Friday, January 30, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Dangerous Dan Murray

I'm pleased to share another story from Detective Hussey's files. Enjoy!

Dan Murray was a cop's cop. He stood 6'8" tall and weighed about 240lbs. He had sandy brown hair and steely light blue eyes. He wore tight tailored uniforms and almost always smoked a pipe. He was handy with the ladies, and normally gave the impression of being easygoing. Most of the time he was. But when provoked, his personality changed dramatically, and he became a formidable enemy.

Dan had been a motor officer with the Daytona Beach Police Department, and when you could coax it out of him, he would tell stories of beach babes and car races and spring breaks. We all wondered why he would leave a paradise like that for this place.

I never worked with Dan, but did have the opportunity to meet him after he left the Lakeland Police Department to manage the "Big Leader" sporting goods store on Lake Parker Avenue. The meeting was somewhat official.

I had stopped at the Marine Corps recruiting office to visit one of the Gunnery Sergeants who rode with us on the weekends. I was drinking a coke and staring out the front window of the office. A sidewalk stretched across in front of the building, and the glass had one way, mirrored window tint so people walking by could not see inside, but those inside could see out. Just then, a short guy walked past the window, at a brisk pace. As soon as he entered my field of view, a tall white male with a beard ran up to him from behind, put a hand on his shoulder, spinning the shorter man around, and punched him squarely in the face.

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The smaller man fell on his back, sprawled on the sidewalk. I ran out the door and grabbed the taller man, who I realized was at least six inches taller than myself. I had my night stick out and told the man to turn around and put his hands on my car. He was compliant, but kept saying, "Don't hit me with that stick."

The smaller guy was getting up and I asked him if he was all right.

"No, I'm not, and I want this nut in jail!"

"He's screwin' my sixteen year old daughter and he's 23," the taller man said.

"That so?" I asked.

The short guy didn't answer.

"Let's see some ID," I said to the tall man.

He removed his wallet and produced a Florida Driver's License. In the DL picture, he was clean-shaven and wore a police uniform, like my own. I saw the name. "Wow," I said. "Dan Murray. You're a legend."

"Well, not really, and don't hit me with that stick," he said.

"Sorry," I said, feeling at ease, and replacing the stick to the ring.

"How about you?" I said to the shorter one. He had apparently considered the impending possibilities of being arrested for offenses against minors.

"Look, I'm okay, just let's forget about this and I won't call his daughter anymore," the short guy said.

"You better not, or next time I won't be so nice," Dan said. The short guy rubbed his chin and looked nervously from me to Dan.

When the little guy had gone, Dan stuck out his hand and said, "Nice to meet ya', come by the store some time." I did, and we became good friends.

I met the other major player in this story one midnight shift, working the Northwest Area, Zone 1, with my partner, Tom. This was the area where all the violence happened. Tom and I were two of a kind, rookies green as grass, with a lot of natural police ability. Tom had an advantage in that his dad, Harry, was a sergeant with the department.

We had a genuine desire to have the most fun possible on a shift. That meant getting into the hottest calls, and digging up our own bad guys. We would regularly volunteer for the Zone 1 assignment and the veterans were happy not to have to work the area. They said the just didn't have the patience. Boy, can I relate to that now.

As we patrolled our zone, we noticed a young black man walking along the sidewalk. He looked hinky, and I looked at Tom and nodded. Hinky was a term used in those days, meaning you just had a hunch that the guy was up to no good. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has said that "hinky" and "hunch" are no longer probable cause for a stop.

As I pulled the police cruiser to the curb, the man put both hands in the air, approached the police car, and without being told to do so, assumed "the position." I got out of the car and asked him what the hell he was doing.

"I don't wanna' get shot again," he said.

"Who shot you?" I asked?

"Mr. Murray shot me," he said, his voice rising and trailing off. "I done my time."

I immediately knew who this man was. Jimmy Lundeen, who had recently been released from prison. I had heard the story about the burglary at Polly Prim Cleaners, and listened to the tape many times.

Jimmy had been a small-time burglar in his younger years. He started at age 16 doing residential burglaries, and graduated to businesses. Most businesses had petty cash and items that could be easily disposed of—fenced—on the street. Jimmy's career as a burglar was going well. He and his partner had hit two other businesses early in the week and had come away with over three hundred dollars. Not bad money for a couple hours of work.

It was Saturday night. Usually Jimmy and his partner would have been drinking and making trips to a local grocery store for pork rinds or boiled peanuts, stopping off in the back to play craps or poker with some of the locals.

Tonight they didn't have quite enough money for the big time they had planned for the weekend, and Jimmy had been casing a cleaners in town, where his cousin worked. She told Jimmy that the money from the store on Saturday would be wrapped in a towel and stuck up under the counter.

The store had a drop safe, but the owner had long since lost the combination, and the safe had not been used in years. Jimmy also knew that the store had some kind of an alarm system, but the local police were usually slow to respond to alarm calls, and on a Saturday night they would have their hands full working car wrecks and breaking up fights at the local bars. While this was all true, Jimmy just didn't factor in "Dangerous Dan," or Sonitrol.

Fate plays a heavy role in police work. After a call, you can always hear a cop say, "Man if everything hadn't been just right, that never would have happened." Dan Murray would have been off this Saturday night too. He had taken an off-duty job helping out at a minor league baseball game.

Dan left the game after the last car had gone from the parking lot and headed his Harley toward the police station. The radio blasted the familiar tone alert, indicating a priority call.

Attention all units, Sonitrol hears glass breaking and voices at Polly Prim Cleaners, 601 Lake Mirror Drive.

