Friday, June 30, 2023

Under the Influence

 by Abir

Has an outside influence ever crept into your writing?


I’m not sure how to answer this question. In the general sense, everything I write is influenced by external forces and factors and people. I write about things that make me angry. I write from a position where my politics, morals, ethics are the result of external influences. I expect the same is true of pretty much everyone.


I suspect the question is more about the influence of other writers and other creative types – playwrights, musicians, dramatists, painters. Again the answer is a resounding yes – at least in terms of atmosphere and the general worldview of my novels.


Over the years, I’ve realised I am a fan of dystopian fiction, of sci-fi, of fantasy and basically any novel or film where the author creates a new world, often the bleaker the better. I think that bleak worldview has influenced the way I write.


Then there’s humour. I’m a lover of dark, gallows humour. I find a bit of levity adds something to bleak novels. For me, Philip Kerr was the master of the dry, ironic quip. I’m sure my own writing and characters have been influenced by this use of humour.


But if we’re talking about style, about prose, then the answer has to be ‘no’…but with a caveat.. There are many writers whom I admire: Denise Mina, Lee Child, Imran Mahmood, to name three. I read their words, whether it be the short, direct, incisive prose of Lee Child; or the insightful, elegance of an Imran Mahmood character description; or the ability to capture and distil human emotion in a single sentence as Denise Mina does; and I think wow, that’s amazing. I appreciate their talent. I envy it, too, but I wouldn’t emulate them. I couldn’t even if I tried. What would be the point? I would only produce a pale imitation of their work. A pastiche at best. I, like most authors, have my own style of writing. I do my best work when lost in ‘the zone’, the words flowing without any real external thought. I couldn’t do that if I was constantly trying to emulate someone else.


But here’s the caveat. While I don’t emulate others’ style, that doesn’t mean that I don’t learn from it. I think we all want to be better writers. If I see something that’s done particularly well – a turn of phrase, or a metaphor, or a joke – it makes me happy. It makes me want to learn. In that sense, I am influenced by the style of others. That doesn’t mean that I’ll slavishly copy their style. It means it opens my mind to what’s possible. It’s like fashioning a new arrow to add to my own quiver, another pencil to my writing box.


Opening my mind to what’s possible. That brings us full circle. The imaginary worlds I mentioned earlier – the universes created by writers whom I love – I guess they open my mind to what’s possible too. I’ve recently re-read The City and The City by China Mieville. It’s a phenomenal book which I’ve recommended on here before. But re-reading it sparked something in me. An idea for a book set in a world of my own. It would be nothing like Mieville’s book – because I couldn’t write something like that – it’s just too good, but it got me thinking about possibilities. It broadened my horizons as to what is possible. And that is the best influence ever.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Who Wants to Listen to Disposable Music? from James W. Ziskin

Has an outside influence ever crept into your writing?

Of course outside influences have found their way into my work.

It’s impossible for writers to avoid it. And, in fact, if they somehow managed to shut out the world and all its influences, I doubt their writing would be of any interest to us. Our ideas and style are surely shaped by everything we hear, see, and read. 

Take language, for instance. I don’t write books and stories in my own idiolect, after all. I use a more-or-less standard English, a flavor hundreds of millions of speakers share, to greater or lesser degrees, depending on experience, age, and provenance. To put it differently, speaking or writing, I grind away somewhere inside the immense, ever-roiling cloud we recognize as English. Despite any creative urges I may have to fiddle with our mutually comprehensible language, I tend to color inside the lines. Which means I, like anyone else, am influenced by everyone’s language around me. I absorb it, digest it, and use it.

The same is true for books I read. But if this week’s question is do I notice other writers’ influence in my own work, I would answer “not specifically.” I don’t copy or imitate other authors, but I can’t have helped but grow and learn at the knee of every one I’ve read. Techniques, tricks, turns of phrase, ideas, and emotions. Every word is a lesson, positive or negative, if we’re paying attention that is. Think of a piano. It has eighty-eight keys. All composers have the same eighty-eight notes at their disposal. It’s how they arrange them, the tempi they choose, the rhythms they tinker with that makes the music their own. If the result is too familiar, too derivative, it won’t succeed, at least not for long. Who wants to listen to disposable music? The same is true in writing. We all have language and shared cultural experiences in our toolbox. It’s how writers fashion the words and ideas, in their own voice and in their own private worldview, that sets their stories apart. It’s what makes it worth writing—and reading—at all.

