The locus of murder

In fiction, when does setting become a character? When does location move from background to foreground?

Readers from Pennsylvania to Florida have called out locales they recognize in both the CW McCoy and Brinker series of crime novels. Even with altered geography and names, those places seem to resonate like the voice of a friend.

As they did with me while doing research for Tourist in Paradise, Peak Season and Mr. Mayhem. Here, then, are some of the images that inspired the characters that inhabit those books. As well as the writer.

Sarasota marina, similar to one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in CW McCoy novels

Sarasota marina, similar to the one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in CW McCoy novels


Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of models for DeSoto Park complex in “Tourist in Paradise”

Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of the models for the massive DeSoto Park complex in Tourist in Paradise


Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in “Peak Season”

Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in Peak Season


The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point

The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point


Sarasota Police Dept. inspired Spanish Point’s PD where Cheryl, Oz, Delgado work

Sarasota Police Dept. inspired Spanish Point’s PD where Cheryl, Oz and Delgado work


Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds second body in “Peak Season”

Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds a second body in Peak Season


Key Breeze stands in for galley of Mary Beth, where CW finds an unconscious Walter Bishop

Key Breeze stands in for the galley of the Mary Beth, where CW finds an unconscious Walter Bishop in Tourist in Paradise

‘No More Dead Dogs’

“Did you kill off the dog?” my wife said as she read the chapter in Tourist in Paradise on Sugar Bear. My wife is a fan of Gordon’s Korman’s children’s book No More Dead Dogs and doesn’t truck with such nonsense.

“Yes,” I said, maybe regretting the decision to let her edit the manuscript. “Is that a bad thing?”

Sugar Bear is the name of an American bulldog adopted by Susan Thompson in the second of the CW McCoy crime novels. I based the dog on the unofficial mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff Office’s Animal Services Center, a sweetheart that goes by the same name. The office let me photograph her during one of our classes in its Citizens Law Enforcement Academy.

The fictional Sugar Bear, who makes her debut a few chapters before the one my wife was editing, isn’t as mean spirited as some of the people coming after CW, her mentor Walter Bishop, his new friend, Lois, and Officer Chip Stover. But crime novels aren’t known for happy endings. So given my wife’s warning, I had a decision to make.

Was it the right one? The final paragraphs of Chapter 29 set up the outcome. I’ll let CW tell the story:

“Oh, my God,” Lois said. “Where’s Sugar Bear?”

“If she’s here,” Walter said, “the police would have found her.”

“Stover didn’t go through the house,” I said

“The fire crew has heat sensors,” Walter said.

Lois shook her head. “I heard them say they didn’t need them, that the neighbor said there was no one inside.”

I headed for the house.

“CW!” Walter yelled but I was already running across the shell-covered driveway, stamping through a watery scum of burned wood and sand, knocking aside the fence that circled the outdoor shower to let myself into the house through the back door.

Enough fiction. Let’s talk reality.

The Sarasota Animal Services Center is a class operation. Supervisor Tami Treadway, Volunteer Coordinator Kristen Little and staff are eager to match good people with pets that deserve good homes. If you want to see animals like Sugar Bear thrive, visit the shelter at 8451 Bee Ridge Road or the center’s website or call (941) 861-9500.

Tell them CW sent you.

Now hear this . . . tips on creating audiobooks

Kids aren’t the only people who like to hear a story.

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans listened to an audiobook in 2013. Adults with higher levels of education are more likely to have read audiobooks than those who did not attend college. And the vast majority of those who read e-books and audiobooks also read print books.

Good news for writers who like to listen to as well as tell stories.

Convinced audio could prove a way to boost my audience, I contracted with an Amazon service called ACX to produce an audio version of my first novel, Peak Season. ACX connects authors with producers and distributors of digital files, in this case, iTunes and It does not produce CDs.

ACX made it easy to import cover art and relevant details of the novel from Amazon. I completed a form with the specs I wanted–a female narrator with a voice in the lower range, speaking in American English with no regional accent. After uploading a short script that called for multiple voices, I listened to sample readings from producers, asked for auditions and even reached out to friends who have a flair for this kind of work.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Choosing a narrator from the auditions proved difficult. All of them sounded professional. Most handled the multiple voices well, even the male characters. A few got creative and tossed in southern or Jersey accents. Two producers offered to include a short musical segment at the beginning and end of the narration, just as traditional publishers do.

The decision was entirely subjective. At the risk of sounding deranged, it came down to a choice of who sounded most like the voices in my head. I chose Pamela Almand, who does business as The Captain’s Voice. (She’s a former pilot. More on that in a later post.) The cover appears at left. The audio version of the book should be listed on Amazon by the end of October.

