Monday, February 28, 2011

Handling Pesky Questions, Fokoli-Style

Two weeks ago I hosted Eric Beetner and today I’m hosting JB Kohl--the other half of the very talented duo that writes the Dean Fokoli and Ray Ward detective series set in the noir world of 1940s Kansas City and Los Angeles. The most recent book in the series, Borrowed Trouble, was released to terrific reviews this month.

JB Kohl and Eric Beetner also wrote One Too Many Blows to the Head and she’s published another on her own, The Deputy’s Wife. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

Figuring anyone who can create Fokoli can handle the tough questions, I threw this week’s question at her. Here is Fokoli’s intriguing and hardboiled reply.

Imagine you're at your high school reunion. Set the scene. How would you describe what you do? How would you answer the questions about the gruesome aspects of death or the too interested positing about how to kill a spouse?

You come to me on this, the last day of February, and ask me how Dean would handle his high school reunion. What would he do? How would he handle the curious folks who wanna know about offing a spouse?

Dean knows a thing or two about losing a spouse. His wife drank herself to death. And the real tragedy? It was Dean’s fault.

It just so happens Dean did attend his 25th high school reunion in 1941. And it went a little something like this:

My name’s Fokoli. Dean Fokoli. I don’t normally go in for things like social gatherings—where a guy’s expected to get his date a serving of punch in one of those tiny little glass things only old ladies use. I don’t like the perfume or the hair spray or the questions.

Laura was long dead and it was time to move on, time to show the world I was sober, in control, on my feet. True, my knees were shaking, but my feet—flat on the ground. It’s funny how you can walk into a high school gym, smell the floor wax or whatever the hell it is they use to make the shoes squeak when basketball players run up and down the court, and bam! Just like that you’re back in phys ed, knock-kneed and tongue-tied.

I stood to the back, behind the punch bowl with its tiny cups, near the drinking fountain. We’d all changed in 25 years. I watched ‘em all for awhile . . . Vinnie Carmichael, who played football and was pretty good. He graduated and became a doctor. Then he came home and married Faye Campbell. I don’t know why I honed in on Vinnie. Maybe it was my cop instinct. Maybe it was the way he held his wife while they danced—something insincere in the fingers around her waist—like maybe they wanted to be around her neck instead.

A few people passed me and nodded. “Hello Dean.”

Fuck you. “Yeah. Hi. It’s been awhile.”

“Sorry about Laura.”

Yeah. Laura. I don’t talk about her. So fuck you all over again. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

It went on that way for awhile and I got to thinking I should leave, should head back to the car and go home. But Vinnie caught my eye from the dance floor and waved at me like he wanted to talk. He whispered something to his wife. She smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and disappeared into the crowd. Vinnie made his way over to me.

“Dean,” he said, shaking my hand, “it’s been awhile.”

I shook his hand.

“You’ve seen Faye?”

Everyone had seen Faye. She was beautiful in high school and age had only refined her. I nodded.

He asked me what I’d been up to, which got my neck to tingling. Everyone knew about Laura.
Everyone knew about my lost job, my past, my ruin. The one thing I didn’t lose after Laura died was my cop sense. And Vinnie was lighting it on fire.

I didn’t answer his questions. I picked up a miniature cup of punch and drank it in one swallow. Then I picked up another. He didn’t go away.

“What’s the strangest case you ever worked?” Vinnie asked after awhile.

“They’re all strange. Nothing normal about murder.”

“Even when you work homicide for a living?”

“Routine. Not normal.”

He scratched his chin. “No perfect murder? Never?”

I slid my eyes over to him. Vinnie had a strong chin. There wasn’t much else about him that stood out, but he’d always had a good chin. Laura would have called it a movie star chin.

Vinnie wasn’t looking at me. His eyes were on Faye. Over in the crowd, her head was tossed back and she was laughing, exposing the long white line of her throat. Her laugh was soft and although her head was back and her mouth was open, there was delicacy in her movements. The word refinement came to mind again.

I think anyone who looked at Faye that night would have admired her. She wasn’t a woman to be envied, just admired. Because she was kind and funny and pretty. She had been that way in school and it was obvious while watching her laugh that she hadn’t changed. Or maybe I was just romanticizing everything since Laura died.

As I watched, she patted Lucille Williams on the arm and whispered something in her ear. Lucille hugged her.

Faye was a class act.

But Vinnie wasn’t feeling the same. His eyes were narrowed and his fists were balled into tight fists at his sides.

“Hey Vinnie,” I said after a minute.

He kept his eyes on Faye, but he grunted so I knew he was listening. “I had this case once. A guy killed his wife.”

He was interested now. He didn’t speak, but he looked away from Faye for an instant.

“Yeah,” I continued. “He stole a car and backed over her. Wore gloves, hat, sunglasses. There were no fingerprints because of the gloves and because of the disguise, no witnesses could be sure it was him who did it. Plus it was the weekend and he said he was in the backyard snoozing in the hammock while she was out shopping. Ran her down in front of a crowd. Boy, we had a hell of a time with that case.”

“How’d you catch him?”

“We didn’t.” I was tired of holding the tiny cup so I put it on the table and pulled out my cigarettes. Vinnie was all ears now and he waited impatiently while I lit up and took a long, slow drag. “He got off. No proof. No witnesses. We had to let him go.”

Vinnie’s eyes lit up. “Where is he now?”

I blew a cloud of smoke in his direction. “Dead.”

He swallowed hard. “Dead?”

“Drowned in his bathtub.” I dropped the cigarette on the gym floor and crushed it with my shoe. Before Laura died—before I turned over a new leaf, I had friends in lots of places. They were the sorts of friends who greased my palm and in return I kept them out of stir. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my day, but I never raised a hand to a woman. And anyone on my beat who hurt his wife didn’t last long. At all. “There were a couple of other cases that went down like that,” I said. “I can’t remember their names right now, but they all ended up dead. Car accidents, muggings gone bad, that sort of thing.”

I watched him to make sure he got the message. After Laura died, I went straight. I swear it. No dirty money. No off the books jobs. I was straight. But I couldn’t let Vinnie go around thinking he could get away with hurting someone as lovely as Faye.

A year or so later I heard through the grapevine that she left him. I don’t know what his story was. Maybe he wanted her dead for insurance money. Maybe his dick was tiny and she threatened to tell. Who knows? Who cares?

I don’t go out much anymore. Too many losers in the world.

***So there you go. A night with Dean Fokoli.

I enjoy reading all the posts on this blog. Thanks for the invite!


Oh dear! I’ve been dreading this week’s question as much as I’ve dreaded those high school reunions. Let’s face it. I’m a coward. I haven’t attended a single reunion, and I probably never will.

My graduating class had over 800 students. I’ve seen all of three in the (cough! cough!) years since graduating. Those three I reconnected with only in the last dozen years and not by any effort on the part of any of us. We just happened to run into each other by chance.