Sonitrol was relatively new in the area, but so far they had been right on the money. Nearly every time a Sonitrol alarm was issued, an arrest had taken place. Most businesses serviced by Sonitrol were equipped with listening devices and tape recording equipment. Dan Murray knew this too, and he couldn't resist getting into something, even on his night off. Dan downshifted his big motorcycle and headed toward the area.

The tape recording from the Dan Murray Sonitrol call at Polly Prim cleaners was legendary. It had been played for every rookie policeman for years, even after Dan left the department. It went something like this:

The tape starts with glass breaking and the whispering and hushed voices of two males. The voices continue as does the sound of furniture and papers being moved as the two burglars rifled through drawers and cabinets. Then far off in the background, you hear the wail of a police siren, followed closely by the unmistakable "wop-wop" sound of a 1200 Harley Davidson motorcycle. The voices of the two burglars become frantic and one can be heard saying, "Oh shit, it da police."

Then there's more scrambling, and shortly after the last of the scrambling, the voice of patrolman Dan Murray can be heard clearly, yelling, "Police. Freeze, mother-fucker."

The voice of Jimmy Lundeen can be then heard clearly saying, "Go ahead, shoot me ma-fucka, I ain't got no gun."

This is followed almost immediately by the loud report of a firearm, and several seconds of silence. It is at this point when people who had never heard the tape before and didn't know Dan Murray would ask, "Who got shot?"

The listener wouldn't have long to wait. Jimmy's voice was heard again, but this time it was an agonizing moan and the exclamation, "I been shot," displacing any question as to who was the shooter and who was the shootee.

The moaning and screaming continued as Dan asked the second burglar, Jimmy's partner, "How about you mother-fucker, you want summa' this?"

"No suh boss, dat man got jis' what he aks fo'," the partner replied.

Jimmy and his partner got ten years in prison and were released early for good behavior, which is when I ran into him. Although Jimmy wasn't fond of being shot, he forever credited Officer Murray for turning his life around. He never got into trouble with the law again.

Officer Murray got a division commendation, became even more of a legend than he had been before, and left the department to pursue a career in retail sales managing a sporting goods store.

The tape of the incident was played for years after. The original copy of the tape however, was accidentally erased by Sonitrol personnel, prior to the trial. Imagine that.

Have a nice weekend, everyone. See you Monday.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Leaving the Comfort Zone

What I'm reading: Rita entry 7 of 9 (visions of ST anyone?)

First -- quick question. Yesterday, hubby informed me that in IE, my blog page only displayed one day's posting, and only the first part. Nothing on the sidebars showed up until he clicked on the 'keep reading' link. It worked fine in Firefox. And, until yesterday, fine in IE. Anyone else have that problem? I'm hoping it was just a temporary Blogger/IE interface glitch, because, as you must know by now, I don't do that "technology" stuff well at all. Fingers crossed it's working better today.

Last year, I made the decision to quit my day job. True, it was part time, and had a lot of positives going for it, not the least of which was it generated income. At the time, I was burned out, looking at an increased level of responsibility that wasn't going to include any increases in pay, I had a book release coming in December, and another manuscript with an agent. I'd saved enough money to keep writing for about 2 or 3 years, whether or not I sold. So, as of July 1st, I began committing more time to writing.

The economy plummeted. Publishers started cutting back. Way back. But I knew I'd be writing anyway, so I kept at it, finishing another manuscript. If my agent could get me a multi-book deal, I'd be ready. But she suggested having something else lined up as well.

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I took a look at one of my novels. It had only been released digitally, and given the market for mainstream e-books is slow, I decided to ask for my rights back. The publisher granted my request, although it'll still be several more months before I'm in command. Meanwhile, I'm revising, updating, and trying to make it better. Just because it met publication standards didn't mean it couldn't be improved. Is a low-selling book in the hand worth more than an unsold manuscript—or two--in the bush? I don't know.

Then, another one of my publishers decided—for legitimate economic reasons—that they were going to change their word length requirements. Understandably, people don't want to pay much for very short works, and I think I had the shortest story in their catalog. It was the first story they bought, and the market was very different then. I took the rights back for that one as well. I have a soft spot in my heart for that story; it was my first sale—not to that publisher, but to a magazine that went belly up before the story hit print.

To throw yet another spanner in the works, last week, hubby's employer informed him that his position is not going to be around much longer. In lieu of an actual 'retirement' package, they're phasing him out over the next 5 months. Two more under his current conditions, then 3 at half pay, no benefits. Well, hardly any. They're letting him keep a desk in the office. Oh, yeah—and his email account. And, they'll be happy to process any grant money he'd bring in. Of course they will.

In keeping with my resolution to be more like Frankie, my heroine in When Danger Calls, I'm going to be searching long and hard for the bright side. To start, our house and cars are paid off. Of course, I really really really want to get out of this town, but at least we don't have to leave until we're ready. And I'm thankful that hubby balances my, "just do it" attitude with "let's slow down and make a plan."

And another bright note: a review for WHEN DANGER CALLS.

WHEN DANGER CALLS is more than romantic suspense; it's also a love story at its best. It’s exactly the kind of book that should put Terry Odell on the map, an author to watch out for in mainstream and paperback fiction. With action that pops and characters that zing, WHEN DANGER CALLS is more than a dot on a map.

I’m truly glad that I got the chance to read this one and honestly look forward to more from Terry Odell.

Amy Cunningham
Romance Reviews Today

And be sure to come back tomorrow. Yes, it's Friday and "Homicide - Hussey" will be back!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


What I'm reading: Rita entry 6 of 9.
Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child

What I'm working on: Presentation modules for the monthly tutor training at the Adult Literacy League.

It's been a while since my schedule has meshed with the Adult Literacy League's training, and I confess to being a bit rusty--not to mention the entire program has been revamped and updated.

