Lonnie Cruse’s writing interests run the gamut from murder mysteries to religious subjects. She also blogs and publishes a weekly email newsletter. Along with her husband, she shares an avid interest in vintage cars and will soon release a second volume of her Kitty Bloodworth/’57 Chevy series featuring, along with Kitty, a car named Sadie.
SLP: Let’s dive right in beginning with your roots, Lonnie. First, where you were born?
LC: Las Vegas, Nevada
SLP: And where were you raised?
LC: Las Vegas until I married and moved away.
SLP: Where were you educated?
LC: Las Vegas and Metropolis, Illinois.
SLP: Where is home today?
SLP: Do you write full time, and if not, what is your principal occupation?
LC: I’m retired but I don’t write full time, meaning not every day. I write a weekly newsletter for women titled Encouraged Together which goes out in email each Tuesday and I blog with other mystery writers every Friday on Poe’s Deadly Daughters. I have a mystery book, Fifty-Seven Traveling due out in July and a non-fiction, Does This Armor Make Me Look Fat? Due out in April. I’m currently doing research for another non-fiction but haven’t begun writing yet.
SLP: What literary genres other than mystery appeal to you?
LC: Oooh, hard question. I read main-stream literary fiction that has no genre, like Prayers For Sale and Buster Midnight’s Cafe by Sandra Dallas, I love all of her books. Jennifer Chiaverini’s books are favorites. Her characters are all quilters. Shirley Jackson’s books are wonderful, a bit scary and always have a twist at the end. My fave of hers is We Have Always Lived In The Castle. So as you can see, my tastes are all over the market. I like a bit of science fiction, maybe a bit of romance, but not much.
I also read a lot of non-fiction also to prepare for writing non-fiction or for self-improvement.
SLP: What writers have most influenced your work?
LC: Shirley Jackson, Bill Crider, Donna Andrews. Crider and Andrews are both mystery writers and I love their work. Murder with humor. Snicker.
SLP: Have you considered working in other genres such as screenwriting, travel writing, etc.?
LC: I do write in non-fiction encouragement for women. My passion is to encourage other women in their daily lives. Screenwriting looks way too hard for me. Travel? No, haven’t traveled enough. I took a shot at writing a romance. Never got past the first chapter.
SLP: Your books have received excellent reviews. Is your career progressing as you expected?
LC: Actually well beyond what I expected. Fifty-Seven Heaven, the first in the Kitty Bloodworth/’57 Chevy series sold enough copies to take my breath away and make my bank account happy.
SLP: What is the most difficult barrier you’ve encountered in establishing yourself as a writer?
LC: Overcoming the difficulties with my first series, the Metropolis Mystery Series. After several abortive tries I found a publisher. He published the first two, then went belly up. Sigh. I decided to self-publish the third (Married In Metropolis) which had been edited and was ready to go to press when the unthinkable happened and the publisher closed. I got it into print, then went back and brought out book one (Murder In Metropolis) and two (Murder Beyond Metropolis) into print. The next year I published the fourth (Malice In Metropolis) and possibly last in that series. Getting respect from other authors who have contracts with “known” publishers is really tough. Readers don’t much care who publishes an author IF the content of the book is good, and I really strive for that. But overcoming the stigma of self-publishing with some other authors and publishers and reviewers was really tough. However, I found a “known” publisher for my second series, the Kitty Bloodworth/’57 Chevy series and then concentrated on it.
SLP: Assuming mystery writing will remain your primary focus, why did you choose it?
LC: I love reading mysteries so I wanted to see if I could write one.
SLP: Do you mainly write at home?
LC: Yes, in different areas of the house. We have an office/den room which I use the most, but I have a laptop, so I often write on the sun porch in warmer weather or the living room at other times. I do sometimes write articles or chapters on my handy little Alphasmart unit.
SLP: Do you sometimes write in public places such as coffee shops, cafes, etc.?
LC: Can’t. Too distracting. I have the attention span of a gnat on a good day, so I have to have quiet when I write. Even with that, I still have to get up from my desk occasionally to drop wet clothes into the dryer or check out the snack drawer.
SLP: Is there a particular time of day when you write best?
