The Lonely Detective

Why is it that single, moody people make the best murder mystery detectives? All of my favorites are unattached: Kinsey Millhone, Harry Bosch, Archy McNally, Nero Wolfe and his investigator Archie Goodwin, Lady Emily Ashton. I’ll grant you they are not all moody. But Kinsey Millhone certainly is. Throughout the twenty-two books she is divorced and testy. She has no lasting relationships, save for Henry, her 80-year-old neighbor whom she has claims she could fall for, if he wasn’t so much older.

Bosch is plenty lonely. Sullen. Searching for that missing element. The few times he finds his heart in a romance are certainly highlights of his life, but his relationships are more of the flare-ups variety than steady burning love.

Mystery detective: lonely heart?

Murder mysteries: single is better?

Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe, said “A really good detective never gets married.”

Is there something about the single life, the failed relationships, that makes a person better at solving murder mysteries? Could it be keener instincts? Is there something about having one’s senses tuned to the possibility of love that sharpens one’s intellect and one’s intuition, which translates exceptional sleuthing?

Or is it the opposite. Perhaps the odd hours of detective work, running down clues wherever and whenever they lead are deterrents to a stable relationship?

In 1928 S.S. Van Dine, author of popular detective novels in the 1920s and 1930s featuring Phillo Vance, published his “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.” His rule number three? “There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.”

Whatever the reason for my favorite detective’s lonely romantic lives, their exploits sure make for good reading. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below.

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Christian Belz’s Murder Mysteries

For Christian's mystery site, click on the image

For Christian’s mystery site, click here

MURDER MYSTERY BUZZ

Talk, gossip, emotional attachment. What’s the buzz? What have you heard? Juicy morsels. Excitement. Did you see what he did? News! A big splash. Opinions. A movie, book, or artwork. We want to know what the buzz is and revel in the knowledge. We want to be part of it and express our views with sway.

I’ve been thinking about the word buzz for the past few weeks, since the release of my first murder mystery, The Accused Architect. Activity has been picking up in word of mouth, email, and social media. It’s kind of a steady drip, no huge commotion, and certainly no buzz right now, but this post-publication phase has me wondering what may come. Will there be buzz? Will it be good? This is not something I expected to be thinking about this summer. But there it is. There’s not much I can do about it except continue to share my work, give my honest thoughts about the process, and engage with folks when they bring up the subject. I understand there’s really no point to think about it, but it occupies my thoughts nonetheless.

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This has been a good writing year for me, first with the invitation to co-author The 28-Day Thought Diet , the publication of my murder mystery The Accused Architect in May, and election to office at Detroit Working Writers. What’s interesting is that in a space of six months, my sheltered writing life has become much more public. Formerly, I wrote in quiet solitude at home or in coffee shops, and shared my work regularly with an intimate, supportive group of fellow writers. Now, people in my daily life, including a dozen co-workers, are reading the book. Folks at the local bakery ask me about it. I’ve been interviewed for the local paper (and they sent a photographer!). I’m not sure I’m ready for the visibility and attention. Honestly, it’s a little uncomfortable. To put my stories out into the world has been the goal since I was a teenager, and the publication success is wonderful, but to have my words read and responded to by people face to face is a bit unnerving. I must have assumed all the readers would be “out there” and any feedback would be at arm’s length. Yet, I must confess, it’s truly a joy when someone comes up to my desk at work, full of excitement and smiles, and exclaims “I just finished your book!”

Am I ready for buzz, good or bad or non-existent? It’s a totally different energy, atmosphere, situation than anything I’ve previously experienced. Whatever is said, or doesn’t, I know I can deal with it, but this is a part of the writing process I didn’t think too much about beforehand. I’ve been holed up with my index cards, private thought pattern, and laptop so long it’s weird to talk about my work with people outside of my writing group.

To liken this to buying a new pair of shoes, I may have a bit of pinching and chaffing for a while, but hopefully this type of social interaction will eventually become comfortable.