Literacy is way up there on my list of Important Things. As a person, I can't imagine not being able to read. As a writer, having more people able to access my work is a definite plus.

So, for the past fifteen plus years, I've donated my time (and some bucks as well) to the Adult Literacy League. I've had two literacy students. For the past dozen years or so, I've trained new tutors.

Literacy is defined as "The ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve goals, and to develop knowledge and potential."
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One in every five Central Florida adults reads at or below the 5th grade level. For them, simple everyday tasks present real problems. Reading product labels, following street signs or filling out job applications can be difficult and frustrating.

Families suffer, too. Parents with low literacy skills have trouble reading to their children and many don't even try. Sadly, the literacy levels of children are strongly linked to the educational levels of their parents.

Thankfully, the Adult Literacy League, Inc. is here to help. Through volunteer and donor support, we're able to reach more and more adults and families . . . and in doing so, help expand their world one page at a time.

I hope you'll all consider doing something to give back to your community. Maybe not for literacy, but we all have things we believe in, things that are important to us, for our own personal reasons. Times may be tough, but giving shouldn't stop.

And special thanks to CJ Lyons for sharing her time with us. She had some compelling stories to tell, didn't she?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

War Stories

Today I welcome author CJ Lyons to my place. She gave up a career in medicine to write. Why? Read on.

Thanks to Terry for inviting me!

Have you ever come face to face with evil? I have.

I practiced pediatric emergency medicine and community pediatrics for seventeen years. During that time, I faced rapists, child abusers, gang-bangers who would kill over a pair of shoes, sociopaths, psychotics, narcissists, and even one killer who our prosecutor classified as a serial killer.

You know the scary thing about evil? It looks just like you and me.

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When I left medicine to fulfill my life-long dream of becoming an author, I knew that I wanted to explore the various faces of evil. Because I've faced it in real-life, I knew how different it was from most of the "bad-guys" portrayed in fiction.

Evil doesn't spend its days plotting dastardly deeds of cunning or intricate, diabolical plots involving red herrings and webs of intrigue.

Rather, the evil I've seen is driven by one simple desire: they know what they want, they want it now, and they don't care what they have to do to get it.

The boy-friend baby-sitting while mom's at work who brutally beat and raped a three year old because she wouldn't go to bed when he told her the first time. He's currently on death row.

The woman who shook her baby so hard the baby hemorrhaged into his brain….because the baby wouldn't stop crying during her favorite TV show.

The gangbanger who shot a kid because he said "hi" to the wrong girl on the wrong street corner while wearing the wrong color of hat.

These are just a few of the faces of evil I've seen.

Is it any wonder that in my medical suspense novels I focus on what makes evil so compelling to so many readers: the fact that it hides among us, so very hard to see, hiding in plain sight.

We all have something in common with evil. No matter who we are, we are all driven by the same universal needs and wants: love, security, recognition.

In real life, there was frustratingly little I could do when faced with evil. I could care for the victims, help the police and prosecutors to the best of my ability, but it always felt as if there should be a way to stop the senseless deaths and violence.

As rewarding as my medical career has been, I'm finding that my new career as an author has its own rewards. Especially when it gives me the chance to not only put a face to evil but to give its victims the justice they deserve.

The best way to fight evil is to bring it into the light where everyone can see it for what it truly is.

So you tell me—what war stories do you have to share? Have you come face to face with evil? I'll bet you have.

The boyfriend who came close to stalking you, the sociopath next door who lies about everything—for no reason than the sheer joy of getting away with it, the school kid setting fires and torturing animals…..they're all out there, closer than you think.

Thanks for reading!

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller." The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, is due out January, 2009. Contact her at

Monday, January 26, 2009

An Author? Me?

What I'm reading: Rita Entry 5 of 9 (finished the 4th one over the weekend)

I never had any trouble identifying with my other jobs. I was a teacher, a secretary (administrative assistant, I guess, is the correct term now), an Outreach Coordinator, and even a "temp." But although I tell people I'm a writer when they ask what I do, it doesn't feel real. So, this weekend, when I was the featured speaker at a fund raising tea for the Ridge Area Arc, and the organizer welcomed everyone, I kept looking around for the "multi-published author" she was raving about.

The event was held at a lovely tea room. Very "exactly what you think it should look like." I arrived early, and one of the tea room hostesses showed me the lectern and explained how to use their microphone. Not being known for my soft-spoken tones, I've never really used a mic. But she took great pains to explain how to turn it on (push the lever on the bottom to "on") and to be sure to keep the mic very close to my mouth. We won't discuss the rather phallic appearance of the instrument. And, she warned, I was to make sure that if I turned my head, I kept the mic moving with me. Since the layout of the room was an "L" shape, I knew I would have to do actual head-turning to attempt to make some sort of eye contact. Okay, things to worry about. As if talking to 100 people who had paid money for this event wasn't enough.

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I took my seat at the head table, and a very sweet stereotypical little old lady sat next to me, "so she could hear the speaker," whom she was so looking forward to. I told her I'd try to speak loud enough for her to hear. It took a moment or two, but eventually she realize she was talking to that anticipated speaker. She asked if I'd put her amplifier gizmo on the lectern. I said of course, and I also told her if she couldn't hear my talk, I'd give her the printout. Somehow, I didn't think telling her she could read it on my website would fly. I've got to say, her delight at that little gesture made the entire day worthwhile for me.

