I think I’ve led an interesting life so far, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy a book about it. Most of my writing has been nonfiction based on research and interviews on various topics. Still, I’ve made use of what I know from experience in my Detective Red Shaw novels. The following excerpt from North of Grand is one example, which draws on my love of bicycling as well as other lived experience. It’s my favorite way of writing what I know.
In which Detective Red Shaw visits a bike shop…
…while investigating the murder of a cyclist.
Half an hour later he was parked outside the place watching a middle-aged couple load two new bicycles on a brand-new rack on the back of a shiny, black SUV. They chatted with a young blonde woman who he guessed had just made the sale. The scene took him back to the time he and Sally bought new bicycles at a discount store and rode them three times one summer. He wasn’t sure where they’d ended up.
Inside the store he took a few minutes to browse, inspecting the lines of sleek, pricey road bikes and rugged, shock-equipped mountain bikes. He wondered how many of them ever actually saw a mountain. Assorted helmets hung on one wall near displays of water bottles and gloves and seat bags and other paraphernalia. There were hard, narrow saddles that weighed nothing or close to it. He could buy balm and padded shorts for his butt to ward off pain and chafing, then spend more bucks on tight, techno-wonder jerseys to keep him cool as he sped down some road in the sun. He picked up a coffee-can-size container of powder from a nearby display. The label claimed it would keep his electrolytes in balance and help him stave off dehydration if only he would mix it properly and drink the proper amount every hour during a long ride, then mix and drink more later to make sure he’d gotten enough.
The only employee in sight was adjusting
the brakes on a bicycle in the shop area. A surly type with long, graying hair,
he looked over once then turned back to the brake job without saying a word. He
seemed to assume that Shaw wasn’t going to buy anything. He was right.
“Can I help you with something, sir?” The
young woman from the parking lot appeared beside him. Up close, he guessed
she’d be in her thirties, a little older than she looked outside. Attractive
and obviously fit. Tess, her ID tag
“Thanks, but I’m just kind of looking
around. Some people I work with swear that riding a bike has been all kinds of
good for their health, mental and otherwise.”
She smiled at that. “I’m sure it has. It’s
a great way to spend some time, get some exercise, get to work, whatever. I
ride here every day, eight miles each way, unless there’s snow and ice.”
“You’re kidding,” Shaw said. “That’s a
long way, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” she said. “If I wasn’t
working I’d be out with my club for about fifty miles, and we’re doing a metric
“A metric century?”
“A hundred kilometers. Sixty-two miles or
Shaw grimaced. “That doesn’t sound like
all that much fun.”
Last week at a Meet the Author event, I read some excerpts from North of Grand, my second Detective Red Shaw novel. What follows is one of my favorites, in which Shaw gets a phone call that ends in a little extra mystery.
The sun was still up but Shaw turned in early after dining on what remained of a four-day-old pepperoni pizza and downing a Leinenkugel. He lay awake in bed for an hour, appreciating the AC, replaying the day in his mind, then trying to shut his brain down so he could sleep. The phone rang. Cheryl. Again already? He answered.
“Hello, Detective,” she said. Her voice was a
bit deeper, sexier than in her voicemail or how she had sounded in person.
“Hello, Ms. Massey.”
“Okay, hello, Cheryl. What can I do for you?”
“Can I call you Ed?”
Shaw hesitated. “Is this about police
“No … I hope not.”
“Well I hope not, too. Ed is fine, please.”
“How about Red?” Her voice was lighter,
playful. He had to laugh.
“You can call me whatever you like.”
When she didn’t respond, he tried to wait her
out, as he had with countless suspects. He broke first, and quickly. “I’ve
thought about calling you.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Well, I guess I assumed you’re married or
otherwise involved, and I didn’t have your number … until a few hours ago.”
“The detective couldn’t find my phone number?”
“Well, I suppose I could have, but I hadn’t
yet. Besides, there’s that thing about not knowing if you were married … or
She laughed, and he imagined her reaching out
to touch his arm.
“You’re funny,” she said. “I like that. Otherwise involved.”
“It covers a lot of possibilities,” Shaw said.
Again, she fell silent. He broke, again. “So … which is it, Cheryl?”
He heard a voice, faint in the background.
“Otherwise involved,” she said. “I have to go,
Mrs. Smith and I don’t often get back to our former stomping grounds in Iowa’s capital city, but we’ll be there Saturday, June 8. It’s a multi-purpose trip, including a “Meet the Author” event the nice folks at Beaverdale Books so generously arranged on rather short notice.
If you’ve read some previous posts (like this one), you already know that both my fictional detective, Edward “Red” Shaw, and I are from Des Moines. Some of the action in North of Grand even takes place in Beaverdale at a taproom/bike shop I made up out of thin air.
Really looking forward to this trip. Join us at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at Beaverdale Books if you’re in the area: 2629 Beaver Avenue.
Excerpted from North of Grand: Detective Red Shaw Novel #2 Read the book on Kindle or Nook
Shaw tried to remember the last time he’d been on a date. Way back, right after he met Sally. He hoped this one wouldn’t be as awkward. They’d arranged to meet at the west end of a pedestrian bridge over the river, just a short walk from the police station. He could see her approach from a distance, sporting a close-fitting white top and shorts. She was dressed for the heat and hard to miss. Her light brown curls were tied back and topped with a Cubs visor. A Cubs-blue bag hung from her shoulder.
“Hi, Red,” she said as she gave his hand a
little squeeze. “Are you ready for some baseball?”
“You bet” was the best he could do. If her
V-neck were any deeper, he wouldn’t have been able to speak at all. He took in
her smile, her green eyes, and tried to relax. He tried to ignore the sweat
trickling down his back and wished he hadn’t worn blue jeans. They followed the
walkway south along the river.
“I played here once,” Shaw said as they
approached the stadium.
“Well, not here, exactly, but in the old
stadium. Same spot. This is nicer.”
They stopped to buy tickets. Not many
seats were left for a hot summer night and they small-talked as the line crept