To stretch my comfort zone further, I created a few YouTube videos. I’m generally awkward in front of the camera. Do I look stupid? What do I say? But I pushed through all that and, in a way–really–it was fun. But now I find that I’m steeling myself for people’s reactions. The writing, the work, the videos are such a part of me, the personal me, it’s like my children are hanging out there. I want to scream: No! Get back in here! But, as Patricia MacLachlan said, “It doesn’t belong to me anymore; it belongs to the reader.” Once the words are published, once the video is out there, the kids are on their own. It’s up to them to make their own way.

Maybe the best thing is for me to go back to my quiet writing space, not worry about the social aspects (what can I do anyway?), and write another novel. When I bump into someone with a comment on the street or at the grocery store, I’ll try to feel the joy of this process and this new, social, aspect of my writing life.

The Words

Heart flecks the pages
as the work grows from inside me
Can I keep it safe? Perhaps grasped
strong and raised up for a moment
like a glass of wine, for others to see
from across the room

With doubt, I know the dream
must be conveyed, translated, lived
out and felt lively by the reader from
the refuge of wherever she feels safe

I make it a share gift from me to her
Given freely, to consider, inhale,
climb into like a catsuit. Play, drink
the long day and suck the marrow
from its very bones. But freedom is
complete and the choices are hers.
My share gift includes tethers thin
as fishing line, strong as sutures
bound to my chest, to my scalp

The work given to her in blessing,
its essence remains connected to my own.

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Easy: The Writing Life Made Simple

Many years ago, motivational speaker Michael Wickett made this observation during a talk I attended, and it has stayed with me ever since. If what we experience is created by our own thoughts, and if the quality of our daily lives is determined by what we think, then instead of constructing our world by our worries and fears–which only makes things harder–we may as well “make it up easy.”

I’m currently reading Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn. In the book, she explains how life would be pretty boring if everything was the same every day. What gives life its excitement is the ups and downs, the challenges, and roadblocks along the way. She calls these things “contrast.” Face it, she says, there will be contrast. She teaches the reader how to “buzz,” how to draw on and charge up our inner joy reserves, no matter what the outward circumstances.

We are in a do it culture. We run around with our to-do lists, our planners, our check boxes. I plot and write my next murder mystery. With these new ideas, I’m learning that thinking and feeling carry more power than doing.

Thinking. The last office I worked in, I asked one of the firm’s partners about efficiency. After struggling with deadlines, an over-abundance of project tasks, long hours, and never seeming to get ahead, I asked him, “What’s the secret to getting things done? How can I improve my efficiency?” What he told me came as a surprise. Stop, he said, remove yourself from what’s coming at you. Take time to think, to breathe, to reflect. Think about the situation before diving in. First ask yourself: does it need to be done at all? Second: if it does need to be done, are you the person who should be doing it?

Easy Writing Life

Feeling. According to Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting, changing your circumstances has more to do with how you feel, cultivating joy, and creating an abundance of good feelings, rather than charging ahead and taking action with a negative, fear-based mind set, such as action to avoid a loved one getting mad at you, or to avoid any negative consequence. When you focus on an unfavorable result, you are sitting in your bad feelings. By changing your energy to the positive, your flow improves, your experience improves, and you may notice a thought–that would have been dismissed under the duress of negative emotion–that makes a difference for your circumstances, and take action on it. Your positive ‘vibe’ will attract solutions.

I’ve learned how I feel affects how I think. How I think affects everything I do, including the plotting, writing, and editing. Feeling and thinking differently changes what I chose to do, the approach I take, as well as how I am while I’m doing it.

Perhaps if I change my approach to my experience of life, I can in fact, “make it up easy.”

SOFT

We rally against the contrast
Anxious thoughts and hard action
When our buzz of joy cuts through so easily

Go do it, jump up
Take the lead, grab the horns
Pounce on time, it wears the mask of our foe

Sit? Think?
Soft answers can’t pierce the trouble at hand

The stream of time rushes by,
roils against the rocks of our actions

Until . . .

We turn inward,
Embrace the tree of joy,
Breathe peace.
We watch our stature rise,
Smile, and
The contrast subsides.

