Writing Goals for 2020

As we roll into the second week of 2020, I’m taking some time to look at where I am, writing-career-wise, and where I want to be at the end of this year.

2019 in the Rear View

In 2019, I did finally achieve one goal of mine: I got a short story accepted for publication.

Not published, yet, but accepted, at least. And that’s something I couldn’t say before.

I didn’t finish the edits to the current novel, though, like I wanted. My internal deadline slipped from October 31st, to November 31st, to Dec 31st, and still I didn’t make it.

So one win and one miss? Or one win and one delayed victory?

I’m going to work to make it the latter.

To that end, I’m adopting the following three writing goals for this year:

Four Short Stories

Maberry proposed this one at the last Writers Coffeehouse, and I think I’m going to adopt it.

It means one short story every three months, which seems doable. One month to draft, one month to solicit feedback, another to edit it into shape.

To that end, I’ve already started noodling on a new story. It’s an idea I’ve been chewing on for a few months, looking for the right angle. I’ve decided to just go ahead and write it, dammit, because sometimes the best way to know what a story’s about is to write it down.

Finish the Current Novel

And when I say finish, I mean finish. Edited, reviewed by beta readers, edited again, and polished as much as possible.

I want to be realistic, and not pick a date mid-year for finishing, this time. Progress on the book has been slow, so far. I’d rather be finished early, and not have stressed about it, then worry myself about a deadline that’s only in my head.

So I’ll aim to be done by December 1st. I’m again stealing the date from Maberry, whose reasoning is that if you finish by December 1st, you can spend all of December partying (instead of working your way through the holidays). Sounds like a good plan to me 🙂

Post More

Beyond writing fiction, I’d like to post more on this blog and on Twitter. Both to interact more with you, dear readers, and also to work on my essay skills.

Looking ahead a year or two, I’d like to be writing essays at a level I could sell. To get there, I’ll need to practice.

So, more blog posts: movie reviews, book reviews, and the occasional counter-point to articles I come across.

Four Writing Techniques I Needed in 2019

I read a lot of writing advice. Books, blog posts, twitter feeds, you name it.

I know it won’t all work for me. But how else can I improve my craft, other than trying new things, and seeing how it comes out?

So here’s four techniques I tried out last year (or carried over from 2018) that have stuck with me, and that I’ll be using a lot in 2020.

One-Inch Picture Frame

Source: Anne Lamott

My current go-to technique. When I’m sitting at the keyboard and the words won’t come, and I think this is it, my imagination’s run dry and I’ll never finish another story, I reach for this.

The idea is simple, and powerful in the way few simple ideas are: Instead of worrying about writing the chapter, or writing the scene, I focus on writing only one little piece of the scene. Just describe how she feels after getting caught in a lie. Describe how he looks at his old room differently, now that he’s been away from home for ten years.

Drill down into something very specific, and write just that. Nothing more.

The narrowed focus lets me relax a little. Because I can’t write a chapter anymore, oh no, and I can’t write a scene, that’s for sure, but I can write how it feels to see someone you love after thinking they were dead. I can do that

And once that’s done, once I’ve really described everything in my one-inch picture frame properly, I look up and I’ve already hit my daily word count goal.

Tracking Word Count Score

Source: Scott Sigler

This one’s a carry-over. Sigler first laid out his points system for tracking word counts at a Writers Coffeehouse in 2018. I tried it out then, and it got me back on track to finish the first draft of my current novel.

Since then, I’ve kept using it: 1 point for each first draft word, 1/2 point for each word gone over in the first editing pass, 1/3 for the third, etc.

It’s helped me feel productive in cases where I wouldn’t, like revising a short story I finished months ago, to get it to the point where I can submit it to magazines. And it’s pushed me to keep writing until I hit that daily word count, and relax when I do so, because I know by hitting it, I’m working steadily towards my larger goals.

Showing Emotion and Thoughts Instead of Telling

Source: Chuck Palahniuk

I was really skeptical of this one. He wrote it up in a post for LitReactor, and it’s couched in language that’s self-confident to the point of being arrogant.

