Roppongi, Tokyo, on New Year's Eve

Roppongi, Tokyo, on New Year's Eve
Among other things, I am writing a detective series that takes place in Tokyo. The first novel, "Be Careful What You Ask For," centers on a much-admired Tokyo police inspector being forced to confront his ties to a crime family while investigating a murder in Roppongi.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why write?

Consider today's blog as a first cousin to the Quick Hits writing tips. In previous posts, I said that all writing can be boiled down into Who What When Where and Why. Today I'd like to talk about Why.

As in Why write? Why write about _____________? Why do you spend all your free time neglecting friends and family and having a life so you can scribble a few sentences on a notepad or stay up all night pounding out sentences as if you life depended on it.

Why indeed.

Anyone can give you a reason for writing: convey and idea. Tell a story. Spread the news.
Writers suffer a more debilitating affliction, they write as if their soul will expire if the don't.

See, people who write do it whether they like it or not. They cannot help themselves. They pick up a pencil and write a story as soon as they've read their first book. They see how it's done and want to to do. Some hear a poem and know they've heard something that touches their soul, and just know they have to do the same thing in order to live. Some hear the stories of their ancestors and are convinced that recording them is an act of precious preservation.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Detective novel continued 4

Here is another chapter from my detective novel. Be sure to check out the other
posts, and let me know what you think.

Charlie Parker Jones felt nothing, sensed nothing except the raw ache of the rejection he could not believe was real as he stared at the subway ticket kiosk below the streets of Roppongi. He had no idea how he got there. His mind was a blur as he tried to grasp what happened: flashes of Kimi Yamada saying she had to see him, then saying she could not see him anymore. Words like “please leave,” “my parents,” “I cannot anymore,” but her body telling him more truth words ever did, melting into his embrace, clinging to him, fighting her unwanted promise to let go.
        Her rejection wounded him, made him flee when he knew there was nothing he could do, nothing he could say to change her mind when she broke free of his grip and hid her face, unable to look at him as she lied. He wanted to stay. He never ran from anything in his life. But the weeping, the “please go” was more than he could take.
        Some inner autopilot guided him to a train. It was minutes before he was aware his mind settled on this: talk to someone about Kimi, about what just happened. Now.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Building community of readers and writers

After having a Facebook account for 3+ years and connecting to family, friends and former coworkers, I wondered what I really could accomplish with the thing. I knew it would come in handy when the day came I actually had a book published, but I didn't want to use my own site for that. I plan on having a separate site for anything that has to do with writing and publishing.

But something happened as I delved deeper into social media and waded through the many sites that offer all types of advice on going legacy, going indie, becoming a brand, building a following -- jeez. All I wanted to do was try to get a handle on this stuff.

And Facebook. One of the things that intimidated me when it came to 'friending' on Facebook was, heck, I don't know these people. Why would I want to friend them? And they friend me?

And then Twitter came along, and I realized that becoming a citizen of the Web meant introductions were in order. So how was I going to introduce myself? As a journalist? An editor? A traveler? A veteran? No: I got into all this because the time had come to get my fiction published. It was time to introduce myself as a writer.

And then it all clicked: I was following writers on Twitter, making friends on Goodreads, so when I see that those people have a Facebook account, how about 'friending' them on FB, and .... what?  They don't know me. I don't know them.  But there's one thing we have in common: a love of reading and a love of writing.


So I started the process of finding friends, and the really cool people who accepted, found out the reason why I was contacting them when I was 'invited' to write on their 'wall.' This is what I write: Thank you for helping me build a community of readers and writers.

And now I am friends with novelists, poets, writing instructors, all kinds of people who care about words and reading and books, and it's not for the purpose of selling, for getting a review, for reminding folks of a buy-it-now sale. Now I feel like I'm friends people from across the country and around the world who love writing and ideas and are helping me build a community of readers and writers. To share stuff. To get turned on to new stuff. To remind folks of good stuff already out there.

And I think that's pretty cool.

If you like this idea, just find me at
and if you like, follow me on Twitter

Hope to see ya soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quick Hits No. 9

In previous posts about writing, I've focused on the how, not the why. This post by Norma Jean Lutz I found on the Be A Novelist web site hit home for me. Among many other terrific things, she relays what Albert Einstein had to say about stories:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

What came immediately to me was Aesop's Fables, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Peter Rabbit: stories that capture the imagination and along the way, leave gems of truth and awareness that sit in one's subconscious, to emerge at (hopefully) times that amplified their worth. When I discovered I could learn about the world by reading stories written from far off lands, in things called newspapers and magazines, that notion already had a home to go to, thanks to stories already in my mind.

It's only natural to want to attempt to recreate what one has seen and appreciated all one's life. Draw a picture, build a sand castle, tell a story: all of these potentially wild flights of the imagination are what gives life a certain je ne sais quoi  I know I could not live without.

Lutz asks the question 'Does a story have any practical use?' Good question, in these technological times. But we as a people have always been tellers of stories. So it's only natural that some of us satisfy that itch that can only be scratched by not just telling a story, but writing it down and sharing it.

Now, about that getting up in the morning thing ...

See ya next week!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Detective novel continued 3

      Here are a few more scenes from the detective novel I'm writing:
       (previous posts can take you back to the beginning. It's worth it!)


