No, I don’t. I look more like a movie star which is a curse.
So Dave, in your book, you write a character that is a down on his luck, regular schlub, detective who, to me, feels like a combination of Mike Hammer (Mickey Spillane’s main guy) and Inspector Clouseau. Writing humour is a delicate balance between over-the-top and too subtle and yet you toe that line with the grace and poise of a highwire specialist. How do you do it?
Having dealt with the roiling public over the last number of decades I have honed my skill to tread the fine lines separating over-the-top, subtle and just plain rude. Actually I have trouble gauging the just plain rude part since I also like shock value. My biggest thrill is to set up a subtle humorous situation and then have it mature in the readers mind. My hope is that they enjoy the awakening.
Trust me, we do! Do you draw on the “roiling public” you’ve observed over the years for character traits and situations?
For sure. The people I’ve come across from all walks of life have informed my opinion of what can be termed average or normal and they have provided many odd and interesting characters and characteristics. I think my down on his luck detective, Chase, is based on a blend of some of my favourite characteristics. I think there is nobility in the humble and it is amplified when their luck stops but then I cheer when they get back on top. Hmmmm…. I’ve known a lot of down-on-their-luckers but can’t seem to remember anyone of them getting back on top. Perhaps Chase will give them a reason for hope.
Everyone loves to cheer for the underdog. Back to my original observation that you don’t look like a writer. Writers come from all walks of life and come to writing by many a varied path. Not all writers will fit the image of an Ernest Hemmingway or an Emily Dickenson. Where did your path to writing start from? And did you have an “Ah-ha” moment when you realized writing was something you wanted to do or showed a knack for it?
Well, I remember reading Hardy Boys books and Young Adult books by Henry Gregor Felsen. The Felsen books I read were the ones focused on a young teenage boy buying an old jalopy and then earning money to fix it up and after much difficulty, becoming popular for his hot rod. I could see those stories in my head like a movie and thought I could write a book like that. I think that was my AHA moment.
So my first foray into writing was a poem I submitted to radio station CFRB in the late 50’s and they read it on the air and I was very proud to hear it and everyone said it was great. I was often asked to create a poem for someone or other’s birthday card and people were always pleased with the results.
The first (and only until much later) book I tried was a Hardy Boys type book because I loved the thread of mystery that ran through the plot. I probably typed twenty pages on the old Smith Corona portable and I think it got filed in a drawer or the typewriter case, never to be seen again. As I remember it, it would have been a best seller for sure.
People to this day say they like my writing and that I have a knack for it although I don’t see it. I do have fun creating but it’s usually for my own entertainment.
I cut my reading teeth on the Hardy Boys! I think I’ve read all of the originals.
Funny you should say, “People to this day say they like my writing and that I have a knack for it although I don’t see it.” As a writer starting out and trying to break into the industry, how do you balance the positive input against your own self-doubt?
Good question Grasshopper. I look at all the positive input as one polar opposite and my total self-doubt as the other polar opposite. In between is the litmus test of reality and that is submitting to publishers. Unfortunately success with submissions has been very limited which supports the self-doubt pole. However, since I also have fun writing, I end up back at it and going the circle again. Maybe one day a few successes will happen and I’ll be on my way. Of course the healing balm of the positive inputs goes a long way to salving wounds, real or perceived.
I don’t believe that success by way of publishing is necessarily a reflection of your writing but for a lot of writers, myself included, that concept is like trying to grab wet soap. One final question. What do you have the most fun writing?
Very easy: I love doing my blog because it provides freedom of subject and I can totally be myself. I do love working on my novels too but they are more like crafting a symphony while the blog is more like grabbing the guitar when you’re drunk and yodelling a few tunes.
Thanks Dave, this has been a blast! Can you leave us with a little snippet of your novel to whet our appetites?
Sure, and thanks for the coffee by the way.
No problem. Uhmmm… can I have the cup back?
Chase Gets His Groove Back
A shadow crept onto the frosted glass window of the hallway door. The dimness slowly overtook the lettering announcing. ‘Sam Spade – Private Investigator’. The greyness came into focus to reveal the silhouette of a female, hat with feather, fur collared coat and cigarette. She took a drag, dropped the butt to the floor, looked down and wiggled as she crushed it out. She stood motionless for a moment then rattled the knob as she opened the door and entered.