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Text Me: A Puzzle

Text, a verb meaning to send someone words on a mobile device, like a cell phone. I admit, I’m frequently troubled when language undergoes transformation. Wrote becomes texted, and this expression is so foreign to me, it feels wrong. Yet, when nouns become verbs there is an excitement about the subtle change in movement. In fact, somewhat hypocritically, I have been known to change nouns to verbs myself, for poetical effect.

When I hear my cell phone chime, I alternate between feelings of excitement and worry. A new text! Ha! What adventure waits? Whoa, what’s wrong now? If I could receive an awesome text to start my day, any of the following would have me doing cartwheels:

meet me 4 dinner – Taylor Swift
The voice in ur story compels – Junot Diaz
Ur mystery rocks! – Michael Connolly
Your book has been accepted – Little, Brown
Applebees? Hugs – Lynette

Text: A Puzzle

Text, the content of written work, like a book, speech, content in a textbook, and the text of a play. Words have the power to excite, depress, enliven. If my life was a play and I was the director, it would be called “Dreams Come Home.” It would go like this:

A chance meeting with Kristen Bell leads to a discussion about my screenplay, “A Mother’s Dilemma,” in which a change of heart prompts a previously estranged daughter to surrogate her mother’s baby. Kristen decides to produce and star in the film, which shoots locally here in Port Huron. I’m frequently on the set as script consultant. Our propinquity leads to a breathtaking May-December romance. Dax Sheppard is out of the picture by then–sorry Dax.

Meanwhile, the Ken Knoll Mystery Series has taken off, with my fifth murder mytery, “The Entombed Executive,” debuting on the New York Times Best Seller list at number two. In a weird twist of fate, Dax Shepard wins the starring role in “The Civic Center Corpse,” the first movie to be made from the book series. Which is also strange because that’s the novel that has Ken Knoll dating an actress he meets at the murder scene, a character which was inspired by Kristen Bell. Luce Hale plays the part in the movie.

 

NOW

brakes are off the car
traffic is clear
no stoplights
tank is unlimited
scenery is lush
sun shines
music flows
speed and direction are
operators choice

let out the clutch
and fly

 

IF
eyes closed,
waft a dream

grit slips away, we glide
free, dance on silk rainbows

mist seeps in wisps of
purple
rises, floats
forms a playground

green marbles drop
rain from giddy skies,
strike flippers,
roll, clang carnival bells

lights like fireworks
glorify the day

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Spontaneous

FREE
I plan to be spontaneous.

It will be
so fun
so free

I will be clever and alive

Perhaps I could dance
at the local park, race
go-carts or zoom
out of town and drop
in for a sky diving lesson

Which shall I choose? while
I keep out of trouble, arrive
home on time, avoid
a well meant reproach
and the guilt that comes
with misunderstanding?

Spontaneous

To be free, joyful, carefree, alive, excited; to be wrapped in the moment, present to the thrill of doing something amazing. Spontaneous.

The act is foreign to me.

Despite being well into middle age, I tend to live by common sense and the threat of reproach. I have a home of my own, a grown son, and an established career. Yet vestiges of censure by authority figures remain. There are many such folks; family members, former bosses, women I’ve been with. Did you get your work done? Don’t you need a warmer jacket? I need this done today. Did you pick up the milk? You idiot, pay more attention! You work too much. You don’t try hard enough. Speak up!

Continually, I am engaged in the battle between acting on impulse and being careful. Stay out of trouble. Don’t speed! Don’t be late! Don’t say the wrong thing!

I have, at times, been wonderfully, gloriously spontaneous. I made my first dinner invitation to Shiloh after a work lunch, on the spur of the moment; a pulse-pounding moment of insanity that sparked an amazing relationship and so many happy times.
Dancing in the rain with Lynette after a meeting came on in a flash; a momentary impulse to play, which came quickly to realization.

But largely, I fail to be spontaneous. My thought-to-action button sticks regularly, mired in bad-things-that-could-happen scenarios. I remember vividly, the times I felt the urge to do something sharp and crazy and exciting and those feelings were countered, squashed by the memory of previous debacles, or internal fabrications showing me the crash and burn ahead.

Those unfulfilled times stain the eyeglasses with which I see my world. How can I think this time will be better, that today will be different?

