I’ve published a couple of author interviews recently, and I didn’t want to publish another without sharing with you some favorite passages from my books. You will find that each describes setting and atmosphere, but in each case, you will find the character described, not only with action and sometimes with words, but because of the setting and atmosphere.
I wrote in an earlier post about the interplay between setting and atmosphere and how that sometimes defines the character. I believe you will see examples in each of these passages.
The first comes from my PenCraft Award winning, Caught in a Web. It was also named “One of the Best Crime Fiction Thrillers of 2018” by BestThrillers.
O’Connor drove slowly around Waukesha searching. He started with one broken down and abandoned building and moved on to others, all the while knowing where he would end up. He had even checked out an abandoned house or two, but leaving bodies in houses didn’t feel right. That was something he would never have done and the only way he had succeeded and lived as long as he had was because he thought like a criminal.
With each strike out, the thought solidified that perhaps Fuentes and Manny Benevides hadn’t strayed too far from their killing ground.
He drove past the YMCA slowly dreading what he might find. His eyes darting from side mirror to rearview mirror and back out the windshield. Streets were pretty empty. Nothing looked out of place or out of the ordinary.
He turned onto another, darker street and it too was empty. Nothing moved. Snow gathered unimpeded in the street, on the parked cars and on sidewalks like a sparkling white blanket. His car making the only tracks.
O’Connor loved freshly fallen snow. He loved the purity of it. In his world it was the only thing that could be classified as pure.
He parked down the street from the building and sat in his car with the engine off.
Across the street sat the crumbling apartment building. Only a few lights were on behind the curtains. The rest were dark.
Out on the street nothing moved. All was still. That didn’t bring him any comfort though. He knew what he was going to find. He just didn’t know how gruesome it might be. He shook his head considering the irony of the purity and the whiteness of freshly falling snow and the ugliness of what he knew he’d find down in that basement.
You can feel the tension as you drive along with Detective Pat O’Connor. He’s in his element: investigating a crime scene and following his hunches. You will often find him alone in my stories. Not sure how I stumbled on that when I created his character, but it felt right. When he is not alone, he partners with Detective Paul Eiselmann, or sometimes with Detective Jamie Graff.
Here is another of my favorite passages, this one from Spiral Into Darkness. It involves Brian, a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boy, hunting with his dog, Momma. It is a different hunt than Brian is used to, however.
Again, notice the setting and atmosphere, and how it affects and defines the character.
Brian was not scared. He was not excited or happy, not like when he went deer hunting. He did not know what he felt, but he knew he felt … different. This night he was hunting a man who had a gun, and he knew the man, whoever it was, would not be afraid to use it.
He also knew that without George, it would be up to him to keep this man away from the house and away from the others. He loved them, all of them, especially Bobby, and he was determined to prevent anyone from hurting them … him.
Brian did not know how much of a lead this man had. Lead or not, Brian knew the woods and knew the family property, and perhaps, Momma knew the woods and property even better. He and Momma moved as a team. He felt it.
And he felt something else. He could not describe it, but he felt he was being watched. Nothing spooky or malevolent, nothing sinister. Not at all. None of those things. Just that he was being watched and he felt at peace. Weird.
He did not struggle, but the snow already up to his knees. Maybe a dog thing or maybe just a Momma thing, but she negotiated the snow with relative ease. She led, and Brian followed. Every now and then, the big dog would stop and soundlessly stare off in the distance.
“Momma, let’s move,” Brian urged in a whisper.
They moved onward, and this time, the two of them halted together. He heard him, and so did Momma.
Even with the blanket of snow, off in the distance and not too far away, Brian heard twigs snap and a curse. Brian guessed the man was not used to tramping around in the woods, something he and the guys liked to do and did on a regular basis. And he guessed the man was not a proper hunter, something he, George, and Brett were.
Brian judged the man was thirty to forty yards ahead, which meant that he was near the path that ran between the house and the Limbach property. He needed to move quickly in order to stop him from getting that far.
“Momma, come,” Brian whispered as he tried to take the lead. Momma would not let him, but sensing his urgency, she moved faster.
You can sense Brian’s determination and understand his motivation. In my later books, Brian’s character blossoms into a responsible leader, calm and collected on the outside and poised in front of others, especially his brothers. Yet there is an undercurrent of turmoil as he questions who he is. Brian has become a reader’s favorite, and I have to admit, he’s one of my favorites, too.
In the next piece I share with you from my Maxy Award Winning Runner-up, and a Literary Titan Silver Book Award-winning, Betrayed, we’re back to O’Connor, who was just run off the road. He knows who did it. He also knows why. Like anyone who has been in a horrific accident, he struggles.
