One-Line Wednesday! CHAPTER ELEVEN

When I first began writing, I wrote with the carefree abandon of a woman who didn’t know what she was doing. Sure, I knew how to string words together, but I didn’t understand how to structure a story. Instead, I was convinced that my first manuscript was a brilliant opus that should have been snapped up by the very first agent to set her eyes on it. So confident was I that I wrote the next book in the series to have on deck in anticipation of the 12-book deal that was surely awaiting me.

Then a funny thing happened. The second book was light years better than the first—and I had to come to grips with the fact that my first shiny opus lacked brilliance. The second was a bit dull, too.

The truth was a blow—but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I’ve never been too enthused about being a beginner—at anything. Truth is, if I could wave my magic wand and instantly master the task, I’d be swishing that stick and spouting Latin. (And for the record, yes, I have a replica of Hermione Granger’s vine wood wand) Sadly, it’s never worked. Maybe it’s my accent.

So I did the next best thing. I asked for help.

I joined Sisters In Crime. I read books on how to improve my writing. I attended writers conferences, paid attention, asked questions. I practiced new skills. I learned. But it was the many men and women who held out their hands and helped me navigate the publishing labyrinth that made the largest impression on me. Writers tend to be very generous with both their time and their knowledge and I soaked it in.

Then I wrote Adrift.

The story garnered awards. I signed with an agent. She sold the story to Random House. I wasn’t a rank amateur anymore. Now I find myself answering other writers’ questions. It is humbling — especially since I’ve got more to master.

Now I’m happy to present Beached, the second Mer Cavallo Mystery.

Mer suffers from beginneritis as well. She is driven, intelligent, and very good at her profession.

But, that’s not always enough…

Chapter 11~

“I need your help,” Mer said.

 

Beached launches on January 10, 2018. It is available for preorder at Amazon and Kobo. Other retailers will be available soon!

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One Line Wednesday! CHAPTER TEN

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Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer that has been dusted with gold, silver, or platinum. The repair accentuates the cracks, draws attention to the imperfections, and celebrates the object’s new beauty—all while acknowledging its broken past.

There is a lesson in this art—one that can be applied to people as well as characters.
We are all an amalgamation of the pieces of our past. How we deal with the broken bits is often indicative of how we perceive our inner value.

An interesting character is neither wholly flawed, nor completely perfect. They too, have histories that others may never see, but their backstory influences their choices, habits, and desires. Characters throw plates in anger, some sabotage relationships, still others break faith.

The truly compelling characters are those who gather the pieces and create something beautiful from the rubble.

 

Chapter 10~
Everything else could be fixed or replaced, but not this.

 

Beached, the second Mer Cavallo Mystery, launches January 10,2018!

One-Line Wednesdays! CHAPTER NINE

Anyone who has known me longer than a nanosecond knows that I have a stubborn streak. Mix in a bucketload of independence, and well, I’m not the poster child for asking for help.

That changed this week.

Last Friday, I had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a damaged meniscus that I’d torn on a run. But first, a bit of history: I’ve only had one other surgery in my life — and that occurred when I was a young child. Bonus! It included an unanticipated trip to the intensive care unit. Suffice it to say, learning I need a surgical repair as an adult left me somewhat south of happy.

Despite the worst-case scenarios I’d conjured in my mind (and trust me, there were plenty), the surgery went without a hitch. My better-half brought me home. The fun began.

Let me direct you back to a couple of key words I employed early in this post; stubborn and independence. I would also like to publicly acknowledge my husband is a saint.

The doc’s pos-op orders were pretty simple. Elevate. Ice. Rest. Personally, I thought there was some wiggle-room built into the words. My husband, however, took them literally. All may have been well, were it not for the myriad things I still had to do…

Hahahahahahahahaha! Stubborn and independent.

Hubris.

Ever try to carry a cup of tea while using crutches? And let’s not even get started on justifying why I wasn’t resting with my leg elevated and an ice-pack on my knee. Seriously. Let’s just agree to disagree on that one.

Mer Cavallo has her own stubborn streak. She is tenacious, focused, and driven. It also makes her rigid, opinionated, and obstinate. On more than one occasion, her stubbornness compounded a problem rather than alleviated it.

