Works in Progress

So I have a couple of projects cooking at the moment, and I thought you’d be interested in what’s going on.

Writing (3 of 29)

First, Western Fictioneers like my story for Luck of the Draw and have asked that I create a character for the shared-universe setting of Wolf Creek. This is very exciting – I love the series and am fascinated with working in a shared world.

I’m working on a character that is basically Chance if he’d grown up in a different sort of world. Dublin is a mixed-race street kid from New York City who gets caught in a police raid and sent to the orphanage, where he is promptly shoved onto one of the Orphan Trains that operated back then, carrying orphans West (presumably to happy homes, but more often to families that just wanted extra labor for the farm). Dublin’s having no part of that, so he manages to escape when the train stops for fuel and water at Wolf Creek, Kansas.

Dublin is convinced he will have no trouble surviving in the country, though his ultimate goal is to get back to his home in New York. He’s going to learn that surviving in the street of a big city takes totally different skills than surviving in a small town on the middle of the prairie. I envision Dublin as a go-between for the town, shuttling information back and forth between the “good” side of town and the “bad” side – his fingers in every pie, feelers out for all secrets and gossip, willing to sell his knowledge to the highest bidder. He’s not above an honest day’s work, but he’d much rather earn his money quasi-legally without what he thinks of as actual labor.

The second project is another Kye and the Kid story. My agent sent me a link to the latest Malice Domestic anthology, “Mystery Most Historical.” I’ve got until July 31 to send in a 3,500-5,000 word mystery story set in the past.

Kye and Chance are in San Francisco for this story, still in their teens and new to the city. They visit a carnival and Kye talks Chance into seeing a Gypsy fortuneteller. The story revolves around a mysterious stranger, nefarious doings (that weren’t orchestrated by Chance), and a cryptic warning about ravens. I think it’s going to be pretty good.

Keep an eye peeled for these two projects – I’ll post links once the Wolf Creek story is published, and I’ll let you know what happens to the Malice Domestic entry.

For You: Snippets

Here are a few scenes from the new book for your amusement!


Our heroes have reached New York City and are taking an afternoon walk:

There is nothing quite so certain to attract the attention as a promenade in the proper section of town. Music filled the air as street musicians plied their trade along the sidewalks. Sidewalk vendors hawked their wares: hot chestnuts, neckties, jewelry, newspapers and magazines, and, of course, toys. Many of the department stores were already decorating for Christmas, and we stopped to admire their windows in the gaslight. We were forced to skip and dodge around the masses of children, all struggling for a glimpse of a mannequin dressed as Santa Claus, his trusty spyglass in hand, with which he keeps a sharp lookout for good little boys and girls.

“We shall have to purchase some token gifts for our friends back home,” Emily mused as a trio of women hustled past us, their servants close behind, laden with boxes and bags. 

“Let’s make a day of it once we’ve solved this case of ours,” I said, leading the way into a nearby restaurant. Snow, in my opinion, is far better viewed from behind a thick glass window. “We can buy up the town if you want.”

Chance decides to infiltrate a gentleman’s club:

At the door of what looked like a fairly typical mansion, I was examined minutely for evidence of substandard dress, and eventually allowed to set foot in the foyer. The man didn’t even take my coat and hat, but asked my business in a voice that would have made the stuffiest English butler proud.

“I’ll be in town for a few weeks,” I replied, putting on my best Old Money Face and ignoring the marble staircase and velvet curtains. I was fairly certain that the hat stand had cost more than our parlor sofa. I proffered my own gentleman’s club card, printed on the finest ivory paper and gilt-edged. “I’ve been told the Knickerbocker Club is a fine establishment.”

“May I ask which of our members was so indiscreet as to mention this fact?”

and Chance’s opinions on his home city:

San Francisco never ceases to enthrall me. We passed through her streets, busy even in the middle of the afternoon, and between her grand buildings. The horses strained at the steep hills, and I could hear them blowing as they hauled us upward at a steady walk. The tang of smoke filled the air, and fine ash drifted down from the chimneys of the houses and offices. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Stone was still sulking when we alit at the Old Poodle Dog. We’d be lunching in the restaurant, not in the second-floor banquet halls, so we strolled in via the front door. The waiters knew us, of course, and whisked us quickly to a table near one of the windows. I pretended not to know that this was more to show off who was dining with them than to provide me an uninterrupted view of the never-ending parade on the city streets.