        A clamor unusual for Roppongi after midnight began to swell outside the jazz club, and as Sato and Endo entered in the vestibule, ready to go, Endo wondered what the buzzing sound was. He got his answer when they opened the front door and found themselves in the midst of a throng of reporters and photographers. The uniformed officers had been able to corral the scrum off to one side, but were overmatched once Endo and Sato appeared.
        Endo saw the reporters make a rush to corner Sato, and he tried to put himself between the Sato and the crowd to forge ahead to the police cars. Sato pushed his way forward as he announced the department would be issuing a release soon, to check with the usual people there. One glance back at Sato and Endo could see the disappointment in his eyes.
        “Who died?” a young, well-dressed woman shouted as she thrust a microphone at Sato.
        Sato ignored her.
        “Who died, officer?” she repeated.
        “We are notifying the victim’s relatives so I have nothing to say,” Sato replied.
        “We heard it was a waitress,” she asked. “A university student.”
        Endo turned toward her voice and saw the face that went with it: a strikingly pretty face, framed by an expensive haircut, and as he glanced down at the rest of her, he could see she was dressed too well to be a newspaper stiff working in the middle of the night. He pegged her as young, ambitious and out for a big story. She must have scored a tip on what happened at the Down Low. She had an ANK TV sticker on her microphone. He looked for television cameras, and saw more than he cared for.
        The woman glanced at Endo but turned her attention back to Sato. She saw he was looking directly at her.
        "There will be a press release soon," Sato quietly replied as he struggled to get through the scrum; the officers were outnumbered, the sea of bodies quite unwilling to yield.
        "What about the girl?” the young woman shouted. “She was a student at Waseda?”
        Sato then realized the woman may have been one of the customers, or knew someone who had been inside.
        “How did she wind up in a back alley?” she shouted. “Do you have any suspects?"
        "There will be a press release in a little while," Sato repeated as he followed Endo, who finally managed to force an opening in the crowd.
        Encouraged by the eye contact, the woman elbowed her way past two reporters an quickly stepped in front of Sato.
“Were there any foreigners involved? Everyone knows the club attracts many foreigners. And GIs.”
        “The press release …” Sato began.
        The crowd then pushed in on him, spinning him around as the woman’s voice shouted: "Was it a gangster killing?" He saw Sato ever so briefly stop and stare at her.
        “Were any yakuza involved?” she shouted, pushing ahead, sure she had Sato’s attention. “The place is supposed to be owned by Jun Fujimori. Ses Fujimori’s son. Is he a suspect?”
        “No…” Sato began, but the reporter saw the flicker of recognition in Sato’s eyes. Ses Fujimori, boss of a crime syndicate entrenched in all levels of business, politics, government. A man with a world-class mind who started as a gifted safe cracker and bank robber before moving up to gambling rackets. Once Ses’ father, Key, cultivated his gifts of leadership, there was no stopping him. The millions he extorted during construction boom in Shinjuku made Fujimori wealthier than he could have imagined.
        And as a child, Ses was Sato’s closest friend. It was a friendship Sato spent years hiding from the department, especially the one time he went to Ses for help in arresting one of his men. Ses agreed, knowing Sato would be in his debt, a fact never far from Sato’s mind.
        The reporter heard the briefest of catches in Sato’s voice before he recovered and muttered something about the news release before turning away.
        The reporter knew she had something.
        So did Endo.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Emily's Secret

Chapter Two
        With Emily laid out in the funeral home’s basement and Earl in the kitchen of Ross’ apartment, reluctant to enter his empty home as the end of that awful day drew near, Ross still dreaded making that phone call. It was to Earl’s sister, Ann. He loved his niece and in some ways was a mentor to her, but as Ann grew older, they grew apart, for no reason other than the different lives people have, with little common ground besides blood.
Still, Ann was the closest relative not just to Earl, but also to Emily, whose immediate family was all dead and whose in-laws never bothered to make the attempt to keep in touch. During Ann’s rare visits to Connor she spent most of her time with Emily, with Earl so busy with the funeral home.
As his aged crooked finger gently ran down a list of numbers in small black book, Ross peered at Ann’s name, still Taylor, and the exotic address, some Rue or another, in some place in Paris, France. Ross began dialing a number. The ringing began, and continued for some time before he heard a faint ‘hello?’     
Earl spent the night on the bedding he placed on the floor, unable to sleep in the bed he shared with Emily. He spent most of the night unaware of being awake or asleep, except for when he dressed and went downstairs to the living room to acknowledge his neighbors’ sympathy. It was possible the entire town of Connor turned out to pay its respect to Emily Taylor. Visitation was two nights for four hours each, and both nights the funeral home on State and Elm overflowed with folks wanting to offer some word of kindness to Earl and Ann and Ross.
The Episcopal church was packed for her funeral service. The procession to the cemetery was 35 cars long and the crowd at the graveside service numbered over 500, according to Dave Weisbrodt, who was there with his brothers and a cousin, all policemen and close friends of the Taylor family.
Emily Taylor wasn’t particularly religious but she did attend Episcopalian services somewhat regularly, sang with deep reverence, and knew the music by heart. The rector said she would be remembered as someone who always gave of her time to any cause no matter how small. Many mourners from all over Connor were there because of a kindness she showed during some time of need, and most of the time it had nothing do with the funeral home or the church, or the women’s aid committees and other charitable groups. Everyone who knew her knew she took a personal interest in nearly everyone in Connor. No one ever had anything bad to say about Emily Taylor.
Earl’s shock and grief were still too deep within him to rightly acknowledge the outpouring of love and kindness folks showed for Emily. He spent most of those hours nodding his head, tilting it to one side, rubbing a handkerchief under his nose, and throwing pleading looks at Ross  whenever he felt truly overwhelmed. Despite soldiering on at the funeral home and maintaining his poise during the services, he was numb, and his soul had a perpetual raw, nagging ache.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Quick Hits No 8

