Fiction and the old neighborhood

No one has asked me yet, but I have the answer.

The question has to do with the title of my new Detective Red Shaw novel: North of Grand.

Why that? I’m glad you asked.

Much of Des Moines, Iowa, is north of Grand Avenue. It cuts through the city east to west – or west to east, depending on your point of view.

I was born there, grew up there, and lived there for a long time. I worked there. Mrs. Smith and I bought our first house there, a block north of I-235 in a neighborhood known as North of Grand. We lived there when our son was born.

soda-jerk-713089_1920
Not me. Pixabay image

South of Grand was another world. It’s where my mother took me and my five siblings on occasion to marvel and gawk at big, beautiful, expensive homes when we were kids. They were especially awe-inspiring when lit up for the holidays. She took us to a different neighborhood on the southeast side sometimes, too, to see how the truly poor people lived.

We were somewhere between rich and poor, a family of seven in a three-bedroom home on Merle Hay Road. (Why seven? One divorced woman plus six kids. She slept on the sofa.)

In high school I worked at a pharmacy just a block north of Grand Avenue, delivering prescriptions to old ladies in the neighborhood, driving a car with a manual transmission that I learned to drive in a panic on my very first day on the job.

The same little store housed the best soda fountain around, with real ice cream made right in the store. I served malts and shakes and cherry cokes and lime phosphates and great sandwiches and other treats to pretty Catholic girls from the nearby high school, to the friendly florist from across the street, to other people that I don’t remember quite so well.

I was a drug-running soda jerk.

The people and the crimes portrayed in North of Grand are purely imaginary. Really bad things do happen in Des Moines, of course, but none that I’ve witnessed.

A young guy did threaten to kill me and a friend when we were in high school, but we managed to talk him out of it. One night years later someone reached in our son’s bedroom window at our little house on Iola Avenue and took off with a diaper bag, but that’s the closest thing to crime that came our way.

All things considered, Des Moines is a pretty good place to live or to be from. We’ve been away for years now, but it never seems that long ago.

North of Grand is in my blood. It’s in my bones.

Read on.

B.J.

Thrillers and “engrossing bicycle noir”

People who write for a living always look forward to finishing things and getting paid.

If some of those finished things are works of fiction, some writers also anxiously wait to see what readers think.

bikepixabayThe insecure (that may be all of us) wonder: Will this be a dismal failure or will there be some good reviews and lots of stars? Will there be royalties?

Only the dreamers and the famous think about screenplays and movie deals.

After releasing my second Detective Red Shaw novel last month, I have to say I’m feeling pretty good. Just today, readers had terrific feedback on both BLOOD SOLUTIONS (Red Shaw #1) and NORTH OF GRAND (Red Shaw #2).

#1 was called a “gripping, compelling thriller” soon after publication and won five more stars this morning.

#2 so far is a “riveting thriller,” “a real page-turner” and, maybe my favorite, “engrossing bicycle noir.”

If you haven’t read them, consider those reviews and others and start turning pages.

Read on.

B.J.

 

Two words that make a writer’s day: “Great read!”

Woke up to this on Monday morning…

NORTH OF GRAND: New Detective Red Shaw novel now on Amazon

A man turns up dead in a bicycle storage locker on a muggy August morning and Detective Red Shaw takes the heat.

bicycle-2462199-enhancedShaw has just outsmarted a murderous sociopath who almost killed him. Now he has another homicide to investigate—while he’s hobbled by a sore knee, distracted by a steamy new romance, and dodging accusations of coercing a confession in an old case.

Shaw and his partner probe the sometimes toxic, competitive world of amateur bicycle racing, where they find a web of cryptic social media messaging, stolen property, drug trafficking, and murder.

Get it now on Amazon!

If you somehow missed the first Red Shaw novel, called a “compelling, gut-wrenching thriller” by one reviewer, you can get that on Amazon, too: BLOOD SOLUTIONS.

Crossword question

Dangerous thoughts on a Boulder trail

bike-197229The tall, slender man rolled fast toward me
on his bicycle, talking to the purple-haired
woman riding next to him, looking at his phone,
unaware of his likely imminent demise.

I had the body mass index advantage, I said
later. I had a helmet. I was going downhill
as he was going up. He was shirtless and the
road rash would be ugly if he even survived.

My bicycle was new, nearly scratch-free. I had
things to do, a looming deadline, bills to pay.
I shouted, too politely, and spared his life,
as I had with the oblivious guy the other day.

The next time he may not hear me and we’ll collide
but I swear in advance that I tried to avoid him
even though I was tempted to teach him a lesson.
I really don’t have time to waste in prison.

 

Thoughtless writers and the stigma that needs to die

The chaotic world of social media is awash in nonsense, much of it perpetrated by those who claim to be or imagine themselves to be writers.

They consume precious bandwidth by tossing around famous quotations of questionable provenance, Instagramming their groan-inducing sentiments about “the writing life” and, with their often careless use of language, perpetuating damaging stereotypes about writers and others.

Take the example that set me off today, a post that said:

ALL WRITERS ARE LUNATICS

The poster asked: Haven’t you noticed that all writers are just a little bit… off? (In the best way possible)

A couple of dozen followers agreed, celebrating their alleged lunacy and the apparent cool and oh-so-specialness of their writerly selves. I responded with a simple “Nope.”

Why?

  1. Both the image used in the post and the related question make light of the serious issue of mental illness.
  2. The notion that “all writers” are a “little bit off” is a myth.

The term lunatic itself is outdated, pejorative slang, though it does seem to be useful in Twitter snark and other online commentary. It was even removed from the U.S. Code in 2012. Its use may seem harmless and even lighthearted in some contexts, but no serious writer who seeks to destroy the stigma that surrounds mental illness will use it lightly.

writer's deskRegarding 2, while it is true that some famous writers suffered from mental illness that shaped their creativity (and sometimes led to their deaths), writers in general are no more “off” than the general public.

For the record, I have been treated for depression for nearly 20 years. I’ve been writing for a living a good bit longer than that.

Take that, stigma.

Write on.

B.J.