Momentary Lapses

This blog was created during a momentary lapse, a period when I'm stuck in my writing and trying to jog something loose in my brain or push myself so close to deadline that I can kill, without remorse, the beloved opening or headline or quote that is keeping me from moving forward. Most of my posts here will have to do with writing, including occasional Favorite Writing Quotes (FWQs). Please share yours, and your comments, too.

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Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Bouchercon 2014

Visit my "Room of the

To-Be-Known Writers"

Friday, 8:30-8:50 am, Harbor C
Following “Meet the New Authors Breakfast”
“Author Time” hosted by Mo Walsh
 
 

Network with (other) emerging writers, share tips, exchange cards, and play some Mystery Trivia! Win one of four copies of the Monday Murder Club’s mystery factoid, quiz, and puzzle book, A Miscellany of Murder.
 
This is your time to talk about your writing achievements and your Work in Progress. I’ll go first:

 
My first published story, “Roadside Roulette,” won the Mary Higgins Clark Short Mystery/Suspense Contest, and I have since published short stories in Woman’s World and five anthologies of Best New England Crime Fiction. I am a four-almost-five-time Nanowrimo winner (one year I reached 50,000 words on Dec.1st), now working on whipping the first three of those manuscripts into a trilogy of standalone, but related, crime novels.


Your Turn!


  

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Saturday, March 02, 2013

"Double Wedding" published in Blood Moon


UPDATE: "Double Wedding" has been nominated for a Derringer Award! Stay tuned.

Bev and Dillon have promised to love, honor, cherish and never testify against each other forever, but there’s one thing missing to make their wedding perfect—and Bev’s obnoxious cousin Evelyn has it. Here's an excerpt from "Double Wedding," published in Best New England Crime Stories: Blood Moon and available from Level Best Books.
 
Double Wedding

            “The bride’s side or the groom’s?” The usher looked like he was staring at his own cocked elbow, but I knew he was checking out my cleavage. The low neckline of my sheer silk blouse was deliciously cool for a July wedding in Virginia, where the churches are too historic for air conditioning and the stained glass windows are too valuable to actually open.

            I clutched the usher’s arm almost as close as he would have liked me to, threw him a hip check and a wink, and whispered, “Definitely the groom’s side. I’m Frankie’s first…girlfriend.”

He leered like a party-hardy frat boy until he noticed Dillon scowling at him over my shoulder. My guy was doing that smoking volcano thing he does so well, like he’d erupt in the middle of the wedding if another guy looked at me, or my cleavage, too close.

* * *

            “You’re sure your folks won’t be there?” Dillon had asked when I first suggested crashing Evvy’s wedding. We were lounging by the pool at Atlantic City’s Resorts Casino Hotel, courtesy of a Boston banker who didn’t yet know we’d swiped his credit card numbers.

            “They always skip these family deals,” I said. “Ever since my first arraignment. They send regrets and a pricey gift, then go on a cruise or something.”

            “I don’t know, Bev.” Dillon stretched out in his lounge chair in a way that made me want to drag him into the nearest changing room. “Don’t tell me you wanted a big church wedding after all?”

            Just two weeks earlier, me and Dillon had been married by a Justice of the Peace in Connecticut. We’d come right from the mountain theme resort where we’d been working and laying low, which is why Dillon looked studly in lederhosen and I wore a sexy dirndlette and carried a spray of fake edelweiss.

            “I’m not a church wedding kind of gal,” I reassured Dillon, “but there is one thing I bet Evvy will have for her wedding that should be ours.”

            After a spot of marital cherishing back in the Resort Casino’s honeymoon suite, he agreed.

* * *

            So here we were. As I expected, Evvy’s wedding was a big budget production choreographed by a wedding planner with a whole cast of designers, florists, musicians, make-up artists, and probably plastic surgeons. I looked around the church, at the garlands of peach blossoms twined around every other pillar, the masses of flowers in silver vases by the altar, the fussy clusters of peach satin ribbon, white lace, and pearls marking the VIP pews. Was I jealous?

