Grumpy Fries and Lazy Lies—Part 9

Short of throwing Persephone MacGillivray out of the apartment, I wasn’t going to be able to control her—or her mouth. She pushed out from behind my back and marched up to her ex.

“I asked you a question, Alo, and I expect an answer. What’s going on here?” She shoved into the man’s space.

“I don’t answer to you.” Spittle flew, but to Persephone’s credit she didn’t flinch. “And why the hell are you here anyway?” Alo demanded. “You and Doctor McDreamy?”

I’m watching the interraction between these two and am pretty sure I can learn more by staying quiet, at least for the moment.

“For your information ‘Doctor McDreamy’ is Detective McDrea… I mean Detective Sterling Spreadbury, and you do have to answer to him.”

“No, I don’t.”

Aloysius Everslam knows his rights. Interesting. I wonder where he obtained his education.

Without skipping a beat, Persephone leaned in even closer. Considering the guy’s proclivity to add moisture to the environment through his mouth I was pretty impressed. “What were you doing in my place this afternoon?” She jabbed his chest with her finger.

Another score for her. She didn’t give him a chance to weasel because she didn’t ask if he’d been there, just asked what he’d been doing when he was there.

Alo’s eyes shifted to the back of his apartment then to me, finally settling in a very unsettled way on his old girlfriend. “I uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t try and feed me your usual load, Al.”

“I swear, I wasn’t there. I gave you back your key.”

“Doesn’t mean you didn’t make a copy.”

“Screw you.”

Persephone laughed. Kind of a “gotcha” laugh with a snicker behind it. Even though I understood it was bad news for Alo, I found it strangely attractive. In an evil sort of way. I guess maybe because it wasn’t directed toward me.

“Speaking of screwing, you want to explain your relationship with Duncan? And why you never had the guts to tell me you were leaving me for a man? Who just happens to be a murder-victim’s ex son-in-law?”

Everslam’s confusion was apparent. Before the interaction I’d been observing gave way to accusation and blame, I intervened. “I have a question for you, and you need to think carefully before answering.”

Confusion gave way to wariness. “Yeah?”

“Are you an applesauce lover?”

“Huh? Wha… I don’t understand.”

“From what I can see, you’ve got at least three empty cans of applesauce sitting in the trash bag by your door. That’s a lot of applesauce for one guy.”

More noise came from the back of the apartment, like someone trying to force open a window.

“Duncan Meadows!” Persephone screamed. “Get your ass up here now!”

Everslam didn’t move. Resignation poured off him in waves.

I’d noticed the windows in the building when we drove up. While they were big enough to crawl out of in an emergency, we were five stories up and there wasn’t a fire ladder in sight.

Even though I couldn’t legally search the apartment, I could get all Authoritative Cop. “Don’t make me haul you up here, Meadows! I’m sure I could lay my hands on the paperwork from last month when you ruined my Saturday night by tossing the Blue Parrot.”

Silence.

“Now would be good.”

Shuffling steps came from the hallway. A minute later a pony-tailed man moved into the room.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked.

“That’s Elton Fries,” Persephone answered. “Grumpy’s son.”

 

What’s The Dirt?

(This post is appearing simultaneously on Suspense Novelist.)

 

Seeds. Some writers can take a seed or two and grow an amazing story seemingly out of thin air.

Me? I need some dirt. Preferably dirt grounded in a social issue. The messier—the muddier—the better.

That’s where TRAFFICKED began. I had a list of topics that were interesting to me and I kept going back to one. Human trafficking. At the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This dirt ran deep. And wide. And muddy.

My kind of gardening.

In some ways TRAFFICKED was the most difficult story I’ve ever told. In other ways it flowed from my heart to my head to my fingers to the page effortlessly.

Many readers of this blog are fans of cozy or traditional mysteries, and while this book is neither, it walks right up to the worst of the mud and doesn’t get mired in explicit detail. The idea was to deal with the horror of sex trafficking without spelling it out.

Two early cultivators:

Peg Brantley’s TRAFFICKED is a heartbreaker, a thriller, and a hair-raising education, all at once. I wish I hadn’t already read it, so I could read it for the first time again. — Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty crime novels

The scourge of human trafficking is worldwide; yet, most Americans clutch the idea that it couldn’t possibly exist here.  Peg Brantley’s chillingly honest, gritty novel moves readers to empathize with lives shattered by modern-day slavery.  Through an accessible, awareness-raising narrative, Brantley spotlights a foul, hidden human crisis.  In Americans’ own back yard, not only can trafficking happen, it does.  — Susanne E. Jalbert, Ph.D., Activist

The bloom:

 

TRAFFICKEDfront

 

The dirt:

Sex trafficking.