Kye and I ate at the Old Poodle Dog fairly often, and had even made use of the private suites upstairs, along with Emily. Somehow, the owners avoided scandal, though the suites included a bed and bathroom along with the dining area. Stone admitted that this was his first visit, so Kye proceeded to educate the man on the intricacies of the menu, recommending this fish and that meat. I left them to their culinary discussion and resumed my favorite activity: people-watching. At this hour of the day, most of the folks bustling along were deliverymen or servants, sprinkled with the odd businessman on a late lunch hour. I amused myself by figuring out which was which without looking at their hands, which would provide a dead giveaway.

For You: The Lads Board a Train

This is part of the scene where the lads (and Emily) head off to New York for their new case:

A few last-minute arrivals bustled over, and were hurried on board. With a whoosh of steam and a series of great jerks, the double engines pulled us away from the station. A cloud of cinders flew past the windows, sparkling in the gloom, and the scent of wood smoke stung my nose. That ash would get everywhere if we opened the windows or left the car. Our clothing would require a good cleaning once we reached our destination. I had to remember that it was small price to pay for such a speedy journey. After all, it had taken our grandparents months to travel across the country. Just because I’d prefer to be relaxing within my own drawing room was no reason to disparage the wonders of modern technology[ Check etymology].

Emily and Barbara stared eagerly out the windows as we rode through the Sacramento Valley. This late in the year, the harvest was all gathered, but the valley was still green and lovely. The train swayed and jerked, and the constant rattle of the wheels lulled one into a daze. I pulled out The Mysterious Island, a new volume by Jules Verne. That, a couple more new books and a few old favorites should last the journey. I didn’t look up until the train began to climb the Sierras. The setting sun turned the rocks of the mountains golden. My appreciation of nature may be less than that of modern convenience, but I can recognize beauty when I see it.


We broke out the fried chicken dinner Mrs. Rowell had packed, and made use of the dining table. The porter, when summoned, was happy to fetch a coffee service and pour the wine, especially when I dropped another coin into his palm. These fellows made little or nothing from the big bugs of the railroad, and depended on their tips to make ends meet. A well-greased wheel moves easiest, and Chance Knight is all for greasing the wheels of society. “George” agreed to keep the coffee pot filled for us.

“If you like, sir,” he added, “I can provide an informative lecture when we reach the most interesting spots on the journey.”

“Oh, we should enjoy that very much,” cried Emily. “I’m certain you have seen every inch of the countryside by now.”

“George” smiled and nodded his curly head. “Yes’m, and I’ve got some mighty interesting stories, too. You’d be surprised what happens on a train.”

The landscape outside the windows changed from rolling fields to rugged cliffs and ravines and broken ridges, covered by dense stands of pine. The odor of the evergreens overpowered even the scent of the ash flying alongside the windows. I reached for my book.

“About our conversation the other day…” Emily said with a smile that raised the hackles on the back of my neck.

Kye had the audacity to chuckle.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I said, opening the novel pointedly.

“Your memory is perfect, my dear. You are well aware that I am discussing Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid.”

A Writing Retreat

As most of my followers already know, I’ve just gotten back from a “working vacation” where I spent most of my time writing Book 2. I got somewhere around five chapters done in just over two days.


Here are some ideas for planning your own (not too expensive) writing retreat:

  • Take the train – this is what I did. Just book a short train trip, either round-trip or one-way and fly or drive the return trip. There won’t be any WiFi to distract you, and cellphone coverage will likely be spotty as well, so you’ll be forced to knuckle down and get that writing done.
  • Get a room – splurge on a local hotel you’ve always wanted to try out. Even just a weekend away from the usual setting can be enough to stir your creative juices, and you won’t have to cook or make the bed.
  • Rent an RV – just drive somewhere fairly scenic and park. Stay as long as you like. The downside is that you have to do your own cooking and cleaning.
  • Go off season– you can often get a private cabin, condo or other location for cut-rate prices during the off season. Visit the beach during the winter, or the ski lodge during summer. You’re not going there for the socializing, anyway.
  • Set your alerts – most of those travel-booking sites have alerts you can set up to email you when there are special deals or when prices drop below a certain level. Keep an eye on your favorite spots and book a retreat when prices are low.
  • Go off the grid – if you can’t afford any of the above ideas, you can have a retreat at home if you steel yourself and shut off all the distractions. Set a time and shut off everything except the essentials. No internet, no cellphone, no TV or video games. You might even consider going whole-hog and writing longhand on paper, just to avoid temptation.

