The Compleat Winter: Missing Sarah, Joey Tran, Annie

cover-smallMissing Sarah

This one was born of anger and frustration. My niece, who has always been like a daughter to me and Nita, found herself targeted by bullies at school. Back in our day, you fought back, avoided bullies, or, unfortunately, sometimes became the bully yourself, all moves to protect yourself. Back in our day, we did not have Facebook and Twitter. The phones, even the cordless ones, were connected by a wire into the wall. (I really miss those days.) Today, you can’t just avoid a bully or even fight back. They can get you in cyberspace. They can get your phone number, and while you can not answer your phone, texts still get through.

My niece took a year off from school, taking advantage of a home schooling program the state instituted for kids who, for whatever reason, cannot be on campus. However, catching the bullies proved more difficult. Once again, it’s different now than when I was a kid. If you got caught picking on a kid and making him miserable, our principal was well within his rights to box your ears, and most parents wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. But even now, when we don’t lay hands on students, there are ways to deal with offenders: Suspension, police charges, community service, all of which can humiliate an arrogant little snot for being an arrogant little snot. The school and the local police (usually pretty good for a small suburban force) sat on their hands even when presented with irrefutable proof that one boy and his friends were stalking and harassing my niece. Eventually, my brother-in-law, confronted the parents of the ringleader and his friends, which made life very difficult for what turned out to be a jilted suitor. (Hint, boys: No means no. Get over it.)

But while we tried to sort all this out, I got frustrated. I even saw one of the kids harassing my niece at the local UDF (kind of like a 7-11 here in Cincy, only cleaner.) I wanted to clock him upside the head, only 1.) I’m not a violent person, and 2.) even if I was, he was sixteen, which would most certainly mean a prison sentence. (So would an adult, but the police are going to assume both parties are guilty, giving one a possible out. I don’t recommend it without a very compelling reason.) I am, however, a writer. And writers love revenge fic.

So I amped things up a notch. What if the daughter killed herself without telling her parents why? What if the father found out after the fact who drove her to kill herself? What if, like my brother-in-law, the parents are stymied by the school and police sitting on their hands? What if the boy who caused all the trouble picks the wrong time to walk behind the father’s car?

My niece read this and got a certain ghoulish satisfaction out of it. By the time Aldo Colcagno, a high school principal who has probably had to deal with this from the school’s end, published it, my niece had moved on. She returned to school the following year and is now preparing to become a nurse. She didn’t need Uncle Jim to put the fear of God into those boys. (Her dad did a pretty good job of it without even raising his voice. He’s my favorite brother-in-law.) But she loved the fictional revenge I inflicted for her.

Yes, there’s a reason the site’s address contains the name “eviljwinter.” Mwahahahaha.

Joey Tran

Snakes on a Plane could have been the Rocky Horror of the 2000’s, but we don’t do midnight movies much anymore, except at art house theaters and on cable. Too bad, because, even though Snakes was an obviously bad movie, it did leave me with a story germ from one of its biggest plot holes.

If you try to take down a plane at any point after 9/11, aren’t you going to be branded a terrorist? They never say what happens to Eddie Kim, the gangster in the movie. So I invented Joey Tran, a Vietnamese gangster from Los Angeles who does something similar. I never say what he does to bring down a plane over the Pacific, only that the people he runs to when it fails think he was very stupid to do it.

The city of Monticello, under a different name, has been in this all along. Originally, I was going to have Tran run to Nick Kepler’s unwanted ally Nikolai Karpov for help. However, the Monticello concept was growing, so I changed the name of the Russian and moved the setting. I did not like the way it turned out. Russian gangsters are old hat in crime fiction, and I don’t look forward to having to bring back Nikolai Karpov at some point.

Then I wrote “We Be Cool” as a way to get back into Holland Bay, the still-under revision novel set in Monticello. Like “We Be Cool,” “Joey Tran” makes the relationship between drug lord Ralph Smithers and his money man, Rufus King, central to the story. Then it became easy to define Joey Tran and the anonymous men in suits who take him away for Ralph and Rufus. And suddenly, the story is no longer Snakes on a Plane fanfic. It becomes backstory for Holland Bay and its sequels. And you and I, as reader and author, know a lot more about Ralph and Rufus.

You’re welcome.


This originally was a much longer story, centering on lawyer Anne Ripley (“Standoff”). Anne I envisioned as a cynically idealistic young attorney who abandoned a career as an assistant prosecutor when the office became too toxic in that office. I wanted her to come across as tough but sexy. The original story just would not come together. I threw most of it out, but kept the predatory cop in the nearby Cincinnati suburb of Hillside.

Then I began writing from my unnamed predator’s point-of-view. He has a habit of tossing out tickets in exchange for sex. Sometimes, he just wants sex. And he thinks nothing of using his badge to get it. So when he decides to pull this on Anne Ripley, he learns to late that one of his victims has set him up. Near the end of this story, he mentions Mt. Washington, the town where Ed Morgan from “Righteous Kill” is sergeant. At this point, I had abandoned the idea of an Anne Ripley series and made her and her new nemesis characters in proposed series in that town.

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