The Murky Middle

In previous posts, I wrote about the beginning lines and beginning paragraphs, and the ending lines and ending paragraphs. But what comes in between, and how does the writer get from the beginning to the ending without getting lost, or more importantly, without getting the reader lost? Because if the writer loses his or her way, surely the reader will, too.

In my writing, I sit down with a clear idea of what I want to say. In my mind, I have a path I want to follow. When I write, I read, edit, and tweak the previous night’s chapter. It does two things for me: it gives me an opportunity to self-edit, which I like to do as I write. If I self-edit each night, the task is much easier upon the finish. The second thing reading the previous chapter does for me is places me in the mood, the setting, and often, a character’s mind. It then becomes my launching pad for what I’m about to write.

Picture a person on one side of a stream wanting to cross to the other side. The water moves rapidly, and the person doesn’t want to get wet. The person wants to arrive on the other side dry and satisfied with the accomplishment of crossing the stream. That is the person’s goal.

The middle chapters of a book are the stepping stones helping the reader get from the beginning of the book to the ending of the book, in much the same way as the person wanting to cross from one side of the stream to the other. The reader uses each chapter, or stepping stone, to finish the book with a smile on his or her face, or if you are that sort of writer, a frown, and perhaps a tear. The reader finds satisfaction with the story because he or she could safely navigate from the start to the finish of the story, just as our person navigates from one side of the stream to the other.

In my books, I jump from one character’s mind to another. I try not to do it in the middle of a chapter, but will do it from chapter to chapter. I find it helps move the story along, and it helps the reader understand the motivation of the character.

I also use multiple characters, because life presents us with many characters with whom we interact. I try to mirror life in my writing, though what I write is fiction. I want the reader to identify with my characters, to cry when they do, and to cheer when the character “comes out on the other side.” I think the only way to do this is to create lifelike characters and place them in situations the reader can and will identify with in their own lives.

Here are portions of some of my favorite middle chapters, or stepping stones. I hope you enjoy them.

From Caught in a Web:


Graff drove around to the back of the strip mall, spotted flashing blues mixed with flashing reds and a small huddle of cops with little clouds of breath coming out of their mouths as they spoke to one another. They stood around stamping their feet to keep them from freezing and turning into cement blocks.

He rolled to a stop just outside the yellow tape and decided to leave his squad car running to keep it warm. He grabbed his traveler cup of hot coffee and got out, shutting the door behind him with a metallic clunk that didn’t echo in the dark night. It was that cold.

He spotted the ME, turned up his collar with his free hand and hunched his shoulders as he walked in that direction.

“Ike,” he said with a nod.

Mike Eisenhower, whom everyone called, Ike, was in his sixties and bald except for a fringe of snow white hair that ran around the sides and back of his head like a misplaced halo. He was short and a little stooped, but his mind was clear and sharp.

“I will never understand the attraction, Jamie. I don’t get it.”

“What do we have?”

The older man shook his head and said, “A middle school kid, maybe eleven or twelve. On his back, head to the side in a puddle of frozen puke with snot frozen to his face. That’s what we have. What the hell is the attraction of drugs when it ends like this?”

“Cause of death?” Graff caught the old man’s frown and corrected himself. “Tentative cause of death?”

“OD. Some sort. Not sure what, though.”

“Time of death?”

The old man shrugged and said, “The kid is frozen stiff. I’d say four or five hours ago at least, but because of this damn cold, I can’t pinpoint it for you until I get him back to the office.”

“Do you have a guess as to what drug it was?”

He shook his head and said, “I’ll do a tox screen and be able to tell you for sure.”

Eisenhower’s office was in the basement of Waukesha Memorial Hospital, a five or ten minute drive away.

Graff squatted down next to the boy. Blond. Skinny. Wearing only a red hooded sweatshirt. No hat, no gloves, no boots. A pair of Jordan’s on his feet. His upper lip and cheek coated in icy snot. The pavement under his head was frosted in yellowish or brownish puke, depending upon how the light hit it. The boy’s eyes and mouth were partially open. A lovely picture of another dead kid added to the collection of dead kid pictures Jamie had stored away in his head. Not that he had wanted to hold onto any of them. Ever. No fucking way!

“Thanks, Ike. You have my number,” Graff said as he strolled toward the huddle of cops.

He recognized most of them and said, “Guys, anyone catch any radio chatter on missing kids? Kids who didn’t show up after dinner or who might have snuck out at night?”

They stamped their feet and shook their heads and muttered, “No.”

“Okay. I need all the dumpsters checked for anything that might fit the crime. Look for anything out of the ordinary, anything that doesn’t quite fit. I’ll need pictures of boot or shoe marks and any tire treads. Again, look on the ground for anything that might fit with the crime, anything out of the ordinary. Later this morning, I’ll need some of you to canvas the neighborhoods in a three or four block radius from here. Ike said the kid might be a middle school kid, eleven or twelve-years-old. I’m guessing unless this is a dump site, he’d live close by because he isn’t exactly dressed for a long hike. Not in this weather, anyway.”

As he walked away, he said, “Whoever decides to canvas the neighborhood can go home. Start about eight in the morning. That will give you a couple of hours sleep.”

Jamie poured the coffee out of his traveler cup onto the frozen pavement, no longer thirsty and sure as hell not hungry.