I was pretty much a self-imposed outcast throughout high school. I didn’t hang with the cool kids; I didn’t really hang with any kids at all. When you grow up in an extremely dysfunctional family, you tend to shy away from making friends for fear of having to reciprocate invitations. Every time I’d cave and bring a friend home, the results were pretty much disastrous. I’m talking on a nuclear meltdown level here, decimating any budding friendship.

So if I didn’t have any real friends way back when, why would I be compelled to spend several hundred dollars to spend an evening with virtual strangers? I’d be the wallflower hanging in the background as groups of old acquaintances formed to catch up with each other’s lives. I doubt anyone would even remember my name.

Of course, I suppose I could attend the reunion, wearing a huge button that said, “Ask me what I do for a living.” When curiosity got the better of people, I could smile sweetly and say, “I kill people.” How’s that for an ice breaker?

On second thought, I’ll save my money. After all, this is New Jersey. Someone might want to hire me.

Lois Winston writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in the series debuted in January to starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Visit Lois at her website
and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pass the Popcorn and the Grog

Robust and buttery, the scent of freshly popped popcorn hung in the air of Emma Whitecastle’s cabin.  She was taking the bag from the microwave and pouring it into a large wooden bowl when Phil Bowers came through the back door.

“That smells nice.”  He gave her lips a sound kiss as he grabbed a handful. “We watching movies tonight?” He popped a couple into his mouth and crunched away.

Emma flashed him a slight grin. “We’re hosting a movie party.”

Phil glanced from the kitchen into the great room of the large, comfortable cabin. A fire crackled in the stone fireplace and the large flat screen TV was turned on, but the room was empty.

“Guess I’m the first to arrive.” He retrieved a beer from the refrigerator and unscrewed the top. “But why do you have a fire going and the air conditioning cranked up? It’s positively freezing in here.”

“I don’t have the A.C. on.”

“Sure you do.” As Phil took a drink of his beer, the meaning of Emma’s words hit home.  He glanced into the great room one more time before taking another very long pull from his Sam Adams. It was May. It was warm out, yet Emma had a blazing fire going and it was still cold.  There could be only one reason for it. He turned back to her. “Are you saying this house is full of ghosts?”

“Not so sure about full, but there are at least a dozen in the other room watching TV right this minute.” Emma lifted the popcorn bowl. “Granny wanted to have a few of her friends in and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to. After all, it’s her home, too.”

“You mean the ghosts are having a sleep over? Here?”

Emma laughed. “Sort of.”

“Will they be telling ghost stories later with the lights off?”

“Smart Alec.” Emma tossed her head towards the counter. “Grab those napkins. Granny thought we should have popcorn for atmosphere, though only you and I will be eating it.”

Before Phil could say anything more, the ghost of Granny Apples drifted into the room. “Good, Phil’s home. Now we can start. There’s a heated debate in the other room over which movie to watch.”

Emma conveyed the ghost’s greeting and words to Phil, who could not hear or see spirits as she could.

“What are the options?” he asked Granny.

“Most of the guys want to watch Con Air.  The ladies and the pirate want to watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”

Again, Emma translated.

“Aw, jeez,” Phil said, waving his beer in the direction of the TV, “Mrs. Muir is a chick flick. I vote for Con Air.”

Granny put her hands on her hips. “Humph, you would. The women and the pirate have the majority. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir it is.”

Once in the other room, Phil started to take a seat on the sofa, but was stopped by Emma. “Be careful, Phil, you were about to sit on Blackbeard.”

The Blackbeard.”

“Not sure. I didn’t ask for I.D.”

Phil studied the spot where he was about to drop his heiny. It looked  empty to him. He jerked his thumb towards the other end of the couch. “Move over, matey. Make room for me and my wench.”

Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Hearth Bit, Eh?

A night at home, eh? For my man Magrady, the protagonist in The Underbelly, he’s a sometimes homeless Vietnam vet living on and off the streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row and elsewhere. When we first come to him in the novella, he’s been eight months sober and is bunking in the garage of an Army buddy. His possessions are an old-fashioned clock radio -- you know the kind, the ones that used to flip the little plastic panel over it its window as the time changed, second by second -- a hot plate, a reading light, mini-fridge, a few assorted boxes, and two pieces of luggage; a Gladstone bag and soft-sided equipment bag containing his clothes.

He no longer has a car, indeed he used to have a life, but that’s gone too. He’s estranged from his grown children and my guy takes the bus everywhere if he can’t bum a ride. He officially receives $719.32 a month for his Veterans Administration disability check, and earns cash doing handyman tasks.

Magrady in the course of looking for a disabled friend who has disappeared from Skid Row, spends time thinking about that and where to lay his head at night once he’s asked to leave the garage by his friend. His friend didn’t want to do it, but he’s doing bootleg body and fender work in his backyard without the proper permits or set-up, and see there’s this police captain who has a history with Magrady, and he puts pressure on the friend. The contrast in the book is of a downtown Los Angeles in the midst of gentrification, where former buildings housing toy importers or sweat shop have been converted into tony lofts. But it’s also a downtown where the working stiffs are getting priced out and the homeless get shuffled and stacked, but there’s no real viable plan on what to do with them.

At one point Magrady takes up with an old flame, one Angie Baine who lives in a modest single-room occupancy, an SRO as they say, residency hotel. Angie had been a “B” actress beauty. Her backstory is she starred in such epics as the Bran Invaders and did guest starring roles on TV shows like the Big Valley and the original Fugitive. While I didn’t have this in the book, I could imagine a night in for these two where they sit in a couple of chairs obtained at Goodwill, she sipping her Jack Daniels, Magrady, fizzy water (maintaining his sobriety), a police chopper swooping back and forth overhead while they listened to Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins or some Bartók as Angie is something of a classical music enthusiast. There is a scene in the book where Magrady has to sleep out in the open again, under a bridge with other homeless folks so he knows not to get too complacent.

Magrady has been down a long, hard road but has a few miles left in him. Home and family mean something to him. Unlike say Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer, who for him his West L.A. apartment was just some place to change his shirt and fry up an egg, Magrady’s not only looking for answers, but looking to put his life back together. Sure enough he knows, it’s nice to have some place to go to at night and be able to close the door and, if only for those few precious hours, lock out the demands of your life and circumstances and recharge.

Because tomorrow always comes way too soon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bathing with Ben and Jerry

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

The horrible, horrible day. Complete with unreasonable bosses, no tangible accomplishments and snow route bus schedules that require ten extra blocks of pedestrian travel on icy hills in girl shoes. Yes, oh yes, Sara has days – more than she would care to admit -- when the click of the front door lock behind her sounds like the trumpet of angels. And if we’re going to have that, we definitely need the rejuvenation of the personal religion recovery system.