To recap: Quick Hits writing tips was born from conversations I have had with editors, writers, and wanna-be writers and about writing a story, any story: how to start, how to follow through,  and what it takes to get the idea on paper in a way that others understand.

I know for most writers it's all very elementary, but who among us has had a an idea waiting to be hatched, a story to be told, and then, wham! We act like we've never written our name?

Thanks today goes to Mary O Paddock's tweet (@MaryOPaddock) about writing advice given by Christopher Moore, via her blog Jumping Off Cliffs. Moore is the author of Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. I have never read it, nor have I ever heard of Christopher Moore. But upon reading his advice to writer's, that's all going to change.
Here's a link:

If anyone would like to comment on this or any other posting in the blog, please feel free. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say.
See you next time!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Emily's Secret

Emily’s Secret

Chapter One

        Had Emily Taylor known she was going to die that morning, perhaps she would have told her husband the news she had been too stunned to tell before then. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell Earl, it’s just that she could hardly believe it herself. She had decided to wait awhile and let it all sink in, the notion that a novel she had written was going to be published. The letter from the publisher was so unexpected it didn’t seem quite real. She sent the manuscript in on a lark, after all. 
If she had known she was going to die that morning it’s possible she would not have spent any time weeding the flower beds, but there she was: she loved gardening. It felt purposeful, pulling out weeds by the roots, checking under leaves for bugs, spying the latest garter snake on the perimeter of the lawn.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Quick Hits No. 7

OK, today is a master class.

Here's what John Steinbeck had to say about writing.
Special thanks to Maria Popova @brainpicker.

I especially like #2.

See you next week!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Quick Hits No. 6

In my posts about writing, I have been focusing on getting started: think about it and get it on paper. Ask yourself some questions, answer them in your head, then get the words on paper. Today I'd like to share this with you:

“When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” ― Stephen King, On Writing

At my first writer's conference, I heard "writing is rewriting." It has stayed with me to this day. Trained as a journalist, I am used to the notion of get it out, get it right, but get it out. Writers without daily deadlines, once they get whatever it is they want on paper, treat those words as if they belong in a museum. That's a good way to never get anything done. The next step is just what King says: "(take) out all the things that are not the story."

Every word you write won't be a part of the final product. That's OK. It's not the words you start with, but the words you end with that count.

See you next week.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Quick Hits No. 5

When I began tuning into Social Media one of the first names to jump out at me was Chuck Wendig. I  realized that if there was someone this cool swimming in the deep of the socmed pool then I wanted to jump in, too.
And one of the first things I read was 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing Right now.

I want to focus on No. 6

"I said “stop hurrying,” not “stand still and fall asleep.” Life rewards action, not inertia. What the fuck are you waiting for? To reap the rewards of the future, you must take action in the present. Do so now."

Take action. 
A friend of mine is trying to get started on a project but did not know where to begin. "Just write something!" I shouted. "Write you name. Draw a line down the middle of the page and write what a boy would say on one side and what a girl would say on the other. Describe the awfulness of your apartment. Tell me how you hate to walk to the grocery store. But just write it down!"
He thought it had to be creative. It doesn't. It has to be something. The creative part comes later. First comes the writing.

Take action.

If you can write a tweet, an email, or text a message, you can write. The creative part comes later. Just write. Write and write some more. What you want to say will rise up from the words on the page. You'll see them reaching out to you, begging to be set free. 
But no such emancipation will take place if you don't take action.

Friday, July 27, 2012

RosieRosie by Anne Lamott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this to introduce myself to Anne Lamott's work. I am glad I did. Despite its title, at first the story seemed to be about Elizabeth Ferguson, Rosie's mother, and the people who populate her life: Andrew, Rosie, Rae and James. The story seems to unfold as a tiny family saga, from Elizabeth's mother to Elizabeth to Rosie. But there is an imperceptible shift, from Elizabeth's tumultuous inner life to Rosie's life of becoming herself in a world where her one constant is her flawed, beautiful, patient-despite-herself mother. Lamott's gift is her ability to simultaneously describe Elizabeth's reckoning of her own faults, Rosie's adventures with her best friend Sharon, and Rosie's awareness of the mysterious world of grownups, one populated with kindness and understanding alongside cruelty and abuse. I was sad to come to the end of the book.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quick Hits No. 4

In his tribute to Nora Ephron in The New Yorker, Nathan Englander shares some observations on the art and craft of writing I'd like to share with you.

He wrote: "It’s that the goal of the true craftsperson is simply to put story out into the universe—to find the tales that really count and to tell them in the form they demand."

Isn't that really what a writer tries to do? Send a story "out into the universe." I know I'm guilty of of keeping my stories hidden from the universe for any number of reasons, most often because I am not satisfied with them. But what writer is?