So, when it was my turn to speak (after a very nice lunch, and right before the raffle drawings, so nobody would leave), I did an abbreviated version of getting into writing by mistake, and then read the character interviews I did with Frankie and Ryan for When Danger Calls. Normally, I prefer an informal, interactive, "just ask me stuff" kind of program, but since these folks were paying for a "speaker" I felt obligated to "speak." Since I didn't memorize my interviews (afraid I'd forget and fumbling and stammering is worse than reading--although I did practice), I had to rely on my printout, and between making sure I kept the mic where it belonged (and figuring out which hand to hold it in so I could turn pages), glancing at the audience, remembering the 3 tables in the L, and trying not to talk so fast nobody could understand me, I got through. They even laughed in the right places, and clapped when I finished (although that might have been because they were finally going to get to the raffle prizes)

My seating companion was delighted to get my printouts (and offered to copy and mail them back if I needed them). People bought my books. And the organizers put us up at a nice "suites" hotel so we didn't have to do the return trip the same day.

So, maybe I am an author.

Meanwhile, since hubby sliced the cable doing some landscaping yesterday afternoon, I'm stuck home waiting for the cable guy. I have a 10-1 window. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what time he'll actually show up? I mean someone gets the first appointment, right?

Be sure to come by tomorrow for my guest blogger, author C J Lyons, who's going to talk about what evil looks like.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Homicide - Hussey ": The Promise

Our next Homicide-Hussey episode deals with his transferring from the military to the "civilian" police force. I found this and the previous post (The Awakening) most enlightening, because a lot of the back story in a book I'm reworking deals with my hero's original training partner. Based on what Detective Hussey is sharing, the character I created didn't stretch the envelope too far.

My first field training officer was a salty old veteran named Mike Royko. Mike was a nasty, burned out, surly veteran cop who hated everybody and drank way too much, causing him to be regularly hung over and generally mean. Mike was a short, pear shaped sandy haired little guy. He was always red faced. His nose was a road map of blood vessels, burst by drink. He wore small, wire rimmed glasses, which he always peered over, as if looking down on everyone.

Mike was an extremely intelligent, well-educated man. He had a master's degree in education, and eventually left the department to pursue a teaching career. I saw Mike many years later and asked him how he liked teaching. He said, "It's just like being a cop, except they don't let you carry a gun...and it's a damn good thing".

I rode with Mike for my first week and it was certainly an experience. One day we were having lunch downtown at the old McCrory's dime store. An elderly gentleman approached our table holding a roadmap and said, "Sorry to bother you, officers."

Mike looked up and said, "Well don't."

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One day while writing a report in the parking lot of the Grove Park shopping center, an elderly lady stopped and walked toward our patrol car. Mike was in the driver's seat and I was sitting on the passenger's side writing a report. The lady started to walk toward Mike's window. Mistake .... as he saw her coming, he rolled up the window. The lady changed directions and came over to my window.

"How can I help you, ma'am?" I asked. Mike rolled his eyes.

The lady was asking directions to one of the local churches. As I explained the route, I realized that the engine had begun to increase RPM's. The noise of the engine got louder and louder as Mike pressed harder and harder on the accelerator. The lady raised her voice, as did I. Soon this white-haired old lady and I were yelling at each other. I glanced over at Mike who was grinning fiendishly. All of a sudden the engine went back to idle and I was caught in mid yell. The lady jumped, startled by my loud voice.

"Thank you officers." She smiled, looking over at Mike suspiciously.

"Anytime," I said quietly.

One Thursday morning we had just called in service on the day watch when we received a call of a possible injured person at the Wabash shopping center. As we drove into the shopping center parking lot, I saw a beat up old blue pickup truck parked in front of the Publix supermarket. As we got closer, I could see something squirting from the driver's side window. The early morning glare of the sun kept the interior of the truck hidden until we were right on top of it. I found out too quickly the liquid was blood. A large pool of the red stuff had run down the truck's door and had begun to coagulate on the gray pavement of the parking lot. As any rookie would, I jumped out of the car and ran to the truck.

The old man inside still held the .38 caliber, four-inch revolver in his right hand. A small trickle of blood ran from a small hole in his right temple and dripped onto the gray security guard uniform. He gurgled and jerked unnaturally in the seat. "He's still breathing," I yelled to Mike, as he was coming around the other side of the truck. I ran to the patrol car and grabbed the mic. My voice several octaves above normal said, "Lakeland, send me rescue and an ambulance."

"Ten-four," the voice said.

Then Mike, in one of the only tender moments I had ever seen from him, placed a hand on my shoulder and took the microphone, saying in a soft voice, "Roll me a supervisor, a crime scene tech, and a homicide detective."

"Ten-twenty-six," the dispatcher said. "Already on the way."

After the paramedics examined the dead security guard, and agreed there was nothing they could do, crime scene tape was stretched around the truck in an effort to keep away curious onlookers. As eight o'clock came and went, more and more people began arriving. Some were the crime scene technicians and photographers. Some were the detectives and people from the medical examiner's office and some were just people coming to work.

One bank teller recognized the truck and wept. "Bill was such a fine old gentleman," she said. "We will really miss him."

As the day wore on, the temperature began rising. It was nearly 10:00 when all the investigators had finished their work. It was everybody's feeling that the wound was self-inflicted. An apparent suicide.

Flies were beginning to gather on the dried blood areas as Mike and I went through the old man's pockets looking for some identification. We found a driver's license with his picture. It matched the tag information. The ID was positive.

I signed the M.E. Report and the toe tag and released the body to the funeral home. The old man's body, now stiff with rigor mortis, was carefully removed and placed into a waiting hearse.

"Now we've got to take care of this vehicle," Mike said. At that instant, at the far west end of the crime scene tape, a very heavyset, sweaty woman in a pink muu-muu was yelling at us and motioning us in her direction.

"What can we do for you?" Mike asked.

"That's my husband's truck right there." She pointed at the blue Chevy pickup.

"Yeah, and we want it," a skinny, stringy-haired white male added.

"Shut up," the woman snapped at him.