For those of you who’d like to hear your work produced as an audiobook, a few suggestions:

Research the format before you head over to ACX. These projects take just as much work and time as independent print and e-book publishing. Fellow writer Erika Liodice (Empty Arms) has written a pair of insanely detailed posts on creating and marketing audiobooks, Navigating the Next Frontier in Digital Publishing: Audiobooks and 9 Easy & Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Audiobook. The posts are encyclopedic.

Read the contracts. ACX says it delivers royalties of up to 40% but one example shows authors receiving a little more than $2 on a $30 audiobook. Audible gives free product to new customers and discounts to members, actions that will reduce the list price of your audiobook, and your royalty. Some producers will accept half of your royalty payments in exchange for their narration. Others want an additional stipend for narrating a book that may not sell enough to earn royalties. And unlike other Amazon services such as CreateSpace for print and Kindle Direct Publishing for e-books, ACX doesn’t allow authors to set the price of their audiobook, so you can’t control the profit margin.

Finally, learn from the experts. Indie author Joanna Penn offers several tips for creating and marketing your work as an audiobook. When it comes to running your writing career as a business, she’s one of the leading voices in the field . . . and well worth a listen.

Breaking the writer’s blockade

Today I’m working on the sequel to Peak Season and I’m stuck. The sequel’s called Tourist in Paradise. Someone is hunting visitors in the idyllic beach town of Spanish Point and CW McCoy will either solve the murders or wind up a victim of one.

The first 11 chapters went fairly well, with a bit of a rough patch during an open house at her new real estate office. I struggled with that scene for weeks until I hit upon the solution: cut the chapter. And like an ice-breaker in the arctic, that cleared the path.

Synopsis and scribbling

Until I got to Chapter 12, the bar scene where two of the Three Stooges (you remember them from the first novel) reappear to menace our heroine. Well, maybe I hadn’t paid attention to motive or maybe I hadn’t laid the groundwork for the scene, but it just didn’t work. And it went on forever. So, where is the ice-breaker when you need it?

When in doubt, think it through. Why is CW at the bar in the first place? What does she want to know? What would she logically do in the preceding scenes that would place her there?

I need a scene before this one. I actually have a scene I can use, one I’d placed further on in the book, one that addresses the logistical issues. What if I move that one? Chapter 12 becomes lucky Chapter 13, and now things makes sense.

Or will, whenever I get around to rewriting the new scene. Right now I need a break. My drink is warm.

I need some ice.

Summing up summaries

Writing the book was easy. Writing the synopsis was a bear.

You’d think that, after investing the better part of a year in my characters, I could crank out a summary as easily as ordering at McDonald’s. Not so for Peak Season, the first in a series of crime novels featuring the former cop turned pacifist Candace McCoy, known to her friends as CW.

Peak Season 3D cover 375x548Even after writing headlines at a daily newspaper for 14 years, I couldn’t distill the essence of the book. Should I focus the synopsis on the plot? On the characters? What if the plot arcs like a roller coaster, and the characters reject their labels? Fanciful but not helpful. Agents want to read a clear, concise summary of the book. They won’t appreciate digression.

I went at it draft after draft, pulling a few characters and themes from the wreckage. Eventually the copy wound up on the back cover of the novel. Here’s the synopsis. I’d be interested in hearing what you think. You can reach me through the comments section or the email link on the bottom of the website’s homepage.

Peak Season synopsis
Life at the beach can be murder.

Forced to shoot a fellow police officer, CW McCoy surrenders her gun and her badge to take refuge in the wealthy tourist mecca of Spanish Point, Florida. There she pedals luxury real estate, cares for her ailing grandfather Pap and tries to escape her past.

But even in paradise during peak tourist season, violence finds her like a divining rod.

Declared dead by the courts, Bobby Lee Darby bursts into CW’s office to demand the family friend clear his name in a scheme to bilk millions from investors. When CW refuses, the fugitive financier kidnaps Pap to ensure her cooperation, triggering a chain of burglary, assault and murder that convinces local police that the former cop has gone rogue.

Racing to find Darby, CW must confront her violent past, risky affairs and love-hate relationship with Southwest Florida before those personal demons turn her new-found paradise into hell on earth.

‘Peak Season’ goes video

It’s the latest rage: just as movies have trailers, books do, too. Here’s the video with voice-over for Peak Season, the first of the CW McCoy crime novels. Is it under the bar, over the top or does it hit the Goldilocks spot . . . just right?

Watch it here or visit my site on YouTube.

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Hook, line and action scene

David Hagberg doesn’t mess around. During a workshop in Venice, Florida, he said genre writers have to hook readers early, and the best way to do that is with action. He should know. He’s written a dozen thrillers for TOR.

