My dad’s bigger boat, a Lightning with a 27′ mast, wasn’t ready for sailing yet so we took the little 12-footer. It was a buoyant little beast, capable of carrying four adults: Brett and I and our dad, and our friend Paul. Paul loved sailing and as a result was rooked into a boatload of unnecessary adventures. He spent a lot of his time with us wet.
We always packed food because sailing made us hungry. It’s only a mile across San Diego Bay from the boat ramp where we launched so we sailed over to Silver Strand State Park to have lunch on the beach.
I was at the tiller because Dad wanted to be the first one to step ashore. I realized as we were approaching the shore that the bottom inclined so gradually the rudder was going to hit ground before the bow touched the sand.
I said, “We’re running aground.”
I said it again. “We’re running aground.”
I said, “Hey, we’re running–”
… more … “Pintles and Gudgeons and the Man Overboard Drill”
“The darker blue looks good with your eyes.” Jenna, back from checking the handbag sale, held a tie up with both hands, draping it across the bridge of my nose.
“Thank you. They’re not usually worn that close to the eyes but if it gets us out of here—”
“There! That’s him!”
The tip of the tie whipped my ear as my wife spun to see what nut was yelling behind us.
“This gentleman?” from the security guard standing next to Old Yeller (okay, young yeller, but that doesn’t flow the same.)
The guard took a step back and measured the guy with his eyes.
“Him. Right there. In the suit I know he didn’t buy here because we don’t sell anything that sharp.”
Jenna did semaphore with the tie. “What did my husband do?”
… more … “The Monkey in Menswear”
Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.
My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.
Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.
My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.
(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)
… more … “Crummy Cake Communication”
Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)
The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.
I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.
“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.
… more … “How Not to Hit Your Child With a Sledgehammer”
We worked in the back of a great big van, more like a delivery truck. Not as big as a moving van, but far bigger than a passenger vehicle. Workbenches, grinders, air and power tools of all kinds, bins of parts and whatnot. It was convenient for work, being totally mobile. For driving, not so much. The van was awkward, felt top-heavy, and it as a nightmare to back up. I could always hear stuff shifting, rattling, pinging as we hit bumps or turned corners.
After lunch at a new place one day I headed out the back exit of the parking lot.
There was no back exit.
… more … “Lemon Grove Killer Van”
We sat in the dark back seat, watching the digital clock (made of actual light bulbs) atop the bank in Chula Vista. It was a long red light. We’d seen the time change from 7:03 to 7:04 and all four of us started counting the seconds until it changed again.
Quietly, in the back seat: “57, 58, 59” and then, not quietly at all, the four of us shouting “Now!”
At that moment, the left turn light changed to green.
Dad stomped on the gas.
We weren’t in the left turn lane.
… more … “How to Make Your Father Run a Red Light”
Reviewed the notes with Best Beloved and it appears that all is well and I can dive into writing Jake’s story.
Monday. Diving happens Monday.
Let’s get this book done, eh?
If you park your truck facing the sun and leave your beans and rice on the dashboard the Texas summer sun will warm it to eating temperature and melt the butter by lunchtime.
We’d heard the geese but couldn’t see them. Climbed down from the roof, dropped our tools somewhere they wouldn’t get hot, got our Mexican food from his truck and sat in the shade to eat.
I said something almost funny. Probably about as witty as “Duck, it’s the geese!” though it’s been so long I don’t remember.
… more … “Fragility and the Geese”
When a songwriter praises your use of language in a novel, it’s hard not to glow like radium.
Hurry up, get in, let’s go. Two stops to make today.
Ladies first: Elizabeth Kaiser joins me in the post Food, Family, Fear. They’re connected, oh yes indeedy.
Then, my friend and editor and occasional drinking buddy Tom ‘BentGuy’ Bentley interviews me about my books, process, and tastes. And we talk waffles. And whiskey.
Today’s stop on the tour is with Cheryl “Burnt Mountain” Campbell.
Cheryl is the hardest working author I’ve ever met. (And, in fact, we have met, when she drove from Maine to Wisconsin to meet the fam. I was touched and impressed. There was Strongbow Cider involved.)
Her books are good and getting better.
Her comments on my revealing psychological ramblings in the post just make it better.
Go. Read. Comment.
Faith Blum has written a detailed review of the latest Phil Brennan book.
I would have preferred 5 stars. Her review, though, is done right: some opinion, but mostly, details that will help any reader decide whether it’s right for them.
Read and comment, eh?
I’ve been a faithful user of AutoCrit ever since I first heard of it. In my opinion, the best automated editing and feedback tool an author can have.
Jocelyn from AutoCrit interviewed me about my long relationship with them and my writing process. Even if you’re not an author, there’s plenty there about Phil Brennan’s latest shenanigans.
Join friends and I this week on a tour round the web with Phil Brennan’s second story, A Still, Small Voice.
Today, Lia London uses the phrase “flamboyantly unassuming” which I find buoyantly amusing. Give her interview with me a read, and chat in the comments, eh?