"Look," Mike said, "I'd have to see some ID, but that's not the problem. I have to tell you some bad news. Your husband is dead, and that truck is kind of a mess."

"I know," she said, rather matter-of-factly.

Mike was looking hard at her now. "No I don't think you understand, you can't drive it. You will want to have it towed."

"Why? Did he do somethin' to the truck?" she asked.

"Well, not per se, but to put it bluntly, his brains are all over the inside," Mike said shortly.

"Oh that." She smiled. "No problem, I grew up on a farm."

Obviously, I thought.

Mike Royko was absolutely dumbfounded. He was speechless! The woman produced the title for the truck, which she owned jointly with the deceased. She also produced a driver's license, with a photo of her in younger, thinner days. Mike just motioned for me to check it. He had nothing else to say.

As Mike and I stood and watched, Mike's jaw dropped open. The woman waddled over and gingerly opened the driver's door of the truck. The blood had run down the door and dried below the window. On the seat inside was a small pyramid shaped pile of what had been the brain of Bill Pruitt. The colossal woman swept the gray matter (which isn't gray at all) aside with an old sheet, which she placed on the blood covered truck's seat. She smiled and waved as she slung her girth into the driver's seat and turned the key.

My partner watched, still in shock as the truck disappeared. He disgustedly turned back toward the patrol car, and got in. I was barely in the passenger's side when he sped off like a madman. We drove in silence for nearly an hour when Mike turned to me and for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he spoke.

"Rookie, if I live to be nine hundred years old, God forbid. I will never, ever, ever see anything as fucking cold and nasty as that." Mike drove on in silence and he didn't speak to me or anyone else the rest of the shift.

Again, thanks to Detective Hussey. Enjoy your weekend. And wish me luck with the Ridge Area Arc Tea. I just realized these people are paying money to attend. I know it covers the food too, but I don't want anyone disappointed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm Speechless

What I'm reading: Rita entry 3 of 9.

On the drive to the Y this morning, I had a chance to observe one of those rare central Florida occurrences. Frost. On the lawns, on the cars, on the rooftops. We've even turned the switch on the thermostat to "heat", something that doesn't happen every year. I'd rather bundle up or sit by the fire (not that those presto logs give off much heat), so the heat doesn't kick in all that much, but it's set to keep the house above 60 inside during the day, and a tad warmer before bedtime and right before we get up. Although from a purely economic standpoint, I think the electricity we'd use running the heat for a couple of days would be a lot less than the cost of those logs! However, the bigger picture says less electricity use leaves a smaller carbon footprint. And it's nice to drag out some of those warm clothes. Around here, they go out of style long before they're worn out. Good think I don't care much about fashion. Cheaper that way, too.

What does this have to do with the title of today's post? Absolutely nothing. But cold weather is such a rarity that I thought it deserved a paragraph. My 'speechless' doesn't refer to the talk I'm giving Saturday at the Ridge Area Arc Tea, either. When I posed the 'what should I talk about?" question to my Sunday Panera friend, she asked if I'd considered the Frankie and Ryan interviews. I had, and since she said she really loved them, that tipped the scales. I read them out loud (ugh) to time them, and they'll both fit within my suggested timeframe, with time for a bit of an intro and questions.

So what am I speechless about? This blog. I could abso-effing-lutely (that's a demo of one of yesterday's vocabulary words, by the way) not believe that someone is censoring a retirement community library. I've got relatives in assisted living places, and I hope and pray nobody there is doing what that woman did.

Interested in the 'answers' to yesterday's word questions? Click "more" to see them. I'm nice-I already matched the word with the definitions for you.

And yes, "Homicide - Hussey" will be back tomorrow! Please check in.
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1. pandiculation: An instinctive stretching, as on awakening or while yawning

2. flaneur: One who strolls about aimlessly; a lounger; a loafer.

3. pervicacious: Refusing to change one's ideas, behavior, etc.; stubborn;

4. fungible: (Law) Freely exchangeable for or replaceable by another of like nature or kind in the satisfaction of an obligation. Interchangeable.

5. bricolage: Construction or something constructed by using whatever materials happen to be available.

6. fatidic: Of, relating to, or characterized by prophecy; prophetic.

7. diablerie: 1. Sorcery; black magic; witchcraft. 2. Representation of devils or demons in words or pictures. 3. Mischievous conduct; deviltry

8. imprecation: The act of imprecating, or invoking evil upon someone. 2. A curse.

9. louche: Of questionable taste or morality; disreputable or indecent;
dubious; shady.

10. lubricious: Lustful; lewd

11. fugacious: Lasting but a short time; fleeting.

12. quidnunc: One who is curious to know everything that passes; one who
knows or pretends to know all that is going on; a gossip; a busybody.

13. digerati: Persons knowledgeable about computers and technology.

14. sesquipedalian: . Given to or characterized by the use of long words. 2. Long and ponderous; having many syllables.

15. brummagem: Cheap and showy, tawdry; also, spurious, counterfeit.

16. favonian: Pertaining to the west wind; soft; mild; gentle.

17. gallimaufry: A medley; a hodgepodge.

18. rebarbative: Serving or tending to irritate or repel.

19. adumbrate: To give a sketchy or slight representation of; to outline. 2. To foreshadow in a vague way. 3. To suggest, indicate, or disclose partially. 4. To cast a shadow over; to shade; to obscure.

20. tmesis: the interpolation of one or more words between the parts of a compound word

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Writing for the long haul

January is half over. Did you set goals for yourself? Are you meeting them? Or is it time to regroup before the month is behind us? Today, welcome author Eilis Flynn as she shares her approach for 2009 Although she's talking about her writing goals, her advice translates to anything else you've set out to achieve.

