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Friday, December 28, 2012

A Good Year for Imagination

Yup, end of one wild year and time to start off again.

I just totaled up my Kindle sales, including free promos, and as far as I can tell, some 5877 copies of Chicago Stories: West of Western (known around here as WOW) have gone to good homes. At least, I hope they're good and have given the readers something. I don't know yet about Along the Ravenswood, too soon for figures to come in.

A good year for me. I published WOW, my debut novel, in mid-January, having no sense of what to expect, and started fumbling around learning how to promote a book. Joined Twitter and Facebook, spent far too much time doing the things folks used to do--notifying alumni magazines, that sort of thing. I did some things right, too, like spending a lot of time finding good Facebook friends (thanks here to Sisters in Crime) and Twitter connections and telling everyone I knew about the book.

And I finished my second book, Along the Ravenswood (ATR), published in mid-December.

There has never been a year when I learned so much so fast. I originally intended to write a straightforward mystery novel, well-crafted but not so different from many others. A good plot, interesting characters, a nice two or three hour read on a rainy afternoon,maybe. Somehow other things slipped into the stories as I stumbled along, and I ended up revealing far more of myself than I'd intended. Maybe that's partly because WOW is sited in my old neighborhood and some of the events in the book were taken from events in my life.  Maybe it's because Seraphy's named after my great-grandmother, Seraphy Temperance Taylor.

Someone on some Sunday morning TV show several years ago was talking about gangs and commented that the real problem was a failure of the imagination. I don't remember the name of the show, or the commentator, but what he said burned itself into my thoughts and sits there today. My friends and I lived by our imaginations, although I hadn't thought of it that way before. When  I was a potter, my studio partners had a bad spell (no sales, no $$ to live on) and asked me what to do. Without thinking, I said "re-design," and that's what they did. That's what we did.

Gangbangers may be the way they are because that's the only way they can imagine themselves. I sometimes wonder what might happen if we all started thinking about that, and what could be done to change that . . . I know many have tried before, but maybe not quite the right way?

When something's not working, come up with a new idea. This isn't true for most folks who have jobs, because having a job means someone else has thought up the whole job. Thinking a project, product, business up from scratch is very different. For those who do that, whether we're Steve Jobs or the guy in his garage with a mousetrap, for us imagination is the basis of survival. We really are different from others.

We tend not to have absolutes because we know reality is only an idea.

I'm going to stop now before it gets any deeper.

Friday, December 21, 2012



It's about time! I had thought to get Along the Ravenswood on Kindle last June, but as you know, reality intervened. Well, actually I read the manuscript. Yikes! By the time all the edits and proofs and so on were done, not to mention finding a cover designer, I was lucky to get her out before the end of the year.

Lots of folks helping to get the word out this time: a herd of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and others. I woke up to find that the EReader Cafe had featured CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN  ( at the top of its page this morning. I'm running WOW (West of Western) FREE 12/21-23 as part on my coming out party for ATR (Along the Ravenswood) in the hope readers fall in love with the series . . . sorry, I have no thoughtful tidbits to offer today, too excited to be at the end. Or is it the beginning?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Riding the Artist's Cycle

Once long ago, when I was once again back in graduate school and trying to figure out how things worked, I came across a psychologist's theory about how artists worked. And sorry, I can't remember his name right now, and probably the details of his theory have evolved with time. His book was huge and fat, if that helps. And had a blue cover.

He suggested artists run on a defined cycle of restlessness/seeking, creative spurts, and depletion/depression. I remember this after thirty years because it seemed to me to be spot on. First the restlessness: roaming around, trying a dozen different things, looking for some undefined something.  Starting books and tossing them aside. Standing in front of the open refrigerator. Running around town on unnecessary errands. Walking anywhere. Cleaning closets. I now think this is the charging-the-batteries period. I try to use the extra energy while charging to clean up whatever I've put off--basements and garages, mostly.

Next, I become totally involved with the project, whatever it may be. All the materials I need are ready, having stewed for days in my subconscious while I was rambling around. Now is the time. I start the project, leaving everything else aside. For a long time it was making pots, then rehabbing a house, researching and writing a dissertation. Later on, for a short time painting (not very good at this). Quilts. Now it's usually writing.This is my favorite time, working hard, excited about the work, seeing something come from a conglomeration of materials. Often I don't fully realize what the end product will be, not consciously. Even now I'm intrigued to read my work, after it sits a few weeks. Did I really write that?

Then the down period. Depleted, tired, dissatisfied, bored. Seeing the flaws in the completed work. Why am I doing this? Blah, blah. Once this was the pits, even bordering on clinical depression. I thought I might be bi-polar, when that was popular. But actually, I'm just an artist of sorts, with an artist's cyclic personality.

Having a structure in mind has been a lifesaver. I ramble around in the restless period with an undertow of excitement, knowing that eventually I'll be ready to make something new, and have learned to see the down time as simply time to rest, not wallow in depression.I'm social during my restless phase, anti-social and distracted when making things, and long for company when resting.

So thanks, psychologist-whose-name I can't remember.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Looking for the Anal Retentive Inner child

Yesterday I finished my first round of formatting edits for ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD. It wasn't really the first round. The first round was going so badly--I'd reached 108 changes before I was a third of the way through the pdf--that I pulled the plug and asked Hitch & co. to start over. Paying another formatting fee was going to be much less that all those individual change fees.

Before I sent the new and improved word document, I went through the whole thing again, being as neat and focused as possible. I swore there were no mistakes this time. I'd get it back and it would be clean. Right. I got it back right away, and it was much better. Unfortunately that morning I'd waked early with the realization I'd misnamed a crucial street--all the way through the book! So, with that and one thing and another, I had 56 corrections this time, a record low for me. But this time, it will come back perfect. Right!

I'm hoping for free of typos. I'll settle for that and get it up on Kindle ASAP. Because, if I let myself think, there were bits here and there I'd like to rewrite. Dialogue to sharpen. Sentences to reword. Images to focus. Sure, and the damned thing would never get published.

What now? I'm planning to put both books out as trade paperbacks through CreateSpace. It's rather scary for me, as new things can be for we Luddites. My friend Stephan tells me he'll help. I live in a university town and can get drugs . . .

I looked at CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN. It's been a year since I finished that one, and I can't let it go without a revision, so I'm calling the paperback the 2nd edition. (Probably have Hitch format the 2nd for Kindle, too).  I didn't make any big changes to the story, but there were a lot of words and phrases that needed something. Anyhow, the rewrite's done, and I'll proof it and upload it soon. Arghh.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

They Come in the Night

They come while I'm sleeping, those infernal Typo-beasts, to frolic and reproduce on the pristine pages of my ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD pdf. How else could it be that after reading and rereading and rereading the mss, both I and my friends have declared it perfect, only to find it riddled with typos the next time it's read? Even on this, my absolutely, definitely last run-through? I'm just over half-way through and already have listed 123 corrections, for which I shall have to pay. Yikes.

