Hitting the Ground Running with Crazy Characters

With Sleuth Fest just a few weeks away, I’ve been practicing my Reader’s Corner piece. Twelve attendees were invited to pick a short read with a ten minute time limit. I haven’t decided if I want to read half a chapter in five minutes, or the whole chapter in ten. From what I gather from people who have done this before, the shorter reads hold the audience’s attention better. But, high action prevails over exposition or back story. To cut my piece to five minutes would clip off the high action. It’s a crime romp and the tone of the book is well demonstrated in this piece.

The suggested categories are:

Hitting the ground running

Calls to action

The usual suspects

Peeking through keyholes

Clever tricks

Milieu scenes

Stark confrontations

Mulling it over

Crazy characters

Cliff hanging suspense

And there should be a point to the read.

I can read my first chapter aloud in less than ten minutes. It’s a “hitting the ground running” chapter that does introduce the crazy characters. It’s also a non-spoiler chapter that will show in the book’s Look Inside, so I don’t mind sharing. However, I recently read a post about NOT naming street names in fiction, unless they are iconic. The photos show the iconic gay club complex and an iconic Orlando street in the first chapter. The piece I plan to read names several streets. My editor didn’t seem to mind, as they are necessary for the car chase. Now I’m wondering if I should strike them for more generic terms.

Chapter One

There was only one thing worse for business than not solving cases and that was keeping a new client waiting, and this one was the former mayor. Already running late for a meeting in Winter Park, Richard Noggin drove north on Orange Avenue through moderate nighttime traffic in his sporty, silver, two-seater Mercedes convertible, the top down and the air-conditioner blasting. As he approached Michigan Avenue, coming into downtown Orlando, two figures darted onto the road from his left.

Swerving and slamming on the brakes, tires squealed as he screeched to a halt in the middle lane. They stood like deer in the headlights, a tall woman and a young girl. A transfer truck thundered past on his left, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Richard yelled as cars whizzed past on either side. The woman marched the girl by the shoulders around to the passenger’s side. “Hurry. Let us in!” Releasing the girl, she tried the locked door, then grabbed the window ledge with both hands, shoes dangling.

He eased off the brakes, starting to roll, and looked across the car. Standing in the street in her sequined white halter and miniskirt, the woman looked terrified, panting and wiping her windswept, auburn locks back from her face. The almond-eyed girl even more so, with facial bruises and a busted lip. He took his foot off the gas. Dammit, he couldn’t drive off and leave them in the middle of the busy street. Before he could let them in, the woman tossed the high heels and her oversized shoulder bag inside, threw her long, lean leg over the door, and plopped herself into the passenger’s seat. She yanked the young girl over onto her lap.

“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”

Richard raced to the intersection.

“Turn left here!” she ordered.

“Isn’t this the direction you came from?”

“Just do it!”

He had a green light and took a hard, fast left in front of oncoming traffic, heading for Orange Blossom Trail, known locally as O.B.T. Then it hit him – these two had come off the Trail; the hooker trail in the red-light district. This was asking for trouble, but his investigative curiosity took over. “Why are you running?”

“Because standing on the curb waiting on a bus wasn’t an option.” A black car raced past in the opposite direction. She ducked, trying to pull the girl down with her. “I don’t think they saw us.”

“How could they have missed you? She’s sitting with her face pressed against the windshield.”

“You’re exaggerating.” The woman sat upright, shifted the girl in her lap to one side, and stroked the dash of the car. “Damn, your payments on this pretty girl must be more than Donald Trump’s monthly tab for hair spray.”

“She’s paid for.” He rolled his eyes and shot her a quick look. “Who are you hiding from?”

“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”

“What men?”

“All I know is I was coming out of the Brown Pelican Lounge on south O.B.T. when this girl came charging across the parking lot next door in front of the Shady Breeze Motel, screaming, ‘Help, men with guns!’ I looked at her and her busted lip, and hearing ‘Guns!’ figured we ought to run. I snatched off my shoes and did just that.”

“Why didn’t you take her inside and call the police?”

“Let’s just say there were a few gentlemen inside whose company I didn’t care to keep.”

“So, you ran with her?”

“You catch on real quick. Two guys chased us on foot and two ran for their car.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Turn right at the light and take me home.”

“You live on the Trail?” he asked, only half-joking. He slowed for traffic at the intersection. Her scent caught him. The voice was mellow and raspy, like a smoker, but her fragrance was cinnamon and oranges, her skin, the color of fine café latte. Arms wrapped around the young girl made her cleavage deepen. She turned to him with emerald eyes sparkling.

“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”

“The gay club?”

“Resort. The Parliament House Resort. I’m a showgirl. Name’s Brandi, formerly Brandon.”

Richard did a double take, swallowed hard, and took a right turn, proceeding north on Orange Blossom Trail. “Where were you taking her?”

“The twenty-four hour pharmacy on Michigan, to get something for her lip, and let them deal with her. I dunno. What would you do?”

“I’d probably call the police.” He sped up and passed a few cars ahead.

“I’m sure those guys with the guns would’ve waited for us to do that.” Her sarcasm as strong as her perfume. “I used to be a cop and I know they’re not gonna do a damn thing for her. As far as they’re concerned, she’s just another poor girl walkin’ the streets.”

