A while back, I had the pleasure of reading fellow Samhain Publishing author D.B. Kennison’s book Still Life. Such a good read. I’m pleased to have D.B. here today to tell us a bit about her debut and small-town life.
Thank you, Rosanna, for hosting me today with STILL LIFE, book one in the Randi Lassiter Series.
As a debut novel there’s a lot going on in the story—mystery, romance, and humor. From first draft to final copy the number one question I get from friends and fans alike, is how did I come up with the idea for the book?
Well, the inspiration for STILL LIFE was the contrast between the bigger city I grew up in and the small town where I now live. I remember growing up in Denver, Colorado where you waved at neighbors in passing but rarely took the time to really get to know them. People mostly kept to themselves and lived an anonymous life.
In rural, small town, Wisconsin, everyone knows your business or tries to. I mean this literally. When I moved from an apartment to my first house the eldest neighbor caught me between trips and made it her mission to inform me of all the residents, where they worked, marital status, kids, etc. She’d even written it down for me. Apparently, it was important to her that I know everyone and everything in my new hood.
It has always amazed me how compelled everyone is to spread the gossip. There were times when someone shared intimate details about others, things I did not want to know. Things I now can’t get out of my head and have to keep secret.
It’s this contrast between the big city preference for privacy and the small town desire for gossip that started me thinking. What if an amateur sleuth scoops a big city cop when it comes to solving a crime? That was my light bulb moment when it came to the basic concept for STILL LIFE. Here’s an excerpt—enjoy!
Hometown Café was the quintessential roadside diner, with blue vinyl booths along a windowed wall that allowed for breathtaking views of the patched parking lot and cornfields beyond. Chrome swivel stools lined up along a Formica counter that was marred with the brown swirls of hot plates and faded from years of bleach sanitizing. Its nostalgic charm was fine, but their real claim to fame was the twenty flavors of homemade pie offered daily, straight up or à la mode.
Randi’s post-investigation tradition of pie had gone by the wayside tonight. She and CJ waited on hot chocolate as the place became packed with impatient potential witnesses. Over the past hour and a half, individuals had been taken by turn to give an official statement and each gave Randi the evil eye as they walked by her. Word had spread that she was the one who found the body. It was her fault that they were still here, tired, inconvenienced and unhappy. And they made sure she knew it.
“Here you go, ladies. This will help warm you.” Claire, the bubbly brunette waitress, set two large mugs of steaming cocoa down on the table. She looked over at the angry crowd and back down at Randi. “Don’t you worry about them, they’ll get over it. Tomorrow when the story hits the papers they’ll be bragging to their friends that they had a front row seat.” She patted Randi’s hand and went to bus a booth down the line.
“Look at the bright side.” CJ said from the other side of the table. “When was the last time you got to wear such a chichi outfit?” She came away from her mug with a whipped cream mustache and wiped it off with her tongue.
Randi looked down at the pink polyester shift with its checkered pinafore apron attached—the name Gretchen embroidered on the left breast. Her bare feet swam in blue paper booties one of the techs had given her from a crime scene kit. She laughed, it was either that or cry. Only after the detectives had swabbed her hands, vacuumed particulates from her person, and processed her hair with something like a lice-comb, was she given permission to clean up. They’d even taken her clothing as evidence. Left on her own in the restaurant to find something to wear, the shift manager had taken pity and offered her a choice between the spare waitress uniform or a short-order cook’s apron. The latter would have been quite the sexy choice in the right circumstances. However, her ass would have been hanging in the wind, which her sensible side deemed inappropriate. The problem was the uniform was two sizes too small, which meant her bust looked two sizes bigger and ready to burst out any second.
“You know, I once played a waitress for an entire weekend when I dated Bobby Delton.” CJ said, alluding to her love life as she often did—something Randi considered a personality defect rather than a quest for attention.
“We talked about over-sharing, remember?” Randi held up her hand to fend off further details of CJ’s sex-ploits. “One minute you’re squeamish about watching people have sex, the next you’re bragging about your fleshly adventures.”
“I’m not bothered by watching strangers have sex, it’s watching people that I know that’s a problem,” said CJ.
Randi had long ago given up on the hope that CJ would conform to any version of normal. She couldn’t remember the last time CJ’s hair was a traditional color—her bent ran towards fluorescent colors, which she coordinated or more often contrasted with an odd selection of clothing. This week her hair was purple with tiny black bows stuck throughout the spiky tufts to match her black covert ensemble. What surprised her most about her friend, given her weirdness, was that she was an adventurous fifty-five years old. “The thing is, most women outgrow the behavior by the time they’re twenty-five.”
“Meh, their loss.”
Randi rolled her eyes at CJ and looked at the officer who sat in the booth across the way, eyeballing them with suspicion. Officer Trujillo had told them to sit and wait. A detective would come to interview them. In the meantime it was his job to make sure they didn’t leave. Randi did her best to ignore him.
She scanned the room and recognized Chad Sanke, the subject of their recon, standing near the door with a cell phone plastered to his ear, looking absolutely frantic. Randi smiled. The night hadn’t been without its perks. Just then Sarah Redding walked in. Tall and elegant in designer jeans and an expensive silk sweater, she drew the attention of every man in the room. She showed her credentials to the officer at the door and he pointed her in their direction.
“What the hell happened?” Randi’s lawyer reached down to give her a hug. It was the hug she hadn’t known she needed. She was surprised when tears slipped from her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand before her friend noticed. Across the room, Officer Trujillo shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked away.