Step one in Sara’s resurgence – Scuttlebutt beer. On a day like this one, she’ll go with the Gale Force Pale Ale. And yes, the bottle opener gets used before the coat hook. A girl has to have priorities. Drinking is socially responsible. Scuttlebutt is a local beer. Made a mere few miles from Seattle in Everett. Sara's support of a local business and commitment to sustainable consumables gives her the right to feel good about herself. The buzz doesn’t hurt either. Sara will finish the first bottle while indulging her OCD email issues. Admittedly, she won’t bother to open the dozen or so no doubt rambling/ranting missives from her equally OCD/paranoid/pain in the ass boss. Those can wait until morning. Sara might briefly dwell on how easy it would be to rid herself of his corpulence and drop his body in a conveniently located deciduous forest off the beaten path so his body can succumb to the local animal and insect population – poor poisoned things – while consuming her second beer. It’s important to spend at least a few minutes every day imagining the world as a better place.

Step two requires a caloric intake in something other than alcoholic form. Particularly since step three includes a bath and drowning, well not the drowning so much as the being found days later naked and bloated by good looking firemen when she’s not only dead but looking really, really bad, isn’t a place Sara wants to go. Ever. Food. Okay, the shells and cheese sound good. Clipping open the silver packet of Velveeta, Sara discovers that despite claims to the contrary, cheese like substances will not only not survive a nuclear blast but the expiration date isn’t actually an inside joke. Best if used before October 2001. What does that mean exactly? Best if used before. Does that mean that it’s not great if used after or I wouldn’t but you might or you will drop dead if you go there? Whatever it means, the hard, dense, no longer cheese colored won’t squeeze out of the pouch substance seems like a bad idea even in comparison to the equally bad day. After all, the door click was supposed to be the dividing line between the day’s horrors and the evening’s rejuvenation. Abandoning real food, Sara goes to the back up plan. Ben and Jerry’s Neopolitan Dynamite. Thankfully, Sara is smart enough to never, ever be without the good stuff. And it never gets close to an expiration date. On the other hand, she can’t pat herself on the back for her socially conscious food choice. Trucked in all the way from Vermont, the half Cherry Garcia, half fudge chunk nectar of the Gods can be attributed to a couple of guys from the Grateful Dead. Who understands self-medication better than them? Other than maybe Willie Nelson.

Bath time. Chamomile Epsom salts and water hot enough to scald. Have to counteract the cold of the ice cream and defrost the digits from unseasonably cold, yet traditionally wet Seattle. A more tech savvy bather would have long since figured out how to watch television on her laptop so she could easily move it into position, close enough to see but not so close that electrocution could lead to the same scary scenario as drowning (see naked nightmare above). No, Sara the technophobe has purchased a sixty foot cable cord so she can wheel the television into the doorway on its IKEA tv stand. Then it’s time to dig through the DVDs for a guilty pleasure. Nothing too stimulating, nothing too intellectual. Absolutely nothing where there are unethical lawyers in pinstripes instead of jailhouse jumpsuits. Too much of that and Sara will be projecting. As in projecting bath toys toward the workplace surrogates. That leaves rom-coms and animateds. The Quiet Man? John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in beautiful Ireland. Love Actually? Happy endings and British accents. Or the Incredibles? Hero work and cool costumes. And Edna Goldblatz. The funniest character ever drawn. Yep. Saving the world can save the day. The Incredibles it is.

Pruning in aromatic waters while watching Baby Jack come into his own as an anvil, Sara will be feeling better. The third bottle of beer will be mostly gone and the dairy injection will be coursing happily through her veins. When her phone rings, she will not even flinch. She won’t race to get it either. She’ll watch the credits roll with her head back and her eyes closed. She doesn’t know where her husband is or exactly what he’s doing but he’s not close enough to make good on any of his deliciously obscene message and he’s unlikely to have enough time to make the phone “connection” satisfying. Plus, Sara doesn’t want him disarming ordinance or invading countries while suffering from afterglow. Highly dangerous that and unlike the boss, she’s kind of attached to the husband.

Finally, Sara can climb into her jammies and tuck in under the covers for a good night’s sleep. Scarlett had it right. Tomorrow is another day.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

The PI as Homebody

By Michael

Joe Kozmarski spends most of his waking hours (which include a lot of hours when he should be sleeping) driving around Chicago and getting into assorted ugly predicaments. But he really is, or would like to be, a homebody.

He would love to spend more time with his eleven-year-old nephew Jason, who lives with him and who depends upon him for safety and shelter but has awakened many mornings to an empty house. Not that Joe wouldn’t prefer to be toasting Eggos and packing a school lunchbox, but it’s hard to be in two places at once, especially when one of those places is the Cook County jail, where you’ve been locked up after killing a police officer, or the backroom of an ironworks where you’ve been bound and stripped of all belongings that won’t incinerate in an industrial furnace.

And Joe would love to keep rehabbing the house that he bought after his divorce. He enjoys the feel of wood in his hands and loves to saw and hammer. But in the first three books of his mystery series, he has yet to pick up a tool of home improvement and when he does eventually pick one up, he’ll undoubtedly use it for the purposes of self defense and the results will be grisly.

He likes nothing more than a home-cooked meal. But he lives on restaurant food (mostly Asian and greasy spoon) and eats home cooking only when he visits his mom, who stuffs him full with pierogi, golabki, and kolachke. His own pots and pans are as neglected as his home-improvement tools.

When he does have a few minutes at home, he rarely watches TV, partly because he prefers to avoid seeing his own face flashing on the screen in news updates on the latest ugly crime to beset Chicago. Shamefully (though he’s unashamed) he reads little other than newspapers (the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, both) – turning the page from the articles about him. He loves music and wishes he had more time to listen to it, his tastes running (somewhat conventionally) to jazz but also including Chicago blues and most bands sporting ridiculous names.

In some future book, I’ll give Joe what he really wants. In an interlude between crimes, he’ll mark out a couple of hours of home time. He’ll clear the tools from the dining room table, turn on Latin jazz, cook something with rice and vegetables and meat and spice, and sit down for dinner with his nephew. Then, his ex-wife Corrine will knock on the front door with a bottle of wine in her hands and romance in her eyes. And ten minutes later his work partner and occasional lover Lucinda will show up with another bottle. And then Corrine’s bedroom eyes will turn murderous and so will Lucinda’s, and just before violence erupts Joe will slip out the door with his nephew, and they’ll drive through Chicago’s nighttime streets, looking for ugly crimes. That will seem safer than staying home.

(A book in which Joe rarely stays home)

(Coming in June: A book in which Joe still more rarely stays home)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A night in...

What does it mean to have a night at home when you don't have a home?

