Friday, April 30, 2010

Vroom! Vroom!

I don't know what set my mind to thinking about cars. Maybe it was reading a Car and Driver magazine at the doctor's office last week that had me thinking about the different mystery stories I've read throughout the years and the way vehicles play an intricate, if sometimes subtle, role in showing the personality of the characters.

John Sanford's Detective Davenport drives a Porsche.

Cynthia Harris' Dr. Popper drives her mobile veterinary van.

Nero Wolfe bought classic, but never drove.

A lot of the forties and fifties detectives drove a style of coupe. (Pronounced coo-pay by my dad and by narrators of that time)

Remember that wonderful Puegot 403 Columbo owned?

How many cars has Stephanie Plum owned? Fifteen at last count and she's blown up or destroyed several more not her own.

I thought how the types of cars the detectives drive say a lot about who they are. Several times Davenport has had to explain his luxury sports car because a lot believed him to be a cop on the take instead of being a successful role playing games inventor. It fits his character. It just wouldn’t do for Stephanie Plum to own one car throughout the series.

When I thought about Mallory Petersen and what make of car she would drive, I didn't have to go much further than the first car I remember riding around in as a child. I say remember, because there were others before, but baby memories don't stick around too long. Anyway, the car my parents owned was a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger, blue, with white hardtop. Basic interior, no frills, no bells and whistles, no fancy computer driven mechanics, no cockpit with talking GPS, no CD player, no satellite radio or On-Star system included, no seat warmers, no keyless entry, no remote starter. It was a car one drove to work or on vacation and the basic purpose of the car was doing just that. The style was sleek, moving out of the sixties, into the stretch style seventies. Think Charger-extra light. Two door, round headlights, basic square brakes set into the bumper. Broad hood, no fender curves, narrow grill. It was considered a compact car and one advertisement I read claimed, at one time, that the Dart was the most driven compact in America.

I loved that car.

My first car was a 1975 Fiat Blue Box. Okay, that wasn’t the actual name of the car, but that’s basically what it was. I was originally disappointed because I heard Fiat and I’m thinking sporty. But actually, that blue box was pretty cool and I wish I had owned it longer than I did. It was air cooled, which meant when I shut off the car, the fan would start up to cool the engine. People kept telling me my car was still running. Then I owned a ’69 VW Fastback. It was okay, but it nickel and dimed me to death in maintenance. When I went off to college I had our 1975 Dodge Tank. Actually, it was a Coronet. The seventies version wasn’t as stylish as its predecessors, but that car had power and bulk and was tough. It had seen the country on many vacations and did its duty pulling trailers. When it reached 100,000 miles it decided it was done. My sadness came in that I didn’t get very much for it in the end. Next up was an early 80’s Chevette. Stupid car had problems within a quarter mile after I bought the thing. The Dodge Daytona I owned was the only one so far to hit a deer. I had a Dodge Shadow convertible that was great, until the aluminum engine block became warped. I remember driving across the southern part of Minnesota against the wind. Whew, the gas it sucked down.

I’ve owned several family vehicles, including my grandmother’s Omega (basically an Oldsmobile Box) and my grandfather’s ’91 Chevy pickup. It’s the only vehicle I’ve owned where I’ve run out of gas…twice. That thing I still see cruising around town yet today, a little more rust each time.

And, so far, there has been one fact associated with every vehicle I’ve owned. Every car has had at least one flat tire I’ve had to change. I’ve had flats at work and on the interstate but never in a convenient spot.

So in Beta, as Mallory explains, her Dad still owned the Dodge Dart when she became of driving age and sold it to her for a dollar. Mallory added a few goodies into the interior and under the hood. She loves that car, gives it regular maintenance, keeps it shiny and waxed and protects it fiercely from the bad guys.

I could have had her drive around in my favorite car, the Corvette, but I felt it would be over the top, not appropriate and not a reasonable expectation for her. I didn't want her driving around in a beat up rust bucket, either, because she does have a reputation to uphold. I wanted something unique, amusing, and a vehicle people would look at and remember, if only to remember seeing them 40 years ago.

Like Mallory says, you keep your Beemers and your Lincolns; she owns a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger.

And that's good enough for her.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Sounds Good?