LC: Mornings are best. By afternoon my attention span has spanned out. I DO occasionally write in the afternoon if I’m in the middle of a chapter and I’m on a roll. Then I stay in the chair until my lower body goes numb. Otherwise I forget where I was going with that chapter.
SLP: Are you able to set aside specific times to write? If so, when?
LC: Usually early morning. We are both retired, no kids in the house, so it’s quiet then.
SLP: Do you have sufficient time to write?
LC: Yes, time is no problem. Self-discipline is the problem. Staying out of the snack drawer.
SLP: How many hours per day do you typically spend writing?
LC: Mmmm, depends, maybe three typically, but if I’m on a deadline of any kind, I might write all day and far into the night. Same for edits, I’ll do them in one fell swoop to get it over with.
SLP: Do you feel driven to write, or is it more of a pastime?
LC: I’m driven to write the non-fiction self-helps for women and my newsletter. I write mystery for fun. And because mystery is my all-time favorite to read and I wanted to see if I could do it.
SLP: When did you decide to become a writer?
LC: When I read two separate mysteries by well-known, best selling authors and each book had two huge plot holes or errors. I figured if they could do that bad and still sell books, maybe I had a chance.
SLP: Do you have any other creative outlets or interests such as music, dance, or graphic arts?
LC: I love listening to music. I do play a mean kazoo. I like to draw and keep a sketch book handy, but haven’t had time lately. I’d like to get back into doing water colors. Love that. Guess I’m more of an artist than anything. I do like needlework. If I could just SEE those itty bitty squares I’m supposed to stitch over.
SLP: Had you failed as a writer, what do you suppose you’d be doing today?
LC: I’d still be writing, even if just for friends and family. I wrote that way a long time before I tackled my first mystery. I wrote a family history for my sons. I did once write a play for my cub scout troop about socks in the land of missing socks. One boy was even dressed in a huge cardboard box decorated like a washing machine. Unfortunately (?) that gem is now lost to posterity, but I do have copies of some of my earlier writings. Back in the mid-nineties I took a free adult ed course to learn how to use a computer. It was love at first sight between me and the computer, and the school had a graphic arts class where I learned how books are created from first idea all the way to binding. As a class project I wrote a booklet on marriage for young wives titled THE CARE AND FEEDING OF HUSBANDS. The cover shows a hubby inside a dog house. I also wrote CRAZY QUILT OF MEMORIES a booklet of short stories about our family. That really sparked my desire to write a novel, though it was a decade later or more before that actually happened.
SLP: What do you find to be the leading pros and cons of the writing life?
LC: Cons: Time spent at the computer must be alone and in quiet so that is time away from family and friends and it takes a LOT of time to write a novel. And my gut tends to knot up on page one and doesn’t unknot until I type those magic words “The End.” I worry the whole time about how I will connect chapter one to the last chapter. ALL those blank pages in between. Whew.
Pros: Seeing my words in print, holding the published book in my hands, having strangers contact me to say they loved the book and ask when the next one is due out. Receiving a royalty check when I wasn’t expecting it and nearly falling out of the chair over the amount. NOT a fortune, mind you, but who thought I’d sell thousands of copies of my books??? Not me.
SLP: Outside of family concerns is writing the central thrust in your life, or do you have other overriding interests?
LC: I’d have to say besides family, time with friends, studying, growing, learning with others, enjoying life, that’s more important. I love writing, but I love life more.
SLP: Assuming you write on a computer, do you prefer a laptop or desktop?
LC: Hmmm, toss up. The laptop is far more portable so I can be on the porch, looking at the view (trees, birds, flowers, etc.) The desktop, however, stays in sleep mode and is far quicker to get up and going. More comfortable than a laptop on my lap. Like I said, toss up. But I ADORE computers. I’m left handed and hand writing has always been difficult for me. Being able to type long pages and then move entire paragraphs, nay, entire chapters, is absolutely wonderful. Don’t think I’d have written a single novel without a computer. I’m thankful to that adult ed in Metropolis. Did I mention it was free?
SLP: What writing software do you use?
LC: Word. Some days we get along, some days we don’t.
SLP: How do you handle a sudden idea or insight?