Here is a middle chapter from Blaze In, Blaze Out:


He had a dilemma. Never having faced a catch twenty-two before, he didn’t like it.

He was certain that the older Indian kid knew something or at the least, saw something. Him. The way he stared into the forest at the campfire was another indicator. He had the feeling that the Indian boy was watching for him. It had unnerved him. The kid was more alert than the two cops. Odd.

He followed the Indian kid to the pier and watched while he spoke to the soccer kid. He couldn’t hear a word, except twice when the soccer kid said, “Where? When?” and then later when he said, “What?”

How much did the soccer kid know? What exactly did the Indian kid know and how much did he tell the soccer kid?

His dilemma was that the Indian kid was now a liability. Potentially. Maybe. More than likely. If he was, the soccer kid would be, too.

He knew he needed to act. Angry with himself for his hesitation. He didn’t know why he was reluctant to kill the kids. He had done so in the past without any compunction. Shot a toddler and his sister in front of their parents just because he could. Yet, this time, there was reluctance on his part and he didn’t know why. That frustrated, if not angered, him.


He pulled out his handgun, screwed on the suppressor, and took aim.

Here is one last middle chapter. This one is from Betrayed.


Instead of heading to Chinle, O’Connor drove back into the valley to do some recon near the ranches where sheep were killed. Something was happening, and he needed to know why. The way O’Connor liked to do that was to stir up some shit and see what stunk.

There were five ranches, so he could not cover them all. He would have to choose. He decided to go with Delbert Yazzie, who had five sheep killed. Reyna and Graff both said he was too afraid to talk. He would push him a little further towards the edge.

He called Graff.

“I want to stir some things up.”

There was a pause, and then Jamie asked, “Like what, exactly?”

“Don’t know yet. Probably stake out the Yazzie ranch.”

“What will that get us?” Reyna asked.

“Maybe something, maybe nothing. If I see something happening before anyone sees me, then that will be something. If nothing happens but Yazzie spots me, he might freak out and lead us somewhere or to someone, and that will be something. Can’t lose either way.”

Graff and Reyna shrugged at each other, and Jamie said, “Be careful.”

O’Connor clicked off without a response. With or without their blessing, he would do it. Working undercover as he did most often, he found that being careful might be the smart thing to do, but playing it smart would not necessarily be productive. Mostly, it was not in his nature to be cautious. Not that he was ever needlessly reckless, just that he would rather dance on the edge.

The roads, if one could call them that, were nothing more than one lane dirt tracks covered in ruts like veins or arteries that crisscrossed the land. It took him a little over an hour as he looped around the bottom edge of the Chuskas. Because he did not want to tip anyone off, he drove the last ten miles by moonlight and this caused him to slow down.

As he approached the ranch, O’Connor saw two dim lights he took for lanterns. George had told him that it was not possible to have electricity out in the middle of nowhere unless the ranch had propane. Few of the Navajo were wealthy enough for that luxury.

He cut to his right and drove into a copse of pinons, junipers, and pine all tangled haphazardly in a way only Mother Nature could create. It provided adequate cover and an excellent vantage point to watch the comings and goings in or around the area. Though he was not worried about being seen, O’Connor was confident that if spotted, he could simply drive off leaving Yazzie frightened at being watched.

O’Connor chuckled. Yes, Delbert Yazzie was being watched. As quickly as that thought came, the chuckle died in his throat.

What if O’Connor wasn’t the only one watching Yazzie?

Those are some examples of my middle chapters. There were many others I had debated on, but honestly, most would have given away too much of the story. I think good middle chapters pull and push the reader towards the ending, and when that happens, there are “giveaways” that won’t surprise the reader who wants to read the entire book.

I hope these snippets entice you to pick up one (or more) or my books. For your convenience, I attached book blurbs and the links for you.

Happy reading!

Caught in a Web: A PenCraft Literary Award Winner! Named “One of the Best Thrillers of 2018!” by 

Caught in a Web is Now Available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback!

They found the bodies of high school and middle school kids dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. MS-13, a violent gang originating from El Salvador, controls the drug trade along the I-94 and I-43 corridors. They send Ricardo Fuentes to find out who is cutting in on their business, shut it down and teach them a lesson. But he has an ulterior motive: find and kill a fifteen-year-old boy, George Tokay, who had killed his cousin the previous summer. Detectives Jamie Graff, Pat O’Connor and Paul Eiselmann race to find the source of the drugs, shut down the ring, and find Fuentes before he kills anyone else, especially George or members of his family. 

Blaze In, Blaze Out – New Release!

Purchase your copy prior to January 6, 2022, and receive a 15% discount. Use the promo code: PREORDER2021 

Detectives Eiselmann and O’Connor thought the conviction of a Ukrainian gang lord meant the end. They forgot that revenge knows no boundaries, vindictiveness knows no restraints, and ruthlessness never worries about collateral damage. A target is a target, and in the end, the target will die.

Betrayed: A Maxy Award Runner-Up! A Literary Titan Silver Book Award Winner!

Now Available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback!

A late-night phone call, a missing kid, a murdered family, but no one is willing to talk. A promise is made and kept, but it could mean the death of a fifteen-year-old boy. Seeing is not believing. No one can be trusted, and the hunters become the hunted.

Caught in a Web by Joseph Lewis
Blaze In, Blaze Out by Joseph Lewis
Betrayed by Joseph Lewis

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