I have two days to get this done and off to (again), where their resident geniuses wave their wands and fix it all. I hope. Then, sometime just after Thanksgiving, I'll upload the new and improved pdf and ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD will be live on Amazon for Kindle.

I'm also proofing the word mss for both ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD  and CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN to publish as trade paperbacks through CreateSpace. I'd love to say they're coming in a couple of weeks, but I've never done this before, so we'll see about that.

I ran into a slight problem. when I reread West of Western, I saw so many things (small things) I'd like to change that I decided to issue the paperback as a second edition. I think the second edition's better. I may have Hitch and company at booknook do another pdf for it and put the second edition out for Kindle as well. Hmm. Have to think about that.

With all this going on, I blew off NaNoWriMo for this year. It's the first time in five years. Arghh. I did start another Seraphy story, and got about 14000 words in, but couldn't do that and get the proofing and so on at the same time.  It's a good story, though, and I'll get back to it after Christmas.

Well, I'll probably work on getting my Pilsen story finished first--I think I'll call that one South of 16th (that's where Pilsen is, south of the viaduct that runs along 16th street southwest of the Loop). I like the Pilsen story, which I wrote as last year's NaNo novel. I have the characters, and a lot of the scenes, and I know how the ending goes. I love the ending.

The plot, though, has problems and the middle just sucks. Arghh! I hate plotting, so that's what I should do after Christmas: sit down and fix the plot, actually plan out the scenes according to my editor's advice (ugh. another first), so I can avoid those bits that jabber on and don't go anywhere. Somehow a lot of those seem to have found a home in Pilsen.

And then I have the other Nano Seraphy novel, the one about Logan Square and the apartment building full of modern-day Amazons. You know, carpenters and cops and ex-military and actors and . . . all women. The building was an old funeral home and apartment complex, has been bought by a retired Marine Corps colonel who's going blind and needs a retirement project. She's turning it into a condo complex for single women, non or post-domestic women. I like the camaraderie among the women, the building (an ode to 1920s Moorish architecture). So far the plot's pretty nonexistent, tho, and what there is, stinks. This one needs lots of work and is complicated by the fact I never particularly liked Logan Square. Hmm. Maybe just needs a bit on site research. Maybe I'll find something I love there. Otherwise, it's the round file.

The Seraphy novel I started this year is about Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park and centers around an old mansion in Wicker Park. No problem here with the neighborhood, the characters are great, and the idea behind the plot works, I think.  There's also a very appealing secret society at work. I'll finish this one, for sure.

And then there's LIBERTY, a very off-the-wall, definitely not Chicago novel. Liberty discovers she has a gift when her parents are suddenly killed and she inherits her grandmother's gift of finding dead bodies. She also inherits her Christmas Tree farm in Veedersburg, Indiana, and a few other things. Sheep, lots of sheep, and a Basque shepherd to go with them. It's a rather strange and wonderful story I made up out of nowhere for Nano a couple of years ago.  My favorite scene is when Liberty and the Basque shepherd, pursued by Chicago mobsters, run naked through a field of sleeping hogs. There is a story behind that!

Gotta go, Typo-beasties have taken over another manuscript!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Word and Image, Finding a Cover Artist

You can relax now. After several weeks of pissing and moaning and looking at hundreds (okay, dozens) of websites and covers in bookstores and the local library, I've found my cover artist, Todd Hebertson. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I'd just asked the good folks at in the first place. When I emailed them looking for the AWOL Dustin Ashe, they told me others were also looking for him and he'd apparently disappeared. Again. I couldn't wait for him to show up and asked for suggestions. Indira suggested two possibles, one of whom was Todd Hebertson.

So I looked at his website and his work was professional, but the images not quite what I was looking for. More weeks, more banal covers, more pissing and moaning. Finally I decided to check Todd out. There's a lot to be said for professional. He emailed me back within the day. He didn't ask for clips or the ms of the book, just a synopsis and technical specs. Not a good sign, I thought. How can he come up with images that fit the book if he's not read even parts of it?

He didn't. The first proof came in a day or two. I loved the layering, the layout and the font and he'd somewhere found a photo of the Krause Music Store in Ravenswood (where the book opens) taken before the huge tree grew up that blocks photos now. But the cover looked like a romance novel: Seraphy had a page boy, wore a suburban car coat, looked like she was on her way to teach kindergarden, and the cover was in shades of orange. Arghh. Try again, I said.

If I'd been thinking, I'd have realized Todd couldn't read my mind and it was not his fault I didn't manage to tell him what sort of image I had in mind (I was used to Dustin, who reads the clips and presto! a brilliant, perfect image appears. If he ever gets to it). I thought about exactly  what image I wanted. Make the figure smaller, I said, and in silhouette, and get rid of the orange. Blue or green or gray are okay.  I sent a slew of photos of Louis Sullivan's work I'd taken in Ravenswood to give him the idea. And a page of the coded WWII journal that leads Seraphy to the killer (I had fun writing that using a toothpick and instant coffee on watercolor paper).

The second proof was better, but now it was a nasty greeny-yellow I hated and Seraphy was still too big, wearing leggings and her shoulders slumped--not a housewife, but a sad sorority girl. Okay, I said, kill the shrieky green, think Williamsburg blues and greens, make the figure smaller. Look at photos of Adam Lambert and Lisbet Salander (The Swedish version,w/Rapace, not the American one) and make her edgy, not ordinary. Todd was now answering emails in one word. I figured he was about ready to see me off to Devil's Island.

A couple days later I got the third proof. Wow. Perfect colors, Nice dark, mysterious Seraphy silhouette, great architecture in the background, nice overlay of the journal page. I loved it! I was so excited I spent the last two days finishing proofing my manuscript so I can send it off to for formatting tomorrow, along w/ the new cover.

All this has me thinking about word and image. If the artist hasn't read the book (and that would take far more time than usually feasible), how do we tell another person, who has totally different life experiences and visual referents, what we want our cover (illustration, whatever) to look like? What words will mean the same thing to him as they do to us? Todd is of a different generation from me and lives in Utah, while I am in central Illinois, so different cultures. Somehow we did it and he created a cover that expresses the love of architecture and mystery I wanted, and better, the multilayered story. Good on you, Todd Hebertson!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Almost Done. Again. Finding a Cover Designer. Arghh.

Once again I see I've neglected to write for over a month. Sorry about that, but you see, I don't like to write if I don't think I have anything to say. Or maybe it's that I'm just slothful and thinking of something seems too difficult.

Anyhow, I'm here now. September was a strange month, starting out so hot I had the AC on constantly and ending cold enough to turn on the heat. At least the drought ended and with the first rain, my garden revived, both the grass and the flowers returned. A few of the spring flowers are even blooming again.