I’ve had my comeuppance this week. Asking for help will never be easy for me. My husband knows this, which is why he doesn’t wait for me to request assistance before offering it. I suppose I could surprise him…

Ask for my running shoes.

Chapter 9 ~

Unacceptable.

 

BEACHED, the second Mer Cavallo Mystery launches January 10, 2018!

One-Line Wednesday! CHAPTER EIGHT

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The last few days have been incredibly busy for me. In retrospect, they were exactly the type of days I’d aspired to create as an author, but let me tell you, they were exhausting.

Last Thursday, I drove to the Orlando to participate in the Florida Writers annual conference. The ensuing days began at o’dark thirty with networking breakfasts, followed by a full slate of classes and panels. Boot camp workshops resumed after dinner and concluded around ten o’clock. For those so inclined, informal learning opportunities continued at the bar.

During the conference, I presented two workshops, participated in an author panel discussion, and filmed an educational interview for a writing program. Plus, I attended classes and had several fan-girl moments with best-selling authors David Morrell, Steve Berry, and Carla Norton.

By the time I drove home Sunday, I’d amassed several new signed books, many fond memories, and one nasty cold.

The cold is a complication, which is good in fiction. In life, not so much.

I am a member of the International Thriller Writers, and I had the honor of being invited to be a guest on ITW’s radio show The Inside Thrill. On Monday night, author Jenny Milchman interviewed me and two other authors with law enforcement experience. The show will air on Suspense Magazine’s radio network (I’ll provide the link as soon as I have it!). The participants telephoned in from their respective homes and for the next hour we chatted about how our backgrounds in law enforcement impacted our writing.

Radio is all about voice and coughing on the air is not a good thing. On the plus side, radio is all about voice, and I dressed for the occasion in comfy sweats and my best fuzzy slippers. More importantly, I had enough cold medication on board to tranquilize a small rhinoceros. I think it went well, I can’t be sure, though. It’s all a bit fuzzy.

Chapter 8 ~
Lost in thought, Mer strode nearly to her front door before she realized it stood slightly ajar.

 

Beached, the second Mer Cavallo Mystery, launches January 10, 2018. Preorders will be available soon!

One-Line Wednesday: CHAPTER SEVEN

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It is not enough to flee danger—one must run toward safety.

It seems simple, but it’s not. Panic changes a person’s ability to function in an emergency. In law enforcement, officers train for both day-to-day encounters and worst-case scenarios—and what to do when the one devolves into the other. Officers learn to recognize signs of danger and behavioral clues that foretell a fight. Training starts in the police academy, and it lasts well beyond retirement.

Here are a couple of the things I still do:

  • I will fight for the restaurant seat that keeps my back to the wall so I can watch the door
  • I note where the emergency exits are regardless if I’m in the air, on the ground, or underwater
  •  Unless I’m going above the 35th floor, I take the stairs
  • I don’t carry things in my right hand if I can avoid it. It’s my gun hand even when I’m not armed
  • I look at other people’s hands. Empty hands are a good start, but I also pay attention to waistbands and funny bulges under sports coats
  • When driving, I keep a car length between my car and the vehicle ahead of me. One never knows when it might be necessary to peel out of traffic
  • I don’t draw even with the car next to me. No sense giving anyone a clear shot. Stopping behind is best, but inching ahead of will do in a pinch. If they want to look at me, they’ll have to work for it— and chances are I’ll notice. Then? Well, see above comment…

My law enforcement friends understand my habits. In fact, they’ll try to get to the restaurant first to claim the coveted chair with the view of the door. Some of my other friends tease me—when they notice. But there’s also a group of people I make uneasy. My actions remind them that bad things do happen.

It doesn’t take much effort to improve one’s personal safety. Sadly, it isn’t always enough. If that day comes, remember to run toward safety.

Chapter 7~
His presence gave her comfort even as his heightened vigilance threatened her composure.

Beached launches January 10, 2018!

