Saturday, May 31, 2014

What We're Writing: HID FROM OUR EYES

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Still working on HID FROM OUR EYES, which, I'm afraid is going to be my "What We're Writing" update for the next few months. Today is a scene set in 1972, where a young Russ Van Alstyne is being interviewed by the then-chief of police, Jack Liddle. I'm thinking the setting is a little vague; in rewrite, I'll probably add in a few physical details to nail it down to the time and place.

One of the things I like to do is sketch out relationships very lightly. If there's any part of my writing that's show-not-tell, its in the emotions of and the dynamic between  characters. Tell me what you see in the meeting between the chief and Russ's mother (and let me know if I'm tipping my hand too much!)

There was a quick rap, but before Jack could say anything, the door burst open. Harlene looked frazzled. It was only eight-thirty, and she had already chewed the lipstick off her bottom lip. “Chief, Mrs. Van Alstyne is here. She's demanding to see her son.” Her voice dropped, as if Russell couldn't hear her if she whispered. “One of the men at the impound garage is her cousin, and he called her. I didn't know what to do.” 
The boy stood. “Sit down, Russell. You're not going anywhere yet.” Jack stood up. “I'll talk with Mrs. Van Alstyne.”

She was waiting for him at the front desk. “Where is he? What has he done? Is he hurt?” Her dark hair was in loose, unruly curls and she was drowning in a fisherman's sweater that must have been her late husband's. Beneath her skirt, her feet were thrust into unlaced boots. 
Come into my office, Margy.” He ushered her down the hall, not actually touching her back. “Russell's okay. I'm not sure what he's done, but I don't think he's hurt anybody.”

You don't think--?” She turned back to him. She clutched at his arm, hard, then let go instantly.

Jack closed the door behind them. “A young woman's died. He found her body on the road when he was coming home from Saratoga.”

Margy stared. “You can't imagine Russell had anything to do with that.”

Based on what he's told me so far, no. I don't. We'll have to check out the places he's said he'd been to to firm up his alibi.”

Margy looked up at him. “He was drinking.”

Jack nodded. “He was drinking.”

Margy had the clear, fair skin of the Cossayuharie farm girl she had been, the kind of complexion that showed her every emotion. He watched as her cheeks flushed with a dull red color. “God damn it!”

He blinked. Margy Campbell Van Alstyne never swore.

I'm sorry.” She pressed her hands against her cheeks. “I just – I'm so afraid he'll fall into a bottle. His body's home, but his head is still back in Viet Nam. He has no idea what to do with his life now he's out of the Army. And he certainly doesn't want to listen to me. I'm a middle-aged mother who's lived in the North Country her whole life, and he's spent the last two years shooting people in Southeast Asia. We have nothing in common anymore.”

Really.” Jack leaned against his desk. “Seems to me you know all about fighting a war you can't win.”

Her cupid's-bow mouth curved into a sad smile. “You'd think watching his father drink himself to death would have taught him something, wouldn't you?”

Some things can't be taught. You just have to learn them through experience.” Jack pushed himself away from the desk. “I'm going to release him to your custody. He needs to stay here in Miller's Kill until we've cleared him.”

You can't actually require him to stay unless he's been charged and is out on bail.” Now she sounded more like the tart apple he was used to.

You left out 'peacenik' and 'jailhouse lawyer' from your self-description,” he said.

She smiled a genuine smile.

That's why I'm telling you. I trust you more'n a bail bondsman, anyway.” He opened the door for her.

This girl.” Margy paused. “Her death is an accident. Right?”

Jack gave himself a moment to stand close, his arm holding the door in a simulation of an embrace. “No,” he said. “I don't think it was an accident. I think someone killed her. And I'm worried – I'm afraid – that whoever he is, he won't stop with her.”

And for those of you who were following along two weeks ago with my all-graduation-all-the-time blogging, here's a snap from the Big Day!

L to R: Youngest, The Boy, The Smithie, her Girlfriend, me and Ross, overlooking the Smith College Quad.


  1. "He has no idea what to do with his life . . ." Margy's comment to Chief Liddle makes you wonder what the Chief's reaction would be if he knew that Russ would one day be the Chief.
    I love seeing how Margy deals with things. This piece reminds us that mothers always worry about their children, especially when they have no idea of what to do with their lives . . . .

    What a lovely family photo . . . congratulations!

  2. I had a visceral reaction to the name, which I'm sure is pertinent only to those who attended UW Law School in the late sixties and early seventies, possibly those who attended the the U of Florida Law School after that. Professor Van Alstyne was extremely proud of his early Dutch and Revolutionary War roots, and when he began his lectures, he would take out his watch and put it onto the lectern so that the chain hung over the edge, and his Phi Beta Kappa key hung down in front of it.

