Keira looked at what he was typing even though she knew better.
“It’s like eavesdropping on a private conversation,” he said, snapping the laptop lid shut.
“A private conversation with yourself?” She smiled at him.
He snorted. “I guess you could say that.”
“I just did say that.”
He snorted again and turned away. “I have to get out of this stupid airplane seat and find the men’s room. If you read what I’ve been writing, I will know you did it.”
Keira watched as he stepped into the aisle, set the computer on his empty seat, and disappeared toward the back of the darkened cabin. She didn’t need his password because she’d read everything before he noticed.
“Keira looked at what he was typing even though she knew better.”
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.”
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.
Deciding what to write or edit or otherwise work on next has been a simple matter throughout my day-job career. As a general assignment reporter for daily newspapers, of course, there were daily assignments and clear deadlines and, when I filled in on the police or courthouse beats, I had other stories to chase down and photos to shoot.
Deadlines these days are more flexible and often self-imposed if they exist at all, but the priorities are usually pretty obvious.
Writing on my own time is quite different. Deciding what to write next, what work of crime fiction or other story to tell over the next several weeks and months, has been a mystery lately. My first two crime novels were done in fits and starts and stops and restarts over a longer time than I care to admit. Since sending the second one out into the world not long ago, I’ve been lost, without creative purpose.
Now I know I have to start something new. Not writing is not an option. Many other writers will relate to that.
Some people have asked if there will be another book in the Detective Red Shaw series. I honestly don’t know. It won’t be what I write next, but in the past few days I did decide what the next thing will be.
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 Grandare 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.