Not Thailand. Or the Philippines. Or Russia.

America.

Rich or poor, black or white, girls disappear across this country every day, pulled into the nightmarish world of prostitution and drugs.

Mex Anderson is back, tasked with finding three missing girls before it’s too late. Three girls. Three girls who could live in your town, your neighborhood, or in your own home.

Jayla Imani Thomas is fifteen. A smart kid from a poor part of town who has to fend for herself. Jayla is headed for college and a better life than her mother had.

Alexis Emily Halston is seventeen. Money provides everything she wants or needs except functional parents. Alexis has the world by the tail and she knows it.

Olivia Emma Campbell is twelve. She’s a middle child who dreams of being a veterinarian when she grows up. But right now “Livvy” just wants someone to notice her, maybe even to love her.

Caught up in a cruel system fueled by lust and money, all three young women must find the courage within themselves to survive. And Mex must come to terms with his own loss and face his demons head on—or he might not have the strength to save them.

 

TRAFFICKED is now available for pre-order.

 

It’s all better with friends.

Humor and Laughter, Not

I write suspense/thriller stories. While there is humor interjected in some scenes it’s not like anyone is going to pull one of my books off the shelf looking for a good laugh. Ain’t happenin’.

Quirky shows, smart writers of smarter dialogue, natural comedians—all of these I enjoy. But these things are being covered well by my fellow Mysteristas this month.

So I decided to put on my Thriller Writer hat and dig a little.

What’s not to like about humor and laughter?

Turns out, there are a few things:

  • What about the bully in school? The target of derision is laughed at because everyone else wants to ‘fit in’ and the bully is laying down exactly what those rules are;
  • I go back and forth with Don Rickles and other comedians like him. While we can see flashes of huge, raw and tender compassion (and hear about it being part of his personal life), he was known professionally for mean comments that tore people down by splitting open their failings and splaying the wounds. Would he have been successful today? I sincerely doubt it;
  • Mental health issues abound in our society (don’t get me started on why I believe they’ve grown to such remarkable levels), but there are adults who find suffering human beings funny. There are adults who are still the kids in the background when the bully in grade school makes fun of the different kid;
  • How about when humor becomes a part of how to handle the job? Law enforcement officers who deal with deeply bad ‘products’ of our society on a daily basis, first responders who see the horror of a tragic event, ER staff who’ve come to the point that “treat ’em and street ’em” is about all they can emotionally handle? Does that make disrespecting another human being okay?

We’re living in a time and place that feels tenuous. Our daily news is filled with bad things we do to one another locally, and fear of what might happen next globally. So finding something that’s light and fluffy and silly can be a survival mechanism.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But when you’re ready, when you’re feeling stronger, push out just a bit. Replace the fear you feel with love. Tear a piece of the bad thing away, stare it down, and laugh in its face because you’re better than whatever it represents. You know what’s right, you’re good, and you’re gonna win in the end.

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Perfect

“If only I’d known” is the topic for this month. Every Mysterista has posted something spot on. Here’s maybe a slightly different slant…

If only I’d known

how loved I would be for the last four decades by an amazing man, I wouldn’t have stewed and fretted and lost sleep over Steve Smith. Or Dennis Peacock. Or (OMG, I can’t remember his first name!). Did you spend hours and hours thinking about a love that really wasn’t?

If only I’d known

wisdom would come to me when I was ready to receive it, I wouldn’t have read any self-help books. They only served to frustrate me. Probably stunted my emotional growth in the bargain. Do you agree?

If only I’d known

I’d eventually find my passion, I wouldn’t have looked wistfully at the bright-eyed energy of others who seemed to be living out their dreams. For me, working a job and paying bills was satisfying on one end, but it put me in a full set of blinders on the other. When those blinders began to slip is when dissatisfaction slipped in. But that dissatisfaction provided my incentive to search. Know what I’m talking about?

So now, what I know is simply to trust. Don’t stew or fret. Don’t be frustrated or wistful. Walk without blinders and receive whatever appears. What I am to know will come to me when the time is right.

Today is perfect.

And truthfully, I don’t want to know what tomorrow brings. I’ll just trust it will be right for me, even if it presents a challenge.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

It’s Complicated

“It’s Complicated” is easily my favorite relationship status descriptor. The implication is some kind of wonderful mystery with messiness and possible mayhem thrown in. Imperfection. Confusion. Humanness. Honesty.

For writers, it’s story material. I read those words and my imagination is engaged.

Loss mixed with hope. Vulnerability tossed with trust. Heartache pressed up against triumph. Assurance balanced with insecurity.