But I do think so.

A friend recently suggested that my thoughts are not always right; my head can be turned around; I can reframe that drip drip drip of errant thoughts and turn them into free-flowing radiant loving thoughts, created in a conscious way.

By me.

I tried this approach with my most prevalent thought: I’ll get into trouble.

Reframed: I trust myself. I’m not going to do anything really stupid. Besides, the world is perfect, and there are no mistakes. If I decide, spontaneously, to go off on an adventure when others may be wondering what I’m doing, I will address their potential concerns with honesty, at the earliest appropriate moment. I will trust others to be responsible for their feelings, and I will handle mine.

Like a sudden light in the darkness, I feel this will work.

But then I remember the time a group of us car pooled to see a movie after work, and Tiffany was driving alone and I wanted to ask–ached to ask–if I could ride back with her afterward. I longed for one-on-one time, away from work, the two of us together. I didn’t ask. I almost did, and that almost has been stopping me ever since.

So, here is my reframe: I made a conscious decision to say no, and it saved me from things I didn’t want to feel at the time. The path I took brought me here, and it’s a cool place. The lessons I learned, help me now. Anytime I want, I can choose to say yes, live differently, and draw to me a new world.

It appears there’s a tangled mess in my head; some things I tell myself keep me from moving forward, living free and having fun. I will reframe them. I will tickle them into humanity, dance them into place, and vibrate their colors, one tile at a time; a gloss, a shade, a shape until a group becomes a cluster becomes a mosaic becomes a mural.

And it will be beautiful.

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Cherish

I think of the old song by The Association, “Cherish is the word I use to describe . . .”

The word brings to mind things romantic. “I cherish you,” meaning to treasure, to hold dear, and love, love, love. We can cherish our children, but I wouldn’t use the expression in reference to things –although I suppose someone else might. I wouldn’t cherish my sailboat, for example, though I do enjoy it, and may use the expression “I love it.”

Thoughts of the past are another matter, however, as evidenced by the expression “cherished memories.”

Some of my most cherished memories involve the times I shared with Shiloh when we were together, such as our first dinner, which turned into a six hour event. We met in the piano bar at Charley’s Crab, then moved to the dining room, where we lingered over our food as well as our conversation, inserting many pauses to reflect, understand, and connect with honesty and depth. Moments expanded, paused, and grew again as we fully immersed ourselves into being together, connecting through our eyes until we became singular, first in the crowded restaurant, and later alone in the dining room. Reluctantly, we acknowledged it was time take our leave. Several inches of snow had fallen during the evening, and we stood outside, observing the white cover on the parking lot, neither of us ready to end the evening. We traveled a short distance to an all night coney island, where we sat in a booth for a long while, sharing more ourselves, not wanting the moments to stop.

Another, quite different, cherished memory, takes place in the upstairs of an old farmhouse, with my son. He was about two years old and fussing about going to sleep. He wore my Indiana Jones hat–which he loved. I picked him up, turned on the music, and we danced to Frank Sinatra. He loved the motion of the dance; it always soothed and relaxed him. We both enjoyed Frank’s rich voice, singing “Sunny Side of the Street.” The reference to “snatch your hat” was not lost on the situation.

My memory holds so many other cherished memories. Lynette’s surprise kiss. Dancing with her in the rain around the parking lot after a meeting. The early days in a young architectural office, when everyone worked their hearts out for the “cool little purple firm.” So many fun, connecting lunches with Paula, in those days when I didn’t dare to dream out loud.

These treasured memories have a few things in common. They occur in times alive with promise, hope, and optimism for the future, a future where everything I wanted was right in front of me. In those cherished moments, I’m focused on the present, and it’s alive with emotion and feeling; unfettered with doubts and insecurities. Life is good and about to be better.

Many of my cherished memories are about the girls I lost–or never had–and situations that came to an end. The fact that those things were lost, I find in retrospect, makes the happy times I cherished at the time, more vivid now, and even happier.