I have just finished editing a story that began life 20 years ago. The original idea has morphed into something that can only be appreciated if one applies the six degrees of separation rule. The story is now ready to be launched into the universe, but 20 years?

That's ridiculous. But what's worse is I have a story that's been written in some form for 30 years that has yet to see the light of day. 

So you can see, I've been on this journey through the writing life for some time. And I admit it has existed in my head, for the most part. But now I'm ready to go "out into the universe."

This is why I think his conclusion seems to timely for me right now:

"You set out to do something, and to do it right. And if it doesn’t come out exactly as planned—you don’t just live with it, you find a way to make it even better than it would have been before." 

Check out the article here:

See you next week!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quick Hits No. 3

Sometimes writing begins with the smallest of details. Describing something, however small, exercises the engine of your imagination, and frees the words trapped there. Consider: How a fried egg's yolk runs as if it seems to want to escape its fate. How a fastidious man refuses to allow smoking in his car, he so loves its new car fragrance.
Getting started on a story may be as simple as a small, insignificant observation. At the end of Chapter 3 in "Rosie," Anne Lamott writes "... she lifted a bottle of nail polish and, with a forlorn look on her face and a gaping, heavy hole in her chest, spent the next half hour slowly tipping the bottle back and forth, watching the swaths cut in the polish by the silver stir beads, the silvery etchings in crimson."   
If the devil is in the details, heaven is there, too.

And don't forget to check out Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips

See ya next week!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Writing something you can put your name to

Perusing through some short films on the PBS website I found this Mike Wallace interview with  Rod Serling from 1959, just after Serling wrote several terrific television programs during TV's 'Golden Age' and before launching "The Twilight Zone." What Serling has to say about writing a story, standing up for what you believe, appreciating good writing as art even if it is a television program is all as relevant now 53 years later as it was then.

The program lasts 21 minutes. It is time well spent.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Quick Hits No. 2

A continuation of last week’s post:

Another topic in the conversations I had focusing on writing centered on how the essence of stories are lost in the verbiage the writer wants to use when stringing sentences together.  In other words, the writer knows what he or she wants to write, and the sentences come out beautifully, but the story is hard to find among the finely turned phrases. I think what happens is the writer knows what he or she wants to say but gets caught up "in the moment" of writing and the words get in the way.

 For example, find any recent college or high school graduation story, print or viral, and see if the story includes basic information: name and location of school,  the guest speaker, valedictorian, salutatorian, what was said, how many students graduated -- you name it. Is it a speech story? Depending on the guest speaker, maybe it is. But far too much time was spent trying to come up with different adjectives and adverbs to describe a run-of-the-mill graduation story without getting in the facts, takes far too much time to write, and for the editor, takes far too much to edit.

How does this apply to writing fiction? Ideas tend to grow from the inside out, like dropping a pebble in a pond, and watching the ripples grow larger and larger. But writing is rewriting. It’s like that unruly shrub that needs to be trimmed back. So get some sharp clippers and have it.

Writers love to stand in shade and drop pebbles into ponds. Who doesn’t? But the work of the writer is standing in the sun, hot and thirsty, clipping back the shrubs to make them look like something. It isn’t easy. In fact, a lot of times it just plain sucks. But in the end it’s worth it.

See you next week!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Another stop along the way

This has been a pretty cool week on the journey. I discovered two amazing things:
A place to let folks know about me and a place for folks to read what I write: and is a site created by the folks at AOL as a "free service that lets you create a beautiful one-page website that's all about you and your interests. Upload a photo, write a short bio and add your favorite social networks to show the world the big picture of you."
Speaking for myself, sharing me is weird on so many levels, but the point is, in sharing our stories we share ourselves, don't we?
I have read over and over the notion that writers cannot work alone any more. It isn't enough to live in one's world and then anonymously send out one's stories to the world -- if that was ever the case.
For better or for worse, engaging with the world, at least the world of like-minded storytellers and readers, is part and parcel of life in the world we now live in.
If anyone had asked me to accept such notions only a few short years ago I would have blanched and pull the covers over me head. "Writers are introverts," I would have shouted. "Writers live in their own worlds. We like it there! That's why we're writers!"
But then I realized I had to embark on this journey, this journey into a life I thought I was living, a writing life. And now that I've embarked on this journey, I know pulling the covers over my head is only useful for sleeping.
In fact, I discovered wattpad because I decided to engage with the online world, a part of which is Twitter. I knew I was on the right path when I discovered writers such as  Margaret Atwood engaged in social media. It was one of her tweets that lead me to wattpad. And what a great idea: a place to share stories.
So I hope to meet you on the internet and read your stories there, too. I think these two sites will improve my chances of doing that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Quick hits

Here is the first in a series of weekly Quick Hits -- writing tips that that I've picked up on my journey through the writing life.

