February: The Longest Month


(C) Game Freak2600, used under GNU Free Documentation License

For a month that’s only 28 or 29 days long, depending on the year, February has to be the longest month in this hemisphere. If it’s not snowing in my part of the country, temperatures warm to the point where it’d be nice outside if all that snow we’d get didn’t come down as rain.

It’s said that one inch of rain equals ten inches of snow, which would make this February the wettest month in recent memory. This is the month that makes the climate change debate so confusing. If the Earth is getting warmer, why the f*** are we getting buried? Of course, the science behind all that is much more complicated that “If it’s warmer, we shouldn’t have subzero temps in, say, Kentucky.” A warmer Earth means whackier weather, and I’m sure you’ll agree the last twenty years have been pretty whacky.

But it’s not just that. Just as August is usually the hottest month of summer after two months of the northern pole pointed at the sun rather than away from it, the reverse is true of February. By December 21, winter solstice, the North Pole is pointed as far from the sun as it will get. And it stays in the dark until…  Well… February, when we start seeing signs of the spring equinox. So for two months, the northern hemisphere has not been getting as much sunlight, the pole is completely in the dark, and that dreaded polar vortex gets wider and wider until…

February. By then, we’re so sick of the cold and the dark that we torture small rodents by dragging them out of their holes early in the morning, and pretend they can tell us the weather. Said rodents, a groundhog likely named for your locality – Punxutawney Phil, Cleveland Chuck, etc. – would probably like it if we would all leave them alone. Instead, we focus all our rage on these animals that, most of the year, we barely realize exist. Yes, it’s Punxy Phil’s fault that Boston has ten feet of snow or that Cincinnati was actually colder than the North Pole this past week. It has nothing to do with the fact that neither Bostonians nor Cincinnatians do not live in Florida.

As I write this on Sunday morning, I’m looking at weather.com’s 10-day forecast. Granted, anything over three days is subject to radical change, but mysteriously, on March 1, the temperature is predicted to rise to 41 degrees. There’s snow in the forecast, but it looks as though next week, it’ll melt.

I would rejoice over a warm February, but the same year Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans, we had a warm February. Cincinnati was a mudhole from Groundhog Day until St. Patrick’s Day. And by St. Patty’s Day, I really needed a beer.

The last thing I can’t figure out is why Valentine’s Day and Black History Month are in February. It’s cold. It’s dark. More often than not, it’s dangerous outside. Why not move them to August? Sure, it’s hot, but I’m more inclined to go somewhere in 90-degree heat than I am through the snow. I’d be more inclined to go to a black history event when I don’t have to bundle up, and let’s be honest. You can justify being already naked in hot weather. Win-win on Valentine’s Day.

You’re reading this on February 25. The best thing I can say about that is February ends in three days.

Thank God for small miracles.

Gypsy’s Kiss: Elaine

Gypsy's KissElaine Haskell started out as Nick’s inside link to TTG Insurance. As originally portrayed, she was a loud, brassy middle-aged mom who started out as a cheerleader for the Cleveland Cavaliers. On a sitcom, she would be that larger-than-life female neighbor who likes to stir things up. And that’s where I left her in Northcoast Shakedown. Then in Second Hand Goods, I decided to expand the relationship a bit. Nick working out of TTG as an independent operator was Elaine’s idea, as giving him secretarial support. So as Nick tries to sort out who, exactly, he’s working for, we find he’s come to view Elaine as a partner in his business and a voice for his conscience. So it comes as no surprise when both Nick and Elaine believe he will be dead that the married Elaine sleeps with him. This relationship only gets more complicated in Bad Religion as Elaine’s marriage crumbles while they try to find out who is defrauding a large suburban church. Which brings us to Gypsy’s Kiss.

It’s pretty clear that Elaine is scared. Changes are coming, and she is the one who has to make them. Her marriage is all but over. Her continued employment at TTG is bleeding the business dry. And then there’s Nick Kepler. He is there for her, but he’s not sure how much longer he can wait for her to make the hard decisions. Enter Gypsy. Elaine hates Gypsy, not just because she is a sex worker but because she sees what Nick cannot see. Gypsy wants Nick for herself.

In a way, Elaine is why this story has to be where Nick’s saga ends. The sexual and emotional tension between Nick and Elaine is there from the moment she first appears. By the time Bad Religion concludes, that tension is so intense that it requires some sort of resolution. But the tension has become central to Nick’s story. Resolving it or changing it would mean the story is over. And so Elaine’s final role in the tale is to give Nick Kepler some long-missing closure, the change in his life he’s been seeking since long before she even appeared in the series.

Buy Gypsy’s Kiss now at Amazon!

The Novel You Will Never Read – FINISHED!

Dusty old books

Tom Murphy VII, used under GNU Free Documentation License

A few years ago, I was done writing. I suspected it was the end of my career or maybe the dreaded Writer’s Block™!