William Congreve, in The mourning bride, 1697:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

This oft misquoted phrase was brought to mind this morning (I thought of this week's blog topic almost a week ago) when I accidentally put my radio away after setting out the morning breakfast at work. I like to write with low playing background music. I also will have music on the TV playing when I'm typing the longhand pages into the actual novel file.

There is a scene in Beta where Mallory visits the home of the father of the kidnapped girl. She passes by the rock station in Des Moines and muses on music. Like Mallory, the music I listen to will depend on my mood.

If I want minimal distractions while typing, I'll have the classical music station on, or maybe soft jazz. Usually though, I'll have one of three stations tuned in. I'll start with Top Forty Hit List until some hip-hop or quasi rap song starts. I'm sorry, that is not music to me and I cannot function properly when it plays. Then I'll turn back to the Eighties channel, maybe the Seventies. At rare times I'll see what Soft Rock has to offer. At work, when I'm writing, I'll have on Classical-until NPR gets into it's morning drollness of news-or an Eighties station out of Des Moines.

I mentioned my dislike of Rap, but, ironically, the beat of the music was the only kind I could study to in college. My neighbors across the hall usually had a station out of Iowa City tuned in. It played a constant beat for about five minutes, then switched to another constant beat. The bass throbbing through the door kept my mind focused.

In my town, there is a souped up Lincoln with Hot Wheels tires. I can tell the car is coming from half a mile away because it's playing some stupid piece of music at volume level 12. In fact, I don't think the car actually uses gas; the pounding rhythm bounces the car along. But...I like to have the windows down and the volume up when a favorite rock song of mine plays, so I can't blame him too much. Well, I can, because I turn down my radio when the song is over.

Country is good, but I'd rather listen to songs from twenty to fifty years ago. Thunder Country out of Albia has a low wattage station that's good for that.

Hard rock doesn't impress me much; just a bunch of noise with no melody. There are a few Eighties bands I did enjoy, but I don't consider them really hard rock although others might.

I won't even touch opera so don't even try to persuade me to listen.

Big Band and Jazz are okay if it's the right artist and I'm in the right mood.

Sometimes, though, sitting by the river listening to the birds and the water is just perfect. To quote Redford from Jeremiah Johnson, “Nothing wrong with quiet.”


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Too much to read

I have known for a long time I have a problem. It is one I've had for a long time, ever since I was a child. Through the decades, I've exacerbated the problem; discovering the internet and sites where you can download movies and tv shows and programs made the problem that much worse.

My problem is...I have too many books to read. Right now, I have a stand not quite three feet long with three shelves full of books. On top of that stand are eight-one foot high piles of books. I also have a tall wooden case with five shelves maybe a foot wide full of books, some shelves double deep. All the shelves are full of books. The bedroom dresser contains five piles over a foot tall of hardback books. The other dresser has two piles about a foot tall of more books. Finally, the computer has one folder about 522 mb in size of files of downloaded books. All of the shelved books and most of the computer files are yet to be read. This does not include the audio folder with over 7100 items of audio books, old radio shows, sermons, and the like waiting to be listened to. I always have at least four books in the car and comic books in the bathroom.

I can't resist the yearly October AAUW book sale up at the mall. Half of center court is full of used books. They even provide empty boxes for the patrons to haul away the books. Saturday after three pm - the books are free. I have yet to get up to the twice a year book sale at the fairgrounds in Des Moines, but I keep planning on it. The 1/2 Price Books store is moving to a larger space so you can imagine my giddiness over that. Over the previous two days I stopped at two thrift stores and found more books and only bought one...the other eight were free.

I have a small notebook I need to update where I list books I've run across I would like to read. In a small stand is a folder of cut out pages from book club circulars of more books I'd like to read. I need to transfer the folder contents to the notebook and one source of desired books.

For years, when I bought books, I always chose the best quality books. The ones with no mars or scratches or tears on the covers or spines. Today, I still read books with them half closed so as not to break the spine. I have lowered my standards on the outside quality else I'd never buy anything, let alone used.

I sometimes think what would happen if I had a job where I hadn't the time to read books (Uh, I'd like to have one of those jobs, by the way; talk to me if you know of something). My piles would be larger than they are.

