A Lesson in Character Building

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PeopleWhen I first moved to Sunny Southern California in the early Seventies, I decided I should take acting lessons. Not that I thought of taking Hollywood by storm, after all, I was no glamour girl or even thought I had any latent acting ability.

 

Trish StewartMy only claim to fame by that time was playing Girl Number Two in a high school production of Sabrina Fair. I had maybe two lines, but I did get a few laughs when my character had to feign a headache to make another character think that was why me and the Boyfriend, another minor character, were out on the patio getting some fresh air. I guess I did the funny bit of business well enough to get a chuckle from the audience. As for the girl who played Sabrina, Trish Stewart went on to an acting career in Hollywood. She was in the short-lived TV show with Andy Griffith called Salvage 1 and a recurring role on The Young and the Restless.

But a television career wasn’t why I wanted to take acting lessons. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to know what writers needed to learn about writing dialogue and thought acting lessons would give me an insight into all those words actors should be saying on stage and on the screen.

I got an agent, a job… and a life lesson. I saw an ad in the newspaper about an exclusive acting class being taught by a couple of people from Hollywood. I use the term “exclusive” because the class cost money. It was several hundred dollars, so I thought it was going to be really good. Well, one of the guys who was to run this class ran off with the money. Many people were screwed. The other partner who was as surprised, if not as screwed, as the rest of us, took pity on little ol’ me and asked if I would like to be the nanny cum housekeeper for him, his wife, and his four kids. I needed a job, so I said yes.

This guy was a talent agent. A real one. One of his clients had been Agnes Moorehead. Another client was James MacArthur. I actually met James when he flew into Hollywood from his gig in Hawaii doing Hawaii 5-0. James kept his little sports car in my boss’s barn on their property in Encino. His battery was dead, so he asked if he could borrow my little VW and go get one. I tossed him the keys and went back to my nanny/housekeeper duties. Their house was always a mess, so the three days a week I worked over there I tidied up and played with the young kids, all of whom were pre-school or in elementary school.

Bruce GloverDuring the nine months I worked for him, he got me into an acting class. The first class was taught by Bruce Glover. Old Bruce has been in a bunch of movies like Diamonds Are Forever and Chinatown and just about every TV series during his forty-year plus career. Something you might notice when he is in a movie is the fact that he makes sure he is either somewhere in the background of any scene even if he isn’t the guy doing the talking or while doing his scene he makes the most of it. In that I mean he is always doing some bit of business to capture the attention of the viewer. Sometimes the director will yell “Cut” and stop the attention grabbing, but many times that little extra shtick is the cherry on top of a scene.

And what does this have to do with writing, you may ask? It’s just this: Sometimes the writer needs to make a minor character more interesting by giving him or her a quirk, a trait, a personality. They don’t have to stay on the page or the screen all that long, but isn’t it fun to read or see a character who isn’t cardboard?

I still use that little trick I learned from Bruce about instilling a few minor characters with some unique trait just to make them more interesting and memorable. In fact, there are several characters that started out in a minor role who ended up with a much bigger part. Bruce would get a kick out of that fact, because he often said that “extra bit of business” might lead to an expanded role.

In the opening of my novel Caverns, the policeman who discovers the first body mauled by large rats in underground Chicago was to be a minor character if not just a “walk-on,” but I liked him so much he became one of the leads. In Hedge Bet I had originally picked one character to be the guilty party, but then I thought her character had only limited depth. This other character had far more opportunity for mayhem because he kept turning up in all the right places, so his part was expanded and he even had the original suspect bumped off.

In my Johnny Casino Series, I introduced an aging actress in one of the first short stories in the first book. I liked her so much, she kept coming back along with her butler who had a past to die for, so he turned into a charming regular, too. See, there are no small parts. Those little traits we write into our characters end up with a life of their own.

Rudy SolariThat brings me to the second acting class I took. The talent agent I was working for thought I might like to try another class taught by a couple of guys he admired. The guys were Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell. Rudy starred in Garrison’s Gorillas. As for Guy Stockwell, he guested in just about every TV series there was for decades.

