Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Man I Never Met

Long ago, in another career far from this one, I worked as a construction manager for shopping center developers. I met a lot of fascinating characters, many of whom have wormed their way into books that I’ve written. But one of the most interesting was a guy I never actually met.
The Pier Pavilion

During the mid-eighties, I was working on the development of the Pier 17 Pavilion at South Street Seaport in New York. I kept hearing about a guy who’d worked there, but who had died shortly before I started.  He was a great construction guy, always on top of everything going on, but also a wild man, popping pills and snorting cocaine, working crazy hours. He was only in his mid-thirties when it caught up to him, and he had a heart attack.

The story that resonated most with me was told by one of the leasing reps. She’d had a party at her apartment, and this guy had taken off his shoes and done vertical push-ups against her living room wall. Long after he died, the smudge marks from his socks remained high up on the wall.

This guy, whose name I’ve long since forgotten, became the inspiration for Junior, the project manager in my MFA thesis, Invasion of the Blatnicks. He’s introduced to our hero, Steve, by the secretary.

“You can’t miss Junior,” she said. “He’s about six feet six and he’s wearing a tie that looks like it ought to have an extension cord.”
“I think I can find him,” Steve said.
Junior is going to make a construction manager out of Steve, and often shows him things around the site:
On Friday, Junior and Steve were out on their morning walk-through when Junior stopped to let a concrete truck rumble past, its mixer rotating slowly. When it stopped, Junior walked up and plunged his arm into the lumpy gray mix. He brought his hand up, rubbing his fingers together. “This shit won’t pass the slump test,” he said. “Look how thin it is.”
He held his hand out to Steve. “Good concrete holds together more than this shit. You’ve got to get a feel for it. Here, stick your hand in.”
Steve hesitated. 
“Go ahead, there’s no alligators in there.”

Junior was just a minor character in Invasion, one of the crazy people circling around Steve, who was the calm, if sometimes clueless, center of the storm. But Junior kept floating around in the back of my brain, wanting a story of his own, and what resulted was “Rhiannon,” e-published by Untreed Reads.
The story is set in North Bay Village, on an island in the middle of a causeway linking Miami to Miami Beach. It’s not a place that gets much play in South Florida fiction, and I thought there was a nice metaphor there about where Junior is in his life – stuck in the middle.

When I met Rhiannon I was going through a bad time.  I had been working as the project manager for an office building in West Miami, but the funding was all coming from some South American country, and when they had one of their frequent revolutions the supply dried up quicker than a splash of sweat on hot pavement, and I was out of a job.

Rhiannon has a secret, though, and when it’s revealed Junior is going to be challenged. But he’s a wild man, and I knew he was up for whatever came his way.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kris Bock on Beyond Dogs and Cats

 Some people are dog people, some are cat people. I like both, depending on the individual, but if anything I am really a wild animal person. One of the benefits of my New Mexico home office is that I can look out the window at the wild world wandering by – lizards, quail and many other birds, even occasionally a fox or coyote.

Etta the Harris hawk checks out the New Mexico landscape.

A couple of years ago, I met a local falconer. I tagged along on hunts, as he released a falcon after homing pigeons on a cold winter morning or let a hawk chase rabbits on a spring afternoon. (For those of you who are squeamish, the birds of prey don't succeed as often as you might expect, but they get exercise.) I visited the falconer’s home to see newly hatched hawks and falcons. I even wrote an article about him and his birds for a local publication.

Raising falcons is an intense, time-consuming, and expensive hobby, so I don't plan to get into falconry myself. But as an author, I could do the next best thing – I could write about it.

A three-week old hybrid falcon and a day old Harris hawk.

In What We Found, a young woman stumbles on a dead body in the woods. Audra gets drawn into the investigation, but more than one person isn't happy about her bringing a murder to light. Fortunately, she has some allies, including her brainy 12-year-old brother and self-appointed sidekick, Ricky; a sophisticated Navajo coworker, Nascha; and her goofy but loyal boss, Eslinda. And because this is suspense with a dose of romance, she has a love interest – Kyle, a mysterious young man who happens to be the brother of the murder victim.

Kyle is recovering from physical and psychological wounds he received during military service. He finds some peace helping his grandmother, Nancy, work with the falcons and hawks she keeps. Audra gets her first tour of the aviary from Nancy:

A beautiful bird sat on a perch. I couldn’t identify different kinds of falcons and hawks, but this was clearly a bird of prey, with a sharply hooked beak and long claws on the yellow feet. It was only about a foot high, but the tiny black eyes rimmed with yellow had a fierce look, warning that this was not a cuddly pet.
“This is Lucy,” Nancy said. “She’s a peregrine falcon, an old girl like me. She was a rescue.” The bird turned her head and shrieked, her little pink tongue visible in the open mouth. Nancy ran the back of her fingers down the bird’s breast.
I’d never been this close to a falcon before. She had beautiful coloring, dark brown on the head and back, with a white throat that gave way to a mottled pattern of cream and brown on the breast. I had the urge to reach out and stroke her like Nancy had, but I wasn’t sure the bird would take that from strangers, and anyway it seemed rude.
I drew closer and could tell one wing was different, part of it missing. I got a sudden image of Kyle and wondered if Nancy took in injured creatures of all kinds. “Are all your birds rescued?”
“No, but several are. Once I had birds, people knew me as ‘The Bird Lady’ and started bringing me injured birds.” She smiled at the falcon and I could feel the connection between the two of them. “In the summer, the hunting seasons are closed and the birds are molting. You can’t fly the birds, so I started breeding them. I think it’s good for their health, to pair up.”
That made me think of Mom. I was reading symbolism into everything.

The falcons are realistically portrayed in What We Found, so they don't help solve the crime or anything like that. But the falconry aspect helped me develop thematic elements of the story, added some unusual action, and provided readers with insight into an usual pastime. One reader wrote, "The falconry aspect was almost as intriguing as the unveiling of the murderer!”

Writers hope to create characters readers will love. Secondary characters – villains, love interests, sidekicks, friends and family and others – can make the story world feel real, add tension and complications, and provide comic relief. They can also allow the main character to express herself in different situations and with different kinds of people, thus letting readers get to know her better. Each story requires a different cast of characters, but I like to include strong female friends, a gentle hero, a few quirky minor characters, and fascinating animals – wild or otherwise – if they fit.

For another aspect of the book, read the real story of our accidental involvement in a murder case, the experience that inspired What We Found, in a guest post on Digital Book Today.

Author Kris Bock on a scouting hike with a falcon nest in the cliff in the background.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Whispers in the Dark involves archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. Rattled follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page.

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page.