Of course, whether it’s a person or a memory, I want to hold on to the things I cherish. People, naturally, I have no control over. Whether or not they are in my life, or how long they will stay, is not up to me. The memories are a different matter. I can hold them dear, reflect on them often, and allow them to lift me.

Life is fluid, moments flow, relationships recede and advance. Cherished moments are like snapshots in time when everything ‘clicks’ just right. Those memories belong to the person holding them, and no one can take them away. New memories can be made and added to our album. Of course, in order for our lives to flow, we have to get in the river.

LUNCH

Memories flood
A time of hope,
promise for life,
longing
to have her
smile,
the curl of her lip,
her forward glance of
happiness
ends abruptly

We return to work
intact

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Shock

For the most part, I’ve found shock to be a negative experience. When I was five, my mom shocked me by announcing that my bother and I would no longer be allowed to play with the twin brothers down the street. Mom, whose warm, generous heart and positive spirit never excluded anyone, had decided that the bad boys, as she had nicknamed them, had done one too many awful things.

In the first grade, my teacher printed a giant “E” on a piece of paper in marker, and pinned it to the front of a boy’s shirt. She made him wear it home. I had been witness to his unruly behavior, but I was still shocked at how mean she was, to label the boy in public. When school let out and a couple hundred kids flooded the front sidewalk, fingers pointed at him from all directions. My stomach turned, not for his offenses, but for the punishment our teacher had dispensed.

When someone in my fourth grade class misbehaved or crossed our teacher, sometimes unknowingly, she–a four-foot-tall wisp of a woman–would go berserk, beat on his back with both fists, and scream and shout, continuing her tantrum for several minutes. I cringed at my desk until it stopped, shocked. I prayed that I would never be subject to her wrath.

Last year, I read on the Internet that Kristen Bell had died suddenly. My world turned dark. I’ve had a crush on her for years–ever since Veronica Mars–and my first thought was: No, not before I get to know her! A prospect, which, of course, is ridiculous. She’s a famous Hollywood actress and I’m a regular Midwest guy, with a regular job, and a regular life. Leaning the article was a hoax only slightly diminished the shock I felt at the news.

There have been plenty of bad shocks in my life, but sometimes shocks are positive, too. Like when Shiloh said maybe to one of my marriage proposals. We had dated for a couple of years–after she told me during our first dinner that she would never kiss me–and we grew closer with each passing day. After she had turned down eight previous proposals, the world I experienced with her was firmly structured around my undying love, counterpoint to her propensity to live–and love–in the moment. Her maybe broke that world apart. Like an egg cracked open from the inside out, suddenly a new, amazing life appeared before my eyes.

A happy delirium overtook me. I dreamed out our life together: our house of love, trips to Europe, our exciting, love-filled future where everything was dizzy and fresh and new every day. I continued to build that life, and embellished it with sumptuous detail. I crowned Shiloh the one I’d been waiting for, my perfect wife. We would live our lives happily together, our unshakable union growing ever stronger with each passing year.

Alas, her heart turned along with the pages of the calendar, and one day, abruptly, she left me. I was shocked, jolted, as if dowsed in sleep by a bucket of cold water. I awoke, startled and disoriented. My world churned end over end, my system crumbled, pieces of me thrashed about in the wind. Righting myself took a long, long time.

So what’s the lesson here? Should I insulate myself from shock by leaving my world less structured, less defined, less concrete? Had I been a victim of building my own dream castle? Would I do better if I allowed myself to flow in the moment? I’ve always found comfort in having things settled; roaming through life untethered would shake things up. Was I willing to trade daily comfort for a smaller number of big, disruptive, shocks? And if I was willing, would this even work?

Perhaps a wiser alternative is to simply acknowledge that shock will happen. That somewhere, sometime, when I least expect it, shock will occur, a shock that may surprise me, decimate me, or make me dizzy with happiness.

THE EVENT

That would never happen
Blasts my lookout,
Shatters my view

Thoughts scatter like birds
I lay shaken,
Alone, dazed
Exhausted

Soon they return to view
Alight, draw into
Clusters of crests and crevices
Basins and boardwalks
Parkways and rivers

I peer up at my new landscape,
Study its fresh angles, and
Rise into my re-set world

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