And I finally finished what was to be a proofreading of my second novel, Along the Ravenswood. Proofreading turned into a rewrite and took far longer than I planned. I can't spend more than 3-4 hours at a time working on the book or I get dozy and start skipping through and missing errors, so I spent afternoons on Something Completely Different--tuckpointinng and limewashing the basement of the old house I own next door.

Here's an old photo from three years ago--the porch and the small balcony now have new railings, or restored old ones. Much better. The lilies have grown into a goodly green fence/hedge.

It's a huge old place 45' x 45', divided now into four apartments, two up and two down, with a central hall. The brick foundation's a hundred years old and there were  places I could have stuck my finger in between the bricks, if I didn't mind the spiders, which I did. WhenI bought the house in 2000, the basement was a black hole, wet, moldy, filled with junk and dripping with spider webs. Since then I've had over four dump truck loads of stuff taken out of it, the foundation exterior tuckpointed, the floor paved (yes, it had a dirt floor!) and all the gas and water lines replaced. Now the basement has a large central room with a 9 foot ceiling and 3 rooms on each side that open into it. All these brick-walled rooms were dark and spidery. I put off doing anything about that for over 10 years.
Rewriting and proofing were driving me insane to the point where even working on the basement seemed attractive. I wasn't interested in cutesy panelling and carpet.I like real basements--a painted concrete floor and white limewashed walls that create a clean, dry, bright work and storage space. So that's where I've been. 18 bags of mortar mix and 9 bags of hydrolized lime and I'm nearly done, as done as I think basements should be. I've only one small room left to tuckpoint yet, then a final coat of limewash. I'll leave the whole thing to dry out and paint the floor (pale gray, what else?). It should be done about the time Ravenswood goes live on Kindle.   

Today and the rest of this week I'm doing one more (THE LAST) read-through of Ravenswood, writing the blurb, getting all that forematter and endmatter and so on written and sending it off to Hitch at for formatting.

I'm also making up my mind on a cover artist. Dustin Ashe seems to have fallen into a black hole, so I've been looking at hundreds of covers. Almost none of which I liked--too many feel alike, some are too cute, many too trite, some too slick, etc. Some designers don't even ask about the book. Some offer stock covers from which to choose. Arghh! Is there no one who thinks he or she should read the book, or parts therof, and design a cover with some relation to that book? Such a radical thought! I finally have someone in mind (suggested by the folks at, but I'll decide by the end of the week. Arghh.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

RIP Kindle?

My Kindle died two days ago. First it froze on the second contents page, then flickered to the Agatha Christie cover and a loading bar appeared, showed it half loaded, and froze. After that, nothing.

A day after the sudden death, I found myself wondering at the difference Kindle had made in my life. Not all good.

I never intended to buy a Kindle. I was the one in my reading group who held out, nodding patronizingly at those who praised its variable fonts and compact size. Um-hmm, how nice. But what about actually holding the book, admiring its cover, sniffing that new book smell? What about never needing a recharge? How about that?

Then two things changed. I decided to publish my debut novel (Chicago Stories: West of Western) as an ebook on Amazon Kindle and I entered the hospital for a double knee replacement. I would be in the hospital for almost three weeks of intensive rehab before escaping. I knew I'd go through a book a day and it just wasn't possible to take fifteen or twenty books with me, so I bought my first Kindle and loaded it up with the classics, which were free. Cool, I thought. Free is good. I also bought a few new books.

Kindles are great for hospital stays, compact and easy to hold, but my battery ran down and there was no outlet available near my bed. Yeah, I thought, just as I suspected. The fatal flaw. So when I got home, I went back to my beloved paperbacks.

Then right after Christmas, I published Chicago Stories: West of Western and discovered KDP Select, which gives authors free promo days. Soon I was scanning Facebook and Twitter for freebies and loading up more than I could read. It didn't take long to realize that using the 'look inside' feature was necessary to avoid the poorly written and formatted ebooks. I also realized that if a book read like cold molasses, I could delete it after the first page or so.  But still, I was downloading more than I could read, even though I went through at least one a day. I had over a hundred unread novels on my Kindle when it died (and can get them all back when I get the new Kindle).

So I'm not buying a new Kindle for a while. I'm sorting and rereading some of  my enormous collection of paperbacks first. One thing is coming clear: I don't think about paper books and ebooks in the same way. I buy a paper book as a forever thing--something I'll reread again and again, a part of my life. An ebook is more like a TV show, a one-time thing to enjoy (or not) and forget. Hmm. Some of my friends have been encouraging me to publish my Chicago Stories series as paperbacks through CreateSpace. Maybe I should?

I still buy my favorite authors in hard copy--Daniel Silva, for instance, Laurie King, Lindsey Davis, the ones I'd hate to lose. Because there's something inherently temporary about a Kindle ebook. I know they can be replaced, but still--what if I was, say, on the Camino in Spain and my battery ran down? What about that?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

What lazy days of summer?

No lazy days of summer here. The University of Illinois starts its fall semester at the end of the month and I had four apartments turn over the end of July. Good turnovers--two tenants finished PhDs and got tenure track jobs elsewhere, two moved to larger quarters with significant others. I found great new tenants and am looking forward to a happy year. But there were things to be done before new tenants move in --painting, changing light fixtures and so on--and everything had to be done between the end of July and the beginning of August. And was!

So no writing for a bit. My buildings--two old mansions now divided into eight apartments--support me while I write, providing a place to live and work to do and more, smart and interesting tenants who are around but not too much so.  This year I have a geographer, a linguist, an engineer, a medical student, a law student, a musician and a man who sells science fiction books on the internet. Oh, and two psychologists. All good for the odd chat over the washing machine.

All this moving in/moving out business came at a perfect time for me. I just finished editing and proofing my second book, RAVENSWOOD, the Second Chicago Story and have put it away for a bit before I go back and read it through at speed to try to catch any remaining nasty bits.  Then its off to the formatter (Hitch at I'm also waiting for Dustin Ashe ( to come up with another cool cover. All this built-in waiting time is much appreciated after total immersion in editing and proofing. My poor battered brain needs the break.

The drought here is horrendous. My gardens are essentially burnt out, the grass is long dead and even the trees are beginning to wilt. That lets me off gardening, so I'm thinking about finally cleanng up my basement, limewashing the walls, painting the floor, all that.  Yikes!  A clean basement. What a concept. Must be the heat.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I've spent the last month rewriting Ravenswood. My editor sent it back with extensive comments and a marked-up manuscript. The problem was, she was right. Once I got my battered ego out of its hiding place in the closet, I realized she was dead on. Finally someone had pointed out exactly what I was doing wrong--a lot--and suggested ways to fix it. I set about doing just that. when I finished, my 82,000 word novel had swelled to 109,000. Yikes. Now I'm proofreading it before I send it out to two lovely volunteer proofreaders and trying to clip out a word here and there to bring it down to maybe 100,000 words. Maybe. It's a better book than it was, and I think, a better book than my first, West of Western.