After the session, I said I couldn’t decide how to begin Peak Season, a crime novel set in the fictional Florida beach town of Spanish Point. Should I start with the inciting incident, the one that drags the protagonist, CW McCoy, into the action? Or should I start with the scene that caused her to lose her gun, her badge and her self-confidence, the incident that propelled her to take refuge in this resort town by the sea?

In that big, bellow of his Hagberg said, “Start with the action!” I think people from Tampa to Naples heard him. I certainly did.

Was he right? Take a look at the first few pages of the novel and tell me what you think. (You can reach me through the email link at the bottom of this website’s homepage.)


I spotted the gun as soon as I walked through the door. Nicholas Church aimed a Glock 22 at his wife and daughter, arms straight and locked, his finger touching the trigger. His wife’s hands held nothing but air. The daughter gripped the back of her mother’s dress. Church’s eyes looked hard, the wife’s anguished, the little girl’s wide with terror.

“Bitch!” he roared and the soGun range silhouetteund echoed throughout the dead kitchen.

My face burned. After leaning out to call for backup, I stepped fully into the room and identified myself. He knew me. We’d worked together for two years. I held my hands away from my holster where he could see them. Non-threatening. No show of force. Talk him down.

Church filled the kitchen. He stood over six-feet-six and weighed more than 250 pounds, black hair slicked back, khaki slacks still creased despite the hour, white shirtsleeves rolled to the forearms to reveal a blue Marine Corps tattoo nestled among a thatch of hair. Under the fluorescent lights his silver badge glowed. Two years ago he’d received a citation for rescuing a woman trapped in a car. A year later the department had placed him on leave for beating a suspect during a drug bust. The wounded hero.

At five-foot-five, Anita Church shrank before her husband. She looked mid-twenties with a sharp nose and wisps of blond hair that floated around dangling earrings. She wore a sundress of pale yellow and blue, belted at her slender waist, and ballet shoes. Her wedding and engagement rings sparkled, as if to mock Church’s badge. When I moved closer, she glanced at me as if to say, you’re a woman, you can save me, and reached behind to clutch her daughter.

The girl was maybe seven, dressed in jeans and a sparkling pink T-shirt that depicted one of the Disney princesses. She wore pink slippers with rabbit ears. Junie, I thought. Nick called her June Bug.

For the third time that night I reminded myself that I didn’t belong there. Patrol responded to domestics, not detectives. My luck I was passing the neighborhood when the call came in. I inched forward, using Church’s name, reminding him that I was a cop and understood his anger, telling him to lower the weapon, showing him that we could talk. I gestured in slow circles, sliding to the right, watching his face, his fingers.

No one else in the room. Copper-bottom pots hanging from the ceiling. Two openings arching into shadow, one on the left that led to the laundry, one to the right that opened onto a formal dining room. In the silence I could hear him breathe, shallow, nasal. Somewhere in the house a clock chimed.

Where the hell is backup?

Church stood to my left, aiming across a table set with flowers and fruit, feet braced, both hands gripping the gun. With the slightest movement of his head he glanced right and ordered me to leave.

Tension clawed my neck. “Nick.” I kept my voice steady, my hands where he could see them. “You don’t want to do this. Put the weapon down. We can talk, whatever it is, we can talk.”

Behind me I sensed movement. A young male officer drew his weapon and crouched into firing position, his boots chirping on the tile. A radio squawked. Anita Church clutched at Junie and started to wail.

I shoved my hand into the holster and raised my weapon while edging to the right. In a voice deep from the gut I yelled, “Drop the gun!”

He kept the pistol trained on his wife. “Stay out of this!”

I tightened my grip, arms and stomach clenched, breath and blood pounding in my ears. “Drop the gun! Now!”

I watched his face, watched the eyes refocus on his wife, the jaw muscles tightening with the finger of his right hand, his stance shifting as the gun settled on the target. My vision narrowed and at the end of the tunnel Nicholas Church took in a deep breath as his index finger moved backward in slow motion.

Bam! Bam! The shots exploded in the tight space. The first round hit his chest and turned him. The second knocked him into the refrigerator. He slumped, his gun rattling on the tile. Anita screamed. Clinging to her mother’s dress, Junie gasped for air.

Ears ringing, the tang of gunpowder biting my nose, I holstered the weapon and put two fingers against Church’s neck and rose to call for an ambulance and the coroner. Walking across the kitchen to Anita and Junie, I guided them to chairs in the dining room. The crying crushed their faces. They’d soon slide from grief to shock. My arms shook and my stomach threatened to crawl out of my mouth.

You can buy Peak Season on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo.