Thirty years after her family perished in a fire, former detective CW (Candace) McCoy revisits her hometown to uncover the devastating truth of that night.
In her fifth outing (after Permanent Vacation), former detective-turned-real-estate-agent CW McCoy rushes headlong into her most troubling case, one that will change her life forever. With Burning Man, she faces the greatest challenge of all—coming to terms with a past that continues to blaze.
Here’s the opening chapter:
I WOKE TO the smell of danger. It seeped through the floorboards and pushed under the door and crawled into my bed. It stung my eyes and clogged my nose and tasted sour as an old penny. There was another smell, too, like the time Mommy turned on the stove and forgot to light it and my brother made a joke about the house blowing up.
It was four days before Christmas, a Saturday and the start of our holiday vacation, mine from kindergarten, Colton’s from second grade, although it didn’t feel like Christmas, because there was no snow. Daddy had just put up the lights, too many, Mommy said. He’d stood on a ladder and hung them over the windows while Mommy stood on the sidewalk below, her arms crossed, telling him not to burn down the house.
This smell felt wrong. Like the time Daddy lit a fire and forgot to open the flap in the chimney, and the smoke tumbled out in swirling stripes, as if it were trying to escape. The smell was dry as the newspapers he pushed beneath the twigs, the logs making a high, hissing sound as if they were hurt by the flames.
My parents had gone to a party. They should have been back. They should have come in to check.
The light that came through the curtains made a square on the wooden floor. Beneath the door, the smoke went in and out as if something in the hall was breathing, alive, coming after me. A lizard with a flame for a tongue or the lady with her hair full of snakes. Or burglars. Daddy was always talking about burglars. Colt would say it was a dragon, breathing fire and smoke as it hunted for little children to cook and eat, but then he liked to scare me.
The smoke stung my eyes and hurt my head. I couldn’t swallow. But I had to warn everyone. And I had to see what was in the hall.
Sliding from bed, knocking over the lamp and a gold cup with curly handles that said I could count to twenty, I crept toward the door. The floor felt warm. I reached for the knob. It turned, but the door wouldn’t open. I rattled and pulled and yanked as hard as I could, but the door wouldn’t budge. I banged on it and yelled for Colt, whose bedroom was across from mine, but no one answered. I put my ear to the keyhole, but I couldn’t hear the voices I’d heard earlier, just before I’d fallen asleep. Angry voices.
Smoke curled over my feet and crept up my pajamas. Like a dusty hand, it pushed me toward the bed. Tripping over the lamp, I crawled under the quilt Nana had made for me, the one with a picture of Snoopy on his doghouse, and stared at the door, daring the monster in the hall to break it down. Its gray breath grew dark, rolling up the wall and across the ceiling. It warmed the air and stuffed my nose and made my tongue stick to the top of my mouth.
From the street below, I heard a siren and the honk honk of horns.
The smoke changed from gray to yellow-brown. It rose through the cracks in the floor and reached over the bed. My chest felt as if someone had me in a bear hug, but I would not go with the smoke. I would climb out the window and come back through the front door and run up the stairs to wake Colton. And together we would save our parents.
Pulling the quilt over my shoulders, I stumbled to the window and tried to lift it, but the window was stuck. I pounded the latch with my hands, but the latch wouldn’t budge.
The sirens got louder, and then they stopped. Red lights flashed across the window. From the street, I heard honking and shouting and the rattle of something as it scraped against the house. Then a dark shape holding a long stick appeared in the window and ducked out of sight, so I wouldn’t know what it was doing. It raised the stick and used it to smash the window and ran it around the edge, the glass flying into the curtains and bouncing across the floor. The shape had a big head that stuck out in the back and a mask like divers wore in the ocean. That’s where its breath came from, the smoke, how it blew it under the door into my room. And because the door was locked, it had climbed up the side of the house. It put a foot on the window and another on the floor and, setting the stick against the wall, stuck out its big black hands and moved toward me.
My ears stung. My heart hurt. My mouth felt as dry as paper. Falling back into the quilt, I cried for help, but nothing came out.
The dark shape wore a raincoat and gloves and had a hump on its back. As it got closer, I saw that it wasn’t a monster but a man, a fireman. He was saying something from inside his mask, but I couldn’t hear. He stomped across the floor and, like the smoke, reached for me. I got scared. I couldn’t leave before I found Colton and Mom and Dad. As I backed against the bed, my hand landed on the cup. I couldn’t stop whatever was still in the hall, Colt would have to do that, but I could stop the man. Raising the cup over my head, I rose to my knees and swung as hard as I could.
But the man was too fast. Wrapping me in the quilt, he threw me over his shoulder and lifted me through the window. I couldn’t breathe and began pounding on his hump. Opening my eyes, I looked down a ladder at firetrucks and flashing lights and people dragging big fans through our front door. The ladder bounced. I felt dizzy. The lights hurt my eyes. The man’s foot slipped.
Just when I thought he would drop me, my cellphone rang.
Burning Man is available through bookstores and online at Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. You can find all of the books in the Candace McCoy series, plus other works of fiction and nonfiction, at my author page on Amazon.
Did CW McCoy’s father kill her mother and brother and nearly take her life? The question has haunted the former detective for nearly thirty years. When friend and mentor Walter Bishop discovers that police have arrested a suspect, CW reluctantly revisits her roots to uncover the hard truth about her family—no matter the cost.
Confronted by hostile sources and a city ravaged by a string of arsons, CW questions everything she’s come to believe about that night. Did her father commit the crime, or was he framed? Did he disappear, or was he murdered? And what about her own history with conflict? Does the family’s violent streak run in her veins, too?