Rewriting/editing fascinates me. I have a sense of discovery, as if each change shows me more of my characters, opening up new dimensions and insights. Most of my changes are in the service of making my characters more accessible to my readers. With Chicago Stories: West of Western,  I had more than one reader comment that Seraphy seemed rather distant, but I had no idea how to change that. Until my editor, Elizabeth Lyon, pointed her mighty pen at the problem. I hope the new Seraphy is more reader-friendly.

I suspect the problem is really more about me than Seraphy. I am a very reserved person. Not unfriendly or shy, just that there is much that I keep to myself--like my characters, apparently. Writing is a lot like sitting in a shrink's office--trying to figure out just what my characters are feeling and thinking and getting that out there.

We are now officially in the midst of a severe drought. Like we haven't noticed. I've christened my yard 'Mohave,' and Urbana may have to cancel its wildly popular Sweet Corn Festival for lack of corn. I  water my hostas every few days, but my grass is on its own and has mostly gone dormant. For the first time I can remember, the old-fashioned lilies have turned yellow and look like they're dying. I don't think anything short of a neutron bomb can kill those suckers, so I assume they'll will return with the rain. If it ever rains. They say its the hottest year ever recorded and the future will be worse. I can't understand how anyone can still deny global warning.Not that the earth will die or anything like that, Mother Earth has seen much, much worse. We haven't. Yet.  

Friday, June 15, 2012


FREE! CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN is free today, tomorrow and Sunday on Amazon!
If you read it and like it (and how could you not?) please consider writing a review on Amazon. they use the reviews to decide which books to promote and your review would help a lot.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Running Away to Chicago!

First: the link is to Amazon and Chicago Stories: West of Western because that's the only book I have on Kindle now. But I'm writing this as I revise Along the Ravenswood, the second of my Chicago Stories.

Yesterday I drove to Chicago to get some photos of Louis Sullivan's Krause Music Store for my new cover. Dustin Ashe made me a  great cover, the one you see here, last year. I love it. but in the meantime, much to my surprise, the book has grown and changed and now this great cover doesn't fit anymore. So . . . I went go get some material for Dustin (poor boy scratches a living in California, so sad). The facade of the small store was Sullivan's last known commission, finished less than two years before his death.  the building's listed and discussed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I wanted a good shot of the whole facade and the weather was perfect, one of those crystal clear, cool, sunny days that make site work a joy. When I actually arrived at the store, though, I found the little tree I remembered being in front was now a much larger tree, so unless I wanted a shot of the tree with bits of building peeping through, I was out of luck. I did take some twenty detail shots, and have posted one for you. Dustin will have to check out the Nat'l Register to see the entire facade.

Architect Louis Sulllivan, often called the father of the modern skyscraper, was one of the founders of the Chicago School of Architecture. Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, developed the caisson foundation, making possible steel-framed curtain wall high rises. supposedly Adler developed the foundation and structural elements, Sullivan the facades and ornamentation.

My interest lies more in the small buildings Sullivan designed later in his life when, he was no longer the fashionable architect of the auditorium years. After his death, a friend burned his papers, saying there were personal detail the public need never know. Nor do we know what Sullivan was doing in those years. We have eight small banks scattered around the Midwest (notably the Merchant's Natrional Bank of 1914 in Grinnell, Iowa, the so-called Jewel Box Bank), and the Krause Music Store facade at 4611 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. In Along the Ravenswood, Seraphy's old architectural history professor discovers a lost Louis Sullivan church from these years not far from the Krause Music Store and commissions Seraphy to convert the little church to a private library for Sullivan studies. I'm asking Dustin to use bits from the  music store and from the Getty Tomb, an earlier structure with wonderful bronze grills and geometric designs in stone, for the cover.

And I thought you might like to see what all the excitement, at least mine, was all about.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lost in the land of Rewrite

Sorry, I know I promised to write more often. Mea Culpa. I've been working on my second Seraphy Pelligrini novel, CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN. Well, sort of. My editor sent me the annotated manuscript and over 40 pages of notes in April.  Shock! What? My wonderful novel has so many problems? How is that possible? Followed by devastation. Maybe it wasn't worth revising. I'd lick my paper cuts and tend to my other life (as a landlady in a university town, more about that another time).

I spent the last two weeks of April and the first week of May in denial, reading my way through some of the sixty or so mysteries I'd downloaded and never managed to get to on my Kindle and attempting to cope with the garden.  This part of Illlinois was once forest and apparently wants to be that again. I pull walnut, maple and red bud trees up like less fortunate folks pull pigweeds. In a moment of madness two years ago, I planted some of those orange lilies (I call them grandma's lilies) at the edge of the yard (cheaper than a fence). Nobody warned me. They're as tall as my head now (the blossoms) and spreading like crabgrass. The good side is that in a few years I won't need to cut the grass. There won't be any grass left. The bad side is that I'll need a machete to get to the house.

Three weeks ago I had had enough of farming and decided to look at the manuscript again. Yikes. Now Elizabeth's (Lyon) comments had had time to settle I realized she was dead on. Seraphy Pelligrini, Tommy MacKinnoin and company were fine. The plot was all right. But my scenes--well, to be honest, some of them weren't even scenes, just rather boring talking heads. Ouch. The good thing was that Elizabeth actually liked some bits here and there.  Even better, I'd known there was something wrong but couldn't figure out what. Eagle eye Lyon spotted the problems and pointed them out. At length.

So that's where I am--up at six and in front of the computer again. I'm trying to do, or redo, a chapter a day. It's a matter of working my way through the scene (or would-be scene), adding some structure, deepening the characters with flecks of backstory and analysis and generally trying to bring everything into alignment. That's all. By eleven or so, my mind has gone on break and I'm no longer capable of reading, much less writing, a sentence. 

So here it is: if you write novels and don't have a good editor, get one. Note the *good one* part. I live in a university town and academic editors aren't hard to find. I had one for CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN. She did a fine job of checking my grammar and finding typos, but wasn't experienced with fiction and had a superficial acquaintance with the genre. I discovered this kind of editing wasn't what I needed. When Kimberley Hitchens (formatter and all around genius of highly recommended her indy authors get good editors and suggested Elizabeth Lyon as one of the best, I took the hint. Elizabeth agreed to do a 'substantive' edit for my second Chicago Stories novel, Ravenswood. She doesn't like my title, so that may change. Or not.

Substantive. She wasn't kidding. This time, I had someone with a deep understanding of the genre and brilliant analytic skills. She saw things in my characters I hadn't seen, pointed out ways to make them more three-dimensional, poked at my flaccid scenes, shook me out and pointed the way to go. Substantive editing leaves the author no place to hide. If CHICAGO STORIES: RAVENSWOOD isn't the best book I can write, it won't be Elizabeth's fault.