Quick hits No. 1:

 Over the past week I've had occasion to talk about young writers and writing in general in four completely different conversations with four different people. And I found myself saying the same thing in each one.
   First, let me say that when I am not writing fiction and traveling down the road to publication, I work as a newspaper editor. I've been a reporter and editor in the news field for over 30 years and I have a degree in journalism.
  These days I am a copy desk chief and page designer at a newspaper in California. I read stories every day. I see great ones, good ones, average ones, and just plain awful ones.
   Then I go home and read blogs, Tweets and other things on the web pertaining to writing: writer's block, not having time to write, not knowing how to get started, and other topics that confound writers of all stripes.
   In each of the conversations I said basically the same thing: A writer has to know what he or she wants to write about, they have to have an idea of how they want to start the story and they have to know where the story is going to go.
   I also said that all writing answers the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why. And I throw in How for good measure.
   Sure, it's an old saw from journalism school no one seems to want to use any more, but I guarantee any piece of writing, whether a news story or fiction or how-to book, will answer those questions.
   For example: 
   "Shelly heard shots. Her new-mother instincts kicked in before she knew what she was doing, and her precious Caleb was cuddled in her arms as she quickly knelt to the floor. She didn't see the shooter but that didn't stop her from reaching for the shotgun by the back door."
   In one paragraph we know
   Who: Shelly
   What: grabbed her baby
   When: When she heard shots
   Where: We don't know, yet.
   Why: She is a new mother.
   This paragraph could have been in a news story, short story or novel.
   Overly simplistic?
   I don't think so. It does the job and enables the writer to get something on paper, even if it is only first draft material. Give it a try! 
   See you next week.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Portrait

This is a short story from my collection "Stocking Stuffers." A little December in July, if you will.

The Portrait

It wouldn’t do to have Christmas cards sent out without pictures of the baby.
The thing was trying to decide where to go, which department store offered a better deal, knowing that getting roped into spending $150 for a $9.99 special was what all new parents had to watch out for.
And really, that wasn’t the half of it. It was getting a nine-month-old in a good day with a good temperament and ready smile for the camera, car ride and stroller and bundling and unbundling notwithstanding.
This first Christmas as a parent was turning into a strange, strange thing indeed. This precious, wildly mobile, dazzling baby, with a will and lungs of iron, came into the world in a foreign land and endured undernourishment, allergies, travel, mosquitoes, musty, damp weather, more travel, incontinence, love, being photographed and filmed inside and outside, wet or dry, dressed or naked, was everything to mother and father and grandmothers and grandfathers and all the various relatives.
So there was no pressure in getting baby’s first Christmas picture absolutely perfect.
That’s when dads all over the world step up and say …
“Let’s just go to Sears.”
Murmur murmur.
“When?” the young mother asked, knowing that the baby was guaranteed picture perfect only from 9:00 to 9:15, morning and evening. Any other time is asking for a disaster.
“Whenever you want,” the father wisely replied.
Murmur, murmur, huddle with the older, wiser grandparents, happy now that the new generation had arrived.
“Why don’t I call over there?” the all-knowing-while-still-getting-over-being-suddenly-a-dad father offered, practicing the truly useful art of any-attempt-at-getting-information-is-seen-as-doing-something-constructive.
It was agreed that this was O.K.
The phone call was made.
“Oh, you can come anytime between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.” the sweet voice said in reply to his inquiry. “Seven days a week.”
“I see. Do you have any openings?”
“Oh, it’s first-come-first-serve.”
“Yes. We take names right at nine o’clock.”
“Anything else you need to know?” the sweet voice asked.
“Yes. Where is the studio located?”
“The doors right off Hamilton.”
“Thank you.”
He turned to face his family.
“Well, what did she say?” the mother asked, somewhat impatiently, knowing the father never came right out and said anything.
The pregnancy had been hard on her. The toxemia nearly killed her. Traveling home and living with her parents was hard for her, and having a baby that cried all the time was hard for her, and not being able to find work was hard for her. She was tired all the time and the father felt helpless to do anything about anything except try to make her life as easy as possible, and he knew his answer right that moment would determine whether this would get her support or it would become another stressful ordeal.
“First come, first serve,” he said.
“I’m not going to stand in line with the baby just to get his picture taken. It’s below freezing out there,” she cried.
“I’ll stand in line,” the father said.
“I’ll get there at seven-thirty or eight and be the first one there and stand in line and be the first one in. Then all you have to do is show up when the doors open and we can walk right in. Then they have to take his picture. It’ll work out fine.”
She looked through him, down into his soul, to see if he was serious.
“Trust me,” he said.
“Sounds O.K. to me,” the grandmother offered. “Yes. He can go and wait in line and we can get the baby ready to go and be there at nine o’clock,” the grandmother said with a certain finality in her voice that was very much the period at the end of a sentence.
“When will we do it?” the mother asked.
“Tomorrow,” the father decided.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Detective novel continued 2

Here are a few more scenes from the detective novel I'm writing:
(previous posts can take you back to the beginning. It's worth it!)

