My journey with Peri and her friends

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Archive for November, 2008

A pleasant place to live

Posted by Gayle on November 18, 2008

I’m listening to Benny’s favorte music, The Essential Dean Martin, and trying to figure out how to explain why I set my murder mystery in Placentia, California.  A large part of it is because this has been my hometown since about 1984. I’ve never been a P.I. and never solved a murder, so I wanted at least a piece of the book to be familiar, even if it was only the territory.

But there were another few reasons for setting it here. Placentia is teeny, really, about 6.6 square miles wedged between Brea, Fullerton, Anaheim, and Yorba Linda. These are all cities at the north end of Orange County, which is south of Los Angeles. Even people who are unfamiliar with SoCal know Anaheim as the home of Angels baseball, Ducks hockey, and Disneyland. Recently, Brea and Yorba Linda have been in the news because they’ve been on fire, but it’s a helluva way to make headlines, and I don’t recommend it. Placentia rarely makes the news. And that was one of my reasons.

Many novels and movies have set themselves in tiny places, out of the way towns that no one would blink at, until scandal or tragedy hits. Then the magnifying glasses come out. “The Birds” is an excellent example. Who would even know of Bodega Bay’s existence, if not for the horrific events? So a mystery set in a small town is not exactly new territory. But why Placentia?

Because I like the town. I’m proud of it. For small acreage, it has a lot of faces, and I’d like to show them all to the world.

My last reason has to do with location. Placentia is a small fish in a big pond, and lots of fishes swim through, on their way north to Los Angeles, south to San Diego, west to the ocean, and east to the desert. In addition to freeways, we have train tracks running through town. People may not plan to visit us, but they can stop by, accidentally. So if I want Peri to solve a lot of murders, it doesn’t look suspicious to have them occur in and around Placentia. One of the endearingly funny things about “Murder, She Wrote” (a show I still love) is that there were so many people getting bumped off in Cabot Cove, Maine. By the second season, the town’s population had to have decreased by a third!

Enjoy my town. Get to know it as you follow Peri around.

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Benny

Posted by Gayle on November 13, 2008

I thought I knew Benny Needles when I plugged him into my story. He began in 2006, at the Southern California Writer’s Conference in Palm Springs. I wrote a 250-word story on the topic “Ice”. Here’s the entry:

He was the kind of man who made you want to disinfect your eyeballs when you looked at him.

“You the private dick?” His voice oozed from the doorway.

“Private investigator,” I corrected him.

The stranger slunk into my office and poured himself into a chair. Pale and thin, his wispy blond hair lay pasted against his head, making his ice-blue eyes look large and reptilian. Taking a picture out of his pocket, he threw it across my desk.

“I lost something. I need you to find it.”

I studied the picture. “It’s an ice cube tray.”

“Not just any ice cube tray,” he told me. “It’s the ice cube tray used for Dean Martin’s drinks on Ocean’s Eleven.”

I stared at him, clearly unimpressed.

“It’s signed by Dino! I paid $1500 for it on Ebay!”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I get $100 a day, plus expenses.”

“Anything. Just find it for me.”

Taking out my notebook, I got to work. “Where did you see it last?

“In my freezer,” he said. “It’s still there somewhere, but I can’t see it for all of the ice.”

I sighed. Opening the bottom drawer, I pulled out my travel-sized hair dryer. “Give me your address,” I told him.

What the hell, I figured. It’s a paycheck.

That’s where Benny started. When I outlined my book, he was going to be that slimy little man with no redemptive qualities that Peri helps despite her better judgment. Although I wasn’t 100% certain, I was even looking at making him an amoral murderer. And then a funny thing happened.

Benny took human form. Once he started interacting with the police, his insecurities came out. His purchase of a Dean Martin ice cube tray became an obsession with Dean Martin. Peri isn’t a woman who would help out a sleazebag just for money, so I made his mother one of her first housecleaning clients. In the end, Benny wasn’t slimy at all, he was just OCD, and a social arthritic.

Of course, this meant going back to the beginning of the novel and softening Peri’s responses to his attempts at mixing in with society. And I cleaned him up a little, physically.

As for the name, I chose Benny after my uncle, who was kind of the black sheep of my dad’s family. Needles came from Needles, California – I was having one of those parallel trains of thought, remembering my grandmother’s discussion of Needles while I was thinking about character names. Mike Sirota told me I had to change it because it sounded too cartoonish. If more people had told me that, I might have, but I hardly ever do what one person says… unless it’s my hubby.

After my experience with my very first (really bad) novel, I knew that characters can be willful brats, so Benny’s conversion from slimy to misunderstood, while inconvenient, was easier for me to deal with. Now everyone loves Benny, even if I still find him a little creepy.

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Reality is becoming more real

Posted by Gayle on November 4, 2008

My editor told me that the tentative release date for my book is April 2009. Eek! Six months away! One of the things I have to figure out is my launch party – mostly, a place and a theme. As far as a place, I’ve got some ideas, but a theme? I may need some suggestions in that department.

Here are some of the main elements of the story:

1. Peri used to clean houses for a living.

2. Her favorite drink is a dirty martini with four olives.

3. Her client is a Dean Martin fanatic.

4. The case revolves around a severed hand and a famous piece of jewelry, called ‘The Forever Roses’ ring, because the biggest diamond has been cut so its facets look like rose petals.

Now, what do I do with those ingredients?

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And off we go again

Posted by Gayle on November 3, 2008

Kat returned my edited manuscript today. Again, there were no major changes, and no stupid, why-is-she-doing-this changes. It was all good except for one: I had written a joke, where a police officer is giving Peri the latest gossip about the hand found in Benny’s freezer. According to the officer, they found a foot in the freezer. It was supposed to be one of those, ‘that’s what happens when you play telephone’ kinds of moments. Kat didn’t get it, but that’s okay. After I re-read the scene, I didn’t get it anymore either.

At any rate, I’ve already got her comments incorporated, but I’m a little hesitant to send them back right away. I’m certain I’m not the only author on her plate, and she’s probably thinking she can go do something else for the rest of the week or so. But, no, little Nerdy Author immediately jumps up and fixes her errors – isn’t she just too damned eager? I can feel her rolling her eyes, all the way from the East Coast.

I’ll read everything over one more time before I send it back. That should take some time. I do wish I knew what’s next.

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