Friday, April 17, 2015

The problem with reality

I'm not in a particularly, er, fanciful mood right now. Which is a problem for writing fiction. Because so much fiction is simply improbable if not downright impossible. Especially when it comes to crimes stories. Delightful and enjoyable improbabilities, no question.

That said, I will not deny that some very amazing things happen in real life--things that you pretty much would not believe in fiction. I've been doing a lot of research on the FBI and holy guacamole. Things happen in real life that, were they to happen in a movie, you'd be screaming at your TV.

NOT that I have ever screamed at the TV.

Or at least if I did, I never expected an answer

But I guess it's true that real life is stranger than fiction.

Anyway, for the writer of fiction, it's all about balance. Because a lot of what has to happen in any real life investigation is simply boring and does not belong in storytelling. There are some things we must take for granted. For example, people on stakeout must find ways to relieve themselves. Unless something germane to the plot happens during the we-can-safely-assume behaviors, do we need to see this?

There will be some readers who yes, absolutely want and need to see this. But they are not the majority and their storytelling instincts are poor. Especially when they are wanabe writers themselves. ;-)

Because I am in a FILL OUT ALL FORMS CORRECTLY frame of mind, I've written several thrilling scenes that related to, yes, filling out forms, ordering subpenas, procuring warrants...

And this week I went back and ripped them all out again because, say what?! Real life so rarely makes for good fiction.

And it's even trickier when it comes to romance because I am not in a romantic state of mind. But then again, that might be the right approach for this book where the two protags are not in a romantic state of mind either. But life--and love--have a way of happening while you're busy making other plans.

Anyway, another completely unedited snippet from Winter Kill -- and then Special Agent Adam Darling must get back to filling out form 4506-t AGAIN. Oh wait. That's me, not Darling. I think Darling gets to shoot someone in this chapter.

“It was a mistake bringing in the feds,” Zeke said.

Rob grunted. He thought it was a mistake too, but it hadn’t been his call and it was too late now, so what was the point of bitching? He said, “Feebs.”


“The FBI. They call them feebs now.”

“I don’t care if they call them fucking frankfurters.”

Rob grunted.

From the observation deck at Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport they watched in silence as Alaska Airlines Flight 477 touched down, skimmed the rain-blackened runway, and taxied slowly toward the terminal.

Rob straightened. “Come on.”

“There’s no hurry.” Zeke continued to gaze out the wet, streaked window.

The overhead speaker announced the flight’s arrival for anyone who wasn’t paying attention and offered information on collecting baggage to the passengers still sitting on the plane.

A few long minutes passed before the mobile stairway was lined up with the plane doors. The cabin door opened. At last the passengers began to disembark.

Rob’s stomach growled and he glanced at his watch. It was already twelve thirty and in this weather it would take about an hour to drive from Medford to the resort of Nearby. He sighed inwardly. It had been a long morning and it was going to be a long afternoon. Of that, he had zero doubt.

Zeke said suddenly, “Fucking Barbie and Ken!”

A woman carrying a briefcase exited the plane. The rainy breeze tousled her long, pale hair. She threw a comment over her shoulder to a man in an olive rain coat. The man replied and the woman laughed.

Rob smiled grimly because that time Zeke nailed it. Tall and blond and elegant in their His and Hers trench coats, these two looked more like they were auditioning for a hot new TV series than real law enforcement. But law enforcement they were. Real live FBI Special Agents come all the way from sunny Los Angeles to offer their wisdom and expertise.

Yep, it was pretty damned annoying.

“Come on,” he said again, and this time he meant it. Zeke heaved a heavy sigh but followed him downstairs to the Arrival Gate where Barbie and Ken were impatiently scanning the waiting crowd for their welcome committee.

The bystanders parted before Rob and Zeke. There was nothing like a sheriff’s badge to clear a path.
“Special Agents Gould and Darling?” Rob asked. Not that he had any doubt.

The man--Rob’s height, green eyes, short, wavy fair hair--said crisply, “I’m Darling. This is Agent Gould.”

“Deputies,” Gould said. She had a very pretty smile. No question who played Good Cop on that team.
“Special Agent What’dyousay?” Zeke asked.

Darling directed a look that should have left Zeke encased in ice, and Rob preserved his poker face with effort. 

“I’m Haskell. This is Deputy Lang,” Rob said. “How was your trip?”

“Long,” Darling said. “Shall we hit the road?”

“I could see getting that mixed up,” Zeke interrupted with his usual godawful timing.

Darling looked almost human as his green gaze met Rob’s. Gould’s pale brows drew together. “I’m sorry?”

Zeke opened his big mouth again. “I could see how someone might think you were the d--”

Rob spoke over him. “We’re parked in the lot across from the terminal.” He gave Zeke a helpful, hard nudge in the direction of the exit. Zeke winced and glared at him. “You have any luggage?” Rob asked the feds.

Gould held up her briefcase. Darling didn’t seem to hear the question, heading straight for the doors leading out to the rainy gray October day.

They piled into the Rural Patrol SUV, the FBI agents in the backseat and Zeke riding shotgun. Rob started the engine.