One-Line Wednesday! Chapter 6

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Halloween is rapidly approaching, but it’s Thanksgiving that takes center stage in Beached — and as you might imagine, Mer’s holiday involves far more than a traditional meal.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I tend to default to a standard menu: roast turkey with herb butter and caramelized-onion gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, a second wildcard vegetable, homemade cranberry sauce, assorted relishes, and rolls. For desert, I make a killer dried cranberry and apple pie, and my grandmother’s pecan pie.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to tackle a meal of this magnitude—and preparation is key. A comprehensive shopping list is the foundation upon which all else is built. But there’s more. Cranberry sauce can be made ahead. Veggies can be peeled or blanched. Tables can be cleared and set. Even wine can be opened early—just be sure to have more for the guests.

Probably the biggest tip I can offer is not to go this meal alone. I did. Once.

Thanksgiving is a symbolic meal. Home and hearth and family themes permeate the holiday. Magazine layouts depict tables laden with crystal and china, a platter with a holiday bird that could only have come from Martha Stewart’s oven, and someone holding a carving knife who looks as if she actually intends to use it on the turkey, and not her family.

I speak from experience when I say that many a cook has gotten herself caught up in the presentation of perfection when we all know life is messy. Yet no matter how intelligent the hostess, this is not a lesson that can be taught.

Sadly, it must be experienced.

Chapter 6~
Mer considered herself a reasonably intelligent woman, but smart wasn’t the word used to describe a person who went to the grocery store the night before Thanksgiving.

Beached launches January 10, 2018!

One-Line Wednesday! Chapter Five

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This post was supposed to be about the petty annoyances of living steps away from the ocean: the salt rime that slowly eats away at a car, the rust forming on garden tools, wood splintering from constant exposure to heat and humidity. Mildew. But along came Irma, and I would be remiss if I pretended that life in the Keys is the same today as it was a few weeks ago.

In the early morning hours of September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma slammed into the Florida Keys as a monster Category Four storm. Her wrath was felt across the island chain, the eye passing over Cudjoe Key and the wind bands battering every bit of the archipelago.

Living in paradise comes at a cost, and sometimes the price is dear.

When morning dawned and Irma had moved onto the peninsula, those who rode out the storm had their first glimpse of the devastation. Houses were sheered open, cars overturned, buildings flooded, landscape uprooted. Boats clogged canals, their moorings snapped and their docks crushed. Still other boats had been plucked from the ocean, cast upon the shore and across roads. Debris brought life to a standstill.

September is a hot month in the Keys. Humidity soars and mosquitos thrive. Life without power is harsh. Food spoils, sleep becomes elusive.

But in the midst of this misery, stories were born—tales of heroism and neighborliness and luck. One Key Largo man found a wedding band glinting in the middle of his street. The ring belonged to his neighbor who had lost it in the mangroves eight years earlier.

Like palm trees, the people who choose to live in the Keys are resilient. They’re also tough, caring, generous, and loyal. It will take more than a storm—even one as massive as Irma—to break them. They have already begun to rebuild. They will survive.

They will flourish.

 

Chapter five~
Nothing remained untouched in the Keys.

 

One-Line Wednesday! CHAPTER FOUR

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I wrote and rewrote this post several times. The first draft was too flippant, the second too stodgy. Unlike Goldilocks, I didn’t get it right on the third time, either. Truth is, writing a post about the media is difficult for me. I, like many police officers, have a love/hate relationship with them. That said, I once dated a news photographer, developed friendships with journalists, and staunchly believe that officers and reporters pursue the same goal—to present the truth.

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s complicated.

Media training for officers starts in the police academy. I forget how many hours the class encompassed, but the message that stuck with me was simple: keep your mouth shut. As patrol officers, our job wasn’t to disseminate information or offer opinions. Frankly, we were happy to pass the buck to the supervisor or the public information officer.

But journalists are deadline driven, and they will badger* officers until someone breaks and says something** just to make them go away.
*My word. I’m sure they considered themselves merely tenacious.
** Usually snide. Officers are masters of sarcasm.

Which leads to the second lesson in media relations: if it feels good to say, it’s probably the wrong thing—and guaranteed to lead the evening news or appear above the fold.