My protagonists have no homes, as far as I can remember. Wait let me check... Yep. No homes. Whenever we meet them they are out in the world, facing down danger, committing acts of bravery and sometimes crimes - usually both depending on whose perspective you have.

But what if they did have a home what would it be like?

Cue the wind chime music and the wavy lines until...

On a quiet suburban street we find a split level colonial home. All looks normal as the sun goes down and then--

A blazing red sports car comes flying around the corner, skidding through the turn and then up the street. As the driver slams on the brakes, tire smoke fills the air.

The car has stopped in front of the split level colonial. The gull wing doors pop up and Hawker and Danielle climb out. He has white button down shirt, a skinny tie and a black suit on. She wears a little black dress, four inch pumps and clutches a small purse just large enough to hold a Walther PPK.

"Do you think we lost them?" he asks.

She looks over her shoulder. "I hope so. I think that last 360 did it. You know I really hate neighbors that want chat your ear off at the supermarket."

He nods. Pops the trunk and then grabs the bags out of the sportscar's trunk. We see see fresh vegetables in one, boxes of cereal in another. "I'll bring this stuff in," he says. "You get the mail."

"Alright," she says Then she looks at him a mischievous look in her eyes. "You know, if you play your cards right there might just be something special for desert."

"You mean?"

"That's right. I picked up some cheesecake at the factory earlier."


------Sound of screeching tires and a crash ------------------

This is not working. Hawker and Danielle as domesticated suburbanites. Nope.

Let me try again.

In a modern high rise near lower Manhattan an elevator cruises toward the top floor. Hawker leans against the polished brass wall, his black jacket over his shoulder like a cheesy aftershave model. Danielle presses into him, her hands on his chest.

"It's just me an you tonight," she says. "You think you can handle it?"

He smiles down at her. The elevator is moving faster, racing for the top. "Don't know," he says but I'd love to find out."

Suddenly the elevator slows. They are on the 48th floor. Ten flights below their destination.

The doors open. An old lady stands there, her blue hair in a net. She pushes a small cart with groceries in it. Struggling to get it on board.

"Mrs. Werkelschmidt," Hawker says. "Let me help you with that."

"Get you're damn hands off me, sonny!"

She whacks him with an umbrella.

"I was just trying to help."

"You young whippersnappers - trying to help yourself to my Lactose Free Milk, is what your you're trying to do."

Hawker steps back, smiles at Danielle and shrugs.

"And you," Mrs. Werkelschmidt suddenly barks. "You dress like a hussy. Why in my day I'd have called cops on you thinking you were a --"


You see, this is why my protagonists hop around the globe, defying death ad writing wrongs, its just better that way for them.

Flute music

Um, hi.


OK, here's the thing:

Josh has a play opening tomorrow or something and his brain is, like, as fried as a McDonald's hamburger and, well, he asked if I could fill in while he was - wait, lemme check so I can get it right - "mentally incapacitated."

Although if you ask me, when is he not "mentally incapacitated?" LOL!

Errr...sorry. I'm a little nervous. Being the center of attention isn't really my thing. At least it didn't used to be my thing before...well...

But that's another story.

I should probably introduce myself. My name's Lily. I'm fifteen, I go to Mather High School in Mather, Massachusetts, and if I'm not really, really careful, I might accidentally rip out your soul and kick it to hell.

I know, I know. You think I'm kidding.

I wish I was kidding.

I'm not kidding.

But like I said, that's, you know, another story, and one I've, like, already written about in a novel called BENEATH, so I think what I'm going to do now is answer this week's topic. Yeah, that sounds cool. This week's topic. Which is...

Oh, right! What do I do when I'm not doing what I do. Oooh...good question! Thanks for asking! Let's see. I like to nap, but who doesn't right? I like to chill in front of the TV with my mom and watch bad reality shows. Our favorite right now is The Real Housewives of Orange County. We have a game we play where every time one of the rich women complains, we throw popcorn at the TV screen and by the end of the show, there's A LOT of popcorn on the floor, but you might think - OMG, what a waste of perfectly good popcorn! - but see, we got this golden retriever named Gumball and when it comes to popcorn on the floor Gumball's, like, better than a vacuum cleaner, which is good because we don't own a vacuum cleaner right now because I broke it that time I tried to suck up this puddle of pink paint I spilled in my bedroom when Cal and I were painting t-shirts on my bed to wear during the breast cancer walk and really it was Cal's idea so I don't see why I should've taken all the blame although I'm not surprised since he never gets in trouble because his parents treat him like he's made of glass and hey, at least it wasn't glass we were trying to vacuum up off my floor, right? Because that would've totally sucked even harder.

But anyway........I guess what I really like to do to relax is play my flute. I go up on the roof of our building and I can see most of the town and Boston too and if it's not too windy I can bring my music up with me but usually it's too windy so I just play the songs I know like Clair de Lune and it doesn't even matter sometimes what I play as long as I'm playing and it's like the whole world gets turned into that music and I'm playing it and for once, everything is under control and OK and that's nice, you know?

And Josh thinks he has a right to complain? Let him try dealing with the crap I've had to deal with this week. Please. Don't even get me started. I mean, you try being a tiny girl in a big high school who gets picked on daily for no reason at all but who's got to keep her temper locked up like a tiger in a zoo or else...and, God, wouldn't that be wonderful if, just once, I could terrorize them instead of...except it wouldn't turn out wonderful. It would turn out with parents crying and candles outside the hospital and it's not like I'm not aware of what might happen if I lose control - not anymore - but I swear, I had no idea - I mean, how could I, how could anyone, and meanwhile, my best friend's...

I think I need to go.

Where's my flute? It's got to be around here someplace.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Night In and A Super Bowl Win

Your protagonist has had one of THOSE days. He/she just can't wait to get home and lock the door. What's a night in look like?

It's funny that I should be given this topic. Not so long ago, my protagonist Alexandra Sabian actually spent a "night in" with her on-again-off-again lover Varik Baudelaire. They watched the Super Bowl and were cheering for opposing teams. Alex backed Green Bay while Varik supported Pittsburgh, even though he doesn't understand American football. (A vampire born in 1833 does have a few challenges when it comes to sports.)

The evening started badly. As Alex reported on Twitter, she burned the pre-game pizza rolls she'd planned as her dinner. (Yes, my characters tweet.) This shameful act of food desecration led to Varik coming over to Alex's apartment to cook a proper meal: rack of lamb. (Did I mention Varik is French and a bit of a foodie?)

Soon the game started, and in true football fashion, there was a friendly wager between Alex and Varik. I think the night is best summarized and highlighted by Alex and Varik in their own tweeted comments...