There are advantages and disadvantages to making New Year’s resolutions. The disadvantages you’re probably already familiar with — the (strong) possibility that the resolutions will go unfulfilled, feeling as though you’ve failed, failed! But the advantages also have more going for them than you might realize: You might feel yourself inspired, deciding to forge ahead, determined to make good on your promises. You can do it! Of course you can! And you also might realize that to do it, to make good on your resolutions, no matter how big, no matter how small (thank you, Horton), you have to pace yourself, you can’t make a slapdash to the finish line.

So here’s the deal. I promised myself I would write certain things by the end of the year, giving myself enough time to do it. In 2008 I wrote one novel (painfully. Don’t ask) and a few other small things, but I knew I could do more. So for 2009 I decided I would do more — I would write two novels and two novellas or short stories, in addition to other things I need to work on in between. I should be able to do it, with proper pacing and painful plotting (that’s the true pain — some of us are not the most plot-oriented). And if I don’t get distracted.

And you know distractions abound. Everywhere I look there’s a distraction waiting to tap me on the shoulder, including (and this one I should actually deal with sooner or later) cleaning my office. It’s messy, it’s distracting, I should … oh, right, that’s the problem. Anyway, you know how this goes. You tell yourself that you have the entire year. That’s plenty of time! Two novels and two short stories? No problem! You can write the short story first, that’s easy, then novel number one, then its sequel, and then finish off with that second short story to finish off the year. You can schedule each work, compartmentalize, each week, each month, even each day of the week, if you’re really feeling inspired. After all, you have a lot of work to do!

And that overscheduling, as far as I’m concerned, is the problem. It doesn’t give you leeway. It doesn’t take into account all the little surprises that life presents. It doesn’t take into account the cat throwing up, the weather turning unpleasant, slipping on a banana peel, that sudden twist of fate — all those things you can’t foresee but you know could occur. Once you blow the first deadline you’ve set up for yourself, you’re already behind — and it only gets worse from there. And the more you try to catch up, the farther behind you get, until …

Keep Reading...

Before you know it, half the year’s gone by. Your best intentions, your resolutions, go down the drain. Embarrassment. Loss of face. Chagrin. And worse, knowing that you let it all get away from you. My sympathies. But you can do better. And this year, you will.

How? By keeping in mind that yes, a year can be a really long time. And keeping in mind there’s no need to overdo it. No need to compartmentalize, to overschedule every day, every minute. Accept that there will be writing jags, when you turn out pages upon pages, the scenes burning hot in your mind. And you must accept in the same way that there will be dry spells, when the scenes are hidden behind closed doors that don’t seem to have a lock (currently, at least). All that is natural. (This is where knowing how to plot is very useful. If you’re weak on the plotting thing, you might want to learn!) Work through the dry spell. Sooner or later, you’ll be back on again, turning out pages. And before you know it, you’ll have made good on your resolution. And who knows? Maybe two novels and two short stories aren’t too much.

All you have to do is remember that you’re writing for the long haul. A year’s a long time. Just make sure you make good use of the time.

Eilis Flynn
INTRODUCING SONIKA, on sale now at

Eilis Flynn has worked at a comic book company, a couple of Wall Street brokerage firms, a wire service, and a magazine for futurists. She’s written a variety of things that don’t seem to belong together, but they do: comic book stories both online and in print, scholarly works in a previous life as a scholar, book reviews and interviews, and articles about finance (at odds with her anthropology background), before settling down to write romantic fantasies about the reality beyond what we can see. The plotting thing is still a problem, though.

Check out her website at She may be reached at

Monday, January 19, 2009

Life Imitates Art?

What I'm reading: Winter Prey, by John Sandford
Also, RITA contest entries. Book 1 of 9

I was going to start the week with something light and cheery. Until I got an email from my sister-in-law that gave me a jolt. She's younger than I am, and very health conscious, yet she's already dealt with a form of ovarian cancer. And now she's dealing with something called Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia.

This is what she wrote:

There's no cure, but the good news is that it's not likely to kill me anytime soon. It's an indolent form of lymphoma meaning it's very slow progressing. Basically, it's a chronic cancer that sometimes isn't even treated if there are no symptoms. My oncologist tells me I "could live for years and years" with this. Of course, the operative word there is "could". He didn't specify the other options. I'll question him further on that when I see him in April. In the meantime since my only symptom is cold-induced hives which are being controlled by antihistamines, we're not doing any other treatments. Let me emphasize that I currently feel fine. Hopefully, I will stay that way for a good long time.

I certainly hope so too.

The curious thing is that the manuscript I've just finished deals with the subject of 'orphan diseases' – those that don't have 'enough' people afflicted with them to warrant expensive medical research. While I created a fictional disease in my manuscript, there are thousands of diseases out there that don't get the big bucks for research.

One of our daughters has been active in Team in Training, which raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—by running triathlons. This year, she's coaching as well. I heartily support her efforts. Until this year, she dedicated her racing to an aunt on my side of the family. This year, she'll have another relative to keep in her thoughts.

And, before I go – thanks again to Mark Hussey for sharing peeks into his life as a cop. He'll be back, I promise. I'm considering making him a Friday regular. And tomorrow, my guest will be Eilis Flynn who will be putting those New Years Resolutions into perspective.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: The Awakening

I'm delighted to share the next installment in the "Homicide - Hussey" saga. If you read the previous post, you might remember that he enlisted in the Army. Following is his recounting of his early days at Fort Bragg.

I was partnered up with a senior Specialist 4th Class named Clive Satler. Clive had less than a month to go on his hitch. He was content to answer the calls that came crackling across the huge jeep radio, and to not make waves. I, on the other hand, was like a puppy dog. I wanted to investigate everything. I wanted to write tickets, I wanted to ferret out criminal activity and I wanted to bust up bar fights.

