charity short for the Trevor Project

And...that's about it as far as for-sure projects this year. And once upon a time, two full length novels would have been a very reasonable year's output.

Not anymore.

Are two lonely little releases reasonable during a year when I will have unusually high expenses? I really had to stop and give that some thought because how much I earn is dependent on how much I produce. New release equals big influx of cash. No new release means long stretches of juggling.

What I concluded was...quality of life and quality of work have to be paramount. Always. Also there's no point in being self-employed if I have no more control over my fate than when I worked for someone else.

But there's more to it than that. There is the ever-present and looming shadow of the hamster wheel. We (every indie writer I know) are all on it and most of us are running at top speed and going nowhere. We're not looking beyond selling lots of books in the short term followed by vague dreams of eventual "mainstream success" (whatever that means -- I don't think most writers have a clue).

There has to be a long term strategy. We all need a long term strategy. And I think, as with financial investments, the key here is diversity. I need space in this year's schedule to try (or at least consider) other possibilities. Non fiction? Other fiction? I have no idea. And I have no idea because I never have time to stop long enough to think about it -- but thinking about it, mulling over the possibilities is half the fun. That's the root of creativity right there: what if?

So this is my What If year. There will be stories -- probably more than I anticipate at this moment (because, like I said, I basically don't know what else to do with my time besides write) -- and I hope they'll prove as satisfying to read as I believe they will be to write.

We shall see what we shall see...


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for your support over the past year (well, years now) -- it is a great pleasure to be able to share my stories with you. I hope you continue to find as much pleasure in reading them as I do in writing them. I know I'm not curing cancer or bringing about world peace, but if I provide a few hours entertainment and escape, I'm well satisfied.

 Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you much joy and happiness. I hope the coming year brings you health and happiness. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Coda 35

Don and Ricky-Joe from A Coal Miner’s Son




Ricky-Joe put down his guitar and made a couple of notes. The new song was coming along. Not easily, because a drop of his heart’s blood was in every word, but it was coming. And maybe someday Don would hear that song on the radio -- or more likely Spotify -- and remember…

I'd shorely hold up the ceiling of the darkest mine shaft for you
I’m caving in, you cave in too
Cuz diamonds come from coal, it’s true
I’m caving in, you cave in too

The meter was a little rough. Don had always said timing was Ricky-Joe’s problem. But it was no use thinking of Don now. Their second chance at love had gone up in flames with the fire that had destroyed the Bonsai orchard. Don would never forgive him and Ricky-Joe couldn’t blame him. Only a fool would leave his guitar in the bright sunlight where a cruel and random sunbeam might glance off those steel strings and spark a raging inferno. You only got so many chances in this bottomless mine pit of a world, and Ricky-Joe had wound up with the shaft. Again.

He wiped a tear away and made another notation on the chord chart.

The door to his motel room burst open and Don charged in. Ricky flew to his feet.


Don looked exhausted beneath the grime and coal dust. Actually, it was smudges from the smoke, because it had been a long time since Don had worked the mines. Thank Jiminy Cricket for that, but was it really an improvement if he had to go back to being a butcher’s apprentice and killing baby cows? Beneath the weariness in his sapphire eyes was a twinkle.

“Ricky-Joe.” Don held up something in his big, strong, workmanlike hand.

Ricky-Joe’s eyes popped at the vision of the small and twisted plant. “Donnie, is that what I think it is?”

Don nodded solemnly. “Yonder little fellow survived that conflagration that took out all his leafy kinfolk.”

“A baby bonsai,” breathed Ricky-Joe.

“Babe, I know you feel to blame for what occurred in the orchard yesterday. I know you must be planning to run away to Nashville again. But this little limb of greenery is the symbol of our love. A love that can withstand --”


“Something funny?” Jake asked.

“Hm? Oh.” I showed him the cover of the paperback. “I found it in the drawer of the bedside table.”

His dark brows rose. “A Coal Miner’s Son? I guess it makes a change from Bibles and phone books.”

“You ain’t just a-kidding.” I smiled at the green plaid flannel pajama bottoms he wore. We hadn’t had much time for jammies and such in our previous acquaintanceship. I kind of liked the, well, touch of domesticity official sleepwear brought to the festivities.

Jake crawled into bed beside me. His skin looked smooth and supple in the mellow lamplight, his face younger. He smelled of toothpaste and the aftershave he’d worn at dinner.

“I thought that meal would never end,” I said. “It felt like we were sitting there for years.”

“There did seem like a lot of courses. The food wasn’t as bad as I expected though.” Jake glanced at our hotel room clock. “Hey. It’s officially Christmas.”

“So it is. Happy Christmas.”

"Merry Christmas." He nodded at the book I held. “Were you, er, planning to read for much longer?”

I tossed the book to the side. It made a satisfying thunk as it hit the wall. “No,” I said, and reached for him. “I shorely wasn’t.”





Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Coda 34

Jake Riordan from the Adrien English series (this coda takes place one year after The Hell You Say).


Baby, I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.


Yeah, once upon a time. Halle-fucking-lujah.

The first time he’d heard that song it had been in that very building. Cloak and Dagger Books. It had been around this time of year. Not quite this late in the season. The song was on a Christmas album that Adrien had played a lot. Rufus Wainwright. Jake had never heard of Rufus Wainwright before then. Never heard the song “Hallelujah.” Now it seemed to be on every time he turned on the radio.

What the hell did it even mean?

And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah


Such a weird song. Such a weird time in his life.

It was all over now. Over and done. And he did not believe in wasting time on regrets over the things that could not be changed.

Should not be changed.

But here he sat in his car, watching the dark and silent building across the street.

Sometimes it seemed like a dream, those months. Ten months. Not even a year. How could the most important relationship of his life have been the briefest?

But that’s how it felt sometimes. And that’s what he would tell Adrien if he had the chance. If Adrien came home alone tonight, Jake would get out of his car, cross the street and try to tell him…something. It was Christmas Eve after all, and if there was ever a night for holding out an olive branch -- for asking for forgiveness -- this was the night.

That’s all he wanted.

That’s all he’d ever wanted those other nights he’d parked here. Waiting for the right moment. Trying to get the nerve up.

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you


You could refuse to take a phone call, but it was a lot harder to turn away from someone standing in front of you. Too hard for someone as soft-hearted as Adrien. No, Adrien wouldn’t turn him away. Not on Christmas Eve.

But he wasn’t coming back tonight.

It was past midnight now. The windows above the bookstore remained dark. The surrounding streets were silent and empty.

Adrien would be at the Dautens’. Or at Snowdon’s. He’d be with people who loved him. Which was where he belonged. It was where everyone belonged on Christmas Eve.

And Jake…had spent too long sitting here already. He could not afford to arouse suspicion. He did not want to have to lie. Okay, compound the lie. He turned the key in the ignition.

Still, engine idling, exhaust turning red in the taillights, he waited a few minutes  longer.

The stars above the city lights twinkled with cheerful indifference, blazing that cold and broken hallelujah.





Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent Calender - Day 22

Photo by Kovalevska licensed thru Shutterstock
"Mistletoe" by Walter de la Mare

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen - and kissed me there.