But he’s right. Switching from using language like “she was nervous” to “She looked away, and bit her lip. The fingers of her right hand started drumming a quick beat on her thigh, tap-tap-tap,” is a huge improvement. It’s pushed me to think more about how each of my characters expresses themselves in unique ways, and given me the tools to show that uniqueness to the reader.

Scatter and Fill

Source: V.E. Schwab

Schwab’s twitter feed is a fantastic one to follow for writing advice. She’s very honest about the struggles she faces, and how much guilt she feels over being such a slow writer.

But the brilliant results (in her books) speak for themselves!

In one of her posts, she talked about how when writing a novel, she doesn’t write it in any sort of order. She’ll fill in some dialog in one scene, then a set description in another, and then action in a third. She gradually fills in the work, like painting a canvas, where every brush stroke counts and adds up to the final product.

I’ve always felt compelled to write in strict order, start to finish. So reading this technique works for her was very liberating for me. I still usually write in order, but now if I’m finding it hard to get motivated, I’ll skip around. Write down some dialog that comes to me, or an action or two. Sometimes I can hit my daily word goal this way, and sometimes it just primes the pump so I can fill in the rest. Either way, it gets me around my mental block, and lets me make progress.

Keeping Score: November 1, 2019

3,026 words written this week.

Most of those are on the novel, but about a third are edits on the short story I wrote back at the SoCal Writers Conference in September.

Reading the story now, I think I like it more than I did before. Not necessarily the language the story’s told in; I can see plot holes and awkward phrasing. But the story itself: The characters and the setting, how the protagonist’s heart gets broken, and how she pieces herself back together. That’s what I’m in love with.

A good sign, maybe? Certainly it motivates me to finish, to edit and polish the story until it’s the best version I can produce.

But it also means I might miss flaws in the telling. I have to beware of liking my own voice too much, instead of the voices of the characters.

How do you balance being critical of the work versus liking it enough to keep going? Do you tend to err on the side of hatred, or do you fall too much in love with your work?

Keeping Score: August 16, 2019

Only 450 words this week.

Instead of working on the novel, I’ve spent my time revising a flash fiction story, the one I wrote at WonderCon back in March.

The first two markets I submitted it to rejected it. I was about to submit it to a third, when I re-read it and saw some things that just…weren’t right.

So I printed it out and took it with me to this week’s Write In. I thought I’d be done with it in the first sprint, but I ended up working on it all night, trimming words here and there, rephrasing dialog, and dropping entire paragraphs.

I think the resulting story is shorter and stronger. The one thing I’m unsure of is it introduces a bit of jargon, a word that the two main characters (who are non-human) use to refer to humanity. I think it fits the world they’re in perfectly, and ties into the story’s ending, but then again, maybe it’s too subtle? Or jarring?

It’s hard to judge. I’ll probably send it out for one more read-through by some friends before submitting it again.

What do you do, when writing other worlds that might have different vocabulary from our own? Do you explain them bit by bit? Minimize it as much as possible? Or embrace the jargon, and count on the story to carry the reader along?

Keeping Score: August 9, 2019

Only wrote 1,263 words this week (so far). But I feel like I accomplished a lot.

I went back to the write-in event this week, and again, having two hours of unbroken writing time is simply fantastic. I finished an editing pass on a short story, helped one of the other writers brainstorm ideas for her story, and wrote two pages on a new scene in the novel I’ve been revising.

I’ve also noticed printing out the text I’m editing seems to help. There’s something about being able to cross things out and scribble notes in the margins that lets me treat what I’ve written as more of a work-in-progress, instead of a delicate glass bird I might shatter if I alter it too much. It’s liberating, and I think I’m going to do that with all my work from now on.

Who knew that buying a home printer (for a totally different purpose) would have such an impact on my writing process?

What about you? What helps you get into editing mode? Is it just time away from the work, or do you do something to force you to see it differently?

Keeping Score: April 12, 2019

1,134 words written so far this week. So I’ve got some catchup work to do this weekend.