I have mentioned in other articles how Rudy had us actors write a biography of the character we were playing so we had an idea who our character was before we stepped onto the stage. You would have to make this stuff up, but the script gave you a lot of information and the genre of the piece would give you more parameters. To this day I write a biography of my main character and sketches of other people in a story. This will help you remember who everybody is, how they look, their age, and important details that you might need later. You don’t want “John” twenty-five years old on page 34 with blue eyes to turn into “John” forty-five years old on page 76 with brown eyes. It keeps you on track and if you bring the character back in a sequel you don’t have to read your first book to acquaint yourself with those facts.

But something else was gleaned from Rudy’s class. Improv. There is nothing like your acting teacher asking you to get up on that stage and do a scene with another actor with only a few words describing the scene. The one scene I remember doing was when another actor and I were to be an abusive husband and the long-suffering wife having a conversation. “She could kill him” was my prompt.

I started out playing the meek wife taking his abuse, but I kept countering his jibes with subtle remarks. When the scene was over and Rudy said “Stop,” he walked over to me and asked what I had in my hand. I had taken a piece of paper with me to the stage. It was probably what I wrote notes on, but it was in my hand, but as Rudy noted it had been folded and folded until it looked a bit like a knife. I hadn’t realized exactly doing it, but my character sure did. Scary? Maybe. But characters do have a life of their own. Give them free reign and see what they come up with.

The other interesting time in acting class was when my good friend and fellow actor, Karen Markham, and I were doing a scene from The Odd Couple. Let me digress for just a second and tell you a story or two. It’s relevant.

Rudy thought it might be interesting to have women play the lead in that play and later movie and even later a fabulous TV series written originally by Neil Simon. Rudy asked Karen and I to do a scene from the play. We christened Karen’s role as Esther (Oscar) and I played Felicia (Felix). We did one of the earlier scenes in the play. We rehearsed quite a bit and thought we had the roles down, but you know actors. Digging deeper into a role is always better.

We decided we should take the act “on the road.” That meant that we would go someplace “in character” and see how we did. There was a bar fairly close to where the acting class was, so we went there after class one night. It was a hangout for actors and stuntmen called The Drawing Board. We went in, Karen as the men-loving gal who always had a smart remark and me as the meek, penny-pinching woman who found dirt everywhere.

Harvey WallbangerI ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. (You aren’t the only one who liked them, Paul D. Marks.) Before the bartender set it down, I cleaned the spot in front of me. I complained openly about Esther making a spectacle of herself and Karen gave it back to me in spades. When the bartender told me how much my drink was, I gasped at the high price and said that I wasn’t buying drinks for the entire bar. Karen told me I was a penny-pinching old maid. The bartender laughed and then said, “Talk about the odd couple.”

Well, I broke character and laughed. Several of the guys around us took notice and I confessed that we were actors rehearsing our characters for Rudy Solari’s acting class. They got a kick out of it. Oh, and I didn’t have to pay for the drink. Don Stroud, the actor who starred in The New Mike Hammer and a million other TV shows, picked up the tab for Karen, and stuntman Paul Nuckles bought mine. We never had to pay for a drink in the place after that. Nice guys.

Guy StockwellSo back to my original point. Karen and I knew our roles. We knew the characters. We did the scene for Guy Stockwell one evening at the acting studio and he liked it, then he asked how well we knew the scene and did we know each other’s part? Yes. Next he said, “Switch roles.” We did. Karen played the fastidious Felicia and I played the ballsy Esther.

We did it without a hitch and to tell you the truth, it was exhilarating. We were totally free. No constraints. Exactly what your characters in your stories should be when you give them free reign to be themselves. You know who they are. You wrote a biography for most of those main characters. Now let them take you where they want to go. That’s the point I am trying to make in this article.

You will be surprised when you free a character to speak his own mind or let her go where she really wants to go. Trust them. And maybe take an acting class to let you see what dialogue and character on the hoof is like. You’re out there on a stage and the words are alive. Make your characters come alive as well. They will love you for it. And so will your readers.

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 6by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Five – Finding the Right Word

 

Stephen King said “Any word you have to hunt for in a Thesaurus is the wrong word.”

I beg to differ, Mr. King. Here’s why. If I have used the same word ad nauseam in several close paragraphs, I just gotta find another word. Your computer writing software usually has a few suggestions when you Right Click on Synonyms. And I have a really nice Thesaurus that I will turn to if the computer doesn’t come through.