I recommend a retreat for every writer, even if it’s only for a few days, as mine has been. Just getting away from the routine can result in a great jump-start for your project. Oh, and  that train trip? Going to do it again next year – you can bet on it!

ZephyrArt2015 (2 of 34)

Photo Shoot: Stone

Here are some ideas for “Stone” Kirkham’s looks:


Stone’s proudest feature is his fine mustache…



Stone is a serious fellow … hard working and ambitious



He wears the latest fashion … only not perhaps as fine as Chance’s outfits




Stone is a bit proud of his achievements…





He’s a bit too straight-laced for the lads…


Photo Shoot: Chance

Here are some of the character ideas I’ve checked out for Chance:

Chance_Idea1His hair is this curly but the bangs hang down into his eyes most of the time

Chance_Idea2More curly hair

ChanceIdea6This is his baseline expression … might even be Chance with his hair slicked down under control…

Chance_Idea6He’s kinda cute…

Chance_Idea5 Messy but cute…Chance_Idea4Love the curls, David!

For You: A Night at the Theater

This is what’s going on now – the lads have taken Emily out to the theater to avoid the hubbub over the “arrest” of Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid …


Chance’s baseline expression…

Emily leaned over as we took our seats in the box. “I am not certain that I quite agree with you, my dear.”

I was only half-listening, having caught a glimpse of the positively scandalous neckline on the dress Mrs. Scott flaunted in the box across the theater from us. That lady gave me a knowing smile and turned so that I could admire her silhouette. Emily slapped my arm with her fan.

“What?” I hastily put on a Contrite Face. “I mean, do forgive me, my dear. I must be feeling my age tonight if my attention could wander from your radiant beauty.”

She snorted and slapped me harder. “Age be damned, Chance Knight. If you’re 25 I shall eat my hat, feathers and all. And I saw what Eudora Scott had the audacity to wear at her age.”

I ducked my head as sheepishly as I could. My blasted curls promptly flopped over my eyes. Kye chuckled and I reached behind Emily’s back to clout him one on the shoulder. His answering punch was immediate and painful. I readied my fist once more.

“Boys,” our companion murmured, swatting each of us with the fan. “While it might be amusing to watch the two of you wrestling, I do feel that it is something we should save for the privacy of your own home.”

Kye’s ears went red. I hiked an eyebrow at Miss Sharp. “I shall have to remember that sometime. I had no idea that your interests lay in that area.”

“That is not what I meant, and well you know it. We were discussing Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid.”

“We were not.” Ye gods, was there no escape?

“Do you really believe that all outlaws belong behind bars?”

My eyebrow rose once more. “I believe that I was merely asking a rhetorical question, my dear.”

An obstinate expression crossed her face. This was an expression I was familiar with, and I restrained a sigh. I was not going to be able to weasel my way out of an argument. And I knew from sad experience that even a sudden about-face to her side would not save me. I shoved my hair back out of my eyes and glanced upward in supplication. The ceiling had no answers for me, not that it ever had.

Emily crossed her arms. “You are prevaricating, my dear. Mr. Hamilton asked you a direct question, and you side-stepped the issue.”

Kye leaned forward, rubbing the bicep I had punched. “Chance don’t never give his opinion, Miss Emily. Ain’t you noticed?”

“I had noticed. And I am pinning the scoundrel down in this instance.” She turned to fix a glare upon me. “What is your true opinion of the outlaws in question?”

This was why I avoided such questions. I could hardly tell the woman the truth. I widened my eyes and tugged a half-smile onto my lips. “I cannot understand your interest in the subject, my dear. The question is moot at this point, as the law has caught up to them at last.”