I had checked out a hand held radar unit from the sergeant's office. When Clive saw me dragging the gray plastic suitcase holding the radar gun, he groaned, settled down in the passenger's seat of the jeep, and pulled his red beret down over his eyes. "Do whatever you want, but don't wake me up, Cherry." With his eyes closed and as an afterthought he said, "And don't get me into no shit."

I started the M151A1 ¼ ton utility truck (Army nomenclature for jeep), and after advising the desk, officially designated on the radio as Smoker, that unit 2-1 was in service, I headed to the heart of the 82nd Airborne Division Area. I found a spot, in plain view, as mandated by the Supreme Court, and pointed my radar gun north in the hopes of catching a speeder. The speed limit in the division area was 35mph, so it was pretty common that guys would speed on the wide-open four-lane highway. GI's are usually in a hurry. In the 82nd, in the midst of frequent readiness alerts, off-duty time is precious, and troopers like to make the most of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Public Speaking Anyone?

What I'm reading: The Alibi, by Sandra Brown.

First -- sorry this is late. For the better part of the last two days, I've been trying to figure out how to encode this template so that it will display only the first part of a post, and then the reader can click to read more. I've gone to help forums, inserted codes, tested posts, deleted codes, talked to my daughter in Ireland -- to no avail. I can get the "More" link, but either the entire post still shows up, or else the link take you back to the main page. Most frustrating. I'd hoped to have it functioning because tomorrow, I'm going to be posting the next installment of "Homicide - Hussey" and it's lengthy. Ah well. Anyone know a good geek? The frustrating part is that my daughter tested it on her blog, and it works -- almost. You have to click "more" twice, but we inserted the code exactly the same in my template and it doesn't work there. One more example of how I have this ongoing issue with technology, I guess.

Update! I got it working. Took two days and lots of help (which is pathetic, considering all I had to do was copy and paste code).
Keep Reading...

I finished the next draft of my synopsis, but it's still too dry for my taste. I'll let it marinate for a while and see if I can kick it up a notch before sending it to my agent. My next project: A non-speech.

I'm going to be the featured speaker at a fund raising event for the Ridge Area Arc on January 24th. Sometime last year, my MWA chapter sent a notice that they were looking for an author for their annual event, and I said I'd be willing. When I got the invitation, I was surprised that it was a solo gig, not part of a panel.

It's a "tea", being held in Sebring, a couple of hours away from here. According to the organizer, the expect about 125 people, mainly middle-aged to senior women. My assumption is that these are people who support the cause. Previous speakers were much more well-known than I am, so I'm laying odds the draw wasn't me.

I confess I'd never heard of the Ridge Area Arc, so I did a little Googling. This is what their website says.

Ridge Area Arc in Avon Park, Florida is a private, not for profit 501(c)3 organization, which was founded in 1957 by Franklyn and Mary Ellen Ward. At the time their son, Rob, was born there were very few places to work with disabled children. Many families sent their child away to a distant institution. The Wards did not want to send their son away and sought a way to provide the needed educational resources and training. They also realized other families in the area needed these services. Thus, the Ridge Area Arc Day School began in 1957, and served 17 children ages seven and older from Highlands, Hardee and DeSoto counties.

In 50 years since the day school opened, Arc now provides 12 services to approximately 150 individuals with developmental and other disabilities from Highlands, Hardee and southern Polk counties.

But I'll be speaking to supporters of the program, not to the residents. The folks I've usually had in the audience for my talks have always been interesting in writing, but I'm thinking this group won't be interested in me explaining how I had to learn about voice, pacing, POV, and dialogue mechanics. If anything, they'll be readers. I'm puzzling about what to talk about. My 'How I Got Into Writing By Mistake" spiel ought to work as an opener, and given the age demographic, touching on how it's never too late to start learning something new is another tack to consider.

I know when a speaker walks up to a podium carrying a folder, I try to judge how long they'll go on by how thick the stack of papers looks when they take out their speech. I start watching them turn pages, or move sheets from one pile to another instead of listening. I'm no good whatsoever at writing formal speeches, but I suppose I ought to at least have some notes with bullet points. They told me to speak for 20 minutes and leave time for a short Q&A. Frankly, I'd rather have a short talk and a 20 minute Q&A session.

Maybe after I tell them my "writer by mistake" story, I'll read my 'job interviews' with Ryan and Frankie for When Danger Calls. That would look like I have a prepared speech, right? Between now and then, I guess I should time things so I don't drag on to the eyes glazing over stage.

Come back tomorrow and follow more of the adventures of "Homicide--Hussey".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Are The Odds?

What I'm reading: French Silk, by Sandra Brown

Thanks again to Maria Hudgins for sharing her travels with us yesterday. Anyone else ready to buy a ticket to anywhere?

Yesterday I had the radio on, and the DJs were filling air time by reading a list of odds that something will happen. I think it was triggered by the current lottery. I really don't pay a whole lot of attention to the chatter when I drive, plus I wasn't going very far. But my ears pricked up when I heard them talking about the odds of making the New York Times Best Seller list.

One can manipulate statistics just about any way one likes, depending on how you gather the data. I remember studying that in a college Psych class. For example, if you wanted to determine the average height of the American male college student, and you decided to pull every third male you encountered and average the results, that should give you a general idea, right? Well, not if you're standing outside the gym after basketball practice.