Randi gained control as Sarah took a moment to greet and comfort CJ as well. She slid into the booth, reached over and thumbed a smudge off Randi’s cheek like a mother would for her child. She cocked an eyebrow at the tiny uniform but said nothing.
Randi and CJ tag-teamed a fast and sloppy explanation of what happened.
Sarah sat back against the tufted vinyl, her mouth slack as they finished. “My God.”
“We’re still waiting for a detective.” CJ said, sullenly.
“Yes, apparently discovering the body does not put you at the head of the line.” Randi spoke loud enough to grab Trujillo’s attention again. Sarah held up her hand to let him know that he needn’t be concerned; she could handle the cranky blonde. Randi flipped him the finger and received the I’ll-bash-that-finger-with-a-ruler schoolmarm look from Sarah for her trouble—ever the mother even though they were the same age.
“Do we know who the woman was?” She asked.
Randi shook her head and dropped her gaze to her lap. She didn’t elaborate on the woman’s condition, or what she had seen in the alley when the police had first illuminated the area. An uncomfortable silence followed.
Sarah broke it first. “I heard your commercial on the radio today. It was nice.”
“Real estate or investigations?” Randi asked.
“Real estate. I think it will bring you a few more clients.”
CJ yawned and changed the subject. “Speaking of men—”
“We were not speaking of men,” said Randi.
“I have the perfect—”
“Stop! No more blind dates!”
The friends burst into laughter, all thinking about Randi’s last blind date. One, after weeks of harassment, she’d finally let CJ arrange.
“Come on, tell it again.” Sarah winked at CJ like a co-conspirator. “We can use some laughs while we wait.”
Randi shivered. “Oh my God, that guy was so weird!” The man had taken her to a Madison sports bar that transformed just for Sunday brunch, known as Porn in the Morn!
She couldn’t fathom such a concept. It was like explaining the rationale behind Ed Gein—the Musical, which was based on a serial killer’s life. Incomprehensible!
Of course she had no idea the restaurant did the makeover one day a week and Randi never questioned his choice. “I remember trying to hold a conversation, unaware of the screens due to first-date jitters. I’d just asked him if he liked full-contact sports… when I looked up and saw a ménage à trois on the screen.” She slapped a hand on her forehead—what had she been thinking? “The worst part was when he started comparing his sunnyside-up eggs to the porn star’s nipples!”
Realizing that her voice had risen, Randi glanced around to make sure no one was eavesdropping and then leaned forward, dropping to a whisper. “What I want to know is how many first dates had that yokel taken there before that. And later he’s sitting around scratching his balls and wondering why none of those women jumped on a second date. Talk about delusional!” She waited for the sympathy and comfort she knew her friends would bestow—the way women support each other in friendship without judgment—when without warning, CJ slapped a palm down on the table and let out a “whoop” that turned to laughter.
Trujillo started to get up. Sarah once again waved him down as she hid her own giggles behind her hand. People were starting to stare.
“And you wonder why I don’t put you in charge of my personal life.” They’d gained a small measure of composure when a man in jeans and a T-shirt stopped at their booth.
“You look like you’re having a good time tonight, ladies.” He leaned onto the table with beefy hands and tanned, muscled arms. Although he addressed them all, he stared openly at Randi. Or, in another manner of speaking, Gretchen.
He wasn’t bad looking if you liked that unkempt, disheveled kind of guy. But the way he looked at her was unsettling. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise along with the creeping spread of a blush. Nosey bastard! This was a café for Christ’s sake, not a bar. And there had been a tragedy here tonight. She shot him a patronizing smile. “We’re sharing a private moment.”
He didn’t move. “It’s strange you gals seem to be having such a fun time considering the circumstances. Maybe you can explain that to me.”
What the hell was this guy’s problem? What kind of idiot would pick this particular time to hit on a woman? Just another ball-scratching egomaniac on another Sunday. And he obviously did not recognize a brush off when he heard one.
Frustrated that she was still stuck in the diner, needing to shower and to get the hell out of the constricting uniform, this guy’s attitude had pushed her over the edge.
She spoke in slow, carefully chosen words that he could understand. “Look Buddy, it’s really nice of you to come over here…but we are really tired. It’s been a long night and we don’t need your concern, or your charm. We’re just three friends trying to lighten the mood after a crappy evening.” She paused to make sure he was paying attention. “If you want to meet the woman who fell on a dead body then take a number. And if you were hoping to get lucky.” She made air quotes with her fingers. “Then you can take a flying leap, ’cause that’s never going to happen.”
CJ and Sarah sat wide-eyed at her uncharacteristic outburst. Down by the door, Trujillo had gone pale. To her astonishment the stranger remained, concreted in place and staring down at her as his lips spread into a slow, lopsided, sexy smile. Unbelievable!
“Are you hard of hearing?” There was a sudden edge to her tone. She crossed her arms, which pushed her cleavage up ever higher. “Look, Shitforbrains, do I need to call a cop? This place is swarming with them.”
The man dug a wallet out of his back pocket and flashed her his detective badge. “You don’t say?”
DB Kennison was born and raised in Colorado where some of her fondest memories took place with a book tightly fisted in her hands and days were spent reading and daydreaming. As a kid, she remembers weekly trips to the library and the excitement of getting to pick something fresh and new from the stacks. She still feels that way when looking for a new book to read.
After moving to Wisconsin, she came to love life in a small town and along with it, an appreciation of great beer, and cheese. Her heart is there among the rolling hills and limestone bluffs.
DB currently lives in the middle of nowhere with her handsome, supportive husband, and three spoiled dachshunds, which vie for position as daily muse.
As someone with an active imagination, she is constantly weaving tales and now putting it all down on paper. What an adventure!