But, come on, guys. We’re writers, authors, novelists, playwrights, wordsmiths for crying out loud. Words are our life. Personally, I like adding a few new words to my vocabulary every so often. And I definitely want to use some fresh, innovative, new-fangled words when writing just to shake things up a bit.

I’ll stumble over a boring, colorless, lackluster word when doing one of the many edits I complete before sending out a book for publication. The troublesome word will be sitting there like a wilted piece of lettuce, limp and begging to be tossed into the garbage…. (And, yes, I did use the Thesaurus on a few of the words in this recent paragraph just to make the point.)

So why not use the sources available and pick another word so you don’t sound tedious, uninteresting or just plain _____________. (You fill in the blank.)

 

Jewel 7Polishing the Gem

Part SixPicky Picky

 

Last, but not least, be picky about your work. Agonize over a word or sentence or paragraph until you think (or even feel) that it’s the right choice. Feeling’s okay, too. Your name is going to be on the work, so why not do your best?

Something I have mentioned before might be of help when doing that last slog through those thousands of words you have put on paper. Ask yourself three things:

 

Does it Advance the story?

Does it Enhance the story?

Is it Redundant?

 

These questions make you re-think aspects of your work. If you have a long section of dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the plot and it doesn’t get your characters any closer to their goals, cut it or rework it.

Idle chatter between characters about the weather or their latest boyfriend over tea or yet another lunch at the local tearoom can become stale especially if the weather doesn’t change, no storm is brewing, and the boyfriend’s body isn’t buried in their backyard. Make sure most of what your characters talk about actually has something to do with the story.

As for enhancing the plot or even who your characters are, take note: If a long section of great descriptive passages doesn’t set the stage, but rather clutters it up, trim it or make sure you don’t keep piling on more and more of the same thing every few pages. You might like all your great descriptions of period furniture or sweeping landscapes, but after a while it stops the action. When it’s done well, it is a joy. Too much detail starts sounding like a boring college lecture course. You know, the class you fell asleep in when the teacher droned on for an hour about one more Roman army siege of yet another small village in ZZZZZZZZZ.

Wake up!

Here’s another point: Enhancing your characters personality or description or painting a beautiful picture of the scenery in your story is great as long as you don’t keep putting too much makeup on the characters or clutter the scenery with too many trees so you can’t see the forest. You want a stunning image, not layers of paint.

As for the redundancy part, during your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. During your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. (See how redundancy gets to be a problem? That sentence was in there twice.) Whether you repeat yourself in the same paragraph or page or chapter or throughout the book, it gets old and your reader will think you are either padding your word count or not paying attention.

As you polish your gem, remember another thing: if you file off the rough edges, sharpen the angles, and buff out the dull areas, the reader will come back for more. Everybody admires a beautiful jewel. Write On!  (And Read On Below)

Jewel 8

Let me add one more little tidbit. Several years ago I published The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It was to accompany a class I taught by the same name. It is a quick reference to writers as to how to get those few chosen words on a page in a short story as well as a novel, screenplay, or even an article you might be writing. As a member of The Writers-in-Residence group, I have also written many blogs on the art of writing. Many times I just expanded on the points I made in the Anatomy book. Recently I compiled those many blogs into a new book: So You Want to be a Writer. It gives some history to my own career and some expanded thoughts on writing. You might find it helpful in your writing journey.

So You Want to be a Writer Amazon cover 2  anatomy-book-cover

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 5by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part FourContinuity

 

This is a very tough area to polish. Think of a road map to a destination. You know where you want your characters to go. You pick several roads. Some are clear-sailing, some bumpy, some are really rough going, but you think they will eventually get your characters to their goal. But what if one of those streets is a dead end? Or what if you end up on a street that circles back in another direction, but it doesn’t and won’t get your characters to where they were supposed to be going?

This is what a continuity editor does. He looks to see if there are holes in the plot, missing descriptions that might clarify a point you are trying to make, or if you just can’t get there from here.

This is what your beta readers just might point out, if you have a few, or what a continuity editor will discover, if you have the means to hire one. But if either of those possibilities is not available, you will have to do the work yourself. Is it hard? You bet. Is it impossible? Heck no.

