Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays

Wishing you and yours the best this holiday season!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Family Business

Family Business“Tell me—tell me again, Grandpa!”

The old man looked lovingly at the young boy and smiled.

“Okay. But remember, you can’t tell Grandma you know the true story of Lescott Brown.”

The boy nodded his head, crossed his heart with a somewhat grimy index finger, then sat down on the bench beside his grandfather waiting eagerly for the story to commence.

With a slow, deep breath, the boy’s grandfather settled himself next to his grandson, looked deeply into the boy’s eyes, and began.


Lescott Brown was born with an odd talent: he could blend into the environment around him—it was as if he became invisible. His ability to go unnoticed was the reason he knew about Maggie Klein’s illegitimate son, and about Dr. Gregdale’s flask, and about what his father really did for a living. Lescott didn’t mean to find these things out—it just happened—people seemed to carry on in his presence as if they didn’t know he was there.

At first, Lescott warned people he was nearby: he’d shout out a “hello” or cough strategically, but after awhile, he got tired of getting yelled at for snooping. Lescott understood what snooping was, and he knew better than to do such a disrespectful thing—his father had taught him that—it was the reason he tried to warn people he was nearby. But how was he to help it if people just acted like he wasn’t there and went about their secret business all within the young boy’s view?

Lescott was a good kid, and he grew into a fine young man—which was fortunate for many of the people in town. Lescott understood that what he saw was often not meant for his eyes, and because he knew secrets were not for telling, he never revealed what he learned about the others around him.

Lescott’s father was aware of his son’s gift; in fact, he considered his son’s ability to go unnoticed a talent of sorts—though it took most of Lescott’s childhood for his father to really consider how his son’s skill could be put to use.

When Lescott turned sixteen, his father decided it was time to discuss the family business with him, so he did what every father who wants to have a serious talk with his son does: he took him fishing.

When they were well away from the shore, and no one could disturb them, Lescott’s father approached the subject of what he really did with his son. Lescott listened politely, even though he’d discovered years before that his father wasn’t really a farm-equipment salesman, and when his father was done, Lescott simply nodded his head. (The young man knew there was no reason to reveal to his father that the secret he’d worked to keep from his boy had been revealed before its time.)

It didn’t bother Lescott that his father was a hit man; in fact, it made his father bigger in his eyes. At least it had at first. As Lescott grew older, he began to see his father’s job might have been the cause of his mother’s sudden death, and he also grew to understand his own safety might be jeopardized by what his father did. (His father’s was a dangerous profession that naturally resulted in the acquisition of enemies.)

It took less effort than Lescott thought to drown his father: perhaps it was because he’d been practicing for this day for the past two weeks—like other things about Lescott—his frequent trips to the lake had gone unnoticed. Like many of the things he’d learned, his father’s arrangements to rent the boat had been another of those secrets revealed to the unnoticed young man.

Taking over his father’s business was a natural extension of Lescott’s talent, but the young man knew his father would stand in his way. His father was sometimes noticed, and when that happened, the witness generally ended up out in the barn. It was one of those oversights that had led to Lescott’s learning about his father’s true profession, and an oversight sure to end in his father’s being caught.

With his father out of the way, Lescott was free to run things, and he’d have no trouble stepping into his father’s shoes: he knew enough about his father’s clients to ensure the continued success of the family business, and his risk of being caught was virtually non-existent.

Lescott made the sculpture of the last moment of his father’s life to remind himself of who he was, and just like Lescott, that sculpture went unnoticed, and his father’s accidental death was never questioned.

But the story of how I came to own it is for another day.

The young boy’s eyes were glazed with excitement as his grandfather’s tale came to an end.

“C’mon, Grandpa, tell the rest this time—tell the rest.”

Turning a rough eye to the boy, the grandfather replied,

“You know better than to ask me that—I’ll tell you the rest of the story when I’m good and ready. Now go on, I’ve got things to do.”

The boy knew not to pursue the matter further, so he slid off the bench, excited by the tale but disappointed that this time wasn’t the time—the time he’d get to hear it all.