        Watching Sato interrogate the two black GIs, Endo was sure they were lying to save their own necks and would incriminate this Jones person who killed Kimi Yamada. Rejected by a beautiful Japanese woman and the little waitress repeating the “No, Charlie, no!” And then the GI fled the scene without talking to his comrades or taking them with him? It was good enough for him, and he looked forward to getting this GI Jones in a room and getting a confession out of him.
        Still, he wanted to know what Sato was thinking. He asked him, “You think he did it?”
        “I don’t know,” Sato said. “But it means contacting the Americans. That means the press, headquarters, all kinds of interference. Such a nuisance. But it must be done.”
        Endo wondered why it made Sato look so unhappy.
        As Nakamura made his way out of the club a tearful, enraged Hayashi cornered him just before he reached the exit, grabbed him and spun him around, her hands like talons reaching out to claw the man’s face.
        “You lied about Jun Fujimori, you ass!” she hissed, furious at feeling she was part of an elaborate lie. She knew the club’s owner hated that Kimi Yamada was involved with a black American GI. She knew he was the son of a yakuza boss, a thug, a skirt chaser, and a man who could not control his temper. But criminal or not, she did not want any part of misleading the police. Hayashi’s fury propelled her words: “You knew he saw Kimi with the GI. And you know he sent a note to the bar. Why didn’t you tell that detective?”
        “Are you kidding?” he whispered, watching Sato talking to the GIs in the other room. Ashen, desperate for the opium he craved, Nakamura hissed, “You want to get killed? I don’t. When he saw her with that black foreigner he was ready to go crazy. It was all I could do to keep him from doing something stupid, the ass. I know he owns the place, but he’s dangerous when he’s angry and he wanted Kimi for himself.”
        Hayashi didn’t care what excuses Nakamura came up with. “That cop is going to find out that a gangster’s kid owns this place and then he’ll back asking all kinds of questions,” she warned Nakamura. “And I’m going to tell him.”
        “You say anything,” the manager said, transforming into something truly reptilian and menacing, “and you will be dead. I don’t want anyone tracing this back to us. Or we’ll both be dead.”
        Hayashi knew Nakamura was right. She slumped onto a chair and moaned, “I don’t want Kimi’s death on my conscience.”
        “You don’t even know how she died,” Nakamura said. “That GI could have done it.”
        Wiping her tears away, she looked at Nakamura. “That GI loved Kimi.
        “You don’t know anything.”
        “I know more than you think I do. And if you don’t tell that officer about him…”
        “Don’t say a word,” Nakamura said, evil in very word, “or you’ll be next.”
        Hayashi felt too drained to move. Nakamura’ menacing scorn filled her mind. She knew the creepy little man was right. Mentioning the club owner’s name could be fatal. And she liked her life, small as it was.
        Poor Kimi.
        Hayashi knew she would never be able to get that girl out of her mind.      

Monday, June 25, 2012

Detective novel continued

Here are a few more scenes from the detective novel I'm writing:
(previous posts can take you back to the beginning. It's worth it!)
     The two Marines had silently watched Abe walk over to a sergeant and two officers, point directly at them and then say something that made the other customers gather their things then stand and leave the club. Then they watched Sato’s interrogation, all the while calculating the odds of their spending the night in a Tokyo jail.
     The taller of the two, Lance Corporal Ty Johnson, was thin for a Marine. He had been a long-distance runner in high school and in the Corps he had the reputation of never fatiguing when the demands of physical exertion and bearing 70-pound gear packs were at its worse. Johnson did not know exactly what was going on, but he could tell Sato was a man you did not mess around with. As he sat and watched Sato he knew his conscience was clear. He had done nothing and had nothing to hide. He was not sure he could convince the cops, though.
     Private Rodney Ballard was not the reflective type. He had waited all week to come up to Tokyo and have a good time. When that waitress came in screaming, stopping the show dead, he knew any hopes he had for a weekend away from the base, from being a Marine, was all gone. Typical Ballard bad luck. And now here were the cops, and one of them spoke English too damn good.
     Johnson didn’t know Ballard well enough to know for certain if he could keep his mouth shut and stay out of trouble. Not knowing gnawed at him.
     Ballard was certain he was going to spend the night in jail. He could barely sit still while Sato was interrogating the staff. He kept muttering “I should have known, I should have known” over and over. “Go out on the town, wind up with the police. Every time. Happens every time.”
     “Shut up,” Johnson hissed. “Shut up and be cool. We didn’t do anything. We don’t know anything. The sooner we’re out of here the better off we’ll be.”
     “How many times you been arrested?”
     “Thought so,” Ballard muttered. He knew from long experience the odds were pretty good that if the police were asking them questions on a Friday night they would be seeing the inside of a jail cell before the night was over.
     The two stopped hissing at each other when Sato walked over, grabbed a tiny black chair and sat directly across from them. Abe and Endo positioned themselves behind Sato. The police sergeant did not move. They all kept an eye on the Marines as Sato flipped to a page in his notebook, click his pen, and said: “My name is Sato. I’m with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Thank you for your cooperation. I have a couple of questions for you. First, do I have your names right? Johnson and Ballard?”
     Suspicious “yes sirs” came forth.
     “Was there another man with you tonight?
     Ballard began to say “no” but Johnson cut him off: “Yes sir, there was one man, Charlie Jones. Another Marine. We’re all Marines.”
     “Ah, Jones,” Sato said, scribbling in his notebook. “Embassy?”
     Neither could hide their surprise at the question. Johnson only said, “No, Yokosuka,” wondering how some Japanese cop knew where Marines were stationed.
     “Here for the night?”
     “We’re staying at the Sanno, sir,” Johnson replied.
     Sato knew the place. It was the American serviceman’s hotel. Of course. It wasn’t so far away. “Is that where your friend is? At the Sanno?”
     The question came out innocently enough, and Ballard didn’t like it. Johnson could tell Ballard was about ready to say something stupid so he kicked his foot. Ballard shot Johnson a dirty look as he reached down to rub the spot that ached so, but he kept his mouth shut.
     Sato ignored it all. “It would take just a phone call to find out if he’s there.”
     “OK!” Ballard said as frustration and contempt overcame him. “We don’t know nothin’. What’s this all about?”