There are actually a few ways to look at your work through different eyes… at least sort of different eyes or maybe ears. What do I mean? If your computer has a WORD program that has a Text to Speech feature, use it. Have the little voice read your manuscript back to you. The voice feature isn’t bad at all and it can even give inflection if you have a question mark or exclamation point. Have it read slow enough so that you can follow along like the member of an audience. It’s the actor reciting lines. You just listen. If that mechanical voice says something that you don’t understand, stop the program and go back over what you had written. Remember: that little voice reads only what’s on the page. It adds or takes away nothing. If the voice says something you don’t understand, and you wrote it, you better go back and rewrite it until you understand what the voice is saying to you.

It’s best to do this read-through a few days or even weeks after you finish your last draft. You want to distance yourself from the project and come at it as if it were all new to you. You might know the plot, but having the mechanical voice read it out loud after some days away from the project does make it seem fresher.

As the voice is reading you will be listening to the plot and character development from a different perspective. It’s really like fresh eyes, or in this case, ears, reviewing your work. Try to “stay in the moment” as the story is unfolding and listen for incongruities. Again, if it doesn’t make sense to you, the writer, it won’t make sense to the reader either.

If you don’t have a Text to Speech feature on your computer, ask a friend to read the book out loud to you. They can enjoy your book while you listen for things that don’t work. Your friend might even point out a few things that don’t quite hold together, too.

If you don’t have Text to Speech or a willing reader or a continuity editor, run off a copy of your book and sit down in another room and go through the book yourself. You can check for spelling and punctuation errors, change one word for another word, discover holes in the plot, and even rewrite portions because you thought of a better plot twist while re-reading your story. I usually go through my novels four separate times finding errors as well as picking a better word here and there. I have discovered goofy mistakes and few big errors that I fixed before the book saw the light of day.

No matter who you hire or the people you know who are willing to help you out with your editing, the ultimate responsibility is yours. Your name is on the book, not the copy editor or line editor, or college professor who said he would read your book or Aunt Mabel who loves to read and who said she would go over your manuscript for you. It’s your baby. Do the very best editing you can do. Go over it one more time after you think you’re finished, and then send it out to the world.

And even if an error slips past you, remember this: Only God is perfect. Do your best.

 

Parts Five & Six – Finding the Right Word & Picky Picky will be coming up in a few weeks.

When the curtain falls, the story begins…

No Curtain Call cover

Our good friend Alice Zogg has a new book out. Her stand-alones are amazing with suspects galore and clues hidden in plain sight if you look close enough. But waiting until the bad guy is revealed at the end is even better… then think back over those clues and you will say, “Ah. There they were.” Here’s the book’s blurb:

Nick Fox, a retired sheriff’s department lieutenant, is trying to get his act together after nearly being blown up in a targeted explosion that resulted in the loss of part of his leg, a kidney, and his subsequent retirement. His wife had already left him years earlier saying she didn’t like the kind of life he led.

Then a friend asks him to investigate the death of the man’s son who died from an opioid overdose after the opening night performance at the local high school three and a half years earlier. Fox knows the trail is cold, but his friend said his kid would never do drugs or kill himself, after all, young Jim Hoang was brilliant, had just gotten accepted to a great college, and was liked by everybody, but sometimes parents don’t know everything about their kids. Fox could attest to that. His own son, now living with his ex, is having troubles.

Fox starts asking questions and gets answers, but as someone close mentions, not everybody tells the truth. Fox raises the curtain on those around the young thespian that fateful Opening Night to see who had motive and opportunity to slip him those pills. The search widens as stories match up and some conflict. Can Fox finally raise the curtain on the killer?

 

A wrap up: Suspects abound in this fast-paced mystery set among theater people who each have a really good reason to eliminate the victim when the curtain falls. A retired Sheriff, Nick Fox, is asked to lend his expertise to this three-year old case, but Nick has some baggage of his own to deal with. That doesn’t stop this guy in sorting out who could have had not only motive, but opportunity.

A terrific read with suspects galore. Follow those clues Zogg places so masterfully right to the satisfying ending.

The book is available on Amazon in paperback as well as e-book.