My advice—for what little it’s worth—is to let the world and all its vast multiplicity of experience wash over you. Books, television, film, music, history, and language. Study them, learn from them, and use them in your own idiosyncratic way. Make them yours. Then your words just might creep into our shared consciousness and influence other writers.


Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Outside influences

Has an outside influence ever crept into your writing?

by Dietrich

I remember influences from my past. Growing up, there were many books that stayed with me long after I read them: Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and so many more. And there was the music I grew up with. Those were some big influences. I suppose everything going on around us now can be an influence one way or another, good or bad. And with that, I think it’s a good idea to stick to the positive, and avoid the rest. 

A good book can still be a positive influence. To me, my local bookshop’s a gold mine and a writer’s temple. A library’s like that too. The shelves are just packed with inspiration, and there’s always more than one volume that’s wanting me to take it home.

Right now, I’m looking forward to a couple of ARCs topping my reading stack. The new one by Dana King is called The Spread, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Dana’s cooked up this time for his police department and the town of Penns River. It’s just a great series, one I can’t recommend enough — and I can’t stop wondering why HBO or Netflix hasn’t gone knocking at Dana’s door. The other ARC is from Andrew Nette, a hard-boiled thriller called Orphan Road, part of his Chance series, another fine book that shows a lot of promise. And I just found out that my friend John Lansing has a fifth installment in his excellent John Bertolino series coming out in September; it’s called 25 to Life. There you go — three books for summer reading that are sure to influence and inspire. 

Other forms of art also influence and inspire me to create in my own lane. I enjoy listening to music while I’m writing — and when it’s the right fit I’m tapping my fingers on the keyboard and a foot on the floor — getting into the groove.

Great song lyrics are always a strong influence too. I’m partial to Dylan and Waits. And occasionally a song lyric has crept into my writing. The songs themselves can inspire an entire story. Just look at the many anthologies that have been published over the past few years, ones inspired by the songs of Lou Reed, Warren Zevon, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffett, Waylon Jennings, southern rock and the blues, and so on.

A great painting can be an influence too, one that can call on the imagination. I love taking in a painting that’s caught my eye, getting it’s meaning, and the story, and what it’s all about. A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? 

And stepping away from the desk and getting out into a park or walking some quiet trail can be inspiring, and it’s a great way clear some dead wood, a chance to recharge my batteries and shake the noise from my head, allowing for some new inspiration to drift in.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Influence of Other Writers


June 27 7 CM topic: Terry here, talking about "outside" influences on my writing.

When I was a young writing student, I took a workshop from an esteemed writer. I turned in a short story and he gently said, “This is a wonderful story, but we already have stories by Eudora Welty.” Guilty as charged. I was so enamored of her stories (still am) that I copied her style.
He said it was fine to practice a well-known author’s voice, but the important thing was to develop my own voice. I was so lucky to have a teacher who recognized what I was up to and was able to tell me in such a way that didn’t crush me. And it made me a better writer. But then, when I started writing crime fiction, one of my first books was rejected with the comment that it was “too Nancy Drew.”
Sigh. In that case, I don’t think it was the actual voice that I was influenced by, but the dependence on plot and tropes rather than character development. Back to the drawing board! I envy writers who immediately know their voice and seem to have a knack for developing characters right out of the starting gate. It took me too long to learn to trust my own voice and to really give characters their due. In fact, I still struggle with that. 

I’ve read advice that says aspiring writers should imitate authors they admire as an exercise, just to get a feel for how they accomplish their work. And it’s not a bad idea to study successful authors to find out how they organize and pace their stories, how they develop characters, and how they use setting to best effect. But it’s always best to keep in mind that we already have Lori Rader-day, Elmore Leonard, Elizabeth George, Don Winslow, Sara Paretsky, Ellen Byron, Deborah Crombie, and Michael Connelly. We have many, many creative, singular authors. They are great partly because their voices are distinctive. Their stories may not be anything particularly new; it’s the way they tell them that sets them apart. 