Once again, notice atmosphere and setting. O’Connor is a city boy, and being out west on the Navajo Nation Reservation in Northeastern Arizona, he is out of his element. He is, however, resourceful. He’ll rely on his instincts, as well as his training. Mostly, he knows what he’s up against and, while not liking it, he reluctantly accepts it.
Once conscious, he had a hell of a time escaping from the seatbelt and shoulder harness. He was upside down and the pressure on the system worked against him. He couldn’t prevent the awkward fall to the crumpled roof of the truck, and he cut his hand on glass. His shoulder stung.
O’Connor shut his eyes and laid amid broken glass and bent metal taking stock of himself. His head throbbed. The last thing he remembered was his truck being hit from behind and knocked from the road. Nothing after that.
While he was bruised and scraped up, he didn’t think he had suffered any broken bones. He could breathe fairly easily and though sore, he didn’t think there were any broken ribs. Both his arms and his legs worked, but were stiff and sore.
All in all, he was in fair shape. Miraculously so.
There were some cuts and gashes, some deeper than others, some still dripping, others dry. Each singing loudly off key.
O’Connor pulled himself through the broken driver’s side window, tearing his shirt and picking up another deep cut on his shoulder blade.
He sat against a red boulder and stretched out his long legs cautiously. Nothing broken, though he was plenty stiff and sore. It would only get worse.
“Fuck!” he muttered out loud.
O’Connor needed to get a hold of the boys, Graff and Reyna–in that order–but his cell was either somewhere in his truck or was strewn in the dirt within a what, a twenty- or thirty-yard radius? So was his gun.
If whoever did this came back to see if he was alive, he had nothing to protect himself with.
O’Connor looked around and other than the boulder and some sort of short shrub, there was nowhere to hide. The way his head hurt, maybe them coming back and finishing him off might be the lesser of the two evils.
“Fuck it!” he muttered again.
He pushed himself up onto his two feet. He weaved like a drunken boxer and staggered to the truck. He lowered himself back down to the driver’s side window by bracing himself on the dented door.
O’Connor had to shut his eyes to stave off the overwhelming sense of nausea. Once that ebbed, he peered inside the truck. He couldn’t see either his cell or his handgun. He grimaced as he worked his way on all fours to the passenger side window. From that angle, he saw his cell wedged between the seat and the door.
He reached up and retrieved it, rolled onto his back, held it to his chest, and passed out.
O’Connor woke up, head pounding and body aching. Waves of nausea surged through him. He kept his eyes closed, fighting the urge to lose the breakfast that fought to climb up from his belly.
It was then he heard car doors slam and shoes crunching on gravel. He was defenseless. His revolver was somewhere in the truck or in the dirt between the road and the truck, unless it was thrown further into the desert.
“Fuck it,” he whispered. “A shitty place to die.”
My last choice is from my newest book, Blaze In, Blaze Out. It features George, who is another character my readers enjoy. In this example, George, a full-blooded Navajo boy, and is a sixteen-years-old. Trained at an early age by his grandfather, who was a Haatalii or a medicine man or shaman of the Navajo people. George’s grandfather was well-respected. He expected George to follow in his footsteps. As a result, George has an innate spirituality, almost a mysticism about him. The Navajo people, and George in particular, have respect for the land, and view it as a “living thing.”
More often than not, it is George’s sense of order and his training that keeps him and others alive.
I also introduce you to Michael Two Feathers, new to the Evans family. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give away some twists from Betrayed, but Two, as his family calls him, is the youngest. He is only thirteen- or fourteen-years-old and an eighth grader in middle school, while the rest of the brothers are in high school. Like George, Two is also Navajo, though without the training George had, except for hunting and his ability with a rifle.
For all of George’s knowledge about the Navajo belief in the spirit world, he didn’t understand exactly how visions worked. His grandfather had taught him that the Navajo, the Diné, had a connection to the spirit world that the Biligaana did not. And at that, it saddened his grandfather that many of the Diné lost that connection as they became more like the Biligaana.
He and his grandfather believed that dreams were messages from the spirit world. When he was younger, his grandfather would help George interpret them. There was no longer anyone to help him do this. He sought help from Jeremy and Randy, and they tried as best they could. While it was interesting and somehow comforting to speak to them about spirituality and mysticism, they lacked the depth of knowledge his grandfather had. He never faulted them for that. They hadn’t lived that life, and they weren’t emersed in it like he or his grandfather had been.
From time to time, he spoke with his grandfather, sometimes in his dreams, sometimes in person. Sort of. It was a conversation that took place in his head. He could see his grandfather. He could hear his grandfather. And George could speak to his grandfather. Yet, in a physical sense, his grandfather was not there.
He wasn’t the only one who had seen or who had spoken to his grandfather. There were times when his grandfather would reveal himself to his friends and those close to George, but not to George himself. While that stung, George never questioned it. His grandfather had his reasons, he was sure. Still, it hurt.
