Sometimes it takes only a moment to set a scene, a few words to evoke a mood, a mere sentence or two to describe a relationship. One of the things I enjoy most about writing is being able to conjure up a mental picture for you, so you’ll see what I’m seeing in my head, smell what I’m smelling, understand how I feel about the characters as you turn the pages (or advance the screens) of the book (or e-reader) you’re holding in your hand.
I’d like to share a couple of passages to demonstrate what I’m talking about. In A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, the small police force of the town of Hamelin is not only dealing with the yearly influx of tourists who descend for the annual Highland Games, but someone suspected of wanting to assassinate the president has been spotted at the Burlington airport, and may have made it to Hamelin before the Secret Service advance team. Marti Fairing was a very minor character in the first two ScotShop mysteries, but in WEE HOMICIDE, she blossoms:
Sergeant Marti Fairing’s mouth watered as the smell of grilled sausage wafted past her nose. She felt vulnerable without her duty belt, but the chief didn’t want the man targeted by this operation to be scared off by a blue uniform. Even without her uniform, she found herself occasionally holding her arms akimbo, the way she’d learned to hold them to avoid bruising the inside of her arm on the butt of her weapon or brushing into any one of the half-dozen items she carried around her waist on a daily basis.
Today her pistol was in an ankle holster under her wide-legged pants, but with that as her only resource, she felt . . . undressed. She watched, hoping she looked like an idle bystander, as dozens of tourists poured into the meadow through the flower-bedecked arches at the end of the path from town. The mug shot hadn’t been that clear. How was she supposed to spot one person in all this horde? It would only get worse, too, once the scheduled events started. Of course, by then there’d be dozens of agents milling through the crowds.
She smiled to think that the agents hadn’t caught the guy. They’d had to ask the Hamelin cops for help. She bet that stuck in somebody’s gullet.
Can you tell I like Marti Fairing? Can you tell how feisty she can be? Can you foresee that she’ll play an important part in the plot from here on?
Then there are Peggy and Dirk, an unlikely coupling indeed. A modern-day shop owner and a 14th-century Scottish ghost. When busy sales at the ScotShop deplete Peggy’s stock of one’s and five’s, she runs home to replenish her supply of low-denomination bills. Dirk, of course, accompanies her:
I opened the bottom drawer of my desk and pulled out a small metal cash box. I usually bundled the bills into fifty-dollar stacks so I wouldn’t have to count them out each time I needed some.
Dirk made a disapproving sound. “Ye think such a wee box is a good hiding place? A wean could find it.”
“I don’t have many weans running around my house,” I said. This was an old argument between us, and he hadn’t convinced me yet. “I lock the doors whenever I leave. You know that.”
“Ye didna used to.”
“That was before.” Before the disturbing events of last summer. But I didn’t want to think about that. I wrapped the money in a legal-size sheet of paper and tucked it into the cloth bag suspended from my heavy black belt. Much more convenient than a purse. “See? Perfectly safe.”
“Unless a cutpurse comes upon ye.”
I shortened the string so the bag wouldn’t bang against my knees and draped the plaid folds of my arisaidh over it. “Is that better? Does it meet with your approval?”
He nodded grudging agreement and we left the house. He paused outside the front door, blocking my way.
“What’s wrong? Why did you stop?”
“Ye didna lock the door.”
He opened his mouth, but apparently decided not to berate me.
I turned around and locked up.
Such a short conversation, but can you see how it shows the easy connection between Dirk’s ghostly pragmatism and Peggy’s rather slapdash approach to life? The two of them had problems in book #2, A WEE DOSE OF DEATH, as Peggy got more and more irritated with Dirk’s insistence that his ancient times were in many ways better than this one. Now, however, with this one scene, you can see that they’ve healed a lot of their past differences and Peggy has come to appreciate her ghost for his commonsense practicality.
And finally, there is Dunedin’s Drusilla, better known as “Scilla,” the Scottish terrier who is introduced in WEE HOMICIDE. I love presenting her point of view, since she’s such an integral part of the plot:
Silla was delighted with such a long walk. Especially when that other person turned around and went back the way they had come. Then it was just Silla and her person. And squirrels. And bushes to sniff. And deep leaf mold. And the fragrant footprints of raccoons and even a skunk.
Her person’s footsteps got slower and slower. When he finally stopped walking altogether, Silla went back and leaned against his leg. Her nose, so full of exciting smells, caught the whiff of sadness. And of pain. And of anger. Silla stood, stretched her legs wide apart, and growled, even though she was not sure what she was growling at.
Her person laughed and reached down to stroke her back. Silla liked that. She liked the fresh happy smell. She liked being able to change her person’s unhappy to gladness.
“As long as I have you, Silla,” her person said. “As long as I have you, all that other stuff doesn’t matter.”
Silla could have told him that. If he had asked her.
I think you’ll be cheering for Silla throughout WEE HOMICIDE, for she truly does save the day, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out just by reading her thoughts.
These few snippets will, I hope, whet your appetite to experience more of Peggy and Dirk and the cast of supporting people (and dogs) who make up the town of Hamelin, Vermont.
And thank you, Meredith, for letting me share some of my writing with your readers.
Fran Stewart lives her life with enthusiasm, excitement, and expectancy, and is never disappointed, for she has found that everything she spends, whether time, money, or emotion, can be viewed as either reducing her assets or enriching them. She chooses enrichment every time.
Author of fourteen books, including the Biscuit McKee mystery series and the ScotShop mysteries, as well as A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT and FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: a workbook for writers, Fran lives and writes quietly beside a creek on the other side of Hog Mountain, Georgia, after having moved repeatedly from her birth through her fourth decade. The small fictional towns she writes about embody the hometown she always wanted—except for the murders.
Learn more about Fran at http://FranStewart.com
The annual Highland Festival in Hamelin, Vermont, means caber tossing, sword dancing, and just a spot of murder...
Hamelin is overflowing with tourists enjoying the Scottish-themed games—and most of them are donning tartans from Peggy Winn’s ScotShop. And her fourteenth-century ghostly companion, Dirk, has been indispensable, keeping an eye out for shoplifters and matching customer’s family names to their clan plaid.
Adding to the chaos is Big Willie, a longtime champion of the games, but not everyone is happy to have him in town. So when he misses the first event of the weekend, Peggy senses something is awry. After Willie is discovered dead in his hotel room, the victim of a bagpipe-related crime, Peggy decides it’s up to her and Dirk to suss out a murderer—because another death would really blow...
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