That’s not the same as saying you shouldn’t write in their sub-genre. Female detectives, British police procedurals, thrillers, cops, and ex-cops, amateur detectives are all fair game. But you have to develop your own version of those sub-genres if you want to be authentic. It means thinking of your own take on what those sub-genres have to offer. And then put them in your style, your own voice, your own understanding of the world. 

 So it isn’t a sin to let other writers influence you. Just be aware that it’s happening, and use their work to help you build writing that is your own.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Finding Voice

Has an outside influence ever crept into your writing?

Please describe a scene from your latest novel that you’re particularly proud of. Or better yet, why not share it?

Okay, so these are really two separate questions, but I figure why not answer both choices? It's summer and I have nothing but time.

I would wager that a lifetime of reading means that outside influences have formed, influenced and crept into my writing. I believe this is a good thing. It's not that I've copied another writer's words or plots; their words and stories have simply inspired and taught me how to be a better storyteller. Even books I haven't particularly liked have taught valuable lessons when I've analyzed what wasn't working for me.

The question, however, seems to want to know if any particular passage has been directly influenced by another writer's work. The one time I can think of when this happened was early on when I was writing my first published middle grade novel Running Scared. I was rereading Catcher in the Rye, and some of Holden Caulfield's manner of speaking slipped into my main character Jennifer Bannon's speech pattern, not in a major way, just every now and then. Like Holden, Jennifer is in high school and dealing with loss and teenage angst, and she's trying to make sense of her world. I particularly loved J.D. Salinger's way of saying a lot with a little and using understatement to heighten the impact of a scene.

As for question two and a scene from my current novel
When Last Seen, following on Salinger's (and Hemingway's) style of saying a little with a lot, I've picked out a passage in which I attempt to show Ginger's fear after her little boy Charlie goes missing without overdoing or getting melodramatic.  I'm also working to have the reader feel the hot July day and picture themselves in the backyard with Ginger.

The sun continued to bake the back patio, so Ginger dragged a lawn chair into the dappled shadows under the sweeping branches of the sugar maple. This was where she would have set up the wading pool for Charlie if he hadn’t gone missing. She tried to get comfortable on the recliner, and the baby kicked as she manoeuvred into position. Through her sunglasses, she watched a squirrel race across the top of the fence and tried to think about nothing. For three days, she’d been in a state of terror and knew she had to gear down for the sake of her unborn child. She’d refused to take a sedative, promising David that she’d relax on her own.

Mercifully, her mom and dad had gone grocery shopping, and David was working in his home office. The victims’ liaison officer was set up inconspicuously in a corner of the living room, monitoring phone calls, even though whoever took Charlie was staying quiet. This worried Ginger more than anything else. What if this person had taken Charlie to hurt him or worse? How would she endure never knowing where he was or if he was being cared for?

She put a hand over her heart and forced deep breaths, in and out, in and out. Then she closed her eyes and pretended Charlie was playing with his teddy bears next to her on the grass. The hot breeze caressed her face and dried the tears on her cheeks. The trees swayed overhead, but the birds were silent, sleeping through the worst of the afternoon heat. Ginger welcomed the discomfort, needing to physically feel some of the anguish going on inside of her, to hurt like her son was surely hurting without her.


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Friday, June 23, 2023

Blue Bastard and the Hollow Symphonies, by Josh Stallings

 Q: How rough or polished are your first drafts? Do you dare show us?

A: Im gonna use this essay to show my process (Note to Editor: Please only correct finished piece.)(Note to keep it real, I use this for fection not essays, until now.) And I didn’t us anegg time I used my phone, dangerouse because it can suck me away from work.