I originally intended to have Ravenswood on Kindle by now, but I'm only on chapter eight this morning. I'm hoping I can get it up by July. My cover designer, Dustin Ashe, made the cover you see here a while ago, but now with all the changes, I'll have to commission him to do another version. As soon as I get to Chicago to take the photos he'll need--maybe Tuesday--I'll email him with the news.  Hope he has time!

So just know it's coming. Really.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Getting Your Damned Ducks in a Row

I've been reading a lot of indy novels on my Kindle recently. It's just too tempting not to order anything that looks remotely interesting when KDP's offering freebies. The result is a mixed bag, with one or two really good reads (often these are repubs of out of print books), several good reads by new authors, another handful of promising but marred stories, and the rest, the ones that get a quick one-page read and go directly to the 'remove from device' bin.

The most frustrating are books by careless indy authors. Last night and this morning I've been reading a story with a great plot and attractive characters. I'd love the book and look for more, but it's so marred by an apparent total lack of editing and proofreading that I'll probably delete it from my Kindle.

What, you say, would make me do this?  Hmm. The dialog's cstilted (guy, people don't speak in public relations-type paragraphs, especially when being pursued by killers), there's way too much landscape detail, and even irrelevant scenes (the church along the road) dropped in here and there.

Even more distracting, words are misused (birth for berth, for example, and Illusion for allusion) with unintentional results. Often hilarious, but totally disrupting the flow.

I believe in indy publishing, guess you figured that out. And because I'm an indy author myself, it pisses me off to give the critics--and there are plenty--ammunition. I'm wondering how many readers will be turned off after wading through some of the dreck that's out there. I'm even wondering if I would have been one of them. Last year, maybe, before I published CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN.

And I'm pissed because it's all so unnecessary. A good editor (mine's Elizabeth Lyon) and a formatter (Hitch at aren't all that expensive when you consider your book will be forever on the internet. Probably they'll cost less than if you spent years and $$$ querying and rewriting for traditional publishers--if you found one.

So guys, get your damned ducks in a row before you hit that PUBLISH button. Please.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Interview with Seraphy Pelligrini of Chicago Stories: West of Western

An Interview with Seraphy Pelligrini

Ex-Marine and Darkpool agent, now an architect in Chicago, Seraphy Pelligrini answers James Liston's ("Inside the Actor's Studio") ten questions.

I wasn't sure she'd be there until I reached Jerrod & Etwin, the storied architectural investment firm where Seraphy worked, and found her red Jeep Cherokee in the lot.
After many unanswered calls and  e-mails, I called in a favor from my friend and her boss, Max Chiligiris. She specified we meet in her office.
When I reached the second floor balcony, I found her expecting me. The door stood open. Seraphy was across the room at her window, a slim figure in a black turtleneck and jeans silhouetted against the grey light of early March. She sensed my arrival and turned from studying the grubby industrial riverfront below. Beautiful in an unstudied way, with that Black Irish coloring that needed no makeup.
"Max tells me I have to do this."
"It's to promote the book."
"Isn't that your job?"
"I'm not the one readers want to know about."
She frowned. "I hate things like this. Can’t they just read the damned book?"
"I'll be gentle."
"That's what they all say," she said with a wry smile. "Let me take your coat." She waved a hand at the client's chair in front of her desk. "Sit," she said and  held out a hand for my coat.
I glanced around. Nice office, big enough to move around in, with an antique drafting board on one side and a large desk and chair on the other. Flat files for drawings, a bookcase full of technical manuals, architectural history books and murder mysteries. Framed architectural photos and renderings on the walls. No photos. My Burbury joined the battered bomber jacket and navy pea jacket in the closet.
She sat across the desk from me, folding her hands in her lap. She wasn't going to make this easy.
"I have a few questions I borrowed from James Liston. What's your favorite word?"
"Excuse me?"
"Just answer the question."
"Cappuccino." Suddenly she grinned. "Yeah, my favorite word is definitely cappuccino. Or sometimes latte."
"What is your least favorite word?"
"Right now? Max."
"Because he's making you do this?"
"You're so perceptive."
I grinned. "What is your least favorite word, seriously?"
"What turns you on, creatively, spiritually or emotionally?"
"Besides coffee?" She looked me up and down and her blue/gray eyes sparkled. "Leather, maybe?" She made it a question and I felt myself reddening. 
"Sorry, I couldn't resist. Um, good design, I think. Things that feel like they were always there and always will be. A certain kind of authenticity."
"What turns you off?"
"Ugliness, of form or spirit."
"What sound or noise do you love?"
 "An espresso machine spitting and hissing."
 "Do I detect a theme here? What sound or noise do you hate?"
"What's your favorite curse word?"
"Shit! Not really a favorite, just seems to be the go-to word."
"What profession other than you own would you like to attempt?"
"There is no other for me."
"What profession would you not like?"
"Any other."
"My last question: if God exists, what would you like to hear Him say when you arrive at the pearly gates?"
"Your father's waiting for you."
She looked at me, her eyes glistening. "That it?"
"That's it. Thanks for seeing me."
She nodded and watched me get my coat.  I heard her sigh of relief as I went out the door.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revising . . . never ends . . .

I did go to Marjorie Rynearson's Story Structure Workshop. Marjorie met with the eight of us in a conference room on the north side of the Loop. Since she's a well-known actress who also has written and directed plays of her own, I hoped her thearical background would offer me a fresh approach to my own writing, and it did. I love characters, but struggle with plots. I've read the plot doctors and tried graphing things out and so on, but wound up with plots lacking flow and life.
Marjorie started with motivation--what does the principle character want? This is the actor's first question. I wish I'd attended one of these workshops a long time ago. Each of us wrote a bit, then the group commented on the offering. I should say the participants were all somewhat experienced writers, actors, editors, etc, so the critiques were to the point. I dragged out the beginning of a book I wrote two years ago that had been languishing in my computer memory, one of those stories that just don't go anywhere. Okay, I thought, nothing to lose here. I'll try it from Marjorie's perspective. Rethinking one of my major characters. Hmm. The first paragraphs came to life. It's not the greatest writing since Hemingway, but its a hell of a lot better than the first draft. I'm going to work on that one as soon as I get Ravenswood sent off to my editor. In a week, if all goes well. 

I've had two weekends with the KDP Select free promo and am a happy camper. Hundreds and hundreds of 'sales'! I'm hoping the readers will love the book and some will even write reviews for Kindle. It's hard for me to ask folks for reviews, but it's looking like I may have to. Maybe start with those who've emailed me that they love Seraphy?  Or the ones who've told me they'll write a review?  Or you guys who read this blog?  Yes, you.

Nearly finished with this revision of Ravenswood. Each time through, I have new insights into my characters. Hmm. this revision thng could go on for years . . . but I do want to get this second installment of Seraphy's adventures up on Kindle by June. Thank God for deadlines, even those I make for myself.

Monday, February 13, 2012

KDP Select and Me

I signed up for the KDP Select program, which allows readers to rent Chicago Stories: West of Western free, but will pay me for each rental. Sounded good to me, especially since libraries struggle with ebooks. Some publishers are refusing to allow libraries to lend their ebooks. 

