Count Basie and Sisyphus walk into a bar…

Sometimes art can be found in the most unexpected places.

Sometimes help can be found in the most unexpected places.

Question: what do Count Basie and the mythical trouble-maker Sisyphus have to do with my writing?

More on that question in just a bit. First – some good news. I have just received some awesome feedback from Henery Press about my first novel, The Apple Pie Alibi. No, it’s not quite ready for publication, but major strides will be made thanks in large part to the personal comments from the staff readers at Henery. You can’t buy this kind of assistance. Well, maybe you could. But it would cost a lot more money than I have in my pocket right now. And who would have thought a literary press would take the time to do this? It was as unexpected as finding a big band in the desert.

Not familiar with Henery Press? Based in the greater Plano / Frisco area just north of Dallas, Texas, Henery focuses much of their attention on bringing cozy mysteries to the market. And I must say, their book covers are awesome. Every so often, the good people at Henery sponsor what they call a Sub-Spree. They choose a sub-genre (oh, say culinary cozy, for example) and then open a separate mailbox for those submissions – for one week and one week only.

You don’t know what genre they will choose next, so it would be near impossible to read the announcement and then write a novel to fit. Your best course of action is write your novel, and if it fits the sub-spree requirements, fine. Otherwise, you can always submit the traditional way to Henery.

What’s the difference? Neither sub-spree nor regular submissions require agents. As long as you fit their genre and style requirements, you are cleared hot to submit. But here’s the inside scoop: sub-spree submissions will be read within 10 days or so – and personal comments from the editors and staff will be sent to the author. It’s like getting 10 minutes with an agent at a writer’s conference, except there is more than one agent, and you get more than ten minutes, and you find out not only what they dislike, but also what they like. No form letter at all; just help from an unexpected source.

Henery Press. Not my publisher – yet. But still, a group you should take a minute to check out if you write cozy mysteries. If you like reading cozy mysteries? Take two minutes. Maybe three. Plenty of great stuff to peruse.

Now, after I take the next few weeks to finish the recipes for The Milk Chocolate Murders, I will return to the first novel and see how I can employ the suggestions from Henery. Who knows? By the time I finish the draft of book 3, working title The Wedding Cake Witness, I may have a published book on my shelf!

The answer to the question about how Count Basie and Sisyphus are related to my writing? That’s an easy one. It may be April, but this ain’t Paris, so it’s back to the depths of revision hell – “one more time.”

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Introducing Tex Logan…

 

The start of a character sketch on the protagonist, Tex Logan, in my new wip: The Mistress.

 

Thomas “Tex” Logan, age 55, is a retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant and “special operator.” Highly regarded in Marine Corps and covert ops circles as a clutch man, the go-to guy when things look bleak, Tex understands modern technology very well yet prefers to do things the old fashioned way and has never failed to complete the mission. He now prefers to live low on the grid. If you Google his name, he won’t be there – at all. He has settled on Willoughby Spit, just south of Galveston, Texas, living on a fishing boat, the Abigail II, a ship he won in a card game.

 

When Tex worked joint ops with the CIA, he often had to bail out young Cedric Collins, son of a long-time US Senator and a novice company field operative who usually overestimated his own ability. In fact, it was Cedric who caused half of Tex’s team to die during an operation against an Afghani warlord selling opium wholesale to corrupt American contractors. Cedric wanted to be a part of the action so he inserted himself on a resupply run, only to post a photo of the ammo drop to his social media page. Unfortunately, Cedric hadn’t turned off the GPS locator on his phone. Everyone learned too late that a “sexy woman” whom Cedric had “friend-ed” on his social media page was actually a college educated son of the warlord. The son had been monitoring Cedric’s page and relayed the location of Tex and his team to his father.

 

Four team members were killed in a hail of small arms fire and incoming mortar barrage. Tex was severely wounded, his number two man, Gunnery Sergeant Chester “The Blade” Thompson was hurt worse. Tex helped the Blade to safety, hiding out until they could reach a UN sponsored refugee camp. Posing as lost journalists, they were eventually repatriated to the US by way of the US Embassy in Paris. Tex had done a tour as an Assistant Military Attaché there and still had connections there. It was there they found Cedric had written the official report of the classified operation, saying Tex had used good initiative but poor judgment by proceeding with a mission without proper T and E (equipment) causing the death of four team members.

 

Disillusioned by the cover-up propagated by Collins and supported by his father’s peers, both Tex and the Blade opted to medically retire and move as far from the military and federal government establishment as possible. Blade thought about Alaska, but Tex reminded him about his dislike of snow. Tex offered his home state, saying given their druthers, Texas would rather go back to being an independent republic anyway.