            I nudged Dillon and blew him a kiss from under the brim of my hat. He hooked his left foot around my right ankle and tugged me closer. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of  ambiance at our wedding, but nothing could have been more romantic than me and my guy pledging to love, honor, and cherish, and never testify against each other, forever till death do us part. Amen.
 


Friday, October 28, 2011

A Miscellany of Murder

Why is Adelaide, Australia, known as "The City of Corpses"? How many actors played Sam Spade? What were Dirty Harry's greatest lines? Do blondes have more fun - and fewer convictions? How do you bury a body?

There's nothing like a little murder to challenge the dark side of your brain. This dastardly little volume is organized by the seven deadly sins, giving you all the gumshoes, guns, and gore you need to explore the sinister side of human nature. From amateur sleuths to serial killers, this murderous miscellany of crime--both real and imagined--is just the thing for a dark and stormy night.

It's on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Spencer Gifts, and other discriminating places to buy books. OK, that's the end of the Blatant Self-Promotion.

Meet the Monday Murder Club, our Boston-area mystery writers group that "executed" the Miscellany. That's me at lower right and then, clockwise, Paula Munier, Jim Shannon, Andy McAleer and Stephen D. Rogers.


Monday, November 22, 2010

"Double Take" in Thin Ice anthology

Thin Ice
Who is stealing from guests at the cheap Alpine-theme resort where Bev and Dillon are hiding out from the law? And who's going to take the blame so this lusty and larcenous couple can go free?

Two years ago Bev and Dillon—a match made in court-ordered therapy group—attempted the robbery of a church Bingo in “Double Dare,” published in the
Deadfall anthology of crime stories by New England Writers. Now you can follow their further adventures in “Double Take,” published in the 2010 Level Best Books anthology, Thin Ice. Order your copy for $15 plus shipping at http://www.levelbestbooks.com/.

Enjoy this opening excerpt:

DOUBLE TAKE

We were about five seconds away from being arrested and all I could think about was how sexy Dillon looked in lederhosen. Not many men, not Americans anyway, could carry off those leather shorts with the embroidered suspenders and fancy strap across the chest, not to mention the knee socks, but my guy was one of them.

I was pretty stunning myself in a black-and-red dirndl cut low at the bodice and high at the hem with a bit of lace peeping out at each end. Together, me and Dillon had upped the sex appeal of the Green Mountain Tyrolean Inn about 6000 percent. We’d been here a month and made double in tips what we were getting, under the table, from Dillon’s mother’s second cousin Fred.

Friedrich, as he called himself at the resort, couldn’t even wade in the same gene pool as Dillon. He might have had a decent face about a hundred pounds ago, but right now he looked like the Man in the Moon choking on a hunk of bratwurst.

“Ingrates!” He slammed his fist on the desk. “Thieves!”

Well, duh….

Monday, October 20, 2008

Taps

This is my final, Round Three story for the NYCMidnight competition. For this assignment, the genre was Romance, the location was A Laundromat and the object was A Hammer. Limit: 1,000 words.

Summary: Mitch doesn’t mind taking the time to do things right, whenever Gail is ready to let go.


You can tell how a woman feels about a man by the way she folds his shirts.

Mostly it’s a comfortable routine: shoulder to shoulder, flip the sleeves, fold it over, done. Sometimes she shakes it like the bastard’s still in it or tosses it on the laundry pile like she doesn’t give a damn. Or she folds it inside-out or with the design in so he can’t tell which shirt is which.

I was working in the laundry room of the Kingsfield apartments when a woman stumbled in with an overflowing basket.

“Let me get that for you.” I jumped up and we commenced a little tug-of-war till I guess she decided I was just a regular guy with old-fashioned manners. I set the basket on one of the folding tables between the banks of washers and dryers. “Right here okay?”

“Yes, thanks.” She was attractive rather than pretty, old enough to be interesting, with thick-lashed gray eyes and a shy smile. She gestured at my toolbox and the baseboard and molding I’d already removed. “Is it all right to do laundry now?”

