Friday, January 24, 2020

What We're Writing--Debs in Discovery Mode

DEBORAH CROMBIE: The last time it was my What We're Writing day I was in London. It was my last week, and I posted about what I was doing and seeing. Well, now I have to admit that I spent my entire time in London in an absolute panic, unsure where and what exactly I should be researching, and afraid that I would get home and find that I'd done all the wrong things. Then, somehow, somewhere over the Atlantic, I let it go. There were no more decisions to make, and I started to remember all the  interesting tidbits I'd learned, and the unexpected gems I'd discovered that might fit into the book. 


I visited some old favorites, too, places I knew I would use, like this delightful pub in Holborn just down the street from Duncan's police station.



Here's a short scene set there, early in the book. 



Duncan Kincaid stretched the paperwork kinks from his neck and took an appreciative sip of beer. The Victorian pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street was beginning to fill up with Friday happy hour drinkers, most of whom seemed to be refugee staff from Great Ormond Street Hospital across the street. Kincaid himself was on his way home from Holborn Police Station, but had agreed to meet his detective sergeant, Doug Cullen, for a quick debriefing on an interview Doug had taken that afternoon in Theobald’s Road. The team was tidying up a few loose ends from a case, the knifing of an elderly Asian shop owner during the robbery of his corner shop. The assailants had been vicious but not too bright—balaclavas had covered their faces, but not the distinctive tattoo on the knife-wielder’s hand, caught clearly on the shop’s CCTV. The pair had spent the meager proceeds of the robbery on six-packs of lager bought in a shop in the next road, this time without their masks.
It was the sort of senseless crime that made Kincaid feel weary. Taking another sip of his pint, he glanced at his watch. Doug was late. The young woman sitting alone at the next table seemed to mimic him, checking her own watch, then her mobile, with a frown of irritation. In spite of the blustery November evening, the room was warm from the fire and she had shrugged off her fur-trimmed anorak to reveal hospital scrubs. Their pale green color set off her dark skin and the dark twists of her curls. A doctor, he thought, as the nursing staff were usually in uniform rather than scrubs, and he revised his guess at her age up a few years. When she tucked her mobile back in her bag, he looked away, aware that he’d been staring.
The door nearest the fire swung open, bringing a blast of cold, damp air and a flurry of brown leaves. The young woman looked up, her face brightening, but it was Doug Cullen, his anorak and fair hair beaded with moisture, his cheeks pink from the cold. Oblivious to her disappointment, Doug slid into the chair opposite Kincaid and pulled off his spattered glasses. “Bugger of a day,” he said, wiping the lenses with a handkerchief. He nodded at Kincaid’s glass. “Whatever you’re drinking, I could use one.”
    “Bloomsbury. And my shout,” Kincaid told him, standing. As he made his way to the crowded bar, he saw the young woman begin to gather her things. When he turned back a few minutes later, pints in hand, she had gone.


(Check my hyphens!! They are probably all wrong!)

I realize this is not the first time I've introduced a character in a bar! But where do people's lives interconnect? In London, it might be your local shop or market, or the tube train you take every day-- or it very well might be your local pub. And Duncan is people watching, a natural indulgence for a detective, and I suspect for most of us.

Reds and readers, do you make up stories about strangers? Have you ever had anything you've imagined turn out to be true?






54 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this glimpse of Duncan people-watching and am now curious as to what has made Doug's day so difficult. I am looking forward to reading the story . . . .

    I don't know if I make up stories about strangers, but I do often wonder about folks that, for some reason or other, catch my eye. As far as I know, though, I have never had any of my imaginings proven true . . .

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  2. I used to make up stories about strangers, but I stopped. I'm usually focused on trying to figure out what is going on in my book to worry about people around me. :)

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    1. Yes, but Mark, people around you can give you ideas!

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  3. Oh, I love this tidbit and want more, more, more. What has made Doug late? Will we see this woman again who was waiting for someone who didn't show? How are things going for Duncan on the job now?

