See you soon, Des Moines!

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.

Read on,

B.J.

A hot day at the ballpark

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.

Baseball image with quote from page text: “Baseball,” she said, looking him in the eye, deadpan serious, “is a metaphor.”

“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.

“Really?”

“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 along.

“So you were in Triple A?”

Continue reading “A hot day at the ballpark”

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.

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 prescription drugs to old folks, driving a car with a manual transmission that I learned to operate 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. Last time I checked, the soda fountain was still there.

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.

Why North of Grand? It’s in my blood. It’s in my bones.

Read on.

B.J.

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.

Play detective, get crime novel free!

Use your detective skills to identify the sculptor who sculpted the sculpture in the photo, and you get Blood Solutions, my “compelling, gut-wrenching” thriller free!

Des Moines (4)
© 2015 B.J. Smith

Just email your answer to me at this address and tell me how you like to read your ebooks (Kindle, Nook, etc.).

You have until the end of the day Sunday, March 6, to ID the sculptor and claim your free ebook.

Happy hunting!

Des Moines is cool now? Art, food, politics and crime fiction

So Des Moines started getting cool a few short years after the Smiths moved to the starkly less cool Cedar Rapids? Sheer coincidence.

For what it’s worth, I thought my home town was always pretty cool, if not as slick as those snooty Twin Cities we supposedly looked up to back in the day.

Politico’s new story of how Des Moines went from “totally dysfunctional” to cool is an interesting read anyway. I haven’t thought about scooping the loop in years and had no idea that it was considered “a menace to society,” as columnist Rekha Basu says in the story.

I thought the menace was Roosevelt H.S. guys wanting to beat me up at the bus stop, or the guy on an inner-city street corner who wanted to kill me and a friend on our way to Dowling one morning. (We talked him out of it and walked away.)

Des Moines (4)Des Moines was also cool enough that it inspired me to write what has been called “a compelling, gut-wrenching thriller,” which takes place on those formerly mean, now-cool streets.

In one of my favorite parts of the story, Detective Red Shaw meets another key character in a sculpture park that wasn’t even there when we last lived in Des Moines.

Another takes place where caucus-covering reporters used to stay, and I suppose some still do:

“The Savery Hotel had been the Harrises’ favorite hangout since the days when its bar was crowded with reporters from across the country who were covering the Iowa caucuses. The newer Coda and BOS were OK, but Maura missed the old atmosphere.”

Sometimes I miss it a little, too, and it’s fun to visit family and friends in Iowa when we get the chance. Even Cedar Rapids is getting pretty cool, a trend that actually started before the Smiths went west.

 

How long did it take you to write that book?

Since I published my first crime novel a few months ago, the most common question, and usually the first one that people ask me when they hear about it, is “How long did that take you?”

My standard answer is “Too long.”

For the record, such as it is, I wrote the first several drafts on a manual typewriter. I’ll let you guess how far back in the day that might have been.

English: Montage of Des Moines.
English: Montage of Des Moines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next few drafts were in the digital age and stored on diskettes. (Remember diskettes, anyone?) I printed query letters on a dot matrix printer and mailed them out with a synopsis and some sample chapters.

An editor from one of the big traditional publishers took the bait and had me send the manuscript, which I did. An agent was interested at one point, too, but backed off when he learned about the rejections I’d already gotten by the time he contacted me. The editor who read the manuscript was gentle in declining, complimenting me on character development, but the plot of that version of the story was lacking a bit in suspense.

Fast forward to 2014, by which time the printed copies that I kept had sat on a shelf in my home office for far too long. By then I’d self-published a memoir, authored or co-authored two books for hire, and edited and published another book written by Jim McLaughlin, motivator and trainer par excellence. (More about some of that on Books.)

I came across my manuscript in the basement one day and realized why I had kept it through more moves than I care to remember. Without realizing it, I’d been waiting to be a better writer to make a better story.

Over the next few months, my wife and I retyped the original (Thanks once more, Sue!) and I rewrote and edited, rewrote and edited, added some new characters and a good bit more suspense, and rewrote and edited some more. Cousin Becky Swift helped me with some fact checking since I’d moved long ago from Des Moines, where most of the story takes place. I did an online tour of the Des Moines Register, which had moved in the intervening years but still had an integral role in the plot, and I visited some of my old haunts via Google and Bing to see how they’d changed. I saw them anew through the eyes of my characters, who said and did new and unexpected things.

One day it was ready.

That’s how long it took.