VarikBaudelaire: Reminding @AlexSabian of our wager. If the Steelers win, you clean my apartment for a week. If the Packers win, I bathe your cat for a month.
5:20 PM Feb 6th

AlexSabian: Yes! Packers win the toss!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 5:31:38 PM

VarikBaudelaire: Should I wave my towel now?
5:36 PM Feb 6th

AlexSabian: No, you throw it in. @VarikBaudelaire
Sunday, February 06, 2011 5:36:57 PM

VarikBaudelaire: Throw it in what?
5:38 PM Feb 6th

VarikBaudelaire: "See who gets on top." I had no idea American football was so...suggestive.
5:38 PM Feb 6th

AlexSabian: I meant your team is going to lose.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 5:41:36 PM

VarikBaudelaire: "Tight end"... "Full back"..."going low".... I'm confused. This is a *game*, correct?
5:47 PM Feb 6th

VarikBaudelaire: "Trying to get his quarterback into a rhythm." Do I really need to say anything here?
6:04 PM Feb 6th

AlexSabian: Get your mind out of the gutter!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 6:19:09 PM

(As I said before, Varik doesn't fully understand American football, and he found plenty of "colorful commentary" to mock throughout the game. I won't repeat it all here. Believe me, there was a lot.)

VarikBaudelaire: Dear @AlexSabian... "Your rack is unreal...." My heart told me to tell you that.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 6:25:55 PM

(Varik also enjoyed mocking the commercials. Alex, naturally, found his behavior annoying and took matters into her own hands.)

VarikBaudelaire: She bit me!! @AlexSabian bit me!!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 6:28:01 PM

AlexSabian: Biting @VarikBaudelaire was completely justified.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 6:30:15 PM

AlexSabian: I just wish he didn't try to dance after the Steeler touchdowns.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 7:48:26 PM

(The above comment was in response to a third party's question regarding Varik. It was followed by...)

AlexSabian: Picture this: A chicken. An electrified fence. Combine the two. That would be @VarikBaudelaire attempting to dance. :)
Sunday, February 06, 2011 7:52:46 PM

(To which the third party replied that perhaps Varik should take dance lessons. His response...)

VarikBaudelaire: I'll take lessons if @AlexSabian accompanies me. She's failed to mention she has the dancing grace of a drunken gorilla.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:03:46 PM

AlexSabian: Drunken gorilla?! That's it - where's my gun?
Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:08:32 PM

VarikBaudelaire: Well hidden. I made certain of that before the game.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:10:10 PM

(As the game progressed, the Steelers appeared to be making a comeback in the second half. The following came after an especially fantastic touchdown on their part...)

Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:43:12 PM

Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:43:29 PM

VarikBaudelaire: Three points for a tie and seven for... pom poms!!!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:48:58 PM

(The wager was previously amended to include Varik wearing only a towel and no body armor to bathe Dweezil, Alex's Maine Coon cat, for a month and Alex wearing pom poms while cleaning Varik's apartment.)

AlexSabian: Oh dear. @VarikBaudelaire is dancing again. It's too painful to watch.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:50:20 PM

VarikBaudelaire: Six point game. This is going to be close.
Sunday, February 06, 2011 8:58:22 PM

AlexSabian: Green Bay ball!!! Yeeeesssssssssss!!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 9:05:27 PM

AlexSabian: YES!! I WIN!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 9:06:51 PM

VarikBaudelaire: No! My pom poms!!
Sunday, February 06, 2011 9:07:23 PM

So ended the "night in" for Alex and Varik. Actually, there was more but that was all that was tweetable.

In all seriousness, Alex is the only law enforcement officer assigned to police the vampire population of Jefferson, Mississippi so she's literally on call 24-7. She doesn't get days off or nights in very often. When she does, she's usually asleep with Dweezil the cat curled up next to her. Sometimes Varik takes the cat's place, but the relationship between Alex and Varik is a rocky one.

But the Super Bowl gave them (and me) a chance to have a little fun and unwind for a night. I think everyone deserves a little break once in while...even vampire cops.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Troy's Debut and Her Night Out

Hilary here, with a special guest: Sara J. Henry, author of the about-to-be released LEARNING TO SWIM (which will be published by Crown on Tuesday). It's a novel that I've been dying to get my hands on since I had the pleasure of meeting Sara at Bouchercon last October. Moreover, this debut has received incredible advance praise from the likes of Reed Farrel Coleman (who called it "A compelling tale of mystery’s holy trinity: love, loss, and betrayal") and Daniel Woodrell (who said "An auspicious debut. Fresh setting, well-realized characters, cleanly written, with a mysterious and suspenseful story").

Here's how Sara describes her book: "While standing on the deck of the Lake Champlain ferry bound for Vermont, Troy Chance sees a small boy tossed over the side of a ferry going the opposite direction. Without thinking, she jumps to his rescue, setting off a chain of events that see her embroiled in a kidnapping plot with tendrils in the Adirondacks and Vermont as well as Ottawa and Montreal." Want a preview? The first chapter is available online.

Here's the question I put to Sara:

"Your protagonist is out on the town. Describe the place. The pick up. What does she observe? Where does she sit and why?"

My protagonist, Troy Chance, would have to have a damned good reason to get her out on the town. She lives in a tiny resort town, where the average tourist earns probably five times the salary of the average local.

She’s a freelance writer in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, scratching out a living, and used to be the sports editor on the daily paper in the next small town up the road. Like me. She lives in a big house in Lake Placid she shares with a bunch of athlete roommates at the end on Main Street. Like I used to. And she doesn’t drink much:

“I’ve never seen the logic in drinking to excess—it makes people act stupid and feel bad later. But plenty of people who live here drink hard and regularly, and plenty of vacationers seem to think it’s a requirement for stepping foot in town. More than once I’ve hollered out my bedroom window at two a.m. at visiting firemen here for a convention and so drunk they couldn’t find their way back to their motel. Maybe horse show people got plastered as well, but they didn’t wander the streets being loud about it. Maybe they sat around in their trim riding jodhpurs and neat buttoned shirts and got quietly, desperately, privately drunk.”

She’s been to all the local bars – Mud Puddles, Rumors, the Pub and Brewery, Zigzags – where you get charged one price if you’re recognized as local and another if you’re not. She mostly finds them loud and crowded, with people drinking away money they can’t afford to spend and too obviously trying to find someone to go home with in those last desperate moments before closing. And she’s all too aware that in this town you may open the newspaper the next day to see a headline about someone dying in a head-on collision because he was so drunk he was choking on his own vomit at the time.

Far too many people here find ways to die before they should:

“It wasn’t all that rare for vacationers to get stranded in a sudden snowstorm on what they had thought would be a pleasant afternoon hike and freeze to death before anyone could find them. Far too often locals would drink too much on a Saturday night and drive off the road and die in a deep ravine. And sometimes, in the middle of a jobless, loveless winter, someone would write a note, put his mouth around a shotgun barrel, and toe down the trigger. Or just go out for a long walk and never be found. Someone cried for them, or maybe no one did. Someone cleaned up the mess, and life went on.”