I've used the data manipulation premise in my current manuscript, so the topic piqued my interest. One has to wonder where these folks got their data. These are some of the statistics:

Odds that a person between the age of 18 and 29 does NOT read a newspaper regularly: 3 to 1
Odds of injury from fireworks: 19,556 to 1
Odds of injury from shaving: 6,585 to 1
Odds of injury from using a chain saw: 4,464 to 1
Odds of injury from mowing the lawn: 3,623 to 1
Odds of fatally slipping in bath or shower: 2,232 to 1
Odds of drowning in a bathtub: 685,000 to 1
Odds of being struck by lightning: 576,000 to 1
Odds of being killed by lightning: 2,320,000 to 1
Odds of being murdered: 18,000 to 1
Odds of getting away with murder: 2 to 1
Odds of being the victim of serious crime in your lifetime: 20 to 1
Odds of dating a supermodel: 88,000 to 1
Odds that a first marriage will survive without separation or divorce for 15 years: 1.3 to 1
Odds of writing a New York Times best seller: 220 to 1
Odds of getting a royal flush in poker on first five cards dealt: 649,740 to 1
Odds of spotting a UFO today: 3,000,000 to 1
Odds of becoming president: 10,000,000 to 1
Odds of winning the California lottery: 13,000,000 to 1
Odds of a meteor landing on your house: 182,138,880,000,000 to 1
Chance of dying from a mountain lion attack in California: 1 in 32,000,000
Chance of dying from a shark attack: 1 in 300,000,000
Chance of having a stroke: 1 in 6
Chance of dying from heart disease: 1 in 3

OK – let's back up to that NYT Best Seller. 220 to 1? What does that mean? What's the data set? Do I take 220 people off the street and tell them to write a book? What are the odds that it'll even be published, much less make the NYT list? Or, if I can crank out 220 books, one will hit the list? Or that if I gather 220 writers, one will be on the list?

In my case, I think the odds of my books hitting the list are closer to the odds of that meteor hitting my house. Then again, I've already beating the odds on the first marriage thing. One never knows.

And, today I'm the guest at author Liana Lavarentz's blog. She posed some interview questions on the writing process. Take a look.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Faraway Places With Strange Sounding Names

Today, join mystery author Maria Hudgins as she takes us on a trip around the world. And it's free!

Faraway Places with Strange-sounding Names

Each of my mystery novels is set in a different country and there are 195 countries on the planet. If I write one novel a year, I figure, I won’t run out of settings until the year 2201. (I’ve already done three) Of course, there’s method in my madness because I love to go places. I ain’t dumb. Unfortunately, I have yet to convince my accountant that I can deduct travel expenses before I’ve actually used the setting in a book and the lag time, my friends, is years.

Ah, well. If I didn’t write, I’d still travel.

Wherever I go I’m on the lookout for settings to use and also for spots mentioned in my favorite mysteries. When I read a story set in London or New York I always keep a city map beside me and follow the sleuth (or the killer) around from street to street. Did you know London has a Baker Street but there’s no 221B on it? Sherlock Holmes would have had to sleep on the sidewalk I guess. Seriously, when you’re writing fiction you have to be careful not to put the action in someone’s real house. Especially not a murder. The real-life residents tend to get upset about that.

I have attended church services in the thousand-year-old church in Oxford where Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane were married. Let’s forget the fact that they were fictional and the church is real! I’ve located a dozen other places in Oxford used in the Inspector Morse episodes, including, I kid you not, Gill the Ironmongers. Revisit Last Bus to Woodstock if you have it handy. I have attended a real murder trial in London’s Old Bailey. It’s almost exactly like the Edward Petherbridge/Harriet Walter Strong Poison, except they now have laptops on all the desks and the women in the gallery don’t wear big hats. And the carpet is new. By the way, they’ll let you go in to observe but DON’T bring a camera. And your belongings will be searched.

In Vienna, I saw the Prater Wheel, the big Ferris wheel that figures prominently in Graham Greene’s The Third Man. Remember the tense scene with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton in the amusement park? I looked at the manhole covers in downtown Vienna but stopped short of taking the sewer system tour I’ve heard they offer to die-hard fans of the movie.

In England summer before last, I rented a car and drove around in the Cotswold Hills soaking up the air in the little villages that have been the setting of so many mysteries. Trying to drive in the Cotswolds was a big mistake. Chipping Norton, Bourton-on-the-Water, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Lower Slaughter –even the names are mysterious.

In Aswan, Egypt my travel mates and I took a felucca trip, which sailed us past the Old Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote part of Death on the Nile. Our guide pointed out the terrace where she (allegedly) sat and wrote. A couple of days later, our ferry lucked into docking beside the very boat used in filming the BBC version of that same story starring David Suchet as Poirot.
I looked it up online. Yes, you can sail the Nile on it. No, it isn’t cheap.

Do I think setting is important in a mystery? Absolutely. The tone of the story makes all the difference. Is setting more important than plot or characters? No. I don’t know how to answer that because the writer forgets any of these three at his own peril. Ask yourself. Would you care to read a mystery with a dull setting? With cardboard characters? With a dumb plot? I thought not.

I’m always on the lookout for new settings and I’ve found several I really want to use if I ever run into a plot or characters that fit them. One is Highgate Cemetery in London. It’s spooky and it has hundreds of little paths leading off to who knows where. Another is Zermatt, Switzerland. There is a wonderful tunnel leading straight into a mountain and to an elevator. You’d never know it was there unless you were told. If anyone reading this is a writer, help yourself to these settings. I give them to you.

How about the big island of Hawaii? I don’t know. I’ve never been to Hawaii but since I’m going there for the Left Coast Crime Conference in March, you can be sure I’ll have my eyes open for possibilities.

Maria Hudgins’s Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries include: Death of an Obnoxious Tourist, 2006, Death of a Lovable Geek, 2008, and Death on the Aegean Queen, coming in 2010. You can visit her website at

One aside from Terry: There is a 221B Baker Street in London, but it's a museum. The Sherlock Holmes Museum. Says a lot that people are willing to fork over bucks to see the "history" of a fictional character! (Yes, I'm one of them.)