“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a cop.”

“It was a brief stint.”

He ran through the caution light at Kaley Avenue. “Call the police and have them meet us at the Parliament House. I have an important dinner appointment in Winter Park and I’m already late.”

“And I have a show to do tonight,” Brandi fired back.

“Well, I can’t keep her.” He glanced at the silent girl. “What’s your name?”

“Cara Kieu.”

“Where do you live?”

“I not know much English. Cara Kieu scared.”

Richard gave Brandi a hard look. “Listen, I can’t keep her. You’re going to have to figure this out.” He reached into the pocket of his sport coat. “Here’s my card. Call me later if you can’t deal with her, and I’ll see what I can do.”

She took the card. “Richard Noggin, P.I. Just my luck, I get picked up by Dick Head, P.I.” She tucked the card into her purse at her feet.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

He felt Brandi’s soft touch on his shoulder and cringed, her hand caressing as it moved up his neck. What the hell was he getting himself into?

She nudged him and smiled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most striking crystal-blue eyes? They’re really set off by your thick, dark hair.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”

“I notice things about men.”

“I’m sure you do.” He leaned away, hoping she’d get the message that he wasn’t interested.

They crossed the intersection at West Church Street. A black Nissan pulled out behind them. Brandi jerked back her hand and ducked, pulling Cara down with her. “Holy shit, it’s them!”

“Hold on.”

He took a fast right onto West Central and another onto Parramore. The Nissan followed. He sped through the stop sign at Jackson and turned left into oncoming traffic on South Street, a busy, three-lane, one-way road. Cara screamed and clung to Brandi.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“Wasn’t that your problem in the first place?” In his rearview, he noted the Nissan cross South Street behind them.

Horns blasted as cars roared by left and right. He saw a black Nissan speeding along on the next street over. Dodging angry traffic, he careened past the Amway Center, turning onto yet another one-way at Hughy. With no sign of their pursuers behind them, he plowed through.

Cara Kieu screamed again as he swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a city bus. After a couple of blocks and a quick left, he drove around the State Marshall’s Building, then made several fast turns through the downtown neighborhood streets. Soon, they would come out on the Trail.

He’d made a complete, albeit dangerous, wide circle. When they reached Orange Blossom Trail in front of the Parliament House, he parked the car on the corner. “Get out.”

Brandi looked at him in disgust. “You can’t just leave us here.”

“You need to get out and run. I don’t know how long we’ve got before these guys are back on our tail.”

“Okay, we’re outta here.” She opened the door, pushed Cara from her lap, grabbed her shoes and bag, then jumped from the vehicle and slammed the door. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”

Richard watched as they crossed O.B.T. to the Parliament House. RuPaul’s Raja: Heaven Scent gleamed on the billboard. Beneath all the neon multicolor, Brandi dazzled, looking like she was right where she belonged.

He sped away north up the Trail, and east onto Colonial through Little Saigon, then headed north on Mills Ave, with no sign of the black Nissan all the way to Winter Park.

 

 What do you think?

 Do street names in fiction bother you?

 Would you cut this down to a five minute read?

15 thoughts on “Hitting the Ground Running with Crazy Characters

  1. Having never done a public reading outside of poetry, I don’t know what to say about the length and time. Follow your gut is my knee jerk response. As far as the street names, I think it gives some character to the scene. There’s a sense of geography there. I might be biased since I recognize things like O.B.T. So I got some nostalgia from it. Honestly, I’d think using proper street names would be a great way to create more immersion.

    • Those are my thoughts about it, especially as my intended audience reads Florida regional fiction and will most likely recognize the icons. The geography helps understand the roundabout way he gets them dropped off. Immersion is a good descriptive word for the goal of the reading. I really want to grab the audience and not let them go.

  2. If you can read that in 10 minutes – do it. Action like that will prevent people from looking at their watch. Street names don’t bother me – I do it all the time. My theory is – people unfamiliar with the area will skim right over them and people who know the area will enjoy the familiarity.

    • That’s my take. I love it when I read Florida fiction and recognize places. Some of my most favorite authors do it, including you, Carl Hiaasen, Randy Wayne White and Tim Dorsey. That’s one of the reasons I love the subgenre. J.D. MacDonald did it too. Thanks for ringing in. I don’t have to have a long set up for this chapter either, which means the set-up required won’t bore the listener. I’ve read aloud and attended many reads with my local writer’s group. Sometimes the set-up puts me to sleep before the read starts. I try to grab attention with the set-up, but keep it brief.

  3. I never heard anything about not using street names in fiction. I think it would be more confusing not, too. Street names don’t bother me in the least. They ground me and give me a sense of place.
    I thought this was an awesome opening, Susan. Great dialog, visuals and a fast pace. I was hooked from start to finish!

    • Good to hear! I switched a couple of sentences around and made it more sequentially readable. “They stood like deer in the headlights, a tall woman and a young girl. A transfer truck thundered past on his left, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.” Just made more sense to have her react to the horn blowing than to whack the car for no apparent reason. Anyway…it’s still a WIP, even after it’s been edited and proofed.
      Hooked from start to finish!” were the best words you could have shared with me. That’s my intent and I hope my reading aloud does it justice. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s