In her fifth outing (after Permanent Vacation), CW rushes headlong into her most troubling case, one that will change her life forever. With Burning Man, she faces the greatest challenge of all—coming to terms with a past that continues to blaze.
The tide is shifting. The debate over global warming has moved from theoretical to practical. As in, what is the cost of climate change to businesses and, eventually, to all of us?
Real estate agents find themselves at the heart of the issue. Anything that affects property values affects their livelihood. So it’s encouraging to see a call to action from one of their own.
Craig Foley, chair of the National Association of Realtors’ Sustainability Advisory Group, says that ignoring the impact of climate change on real estate has serious business implications. “Particularly in coastal areas, members have told me both they and their clients are worried about declining property values and buyer interest.” The piece, entitled “We Don’t Have 50 Years to Wait,” appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Realtor magazine.
In case you think that’s the hype of tree-huggers, Foley backs his observation with well-credentialed statistics. “Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University compared properties that are similar except for their proximity to the sea and found that the more exposed homes sold for 6.6 percent less than the others during the sample period from 2007 to 2016.”
Foley ends his commentary with this thought: “As I see it, we can’t afford to be on the wrong side of history on climate change.”
That captures a core issue of Permanent Vacation, a novel in which the protagonist, real estate agent CW (Candace) McCoy, discovers that encouraging construction in a flood zone is a sure way to sink a career.
You can read Foley’s commentary here. If you buy or sell real estate and have a comment on this or any other issue, you’re welcome leave it here as well.
Sometimes reality catches up with fiction.
Yesterday, a Florida Senate committee advanced legislation that would require the state to plan for rising seas. The action comes after storm surge has repeatedly flooded parts of Miami and threatened its infrastructure.
Lawmakers aren’t alone in considering the financial impact of coastal development. The economics, and ethics, of building in flood zones form the central premise of Permanent Vacation, a novel set in a fictionalized version of Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida, both of which border the Gulf of Mexico. Central to that issue is whether governments should encourage or discourage behavior that puts people and property at risk.
Ron Charles has written an intriguing article for the Washington Post on famous last lines in fiction. Intriguing in that the lines summarize the emotional volume of the work. They leave you with a sense of satisfaction, a reward for reading to the end.
Charles leads with an example from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which the restless Huck foreshadows people as disparate as Jack Kerouac and Cole Porter (you remember 1934’s “Don’t Fence Me In”):
I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.
Haven’t we all. Which is why I’d like to add a few memorable lines to the list.
From Philip Kerr’s novel The Pale Criminal, in which former Berlin police officer Bernie Gunther takes on the ugly and ironic job of solving crime in Nazi Germany. In the final scene, Gunther watches workers rake and burn leaves in the Botanical Gardens, “the acrid gray smoke hanging in the air like the last breath of lost souls.”
But always there were more, and more still, so that the burning middens seemed never to grow any smaller, and as I stood and watched the glowing embers of the first, and breathed the hot gas of deciduous death, it seemed to me that I could taste the very end of things.
Anna Quindlen also writes about endings in Miller’s Valley—of the drowning of a community and its culture, the loss of the narrator’s family farm and her brother Tommy—but comes to a different conclusion:
I never go over that way, to the recreation area. Never have, in all these years, even when the kids wanted to water-ski or swim. I let them go with someone else. I don’t even drive by there. But every couple of years I have a dream. I dive down into green water and I use my arms to push myself far below the surface and when I open my eyes there are barn roofs and old fences and a chimney and a silo and sometimes I sense that Tommy’s there, too, and the corn can, and my father’s workbench, and a little tan vanity case floating slowly by. But I swim in the opposite direction, back toward the light, because I have to come up for air. I still need to breathe.
While it cannot compare with Twain or Quindlen or Kerr, a final line from the first in the CW McCoy series of crime novels, Peak Season, carries its own emotional punch. CW has run to Florida to escape her violent past. Here she shares birthday cake and the mission to protect her grandfather with friend and mentor Walter Bishop:
Taking a deep breath I said, “You know what I’d like?”
“What I came here for . . . peace and quiet.” I pecked him on the cheek. “No more drama. From now on, I’m selling real estate and taking care of Pap.”
He gave me a cracked smile. “We’ll see.”
Isn’t what why we read to the end of anything?
What’s your closer?
Have you ever wondered where writers find their ideas?
They come from a multitude of sources, from friends and family, scandals and events. Even dreams. Those sources shape a book’s characters and plot. But what about the setting, which often becomes a secondary character? Where do those ideas originate?
For me, they spring from the places I’ve lived, from the wooded hills of eastern Pennsylvania to the beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Time spent there has yielded not only a treasure of sights but insight into the culture that produced them.
All of that is on display in Permanent Vacation, the fourth in the CW McCoy series of crime novels. For the next 32 days, I’ll share on social media the places that inspired the novel, each image accompanied by a quote from one of the 32 chapters in the book. The photos illustrate some of the major themes of the novel—over-development, coastal flooding, financial fraud—all challenges faced by business and residents, real and fictional.
It’s a visual journey I hope you won’t miss. You’ll find the photos on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Here’s a preview.
Readers of the CW McCoy series of crime novels are treating the books like a treasure hunt. Many have fun comparing the scenes with places they know in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Some locations correspond, like the infamous Route 41, aka the Tamiami Trail. Others are inventions created to simplify the landscape for people living beyond the borders of Florida.
If you are reading the latest book, Permanent Vacation, you’ve discovered something new to the series: a map that guides visitors around downtown Spanish Point, the fictional mashup of the cities of Sarasota and Bradenton.
For readers who haven’t ordered a copy and are curious about the geography depicted in the first three novels–Peak Season, Tourist in Paradise and Curb Appeal–here’s a full-color version of the map. (The print edition features a black-and-white image.) Click here for a downloadable PDF file.