LC: When an idea hits, I have to jot a very quick note or it’s gone. I keep notebooks handy but there is the problem of the shower, where, of course, the best ideas ALWAYS occur. Grrr.
SLP: Do your notes play an important role in your writing?
LC: Extremely important. I learned a great lesson from author Holly Lisle years ago (on her .com website.) Jot notes about each of my characters on 3X5 cards, just jot quickly, don’t think, about things they might do, not do, say, not say, etc. Then put those notes in order. It is absolutely amazing how they work themselves into a story, because the writer isn’t trying to make a story, just free-writing or thinking, if you will. I pin these notes onto a cork board, in order, and they help me fill in that agonizing, terrifying middle section of a book.
SLP: Do you have a daily goal as to how much you write?
LC: Yes, at least a chapter. BUT I put the heading of the next chapter on the next page and a few words before quitting for the day so I have a place to start. Otherwise I just stare at the computer in panic, between trips to the dryer and the snack drawer.
SLP: Do you have a specific method for getting started with the next day’s writing?
LC: Yes, the one above, starting the next chapter before quitting so I’m primed like a pump and ready to go.
SLP: Are you ever troubled by writer’s block and, if so, how do you deal with it?
LC: Ooohhh yeah, I’ve had it. And I’ve discovered that it is generally caused because I know my research in a particular area is weak and needs to be beefed up. (choice of weapon, character’s alibi, stuff like that.) Or I’m trying to make a character do something she/he wouldn’t or shouldn’t do. Or I’m forcing the story in the wrong way. Take a bit of time off. Do the research. “Chat” with the character. Then I’m back on track. In book three of the Metropolis series I had to “fire” a character because she/he refused to commit the murder. Too squeamish. So I changed murderers in mid-book. The rest of the book worked.
SLP: Do you tend to plod along with your writing, attempting a set amount each day, or do you work in creative rushes?
LC: Mmmm, sort of both. Some days I plod, other days it’s a joy and I can hardly type fast enough to get it in the computer. When that happens I have to jot notes now and then as well, to keep from forgetting.
SLP: Do you tend to shut yourself off from the world when your creative juices are flowing?
LC: Yep, I have a “no trespassing” sign on my desk. Hubby still violates it from time to time. I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming away from a chapter in order to sit in the car and press on the brake pedal while he bleeds the air off. Or flip the blinker switch while he checks the tail lights. Sigh. Some days we authors don’t get no respect.
SLP: Do you usually work from an outline?
LC: Tried it once but the work went waaay south from the outline. The 3×5 idea cards seem to work much better. I can move them around as needed.
SLP: In first drafts, do you write in chapter sequence, or do you like to bounce around?
LC: I start out in sequence and I stress over the first three chapters, editing and re-editing until they are near perfect. Then I get over myself and just start writing. Sometimes the last chapter, which likely has the most action/danger for the characters, demands to be written even though I’m somewhere in the middle of the book, and I can’t seem to get anything else out, so I go ahead and write it, then go back and work from where I left off. My brain is like a funnel, lots of ideas on top in the large area, very little trickling down at the small opening at the bottom. When I get the stuff at the bottom out of my head and onto paper, more stuff drops down. It’s a slooooow, painful process, some times.
SLP: Do you generally focus on a single project until finished?
LC: Usually, yes. I don’t have enough attention span for two projects at once. Did I mention gnats?
SLP: How intense is the writing process for you? Do you ever dream of your characters or story lines?
LC: I can pretty much leave it in the “office” or in the computer at the end of the day, but if an idea hits later on, I jot it down. Dream about it? No. My dreams are far too, um, different to write about. Kitchens that increase in size or fixtures that multiply as I walk through (think multiple stoves and fridges.) A long line of bedroom dressers lined up outside in a cemetery. Normal things like that.
SLP: Do you visualize your scenes, or are they primarily driven by language?
LC: I always visualize the first chapter. I can see the character and what she/he’s doing and I start writing that scene. I tend to be either right behind the character as the action happens or even inside the character’s head, seeing what she/he sees. Gets scary sometimes.
SLP: Do you remain aloof from the trials and tribulations of your characters, or are your moods affected by the storyline?
LC: I’ve made myself cry while writing a scene. So, yes, it affects me. They are real to me.