About half of those words are from revising the flash fiction story I wrote at WonderCon. I tried to do it right this time: I put it aside for a week, sent it out to some very kind friends who were willing to read it, and then started working on it after I’d had a few days to digest their feedback.

I feel like this second draft is orders of magnitude better than the first. Though even calling it a second draft is somewhat disingenuous; I’ve written three other drafts of the same idea (different characters) before, neither of which really worked. So in some ways I’ve been working on this story for just two weeks. In other ways, I’ve been working on it for (checks date on Scrivener) almost a year.

Ye gods.

Found another gem on Twitter this week, from writer A Lee Martinez, that I’d like to share. It pushed me to re-examine my own dialog tags, and tighten things up a bit in that short story I’m working on.

The whole thread is good, but this is the bit that resonated with me:

It’s like this:

“I don’t know.” He turned to her. “I don’t.”

VS.

He turned to her. “I don’t know.”

Even something as minor as that can turn a sentence, turning a scene, turning a chapter, turning a whole book. It’s not that every word matters, but the ones that do, really do

I realized I tend to do the former a lot, particularly when I’m trying to mimic the cadence of real speech. But his tweet made me realize my writing would be stronger if I stopped using dialog tags and other interruptions as crutches, and just let the dialog speak for itself. True, that might mean changing the dialog. But the writing will be better for it.

What about you? What piece of writing advice has made you change something, however minor, in your own writing?

Neighbors: Part Four

A few days later, Wright was standing outside my door again. I looked past her, at the uniformed cops dragging a handcuffed Dave away from his condo.

Wright was smiling. “Thought you’d like to see the fruits of your labor,” she said.

I shook my head. “I still can’t believe you found proof.”

“Well, he was clever to pump out the urine. Not so thorough about getting rid of it. Or his tools.”

“Guess we got lucky.”

“You got lucky, kid.” She chuckled. “I just did my job.”

She started to follow the uniforms out, then turned back. “Speaking of which, you should be getting a check from a thankful city soon.”

I grinned. “Thanks. But how will I cash a check made out to ‘Anonymous’?”

She smiled back. “Well, I might have listed you as a consultant on the case. Don’t thank me too much, though. You gave us a pretty cheap rate.”

She strode down the hall, whistling.

I went back into my condo, wondering how this would affect my unemployment.

Neighbors: Part Three

Brian’s doubts gnawed at me all the way back from the pub.

As soon as I got home I went to the police department’s website to look for any information on Emily’s death. I found it under the heading “Police Investigate Death in Little Italy.”

The article didn’t say much more than the officer had told me earlier. Two things stood out: the cause of death was still listed as Unknown, and Dave hadn’t been booked for murder.

That should have settled it. After all, if the police didn’t think Dave was involved, why should I?

Besides, how much did I really know about Dave and Emily? Were we even friends on Facebook?

I logged in to check. We were.

Feeling a little guilty, I started reading through Emily’s timeline. I told myself I was just trying to get to know her a little better, a silent memorial to the neighbor I’d lost.

And I did learn some new things. She’d been a nurse, working shifts at Sharp Hospital. She posted several photos of dinners made for her by Dave, a consolation at the end of her workday. She’d been thinking about getting a dog, and posted pictures of cute ones she’d seen on the street.

Just for comparison, I clicked over to Dave’s timeline.

Not much there. A couple of bitter-sounding posts about how the recession was supposed to be over. Half-hearted attempts to promote sales at the Macy’s he worked at. Some back and forth arguments about politics around election time.

Oddly enough, though, his relationship status was set to “Single.” I double-checked Emily’s, which was still set to “Married.”

WTF? He’d changed it already?

I scrolled all the way back to the top of his timeline. Sure enough, at the very top of the page, it announced the change in his relationship status.

It was dated 6:53 pm on a Monday, two weeks ago.

I felt a chill go down my back.

Why’d he change his status so early? Were they having problems?

I dug through their timelines for another hour, but couldn’t find anything. If they were on the rocks, they weren’t posting about it. I suppose that made sense, but why else would he update his status?

Why else, unless he knew what was going to happen?