 

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 3by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Two: Keeping Track of Time

Along with the biographies of the various characters, I also compile a Chronology Chart that records each character’s date of birth and other significant episodes in the principal characters’ lives. You ask: Why should I do this? Here’s why. If a character is twenty years old in 1997 when she is at the Police Academy, she will be thirty-one when she has a run-in with her superiors in the LAPD. She will be thirty-three when she transfers to the small city of Santa Isabel up the California Coast. And she will be forty when the body of a police captain’s wife turns up on the pier in her city. Keeping track of her age during twenty years will also tell you when other incidents impacted her life.

Keeping the same running chronology on other principle characters will show when they had a chance to interact with other characters and when major incidents happened in their lives. If you are covering many years in these peoples’ lives, the chronology is a godsend.

If one of my stories takes place over a week or two, I use a calendar. Usually I mark off the few weeks involved on a piece of paper and jot down what major events happened on those days. This keeps me organized and I can make sure I don’t have one character in New York when he should have been in Los Angeles.

When the story gets down to the nitty gritty, by that I mean the final chase scene where and when all the characters collide, I actually mark off a sheet of lined paper by the hour or even fifteen minute intervals so I can plot various characters going to and from various places so the times fit reality. How many times have you watched a TV show where the good guys can get across say Los Angels in a car in about two minutes when in reality it would take the better part of an hour? I know TV gets away with it, but I prefer a little more reality in my fiction. I plot air travel times as well as automobile driving times between places down to something that is fairly close to the actual time frame. You can look up airline flight schedules on the Internet as well as driving distances in hours and minutes on Google maps. My time sheet keeps the story honest.

Even if your story takes place over a twenty-four hour period or an evening in the haunted house, it serves you well to keep track of the time. It also allows you to watch where the bad guy is. Remember, he or she is the reason you are writing a mystery, if in fact that is what you are writing. But even if you are writing a memoir, you still can’t have 32 hours in a twenty-four hour day.

 

Jewel 4Polishing the Gem

Part Three – Line by Line

 

A Line Editor, as the phrase implies, goes line by line checking for errors. She is looking for misspelled words, missing words, redundant words, redundant words (I wrote the last one twice just to see if you were paying attention.) She is also looking for words used incorrectly like when you use “effect” when you should be using “affect.”

I actually keep a long list of troublesome words on my computer for quick reference. Of course there is always the dictionary. Mine is ragged from constant use. Remember: Spell-Check is only good if you actually misspelled a word. If you mistakenly typed in an actual word for the one you wanted, it will not know the difference. And sometimes the Grammar feature on your WORD program will be wrong. Get out your Chicago Manual of Style and verify your usage if Spell-Check tries to tell you that your grammar is incorrect. Often the computer will insist that “It’s” should be “its.” It’s wrong when you want “It is” and it wants “its.” Have patience. It’s a machine.

There are a lot of words that writers get wrong. Maybe your readers won’t know the difference, but work at getting the word right. You do need to know when to use “laying” verses “lying.” Laid and laying always take an object. Lie, lain, and lying don’t take an object. There are also a bunch of words that are used incorrectly such as dead-end verses dead end. Dead-end is the adjective. Dead end is the noun. Deadend isn’t a word. Some word groups are written with a hyphen. Some are one word. Some are two separate words. Some words are just hard to spell correctly. My list is long, but I know to check that list when I am editing and come across a familiar nemesis. We all make mistakes, but it’s nice when we catch a few before the book goes to print.

 

Part Four – Continuity – Coming up in another few weeks.

WORD FOR WORD

                         by Miko Johnston

 

Climbing BooksIn the spring of 2018, I organized a volunteer program at a local high school. Together with three other writers, we mentor students in a creative writing class. Every semester we accept up to three pages of writing from the students, which ranges from chapters from novels-in-progress to poems, short stories to essays. We critique the work, make comments and corrections, and return it to the class. Their teacher has mentioned how much her students enjoy the process, how they anxiously await the feedback we provide.

 

Writer GiraffeEach time we begin a new round of submissions, we, too anxiously await the material, hoping to find both familiar names and new ones. Having worked with the class for over a year, including several students who’ve been in the program since it began, I’m delighted to see a steady improvement in their work.