Signing with KDP was one of my better ideas. Following Rob Walker's advice, I decided to use the promo days a couple at a time.This last weekend was my first, and my sales jumped a whopping 5000%! So okay, I hadn't had all that many sales before. Still.

And the books were free for the two day promotion, so I'm not getting any $$ for them. Who cares? As a debut author, getting those books into readers' hands is gold. Love you, KDP.

Next: finish revising Chicago Stories 2: Ravenswood and get it off to my editor, Elizabeth Lyon, for vetting next month. Or eviscerating. Then rewriting and I hope to have it off to the formatter in June.

Next weekend I'm going to Chicago for actress Marjie Rynearson's Story Structure Workshop.  Actor/director Jeff Dudek invited me and these are theater people, not novelists. The workshop offers me a fresh way of approaching a story and I hope it will help me with plotting.

And I'm taking spending some time in Pilsen, the Mexican/American neighborhood Seraphy's working in in my third Chicago Stories mystery. I love Pilsen.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Correcting a Published work on Kindle, Reviews

West of Western's been up on Kindle for a few days now and I've found twelve errors that somehow slipped through the zillion proof readings. Nasty little buggers, words out of order and several misplaced quotation marks. Ick. When I emailed Hitch at in a funk about this, Len sent me their panicked author correction form. Once I have the corrected pdf I'll send it to Kindle and all will be well. I think. One of the Great Good Things about publishing on Kindle is the ease with which changes in the published work may be accomplished. Especially good for messy people like me.

While I'm waiting for the corrected version I've stopped all promotion. Why promote a flawed book when a better version is in the works?

Even flawed, I've received one 5 star review and one 3 star review on Amazon. I was sad about the 3 star one until I read it carefully, then decided it's pretty good after all. The reviewer was dead right about the typos. I'm thinking about the other criticisms and looking at the revision I'm working on now with them in mind. More, please!

While all this is going on, I'm revising Chicago Story 2: Ravenswood, which will be going to editor Elizabeth Lyons next month for criticism. At some point the story has taken on a life of its own and it's hard to remember I ever made it up. Cheers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Up and Running?

Finally got everything together. I think. Dustin Ashe at sent my fabulous cover, Hitch and her gremlins at formatted it into a decent book, and Amazon put it up for sale. That first sight of the book on Amazon was worth all the down times.

I've been lucky to find professionals to make my way easier. I thought about designing my own cover for about ten seconds--after all, I've been in the arts for most of my life and can muck around Photoshop. But there's a bit of talent and skill needed to make a good cover. For West of Western, we wanted a cover to introduce the series, a series about Chicago and architect Seraphy Pelligrini. My cover designer, Dustin, wanted the show Seraphy's relation to Chicago, and he did. I love the type font and the silhouette of Seraphy and the city behind. Bravo, dustin! 

And there's the formatting. No one makes you hire a formatter, and there are plenty of places to find instructions for the do-it-yourselfer, but that way lies the pits of Hell. A quick glance at some of the Kindle books will show what happens when someone like me tries it. Blank pages, quirky margins, strange symbols dropped apparently at random. I ran whining to Kimberly Hitchens at and cast my Word ms at her feet. In a few days, like magic, I got a proof copy back, shaken and stirred and actually tlooking like a book. Well, aside from the hundreds of glaring errors that hadn't been noticeable in the double-spaced manuscript. Ouch, lots of changes at $1.25 each, and no one to blame but myself. After several passes, we declared it done.

Posting on Kindle was so easy even an arch-Luddite like me could do it. Almost. It took me four days to figure out (with coaching from Hitch) that I'd failed to post the cover separately so Kindle could put it on line.   

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chapter 1, Chicago Stories: West of Western

First day of the New Year and it seems like a good time to post the first chapter of Chicago Stories: West of Western, which should be up on Amazon sometime this month (waiting for the cover). Please comment!