Step one, Word Vomit. *Egg time set for 2 minutes (*I didn’t use an egg timer I used my phone.) Spelling as you type off. Fingers on keybard. Go!

blue bastard tall tale think angry killing suearsl open see candy tree aple anglers trusth be old maid o mty please dream  hallow symphonies sucker puke treats a plenty gold angels tall tipping peircing clodd hopping be my only  only dream a blue sorta copper plated gallon for slippy sky blanket

Step two, pick a title from vomit.

blue bastard hallow symphonies or maybe gallon for slippy sky blanket

Step three, write title at top of page and type for 20 minutes without l stopping to think.

Blue Bastard and the Hollow Symphonies

Why oh why is life kicking my ass today? I survived life in america is some of it’s ugiest years, note thats bull shit. Reading a letter in the NY Times about Cormac McCarthy and how the publishing corprate business would never let him publish to day. It broke my heart to think of how many of us will not get to read the up andcoming McCarthy. BULLSHIT, come one Josh tell the fucking truth. I am massively depressed today. It hit me the best work of my life may be behind me. And if im honest if my “carreer dies today it will be not with a band but a wimper, or tow mix my peotry mediphores it WILL go gently into the night.  I don’t say this for any “oh sad day wo is me bullshit. It is how I feel today.  Tommorrow I may wak and have a book in my head to write. Ore not. Who the hell canm tell. Past track record has Shhhh. I lived in a strange belief that what I had to say might oneday matter. I am coming to see that I may be erilivant to all but a few. and that’s ok. Or would be if I could get books out to those few. Waa waa… what ever. Maybe it’s just my natureal depression looking fpor a reason. “Natural High, why don’t they talk about natural depression? Yes? (Note to self, I love words and word play. Puns are the highest form of humour.)  (KEEP FUCKING TYPING YOU LAZY BASTARD>)

Write asny thing. So lifer ios hard. Got it. And you a kidd with dyslexia chose to write books about p[etty criminals you know, and how the police treat intiluctually disabled citizens… You choes a path that makes no sence to any corpiration, hell it only makes sense to yoyur self.

I hate whiny writers. I do, no be acurate I hate when whiters whine in public. Readers dobn’t care. They have existental and non existental problems they want to read our books to escape. Escapeism takes many forrms. For me reading to escape is a moving target, some days I just want to read an old familar voice a writer willed with anger and despare. Some days I need a hopeful novel. Soems days I need a smark fucker who will stretsch my brain. I wonder if ofther writers are like this? I wonder if I’m alone in my head and this whole life is one character play. No thats my fathers line.  Mamet said never trust a writer they are all theives — The timer just buzzed. Fingers off keyboard 

Step 4, edit this steam of gibrish and hope like hell you can bang it into something useful. (Note to editor AKA Erika, the actual essay starts below.)

Blue Bastard and the Hollow Symphonies, by Josh Stallings.

Life has been kicking my ass for the last couple of days. Wait, stop Mr. Dramatic. That’s way too big of a statement. Closer to true is, I’ve been solo boxing the last couple of days. Yesterday I was working on my truck trying to remove a stripped bolt by making it worse not better. Some days it’s zero fun being me. I did remember to wear gloves, so I didn’t bust a knuckle when my grip slipped on the wrench. That’s progress. Then again Cormac McCarthy said “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” So maybe I should leave the gloves off.

McCarthy died last week, at 89 years old. With a style all his own he spoke of pain and violence and love and life with the honesty of a writer who felt all these things. At our best we fiction writers are truth tellers, reporters sending dispatches out from our inner workings. I was raised a Quaker hippy kid in a home where sometimes the non violent parents knocked the kids about. I was left a legacy of rage, depression, wild humor, deep passion, and love. This is my truth to speak from.


Today I read Dr. Sinykin's opinion piece in the NY Times*** about McCarthy and his relationship to the publishing industry as it became corporatized. Not until “All The Pretty Horses” did he have a book that sold well. In 1989, McCarthy wrote to a friend, “I’ve been a full-time professional writer for 28 years, and I’ve never received a royalty check. That, I’ll betcha, is a record.”