“Fine, as long as you don’t mind the noise.”

“Can I ask what you’re doing?”

“I’m stripping the paneling. You can see it’s pretty banged up.” I pointed out scuff marks and scratches on the pine laminate covering the lower walls. “Then I’ll sand and patch, prime the walls and paint ’em—brighten up the place.”

“Sounds like a big job.” She had a voice like rich coffee, a little creamy, not too sweet.

“Well, the paneling’s stuck on with adhesive as well as nails, so it takes some time.” I picked up my chisel and hammer and began freeing the first panel from the sheetrock underneath. “It’s tempting to rush a job like this—to take big whacks that splinter the panel, and then pry it off in pieces.”

I repositioned the chisel and tapped it with the hammer. “It’s better to go slow, start at the top and work your way underneath till the panel’s ready to give. Less damage to the wall that way, too.”

“I liked the paneling—but I suppose it’s just what I’m used to.” She shrugged. “Thanks again for your help.”

“You’re welcome. If you need anything, my name is Mitch.”

“I’m Gail,” she said, and turned away. I watched as she lifted lids on three washers before finding an empty one. Then she pulled a man’s flannel shirt from the basket and began loading clothes in careful layers.

We worked to the sounds of my hammer, the rattle and clink of quarters in the coin slot, and the splashing, churning and spinning of the washing machines. Gail left the laundry room to return twice more with full baskets. She was moving her last load to a dryer when I broke for a snack.

“Would you like a soda?” I rummaged through my cooler. “I’ve got cheese sticks, too, and red grapes. No seeds.”

“Just a soda, thanks.”

“Chateau root beer or orange zinfandel?”

Her smile bloomed. “Orange, please.”

I leaned against the dryer next to hers. It was running with a pleasant hum and clickety-click as buttons and zippers tumbled against the drum. The heat felt good.

Gail fed wet clothes into her machine. I spotted jeans and tee-shirts too big to be hers, some dress shirts and a jacket with the Celtics logo. I checked her hands. No ring.

“Have you lived in the building long?” I peeled a cheese stick.

“Almost four years. Do you live here, too?”

“I’ve got a little house nearby. I’ll be working here a lot, though. The new management’s sprucing up the place.”

“About time.” Gail started the dryer and leaned against it, keeping some distance between us. “The old landlord never fixed one thing on the list we made when we moved in.”

“We?”

She drained the rest of her soda and twisted the cap back on the bottle. “Me and my husband. Terry.”

I thought she was going to say more, but the signal buzzed on one of her dryers. She lugged over a laundry basket and piled the dry load in it.

“I’ve got it.” I hoisted the basket onto the nearest folding table.

Gail tumbled all the clothes out of the basket and pulled a shirt from the pile. A man’s flannel, green and blue plaid. She straightened the collar and pressed it flat. She folded the shirt in half lengthwise, shoulders touching. She matched up the sleeves from shoulders to cuffs and folded them forward on a diagonal across the body of the shirt. She flipped up the tail ends and smoothed them flat. She made one more fold to create a neat, square package. She laid the shirt in the bottom of the basket as if she were laying an infant down to rest. She reached for another shirt.

“I better get back to work.” I stuffed the bottles in my cooler. “It’s been nice talking to you, Gail.”

She placed another shirt, folded neat and square, in the basket. She folded three tee-shirts and added them to the pile.

“Terry died two years ago.” she said, her hand resting on the stack of shirts. “Car crash.”

I stepped toward her. Stopped. “Aw, Gail. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” She folded a crease down the legs of a pair of jeans. “I’m donating his clothes to the Pine Street Inn shelter.”

Two years later, I thought. I said, “That’s great.”

The signal buzzed on another dryer. She filled her basket. I carried it to the table.

“Someone should wear these,” she said. “Somebody who doesn’t have …good clothes.”

“Can I help?” I touched the basket. “You know, carry some of the load?”