SLP: How much do you read?
LC: I read every single day. Non-fiction research or self-help in the morning. Fiction at bed time, which, strangely, helps me sleep. I read light cozy mysteries. The gory or the through-the-eyes-of-the-killer kind of books force me to sleep with the lights on and Hubby can’t handle that.
SLP: Can you recall the first “serious” book you read?
LC: As a child my step-mom (who was a teacher) let me read from her library. I remember Not As A Stranger and Forever Amber. As a teen and adult I read tons of science fiction and lots of Georgette Heyer. I still read Heyer, just not modern-day romance. Nothing wrong with it, just that Hubby is romantic enough for me. Then I discovered Agatha Christie, and my path toward mysteries was set forever. I still re-read her.
SLP: Who are a few of your favorite authors?
LC: Donna Andrews, Bill Crider, Georgette Heyer, Sandra Dallas, tons more. The list is endless.
SLP: What are you currently reading?
LC: They Found Him Dead by Heyer and an Agatha Christie, Poirot’s Christmas.
SLP: Do you prefer fiction to nonfiction?
LC: No, I love both. I learn from both. I write both. I adore both.
SLP: In the case of fiction, do you mainly read mystery novels?
LC: Yes, but I’m in a book club and they read mainstream literary, so I read what they read so they will let me come to the meetings and eat the snacks. Our taste in literature is poles apart but we agree on food. But they get me to read stuff I wouldn’t usually read. And I often do enjoy it.
SLP: Do you usually finish reading a book once started, even if you don’t like it?
LC: Noooo. I grew out of that when I hit senior citizen status. Too many good books, too little time. I confess, if I hate a book or it bores me, I skip through, then read the last chapter so I know who-done-it if it’s a mystery or what happened to the characters if it’s main-stream. Can’t stand not knowing. Don’t want to waste the time reading a couple hundred pages of something that’s not for me.
SLP: Which would you prefer to read, an ebook or a paper book?
LC: Love both. I own a Kindle and an iTouch, both Christmas gifts. VERY handy to carry multiple books that way. But I still love holding paper books, particularly hardbacks. Sigh.
SLP: Do you mostly read current books?
LC: Main-stream, only when the book club forces me to. Current mystery, oh yeah!
SLP: Tell us a bit about Murder in Metropolis, the book we’ll be discussing today. Can you summarize the plot?
LC: Sheriff Joe Dalton has to figure out not only who murdered one of his best friends, but why the body was dumped at the famous Superman statue, right in plain sight, when the Ohio River is only a handy few blocks south. But will solving the crime bring him any closure or satisfaction? Will he have to arrest someone he knows?
SLP: When thinking of a series involving a small town sheriff and his colorful assistants, Robert B Parker’s Jess Stone series comes immediately to mind. Do the similarities pretty much end there?
LC: Stone is more sophisticated than Dalton but Dalton is just as sharp at solving crime. I love the Stone stories but didn’t hear about them until my book was in print. I was more inspired by Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes. His sheriff has “colorful assistants” too. I bent over backwards to make the similarities end there, but it was tough. It required loads of research on local law enforcement.
SLP: How did you come to choose Metropolis, Illinois for the novel’s locale? Are you personally associated with the town?
LC: We moved to Metropolis, IL in 2007 when our grandson was two. He would beg to be taken to see the fifteen foot tall statue of Superman located at the courthouse. I would sit there and watch him play on Superman’s feet and think how very home, Mom, and apple pie it was and what a lovely place it would be to dump a dead body. The story went from there. This is a small town of 7,000 residents but the statue and the gambling boat each draw tons of tourists every year, making it quite interesting to live here.
SLP: Aside from the Superman statue, Metropolis’s other claim to fame is the nearby grave of the Birdman of Alcatraz. Did you consider some connection there as well?
LC: I wasn’t really aware of it until I saw a postcard picture of the Birdman’s grave. I’d seen the movie but didn’t connect it. Our other claim to fame is the Superman Celebration every June (second Saturday) People come from all over, most wearing superhero costumes. It’s fascinating to be downtown to observe. I usually sell quite a few books as well. There are lots of vendors, food, and carnival rides for the kids.
SLP: Which of the characters was the most difficult to create?