 

Not surprisingly, some of the writing we’ve seen has been what can be called fan fiction, based on existing work. Beginning writers often borrow, sometimes heavily, from books they’ve read or what they’ve watched on TV. However, I recently received something that crossed the line.

 

One essay submitted dealt with a topic the student obviously felt strongly about, for the words, while lacking eloquence (or grammar), contained genuine emotion. However, by the middle of the second paragraph, I noticed a distinct change in the writing, enough so that I Googled a phrase from his piece. Sure enough, it turned up on the website of an organization, cut and pasted word for word.

 

I have no idea if the student in question understood how wrong it is to take another’s writing and pass it off as your own. I immediately notified his teacher, who assured me she’d talk to the author of that piece. That still left me with the critique. It’s not my place to discipline the student, but I felt I had to address the issue in a way that made the point without overstepping.

 

I began by making corrections to the part of the essay written by the student, along with suggestions on how to improve it. Just before the essay switched to the website’s words I added the following – everything in parentheses has been paraphrased to maintain anonymity:

 

Winding Road Sign(Student), I am stopping my critique here, since this is where your words end and the essay you copied and pasted from (organization’s website) begins. What continues below is called plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. Aside from being illegal and dishonorable, you’ve weakened your message.

The part you wrote yourself needs some work. The grammar is not perfect and you have a lot of unnecessary words in it. However, it is heartfelt, moving and real. It’s obvious that you truly care about (cause), however imperfect your writing about them may be. While (organization) may be dedicated to (cause), their website is designed to raise money. You’re writing to inspire people to care about the problem and do something to change the situation, and you’re doing it from the heart.

I would like to see you go back and rewrite this in your own words. Then I will be happy to look at what you’ve written. I’ll help you put the final polish on it so it stirs the hearts of anyone who reads it and encourages them to help (cause).

 

Now I’m the one anxiously awaiting feedback from you. Do you think I handled this correctly? What would you have done?

 

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

(Due to computer idiosyncrasies, this blog was posted by G.B. Pool for Ms. Johnston. Computers have their own minds.)

Game Town

A new Release in the Skylar Drake Series

by Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger

 

book coverA Synopsis just to whet your appetite…

 Skylar Drake is hired as a bodyguard for two young starlets. He delivers the actresses home after the Emmy Awards ceremony, but stumble onto the murder of Silver Brovor-Smith, the mother of one of their charges. He wonders why the FBI is on-scene for a simple murder.

Drake and his partner are now on the case as suspicion shifts between the victim’s husband and her three brothers.

Drake and Dolan are misled while kidnapping and mysterious deaths take them into the world of Hollywood backroom deals.

They must keep the high-profile family from becoming front page news.

Drake meets the perfect woman to help him move on, but is she a suspect?

The letters P-E-G-O seem to appear everywhere. He thinks they may be connected to the crimes.

Follow Skylar Drake to Hollywood parties where the forbidden is accepted and games played are for keeps.

This is just a taste. The book is available now. Check it out.

 

BW Janet Bill 01The Authors

Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger

 

Published authors Will Zeilinger and Janet Elizabeth Lynn write individually until they got together and created the Skylar Drake Mystery Series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1956-57.  Janet has published seven mystery novels and Will has three plus a couple of short stories. Their world travels have sparked several ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and live in Southern California.

 

The next Skylar Drake Mystery, GAME TOWN,  the fifth and final book in the series, is Available NOW, and yes…we are still married!

 

Here’s just a sample for your reading enjoyment.

GAME TOWN

by

Janet Elizabeth Lynn

Will Zeilinger

 (Chapter One)

Two o’clock in the morning. I’d just left the Emmy Awards ceremony at the NBC Television Studio in Burbank. All of Hollywood and its finest had shown up tonight to honor the best of television for 1956. The winners and losers were either at a party celebrating or hiding somewhere licking their wounds. I’d just left the event driving south on Cahuenga toward Hancock Park. My partner, Casey Dolan was in the passenger seat. It was pouring rain when we left Burbank. It seemed to be lessening as we headed away from the valley.

We’d been hired by Epic Studios to escort a couple of their up and coming starlets to and from the event. In truth, we were their bodyguards. The motion picture and TV studios weren’t taking chances with their human investments.

The two young ladies in the back seat were passed out cold. I suspected they’d had a little too much Champagne before and during the ceremony.