“Thanks.” She flashed her shy smile. “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”

I crouched down by the next section of panel. It’s tempting to rush the job, but I set the chisel, aimed the hammer. Tap. Tap. Tap.
# # #

Monday, September 29, 2008

Routine Procedure

This is my Round Two story for the NYCMidnight competition. For this assignment, the genre was Historical Fiction, the location was A Dentist's Office and the object was A Leather Jacket. Limit: 1,000 words.

Summary: Mulroney's job is to keep a Cold War spy from spilling secrets under anesthesia. But what Witte reveals is even more chilling.

“The cyanide capsules?” Witte tapped a forefinger against his jaw. “Last one I had was right here. Top rear molar. I chewed on the other side of my mouth for a year-and-a-half.”


Mulroney’s tongue swirled against his own molars. He still had the full set, with three Army-issue fillings courtesy of a bored dentist in Panmunjong, just before the armistice in ’53.


“You know the first thing I ate when I got that sucker out?”


“Sir?” Mulroney cocked an eyebrow.


“Peanuts, out at Griffith Stadium. The rookie, Killibrew, hit a homer, but what I remember most is the crunch of those roasted ballpark peanuts.” Witte laughed. “That’s how I cracked the damn tooth. But if you asked me then, is it worth it? I’d say, ‘Hell, yes, and toss me another bag of peanuts!’”


Witte slapped his fingers against the arms of the dental chair. With the linen towel clipped to the chain around his neck, he looked like a middle-aged tyke about to be force-fed his Malt-o-Meal. “Get that dentist, Mulroney. I’ve decoded microfilm in less time than he’s taking with those X-Rays.”


“You know I can’t leave you, sir.” The man was nervous, Mulroney realized. Witte was a legend who’d spent ten years spying on the Nazis and behind the Iron Curtain. The Reds thought he was their double-agent in D.C. But the guy was anxious over a routine dental procedure.


“National security? Screw that!” Witte snorted. “I won’t be out of it. No laughing gas, no ether. Just a local painkiller.”


“If things go as planned, sir, that’s true.”


“This is bullshit. I’ve got no secrets left to spill.”


“It’s procedure, sir.”


Witte resumed the hand-slapping, a complicated rhythm that reminded Mulroney of a heavy bombardment or an old western cavalry charge.


Swift footsteps approached the doorway. Mulroney thrust his hand through the slit of his leather bomber jacket and grasped the butt of his automatic. He’d cut the pocket away when he jumped from the service to the civilian-run CIA. He drew back just enough to feel the slide of metal against polished leather.


The dental assistant, a large-boned woman in starched white uniform and cap, carried in a covered tray as if she were serving hors d’oeuvres at the Officer’s Club. Mulroney nestled the weapon back into the holster and dropped his hand to his side.


“Dr. Malcolm will be with you shortly,” she told Witte with a crease of the lips that served as a smile. She set the tray on a metal table and wheeled it next to Witte’s chair. Water swirled in the porcelain spit bowl on the other side, and the rest of the room was dominated by a squat column sprouting dental appliances like so many misshapen branches. The assistant side-stepped Mulroney and left the room.


Witte lifted the towel off the tray of instruments. He selected what looked like a small pliers and worked the jaws open and closed. “You ever have a tooth pulled?”


“Once, sir, yes.”


“Hurts like a bitch, doesn’t it?"


“It was half out anyway.” Mulroney allowed himself a slight smile. “Took a real bastard of a punch to loosen it up, though.”


Witte seemed not to have heard. “The Nazis pulled the teeth from the corpses. In the camps. They wanted the gold fillings, of course. One of my guards in Lefortovo was with the Soviet army at Auschwitz. He carried dice made from Jewish molars.”


Mulroney twirled his tongue over his back teeth. They were all still there.


Witte picked up another instrument, bent at the end with a thin point. “This one is for picking and scraping at the teeth. On a healthy tooth is one thing, but you dig this point into a soft spot…”


Mulroney cringed, remembering the probing and drilling by the Army dentist in Korea.


Witte tossed the instruments back on the tray. He started the rhythmic slapping again.