McCarthy, an un-agented college drop-out submitted a poorly typed first novel “The Orchard Keeper,” to Random House. Had not editor Albert Erskine found it in the slush pile we might never have heard of the book or the writer. Dr Sinykin makes a solid argument that in today’s corporate publishing world McCarthy would have died in obscurity.

I worked in the film business during the corporate takeovers. One day I’m working for Universal, the next it’s owned by PepsiCo. The crazy moguls that started movie studios were replaced by corporate suits. I witnessed the rise of middle management MBAs who knew covering your ass was more important than solving a creative problem. Plausible deniability trumped speaking truth every time.   

When I moved from working in film to writing books full time I thought it would be different. Silly ol’ bear.

None of this is news to me, so to quote the Joker, “Why so serious?”

Why did depression choose this day to kick my ass? 

My brain scrambled up some facts and came up with — “The best work of my life is behind me. If my career dies today it will not be with a bang but a whimper — or to mix T. S. Eliot with Dylan Thomas — I WILL go gentle into that good night.”  

I don’t say any of this to garner pity. This is how I feel today. Tomorrow I may wake with endless optimism and a book in my head that needs writing. 

These feelings may be and likely are brain chemistry glitches. My natural depression looking for a reason. Cue the Bloodstones Natural High.

I'll take to the sky on a natural high (I wanna take to the sky) 

Loving you more till the day I die (oh, natural high) 

Take to the sky on a natural high (I want you to be mine) 

Loving you more

Where are the songs about natural depression? ENOUGH. I hate whiny writers. No, to be accurate, I hate when writers whine in public. Readers don’t care about our problems, or they shouldn’t. Readers have existential and non existential problems of their own. Readers read to escape those problems, at least I do.

Escapism takes many forms. For me reading to escape is a moving target. Some days I just want to read an old familiar voice, a writer like Crumley or McCarthy filled with anger and violent despair. Some days I need hard hopeful books. Some days I need a smart fucker like Plato talking about Socrates who will stretch my brain. I wonder if other writers are like this? I wonder if I’m alone in my head and this whole life is a one character play. No that’s my father’s line, “I always thought this was a dress rehearsal, and one day when my real life began I’d do it right.” 

If I stole from my pop, that’s cool. Mamet said never trust a writer they are all thieves. Did Mamet say that or did I make it up? I could Google it, but let’s just say he said it. Is stealing the same as falsely attributing?


As for how rough my first drafts are? I never try to make them rough, they just turn out that way. When Albert Erskine read McCarthy’s rough first draft he was searching for gold in a silt clouded river. Today most folks are searching for a precut perfect diamond. So outside of my wife, I try and only let the world see my polished stones.

*** Here is a link to NY Times piece with thanks to Deborah Beale @MrsTad for pointing me toward it.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Deathly Drafts, by Catriona

 Craft: How rough or polished are your first drafts? Do you dare show us?

Dare doesn't feel like the right word. I wouldn't show anyone - anyone! - the first draft I'm pounding out right now: not my nearest and dearest; not my agent; not my editor; not Stephen King if he phoned up and asked. Actually that last bit might be a lie. I probably would.

But, in general, I don't talk about or show anyone anything until the first draft is done, in case they say something about it and that deflates the tremulous bubble I'm gently blowing air into, watching the irridescene swirl and praying it's strong enough, despite its looks, to take to the sky once I shake it free.

Of course, I don't actually shake it free. I pop it. I kill it with a shovel. I stuff in more research than it can contain. I scribble notes on it and score out whole pages of it. I take scissors to it and staple strips of it to backing sheets, in a different order. ("Cut and paste" is not a metaphor in my process.) 

From then on I don't care who sees the first draft, in all its banality, clunkiness and typo-ridden lack of glory. I could prove this claim easily if I was at home in California, where I've got the inked-over first pages of every first draft stored away in case of blog questions like this. But I'm at home in Scotland and, although I don't pack light, there are limits.