I chuckled at myself. What did a Facebook status prove? Brian’s comments had gotten me pretty worked up, to be thinking the guy next door had killed his own wife.

And how would he have done it, anyway? If there’d been any obvious marks on the body, the cops would’ve cuffed him then and there, right?

I checked the time. 6:00. Dave’d probably be home from work by now, assuming he’d even gone. I hadn’t talked to him since last night. Shouldn’t I go over and offer my condolences?

And wouldn’t that be a great way to get some more information?

Dave answered the door after my first knock, surprising me.

His eyes were red and bloodshot. “Yeah?” His gaze wandered down to my shoes, back up to my face. “Oh, it’s you. Sean, right?”

I cleared my throat. “Yeah, I uh – ” the speech I’d prepped seemed false, inadequate. “Can I come in?”

He nodded, opened the door wider. “Sure. Come on in.”

His condo was laid out basically the same as mine, but reversed left to right. His kitchen was on the left side of the front door, with the living room stretching ahead and to the right. A closed door at the far end of the left-hand wall led to the bedroom, I assumed.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No, thanks, Dave.” I took one more look at the kitchen, at the dirty dishes piled in the sink, the empty wine bottle in the trash, and stepped into the living room. “Actually, I was wondering if there was anything I could do. You know. For you.”

He nodded, his gaze wandering over the furniture. There was just enough room for a couch and two small chairs, all three of which were covered in a combination of cardboard boxes and candy bar wrappers. He sighed. “Thanks, Sean, but I’m doing ok so far.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He rubbed his hand over his face. “Um, not really, thanks. Did enough talking with the cops and the doctors and the ” – his voice caught – ” the funeral home. I’m all talked out.”

I nodded. “Okay. I understand.” I gestured at the boxes. “Are you moving?”

He tensed, then shrugged. “Yeah. Maybe. I dunno. Might move back east. I’ve got family in PA. Don’t really want to stay here anymore, you know?”

“Yeah. I know.”

He let out a deep breath. “Anyway, I’m staying in a hotel tonight. Just gotta – ” he waved his hand in the air – “gotta get away for a bit.”

I nodded again. “Gotcha. Well, if you need anything over the next few days, just let me know, man.”

He smiled a little. “Thanks, Sean.” He walked over and re-opened the door. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

I stepped out, raised a hand in farewell, and went back to my condo.
I slumped on my own couch, thinking.

What had that accomplished? Wanting to move wasn’t telling enough. Who would want to stay in the apartment your spouse had died in? The candy wrappers didn’t speak too well of his eating habits, but that was it.

I closed my eyes, trying to remember what the living room and kitchen had looked like. Was there something I’d missed?

There was. Hanging on the living room wall, right next to the bedroom door, was a framed movie poster for Arsenic and Old Lace.

Hadn’t I seen that movie mentioned recently?

I flipped open my laptop and went back through Dave and Emily’s Facebook pages. There, listed on Emily’s About page, was her favorite movie: Arsenic and Old Lace.

I don’t know why, but I looked up the movie on Wikipedia. The movie poster on the page looked just like the one I’d seen on Dave’s wall, except his had a couple of stains near the center.

Still wondering why I was being so paranoid, I read the plot synopsis. That sent another chill up my spine.

The “friendly aunts” in the movie had poisoned their victims with a mix of arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide. How had they given it to their guests? Mixed in with elderberry wine.

It was probably a coincidence. But it didn’t feel like one.

I wondered if I should go to the police. But what would I say? My neighbor changed his Facebook status too early, and happened to give his wife elderberry wine on the night she died? Even I knew it didn’t amount to much.

I pulled out the business card the cop had given me that morning. She said to call her if I thought of anything, right? That everything was important?

I dialed her number on my phone. Maybe I could convince her.

She picked up on the fifth ring. “Detective Wright speaking.”

I swallowed, told myself I had nothing to lose by talking. “Hello, Detective? This is Sean Cook. We spoke this morning?”

I heard a chair squeak on the other end. “Mr. Cook? In Acqua Vista, is that right?”

“Yep.”

“How can I help you?”