Walking out into the sunshine, he passed his grandmother as she went into the barn after her husband.

“Go on into the house and get washed up. Lunch is ready.”

“Okay, Grandma.”

The young boy headed for the house, his head filled with the tale of Lescott Brown and the details only a young mind can add to a story.

Once inside the barn, the boy’s grandmother walked up to her husband and whispered, “You’ve been telling that boy the story again, haven’t you?”

The man weighed her words carefully, and then he nodded his head in confession.

“Oh, Lescott, why? You know that boy is going to figure it out one day. He’s going to know it’s not just a story—he’ll know it’s true. What if he hates you—us? What if he blames us for his parents’ deaths?”

“You’re right, he will figure it out one day, and I don’t know what he’ll think. What I do know is that boy goes unnoticed just like I used to do, and sometimes, that frightens me.”

Family Business

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Free Stuff

One of the things that has become relatively commonplace is for writers (and other artists) to give away some of their work in order to draw attention to themselves in hopes of building up a following. (I suppose there are also a good number of people out their sharing their creations with no other motives, too.)

I have to admit to having been on both sides of the give-away fence. Initially, it bothered me to think that anyone who created something had to give it away. After all, no one expects the non-artist to give away her services. We are a firmly established you-get-what-you-pay-for society. (Okay, maybe we’re more a how-much-do-I-get-for-doing-that? society, but that’s another post.)

Here are two examples:

First, there was a time when buying a printer meant inside the box was everything one needed to hook that puppy up to a computer, press a button, and watch the ink fly. Then, times changed, and buying a printer meant deciding whether or not to buy a cable, too. I was one of the idiots who was caught off guard by this the first time: I had moved from a serial printer to a USB printer, so I had no compatible cable. Imagine my surprise when I called to complain that my order had been shorted a cable only to be told I hadn’t ordered one.

Let’s be realistic here: a printer will not work without a cable, so why not include it? (I understand the logic and cost effectiveness of not doing so, but c’mon.)

Second, I will say up front this is not an assault on a profession but an evaluation of what is and what is not free. Let’s look at the concept of tipping a waitperson. Why is it that the consumer is forced to pay part of an employee’s salary? Do I get the option as a diner of grabbing my own seat, my own menu, my own silverware, and my own water? Am I allowed to place my own order with the cook, pick it up, and take it to my table? (Uh, yes, and it’s called eating at home.) The simple truth is eating out is done to avoid serving oneself, so why do we pay someone to serve us? Service is part of running a service business, so why aren’t the owners paying their service staff to serve?

I find it odd we tip a server for serving us. I find it even odder that we tip well if the service has been exemplary. Shouldn’t I expect great service when I’m paying $20 for a meal I could easily fix myself? (What about pride in one’s work?)

I could go on and on with the things we pay for in society versus those we do not, but my point is that for a time I was adamantly against giving my stuff away, and these things were at the root of my reasoning.

Then I discovered a few sites where I could download free ebooks, free music, free podiobooks, and free podcasts, and often these sites were owned and operated by well-established writers/artists. Two things began to happen as I took advantage of these freebies. I found the items offered for “free” were not castoffs or lesser pieces. I also discovered some artists I would have missed had these things not been “free.” (I don’t have a ton of extra money hanging around to spend on books, and I already have lots of unread items lining the walls of my office. Reading is a big commitment, and as much as I enjoy it—it’s something I do every day—I am choosey about what books I give my time to.) Like almost all humans, I am attracted to free things in the same manner I am attracted to shiny objects, and free books get a few pages of my attention instantly.

Being an avid reader, I understand as a writer that one necessity is to get readers to want to read my stuff more than any other stuff they have available to them, and if that means giving some of my work away to showcase myself, I can do that without feeling as if I’m selling my work short.

(I still think all printers should come with cables and all restaurant owners should pay their wait staff a sum of money that includes waiting on customers, however.)