In any event, once I told myself I quit (and the rest of the world, really), I got the itch again. But what to do?  That early draft of Holland Bay was a complete mess. I had nothing in the pipeline to work on. My network of other writers was starting to disintegrate. So how do I get back to writing?

I’ve talked here before about writing about a rock star, something a friend and I had done in college. The characters were based on people we knew, people we’d made up, and even real people (which is why I would never publish this thing. I don’t want to get sued, and frankly, no harm was intended. Unpublished keeps it that way.) But I had a whole storyline around this guy that my friend and I dubbed “Himself.” So to get my writing muscles moving again, I had him tell me his story from the beginning.

I thought maybe 90-100K tops. Maybe even 150K. It wasn’t something I’d devote all my time to, but I could do it when all the writing I had on my plate was academic or revisions or sketching new material. Well, that’s what I thought in 2011 when this started. Last Friday, I made him write his epilogue after finally getting him to write the final chapter in 2011. How many words?

349,000 words. Or really short Game of Thrones fanfic.

Now some of you are looking at me and going “How’d he do that and go to school and rewrite Holland Bay and write a science fiction novel and…”

500 words here. 1000 there. Early on I had a few 2000+ word days because it was all the writing I was doing. But this project, destined never to be more than fodder for short fiction work, also was where I had a watershed moment. At first, the words came in a trickle. Then a decent flow. And then one idle weekend in December of 2011, I wrote 17,000 words. I just kept writing. No outline other than what was in my head. No plan. Just wrote.

Since then, it’s been a few sessions here and there while I revise or plan other work. I’ll need to find something new to keep original words flowing. Some people suggest that’s what this blog is for, but this exercises different writing muscles. It’s like a newspaper column which is not writing fiction. Well, it’s not supposed to be. Even when it clearly is, it’s another form of writing altogether.

Remission: My Wife Is Beating Me

Couple running

CC 2012 Peter van der Sluijs

My wife has done very well with her attempts to get into running. She is into running. Big time. She is up to three miles, wants to run a 5k this spring or summer, and will run even with bad pain in her thigh. Her fat ass husband?


I’m easing in slowly. I was almost up to two miles, caught a cold, and ratcheted back down to a mile and a half. And I may have to rethink how I’m going back into this. I do better outside, but the treadmill has let me recover from December’s outbreak of SARS or bubonic plague or whatever that was that swept Chateau Nita during the holidays.

I’m proud of her because she didn’t think she could do it. I’m mad at myself because I gave myself a way to extend my deadline to run a half marathon, swapping the Flying Pig in May for the Loveland Half Marathon in October. But training starts in earnest in May, after I finish this year’s segmented trip on the Little Miami Bike Trail. I’m starting in March, but if I want to make the race in October, I need to be able to run five miles by Memorial Day at the very latest.

I’m getting there. I finish school in April, which will make it easier, but it’s frustrating when I have setbacks now. Still, I’m proud of my wife. She looks happier, says she feels better, and she may have to raid the second-hand shops soon. So if I can’t get to where I want to go fast enough, I can at least cheer Nita on.

A Write In

writersatworkThis past weekend, on Valentine’s Day, in fact, my writer’s group tried something new. We had a Write In.

Now most of you are familiar with sit ins, where protesters occupy a building and sit down, making it difficult to function for those who work there. The 1960s also brought us the love in, which had more to do with free love and lots of anonymous sex than with protesting, and the be in, which I don’t think was ever really defined. Or maybe that was the point. I came up during the Reagan Era, so we were well on our way to becoming the mopey, flannel-shirt wearing GenXrs we were destined to be. Here we are now. Entertain us.

Well, there we were in a library in Loveland, Ohio, hopefully to entertain you at some point. The idea was the brainchild of spec fic writer Athena Grayson. She and Jennette Marie Powell had been part of another group that still reserved the space despite disbanding in December. We took over their normal meeting room with some of the refugees from the other group joining us, plugged in our laptops, and started pecking away. All of us have something we’re working on. I started on “Dick’s” latest new short story, a tail of a man who grows replacement organs in his basement. Which the powerful healthcare lobby doesn’t like much. I tells ya, we’re getting screwed by Big Organ. (*Ahem!*) Anywho…

There was about an hour where the room was almost silent, except for the clacking of various keys. I got 500 words in, probably could have done 1000, but this is a new story. I’ll be working on it later today (Sunday) provided work lets me get away from some problem servers.

A write in is a new concept to me. The only write-ins I was familiar with before were the times I wrote in an unknown for president one year, a candidate for local prosecutor with the sitting prosecutor resigned after the filing date, and Jimmy Flynt against unopposed, porno-hating Sheriff Simon Leis.