I dare you to name one relationship in your life (that matters) where “It’s Complicated” doesn’t apply to some degree.

There’s no one on this planet who makes my life better than the man I’ve been with for more than half of it. He’s my rock and my rudder. He also has the power to throw me into the middle of a storm should he choose to do so. He’s my soft place to land or the provider of a swift kick to my butt—often at the same time—because one or both is perfect. While our relationship is strong without question, it has its complicated moments.

Then there’s my mother. My sister. My dad. My mother-in-law. My bonus kids and granddaughters. My bonus mom and added siblings. Friends who hold pieces of my heart and pets who staked pieces of it out when they died.

If not complicated, what?

This past Sunday I sent my manuscript to my editor. I had tears in my eyes. I love my continuing characters, but I’d also come to love the three young girls whose turning points were within the confines of this story. In the future Jayla, Alexis and Livvy will only come up in passing, if at all.

I made them up.

They’re real.

It’s complicated.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading about complicated relationships or do you like them laid out and easy? How does that contrast with your own life?

 

It’s better with friends (even when it’s complicated).

Fresh Beginnings

After successful endings, there’s almost nothing more exciting than fresh beginnings. A new book to sink your teeth into, the tingling that comes with creative inspiration for a new story, meeting someone who you know is going to be a great friend and turning the page from one calendar year to the next.

I love beginnings. It’s goals that tend to freak me out. They make me feel challenged and perhaps inadequate. If I don’t set them high enough, I’m a slacker. If I set them too high, I prove I’m a failure.

Serendipitously, I came across an article that suggests while goals are good for planning, they’re not actually beneficial for achieving. Instead, focusing on your system, or process, is the key.

Here’s what James Clear (isn’t that the perfect name?) says about the difference between goals and systems:

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

And then he asks the question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?

Cool, or what? Anxiety and tension flew from my psyche when I read this. It’s really another way of checking the steps you take to reach your goals, but he makes one more point that really hit home for me:

Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.

I used to be a Weight Watchers leader. One thing that became abundently clear is that when a member set a goal of losing weight to attend and event (usually it was a reunion or a wedding), once that event was over they stopped losing weight.

Clear says the solution is to release the need for immediate results and focus instead on long-term.

I want to write stories readers want to read. While I have a small tribe waiting for my next book, I want a bigger tribe. That takes more well-written books (each better than the last) and more marketing. But it’s my daily system, my ongoing process, that’s key… and always will be.

Then I came across this (the “serendipitousness” continued):

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This lovely gem arrived on my doorstep yesterday. It includes pages for writing and publishing goals in general, and specific goals related to words written, books written, books released, social media, newsletter, website, income, etc.

It doesn’t forget personal goals or even shopping lists. There are weekly plans and quarterly assessments, but beneath it all there’s the feeling that a system, a process, is key.

Here’s the link to James Clear’s article, Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on  This Instead.

And here’s the link to find out more about the Author Essentials 2017 Planner.

That brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Our community of writers and readers is special. While we write or read alone, we gather in bookstores and libraries and blogs like this one. We lift each other up and we push each other forward.

Here’s to 2017. We’ve got this.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

 

 

The Pretty Package

I love wrapping presents. Once a year I take out my glue gun, find all kinds of three-dimensional objects to affix and go to town. If I did my job right, the inside of the package will meet the expectations the outside created.

But honestly, once I jazz up the outside I lose interest (a little) in what’s on the inside. Will my husband appreciate the golf shirt as much as he appreciated the awesome ribbon and pinecones glued to the perfect wrapping paper? Suddenly what’s inside doesn’t seem as important as what’s on the outside.

It is not that way with books.

Right now I’m working through manuscript revisions based on feedback from beta readers. For this story I have seven readers: four successful authors in my genre; one who could be an editor if she didn’t manage a small real estate empire; and two readers who practically begged me to allow them to participate in this process. As of now, I’ve completed just one set of revisions. That means I have six potential revisions to go before I send it to my editor… and get involved on an even larger scale.

Soon it will be time to get on the schedule for my cover designer. I’ll give her a couple of highlights about the story and she’ll get out her glue gun. We’ll go back and forth until I have a cover I love.  With luck it will fairly depict the story and be good enough to attract readers who aren’t already supporters.

With books it’s what’s behind the wrapping that counts. But the wrapping can make the discovery of the gift easier.

Readers, what attracts you to a cover? Have you been disappointed because the “wrapping” was better than the “gift”? Have you read a book you liked that had a so-so cover? If so, what in the world made you read it in the first place?

It’s all better with friends.