“Mulroney?”


“Sir?”


“I could take the beatings.”


Mulroney said nothing.


“I could take the stinking prison and the bad food and no sleep. I took the darkness.” Witte’s fingers curved into his palms, hard enough to leave nail marks. “More than a year without light, without another human voice. Alone. I took it.”


“I know, sir.”


“But you’re thinking, why couldn’t I take the rest? You could take it, right? You’re tough.” Witte shook his head. “You’ve got no imagination.”


Mulroney’s jacket seemed too tight, his body too warm in the cramped room full of picks and probes and drills. The chair looked like it ought to have restraints, binding Witte in place. Mulroney pulled down on his jacket, felt the weight of the pistol on his hip.


“You took their money, sir.” Not much, Mulroney knew. Not enough to blow the story of rescue and escape back to the West. Not enough for a big house and fancy car, a glamorous woman or expensive vices. Just enough for the occasional ballgame and a bag of roasted peanuts.


“Don’t kid yourself.” Witte stared at the dental lamps, hanging over him like two dead eyes. “It was never the money.”


Mulroney squared his shoulders. “It’s not what you took, sir. It’s what you gave them.”


“The names.”


“Six lives.”


Witte drummed on the armrests. “I lied about the cyanide capsule. It makes a good story, but back then? I never had such a thing, no way to end it, anytime.”


He flashed Mulroney a sad, secret smile. “This is not a filling, Mulroney.”


“Sir?”


Witte laughed, and Mulroney glimpsed the spymaster still operating inside the disgraced and humbled shell. “A little drilling to hollow out the tooth, then they pop in the capsule and a rubber plug. I hear it’s quick. Ten grains, two minutes.”


“I wouldn’t know, sir.” And Mulroney was damned if he’d let any government dentist near his molars again.


“That was my price.” Witte drummed on the armrests. “I’ll play this double game for them, but if I’m compromised again?”


Witte clenched his teeth.


# # #

Friday, August 15, 2008

Portia's View

This story was originally written as my first assignment in the NYCMidnight Writers short-short competition. My group had to write a 1,000-word max story in two days with a designated Genre (open), Primary Location (rooftop of a skyscraper) and Object to include in the story (video camera).

I decided to take advantage of the Open Genre to try something more artsy-craftsy than my usual style. I spent much too much time on the opening (and had to cut most of it), then had to rush the ending. The result was a total head-scratcher.

I liked enough about the story to work at it, though. This is the revised version. Enjoy.

PORTIA'S VIEW

Summary: When a celebrity platypus comes to call, Craig and Miriam find the best view from the tallest building in New England is from the outside looking in.

Craig leaned on the parapet of the John Hancock Tower, arms wrapped around Portia, his wind-chapped features creased in an idiotic smile. Miriam panned left, filling the frame over his shoulder with a clutch of sailboats bobbing and weaving on the Charles.

“Did you get it?” Craig shouted over the roar of the rooftop ventilation units.

“I didn’t get much of Portia,” she screamed. “You’re too close.”

He stepped back half-a-step and Miriam zoomed in on the stuffed platypus—taxidermically-stuffed, not some plush cuddle toy—framed against the view across the river to Cambridge. Portia’s broad front feet, webbed between the curved claws, rested on the parapet. Her duck-billed snout pointed to the Great Dome of MIT.

“Got it!” Miriam slipped the camera into the pocket of her shoulder bag. “Now let’s get out of this blasted wind!”

Craig gathered up the platypus, belly-to-belly, one hand cradling the skull, the other cupped just above the tail. He followed Miriam across the roof to the relative shelter of the elevator shaft. She dropped down, knees raised, back to the wall. He eased down next to her. Portia’s glass eyes, spaced wide on either side of a duck-billed pout, glared at Miriam as if blaming her for the indignities of the past three days.