On the way into the woods, he had asked Two if his grandfather had ever spoken to him or if Two had ever seen him.
Two scrunched up his face, thought for a bit, and then shook his head and said, “I never met him. I don’t know what he looks like. Kind of like my dad. I never met him or saw him either.”
George didn’t talk about it further, but he could feel Two staring at him as they walked single file on a game path to possible hunting spots.
After walking into the woods using a game trail, they selected their positions. Two chose a spot up a stout northern red oak tree on the edge of a field. It was advantageous for several reasons. First, it bordered a field, and he thought deer might graze in the field as well as the forest. Second, because it was a red oak, it was possible deer might graze on the acorns that fell from the tree. Once in the tree, Two positioned himself sideways to the game trail where he could watch both the field and the forest.
George was not quite two hundred yards further into the woods from Two’s location. He didn’t have as good a view of the field, so he chose to concentrate on the forest.
So far, nothing. He could hear Two’s deer call, but he had no sighting and no movement and no answering call. They might have better luck in the late afternoon before dusk, he thought. George figured they might have to change positions, though there was sign deer had been in or around them.
George had trouble concentrating on hunting, though he was ready. He controlled his breathing and watched. A quiet boy normally, he was comfortable and confident in solitude. He knew Two was similar in nature, though Two was more outgoing and liked to be around his brothers. Not that George didn’t. It was just that Two needed to be around one or more, typically Brian.
George smiled. That Two had become closer to Brian didn’t bother him. Both brothers needed each other for different reasons, he suspected, though Brian was comfortable with all of them, especially Brett and Billy, and now it seemed, Bobby. That was a good thing.
He felt good about his brief conversation with Brian before he left for the woods. Yet, he was troubled at the same time.
He could sense that Brian felt something, too. The woods spoke to George, just as the desert had. Though different in composition, they were the same. They were of nature and Mother Earth. Mother Earth spoke to him through dreams, through visions, and through feelings. Mother Earth spoke to Brian differently, but spoke just to him just the same.
Just as his grandfather appeared and spoke to George, Brian’s brother, Brad, had at various times appeared and spoken to Brian. Just as his grandfather spoke to his brothers and those George cared for, Brad appeared and spoke to those who Brian cared for.
Brian didn’t understand the spirit world as George did, though Brian was spiritual and religious. He didn’t understand how or why or when Brad might appear to him, only that he would, seemingly of his own intention and reason. Brad had assured Brian that he was always nearby, in his heart, but Brian didn’t know how that worked. Neither did George.
A breeze rustled the leaves of the trees around George. Though it was a warm, comfortable day, the air grew chilly. The leaves turned upside-down as if it might rain, though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It only added to George’s unease.
A hawk flew overhead, looking for breakfast. Or perhaps, for something more. George wasn’t sure. It was a feeling.
As certain as he was about the hawk overhead, he was certain that before the weekend was over, his grandfather would speak to him. Perhaps Brad might speak to Brian. George would wait and think about that some more. He would be ready. He hoped Brian would be too, but wasn’t sure how the battle in Arizona might have affected him. And if a situation did arise, he didn’t know how Brian might respond.
I hope you enjoyed reading these selections as much as I did when I wrote them. I’ve “lived” with these characters for fourteen, almost fifteen years and counting. I try to make them “grow” through their experiences and the situations I thrust them into. After all, just as we grow throughout life, it only stands to reason that the characters an author creates should grow, too.
For your convenience, I have placed the links to each book mentioned above, along with a small book description. I hope you check them out.
Caught in a Web: A PenCraft Literary Award Winner! Named “One of the Best Thrillers of 2018!” by BestThrillers.com
The bodies of high school and middle school kids are found dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. The drug trade along the I-94 and I-43 corridors and the Milwaukee Metro area is controlled by MS-13, a violent gang originating from El Salvador. Ricardo Fuentes is sent from Chicago to Waukesha 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.
Spiral Into Darkness: Named a Recommended Read in the Author Shout Reader Awards!
He blends in. He is successful, intelligent and methodical. He has a list and has murdered eight on it so far. There is no discernible pattern. There are no clues. There are no leads. The only thing the FBI and local police have to go on is the method of death: two bullets to the face- gruesome and meant to send a message. But it’s difficult to understand any message coming from a dark and damaged mind. Two adopted boys, struggling in their own world, have no idea they are the next targets. Neither does their family. And neither does local law enforcement. https://amzn.to/2RBWvTm
Betrayed: A Maxy Award Runner-Up! A Literary Titan Silver Book Award Winner!
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.
Now Available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback!
Blaze In, Blaze Out – New Release!
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.
Purchase your copy prior to January 6, 2022, and receive a 15% discount. Use the promo code: PREORDER2021