This was the truth, though Emily would never know it. Having to give up our lives as Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid was nearly as bad as actually going to jail. Damn Kirkham and his Association. I’d had my eye on the Deweyburg bank for months. All that silver from the mine … and now my plans were foiled forever. 

Emily kept up her glare. “The point, my dear, is that you are dancing around the subject. I should like a straight answer. My interest is irrelevant.”

Fortunately, at this point the orchestra increased their volume, signaling the beginning of the play. The lights in the house dimmed, and a spotlight focused all attention on the stage. I heard a sigh from my companion as I happily turned my attention to our evening’s entertainment. Perhaps by the intermission, the woman would have forgotten the entire incident.

No such luck. As soon as the gaslights came back up, Emily extended a hand, and as I helped her to her feet, leaned close to my ear. “Do not think that I have forgotten our conversation. I am going to get an honest answer out of you — one way or another.”

God forbid. The only time Chance Knight gave an honest answer was when there was nothing at stake. And even then, I have been known to bend the truth, just to keep my hand in. If only Emily weren’t so very sharp. She had an alarming tendency to see through many of my schemes. In fact, I had recently began to suspect the woman might actually be immune to my Faces. And a con-man without his Faces is … well, the thought just did not bear dwelling upon.

I managed to avoid the issue as we mingled. I also managed to get a close look at that scandalous dress. Emily thumped my shoulder as I angled towards the Scotts, but pasted on a smile as the lady turned to display her prodigious bosoms.

“Eudora,” she murmured, kissing the air beside Mrs. Scott’s cheek. “It is warm in here, isn’t it? So sensible of you to dress for the heat.”

Mrs. Scott, thankfully, was one of those women with more bosom than brains. She merely smiled happily and angled her best assets in my direction. Her husband took firm hold of her elbow and steered her toward the refreshment table. Kye, on his way back from the same area, stepped out of the way and hoisted his plate above the couple’s head. He glanced downward and his face went red. I elbowed him as he returned to our side.

“You need some air, partner?”

Kye’s elbow hit my ribs with a thump, nearly shoving me into a potted palm. He shoved half of a slice of cake into his mouth, probably to avoid answering me.

Emily turned her back on the retreating couple. “I trust no more will be said about this unfortunate wardrobe choice. The woman does not have the sense of a ground squirrel, after all.”

I leaned close. “She’s got a couple of things no ground squirrel has, though.”

“A gentleman would not deign to notice.”

Good thing I never claimed to be a gentleman. 

A Day in the Life: Chance

No one day in Chance’s hectic life can be considered ordinary, but we can make some generalizations.

A handsome young fellow from the 1800's

A handsome young fellow from the 1800’s

Chance generally rises later than his partner. His active mind often makes it difficult for him to get to sleep and stay asleep, so he frequently dozes off around the time Carmela is starting the kitchen fire. Once up and moving, he’ll stop by the kitchen for a light breakfast with plenty of strong coffee. Before that, however, he must shave and make certain he is the epitome of masculine fashion.

After breakfast, he and Kye usually read through the morning newspaper in search of entertainment. Chance usually spends the afternoon working on whatever project he’s got going, whether it’s collecting information for their next job, practicing his card games or lock-picking skills, or writing the next installment in the Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid dime novels.



If left to his own devices, Chance might forget to eat lunch. If he’s at home, one of the servants will remind him to eat, or if he’s with Kye, he’ll get dragged into whatever restaurant is closest. Chance tends to have his heaviest meal in the evening, and he likes fine dining. If not dining at home, he’ll choose one of the best restaurants in town and be certain he has reservations for the evening.

He and Kye usually spend the evening in search of entertainment. Chance prefers more excitement, while Kye is more comfortable with a few friends. Chance is likely to be found at any large social gathering, at the theater or a lecture, or anywhere people gather. He’s just as likely to be found in the “bad” section of town, too, though he’ll wear his oldest clothes in that case rather than dressing to the nines.

Lick House restaurant, San Francisco

Lick House restaurant, San Francisco

Chance enjoys strolling the streets of San Francisco, and often doesn’t stroll back home until early morning. He might have a pocket full of cash from a poker game, or he might just have spent his time exploring his city.