LC: The victim. I really had trouble with that.
SLP: Which was the most troublesome to manage?
LC: The victim. Not giving too much away.
SLP: Were the characters fairly fixed before you began, or did they continue to evolve?
LC: Good question. Dalton was fairly fixed. The others sort of came. Changed here and there. It was my first book and I was blissfully ignorant about writing. During and after that book I took classes and joined writers groups and learned how dumb I really was. One thing I learned was to do a character sheet BEFORE starting a book. Much of the stuff on the sheet doesn’t make it into the book but it helps me know the character. Things like physical description, job, likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies, stuff like that. Helps to flesh out the character for me and shows up a little in the book but not much. Just enough to give the reader a good picture.
SLP: Did you work from an outline for this particular book?
LC: No, too constricting, but 3×5 cards can be shuffled or replaced and tossed and work better. I’ve only had to toss a couple of the cards throughout the books. Most work right into the story even if I don’t know how. I wrote “purse snatching” for the first Kitty Bloodworth mystery with no idea why. It worked just fine.
SLP: How long did the book take?
LC: Murder In Metropolis took a year before it was ready to be submitted anywhere. All total it was five years from typing the first page to holding the first printed copy from the publisher in my eager little hands. Most of my fiction takes a year to write. The non-fictions take about three months.
SLP: How many drafts were involved?
LC: Oh, mercy, I lost count.
SLP: Once begun, did the story progress as you anticipated?
LC: Yes and no. The victim’s occupation had to change, it just wasn’t working for me. But mostly I knew the “why” of the murder to begin with. It came out that way.
SLP: Did the book end as you originally envisioned?
LC: Yes, it did.
SLP: Did you consider other endings?
LC: Not for that one. I’ve fiddled with endings in other books. Changed killers. Changed victims. Stuff like that.
SLP: Was Murder in Metropolis written with a series in mind?
LC: Yes, it was. I was hoping for a publisher to carry it through. Same with my second series.
SLP: Were you blocked at any point?
LC: Only if I had concerns about what characters were doing. Then I’d go research something. I interviewed our real sheriff, who is a terrific guy, the coroner (cute but don’t eat lunch before interviewing him) a couple of deputies I know, toured the detention center, stuff like that. A block comes when the writer doesn’t know what she/he’s doing and doesn’t follow through, at least for me. If you stop and think, usually you will figure out what is wrong. For me, something is usually nagging at the back of my mind that won’t allow me to write further until I fix it. Once I figure out what IT is, and fix it, I’m good to go.
SLP: How have the residents of Metropolis responded to their town being the location?
LC: They love it. I *have* had at least two, maybe three readers make a special trip to the statue to see if placing the body how I placed it is possible. It is. I researched it first. I’ve sold really well here to residents and to tourists. I was also contacted by a member of local law enforcement who liked how I didn’t make them look like Keystone Cops. I have too much respect for them to do that. They have a tough job. Anyhow, he became my go-to guy whenever I had research questions. He’s the one who told me how they (local authorities) often get dead bodies to surface in the Ohio River. (Book three if anyone is interested.)
SLP: Do any of the characters have real-life counterparts? Are any modeled on people you know?
LC: All are modeled on people I know BUT are a mix-and-match or human stew, if you will. I like combining characteristics and letting people figure it out. Also, most of the characters are named after real people like Joe Dalton, named for my son, Joe, and a neighbor, Dalton. I made up a few names. The only problems I’ve had happened with a couple of made-up names that turned out to be names of real Metropolis residents. Oops.
SLP: Does the Jack Hatfield character bear any resemblance to an actual person?
LC: No, I did make him up completely. Had to. But the problems surrounding Jack are real in this world and that’s why I wrote that book, to deal with it, talk about it.
SLP: How many volumes do you anticipate for the entire Joe Dalton series?
LC: I did four which are out in print and in e-book format, and there is a fifth on my computer. I need to turn it into the last e-book. I don’t think there will be any more in that series. But I really enjoyed writing it.
SLP: Do any of your relatives or associates believe they’re in the books?
LC: Who didn’t? Hehe.
SLP: Did you ever feel that the characters were taking over and driving the story in unforeseen directions?