The detective was sitting at his chipped brown desk, necktie askew, fedora pushed back holding a glass of whiskey in his hand. The near empty bottle stood chaperone. Hearing the door, he swung his chair to face the entrant. She was a classy looking broad. Expensive clothes, fox collar, flawless make-up. The detective was sweaty from the booze. He hoped the armpit dampness didn’t show.
“Mr. Spade. I need your help.”
“In what way Miss ……..?”
“It’s Mrs. …. Mrs. Anthony Welhoff.”
“Of the Forest Hill Welhoffs?”
“Yes. Mr. Spade, I’m just beside myself. You see, my husband is missing.”
“Oh, really? How long has he been missing?”
“Since early …”
Chase Rourke heard the door to his small reception area open and close. Voices sounded in the outer office. He glanced toward his office door where the shadow of a woman crept across the glass. It was Penny Wise, his septuagenarian secretary, about to announce the visitor. Rourke flicked off the TV. Sam Spade would have to wait for another day. He smoothed his hair and took a quick sip from the nearly empty bottle of Dr. Pepper.
“Stephanie Sinclair to see you.”
“Thank you Penny. Send her in.”
An attractive young lady entered. Average height; well dressed; little make-up; well endowed; ring finger loaded.“I need your help Mr. Rourke.”
“I see. Has your husband disappeared?”
“No, uh …… I’m not married. I’m afraid someone is going to kill me Mr. Rourke.”
“I see … Uh, I assumed from the rings that you were married. So what makes you think you’re going to be killed Miss Sinclair? Please have a seat.”She lowered herself into the strategically placed arm chair. Chase surreptitiously studied her short skirt hem as she sat and crossed her shapely legs.
“These rings are to keep men away, Mr. Rourke. I’m here because I keep noticing a man in the shadows and I’m sure I’m being followed.”
“Please call me Chase. And you think this person wants to kill you? Have you been to the police about this?”
“Yes. They say they need more information and I should come to them when I have some solid details. Chase, I want this stalker identified to find out what’s going on. I want action. I feel my life is in danger.”
“Why did you come to me?” Rourke narrowed his eyes and smiled internally waiting to be stroked.
“You were the only one in the book.”
“Uh, yes. I see. Well, Miss Sinclair, I may be able to help you but it will be expensive. I require a non-refundable retainer of five thousand dollars and I bill my time and expenses monthly against that. It could become costly.
She stared. As Chase stared back he felt a sweat bead cavort down his forehead to dangle at the end of is nose. Why was she stalling?
“Money isn’t my main consideration, my safety is. I’m prepared to hire you and pay you one thousand dollars and I expect you to come up with answers quickly. I don’t believe I’m being rash.”
“I’m very busy right now.” Chase lied, “It may take awhile…”
“I feel time is of the essence Chase. If you’re too busy I’ll look for help in the city.” Rourke thought for a moment.
“I’ll clear my schedule for the next few days then. Let me take some basic information from you and I’ll get started. My secretary, Mrs. Wise will take your thousand dollar retainer fee and get you to sign the usual papers when you leave. I’ll report back to you in a few days. Now let’s start at the beginning …”
Chase opened his book, jotted down particulars and made notes as Stephanie Sinclair told her story. Unremarkable case. Smaller silver car seemed to be not far behind her all the time. Make unknown. That narrows it down to about half the cars on the road. Stocky man lurking in shadows across from her house at night. Same man seems to be seen throughout the day. Maybe a rejected lover. Maybe a stalker. Wouldn’t blame him for being a peeping Tom though. She was very attractive.
“Would this man be a rejected boyfriend or lover Miss Sinclair?”
“No. I’ve had the same boyfriend for years.”
“Any business relationships gone sour?”