    Debs, I'm sure that every day you spent in London is a day we readers will benefit from in this book or a later one. You are my favorite literary travel guide, and my desire to get to London is due largely to all the things you've notice there and included in your books.

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    1. Kathy, I'm sure all your questions will be answered! I hope you do get to make that trip to London. We would have fun doing the planning! And this book is set in very central London, so will be very easily accessible for literary sightseers:-)

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  4. Why do I have the feeling something bad is going to happen to that young doctor?

    I make up stories about strangers All The Time. Seriously. I can't help myself. If I'm with Hugh and tell him my maybes and what ifs, he just rolls his eyes. And because they're strangers, I ne er know if I'm right or not.

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  5. People watching is the only thing that makes layovers in miserable airports bearable for me. And I construct whole lives around the characters I imagine my fellow travelers -- anyone remember the implication of that phrase in the 50s?

    Once, in Philadelphia, I noticed a young man carrying an instrument case nearly as long as he was. I imagined a theorbo in the case and someone off to perform in an early music concert in Paris. We were delayed, and Julie started a conversation with the guy. Turns out it was a theorbo in the case, and yes, he was flying to Paris to study and perform. It's my only fantasy that turned out to be true, and the only one I ever got checked out anyway.

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    1. I hang out with people who lug huge instrument cases all the time, but I had to look "theorbo" up. That would have to be a very long case! And yes, I'm old enough to know about "fellow travelers."

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    2. The instrument is about 5 to 5 1/2 feet long, and ofcourse the case is longer than that. He'd bought it a seat on the flight. Lovely tone, bass lute. We have a theorbist living in our neighborhood! With Eastman School of Music, this is not so unusual. Our gardener is working on her PhD, musicology, and plays some ancient form of French horn. They are all around us, taking over even. Beware.

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    3. Ann, I love this story! I was going to ask what a theorbist was, too. Now that I'm educated, how do you pronounce it?

      And it sounds like your neighborhood would make a great setting for a mystery...

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    4. Gigi, just heard the Dallas Winds playing In Dulci Jubilo on our public radio classical station.

      There are no coincidences although I’m pretty sure there is also no theorbo involved.

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    5. We don't generally have string players in the group, Finta. On the subject of ancient instruments, I once saw a small red SUV fighting its way up the highway sporting a bumper sticker that read "Ophiclede." I not only knew what an ophiclede was (sort of a proto-tuba) but I figured odds were I would know the driver if I could see him. There just aren't that many ophiclede players around.

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  6. Amanda Le RougetelJanuary 24, 2020 at 7:27 AM

    I'm very happy to hear the book is underway, Deb, but may I confess that I don't allow myself to read what any of you is (are?) ever writing? I don't want to know until I can, greedily, have the whole book in hand!

    As for strangers, I make up stories about them all the time, wondering who they are are and what they're doing and why. And then I think, Why am I doing that? I'll never know (like Edith says) and it's kind of a waste of time -- I don't ever do anything with all those fertile imaginings!

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    1. Amanda, you are very disciplined!

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    2. I’m with Amanda. I don’t read excerpts. I have to wait for the real deal. Xox

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  7. You are so amazing! This is so subtle and full of subtext… It is so seamlessly skilled! Fabulous.

    As for the hyphen … Knife-wielder six-pack fur-trimmed —they look fine to me! And that’s what I would have done, too, but as we know, I have no idea!
    And I know, that comma before too is probably wrong.

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    1. The comma is perfect, Hank! Thanks for the compliments! I think I'll print "subtle and full of subtext...seamlessly skilled" and tape it next to my keyboard for those days when I think I can't construct a sentence...

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    2. I really don’t get the comma before too, but I still love you both

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  8. Love this except, and the glimpse it provides of one of the “easy” crimes to solve. And of Duncan more or less relaxed and hanging out in the pub.