So out on the town for Troy is more likely going to be a run around the lake at night, circling the lakeside homes and the expensive inn, going through town, passing the creaking toboggan run that shoots shrieking passengers out onto the frozen surface of the lake. Or once in a while dining at the Caribbean Cowboy or Desperadoes or Pete’s up on Main Street with one of her friends. Or going to watch skaters up at the Olypmpic Center, slipping into the stale cold air of the arena, where sounds resonate, watching the skaters on the ice, seeing their bodies twist with effort and hearing their blades bite the ice.

Because this is small-town Adirondacks. This is what you do, if you’re someone like Troy.

Thanks for stopping by today, Sara, and best of luck with the launch!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Better Part of Valor

Reece Hirsch

(Answering Last Week's Question)

At the beginning of “The Insider,” my protagonist Will Connelly responds to extreme danger in a way that I can fully understand and appreciate – he flees. While I have never been terrorized by Russian mobsters, I can imagine that if I was, I would very quickly get in touch with my inner Usain Bolt. Let’s not call it cowardice. Let’s call it a healthy instinct for survival.

That same instinct for survival allowed Will to rise through the ranks as an associate at a large San Francisco law firm. After years of grinding out billable hours, Will is on the verge of being elevated to partnership one morning when a very bad thing happens, the first of a series of very bad things. The events that unfold first threaten Will’s career, then his life, then the lives of many.

A few chapters in, Will displays a mundane, but still admirable, sort of courage when he defends an associate that he believes is being blackballed at his first partner’s meeting. Will expends much of his meager political capital at the firm to protect the associate who is being wrongly set-up for firing. We begin to see that Will is braver than he first appears.

But in a later chapter, Will starts looking downright heroic. He grows tired of being a pawn of his tormenters and does something that I’m not sure I would do. He walks alone into Dacha, a Russian restaurant in San Francisco’s Little Russia community that is the headquarters of the local Russian mob, in an attempt to learn the truth about why he has been targeted. Readers seem to like their mystery and thriller protagonists to take charge of their fates and face the most dangerous adversaries without batting a squinty, steely blue eye. Of course, those books would lack a certain dramatic tension if their protagonists responded as risk-aversely as most of us would. For example:

If I were Jason Bourne, I wouldn’t have gone searching for the secret of my identity and Operation Treadstone. After that fishing boat crew hauled me out of the Mediterranean, I would have just settled down on one of those Greek islands. Maybe I’d open a falafel stand. So what if my memory is a little fuzzy? At least no one's throwing ninja stars at me.

If I were Jack Reacher, I would stop walking the earth without possessions defending those in need like Caine in "Kung Fu." Reacher has been a roaming badass for so long that I think he's forgotten the pleasures of kicking back in your favorite armchair and watching your very own big-screen TV. If I were Reacher, I'd get myself a driver’s license and a Social Security number. Then I'd buy a house and a car (Reacher would be a used car salesman's worst nightmare). And, by all means, I’d get myself some good insurance.

And if I were Dave Robicheaux, I’d stick to my bait shop and boat rental business on the Bayou Teche. Solving crimes is stressful and that can’t be good for a tortured ex-cop who’s trying to stay clean and sober. Dave (and most other crime thriller protagonists) seem to have trouble remembering a very simple lesson -- if you want to protect the ones you love, stop provoking sociopathic killers. Because Rule Number One in The Sociopathic Killer Playbook is "Go after the spouse/child/significant other."

I guess those who can’t be action heroes, write action heroes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Out for a night in the 'burg

by Meredith Cole

Lydia loves to go out, and her neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is the kind of place where no one stays in. Everyone either has a million roommates or a really small apartment. Or both. Besides, Lydia doesn’t cook, so if she doesn’t go out, she’s got to order in.

So a typical night out would consist of her meeting up with friends at a restaurant. They’d start at a bar. Most of the bars in Williamsburg have been decorated to look dark and divey. Her friends would be late, so she would spend some time nursing her drink and checking out the scene.

The best part of people watching in Williamsburg is the outfits or costumes that people wear. There is a certain hipster uniform (skinny pants, trucker hats for men, boots, long scarves) that can at times seem monotonous. But there are also wonderfully weird outfits that people put together.

Tonight there is a woman with a giant furry purse shaped like a log clutched under her arm. She’s wearing a tiny hat with ostrich feathers pinned to her upswept hair. Her companion is wearing a plaid jacket that looks like it belongs to someone 40 years older, a skinny tie, and his hair has been moussed to look like he just rolled out of bed.

The waitress is dressed like Morticia Adams, even though it is months after Halloween. Her lipstick and fingernail polish are black, and her long straight hair has been dyed black. Actually, there is not a single thing on her body that is anything but black.

Several people have brought their dogs in. One is a tiny and is being carried on its owner’s tummy in a doggy Bjorn. His little legs are sticking straight out and he looks mortified. Another is a large pit bull mix that is sprawled under several chairs. His eyes follow all the action and he is no doubt waiting for a tasty tidbit to fall. The waitress has to step over him every time she carries drinks to a table.

There’s an art show on the walls but it’s way too dark to make out any of the details. She thinks the pieces might be paintings of fruit. Then again, they might be pornographic.

Next to her, two guys are debating the merits of the new iPhone versus the old iPhone. They look unwashed and like they could either be homeless or members of some kind of ironic band. Instead, she figures out from their conversation that they’re both creatives at an advertising agency.

The couple on the other side of her is mumbling to each other. She can barely make it out over the music, but she thinks they might be arguing about money. People with don't seem to work but live high off the hog in her neighborhood are called trustafarians.

At last her friends arrive and they giggle together over the purse and doggy Bjorn. The rest of the outfits and characters in the bar are unremarkable. And if there's going to be a murder in the bar tonight, none of them see it coming.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shane's Back . . . And Thongs Begin to Tremble

Like Pacino said.

Hi, everyone, Shane Gericke here. Kel is wowing fans in far-off places this week, and so asked me to fill in. Good deal for me. Damn pity for you.

So, on that hopeful note, let's begin!

Today's question is, "What would your protagonist do with a night on the town?" A fine quetion. But, my poor protag never has a night on the town--when she's not sleeping, she's working. So I'm gonna answer last week's question instead: "What does your protagonist do that you won't?"

But before I begin, I want to give you a treat . . .

Puns for smart people!

I found this list on the magic lantern; i.e., the Internet, where all good time-wasting material is found. Unlike most groaners, these puns are pretty sharp. Since you're smart, I thought you'd enjoy them. But only a few. I'm saving the rest in case I sub for someone else someday and run out of material:

Here goes: 

1. The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian .

3.   She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

4.   A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

5.   No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

6.  A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

7.  A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart

8.  Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

OK, back to the topic of the week, "What would your protagonist do that you won't?"

