350 (Or So) Words On: Writing #TheMoaningBench

 

      My novel, The Moaning Bench, will be published in exactly one month.

      It’s been a long time coming. I began the story – a murder mystery set in Atlanta and rural Georgia – more than fifteen years ago. After about three years, I sent the manuscript to a group of avid readers for feedback.

     They liked it; some made excellent suggestions. I incorporated their changes and showed the book to people I knew in publishing. They weren’t interested.

      So it was back to the drawing board: More polishing, more fleshing out of this and trimming of that. Then back to publishing folks, different ones this time. Again, they didn’t bite.

      I showed the manuscript to friends who are published writers. They made some very good recommendations, which I accepted with great appreciation.

     I outlined a sequel, featuring some of the same characters, and began writing it.

     By this time, about ten or eleven years have passed. I’ve been raising a family, building a career in newspapers, enjoying a fulfilling and rewarding life – but always working on The Moaning Bench. Not always consistently, mind you: There were times when I’d go many months without touching the book.

      It became sort of a running joke with my extended family and close friends:

      “Hey, Larry, you ever gonna finish that book, man?”

       “Dude, if you leave it in a drawer it’s just a well-written paper weight.”

       Finally, two years ago, I showed it to my son, Travis. He loved it: He got it in a way that no one else had. Travis hounded me to self-publish. But alas, the years of rejection had taken a toll. I was afraid people would hate my baby.

      He kept after me. “We’ll self-publish, Dad. I’ll help you.”

      I resisted. Until one day he said, “Okay, I’ll just publish it after you die.”

      My God, that jolted me. If my book was published, I wanted to be there to reap the kudos if any came. Much more importantly, I needed to be there to defend and explain it.

      So here I am, one month out. It feels a helluva lot like waiting in the delivery room.

 

350 (or so) Words On: Murder Mysteries

     I love murder mysteries. My favorites are series with compelling protagonists. There is almost nothing I enjoy more than spending an afternoon with some sleuth as he or she dopes out the clues and tries to figure out who did it.

    This obsession goes back forty-five years. I was 12, and a stone-cold bookworm. I would check five or six books out of the county library on Friday and return them on Monday. By then I had read the Hardy Boys series, and some of the Nancy Drew mysteries. But I had outgrown those, and was reading just anything and everything that summer.

     I happened across John D. MacDonald’s “A Purple Place for Dying,” wherein I met the legendary Travis McGee. I quickly read everything else in the series. I saw a blurb from Rex Stout on one of the Travis McGee paperbacks, which led to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Then it was Ed McBain and Detective Steve Carella in the 87th Precinct series (actually police procedurals). Then Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and Robert B. Parker and the Spenser series.

     I followed all of them. I also discovered the hypnotic darkness of Andrew Vachss’ off-the-grid anti-hero Burke; the great Lawrence Block’s dogged Matthew Scudder, and the lyrical poetry of James Lee Burke and his protagonist, Dave Robicheaux. I met Tony Hillerman’s cops, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police; Loren Estleman’s hard-bitten Detroit operative Amos Walker; Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, and Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware.

     I was thrilled when Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins appeared on the scene in 1990! He was black, and cool as a mofo. He and his sidekick, the inimitable Mouse, and the world they inhabited were all pitch-perfect. Over the next decade or so, I also discovered Michael Connelly’s Hieronymus Bosch; Robert Crais’ super-cool, wise-cracking PI Elvis Cole and his partner, Joe Pike, and John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport. I later added the adventures of George Pelecanos’ team of Derek Strange and Terry Quinn (then went back and read everything else he’d written).

     After all these years, John D. MacDonald and Rex Stout are still near the top of my favorites list: Every two years or so, I go back and re-read all twenty-one Travis McGee novels, in order, and all of the Nero Wolfe stories (33 novels and 39 novellas).

     I know, of course, how they all turn out. And whodunit.

     The amazing thing is, I revisit each of those stories with the same sense of wonder and awe as all those years ago.

     Like visiting with old friends.

350 (or so) Words On: Ghosts…

     So there we were, settling into our new (very old) house.

     We’d finally finished most of the interior renovations on the 113-year-old bungalow we bought a couple years ago in Atlanta’s Historic West End. So we’d decided to take the rest of the year off before launching on the exterior renovations.

     Not a bad place to be after grinding for almost two years.

     But then a rather unsettling moment: We found, on a West End-related website, a letter from someone who lived in our house many years ago who said that living in the neighborhood was really nice – but the house was haunted.

     Wait, what?

     We had had no inkling whatsoever of a … presence in the house. None.

     And we have a bit of experience with ghosts. Seriously!

     There was almost definitely a ghost in our previous home when we first moved in. We bought the house from an older, widowed lady who had lived there with her husband and remained after he died. She’d sold the house, because her daughter did not want her living alone anymore, and moved cross country to live near her daughter.

     Apparently, nobody told her husband that she was moving.

     For the first few months we were there, doors would open or close unexpectedly. The dog would be in a room alone when he would suddenly yelp and run out of the room. One night Kim and I were on the bed making out when something turned the bedroom lights off. We were used to the kids cock-blocking, but a ghost? 

     We weren’t scared. I think we felt like, Okay, you were here first, but we’re paying the mortgage now. So you can hang around if you need to, just don’t expect to run things. We turned the lights back on and proceeded.

     After a few months, the odd incidents stopped happening. Either the husband had learned to tolerate our presence or he had left to search for his wife, we assumed.

     So now we had another ghost?

     We were extra vigilant for a couple days, but then we just sort of forgot about it.

     We just assumed that perhaps the ghost here, like the one at our other house, had moved on – perhaps long before we even got here.