Behind the Story: “Book of Hours”

So I had this idea for a novel.

There was this gentleman thief, see, and he needed to steal something. Wait. There was more. This something, see, was hidden in the pit network underneath the Colosseum. The hypogeum, if you’re into archeology. A caper in front of ten thousand tourists. Say crooks or spies did drop exchanges there, payoff money or hacked secrets. Glam Rome, high stakes, chases through crumbling passages. Toss in the yucks. It sells itself, right?

Some ideas know better than to come together. I worked on the first draft, got 15,000 words in. And froze. Several times. Even with the leeway of a comic premise, story problems kept clogging the works. No thief, see, could get past modern security, polizia squads, and ten thousand smart phone cameras. And why the hell would any mobster anywhere choose the Colosseum to stash diamonds or jump drives? The pits where tour groups flock through all the Italian day? Out of a million less complicated alternatives? No, my idea wouldn’t be selling itself.

But the first chapter worked. It stood alone more or less, no Colosseum-sized plot problems. Our hero, see, just had to steal something stealable from a place such things get stolen from. A super-valuable book. The scene zipped like a Bond movie opening, a slam bang action setpiece launching into the main plot.

We’d last left our hero in a bad way. Ed, our once-brash gent, had been outfoxed by a mademoiselle high on Holmesian deduction and low on morals (“Aix to Grind,” AHMM September 2014). Now a few months later, Ed is in crushing debt to the Corsican mob for his Aix sins, and worse, he’s in the cold, cold clutches of the Marchesa Isabella Ruggieri. In “Aix,” Ed bragged over stealing a haul from her. The haul, it turns out, Continue reading “Behind the Story: “Book of Hours””

I Have No Idea if There Were Communist Go-Go Parties (or, Balancing Research with Creative License)

I have written Communist go-go dancers. Not in a comedy, either. Technically, they were recruits among honors-level university students, but they broke into go-go dancing as the Party’s party night deepened and the drinks mounted. The setting was early ’70s Budapest, and the Happiest Barracks in the Iron Curtain reveled in its post-crackdown decay.

Our POV Helena takes it from here:

For the next hour I danced with every man who asked and every man who cut in, a parade of faceless political officers with tobacco and vodka on their breaths. Some were bolder than others, but none too bold. When the folk music stopped and the newer records began, we changed to whatever fast dance went with the song. I twisted, I ponied, I did the loco-motion, I thrilled at the heat of it all, and when the men tired the other girls and I go-go danced for them.

It was after the go-go dancing that Typhon approached. He brought with him two coupes of sparkling wine.

“You must be thirsty,” he said over The Byrds. He reached out the wine as if completely certain of my accepting, kissed my offered hand, and said, “The Socialist Workers’ Party appreciates your contributions to dance.”

–“Sparks to the Bear’s Hide” (MWA’s Ice Cold, Grand Central, 2014)

Now, I have no idea if such recruiting events ever devolved into Marxist Laugh-In cutaways. Mine did. For good reason: Continue reading “I Have No Idea if There Were Communist Go-Go Parties (or, Balancing Research with Creative License)”

Behind the Short Story: “Let It Burn”

First, a numbness. A chill that says you shouldn’t have gone and bit in, that something wicked this way comes. The heat does not flood in, yet. It builds. The nose starts to run, and your voice catches. Your body knows only to sweat. Because it’s too late to run. With Nashville hot chicken, the flames pause just that moment before they consume.

Prince’s hot chicken, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Lately, hot chicken has gone from cult food to kind of a thing. Even KFC is in on it–not authentically, mind you. Lest you think I’m the latest bandwagoneer, my 2015 “Let It Burn” submission to Alfred Hitchcock  beat KFC to the punch by some months. The publishing world is itself a sweet, slow burn.

 

I digress. Lester, the sorta-hero of “Burn,” describes hot chicken thusly: Continue reading “Behind the Short Story: “Let It Burn””

Behind: “Crack-up at Waycross”

COVER_Murder-Under-the-Oaks_x1500

First things first: the proceeds from Bouchercon’s Murder Under the Oaks go to the Wake Country Public Libraries. And folks, reading is cool.

In November 2013, thieves broke into a Modesto, CA orchard and made off with 140,000 pounds–70 tons–of in-shell walnuts. In February 2012, a shade to the north, 40,000ish tons of walnuts went missing from a Butte County processing plant. In October 2012, twin thefts near Sacramento, shall we say, bagged 82,000 pounds of walnuts. Investigators were hunting for suspects with Russian accents.

Nut theft is a thing.

Grinning a bit? Me too when I stumbled on the headlines. But the reason why? The root of all evil: an across-the-nut spike to record prices. That 70-ton walnut job? The take had a wholesale value of $400,000.

I said to myself, “I must write this.”

And you know what? I didn’t. Couldn’t. Not for a year. All I had was Continue reading “Behind: “Crack-up at Waycross””