Well, let's start with panties.

My protag is Emily Thompson. She's a police detective in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, and she battles serial killers in my crime novels, the newest of which is TORN APART, which was fortunate enough to be named Best Thriller of 2010 by Suspense Magazine. Emily is very good at her job and has defeated three really horrific serials in my past three books. Which is why I have a series, not the one-book career I thought I'd have when I started this book-writin' thing. Go, Emily, go! Kill those bad guys! Keep me employed!

So, back to panties.

Emily wears them. Specifically, thong underwear. Sometimes black, sometimes emerald, always flossy. There's an intriguing back story based on what a real female cop once told me--read TORN APART to find out--but suffice it to say, that's something I won't do, wear thongs. Any kind of panties, actually. Not even if you begged me real good and plied me with Scotch. Not that I'm not in touch with my feminine side--I am, dammit, I embrace my inner goddess as if a wraith, or hobgoblin, or something intellectual like that. But give me Man Pantz any time. Preferably made from chain mail, or at least burlap, for that special hair-shirt feeling that keeps me feeling fresh.

Next thing I won't do: Get hurt. Emily is a cop and she's hunted by psychos. She gets shot. A lot. Also stabbed, sliced, clubbed, punched, hanged, burned, and other gardens of delight. And, she gets body parts mailed to her, albeit boiled in bleach to avoid DNA tracing. (My antags like smart puns, too.) She doesn't like it one bit. Neither would I. But she doesn't have a choice in the matter, and I do. So for me, ix-nay on the destruction-ay.

On the other hand, Em gets to kill really nasty villain-creatures who hurt children and club little old ladies and kill and kidnap with abandon. She shoots them and strangles them and, in one memorable passage, guts them with an antler. Party! I would like that very much, gutting people who terrorize others. So, that I will keep it on my bucket list.

What else? Her family is dead. I wouldn't like that--I love my parents and sisters too much. So forget it. She races around in a souped-up Dodge Charger that hits 150 on the interstate, while listening to heavy metal. That's WAY cool, so I would do that if I didn't have a 1999 Honda Civic that rattles at 80. She has a custom nine-millimeter Glock with which she can shoot out the eye of a fly at twenty paces. I like guns and shooting, so deal me in. Her houses keep burning down, thanks to the aforementioned serial killers. Dealing with insurance companies? Ick. No way. So forget fires--If I want to redecorate, I'll put up new wallpaper.

Finally, Emily has sex. Lots. In all manner of interesting ways, including  whipped cream and chocolate sauce and steam-clouded shower stalls. Mmmmmmm, would I like that?

I report, you decide :-)

Thanks for reading, and catch you next time one of the delightful CM squad needs a hand filling up a hole.


Shane Gericke is the national bestselling author of BLOWN AWAY, CUT TO THE BONE and TORN APART, which was named Best Thriller of 2010 by Suspense Magazine. A senior editor with the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper before switching to crime fiction--though some might argue it's the same thing any more--Shane is an original member of International Thriller Writer and the 2010 chairman of ThrillerFest. He was a founding writer of this very blog, but sadly, had to step back because his editor actually wanted him to submit his book manuscripts ON TIME. As if. He lives in Naperville, Illinois, where his series is based, and is home to famous crime-fighter Dick Tracy, with whom Shane bears no resemblance except square jaw and steely eye. Read all about Shane at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We’ll Always Have Georgetown

By Tracy Kiely

Elizabeth Parker lives in Northern Virginia, so for a night out she’d most likely go to Georgetown. Georgetown has been a favorite spot of hers ever since high school when she and her friends would head there on Fridays for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Although the movie’s run has long since ended and Elizabeth’s desire to sit through a rowdy midnight showing of anything has also since faded, she still loves visiting Georgetown’s cobblestone streets, stores and restaurants.

Billy Martin’s Tavern is one of Elizabeth’s favorite restaurants. Growing up her family always had Christmas Eve dinner there after which they’d head over to Holy Trinity for midnight mass.

Georgetown is great for all things midnight.

Anyway, back to Martin’s – it’s a favorite haunt of locals and tourists alike. The two-story tavern, which opened in the early 1930s, has hosted every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush. John F. Kennedy used to be a regular. In fact, he proposed to Jackie in booth number three. In the main dining room, fox-hunting prints and black-and-white baseball photos hang on paneled walls while Tiffany-style lamps dangle from overhead.

This Saturday night, Elizabeth slides into one of the high-backed hardwood booths that affords a view of Wisconsin Avenue and studies the menu in silence. She knows that she should get the salmon with rice because it’s the healthy choice but she also knows that she’ll end up ordering the shepherd’s pie because the shepherd’s pie at Martin’s is really, really good. It’s like a hug for your stomach.

She’s alone right now. Her boyfriend, Peter, is on his way to meet her. So Elizabeth sits and waits – which is a polite way of saying that she totally eavesdrops on all the various conversations around her. The couple in the booth behind her are fighting. He thinks she’s being dramatic. She thinks he is being mean. Elizabeth listens for a few minutes but then grows uninterested. They are both right; she is being dramatic and he is being mean. Elizabeth gives their relationship another month tops. Bored, she shifts her attention to the table in the center area of the restaurant. A young man is talking in a low voice to an older woman. The woman is one of those classic grand dames of Georgetown. Beautifully coiffed and expensively dressed, she is of a dying breed; women who still proudly wear their floor length fur coats and remember the days when the Kennedys lived on N Street. She sits very still, her posture almost stiff. However, the young man doesn’t look like he goes with her. His coat is cheap and shabby, and his hair is scraggly in the back.

The man leans forward, his voice urgent. The noise from the bar makes it hard to hear, but Elizabeth is able to catch the phrase “it has to be done.” Sneaking a glance, Elizabeth gauges the woman’s reaction; she winces slightly and her red lips pull down in distress but reluctantly nods her head in agreement. The man abruptly leaves and the woman drains her glass of wine.


By the time Peter arrives, Elizabeth is convinced that something bad is about to happen. Peter calmly listens to her. He is used to her penchant for eavesdropping. He good naturedly inquires if she’d prefer him to call 911 or if she’d rather do it. Elizabeth pays him no heed.

After all, she’s been right before.

For instance, the shepherd’s pie is delicious.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Borrowed Trouble...on a night out

It's Rebecca, but today I'm pleased to be hosting the very talented Eric Beetner. The novel he co-wrote with JB Kohl, BORROWED TROUBLE, launched this month. It's the follow up to his hard-hitting noir debut, ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD. Both are set in the 1940s in the gritty world of noir. Their meticulous research punches straight off the page and into your heart. In two weeks we'll be lucky enough to have JB Kohl present the perspective of other half of this talented duo.