Which brings me to my latest project: podcasting. I’ve been posting short stories over at Scribbled Stories for eight months, and I really love the process involved in the writing I do for that site. After finding Podiobooks and the podcast novel Crescent, I had to give podcasting a shot, and I couldn’t think of a better way to get good at recording than by creating some small pieces.

Now, I am no Phil Rossi, and my first effort is by no means perfect, but for your listening pleasure, I present my first Scribbled Story Podcast, and it’s absolutely free.

The Creator

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

Excerpt - Unearthed


During her last moments, she did not watch as the memories of her life slid past her mind’s eye, nor did she take the time to say goodbye to those she loved. During her last moments, nothing passed through her mind or body but the terror of dying, and that dying terror took hold of her as forcefully as she had unknowingly taken hold of the crucifix around her neck.

It would have comforted her to know that her death would eventually be the key, but it was a comfort she was not granted.

She was not his first victim, but in killing her, he had made his first mistake, and because of his error, the hole he dug became a dual grave.


Audrey Jones wondered for the millionth time why people couldn’t do her the favor of killing one another during the day. The misguided notion shared by criminals that the cover of darkness provided some respite from capture was just silly, and if she had her way, she’d hold a press conference to let the bad guys in on that little secret.

She took a final look in the bathroom mirror, and in an effort to mask the appearance of having just rolled out of bed, she tied her dark hair into a ponytail, grabbed her baseball cap from the doorknob, pushed the cap onto her head, and let the tail of her hair hang out of the hole in the back. She had long ago altered the saying look good—feel good to hide the hair—hide the harried. The ball cap also helped her cope with a team of male coworkers, most of whom shaved their heads because it was in and they could. Those bastards could roll out of anything, throw on a fresh pair of pants, grab a shirt from the closet, and appear to have been expecting a 2 a.m. call to a crime scene.

Audrey Jones was many things, but she was not a middle-of-the-night person. The first thirty minutes after getting a call to respond to an A.M. crime scene, she was as bitter as the coffee in the thermos she took along with her. As she headed for the north end of town, she took a cautious sip of her freshly made brew, turned up the volume on her car stereo, and hoped the caffeine and music could work their necessary magic in the fifteen minutes she had between where she was and where she needed to be.

* * *

Nearing the crime scene, Audrey noted that the sidewalks on either side of the street were lined with pajama-clad people, some of whom were wandering to and fro in the street with little regard for the police and emergency vehicles that were heading to the location of the crime or back to the station. Audrey snapped off her stereo, secured her cup of coffee in the cup holder of her vehicle’s center console, and transitioned smoothly from recently awakened off-duty cop to totally focused investigator. She drove cautiously through the crowd, taking mental note of the gawkers while keeping her eyes peeled for the personnel who should be taking photographs and video of the lookie loos for later examination.

The crime scene tape came into view, and Audrey slowed her car, pulled to the side of the road as best she could, and exited her vehicle carrying a small black bag that held the things she typically needed at a crime scene. The crowd of people had been moved back a good fifty feet, but she still heard the murmur that passed through them as neighbors speculated about who she was and what had happened. She also heard a dog barking incessantly.

Flashing her badge at the officer protecting the area, Audrey passed under the yellow tape and walked up the driveway to the front door of the home. Walking inside, she was directed by another officer out into the home's backyard.

The first thing she noticed was the number of people who were peering over the fence lines right into the crime scene. She looked at the personnel gathered in the yard, spotted a set of sergeant’s stripes, and headed in their direction.

As she began to introduce herself, the sergeant turned, and she realized it was Hal Baker.

“Goddamn, Hal, how much weight have you lost?”

“Nearly 50 pounds since you saw me last.”

“You look fantastic. How do you feel?”

“Great—better than I did when I was twenty.”

“You were never twenty, my friend, but you do look good.”

“Thanks. You look like shit. That cap isn’t hiding the circles under your eyes, you know.”

“I love you too, Hal. Always have. So, why am I here?”

“Unofficially, I’d say it’s because I miss seeing you hard at work in the middle of the night with the real cops. Officially, it’s because that dog over there decided to do some night-shift work on that hole over there, and when the dog’s owner came outside to kick its madly barking ass, he realized there was a decomposing body in the hole.”