 

Tex knew an old oil and gas man, Franklin Todd, who had a few oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico that were no longer were producing yet made excellent weekend getaways. The decision was made – The Blade would open a gun and tackle shop in Willoughby Spit; Tex would stay on the Abigail. They just wanted to live the quiet life, perhaps find a few Latinas and start families, fish for red trout in the spring and summer, hunt deer and pig in the fall and winter. They vowed to never speak of their previous lives again. If trouble ever did knock on their door, Tex knew the Abigail could get them to one of the oil derricks, a platform Tex had outfitted as a sea-going fortress.

 

Everything was as it should have been, until one day a French woman, Madeline Levieux, walked into the Blade’s store, asking for Tex…

 

Flash Fiction Friday – Texas style

The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is the wild ancesto...

Here, piggy piggy!

(Thanks to 3 friends for the following writing prompts: birddogs, expectations, and in-laws. No murder, no mystery, just a story of two cousins…)

The Family Reunion ©D. J. Lutz, March 2011

A short, slice of life story about family relationships.

Jack Shields hadn’t seen his cousin Donnie in over ten years, since the time “El Don,” as his cousin liked to call himself, accidentally put a 12 gauge slug into the front tire of his in-law’s Cadillac. They just don’t make family reunions like that anymore, Jack thought. Now everyone wanted to get together again, this time at the ranch. While the girls were taking over the house, Donnie pestered Jack incessantly about going quail hunting. Against his better judgment, and with no expectation for success at all, Jack relented, hoping to not end up like that poor tire.

Growing up in the same neighborhood, the cousins had always been competitors. Jack knew it would only be a matter of time before “El Don” would start to up the ante by wagering on something: first bird, largest bird, most spectacular miss, something. Donnie always had to be first. All Jack wanted to do was get one quail so he could say he wasn’t skunked. If Donnie bagged two, then Jack would be fine with it, but then again, he didn’t want to just give away the hunt. Yes, there was a sly competitor hidden within Jack, as well.

The two hunters had reached an area that Jack knew would be full of wildlife. Good odds that they would find quail, possibly a deer or two, and unfortunately, perhaps even a wild pig. Jack knew that you had to be careful with those boys; they can be fast and mean. The last thing he wanted to do was spend the rest of the reunion in a hospital.

“Hey Jackie,” Don whispered. “I think we’ve got us some birds just up ahead. You wanna to go flush ‘em out so I can shoot ‘em?”

Jack had heard something, too, but it wasn’t birds. “Ah, I tell you what. How about I throw your beer bottle into that brush over there and we both shoot whatever flies out?”

“Chicken…”

“Whatever, man. Just get your trigger finger ready or you’ll miss ‘em…”

Jack tossed the empty long neck into the thistle patch and sure enough, three quail exploded up into the air.  Donnie got the first shot off, but missed entirely. Jack took an extra half a second before pulling the trigger. Two birds fell from the sky, just over the ridge. Couldn’t have planned this any better, Jack thought.

The boys tromped over the hill, only to find slight a ravine leading to a bog. The downed quail were floating about 20 feet from solid ground. “Well, I shot them so I guess I’ll go get ‘em,” Jack said, wishing he had brought his old bird dog, or a pair of hip waders. Donnie laughed, saying “I’ll just take seat and watch the fun. You ought to smell real fine by the time we get back to the house. Hell, the girls probably won’t even let you in…”

“Suit yourself,” said Jack. He smiled, not because he had bagged the first two birds, but because he had heard something in the brush that wasn’t a covey of quail. Donnie had been too busy talking about his “awesomeness” to notice the rooting sounds made by a hog.  Jack trudged out into the bog, his left leg sinking slightly into the mire as he reached the prize.

“What’s wrong, cuz? A little muddy out there?”

“Just a little inconvenience, that’s all.”  Trying to keep his right leg free of the muck, Jack shifted his weight to the left leg and bent his right knee, lifting his foot out of the water slightly. Reaching down to pick up the bird, Jack heard his cousin start to laugh.

“I tell you what, Jackie. You bending over like that, one leg pointed back and your arm reaching out in front, man, you look like my old bird dog.”

Still frozen in that “bird dog” position, Jack just smiled.

By the time Jack made it back to the house, the girls were waiting for him. While everyone was impressed with the two quail he had bagged, they really wanted to know if Jack had seen that “cute, little piggy chasing cousin Donnie…”

Jack just smiled. Now this is a family reunion…