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Monday, October 13, 2014

A SLICE OF LIFE: Studying the Nature of People

My horoscope for today says I should “Study the nature of people today.” I interpret this to mean I should be more observant of my surroundings. This is good advice that has worked well for me in the past. 

In 1998, I decided to “become” a writer. After writing a few short stories, I started my first novel. An entirely new world opened up as I learned to see past the superficial fa├žade of scenery and society, a very slow process for me. My reward for continuing to search and research was an accompanying symphony of sounds, changing colorless events into neon-flashing experiences. 
Blood Red Hibiscus
at Queen Kapiolani Gardens in Waikiki
Everything didn’t immediately and perpetually start coming up roses, or a profusion of hibiscus. I suffered my share of what life offers all of us in our turn. Last Saturday, a close friend since 1969 died. He, and the multi-hued colors he added to the world, will be sorely missed. 

My stories reflect some of life’s unsolicited offerings of fate. Not as a means of purging myself of uncomfortable memories; after all, we are made of memories; but to explore how the process of forging steel applies to life. 

As a result, I look at people in a new light, not to judge but to enjoy. I hear the words they say as they mean to say them, filtered through their experiences, not through my own. All of this helps me to flesh out my stories while creating entertaining and multi-dimensional characters and plots.
 

In bite-sized excerpts, A Slice of Life introduces you to my writing, my protagonist’s interactions with life, and the people who share her experiences. The following excerpt includes a slice of protagonist Pepper Bibeau’s back story. 

A Slice of Life: Excerpt from FOR EVERY ACTION
In this diner scene, Pepper holds a conversation with Toby, a Chicago homicide detective she meets during an insurance investigation that leads to murder. 

“Ursula was proud of her heritage,” I said. “It’s sad to think prejudice might have played a role in her death.”
Toby sighed and we retreated into our own thoughts until restaurant activity intruded. As customers left, more arrived to place orders for the fresh catch of the day.
“What about your relatives, Pepper?” Toby asked. “Do they live in Chicago?”
“Just Uncle Fred, my mother’s brother.” I pointed toward the ceiling. “He owns this apartment building.”
“Fred Cane still owns this place?” he asked.
Surprised Toby even knew of my uncle, I didn’t correct his pronunciation of the family name. Ka-ne, two syllables, was the Hawaiian word for male, and the name of a Hawaiian god.
“How do you know my uncle?”
“It would be more accurate to say I know the building. Or at least remember it was set up for demolition back in the 50s until some guy got it dumped on him as a sales bonus.”
I smiled at Toby’s description of the windfall Uncle Fred had received.
“With the riverfront Marina Towers absorbing available tenant interest in the area,” I said, “Uncle Fred suspected the company had written off the building as a bad investment.”
“He did a good job of turning it around.”
“His on-site management attracted financially secure tenants, and later he used the Chicago property as collateral to purchase coastline properties around the country. He still oversees the rental units personally.”
“And you?” Toby asked.
His topic-hopping caught me off guard again. I took a moment to collect my thoughts.
“I live in Wisconsin,” I said. “I travel a lot for insurance investigations.”
“Wisconsin your home state?”
“More of an adopted state. My father’s family settled in Wisconsin. Dad was in the military, stationed in Hawaii during the late 1930s. He and my mom met in Honolulu.”
“And she was Hawaiian?”
“Yes. Well, hapa.” I almost laughed at Toby’s look of confusion. “It means part, part Hawaiian. She married my dad on the Big Island in the spring of 1940 and I was born in Honolulu the following year.”
“Hawaii to Wisconsin, quite a leap.”
Whether he meant the weather, the culture, or just the distance, I had to agree. 

 

Thank you for joining me today. The first novel in the Pepper Bibeau Mystery Series,
FOR EVERY ACTION, is on sale at Amazon.com for 99 cents.

If you have already read and enjoyed one of my novels, I would greatly appreciate your time
and effort in writing a book review for Amazon and/or Goodreads. 

 

Monday, October 6, 2014

A SLICE OF LIFE: Chicago's Auditorium Theater


Research for a novel can be an enjoyable task or a drudgery. In my case, research is always fun. While writing my first Pepper Bibeau mystery, set in Chicago, I walked the streets in and around the Loop for four days re-familiarizing myself with the area.
Auditorium Theater is the setting for one scene between my protagonist and her friend, Ursula. During intermission at a concert they attend, featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, their discussion becomes a source of evidence in a murder investigation.
My experience with Auditorium Theater dates back to 1968 when I attended my first performance there, although it wasn’t to witness Janis Joplin launch a career. Then, in 2003, I returned for the aforementioned research and viewed a stage play from a beautifully renovated balcony.
Looking down at the Auditorium Theater stage.
The scene is so wide, I had to piece two pictures together! 