Portia the Exploring Platypus was a celebrity, a world-traveler with a website chronicling her jaunts around the globe by llama, pedicab and catamaran, jetpack, polar icebreaker and Humvee. The latest video showed Portia snowboarding in the Alps. (There was no record of her subsequent flight from Zurich to Boston, tucked under a seat in Craig’s carry-on tote, nesting on a pile of dirty shirts and boxers.)

“How much time do we have?” Craig draped the platypus across his lap, a position Miriam had yet to occupy after two week’s separation. “When does Frank have to lock up?”

Miriam’s cousin ran the Hancock’s maintenance crew, one of the few people with access to the highest rooftop in New England. They’d been up here before, and it had been her idea to pose Portia against the view in each direction.

“We’ve got till four, more than an hour. We got all the good stuff.”

“Let’s see.” Craig shifted closer to Miriam, his chin tucked against her collarbone as she flipped open the screen on the videocam.

She ran the tape from the beginning, a shot of them sitting on the floor of their cramped Brookline apartment, Craig waggling Portia’s front feet at the camera.

“Hello, this is Craig and Miriam from Boston,” he said. “And this is our famous friend, Portia the Exploring Platypus. She’s visiting us after a lovely holiday in the Swiss Alps with our friend Gerhard. Come with us as we go exploring with Portia.”

The shot cut to Craig holding Portia, the Hancock Tower looming in the background. “That’s our first stop,” he said. “We’re going 800 feet up to the top of the biggest freakin’ mirror in New England.”

Miriam paused the video. “You’ve definitely got a future in TV—sales.”

“Everyone’s a critic. Keep going.”

“Okay, here’s the first side, the northeast. There’s the State House in the distance...”

“Bo-ring. Nice and shiny, though, huh, Portia?”

“See, a little closer in, the Public Gardens? See through the trees?” Miriam pointed with her little fingernail. “That’s a swan boat.”

“I bet she’d love that.”

“Here’s the southeast...”

“The way to escape—planes, ships, trains and automobiles.” Craig wiggled his butt. “There’s a beach on Cape Cod, Portia, calling our names.”

“Speaking of escape…”

“Whoo-hoo! Fenway Park.” Craig boosted the platypus to the level of the video screen. “Hey, Portia, want to take in a game while you’re in town? Or look! Sailboats! That’s cool.”

Miriam froze the screen and lifted the camera closer to Craig. “You look goofy. Cuddling a platypus.”

“I’m not cuddling her, it.” He eased the platypus off his lap and took the camera from Miriam. He studied the image of himself, arms around Portia, gazing across the river. “You’re right. I look goofy.” He flipped the power switch and the screen went black.

“We’d better go.” Miriam rocked to her feet and for the first time sensed the tower swaying under her. She stared at her shoes till the rooftop stopped moving.

Craig stepped out from the shelter of the elevator shaft. His eyes swept the roofscape lined with mechanical hulks, bristling with coils and antennae, and crowned with a satellite dish. “It just hit me,” he said. “This is the view nobody ever sees. I’ll take the camera this time.”

Miriam held the platypus out stiff-armed against the backdrop of generators, ventilators and whatfors, the life system of the sleek façade. Then she turned sideways, cuddling Portia belly-to-belly, one hand cradling the back of her skull, the other cupped just above her tail.

“Craig!” she called. “You didn’t look goofy. You looked happy.”

“Yeah?” Craig crouched behind a capped pipe large enough to hold the camera. “Sit down against that square gray thing!” He crossed to her side. “I’ll take Portia.”

Miriam’s smile stiffened. She dangled the platypus by one paw. “If you want.”

“Don’t move.” Craig jogged back to the camera and propped Portia up on her hind feet against the pipe. The Record light flashed on.

This time, when Craig dropped down by her side, he pulled Miriam onto his lap. “I think I can cut back on my travel,” he said, smiling and waving at the camera. “The new guy’s ready.”

“That’s great.” Miriam waved at Portia. “I think I’m ready, too.”

* *

There’s a new portrait on the website of Portia the Exploring Platypus. She’s hunkered down by a rooftop elevator shaft, in a pile of clothing, nesting.

# # #