LC: YES! In book two a character walked into a scene and tried to take over. Wouldn’t behave. Wouldn’t listen. That character became a murderer. They need to learn not to mess with me. Also wrote a scene in Murder In Metropolis and didn’t remember writing part of it. Where one character hands another character a glass of water. When I went back and read it, I wondered where it came from.
SLP: Were there any major surprises? If so, what were they?
LC: That I could actually finish a book. That someone would print it. That it finished in the top three in four out of seven contests I entered it in. That people actually bought it. That they enjoyed reading it. That I made money from this. And I’m always surprised when I complete the next book. When I begin, it’s ALWAYS “Can I do this again?” And I’m surprised when I do it again.
SLP: What other writing have you done?
LC: There are four books in the Metropolis Mystery series, Murder In Metropolis, Murder Beyond Metropolis, Married In Metropolis, and Malice In Metropolis, which is my personal fave because I got to blow up things, fictionally speaking, of course. The Kitty Bloodworth/’57 Chevy series has one in print, Fifty-Seven Heaven, and Fifty-Seven Traveling comes out July 2010. I also have one non-fiction, Re-Charging Your Prayer Life in print and Does This Armor Make Me Look Fat? is due out in April 2010.
SLP: Do you have a website where readers can see other examples of your work?
LC: My website is: http://www.lonniecruse.com The only examples there are from my booklets, but the e-book samples from all the Metropolis books are available on Amazon.com. Autographed copies can be ordered through my website. I blog at http://www.poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com every Friday.
SLP: What’s your next writing project?
LC: Another non-fiction for women.
SLP: Is it underway?
LC: VERY early stages, I’m researching frantically, making notes, but it hasn’t jelled enough to start a chapter. Yet.
SLP: Will we see a reprise of the cast of Murder in Metropolis?
LC: I doubt it. I have to pay all the costs myself to produce those books and it costs quite a lot. As I said, I might publish the one on my computer as an e-book for Kindle. Otherwise, no. I’m sad, but I just can’t afford it.
SLP: When do you anticipate finishing it?
LC: When I get going on the new non-fiction, I hope it will be published in 2011. I have a publisher for my non-fictions and another for the Kitty Bloodworth/’57 Chevy series. I have another Kitty book in the computer as well, but I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. Maybe. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
SLP: Can you give us a brief synopsis?
LC: Don’t have it myself yet.
SLP: Now for a few industry-oriented questions. What do you believe will be the impact of ebooks on the publishing industry?
LC: HUGE! Folks are buying e-readers in droves. Publishing on paper costs a lot and wastes a lot. I WISH publishers would go to POD (print on demand) so there wouldn’t be remaindered books sold at bargain prices, or worse, tossed into the trash. That is soooo very wasteful. So not green for the planet. I don’t want print books to go away. I love them. I just want the waste to go away by printing only books that are ordered and paid for by customers/readers. To date POD has a horrible reputation among publishers and authors, but it’s only a way of printing, has nothing to do with the quality of the writing of the author. I want to see more POD books (mine are) and more e-books and less waste.
SLP: What do you think of the current publishers’ pricing structure for ebooks?
LC: IF the e-book is as expensive or near as the hardback or the paperback, I won’t buy it. I’ve uploaded my own books to Amazon. I know the inside out of it. E-books do not cost as much as other methods, so they should be cheaper.
SLP: Do you support the “Agency” model currently being pressed by the publishers?
LC: If you mean holding release of an e-book until the hardback has been out a while, yes, I’m fine with that. We used to have to wait for paperback if we didn’t want to pay hardback prices. If you mean charging more for the e-book than the paperback? I won’t buy one. I’ll get it from the library first.
SLP: Do you own an ereader?
LC: Yep, a Kindle and an iTouch. Asked Santa for them. Santa and his elves came through both years.
SLP: What do you believe will be the impact of Apple’s new iPad vis-à-vis the Kindle, Sony and Nook ereaders?
