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.


“Detective fiction meets the peloton”

First the Kindle ebook, and now in paperback! Just letting you know that.

Special note to my dear cycling friends: here’s some of what an Amazon reviewer had to say about the new Detective Red Shaw novel:

North of Grand is also a really interesting experiment in genre–detective fiction meets the peloton, resulting in “bicycle noir.” Read it!

Can’t argue with that.

Pedal on,



In search of good bicycle fiction

Something prompted me to search for “bicycle fiction” and “cycling fiction” this weekend. (OK, the prompt just might have been this book review.)

My search turned up some short fiction but not many exact matches. I did find A Simple Machine, Like the Lever on Goodreads and tagged it as a book I want to read.

Movies about bicycling are easy to find, often in lists like this one:

The 26 Best Cycling Movies of All Time

time lapse photography of man riding bicycle
Photo by Stepan Kriz on

If there are 26 “best,” that leaves me wondering how many cycling movies there are, and how much time I’m willing to put into watching.

I’m more inclined to read, if anyone out there can recommend some good novels that you consider bicycling or cycling fiction.

Pedal on.


P.S. I read Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike when it was considered nonfiction, so don’t bother.


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

Woke up to this on Monday morning…

The Shoe Man


The bald-headed man came to the thrift shop every few weeks, always wearing a black-and-gold Iowa sweatshirt, faded jeans, and well-worn running shoes. On each visit, he bought two pairs of shoes. First, he would try on some size 9s and walk back and forth the length of the aisle several times until he found the right fit. Next, he would pick a second pair from the children’s shelf after carefully examining each shoe, from sole to laces, toe to heel.

He paid cash.

One day he arrived just as my shift ended. I waited by the bus stop on the corner until he came out with a plastic bag in hand. He turned right and walked north, so I headed the same direction on the other side of the street, lagging behind a little in the hope that he wouldn’t notice me.

Five blocks along, he turned right again and headed toward the pedestrian bridge over the parkway. Above the westbound lane on the far side of the road, he stood facing the traffic, watching vehicle after vehicle speed by below him. He reached into the bag as the traffic thinned, pulled out a child’s shoe, and pushed it through a gap in the chainlink barrier that arched over the bridge.

The shoe landed on the shoulder of the parkway, inches from the outside lane. He stood there and watched several cars and a bus pass below him, then descended the ramp on the far side of the bridge and walked away.


The Duke lies still and dead on the edge of the road, his pink flamingo finery fluttering in the breeze. The Jester rolls to a stop in the loose, dusty gravel of the shoulder, then pedals away to the east. A string of purple beads glitters in the sun.

Learning from the loud ones on the bus

If everyone spoke softly on the bus, or if no one spoke at all, we would miss some fine chances to learn about dialogue, and character, and life.

We would miss the sad, first-person story told to someone on the other end of the phone call or in the seat across the aisle and a couple of rows back…

…a tale about the speaker’s idiot lawyer who wanted him to take a shit deal that would have him locked up a mere thirty days instead of a year when he shoulda got probation…

…about his girlfriend’s asshole parole officer who wanted to send her back to prison just because she wouldn’t fuck him any more…

…about the ex who always whined about child support being late when that bitch was lucky to get anything at all, ever, as hard as it was to get a good job let alone keep one when the bosses were always on your ass for being late.

I mean what the fuck. Fuckem all. Shit.

I pulled the fucking cord so why didn’t this asshole stop? What, is he a fucking idiot?

The loud ones can teach a writer who listens. Listen.