“You said to call if I remembered anything else?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Well, I’ve remembered a few more things.”

More sounds on the other end, like a notepad being dragged across a desk. “Such as?”

I glanced at the wall I shared with Dave’s apartment. What if he could hear me? “If it’s ok, I’d rather not say over the phone.” Shit, I thought, I made it sound like I knew something really important, not just some details scraped from a Facebook page. “Could I come down to the station and talk there?”

She sighed. “Sure, Sean, that’d be fine. We’re on Imperial and 25th. You know where that is?”

“I’ll find it. Thanks.”

She hung up.

I took the trolley as far down to the station as I could. 25th was way past what I considered the safe part of downtown.

Good thing I was going to hang out with the cops.

The one at the front desk made me wait while he paged Detective Wright. She showed up just five minutes later, but even that felt like an hour.

She took me back into one of their interrogation rooms. Asked me if I wanted anything to drink. When I said no, she sat down in the chair across the table from me and crossed her arms.

“So, Sean, what did you remember?”

I told her what I suspected: that Dave had poisoned his wife using cyanide or arsenic mixed in with the elderberry wine he gave her the night she died. I described how it matched up with Emily’s favorite movie, and that Dave had changed his relationship status too early.

It still sounded crazy, even to me, but I tried to make it as coherent as possible.

When I finished, she nodded, but kept her arms crossed. “Interesting theory, Sean. But it’s missing a couple of pieces.”

I sighed. “What’s that?”

“Motive, for one. Why would Dave kill his wife?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Your second problem is that cyanide leaves very distinct traces in the body: hair, nails, even urine. We always test for those in cases like this. And guess what?”

I hung my head. “You didn’t find any.”

She smiled. “Bingo.”

She stood up. “So, unless you’ve got a motive for me, or can explain how someone could poison another person without leaving any sign, you should go home and stop worrying about your neighbors killing each other. Ok?”

I nodded and stood, feeling foolish. “Ok.”

She escorted me back to the front desk, then left me to sign out on my own.

I trudged out of the station and back to the trolley, wondering how I could be so stupid.

How could I have forgotten motive? What possible reason could Dave have for killing his wife? I’d never heard them argue, never seen either of them bring a stranger home, nothing.

And of course the police checked for poison. It wouldn’t cost them anything, and would catch all the usual suspects.

I told myself to face it: I’d had a hunch, but it didn’t hold up. I almost felt like I should try to apologize to Dave for thinking bad of him.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept jolting awake, frightened by dreams of some mad tea party with all the colors drained out of it. Dave was there, hanging in the background, screaming “Charge!” every five minutes.

Not relaxing.

After I gave up on sleeping and just got up, I dressed and went downstairs to fetch the mail. I’d forgotten it the day before, and was hoping my unemployment check would be in there.

Instead, I found the motive.

Tucked between a junk circular and a bill from Cox Cable was a letter from a law firm to Emily Ericson. It was stamped “second notice” in big red letters. The mailman must’ve pushed it into my box by mistake.

Normally I just push these mis-filings back into the mail slot, so they’ll be sorted properly the next day. This time, I carried it up to my apartment with the others.

I looked up the law firm online. Their specialty was Estate Planning and Wills.

Had Emily recently updated her will? I went back through her timeline. Nothing in there.

Maybe someone in her family had died?

I used Facebook to track down her sister and brother, which gave me her maiden name. Their posts led me to her mother’s blog, whose most recent, sad, entry talked about the death of Emily’s aunt two weeks prior.

Perhaps her aunt had left something for Emily in her will?

I knew it was a federal crime to open someone’s mail. I told myself Emily was dead and wouldn’t mind, especially if it helped catch her killer.

Sure enough, the letter was a notice from the law firm that Emily’s aunt had recently died and named Emily as the prime beneficiary in her will. The lawyers needed Emily to come down and sign some paperwork to make everything official.

It didn’t seem that exciting until I Googled her aunt. Turns out she’d owned a majority stake in an international shipping business, with branches on both coasts. The stock alone was worth a few million.