LC: Well, I love my iTouch but it’s small, so I’m eager to see what the iPad looks like. Then I’ll maybe be writing to Santa again. Maybe. Sony? I have a friend who owns one and loves it. I’ve had no experience with Sony but I have the impression Kindle does more. Nook? From what I’ve heard, it isn’t all that good, so I’ll withhold judgment and my money until I see one or hear that it’s improved. Kindles can be cranky now and then but they hold more books and have great battery life. I’m happy . . . for now. But I think we’ll see lots more in this area in this decade. We are in the new decade, aren’t we? So we’ll see. I’ll likely be a bit slower buying new technology given that right after I got my Kindle, a new one came out. So I’ll be in “wait and see” mode for now and use what I already have. Unless Santa’s ship comes in. In which case . . . .
SLP: That does it for the Q & A segment. Now for a sample from Murder in Metropolis:
Sheriff Joe Dalton plunked his boots on top of his desk, leaned back in the protesting chair, snapped open his newspaper, and hooked a finger through his donut-shaped coffee cup. Before he could down a swig, the intercom buzzed, forcing him to wade under a stack of files and punch a button.
“We’ve got a situation outside on Market Street, Sheriff. Guess you’ll have to handle it,” the elderly dispatcher informed him. “Morning shift hasn’t arrived yet, and the night deputies are still at that big accident scene over on Highway 145.”
“Would the situation outside be Big Ed Simmons?”
“Yes, sir; drunk as they come and singing fair to wake the dead.”
“Where is he this time? The courthouse steps?”
“Nope. The steps at Lipinski’s Appliances again. Miz Lipinski says if we don’t shut him up, she will, with that old pistol her husband kept in the store. Though what an eighty-year-old woman with crippling arthritis is doing with-”
“I’ll get right on it, George. We don’t need Mrs. Lipinski shooting up Market Street at day break.”
Dalton dropped the newspaper on his desk, hiked his pants toward his spare tire, and reached for his cup. No sense in letting the coffee get cold. Big Ed would come along peacefully. He always did. Like as not, he was purposely upsetting Mrs. Lipinski so she’d report him again, netting him a bed in a warm cell or a free ride home.
Dalton elbowed his way through the heavy glass door of the Massac County Detention Center into the early morning darkness, keeping his coffee cup steady with his left hand and pulling his jacket collar up with his right. Wouldn’t be long before winter weather took over.
He cringed as the massive door banged shut behind him, the sound echoing loudly across the empty, windswept street. Time to turn in another request to Kevin. Dalton toyed briefly with the idea of handcuffing the unresponsive maintenance man to the front door in the futile hope that it might somehow speed up the repairs.
A gust of chill wind raked the few remaining leaves off the nearby trees, swooshing them up in the air in a macabre, ghost-like dance. Dalton’s gaze followed the flight of the leaves to the nearby rooftops. He wondered if the thick clouds he saw above would drop a much-needed rain on the area before they passed by. The streetlights, Victorian era replicas, cast a soft glow in the early morning darkness.
Dalton’s gaze dropped to his right, toward the courthouse, which still slept in the semi-darkness. The old building, situated catty-corner to his office, looked like a sister to the many other small town courthouses scattered across the Midwest. Built in the early forties, it was surrounded by aged, red brick; fussy concrete trim; and concrete steps that marched up to each entrance. Large trees, now robbed of their glory by the stealthy autumn wind, stood sentry nearby.
Dalton could hear the off-key solo long before he crossed Market Street and reached the steps where Big Ed Simmons, once the town’s most successful lawyer but now its most successful drunk, huddled in the stairwell.
Mrs. Lipinski had lived in the apartment over the appliance store for as long as Dalton could remember. Whenever Big Ed couldn’t find his way home, he would seek shelter in her stairwell; he was not a welcome guest.
“Come on, Big Ed, I’ll take you to my office for some coffee. It’s too cold for you to be out here. The night shift will be over soon. One of my deputies can take you home.” Dalton swallowed a sip of his own coffee.
“What’s he doing up there, Sheriff?” Big Ed bellowed in a voice that made him sound much larger than he actually was. “Showing off, or is he drunker than me? You probably should arrest him too.”
“Nobody gets drunker than you, Big Ed. What do I think who is doing?”
Big Ed smiled crookedly at the left-handed compliment. His tailor-made suit was wrinkled and dirty, and Dalton wondered if he’d lost his ties along with everything else when his fed-up wife had taken him to the cleaners.