“Man’s best friend strikes again.”

“So it seems.”

“Who took the initial call?”

“Actually, I was close, so I got here just before Officer Hall.”

“Officer Hall, as in Jess Hall?”

“You betcha.”

“Shit, Hal, are you trying to rebuild the old team?”

“I am—at least the good parts. Want in?”

“I’d say yes, but no team is big enough for two sergeants. Besides, the last time we worked together, you got shot, remember?”

“I have a vague recollection of that, yes. I also seem to remember you coming to my rescue and saving my life.”

“You took a bullet in the ass, Hal. The only danger you were in had to do with the shit you took from the rest of us.”

“So kissing your ass isn’t going to get you to give up the suits and the day shift and drag you back to a uniform and a patrol car, eh?”

“Sorry, Hal. Not a chance.”

“Okay, then. I guess all I have for you is the routine stuff. The dog’s been caged by animal control, and we’ve got a vet standing by to collect any evidence the dog might have acquired. She says she’ll need to knock him out and pump his stomach, too—Fido had a taste or two before his owner dragged him away from the hole. The vet needs you to try to get the owners’ consent. If you can’t, one of your guys will need to get a warrant—and, yes, the vet assured me no harm would come to the dog. I’ve got a tent en route to cover up the yard, and six officers standing by to question the people who’ve been watching all of this over the fences. I’ve also got three teams of two uniforms working door-to-door, but they aren’t having a lot of luck: most of the folks are outside milling around.”

“You see, Hal, we are working together—besides, who else would know to do everything I’d ask for before I got to ask to have it done?”

“Not a soul, AJ, not a single soul.”

“How long ago did you order the tent?”

“Nearly an hour ago, I’d guess. It should be here anytime.”

“Okay, until it gets here, let’s work on getting the people out front and along the street back into their homes so the canvassing officers actually have something productive to do. And send your guys in to get these folks along the fence lines downtown for interviews. Keep them separate as best you can.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

“Shut up, Hal.”

The two shared a smile before heading off in their respective directions, and Audrey realized just how much she missed having Hal as a partner.

Shaking her head to clear the memories, she took another look around the backyard and decided to head back into the house to talk to the owner about collecting evidence from his dog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Something New--To Me at Least

I’ve never really been one to listen to audio books: primarily because I trained myself long ago to block out everything when I work so I don’t hear the darn things. The other reason I’m not fond of them is far too many stories don’t translate well to the spoken word.

I am, however, a huge fan of old radio shows, and I have quite a few of these types of programs stored on my iPod. I listen to them when I commute to work, when I clean the yard or the house, and often when I am struck with a bout of insomnia.

Several weeks ago, I ran across an amazing podcast: Crescent.


It’s actually a podcast novel written by Phil Rossi, and it brings to the table the best of both worlds: it’s an incredible novel-length tale that was written to be listened to.

And so, I am now an inhabitant of the wonderful world of podcast novels, and a frequent traveler to one of the coolest sites on the planet: Podiobooks.


If you’ve got any kind of a podcatcher on your computer—such as iTunes—you can subscribe to most of the novels listed at Podiobooks via the iTunes store. (Search by title or author in the “podcasts” section.)

If you prefer, you can download episodes directly from Podiobooks (and many of the linked author sites).

Oh, and the coolest part: THESE ARE FREE. (But do a writer a favor: if you like what you hear, donate via Podiobooks. The writers get 75% of the donation, and it’ll keep quality productions coming.)

Phil Rossi is a master at what he does in Crescent, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that many other books whose descriptions sound interesting are harder to listen to because the audio is just not as powerful, but there is definitely a significant selection of quality novels there.

You can see for yourself: each piece at Podiobooks allows you to stream the audio of the first chapter without a download commitment, and even on my s-l-o-w connection speed, I’ve been able to listen to the previews with relative ease.

Be forewarned: this site and these podcast novels are addictive.