But I can sort of prove it anyway. I've twice auctioned off hand-written first drafts for good causes. Once it was the first fifty pages of . . . Hmmmm, could have been Quiet Neighbors . . . which I wrote with an arm in a stookie, unable to type. The other time, I had happened to start writing a short story for a Bouchercon anthology, in a jotter, while waiting for a plane. It was a long flight and I had ten pages when we touched down. It occurred to me that if I kept writing it by hand I could donate it to the auction, along with the finished anthology and - crucially - the "death bag" that my story was based on.

(My sister Wendy bought a haunted evening bag on eBay, one that bled pints of bright red with a strong iron tang, into the water she tried to wash it in, even though the bag was pale cream in colour. Her son, Iain, once he had recovered from the shock of seeing his mum with arms plunged into a bowl of "blood" in the kitchen, said "Tell Auntie Catriona. She'll love it." She did.)

That's where my story "The Finishing Touch" in California Schemin' came from. What a gift!

So, since they can sometimes raise money, I don't feel ashamed of my first drafts, rough and cringe-making as they are - and they are: the mawkish resolutions! The Mary-Sues that might as well be called Phatriona McCerson! The sudden lapses out of the story and into all caps to add meta-comments like "THIS STINKS" and 'I CAN'T WRITE" and "OH BLAH BLAH BLAH KILL ME"! 

It's as if my first drafts are as haunted as that evening bag. And by a pretty grumpy ghost too.


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

If at first you don't succeed... by Cathy Ace

Craft: How rough or polished are your first drafts? Do you dare show us?

What I call “my first draft” is not necessarily what others would call their first draft.

What’s mine?

Before I even sit down to type a first draft:

I have the plot sorted from start to finish, all my research is done, everyone is named and their backstories sorted. Also I have an outline, and I have notes for every chapter containing about who is where, when, what happens, why it happens, what I want the reader to know, and feel, by the end of the chapter.

My goal for the first draft:

Tell the story from beginning to end.

Approach for first draft:

Put in really long hours typing as fast as I can, working my way through the notes for each chapter, without worrying about if it will all work out (I hope to have ironed out any missteps in plotting during my outlining and chapter planning stages). In the case of my Cait Morgan Mysteries, make sure the voice, tone, and style match Cait’s, and the series so far. For my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, make sure ALL the voices, tones, and interwoven plot lines make sense.

I print out chunks of chapters as I go – often about a quarter of the book at a time, which I read and mark up for as many literals, or poor use of language/expression as I go – I enter those into the digital document then, refreshed, I push ahead again.

I always have a tight deadline, so it’s not unusual for me to not have the chance to even read through the last quarter/fifth of the book before I send it to my editor for the manuscript’s first, structural pass. Also, I will already have made my own notes along the lines of “develop X’s character in chapters y and z”, or “pick up untied end of subplot B” etc. My editor and I seem to always agree on these points…but leaving them until after the first pass (by her) allows me to keep on schedule.

That’s my first draft.

My editor tells me I that I send in “unusually clean” first drafts, with few literals. I’m pleased about that; the difference between the part of the manuscript that’s had one pass by me and the part that hasn’t shows I do tend to pick up a lot of literals/quirks and other problems along the way. But by no means all!

I went back to my second Cait Morgan Mystery “master folder” (The Corpse with the Golden Nose pub 2013) to find something useful to illustrate the input of an editor on an early part of a book, so there is context (it’s how the book opens) and no spoilers (perish the thought!).

You’ll see that the challenge around which the book revolves is introduced without any lead-up in the final version, when compared with what I sent to the publisher as my first draft. Being edited allows one to learn – and then all you have to do is absorb every learning point as you go along…LOL! I try!

How it was in my first draft:

(Note for context: each chapter in this book is titled for what Cait drinks within it…it’s set in British Columbia’s wine country, so there’s quite a variety of beverages!)


Champagne and orange juice


Bud and I had happily devoured the delicious brunch of creamy scrambled eggs draped across golden buttered toast that I’d prepared in my little kitchen, then we watched indulgently as Marty, Bud’s slightly tubby black lab, had licked our plates clean—something that saved me at least a dozen calories, I reckoned. I was just finishing off the glass of Bucks Fizz that Bud had fixed for us when he handed me the photograph.

            “What can you read in this photo, Cait?” he asked, smiling. He looks great when he smiles.

