Thursday, August 1, 2019

Haven’t We Met?

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book or your career or you, but nobody has?

From Jim

I write the Ellie Stone mysteries, which are set in the early 1960s. There are three characters who appear in all of my Ellie Stone books, six to date. These three also appear in the seventh installment, TURN TO STONE, coming January 21, 2020. The first character who appears in all seven books is, of course, the plucky Ellie Stone herself. There wouldn’t be much of a story without her. The second is her extra-large sidekick and best pal, Ron “Fadge” Fiorello. In some of the books—STYX & STONE, CAST THE FIRST STONE, and TURN TO STONE—Fadge only makes a brief appearance. But he’s there. What I don’t understand is why no one ever asks me about the third recurring character. My little Easter egg, Leon the pug.

Book 1

Little Leon made his debut in a Manhattan high rise in STYX & STONE.

The car whooshed up to the twenty-second floor, stopping only at the twelfth floor where a confused woman with a Chinese pug had pushed the up button instead of the down.

“Can’t you let us go down first?” she asked. “Little Leon, here, has to do his business.”

I explained that the elevator wouldn’t change directions just for little Leon, even if I relinquished my right of way. She seemed distrustful, and I shrugged my shoulders apologetically as the doors closed once more.

Book 2

He was back in NO STONE UNTURNED in a chic Back Bay apartment building in Boston.

She took the snapshot between her bony fingers and held it at arm’s length to focus on the faces.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “He was here all right. I saw him a week ago yesterday. I remember exactly because it was the day poor little Leon was keeping poorly.” The dog. “It was raining terribly, but little Leon still has to do his business, you know. I ran into that young man in the elevator and asked him if he would be so kind as to walk Leon to the curb and back. And he refused! Imagine!” She shook her head in woe. “He said his glasses would fog up again! Poor Leon,” and she kissed the dog on the head.

Book 3

In STONE COLD DEAD, little Leon was seen doing his business in a snowbank in New Holland, New York.

“Consider yourself lucky, though. We had the car in the shop for at least a month after Fred Blaylock drove it into the lake, trying to make it right again. When we dried her out, the horn used to blow when you made a left turn. People on the street would look. Every time I took her for a test drive, I waved and smiled back at them so I wouldn’t look like an idiot.”

I noticed Mrs. Pindaro shuffling along on the icy sidewalk with her pug, Leon, on a leash doing his business, and I reached past Vinnie and blasted the horn. The dog yelped and leapt into a snow bank.

“What’d you do that for, Ellie?” he asked as if I’d doused him with cold water. “Wave, Vinnie,” I said sullenly, crossing my arms and turning away. “You look like an idiot.”

Book 4

In HEART OF STONE, we find little Leon in the Adirondacks.

“Hello, little Leon,” I called to the dog, reaching down to him. He sniffed the tips of my fingers then turned away and ignored me.

“Tell Ellie where Leon’s name came from,” said Isaac to Mrs. Merkleson.

“I named him after Trotsky,” she said, petting the dog on the head. “A little out of date, but I was feeling nostalgia when I got him.”

Book 5 

Little Leon had a Hollywood moment in CAST THE FIRST STONE as the witness to a murder.

“The cleaning lady came out to the terrace Thursday morning when she heard the dog barking. It seems the dog, a pug named Leon got shut outside sometime after the party Tuesday morning. We now believe that little Leon might have slipped through the door when the assailant was throwing Wallis’s body over the railing.”

Book 6 

Little Leon is back with Mrs. Pindaro in New Holland in A STONE’S THROW. 

Little Leon sat beside me on the next stool, huffing his dog breath on my arm. I tried to give him a pat on the head, but he must have thought I had food in my hand and wouldn’t have any of the petting. I settled in and ignored him, and he returned the favor.

Book 7 

Finally, little Leon travels overseas in TURN TO STONE (January 21, 2020). Here we find him in a cafe in Florence, Italy.

A harried waiter materialized out of thin air. He was bearing a Chinese pug, holding it as far from his black vest as his skinny arms would extend. My neighbor glanced up at him, motioned to a spot on the terrace beside her, and the waiter dropped the dog at her feet, a tad brusquely I thought, as if ridding his hands of mucus.
“Leon, my pet,” said the lady to the dog. Then to the waiter, “Did he do his business?”
Prego, signora?
“His business,” she repeated, vexed by the thickness of his skull. “Did little Leon do his business? Pay attention, man.”
The waiter looked confused and explained in heavily accented English that the dog had done no business. “Solo pipì.”

Surely some readers have noticed this little guy. Why hasn’t anyone asked? 


Ann said...

A good while ago you posted something on Facebook about a third recurring character after Ellie and Fadge. I flipping answered LEON the pug. I insist on credit, at least for that. So now I'll ask the question: Why a pug?

James W. Ziskin said...

That’s right. I remember. Ten ;points to you, Ann!

But what makes you think I want people asking me about this??? ;-)

If I recall, I had a colleague many years ago in New York who had a pug named Leon. Just for fun, I decided to put him in a book I was writing. That book never sold, but I went back to the well and gave little Leon literary immortality. Well, kind of.

Susan C Shea said...

Weird. I've read everything but the one not yet released and I never noticed Leon except for the elevator scene. Had no idea he was a repeating character. But her newspaper editor is an ongoing character, isn't he? Him I noticed.

Leslie Karst said...

I'll no doubt get a ton of flack for this admission, but I've never been a big fan of pugs--or any dogs with flat faces. Give me a pointy nosed Greyhound or Border Collie any day. So I guess that's why I never asked.

James W. Ziskin said...

Uh-oh, Leslie. You might want to watch your back...

Susan, Charlie Reese appears in most, but not all. Not in HEART OF STONE or this latest one, TURN TO STONE.