Our group is informal and growing. In the beginning, I worried there was too much testosterone as it was me, two guys I went to college with, and a buddy from my cosplay days 20 years earlier. Now, lots of estrogen flowing. We will need to recruit some more dudes before too long. But it’s fun, almost no rules, and keeps us all from working in a vacuum.

Gypsy’s Kiss: Gypsy

Gypsy's KissThe central character in Gypsy’s Kiss is one Geri Lincoln, aka Gypsy, a former hooker and stripper and now a high-priced call girl. We first met her in “Roofies,” where she helps Nick Kepler entrap a sexual predator stalking strippers along Cleveland’s seedy Brook Park Road. Frustrated with all the obstacles preventing Nick from taking the man down, she sets a trap and offers herself up as bait to catch him in the act. She as just as tough as, or perhaps even tougher than, Nick himself.

I originally conceived of Gypsy as a supporting character in “Roofies,” when the story was called “Harry Long.” I made her black to hearken back to Nick’s original girlfriend in the series, Margo, letting her tease Nick a little bit without any real meaning. As the story went through several iterations, including some hard edits by Thrilling Detective editor Kevin Burton Smith, Gypsy moved to the center of the story.

Given that Gypsy was already a high-priced call girl when we first meet her, she automatically brings a requisite amount of sexual tension. Nick knows he could have her for a price, though he suspects he could have her simply by dropping by her place.

Over time, I started to suspect Gypsy had more feelings for Nick than a sense of loyalty for protecting her and helping her chart a path out of her life of sexual servitude. When I decided to explore this, I wrote a short story called “Gypsy’s Kiss,” where the idea was clear. The execution came off as a poorly written sex fantasy. In reality, there had to be a reason Gypsy not only felt loyal enough to Nick to want him as her last client but a reason she would risk her own life to help him. So I went in a bit deeper than a 4000 word short story could explore.

As I began to write, it became clear that Nick and Gypsy’s history was much more complex than I’d depicted. When they meet, she’s clearly a crack whore while Nick is a suburban police officer. They get into a physical confrontation wherein she pulls a knife and he disarms her. Where the relationship truly begins is when Nick simply tosses the weapon aside, walks away, and says, “You dropped your knife..” Rather than attacking him, she gets into his cruiser and tells him all about a suspect he’s looking for.

She takes a bullet for him. He puts her in touch with a friend running a sober house and gets her off heroin. She sacrifices her very body to catch a predator, and Nick beats said predator into submission before he can do much harm. Nick appreciates loyalty, but either ignores any feelings he might have developed for her or is oblivious to her attraction to him

So there is enough there already for Nick to risk life and limb to help her make that final move out of the sex trade forever. But Gypsy sees Nick as something more than a man who treated her as something other than a disposable plaything. Taking a bullet for him has made him protective of her. He asks little in return beyond their previous arrangement. It’s not hard for a girl to fall in love with someone who protects her and helps her without demanding anything back.

But in many ways, Gypsy is so much stronger than Nick. She’s been hurt and abused more than he has, and her trust is not easily earned.

Winter’s Quarterly: Overpass

jan2015small“Overpass” begins in what the narrator Alex thinks is the final moments of his life. He is staring over the edge of a bridge with a busy freeway below it. He also realizes it’s cold out, and no one should have to die freezing. He spots his regular hangout, the Funky Perk, and decides he has time for one last cup of coffee.

There, he has a seemingly casual chat with Emily, the owner. She notices he’s depressed and tells him about the worst time in her life, which was the end of her marriage.

This story started out as an academic assignment, much like “We Be Cool” and “The Confessor” began life. Those stories, however, were much easier to conceive of than “Overpass.” For “The Confessor,” I had the option to rewrite a short story we studied from a different character’s point of view. Well, who the hell was Montressor talking to in Poe’s “A Cask of Amantillado”? That spun an entirely different character and a twist of irony. Plus I had a month to pull it off. From the same class, I had the option to write a story about a poem we read. “We Be Cool” gets its title from “We Real Cool” and was one of several stories I’d written about Rufus and Ralph, two characters from Holland Bay. “Overpass”?

I had taken a class in Modern Short Story to polish off my English requirements. Our teacher did not know until the morning she announced it that we had to write a short story for our final. I had a week to come up with something. And then I heard the line every writer who goes to college later in life hates hearing: “Oh, well, you write. This should be easy for you.”

Yeah… See, I generally sketch out shorts ahead of time, maybe outline the longer ones. A story may sit on my hard drive for months before a draft is written. This story needed to be mainstream and apply to our class.

OK, at least it was under 2000 words. I can do that. Right?

Confession time here. Once, when I was 19 and my life had hit rock bottom – no job, no car, no girlfriend – I had contemplated jumping off an overpass near my house. It was about a mile away, and I often took a walk out there to clear my head. By the time I walked back home, I’d realized that, if I was having thoughts like that, I had no place to go but up. Not everyone pulls back from it like that, so let’s agree that I got lucky with beating back depression.