As a police captain, I received additional media training, including graduate-level courses at the FBI National Academy. There, I trained to handle the worst of journalistic behavior while keeping my composure. I learned how to parry interruptions, accusations, and anger with redirection, professionalism, and compassion. In a twist of karmic payback, I became my agency’s spokeswoman.

Despite knowing journalists are remarkably similar to cops, I’ve never moved beyond thinking of the media as wild animals. Sure, they look cute and cuddly, but never turn your back on the pack or they’ll tear you to pieces.

Mer shares my opinion.

Chapter Four~

A satellite media van pulled into the parking lot.

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One-Line Wednesdays: CHAPTER THREE

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Many of the places I write about in Beached are real. Key Largo, individual dive sites, the Overseas Highway, all ground my story with a sense of realism. Other locales are drawn from my imagination so as not to taint a real business with the specter of crime. Sometimes, I blend the two—and one such place is the fictional Aquarius Dive Shop located in the very real Port Largo Marina.

Even without my addition, Port Largo has a storied history. For starters, it was originally built as an airport. Secondly, the land was underwater.

The tale begins in the late 1960s, when a developer purchased a submerged parcel of state-owned land with the intent to turn it into an airport that Monroe County would eventually control. Located on the Atlantic side of Key Largo, the parcel had to be dredged and a breakwater constructed. The paved breakwater served double-duty as a 2,300-foot runway and the airport opened in 1972. Commercial carriers offered commuter flights from Homestead and Miami, but local lore maintains that drug runners maintained a busier flight schedule.

Eventually another savvy developer realized pilots didn’t need a runway with a view and that wealthy people would pay a hefty premium to live on the edge of the Atlantic. After a court battle with the county, the airport closed in 1972.

Surrounded on three sides by water, the converted airstrip is now a separate gated community comprised of a single street. Palatial homes, built to withstand tropical storms and hurricane winds, rise above carports, garages, and surge levels on the Atlantic side of the street. Their docks run parallel to the main Port Largo canal on the other side.

Today, a hodgepodge of homes, resorts, dive shops, restaurants, and tiki-bars dot the seven canals that make up Port Largo proper. The famed African Queen (from the 1951 movie of the same name), enjoys easy access to the Atlantic, although it now transports tourists rather than Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Boat traffic on holiday weekends can be intense with pleasure crafts, commercial charters, kayakers, jet skiers, and paddle boarders all vying for the right of way. One has to navigate a 90-degree bend—affectionately known as crash corner by the local captains—to access the marina.

There’s an adage about writing what you know, and I spent a great deal of time in Port Largo. So does Mer.

Chapter Three~
Mer and Leroy looked over their shoulders the entire way back, only powering down the LunaSea’s engines when they hit the no-wake zone at the entrance of Port Largo.

One-Line Wednesdays: CHAPTER TWO

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Pirates still roam the seas.

In the drug smuggling heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, Miami was considered the drug capital of the world, and much of the drug cartels’ inventory came into the state through the Florida Keys. Coastlines are hard to patrol, and the Florida Keys were particularly inviting due to the number of areas a boat could dock, as well as the Keys’ proximity to the Caribbean and South America.

Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, drug dealing is still profitable and the trade is nowhere near eradicated, although it has subsided some. Every year, boaters find plastic-wrapped bales of marijuana or brick-sized bundles of cocaine, floating in the waves off the Keys. Dubbed square groupers, these floating bales may have washed overboard in bad weather or been intentionally dumped by smugglers trying to avoid apprehension by law enforcement. Some smugglers chalk up the loss as the cost of doing business. Plenty others try to retrieve their missing inventory.

Recovery numbers are difficult to track due to the multiple local, state, and federal agencies that have overlapping jurisdiction in the Keys—and not all bales are brought to the attention of the authorities. According to a Miami News Times article dated March 28, 2017, at least 600 pounds of marijuana and cocaine, worth approximately $5 million dollars, was turned in within the past several years. Imagine how much wasn’t.

Some people consider finding a bale of drugs a windfall and attempt to profit from the illegal booty. Key Largo often goes years between murders, but in 2015, the small island experienced a double-homicide. The source of conflict?

The recovery of a square grouper.

Chapter Two~

They weren’t out of danger. Not yet.