“None.”The phone jangled. Rourke picked it up. “I see. Tell them I’m busy with an important client and I’ll call back later. Yes. I See.” Rourke appeared to listen for a moment as he tallied Stephanie Sinclair’s feminine allures. “It will just have to wait for me to get back to them.” Chase listened some more. Rourke had an arrangement with Mrs. Wise to buzz him with a phoney call after about fifteen minutes so he would look busy. While he practiced this thin charade Stephanie Sinclair looked around the office absorbing the surroundings. The furniture looked like it was from Goodwill. The walls needed paint. The cheap Oriental rug on the floor was very worn and probably came from a murder scene judging by the brown stain under the desk. Dollar store art and two framed photos on the walls. She noticed the old double hung windows were cracked and dusty. There were no drapes. A scratched credenza with a coffeemaker, an ancient fax machine and a small copier stood against the wall. A brass coat rack stood empty in a corner behind the desk with a pair of winter boots slumped at its base. There were two cheap light fixtures on the ceiling and a green shaded banker’s lamp on Rourke’s desk. A door to the side was either a closet or a washroom. There was the faint whiff of antiquity. Her chair had one uneven leg. She thought the office looked like it was from some cheap dime store detective novel. Chase hung up the phone and faced her.
“Sorry Miss Sinclair, the call couldn’t wait. Now, what you’ve told me adds up to little more than suspicion. The police would naturally assume you’re just paranoid on the strength of your complaint. Why, exactly, are you suspicious and feel you’re being followed and may be killed?”
“Mr Rourke. My brother and I inherited our grandfather’s estate a little while ago. Just a small farm and some money. My brother had lived there with Grampa and tended the property. Weeks after Grampa died, my brother told me he thought he saw a man lurking in the bush near the farm. He also noticed a silver car following him. Now he’s been missing for two weeks and I’m afraid of foul play and that I’m next.”
“Hmmmmm. Have you been to the police about your brother?”
“Yes I have, but my brother dealt some grass and hung around with a Goth crowd. The police know him and said they’d look into it but he had probably just taken off on some weird drug bender and would return. I think they just can’t be bothered about the likes of my brother but I really feel something bad has happened to him and if so, that I may be next.”
“And now, like your brother, you notice a man and a silver car and you’re afraid you may ‘disappear’ too. What’s your brother’s name? Would this all have anything to do with your brother dealing dope?”
“I doubt it. His name is James, James Sinclair. When he was dealing, he operated out of Grandpa’s big garage so Grampa wouldn’t know. He had a big stash and one night there was a break-in and someone stole it all. That was the third time so then he just gave up dealing. Grampa got a dog to guard the garage. Just before James disappeared there was a ruckus at the garage one night. He looked out the window to see a shadow at the garage door with a bar trying to get in. Daisy was barking and as James watched she charged out the dog door and lunged at the figure and chased him across the field. The person must have fallen because there was a disturbed area in the grass and a patch of cloth that Daisy must have ripped from his jacket.”
“Probably drug related; someone maybe hoping to score your brother’s stash again; they were misinformed and didn’t know about the dog. Was the cloth sample familiar?”
“No. It was denim, like from a pair of jeans. Everyone knew that my brother had nothing of consequence anymore so I don’t think it was drug related.”
“It’s funny your Grampa would get a guard dog for the garage at such a late date. What’s of value in the garage?”
“Nothing really … there’s tools, a lawn tractor, some machinery, yard tools, an old car, a file cabinet. There’s some furniture and boxes of old junk in the rafters, you know, toys and stuff like that but they were all treasures to Grampa.”
“OK. I’ll talk to a police officer friend of mine tomorrow about your brother. I’ll personally check out this man following you and look around at the farm and report back to you in a day or so. OK?”
“Thank you Chase.”
“You’re welcome. Please see Mrs. Wise; she has a few papers before you leave.” Chase buzzed Penny with the details.
Rourke watched as Stephanie Sinclair rose from the chair. He stepped around the desk and shook her hand then studied her figure as she left. Very nice. He sat down and diced the case in his mind. Probably not much here. Drop in on John Darm and get him to check out the brother, stake out the girl tonight and then drop by the farm to look around. Be good to get outta the office for a bit anyway. Things had been really slow. To be perfectly honest, so slow that this was his first real case.
If you liked this please visit Dave at http://thunderbridgeproductions.com/thunder/ or http://davejones.wordpress.com/ and check out his running commentary on modern issues and other things that just make him think. He loves comments and feedback.
Joins me again in a month as I walk a mile in the gumshoes of another of Uxbridge, Ontario’s up-coming authors, Sandra Clarke.