The hand on my knee was firm. Then, it was crushing. Then, it started to slide the kneecap right off. Despite the pain, I didn’t cry out; in a bizarre comedic moment I wondered if the thing shoved against my ribs was called a ‘silencer’ for more than one reason.
Another survival tip for you, kiddies: no matter how funny you find yourself, don’t smile when the bad guys are interrogating you under physical duress. They don’t like it, and things go downhill fast.
Mr. Big (as in the leader) gestured vaguely toward the bathroom hallway Siobhan had gone down (where was she??) and Mr. ReallyBig the thug dragged me from the booth and shoved me ahead of him down the hallway toward a greasy door at the end.
I had a little more experience with being meekly led to the slaughter, and I wasn’t walking to my own funeral this time. Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley (or maybe the alleys in Galway aren’t dirty; I didn’t remember) or down by the ocean where they’d never find you.
I say I had experience with the concept. I had none with the execution of it. I jerked away from Mr. ReallyBig and ran for the door. Which was locked. I think. I don’t know; it wouldn’t open.
The pain in the back of my head was amazing. At first I thought he’d shot me; then I realized he’d just slugged me with the gun. Not enough to knock me out; contrary to what you see in the movies, that takes more than a light tap. But enough to make me reconsider my flight and, instead, bend over with my head between my hands. I’m no tough guy, I’m an academic, remember?
The apartment was bigger than it looked in the photos online. Real estate must be cheaper in a small town than in the cities. I didn’t know. I’d never lived anywhere but one big city and apartments were even more expensive than renting a small house. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I guess if you’re willing to pay for the benefit of not having a lawn to mow, someone might as well take your money.
I also wasn’t used to having the super live offsite. Though she wasn’t the super, she was the apartment manager. Or owner. I should get that straight. She and her husband lived down the street in a nice little house by the lake.
“Right up the road if pipes burst or you lock yourself out,” Mrs. Wright had said. Mr. Wright was housebound so she had taken care of our business arrangements.
“Now, there’s lots of young men for neighbors, dear, but they’re polite and well-behaved or I wouldn’t have them. So you just make yourself at home.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wright. I’m not worried about them.”
One eyebrow twitched, and she smiled.
“No, I supposed you’re not. I’m off, then.”
Maybe her intuition works better than mine. Maybe I was advertising more than I realized.
No young man was getting anywhere near me until my heart grew back in the hole left by the young man I’d just left forever.
This is an excerpt from next year’s romantic mystery Anacrusis.
Never believed in situational ethics. While I sympathize with Jean Valjean, he was still a thief. There are plenty of grey areas in life. Honesty isn’t one of them. Honesty is binary: anything you do is honest, or it’s not.
People make mistakes, sure, but if someone steals, and then all they do about it afterward is feel badly, they’re a thief. It’s a fundamental character defect.
A half-penny candy becomes Enron. I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating. Bend the twig and get a crooked tree.
Someone who’ll steal is bent. Bent is bent. Thieves aren’t known for veracity.
Bent is bent.
So when I say “it’s been bothering me,” what I really mean is that you can directly attribute some of this blathering and confusion to the severely disrupted emotional condition I’ve been in since I discovered that someone I feel strongly about, and could feel more strongly about with only a hint of a nudge, didn’t share my rigid moral character.
If that doesn’t make sense to you I suggest you don’t waste any more time on this tale than you already have.
If it does, you’ll know what it costs me to admit I stole something once, and why I’ve locked the memory away.
This is an excerpt from That She is Made of Truth.
To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon
He sat, pretending to watch the garish musical on the big screen. Why anyone would present a so-called gala night featuring some forgotten and forgettable musical was a mystery to him.
Since he was here to catch a blackmailer, ignoring the noise and commotion onscreen was part of the task, and he was glad of it.
Also glad that he knew exactly who he was looking for. Easy to catch a criminal in the act when you know who they are. Follow them around a bit, do some discreet digging, and hey presto! Usable information leading to eyewitnessing their perfidy.
The light from the preposterous dance number bounced off a shiny silk suit. No, it wasn’t the suit.
It was a knife blade. And that was flashing toward the suit.
The suit worn by the blackmailer he was going to catch in the act.
Instead, he’d caught his murder, live and in person.
The door to the large storage room was unlocked, which seemed odd, but perhaps it was intentional. Perhaps Dubin’s plan involved accidental stumblings.
Knob turned, I listened for any sounds.
In the absolute still of the church Niall’s breathing behind me was louder than anything behind the door.
I pushed it open and stepped into the dark.
Accidental stumblings indeed.
As the lights blinded me, I don’t know who was more startled when we collided, me, or Conor Dubin.
I whipped around as the church door slammed. My glimpse of the spot where Niall had been standing was now a glimpse of a heavy wooden door.
Then, it was the inside of the storeroom door, and I was on the wrong side of it with some people I desperately wanted not to see.
This is an excerpt from Into the Fog.
To read the whole story, get your copy at Amazon