            “You know I don’t like to assess photographs, they’re unreliable sources of insight,” I snapped, possibly too sharply.

            “Well, you might not like to,” Bud spoke slowly, “but you’re good at it. You were good at it when I hired you to consult for my Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, and, even though I’m retired now, I reckon you’re still good at it. So treat this as a challenge if you must, oh dear, sweet, Caitlin,” he was grinning wickedly, a sight that always makes my heart flutter and stutter, “and tell me what you can?” He phrased it as a question, but I knew that the gauntlet lay at my feet.

            “Before I tell you anything, can I ask one question?” I used my most coquettish voice and mock-batted my lashes at him. I knew that the sarcasm wouldn’t be lost on Bud.

            “Sure,” he chuckled, “ask away.”

            “Is just one of them dead? Or both of them?” I thought I’d get right to it.

            Bud smiled. “You know me too well, Cait.” His voice warmed, and he looked pleased about something. Then his smile faded. “The taller of the two is dead.  About a year ago. The other one’s her older sister. But that’s all you get.”

            “So there’s no point my asking if it was an accident, a suicide or homicide?” I punted.

            Bud paused, refreshed our glasses and took a sip from the champagne flute that looked almost too delicate in his large hand. “I can’t tell you that, because I don’t know, Cait. That’s the truth. I can only be certain it wasn’t an accident. The whole local community, the cops, and the coroner’s inquest say suicide. The sister says murder. I have no idea. But there was a note, and the sister says the cops won’t look into it as there are no grounds to suspect that anyone else was involved.”

            Ah—so that was it. Bud had found a damsel in distress and he wanted to help her. Immediately I wondered why he felt he owed this unknown woman anything, then I mentally kicked myself for allowing a pang of jealousy to clutch at my satisfyingly full tummy. I swallowed deeply from my glass, and decided to play nice.

How it was published:

(NOTE: this is taken from the galley pdf, so the layout’s a bit iffy -sorry!)


Champagne and Orange Juice


Bud slapped the photograph onto the table in front of me as though it

were a gauntlet.

“This photo showed up in my email a few days ago. From someone

I . . . know. What do you read in it, Cait?” He looked grim.

I held the photo at arm’s length and squinted at the blurry image.

I could make out two women, both with dark, curly hair. They were


I felt my multi-purpose right eyebrow shoot up as I asked, “Is just

one of them dead, or both of them?”

“How’d you guess?” Bud asked, grinning.

“Oh, let me see, now . . . maybe it’s something to do with me being

a criminologist who specializes in victim profiling and you being an

ex-homicide detective. And the hope, on my part, that you’re unlikely

to show me a photo of a woman, especially two women, in whom you

have anything other than a professional interest. Those facts, when

taken together with my amazing powers of deduction, have helped me

reach the conclusion that I’m looking at either one or two victims, or,

if not victims, then at least people who are now dead.” I hurled a bright

smile toward Bud and waited for him to tell me off for my cheekiness.

Bud shrugged. “You know me too well, Cait.” His voice warmed,

and he looked pleased about something. Then his smile faded. “The

taller of the two died about a year ago. The other one’s her older sister.

But that’s all you get.”

“So there’s no point my asking if it was an accident, a suicide, or a

homicide?” I asked.

Bud paused, refreshed our glasses, and took a sip from the champagne

flute that looked almost too delicate in his large hand. “I can’t

tell you that, because I don’t know, Cait, I can only be certain it wasn’t

an accident. The whole local community, the cops, and the coroner,

all say suicide. The sister says no way. I have no idea. There was a note,

and the sister says the cops won’t look into it any further as there are

no grounds to suspect anyone else was involved.”

Ah—so that was it. Bud had found a damsel in distress and he

wanted to help her. Immediately, I wondered why he felt he owed this

unknown woman anything. I mentally kicked myself for allowing a

pang of jealousy to clutch at my satisfyingly full tummy. I swallowed

deeply from my glass, and decided to play nice.

If you want to find out how all the final versions of all my books ended up – you just have to read them! Links at my website:

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