By Eileen Robertson Hamer


            “Damn it, Ellie, I thought I explained,” Seraphy said, shoving her short hair into a thatch of damp black spikes. The real estate agent had dragged her from one loft to another all afternoon and she was stewing in her slim jeans and long-sleeved shirt. She wiped her forehead with her sleeve and turned to face the Realtor hovering at her side.
            “I couldn’t live like this,” she said, waving a handful of listing sheets. “NO MORE yuppified lofts. Period.” Seraphy watched the agent nod, watched the words slide off without penetrating her Realtor mind.
            “But you’ll like this one,” Ellie pleaded, ignoring the signs of impending mutiny. “Just give it a chance.” Ellie had dressed for success that morning, but by late afternoon, her silk blouse clung to her chubby body like pink Saran Wrap and perspiration darkened her careful makeup. Clutching a brochure and a wad of keys in her right hand, her Blackberry in her left, she shifted from one aching foot to the other. Preparing to gush still more Realtor-speak, she glanced up from the listing sheet, caught her client’s expression, and her face dropped. “Look, just give it a chance, will you?” she pleaded.
            “I’m done.” Seraphy shook her head and spoke slowly and clearly in the tone she used to explain to her nephews why they couldn’t put the cats in the clothes dryer. “No more, Ellie.”
            “Get in the car,” said Ellie, temporarily defeated. “It’s too damned hot out here to talk.”
            Once in Ellie’s Mercedes, Seraphy shuffled the remaining listing sheets, wondering why real estate agents couldn’t understand basic English. Were ‘no yuppie rehabs’ a foreign language? Was there some special Realtor gene that blocked anything she didn’t wish to hear? Was ‘Realtorcide’ a word?
            The agent took out her frustration on the car’s air conditioning controls until frigid air spewed into their faces, then yanked her hair off her neck and imprisoned the limp yellow strands in a butterfly clip. While she checked her messages, Seraphy slumped in the passenger seat, skimming the remaining listing sheets with half-closed eyes, more to keep from snarling at Ellie than in any real hope of finding anything interesting.
            Maybe she should give up. She couldn’t understand why this was so hard. All she wanted was a place for a home and studio. Something basic with room for her drafting board and flat files, maybe with a workshop where she could construct models, a loft with a kitchen and a place to sleep. But real estate agent after agent had shown her yuppie specials, overpriced one-time commercial properties gussied up with acres of granite. Basic didn’t bring high commissions.  After chewing through nine agents, Seraphy had found it difficult to find anyone willing to take her on.
            “What’s this?” Seraphy jerked herself upright, peeling a wrinkled sheet from the back of the last full listing in the pile. “Wait, don’t say anything. Give me a minute.” Smoothing the crumpled paper, she squinted at blurred print and a grainy black and white photo. Printed on cheap newspaper stock, and someone had taken a red marker to X out the small industrial building.
            “Why didn’t you tell me about this one?” she said.  “Hmm.” Maybe? The building might be a little tired, but at least it didn’t look savaged by developers.
            “What? Let me see that.” Idling at the curb, Ellie pulled her face out of the air conditioner vent, resuscitated by a sign of actual interest from her difficult client. When she realized which listing Seraphy was asking about, her nose wrinkled. “Give me that!” She snatched at the photo. “That’s a piece of crap, that’s why. I thought I threw it out. Besides, it’s west of Western, out of our area.”
            “Wait.” Seraphy held the paper out of  Ellie’s reach. “Wait a minute—out of who’s area? I never said anything about Western.” She frowned, trying to make out details of the façade. “You say it’s a wreck? That mean it hasn’t been wrecked yet? For God’s sake, I can handle a little rehab, I’m an architect.”
            Her back against the door, she held the photo at arm’s length and stared at the fuzzy image. Not bad, hard to tell from the blurred photo. Okay, so she had to admit, right now anything Ellie hated would look interesting, and Ellie’s resistance only spurred her on. But actually—she chewed her lip and gazed at the image—nice facade, that shallow barrel-vaulted entry had to be—what—1909, 1910?
            “Do you have keys? Can I see it? Now?”
            “No!” Ellie gave up reaching for the listing sheet and shook her head. “Don’t even think it! There’s no way you could live over there. Gangs, filthy streets, run-down buildings. Rats the size of dachshunds. Disgusting.”  She swiped her hand across her cheek and scowled at the orange smear left on her palm. “Shit! I hate summer! There’s a packet of baby wipes in the glove compartment. Grab me one, will you?”
            Seraphy tossed her the packet of wipes and tried to remember if she’d ever been on the other side of Western south of Division Street, then wondered why she hadn’t. She shrugged and turned back to the photo. Her curiosity bloomed as she gazed at the grainy image. Better and better.
            “I’m not worried about the neighborhood.”A yuppie-free zone, and knowing Ellie, the area was probably just unfashionable and the buildings cheap. After ten years in the Middle East, a little shabbiness didn’t bother her.
            “Well, I am. We’re both hot and tired and I’m not dragging you off into a slum.” Ellie’s eyes narrowed and she brought out her ultimate weapon. “Besides, it’s a waste of time, the building’s not mortgageable. Industrial building in an R3 zone. No bank would touch it. You’d have to pay cash.” Groping for the pages her client had tossed on the floor, she failed to see Seraphy shrug.  “Forget it. We’ve still got three real lofts to see this afternoon. Where do you want to go next?”
            “You don’t listen well, do you?” The small industrial building was beginning to smack of forbidden fruit, and Seraphy was a true daughter of Eve. With her skin itching from the heat and her eyes tired from looking at the wrong buildings, she was in no mood to look at another Sub-Zero refrigerator, eight-burner commercial range, or Grohe faucet. “This one or nothing.”
            When the agent took a breath to argue, Seraphy held up her hand, palm out to stop her. “Ellie, listen: do we go now or do I call another Realtor?”
* * *
            Maybe Ellie had a point. Crossing Western Avenue from Ukrainian Village, where sidewalks were scrubbed every day at dawn, they found themselves on Rockwell Street, where nothing was ever cleaned. Eighty year old red brick two-flats and a tired walk-up apartment building lined the east side of the street, a feast of crumbling mortar, peeling paint and taped-together windows. On the west side, a litter-filled vacant lot, a decrepit two-flat and a small industrial building. Broken sidewalks, dirt where there should be grass. Gutters full of fast-food trash, broken glass, leaves and other debris lined the pot-holed street. Scraggly silver maple trees drooped in the August heat.
            But once Seraphy’s eyes fell on the building on the northwest corner of Rockwell and the alley, she didn’t give a rat’s ass. Gazing at the facade, forgetting to breathe, she lowered her window for a closer look. She waited for the familiar feeling of rejection, the knowledge that she could never live in this place, and was surprised when it failed to arrive. Instead, invisible fingers tugged at her, pulling her to come inside.
            “Well, Seraphy, you happy now? I told you the place was a dump. Shut the damned window and let’s get out of this shithole.” Ellie hadn’t bothered to pull into the curb and park. Even idling in the car with air-conditioning blasting, she was steaming. Pulling her silk blouse away from her sticky chest, she fanned herself with her left hand, her foot on the brake. Seraphy ignored her and slid out of the Mercedes without looking at the pavement, her eyes locked on the building.
            “Where do you think you’re going?” Ellie screeched behind her, unhappy in the marginal neighborhood. “Get back in here! Shut the door, you’re letting all my cool out!” She rolled the window half way up as she spoke. “I told you, crappy building, crappy neighborhood. Can we go now?” But her client wasn’t listening.
“I think . . . I want to see the inside.” Seraphy slammed the door and tapped on the glass. Impossible for her to even think of leaving without seeing the whole building. When Ellie lowered the window another spare inch Seraphy said “Give me the keys and wait in the car if you want. Better turn off the engine before it overheats. I’ll be a while.”
“Get real, you can tell from here it’s a dump and it’s on the wrong side of Western. Get. In. The. Damned. Car. Please. We need to get out of here before rush hour.”
            “Just hold on—I think . . .”  Seraphy shook her head, her words tapering off as she scanned the abbreviated listing sheet, looking from the text to the building and back, a tiny flame of excitement growing as she took in more detail. Ellie made little ‘let’s go’ noises, shifted in her seat and played with the radio, released the brakes slightly to let the car edge forward. Her hints were ignored.