“How long a drive is it to the resort?” Darling asked.

“Not quite an hour. Maybe a little longer in the rain.”

“With you driving, definitely a little longer,” Zeke said.

Rob ignored him, pulling out of the parking lot and turning east.

“You really think our DB might be one of the Roadside Ripper’s vics?” Zeke asked, looking back at their passengers.

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Gould said.

“What’s the body count now?” Zeke asked.

“We believe we have twenty-one confirmed kills.” Gould’s voice was pleasant. She might have been discussing the weather.

“I almost applied to the FBI,” Zeke said. “I didn’t want to have to wear a fucking tie all the time.”

Rob managed to swallow his snort. He glanced in the rearview mirror as he merged onto OR-62 West and briefly met Darling’s eyes. Darling’s mouth quirked in a sardonic not-quite-smile.

“Excuse my French,” Zeke added for Gould’s benefit.

Pas du tout,” Gould returned.

Zeke gave her his biggest, widest grin. She smiled back, But he was wasting his time there. Gould was so far out of his league she might have been from another planet.

 Again Rob’s gaze rose to the rearview and again he met Darling’s ironic regard. Darling did not blink, did not look away. 

Wasn’t green supposed to be the most rare eye color? Rob could believe it in Darling’s case. He’d never seen eyes quite that shade. Maybe Darling wore contacts.

Either way…that was one very direct, very intense regard. In other circumstances, it might mean a couple of things. Even in these circumstances that look might mean a couple of things. Unlikely, but still…

Zeke asked, “How many of those twenty-one vics were in Oregon?”

“Seven,” Gould replied.

“But that doesn’t mean they were killed here.”


“They might just have been unloaded here. He’s using the I-5 as his dumping ground, right?”

Darling was now directing his laser stare at the back of Zeke’s head. Rob would not have been surprised to see Zeke’s hair burst into flame, but then that was always a danger given how much hairspray Zeke used. Way more hairspray than straight guys generally went in for, in Rob’s opinion.

“That’s the current theory,” Gould said.

“How many members on your taskforce?” Zeke asked. “The whole West Coast is involved, right?”

“It’s one of the largest ever formed,” Gould answered. “Even we’re not sure of the exact number of team members.” 

Obviously not true, but more polite than what her partner was clearly tempted to tell Zeke.

“You guys okay?” Rob asked. “You hungry?”

“Yeah, I’m hungry,” Zeke said.

“We had a two-hour layover in Seattle,” Darling said. “We’ve eaten. And we’re on a tight schedule.”

Gould glanced at her partner. What she said was, “Gosh, it’s green here. We could use some of this rain in California.”

“We’ve never had a homicide in Nearby,” Zeke said with an edge to his tone. “I know it’s same old same old to you, but to us it’s a big deal.”

“We don’t know we’ve got a homicide now,” Rob said, with a warning look.

It was wasted, of course.

“Right,” Zeke said. “Maybe it was suicide. Maybe John Doe buried himself beneath that rock pile.”

Sunday afternoon, campers had discovered human remains buried in a shallow grave covered with rocks on a decommissioned logging road off of Route 140. Not exactly the Roadside Ripper’s stomping grounds, but for some reason Frankie--Sheriff Francesca McLellan--had decided to call in the feds just to be sure. Which just went to prove what a high profile case the Roadside Ripper was. High profile enough that even in their little corner of the woods, they’d heard about it.

But the chances that this unlucky John Doe was one of the Ripper’s? That seemed pretty farfetched to Rob.

 All the same, twenty-four hours later, FBI Barbie and Ken had shown up on their doorstep.


  1. I will go along for any ride you want to take me on. Even if it's to the potty. :-) Maybe Darling could shoot an accident. Of course by accident. Friendly fire happens...

  2. I can't decide if you are spoiling us or torturing us. Either way, I am loving it. Hopefully, you don't have to wait on a response to your 4506-T. That could take months. Just a few more days and it will all be yours (and the bank's).

  3. You are indeed spoiling us. :-) I'm really looking forward to learn more about the man with such striking, green eyes. Even if he'd be filling too many forms... with which I'm sure Rob can help him with... hmmm.... :-D

  4. Thank you for the snippet, Josh! No I will not be the witness of all things, which happens! I want not to feel like a voyeur and I am not so fond of deadly dullness. So I go and search for a nice little voodoo doll with a striking likeness to an underwriter! I am looking so forward to read Winter Kill, but I am sad that it's not such a joyfull writing as the writing of TBWTPT !

    1. This is the last book I will write in this house, so I'm trying to be mindful of that, to enjoy this last one -- and the house. Sometimes I'm more successful than others.

  5. Don't know anything about buying houses in the US, but it sounds like a painful experience. Too bad when it should've been a happy occasion.

    Darling though, I love sarcastic characters, especially those come with dry humour. Love him already. Can't wait!

    Um, I mean, take your time, Josh. Of course I can wait. :p


    1. I was thinking last night about how different it is writing these types of thrillers versus the classic cozy mystery. They each have their pleasures and challenges, but the biggest challenge with thrillers is I have to squelch my sense of humor. A lot. :-D

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