“Him.” Big Ed gestured loosely toward the enormous Superman statue that nearly dwarfed the east end of the old courthouse. The town fathers had placed it there after the Illinois state legislature had officially tagged Metropolis as Superman’s home.
“Jack Hatfield, the guy that likes to pretend he’s Superman. What’s he doing on the statue?” The smell of sour beer wafted its way up to Dalton’s nose.
Dalton turned to look in the direction Big Ed pointed and saw that Jack Hatfield-dressed in his Superman costume-dangled over the statue’s huge right wrist, half his body on one side, half on the other. At least the figure looked like Jack. From where he stood, Dalton couldn’t see exactly who was draped there since the red cape hung in the way.
An alarm bell went off in Dalton’s head, and the chill that ran up his back had nothing to do with the frost-tinged breeze.
“Don’t know, but I aim to find out.”
As far as Dalton knew, Jack Hatfield had never been drunk a day in his life. If it was his old friend, something must be terribly wrong for him to be hanging there like that. And how on earth had he gotten up there? The statue was as slick as a greased telephone pole, and the arm was at least ten feet off the ground. No way anyone could climb it without help.
A few steps across the street, Dalton saw blood dripping off the body, down the large blue leg of the statue, and onto the concrete foundation below. The blood had oozed into the words “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” turning the lettering a dull red-brown.
Dalton broke into a run. He heard the sound of his favorite cup smashing on the pavement. His mind focused on the hot liquid burning its way through his pant leg because he didn’t want to accept what his eyes were seeing.
Heart pounding, Dalton raced up the ramp to the statue and came to a skidding halt. He stood frozen to the spot for a full minute.
Jack Hatfield’s head, its dark hair matted with blood, had been neatly severed from his body and placed on the large concrete letter S beneath Superman, staring sightlessly at the statue of the character he’d imitated for so many years.
As Dalton reached for his radio to call for backup, he felt like a weight the size of a loaded river barge had just dropped onto his chest.
“George, are any of the deputies in the office yet?”
“Yes, sir; morning shift just came in.”
“Send them outside to the statue. There’s a problem out here, and I want this area secured now.”
“Yes, sir.” The dispatcher’s high-pitched voice went up an octave. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“Fill you in later.”
Dalton was in no mood to chat. Besides, Means knew better than to ask for details. At least half the county would be listening in on the law enforcement band over morning coffee, eager for any interesting tidbits about what had happened during the night. Well, they wouldn’t get them from him just yet, at least not by eavesdropping in on his radio.
His cell phone was still recharging somewhere on his desk, so Dalton walked a few feet away from the statue to the pay phone, dropped in some coins, woke up the coroner, and told him to alert the crime lab technicians in Carbondale. Using the pay phone instead of his radio should keep curious civilians from swarming the courthouse square before the crime lab technicians arrived.
Despite the heavy cloud cover, it was getting lighter. Courthouse employees would be coming to work soon, as would the shop owners and store clerks on Market Street. Dalton knew he and his deputies would have to work fast to get the entire courthouse square taped off and the investigation started before curious onlookers surrounded them. Metropolis, Illinois had never seen anything like this.
Someone was bound to alert the local media, and they would be on the scene minutes later, possibly before the crime lab technicians who had much farther to drive. A story like this would probably bring out the national media as well.
Dalton walked slowly back to the base of the statue to wait for his deputies. He forced himself to clamp a lid on the sick anger threatening to boil over and pondered how he could possibly have missed spotting the dead body draped there. True, he usually ignored the impressive replica of Superman, as did most of the locals-it was only the tourists who stopped to gawk and cause traffic jams-but this was something he shouldn’t have missed.
Dalton looked up at the fifteen-foot tall bronze figure of the comic book hero: red-booted legs spread wide, hands on hips, red cape seeming to billow in the breeze, and dark eyes keeping watch on Market Street. He wondered what those eyes had seen last night.
Sheriff Joe Dalton had just gotten the most important case of his entire career. The thought gave him no satisfaction.
SLP: Thanks again to Lonnie Cruse for her thoughtful, candid responses. And for our readers, a final reminder that Murder in Metropolis is available at Amazon’s Kindle Store.