            “Yeah,” Seraphy said, decisive now, stashing the listing in a shirt pocket. “Okay, you might as well stop bitching and pull over. I’m taking a look inside.”
            “Give me a break!” If her client wanted to see a listed building, a Realtor was legally bound to show it. Lines sprouted around Ellie’s lips as she yanked on the steering wheel. Her pristine tires scraped the curb and a bottle hidden under leaves and junk food debris exploded under the left front wheel. “Shit! Okay, I’ll show you the damned building!” Ellie hissed through the crack, her eyes shooting sparks. “One look and you’ll see I’m right. And we’re not hanging around, so make it fast. It’s getting late and I’m not getting caught over here—” Seraphy wasn’t listening when Ellie punched the button and the window slid up, cutting off her words.
            In front of the shabby apartment building across the street, three obese old ladies perched on rickety kitchen chairs and stared at Ellie’s slim legs and strappy red high-heeled sandals as she slid out of the air-conditioned car.
            Seraphy had no attention to spare for Ellie’s stream of complaints about the heat, the smell, the neighborhood, the lateness of the hour. Leaning her jean-clad butt back against the car for balance, she ran her architect’s eye over the façade from cornice to footing.
            “Um-hmm.” Delighting in limestone and bricks and tin cornice, her mind paused, absorbed in the old workshop, and tension melted from her face. Good bones, this one. She nodded, her thoughts tumbling over each other like puppies. Tuck-pointing, demo, wiring, roof. She forgot to be tired and hot and miserable, forgot scars irritated by the heat. Her tongue flicked over her teeth as she envisioned the building stripped and cleaned. Beautiful. Her breath caught. This one could be the one.
            “I’m sorry, did you say something?” Seraphy turned to Ellie, vaguely aware of the Realtor, now beside her on the sidewalk, overheated, impatient, shifting from foot to foot, , tugging at her arm.“Do you know who built her?”
            “Yeah. Come on, let’s get this over with.” As Ellie headed for the door, she threw words over her shoulder like machine gun bullets, fast and hard, keeping time with the click-clack of her red heels. “Built as a drapery shop in 1906. Closed in 1973, used as a warehouse, still in the same family. Old guy died, no will, greedy relatives, all that. Empty eight years. Estate problems. I’ll get the door.”
            Stumbling on a bit of broken pavement, she teetered, then lunged to regain her balance. “Jesus H. Christ!” Ellie shook her foot, her sandal now gray with blowing grit and encrusted with dog poop. “Shit!”
            “Well, yeah, that looks about right,” Seraphy replied absently, still leaning against the car, her eye drawn by the rows of windows, the glass grimy and cracked behind rusted iron bars, feeling the building with her eyes. She had little thought left for Ellie. “I can see what you’re saying,” she nodded and ran her tongue around her teeth again, holding back a faint smile. “She’s a little run down.”
            “A little run down, hell.” At the door, Ellie poked at the corroded lock and grunted. “I can’t get the damned key to work.” Turning, she flashed a triumphant smile. “Okay, that’s it. We can’t get in. Let’s go.”
            “Hold on, Ellie. I’m going inside.” Seraphy pulled herself off the car and strolled over to the door, her Nikes automatically avoiding the holes and debris on the pavement. “We’ll get in. You have any WD40 in that briefcase?” Realtors always had WD40. Ellie sighed, dug out a can and tossed it to her client. Seraphy sprayed the lock. Waiting for the solvent to work, her eyes focused on nothing, her head began to fill with hope. Maybe? A place to start a new life? Two stories, three short lots wide, so that’s about, what, seventy-five by, say, fifty feet deep? Lot line to lot line, no yard to keep up. Great space.
            The sweet odor of WD40 blanked out the urine reek of the doorway. The key turned and the door opened a few inches, then stuck. Seraphy joined Ellie to force an opening wide enough to sidle through, the Realtor in the lead.
            “Eeeww. Get back, let me out!” she backpedalled, shoving Seraphy back into the bricks, and stumbled out onto the sidewalk. Spitting and wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, she backed away from the building. “Ugh! Disgusting.”
            “Ellie, you’re such a wuss,” Seraphy grinned. “You’ve been in abandoned buildings before. It’s just a little dirty.”
            “Dirty, hell! It’s a stinking pit. I can’t go back in there, Seraphy,” Ellie shuddered, shaking her hands as if to fling the odors away. “It’s hot as hell and smells like filth. I can’t. Don’t ask me.”
            “No problem. Stay here, I’ll be out in a minute. Better yet, get in the car and stay cool.” Seraphy slipped through the narrow opening, took a breath, and coughed. Jesus, what a stench. Years of rat droppings, urine, feces and, apparently, a dead critter or two? Ellie was right about the heat, too, must  be at least 115° in here. She turned and forced the door open wide for some air. Okay. Breathe through the mouth. Filthy, too. Good thing she’d worn jeans and her old Nikes. Careful to step over the long-dead rats and drifts of droppings that filled space not occupied by piles of abandoned office furniture, discarded appliances and years of junk, she began to survey the first floor.
            Less than ten minutes later, she’d maneuvered through years of debris and checked out the sixteen-foot ceilings, overhead door and concrete floor on the warehouse side of the foyer and industrial maple floors and bank of tall ten-foot windows on the workshop side. The structure looked surprisingly sound, the ground floor would make a great garage and workshop.
            Upstairs she found four offices quartered on one side of the building, a large showroom on the other. Dividing walls between the offices were glass on top, fine oak paneling underneath. Stained, smelly mattresses littered with cigarette ashes and discarded food told her someone had been using the rooms, and recently. She could see the appeal. Even filthy, the littered offices glowed as dust motes caught late afternoon sun streaming through banks of west-facing windows. Bedrooms, an office? Put a kitchen on the west end and use the showroom for a living area? Across the landing from her future kitchen, a large bathroom with its original subway tiles, oval pedestal sink, shower, and green-painted lockers, was grubby but looked workable. Seraphy hesitated at the top of the iron stairs, letting her senses feel the building around her.
            She nodded, lifting one corner of her mouth in a half-smile, remembering what was it Vitruvius had said:  a good building is comprises commodity, firmness and delight. Ignore the stink and under the debris and bad 1960s remuddling, this one had them all. Good space, sound structure, beautiful lines. Her eyes crinkled, the faint smile still on her lips. She could be happy here. Half-way down the stairs, her thoughts deep in plans for the work ahead, she remembered Ellie, now leaning on the horn outside. Damn. She checked her watch. Seventeen minutes, not bad.
            “What the hell took you so long?” Hiding in the car with the windows rolled up and air conditioning on high, Ellie started talking as soon as Seraphy opened the door. “Those guys down there by that wreck were watching us.” She pointed. “Drug dealers. This place creeps me out. No, don’t look at them, they’ll see you.” Her cell phone in hand with 911 on speed dial, she stared as Seraphy lifted her foot to get in the car.“Stop right there. You can’t get in my car like that, you’re filthy.” Nose scrunched in disgust, she tossed Seraphy a clothes brush and the package of wipes and waited, her mouth working, her acrylic nails tap-tapping the steering wheel. “You took long enough. I was about to call 911,” she said once her client had reached an acceptable level of hygiene and slipped into the leather seat. “What the hell were you doing in there?” She relaxed against the seat as the big Mercedes rolled up the street to Division, where she could turn east and escape back across Western Avenue.
            “Looking. Planning. Ellie, calm down. You’re imagining things. Those guys are just working on the car.” Seraphy didn’t want to talk now, she had too many things to think about.
            “No, they’re not. They’re dealing drugs. That’s how they do it, pretend to be working on a car so the cops can’t get them for loitering. Okay.” Ellie failed to notice the change in her client. She needed this commission. A deep breath and she forced professional cheer into her voice. “So . . . while you were in there I was thinking. Tomorrow I’ll look over the new listings and give you a call. This time we’ll stay on the good side of Western, okay?” She smiled, monitoring her reflection in the windshield. The time her client was in the dump she’d spent repairing her makeup and fluffing her hair. “You saw what I was talking about, so we can start again and stay east of Western. We’re both tired, but tomorrow is another day.”
            Seraphy  didn’t answer, wondering how to scrape up enough cash, how soon she could close and which contractors she could talk into starting ASAP.
            Hell. Ellie wasn’t going to like this.