    I also make up stories about people—like Ann, I find airports a great place for this. And standing in long lines. It definitely helps alleviate the boredom. I don’t know if anything has ever been true, but I doubt it. My love of mysteries definitely influences the stories I make up, so unless I’m constantly surrounded by people who have just committed a crime or been the victim of a crime, they aren’t likely to be true!

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    1. Well, you never know, do you? That's the fun of it. Although I don't usually imagine that people have committed crimes. I just wonder about who they are and what their lives are like.

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  9. Oh, yes, this is a wonderful tease and now I want more. I do make up stories about people I see or people I hear about when their name is announced over a speaker somewhere. You know, "will Mary or Joe White please come to the hospitality desk." Ooh, what have they done, or what has happened? One time at an airport a famous person's name was called but I realize it was a rather common name that anyone could have; I made up a story about what that singer might be doing in Philadelphia. Of course I never found out anything.

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    1. Judi, so funny. I always think the same thing when someone is called over the airport PA. These days it's probably because they've left their laptop or phone in security, but it could be something much more dramatic.

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  10. The hyphens look right to me. But I'm Old School.

    I also have a sense of foreboding about the young maybe-doctor. (Hyphen okay there? I think so.)

    And yes, to stories about strangers. On my way back to Tyson's Corner Metro Station after the Malice banquet a couple years ago, I watched a guy carrying two backpacks enter the train in my car (it was just the two of us, so I couldn't miss him), then get off at the next station and sprint to the back end of the train. At the next station after that I saw the same guy, minus one backpack, sprinting again, but in the other direction. I debated whether to say something, but I didn't know where he'd gone, or where he'd been, for that matter. And I'm pretty sure he was being watched on closed circuit TV.

    I'm still mystified as to what he was doing, but I made up a scenario about him testing a situation for a novel.

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    1. Eeek. The first thing I thought was "bomber." But maybe he was trying to get the backpack to a friend who'd forgotten it, and then catch his own train?

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    2. My mind went there, too, but I mainly thought the guy was mentally ill.

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  11. Strangers on a plane! Air travel brings out the worst in us and I'm crammed into my economy seat creating wild scenarios.

    Watching acquaintances/neighbors/random observations at kids' sporting events: how can they treat their teen with disdain? Why are they smothering their child and not allowing her to try new things and make mistakes? Who is a good parenting team? Who is living her life through her children's lives and accomplishments?

    When I worked in custom decorating: why does she (90% of the time women made the decisions) need new furniture and curtains? Is she bored or does her living room mirror her anxiety/depression/lack of self-worth? Why does she keep the windows covered all day? Has she ever used her kitchen? The copper pots still have their price tags attached. Why are there no books on the shelves?

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    1. Ha, Margaret, I wonder those sorts of things, too! (Duncan always wonders why people don't have any books.) I wonder about my neighbors who never raise their shades. Jobs like interior design or real estate really give you a window into people's lives.

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    2. Yes! People with no books in their home are suspicious.

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  12. I like to catch glimpses of what you are writing and I know the picture of the pub will pop up in my head when I'll be reading the book.
    Like Edith, I immediately felt that something bad would happen to the woman.
    And, like Mark, I'm usually too busy reading to imagine the life of people surrounding me.

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    1. Danielle, the way you "immediately felt something bad would happen to the woman" is one of the pitfalls of writing mysteries I struggle with. Sometimes, an author wants to introduce characters without tripping any alarm wires, and it's hard to do, because experienced crime fiction readers will immediately perk up whenever a new character is introduced as anything more than "the waiter" or "the woman coming out of the shop."

      And of course, there's the fact that describing someone creates a legitimate expectation that he or she is going to play a part in the story. Otherwise, why is the author wasting your time?

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  13. Warren and I used to make up stories about strangers all the time but he wrote science fiction, so sometimes the stories were stranger than the people we were watching.