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Writers Roundup

Some good stuff from across the digital spectrum this week:

Rob on Writing: Are You Still Tryign to Sell a Million E-Books?
Read what Rob Guthrie has to say about tenacity.

Writers Digest: 5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make
Find out when to hold back and go for broke.

WriteToDone: Patrick Ross talks about 4 Rewards from Creative Writing Immersion
See what Patrick shared about tapping into creativity.

CheryRiefWrites: How to Pitch Your Book
Linda Rohrbaugh covers the basics of the book pitch

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Friday at the Hotel Bar

 While the detective novel is going through its edits, you're invited to take a look at a short story from my collection ''Still life in the Rear-View Mirror.''

Friday at the Hotel Bar

     Mike Benton knew that so far, it had been a bad day. He just hoped, and prayed, that it wasn't a sign of things to come.
     He really had prayed. From his long-ago Catholic childhood he remembered the prayer to the Virgin Mary. And he wasn't being a smartass when he began saying, "Hell, Mary, full of grace, the lord is with you... ." He wasn't aware of his slip-up. It was just a reflection of his mood.
     He had just been to see where he would be working, the job he took sight unseen, the agreement to take the job a verbal handshake over the phone. What he saw left him shaken. Then he went to the bar of the hotel, at least the only hotel he could find, that had a sign that said 'bar', and to be honest, after an hour or so in town, he really didn't know where he was going. But he knew it was late in the afternoon, his wife and baby boy were at the hotel taking a long, late nap, and there wasn't any reason to go wake them up.
     So he stepped into the bar, attached to hotel that looked like a set for a bad ’70s Western. It had that late afternoon look to it, not quite open, not quite busy, the walls, a blond-colored paneling, faded and probably sticky to the touch, the floor, linoleum with Olympic-sized cracks, whole chunks missing, and the tables and chairs, well, the tables and chairs that shit-brown color and in a state that indicated they were at least secondhand when they found their way here.
     There were fluorescent lights on the ceiling but they weren't turned on. That moment usually came at closing time. A huge swath of late afternoon sun was catching four or five panes of dirty glass and it was amazing at how well lit the room was because of it. There looked what appeared to be heavy velour curtains that, at some point, would be drawn shut. Beyond the far curtain, a funny shade of black with a brown tint, was a small stage, probably big enough for four band mates, but definitely crowded if there was a fifth.
     A bartender and a couple of old-timers at the other end of the bar were the only other people in the place. The old-timers took no notice of Mike, who sat on a stool and ordered the first beer he recognized. Not being from those parts, the beers had different names. When the beer arrived, the bartender put the beer in front of him and then returned to his post in the middle of the bar, half listening to the old timers, half thinking to himself. A short man with wavy brown hair that looked suspiciously like it was dyed that color, the bartender didn't once look at Mike again until Mike asked for another beer. The first beer had taken a painfully slow 15 minutes to drink. A reformed smoker, Mike had nothing to do with his hands except flip over matchbooks and coasters. It was one of three reasons why he didn't go into bars anymore. The second and third reasons were asleep in a motel three blocks away.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Father's Day

For fathers past, present and future, and the people love them. 