I drove through the Wilshire Boulevard entry gate and onto Fremont Place, one of the most exclusive and expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Ahead we spotted a lot of activity on the street. Dolan sat up and stared at the mess ahead, “What the Hell?”

Several police cruisers and what looked like government cars were lined up in front of a house with their spotlights trained on it. As we got closer, I saw the address. 859 in brass letter, attached to the beam above the front door – the address where I was to deliver the girls.

Dolan rolled down his window to get a better look. He pulled his head back inside and said, “You sure this is the right house?”

I parked at the opposite corner. Dolan said, “I’ll stay here and keep watch on the girls.”

I sprinted up the wet sidewalk and ducked under the yellow police tape. A uniformed cop approached me and held up his hand like a traffic cop. “Sorry, sir. This is a police investigation. You’ll have to step back.”

I showed him my PI license and explained that I was a bodyguard for the two young ladies in my car and that I was to deliver them to this address.

He took a look at my credentials and shook his head, “Sorry sir…”

I heard a familiar voice.

“Drake, over here!” I almost didn’t recognize FBI special agent Olivia Jahns. She looked like she’d just stepped off the red carpet, poured into a slinky black evening gown. She held up one side of her long gown and made her way over to me.

“That’s all right officer.” She said, “I’ll take it from here.” He turned away while I followed Jahns into the mansion.

“Olivia…er, Agent Jahns. What’s this all about?”

She glanced back at me and said, “You’ll see. Just follow me.”

I stopped. “I meant the dress, the hair and…”

She too stopped and took a breath. “Come on Drake. You’re wearing a tuxedo. I can have fun too.” She continued to the front door. “Right now, we have a problem.”

Inside, the body of a woman in a pure white coat with a white fur collar was sprawled on the hardwood floor at the foot of a marble staircase. Her light blonde hair and fur coat were soaked with blood. The handle of a knife protruded from her waist. I bent down for a closer look. The blood in her hair was plastered to her face. Her mouth and hands were clenched. I detected a strong odor by the body. It wasn’t cherry, but it was sweet.

“Who is…?”

“The victim’s name is Silver Brovor-Smith.” Jahns interrupted me as most FBI agents do. “She’s the mother of Holly Becker, one of the young ladies in your charge.”

Brovor?…Brovor. Why did that name sound familiar? It dawned on me, “The Toy company Brovor?” I could visualize the logo – a big red circle with black and white letters.

“Yep.” Jahns nodded. “You got it.”

My mind raced. I remembered a lawsuit from years ago between family members after their father passed away. The papers had a field day with the scandal. I stood and asked Jahns, “You sure about Holly’s lineage?”

“Yup, no doubt, Brovor. Since you’re in charge of her, I’ll leave it up to you to break the news to the soon-to-be grieving daughter.”

We looked out the front door. The press had already gathered on the front lawn. Radio and Television remote trucks had set up their lights and equipment while the newspaper photographer’s flashbulbs blinded us. The reporters didn’t help the chaos as the street in front of the house was already jammed with the Coroner’s truck, loads of police cars and an ambulance. It seemed dark on the street. I looked up and saw that the street light was out. Strange that would happen on Fremont Place.

Jahns looked at me. “Why are you still here Drake?”

I headed for the door. It was late, and my brain had stopped working hours ago.

The two starlets came running past me, “No!” Holly yelled when she saw her mother’s body on the floor.

Theresa, the other young lady, shouted, “Oh my God. Oh my God!” She struggled to join her friend Holly, but Dolan had his hands full, holding her back from the scene.

“What are you doing here?” I yelled over the two young women’s screams. “You were supposed to keep them in the car.”

“Hey!” Dolan said, “There are two of them and only one of me.”

I took Holly by the shoulders and turned her away from the bloody scene. I hoped to say something comforting to her when she looked toward the stairway.

“What did you do to her?” Holly shouted at an older man wearing a white tuxedo coming down the stairs. Holly broke away from me and ran toward him. She began kicking and punching him, screaming, “What did you do to her!”

Several officers pulled her away, but she continued kicking and flailing, “You killed her!”

book cover

Check out some of the earlier books in the Skylar Drake series. This time capsule will take your breath away.