Constructed in the late 1800s, Auditorium Theater opened in 1889 and has hosted not only ballets, musicals, and concerts, but the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt and President William McKinley who gave speeches there.
An article in Friday’s newspaper (10/3/2014) prompted me to write about this topic today. The National Football League has decided to hold the 2015 NFL draft in Chicago, holding the event at the Auditorium Theater. The future of NFL football teams will be decided here.
As a Wisconsin-born football fan, I like football, lived and worked in Green Bay for over ten years (first in the early 70s and then at the turn of the century.) I don’t plan to attend the NFL draft in 2015, however.
If I do return to Auditorium Theater, it will be to see . . . oh, let’s say, Mikhail Baryshnikov reviving dance numbers from White Nights, or Liza Minnelli performing musical scenes from Cabaret. Suddenly, I’m compelled to compile a list of “What Ifs” performances I would love to attend at Auditorium Theater. I’m sure Janis Joplin would be at the top, along with the Beatles.
What is at the top of your “What If” list?

A Slice of Life: Excerpt from FOR EVERY ACTION 


 The rain started just as we reached the Auditorium Building and we ducked into the lobby entrance on Congress Street. Marbled walls mirrored the light of chandeliers that hung from the narrow box-office ceiling. Ursula handed our tickets to an usher, who led the way to the second tier of the concert hall. Quickly settled, I was half-asleep when Ursula nudged my shoulder.
       “Tired?” she asked.
       “All the walking,” I said, yawning. “Sorry I made us miss the cab.”

She gave a short chuckle. “It’s okay, I was almost late myself. E.J. called just before I left the office.”

That opened my eyes. I wasn’t sure what to make of the statement and offered my question with some trepidation. “Are you two dating again?”

“Not quite.” Her voice held a hint of optimism. “He says he’s not sure our relationship is worth all the effort. I think he’s just scared to make a commitment right now.”

“Then why did he call?”

“He wants me to meet him after the concert, said maybe we could talk things over.” She tapped her thighs with closed fists. “I really want things to work out between us.”

I couldn’t understand why Ursula thought she needed E.J. Maybe a lifetime of independence hampered my ability to appreciate such a one-sided relationship. The lights dimmed and saved me from giving an inappropriate response.
 
      The theater darkened shortly after eight. Curious whispers rippled through the audience until a single spotlight provided illumination and a male voice came over the loudspeaker system. To the heavy background sounds of tuning instruments, he announced the band, “Four gentlemen and one great girl: Big Brother and The Holding Company.” The audience exploded with applause, cheering through a prolonged set of rock music while the one great girl, Janis Joplin, dominated the vocals.
 
During intermission, Ursula leafed through the theater’s concert program, then lingered over an advertisement for wedding rings.

“Do you and E.J. ever talk about marriage?” I asked.

She shrugged and switched the conversation. “I’m driving out to my folks after the concert tonight. It’s Zeke’s birthday.”

More than willing to skip over the subject of E.J., I asked, “How old is your brother?”

“Eleven tomorrow. I bought him a new bike. My dad picked it out, but I paid for it.”

“What about work?”

“I took Thursday off,” she said, “just in case the celebration gets wild. I’ll be back in town on Friday. A long week-end would’ve been great, but I’ve got too much work.”

A bell sounded the end of Intermission and lights flooded the stage. The second half of the concert was filled with instrumental tunes and more foot-stomping vocals. The finale with Janis singing “Piece Of My Heart” brought the audience to its feet. Although the group’s music was new to me, I was already a fan.

 
* * * * *
 

The first novel in the Pepper Bibeau Mystery Series, FOR EVERY ACTION, is on sale at
Amazon.com for 99 cents.

If you have already read and enjoyed one of my novels, I would greatly appreciate your time
and effort in writing a book review for Amazon and/or Goodreads.

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

INSECURE WRITER'S SUPPORT GROUP: This Sounds Dumb!


The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, a day to talk about doubts experienced and fears conquered, and also to offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Our fearless leader, Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh says:
 Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG
My awesome co-hosts for the October 1 special anniversary posting of the IWSG are: Kristin Smith, Elsie, Suzanne Furness, and Fundy Blue!
 

  Be sure to visit the
Insecure Writer’s Support Group Website!!!
 
http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/p/the-insecure-writers-support-group.html


 
 
 
THIS SOUNDS DUMB!
 
After three weeks of traveling on the mainland, it has been difficult for me to get back into writing mode at home. Not so much writing mode, actually, as editing. My trip was mostly to do research for several projects, the major focus being on my latest novel. Now that the fun is over, I have to knuckle down. Applying the research to various scenes and chapters is the knuckle down part.
 
It hasn't helped that my calendar was packed with meetings and events for two weeks following my return. The final event was "A Taste For Books" silent auction to raise money for The Makiki Community Library, a non-profit, independent library that hosts our Sisters in Crime/Hawaii meetings each month. Delicious food, good wine, free books! And my auction-bid won a fine set of wine glasses and a pair of Hawaiian hand-dipped beeswax candles. No wonder I'm having a difficult time knuckling down!
 
My insecurity, and consequent (or is that subsequent?) inability to knuckle down, lies in how I feel about the plot cohesiveness of my WIP. It sounded great as I wrote the first draft, even held together through the second draft. Now that I am readying it for outside editing, suddenly this sounds dumb, that doesn't make sense, and the other thing definitely needs a complete rewrite.
 
When it comes time to open your work to criticism and editing, do you get the jitters like I do?