    I can't see anyone with that name being anything but white shoe and snobby. Probably not of any import to the rest of your readers. I'm sure every name carries baggage with it. But I couldn't get past it.

  3. Love this Julia! So lean and emotionally juicy at the same time. Speaking of names I had a dear friend named Harlene - nice to see her name

  4. You are so brilliant, I LOVE this! and what a wonderful photo...xooxo

    Now--get back to writing!

  5. oh oh oh - since I have just finished reading your entire series back to back, I am happy beyond measure to read this! Am I being way too pushy if I ask you to hurry, please?!

    I love this series SO much. I hope you write another beezillion.

    And, oh my - what a beautiful family, you have.

  6. BREAKING NEwS...and he winner of the ARC of TRUTH BE TOLD is RONNA LORD!

    And now back to our original programming...xoo

  7. Love this — can't wait for the book! (Miss Edna is chiming in saying she can't wait, either....)

  8. First, congrats on the graduation!

    What an awesome excerpt. I love Margy. I am ashamed beyond measure that I have not had the time to read all of your books, and maybe this summer is the time to remedy that.

  9. Oooh. Definitely something romantic going on with the then-chief and Russ's mother. Did anything ever happen with that? Margy's still around, isn't she? She was in the last book I read, but I don't think that was the most recent.

    VERY nice!

  10. Beautiful family -- great day!

    I love to see you filling in the back story in Millers Kill. Russ is so lucky to have a tough and understanding mother.

    Did they agree politically back then?

  11. Margy has been my favorite character ever since I "met" her!

  12. OMG, cue Twilight Zone music. I hadn't thought of Prof. Van Alstyne in 40+ years until your use of the name brought him to mind and I looked up his obit (less than 2 years ago) on line.

    Two hours later, I was chatting about something totally different (trademark usage) with a friend who had gone to a totally different law school, and out of the blue he asked if, when I was at UW, I had ever taken a course from Scot Van Alstyne.

    Is there some kind of astrological thing going on? Eeek.

    (This on the heels of my wanting, yesterday, to talk with a different friend about a case, and I came in from walking the dog only to see said friend's name on my caller ID list, first time in four or five months. Dickensian coincidence-- or, as someone once put it, the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to be believable, reality not so much.)

  13. I always love the appearance of Margy in your books, Julia. I consider her a character gauge, or seer of a person's true self. I am so excited to read this tidbit from the next novel, and I think you played your hand perfectly here, no undue tipping at all. You are a master at setting up emotions and relationships without blatant description. I can hardly wait for this book to be in my hands and to delve back into Russ' world.

    Wonderful family photograph! I know you must be proud of your lovely children.

  14. I'm getting some vibes that Jack Liddle has tender feelings for Margy. In a previous book we see him escorting Russ's drunken father home and expressing concern for Margy. Was he a disappointed suitor? My interest is pique. I will enjoy getting a fuller picture of Margy's own story.

    What a beautiful graduation photo. Congratulations!

  15. Jack obviously admires Margy. She speaks openly to him, so she obviously trusts him. Good friends, yes. More? I don't know. . .

  16. There's an attraction between Jack and Margy—either one that's never been acted on for some good reason, or else they had an affair in the past, which ended for some external reason and it wouldn't be a good idea to let it start up again. I lean toward the latter. If you want to make it more subtle, though it's fairly subtle already, I'd leave out the bit where he holds the door for her in a not-embrace.

  17. Love the excerpt, Julia! Can't wait to read it!

    And wonderful family photo! Congrats to the Smithie!!!

  18. Great family photo, Julia!

    I have to ask: where you involved in any way in the creation of all those Ross-clones? :-)

    After your last book, I'm really looking forward to Hid From Our Eyes. What a suspenseful ride that was.

  19. Super family photo! Congrats to your daughter!

    Loved the excerpt--Margy is such a great character that 'meeting' her as a younger woman is fantastic. I get the vibes going on between her and the chief. Will be waiting impatiently for the rest of that story arc--but agree that maybe the door-embrace reference is too obvious--maybe just tweaking the wording in that image a bit would show the yearning Jack feels.

  20. That's a wonderful photo, first Julia. congratulations to all of you@@

    Ditto all the comments--a fantastic excerpt and we cannot wait to read! xo

  21. Julia, I liked the chapter as written. After reading your chapter in this blog, I want to read your Russ Van Alstyne novels. In my imagination, Russ Van Alystne is a descendant of the Dutch, who settled in New Amsterdam before it became New York. I also imagined him as a patrician, from the name, and it is close to what Ellen Kozak said about her law professor. I also like the name Liddle. I imagine Russ' mother as a Jeannette Nolan type.

    Congratulations to your daughter for graduating from Smith College. One of the best teachers I had in elementary school graduated from Smith College.

  22. When will this book be out? I can hardly wait. I always go back and read at least two books before the next one.

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