Eric Beetner is a multi-talented guy. In addition to novels, he's written award-winning short stories and screenplays. He's directed a film and music videos. And he was in a punk rock band. Plus, he actually captured me speechless on video at Left Coast Crime. My brother is still giving me crap about that, Eric, and, if you ever meet him, he says he'll buy the first round.

So, I threw this week's question at him:

Your protagonist is out on the town. Describe the place. The pick up. What does he/she observe? Where does he sit and why?

You guys do the most interesting topics around here, thanks for having me.

My protagonist in this case is Ray Ward, hero (or antihero depending on your particular world view) of the two novels I have co-written with JB Kohl, One Too Many Blows To The Head and the brand new Borrowed Trouble. (look for her in this spot in two weeks)

Ray is an ex-boxer from Kansas City in the late 1930s/early 40s. In chapter one of One Too Many Blows he watches his brother, another boxer whom he now manages, get killed in the ring during a fixed fight. He spends the rest of that book ‘out on the town’ hunting down the men responsible, so he’s used to observing.

In Borrowed Trouble the action moves to Hollywood in 1941 and Ray is out to help out a sister he never knew he had. (I’m leaving out entire halves of the books that deal with JB’s character, Detective Dean Fokoli, but I’ll let her tell you about him)

It was interesting to take Ray from a world he knew in Kansas City to a strange wonderland called Hollywood. When he first gets off the train here’s how he describes it:

“Los Angeles, at first look, was a letdown. I expected what everyone expects: movie stars waving at you from top-down cars, klieg lights and movie cameras on every corner, someone walking Rin Tin Tin down streets paved with gold.”

Later, after some truly bad luck out in Palm Springs, he is driving back into LA where he observes:

“On the highway back to Los Angeles the stars blended with the approaching city lights like we were on the outskirts of a galaxy headed toward its star clustered center.

Los Angeles was growing fast. Hollywood lured countless starlets and working stiffs in search of the bright lights and promise of discovery. From where I sat watching the city crawl up around us along the highway, it was growing faster than it could handle. The edges of the city were like a skeleton still waiting for skin to grow over it.”

And one of my favorites is when he notices an LA icon:

“We passed downtown. I recognized City Hall from the movies. Lit up at night the strong central spike stood like justice itself had claimed the land. To me it seemed like justice had holed up inside and barricaded the door, refusing to come out where the rest of us live.”

Ray is a loner. He’s a man scarred by his past who would rather be left alone. If he’s out on the city streets he’s hugging the shadows, trying not to be noticed. He’ll notice a girl but would never approach one. He’s a man much more comfortable in his hometown and, within that, the squalid comfort of a fight hall.

A Saturday night out for Ray would be something like:

Ray hovered outside the Excelsior fight hall, trying to work up the courage to go inside. He hung near the buildings on the sidewalk by the taxi stand doing his best to blend in with the cabbies all chugging smoke and telling dirty jokes. If you looked at the crowd you could find Ray in a second – just look for the guy not laughing.

The Excelsior stood as a monument to the men inside, punch drunk and tired, smelling of sweat and a little blood. It needed paint, a good carpenter and a few gallons of ammonia to clean just the top layer. Most of the stains on the place are the kind you can never get out. The kind that stain the soul.

If Ray went inside to see his own fighter, a promising Italian boy with a Christmas Ham for a right fist, he would surely be recognized. That night when his brother, Rex, took a dive for the eternal ten count was still the biggest gossip the Excelsior had ever seen. The legend had long replaced the facts and by now to hear the story told Rex was nearly decapitated. Blood soaked the first five rows. The announcer’s microphone shorted out from all the blood. And the man he fought was a seven-footer. Some kind of Comanche Warrior straight off the reservation.

Ray didn’t have time to correct the gossips; grown men working unlit cigars the way a circle of women worked knitting needles and hung out the whole neighborhood’s dirty laundry. Pathetic.

He watched a man in a suit complete with vest and spats walk inside with a gal dressed in furs on his arm. She made no attempt to look like she was enjoying her evening. Dressed for the opera and taking in the blood and sweat show instead. Some date.

Maybe tomorrow night. Maybe the night after. He’d have to remember to get there early so he could grab his seat in the back row near the rafters. No one noticed him there any more than the discarded popcorn and peanut shells under their feet, especially not when the fists started flying.

Ray turned and moved out of the crowd of cab drivers. Two men parted for him, acting surprised like they hadn’t noticed he’d been among them the whole time. It was a good two miles until home so Ray picked up the pace to a light jog. When he got home he’d head straight for the basement and slip on the gloves for a workout. The heavy bag, the speed bag, a little shadow boxing. Sweat out the memories. Beat up his body until he could sleep.

Better than a drinking problem, but still his own little way of torturing himself into forgetting.


So there you go. Ray’s view of the world.

It’s weird doing that since in the books Ray is written in first person. After two books now I definitely know him enough though to merely observe him from afar. He’s also inspired by my own grandfather whose name was Ray and who was a fighter in the 1930s. State Champion of Iowa in 1935, middleweight class. That’s where the similarities end, however.

I loved the chance to bring Ray back for Borrowed Trouble. No plans to continue this series as of now, but you never know. Even just this little exercise whets my appetite for more with Ray, and any chance I get to write with my partner JB Kohl I will take. In addition to our own solo novels we’re working on something else right now so our partnership continues.

Thanks to the Criminal Minds for having us around and for all the inspiring writing you all put out. Hope you liked getting a little glimpse into Ray Ward.


This week’s challenge is to describe a night out on the town for our protagonist. As I’ve mentioned previously, Anastasia Pollack doesn’t have a spare penny to indulge on herself, thanks to her dead louse of a spouse. If she’s paying her own way, her night out on the town is going to be trolling the aisles of her local ShopRite to find the cheapest brand of mac 'n cheese.

About her only other night out on the town, aside from the night she went back to the office to catch up on some work and discovered a dead body hot glued to her desk chair, is when she volunteers to chaperone the junior high school Valentine’s Day dance. She can get dressed up and listen to music, but she won’t be able to dance for fear of embarrassing her son. So she stays in the background, sipping non-alcoholic red punch, nibbling on heart-shaped cookies, mingling with the other parent chaperones, and tapping her toes to the beat of Green Day’s American Idiot.

No one is going to try to pick her up. Not in the supermarket and certainly not at the school dance. Everyone in town knows she’s newly widowed. Anyone thinking of making a move will wait a respectable period of time.

Besides, how often are there pick-ups in a suburban supermarket, other than the picking up of grocery bags?

As for the dance, Anastasia soon tires of the mindless chit-chat and starts thinking about all the chores waiting for her at home and everything that needs to be completed before her next deadline at work. Her feet are starting to ache from standing in heels on the hard gymnasium floor, and she finds herself glancing at the clock too often.

So much for a night out on the town for my fearless heroine.

ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN is the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Read more about Anastasia at Lois Winston's website and blog.