My dream is to someday have a library to display all of them. I'd love to spend hours opening my boxed books and arranging them on shelves.

Yes, I can admit I have a problem. I may have gone overboard on the amount of books I own. My problem is...I don't have enough time to read them. I imagine in the year 2100 I'll be on my deathbed (yes, I'll be 134, science surely will have extended the lifespan by then, right?) trying to finish the last chapter of a book I bought fifty years previously, then waving to the nurse to hand me the next title.

Excuse me, I have a couple of hours before work; I have to find a book around here to read.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Site Unseen

I have discussed creating fictional places and using actual sites. The fun part about using real places is the research; going to the places to obtain accurate descriptions, to get a sense of surroundings.

This weekend I did another research venture for the rewrite of Alpha. (Up to Chapter 18). There is a scene I wrote last week using satellite imagery but when I visited the site, it was a little different than seen on the computer. Topography, landscape and structures were different. I'm going to have to change a few things to stay accurate and legitimate, but I think the scene will stronger for doing so.

I visited another spot to be used in an upcoming scene. I can stay pretty much true to form because not much has changed in this particular area.

Both scenes involve the woods and chases. Bad guys are chasing Mallory and she has to use her wits and martial arts skills to come out on top. When writing the first scene I didn't really have in mind the ending, how she was going to defeat her pursuers. Having a weapons class the previous night birthed an idea. So, as she is about to confront her opponents upon a bridge, she utilizes her surroundings to her advantage. Namely, she scoops up a five foot length of solid branch and turns it into a long staff a'la Friar Tuck.

For the scene upcoming, in the original draft, I had her grappling with her attacker, then throwing him into a nearby creek. However, I took an idea from a newsletter-a new version of the personal tazer-and incorporated that weapon in the story. This scene will be the first time she gets to use the wonder weapon. However, putting new stuff into the story brings up a problem-this story is a prequel from the first story. Mallory didn't have the stun weapon in the first story, so I have to find a way for this particular weapon to disappear-legitimately, of course-by the end of the story.

The fun part, as I said, was visiting the area. Having a friend along to bounce ideas off of just makes if that much more exciting. My great ideas sometimes need to have a reality check, especially with this story. I don't know if I mentioned it, but when I skimmed over this first story, written back in '93, '94, I realized how awful the writing was. But, I could still use the plot. Yes, I've had to update the sites used because they've changed in seventeen years and changed around some of the action in the scenes to fit my taekwondo experience during my years as a student and instructor.

If you can create a house, a neighborhood, a town, or even an entire country - super. For those who need real places, don't deny yourself the pleasure of visiting your sites to better pass along the ambiance and the 'reality.'

PS. Look for an extra blog on Monday, April 19 at


Monday, April 5, 2010


Sometimes, I stop in the middle of my hall, or a doorway, or just lean back in my chair and wonder what I'm going to do next. What I want to do next. I could watch another movie on my computer, another downloaded television show to audio book. I could play another game of backgammon with some stranger from elsewhere in the country. I could eat or just go to bed.

I did a lot of that wondering the last couple of days. I could have done a lot of things, but didn't want to do any of them and didn't really want to do what I ended up doing which was watching another movie on the computer, another downloaded television show, eating a snack or two and sleepingl ong enough to foul up my body schedule.

Sometimes, I just get tired and want to chuck it all. I'm not doing what I really want to do and the problem is, I don't really know what that is. Whatever I'm doing now isn't enough, isn't where I want to be, but because of past choices, I'm stuck.

The list of responsibilities hit me a couple of hours ago when I realized I hadn't done laundry or posted the weekly blog. Taekwondo duties and work duties and writing duties can wait until later. The last couple of days I just felt like being alone to do what I wanted to do...and I couldn't even decide what that was. Ironic, no?

So, Monday rolls around and it's back to taekwondo classes and work and writing. Hopefully, my latest venture with Echelon Press will start soon and I'll let you know the details later.

Part of what kept me inside most of the weekend was the weather. Spring has spring and I'm grateful, but with spring comes the rain and we had it around here. Plus, spring's warm temps haven't quite gotten the staying power yet, especially at night.

I have next weekend off, also.

Wonder what I'll do.