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    1. Gigi, the aliens are among us... ;-)

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    2. I would love to have heard some of those. Warren was such a storyteller--he could made even the most boring things sound exciting.

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  14. Thanks for the excerpt! I always read them when posted here--the scenes are like old friends waving 'hi!' when the book eventually makes its way into my hands. And don't worry about hyphens--who knows what will happen to them in the copy-edit process.

    I make up scenarios all the time when I'm in public--how would the people around me react?

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    1. Flora, ALL HYPHENS ARE GOOD HYPHENS!

      Signed, Julia Spencer-Fleming Hugo-Vidal

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  15. As always with your stories, Debs, I am right there!
    And I do observe and make up stories about people around me

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  16. Deb, I loved this sample! The perfect amount of description to put us right there in the scene, but without overdoing it. And to subtly engage our curiosity. It looks just like everyday life but - aha - not quite. I already want to know more. And yes, I often see something just odd enough to get my imagination working. Even stranger are the times (several) when I write something - a body behind a wall, a lost Tiffany window - and after, read something similar in the news. At least it assures me that what I make up is plausible.

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    1. Oh, that's so wise: everyday life--but not quite. LOVE that!

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    2. I love that, too, Triss. "Everyday life, but not quite."

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  17. Deborah, when you say "bar", do you mean a pub? I remember they had "milk bar" in England. Funny that you asked if we make up stories about strangers.

    When I was a kid, I used to make up stories about strangers. More recently, I am reminded of characters from Agatha Christie stories where a character thinks that Poirot is a magician or something else because of how he is dressed or how he looks. And I remember a comment from an Agatha Christie story where a sexy dancer ended up married with children and the "spinster" ended up married five ? times, meaning that appearances can be deceiving.

    Look forward to reading your next Duncan/Gemma mystery.

    Diana

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    1. Diana, I love it when characters turn out to be 90 degrees tilted from what they look like they ought to be. The sweet old lady who's an anarchist, the shy, bookish man who's incredibly brave, the woman with a motorcycle and tattoo sleeves who's a tender, loving mother - it makes what we're reading so much more interesting!

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    2. Julia, me too. This applies to real life too. Despite being born in the USA, when I lived in England, some people thought I was either English or Irish or Scottish. I was such an Anglophile and I followed the fashions over the pond too.

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  18. I enjoy observing people but don't make up stories about them. Just watching them interact can be entertaining enough! Ann, I think using the term fellow traveler is safe now. But it always cracks me up when someone uses it!
    Debs, I'm looking forward to the next book. Will this be a variation of a detective and a doctor walk into a bar, both waiting for someone to appear.....

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  19. Love the tidbit Do you have a title?

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    1. I do, actually, but it hasn't cleared the editorial process yet.

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  20. I can't wait to read more. I admit I have a bit of a crush on Duncan. Don't worry; my husband doesn't mind.

    I often make up stories about strangers.


    When my family traveled during my childhood I would pass the time by making up stories in my head about the people in the other cars. Sometimes I would get so wrapped up in my imagings I would start to feel like they were real. Once I saw a truck carrying a roll of carpet in the back. I imagined there was a dead body concealed in that carpet roll. I imagined so much that eventually I forgot it was a story I had made up. I started to feel nauseous, my heart raced. I almost yelled for my dad to "Follow that truck!" before I woke up from my dream world and calmed down.

    As an adult I have fallen into this trap more than once. I had a sort of odd neighbor down the hall in my apartment building many years ago. I was always wondering what his story was. One day I heard yelling from his apartment all day. I imagined someone had him tied up and was torturing him. In reality he was probably in a fight with a girlfriend. But it took all my self control that day not to call the police. 😬

    It's possible I need some therapy. 🤷‍♀️


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  21. Absolutely fabulous, Debs! I felt as if I was there...and now I want a pint. Can't wait to have this book in hand!

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  22. So unfair! I got so involved in the story I forgot that I was just reading a snippet. How long do I have to wait to read the whole book? LOL

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