For some reason, that incident returned to mind, so I pictured an overpass closer to where I now live and thought about it. I also thought about a coffee shop I used to go to called the Pleasant Perk (now Coffee Exchange.) I’d gone to that shop through three owners since about 2009, and it was a happy way to start my morning before heading to work downtown or on the westside. So the Perk/Exchange became the model for the Funky Perk. Emily bears a striking resemblance physically to one of the previous owners, but she is based on several women I’ve met who owned places like that. They always seem to be rebellious free spirits, which probably infuses such places with their atmosphere. (The Exchange is now run by a suburban mom and her family, but it’s still a nice place to stop first thing in the morning.)

Alex is at a point lower than I’d ever gotten, and it was fifty-fifty when I started the story as to whether he’d jump or not. In fact, when I read it to the class, one lady interrupted me and told me I was a sick bastard for writing something like that. By the time I finished, everyone had warm fuzzies after Emily reset Alex’s mental state just by sharing her own problems with him.

Gypsy’s Kiss: Nick Kepler

Gypsy's KissSo Gypsy’s Kiss is the last Nick Kepler story ever. Right?

Well, a wise man once said, “Never say never.” (It was Sean Connery, but that was a really bad Bond movie.) Still, this almost was literally the end of Nick.

Right after I finished Bad Religion, when I thought Second Hand Goods might still be published, I sketched out an outline for a new Kepler novel called Suicide Solution, one that saw Nick investigating the wrong doings around an abandoned amusement park. It’s a premise I really want to revisit, but it may end up being something more along the lines of Road Rules if I do it. But the publisher folded. I went off to do other things, and the outline sat on the hard drive ignored and neglected.

Then all the Kepler novels and existing short stories came out via Kindle and CreateSpace. Boom. Done. Could we please get back to trad pubbing where a crime writer belongs? (Note: YMMV.) Well…

I had just redrafted Holland Bay and sent it off to a pal for editing. I finished Dick’s science fiction novel. I wanted to do something else long. So I pulled out the outline to Suicide Solution and…

Nick wasn’t talking to me. He barely talked to me in a short story entitled “Gypsy’s Kiss,” which I’d felt was a bit rushed. And I looked at the outline. It opened with a scene where Nick and his best friend from high school, a girl named Janine, had sneaked into the abandoned amusement park on their prom night. They had a “virgin suicide” pact in that, if neither of them had lost their virginity by the end of their last year at high school, they would do what sexually compatible friends could to solve that problem. These are teenagers. I did not say they were smart. In any event, they are about to do the deed when an arsonist sets the building on fire with them in the basement. They barely escape and avoid getting questioned by a deputy by faking the deed in the backseat of the car. “What? Us? No, officer. Please don’t tell our parents we were too busy deflowering each other to see anything.” Again, I did not say they were smart.

Well, this ended up being another story where Nick mopes about his life, ends up sleeping with his client, and Elaine has trouble deciding if she wants to stay married or be with Nick. I had no interest in writing that.

But “Gypsy’s Kiss”?

I liked the premise, but the execution made it come off as male wish fulfillment. Instead, I wanted it to be a struggle for Nick to actively avoid realizing that this call girl who’d saved his life might have genuine feelings for him. He’s in a weird place following Bad Religion. He’s lost his office. Elaine’s marriage is crumbling, but she seems to only want Nick to be available, not committed. And the business is dying. And here is Gypsy, who is escaping her life of being a plaything for hire. She is free of heroin and ready to start a new life with the money she’s invested. She is also very grateful to Nick.

Nick needs closure. He needs to do something about his agency. He needs to tell Elaine to make up her mind already. And he needs to get out of his rut. For all his problems, it seems like Nick doesn’t even care about his work anymore. He only gets worked up when Gypsy is attacked, and then he does the job for free. Less than free. He rents a friend’s summer cottage out in Lake Erie for a month, pays to go out to that island when access is difficult and expensive. He drives all over Northern Ohio without thinking about mileage or fuel or time. All he cares about is the woman who once took a bullet for him.

But this story defines Nick in a way the short stories and the novels do not. It happens in a scene recounting how he and Gypsy met. Nick was a suburban police officer and sees her come out of an apartment after he fails to find a suspect at home. They have a confrontation where she tries to stab him. Nick decides to try kindness instead of handcuffs after disarming her. He tells her if she wants to talk to him about the suspect, she can stroll over to his car where he’ll be doing paperwork. Dropping her weapon, he tells her, “You dropped your knife.” Gypsy still has that knife, though now it’s in a frame over her mantle.

I almost killed Nick off in this one. Then Jennette Marie Powell convinced me that would be telling the readers “Screw you.” Instead, I leave Nick’s future open-ended. One never knows when the muse – or a publisher – might whisper in my ear to write another one.