A Father's Day

That day the alarm went off at 5 a.m. On a normal day that’d be an hour I’d be going to bed. This wasn’t a normal day, and not just because I wasn’t home. I was home, in a way. I was in the town my son lives in, a city on the Canadian prairie. It’s sort of a second home. I was visiting, and I took a motel room, and we were seeing each other and hanging out and this particular morning we were getting up at five a.m. But it wasn’t a normal day.
A trip to see the lad included a drive up to Sheho, a town of 350 on the Yellowhead Highway between Winnipeg and Edmonton.
There is a church there, and a cemetery, and the grandfather wanted to go to the church that day for it was the church’s feast day and there the priest would come from Brandon. There’d be a service in the tiny church and then there’d be a ceremony in the cemetery next door, where the grandfather’s mother and father were buried. The lad was supposed to be the altar boy. He’s an altar boy at the Orthodox pro-cathedral in town, and he was supposed to assist at this event.
The mother didn’t want the grandfather to drive, and in conversations before my arrival I said I’d be glad to go to Sheho, and that I’d drive if necessary. This was what the mother wanted. She didn’t think her father was up to driving anymore. The day before the trip I saw the grandfather and his new station wagon, and we talked, and we decided he would drive. I didn’t want to insult the man, nor argue his daughter’s case, as it wasn’t mine to argue. I was going to be a passenger. I’d keep an eye on things.
With arrangements made, and the alarm now having performed its duty, it was up to me to shower and shave and get ready to go in a manner to set an example with the youngster. I needn’t bothered. He was up, dressed, and ready long before I’d turned on the hot water tap in the bathroom. He was good at getting up, and getting ready. He was trained well. I needn’t have worried, and by the time I was ready, we were on our way to the grandfather’s, who wanted to leave early so we’d have time for breakfast on the way. That was how it turned out, too. By the time we reached the town of Ituna there was time for breakfast, big and reasonably priced, eaten in an easy manner with the grandfather and father teasing the lad about his entry into the sixth grade the next day and how big he was getting, and how he’d be as big as his dad before long. The boy took it all with a grin. It was clear he loved being with his grandfather and father.
Our small party arrived at the church grounds just as the service was starting. In Orthodox churches, separating the congregation from the altar, there is a great screen decorated with icons and images from the life of Christ and his Apostles. Behind this screen the priest was hearing confession. There wasn’t enough time for the boy to find out if he was needed as an altar boy. The service began soon enough as the priest, finished with confession, walked out wearing his gold vestments and began the opening prayer. It didn’t appear that the boy’s services were required after all. The boy sat next to his grandfather, and as the service began, it was clear that there were going to be more people than there would be room in the small church, even as they took seats in the vestibule of the church. I decided to spend my time outside, listening as the service progressed, listening to the choir respond to the priest’s supplications. The average age of the choir, much like that of the congregation, was about 65 to 70 years old. Even with the Dumanski’s two boys, aged 3 and 18 months, and the boy, it was clearly an older crowd at the church.
Sheho is the Cree word for prairie chicken. When Ukrainian immigrants came to the area at the turn of the last century, when the province was still the Northwest Territory, such creatures lived in the scrub tree thickets and groves, along with the prairie dogs, pheasant and quail and deer. It was tough, dry, cold country. The land needed to be busted up and plowed, grain planted and harvested and be shipped East to the food companies so a nation could be fed. An immigrant’s part in the whole process started with a homestead, 40 acres, a good horse, a mud house, or if you were lucky and had the right type of trees on your land, a house with four strong walls and a roof, raised and set before that first bitter prairie winter set in. And a man knew his best friend was the horse he was tethered to, the two of them busting land that would help the family last another year.
Taking on land in plots close to the Yellowhead Highway meant a man had land close to the road traveled by the characters that typically went back and forth on roads, peddlers and agents and such, people who had news to tell, and so a man didn’t feel so cut off from the world.
A community would build a school and a teacher would come and be paid by funds raised by the families, or in livestock and vegetables. Many of the people standing and sitting and listening to that priest celebrate that feast day in that old church, 97 years after its dedication were students at such schools who lived their lives on such homesteads, educated in a time and place far removed from the new country and a new century they’d not yet gotten used to.
The grandfather had grown up on the hardscrabble land, his father working land here and there, wherever a deal could be made for something better, hedging a bet and working out of bad luck, mostly. Older brothers worked the land, he and a younger sister tended to the animals before school. There were four or five years of that before work became a serious thing.
The service began its second hour, the Orthodox liturgy lingering over the mystery of the Christos. The late August sun began its work in earnest, heating a land with wheat, canola, oats, peas, timothy, alfalfa, ready for the combine, the reaper, the header. The land was hard and thick with grasshoppers. Late-summer rain brought mosquitoes quick on the attack. It was hard to remember they were God’s creatures, even when standing in a church yard.
The after the service the congregation assembled outside and the priest blessed the church, the land and then the procession up the small slope to the cemetery south of the church. The grass was freshly mowed and weeded and some plots had fresh flowers. Despite the walkers and canes the procession was something like a children’s walk, the old men and old women with grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their own visiting the graves of their parents, their aunts and uncles, their brothers and sisters.
Kuzyk, Romaniuk, Melnychuk, Shevchenko, Svoboda, Wiesliu, Dymanski. The graves bore names I didn’t know, and I knew I was a visitor to the place, linked to the land there by the blood of a son who was Ukrainian and a Canadian as well as a German-Irish American.
I stood there, watching the procession, the priest praying the prayers of the living for the souls of the dead. And that’s when I realized these grandfathers and grandmothers were at once aged and at the same time they were children visiting their families. That's what was really going on. It was a special day for the people who loved that church, who had their families buried here. They wanted to be there on a holy day and say hello to mama and papa, and tell them they’re still trying to be good boys and girls, doing what the Bible said, to honor thy father and mother.
I bent over and whispered into my son’s ear, “take a good look at all these grandmas and grandpas. You know who they really are? Children, coming to visit their mothers and fathers. When they come here they are children again.” My son looked at me and laughed a small laugh at the idea. I don’t know if he understood what I said, or whether he laughed at the idea of all these old people being young.
Before heading home, the grandfather wanted to show the boy the house where he grew up. It was only a mile or so from the cemetery, on a gravel lane, behind a grove. The old man and the boy got out of the car and walked across a field of ripening oats. I stayed in the car, and watched the two cross the field.
I knew the grandfather, nearly 80 now, liked these visits with the past. And I could easily see him as a lad no older than my own son, crossing that field after school, or with a pole with a few fish from the stream north of where I stood.
We live solitary lives at our own peril. Some of us are put on Earth lucky enough to know the goodness and the love of parents who bear us, and we try to live our lives as our parents did, and their parents did. Some of us remain single, and some go on to have children who go on to live the lives they are meant to live. And if they are lucky they fondly remember a loved one, and a visit to their resting place seems as natural as the desire to sit and talk once more.
My cousin once said it wasn’t really Christmas until he was with his dad. I know what he means now. My special time of the year is when I’m with my son. It doesn’t matter if we spend the day at a cemetery, or reminisce with an old man. It’s better that way, I think. Some memories are treasures too fine for wrapping paper and bows.