Had Dave kept back Emily’s mail? If she didn’t have a will written up, he’d get everything now.

I called Detective Wright. I didn’t mention the letter, just suggested that she look into Emily’s extended family. I told her it was something I’d heard from Emily a few weeks ago, about her aunt being sick.

I could tell she didn’t think it was important.

Two hours later she called me back.

“I don’t know how you knew,” she sighed, “but it seems Emily stood to inherit a lot of money before she died.”

“Did she?”

“Don’t gloat, kid,” she chided. “You haven’t explained the disappearing poison.”

“Yeah.” I glanced at my laptop, open to an article on cyanide poisoning. “Still working on that one.”

“Well, if any more ideas hit you, give me a call. If it helps, I’ll put it down as an anonymous tip, see if we can’t pay you for your time.”

Seriously? “Um, thanks,” I mumbled.

“No problem,” she said, and hung up.

I went back to reading the article.

According to it, a person could die from ingesting just a little bit of cyanide. In a low enough dose, the person would slip into a coma, twitching a little before going into cardiac arrest.

Sounded to me like what had happened to Emily.

But where was the evidence? Cyanide victims were supposed to get a pink flush, and leave traces of cyanide in their blood, their lungs, their urine. Where could it have gone?

I kept thinking about the question through lunch, turning the problem over in my head like some homework assignment.

Maybe I was thinking about it in the wrong way. If I were Dave, how would I get rid of it?

The answer hit me like a slap in the face. In the urine.

I dialed the detective’s number. As soon as she picked up, I burst out with “Did Emily have any urine in her body?”

“Sean? Is that you?”

I cleared me throat. “Yes, Detective Wright, it’s me. Look, I think I’ve figured out what happened to the cyanide. Did Emily have any urine in her body when the EMTs got her?”

She sighed. “I can’t tell you that, Sean. Why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking, and I’ll look into it?”

I took a deep breath. “Okay. I think Dave gave her a really low dose of cyanide in the wine, just enough to turn her sleep into a coma, and slowly kill her.”

“Mm-hmm?”

“Most of what her body didn’t absorb went into her urine.”

“Possibly.”

“I think Dave somehow pumped the urine out of her, so we wouldn’t find anything.”

She sighed. “That’s kind of a stretch, Sean.”

“I know, I know.” I swallowed. “But there’ll be evidence. He had to get rid of the urine, right? He probably flushed it down the toilet, which means he might have splashed some around. And -”

“And if he threw away the container, it’ll be in his trash,” she finished. She was quiet for a few seconds. “All right. I’ll check into it. If I find anything, you’ll know.”

“How’s that?”

I could hear her smile through the phone. “We’ll be making an arrest, that’s how.”

Neighbors: Part Two

By the time I made it to Shakespeare’s Pub, I’d calmed down a little. Brian was already there, flirting with one of the waitresses. She stuck around just long enough for me to order a Guinness, then hurried off to check on her other tables.

Brian stared at her as she left. “Man, those British accents. They make any girl sexier, don’t they?”

I snorted. “Whatever you say, man.”

He turned back to me. “Hey, what’s wrong with you? Why’d you need a drink in the middle of the day?”

I told him everything I’d learned that morning: how my neighbor Emily had died in her sleep sometime last night, how her husband Dave had called it in, how the cops had grilled me about it.

Brian let out a low whistle when I was done. “That’s fucked up, man. Do they think Dave did it?”

I shook my head. “Dunno. They’re probably just getting all the information they can. I didn’t see them arrest him or anything.”

He nodded. “Right.” He tilted his head. “Was Emily the blonde in 405, or the brunette in 410?”

“Brunette.”

“Damn. Always wanted to fuck that one.”

I set down my drink. “Dude, too soon.”

He glanced at me. “Right. Sorry.”

We both took a sip of our beers.

He sighed. “It’s just – she was a little older, right? But still in great shape.”

“Brian-”

He held up his hands. “Hey, I know. I’m just saying, how does a healthy chick like that just go in her sleep?”

I shrugged. “That’s what’s so fucked up about the whole thing. No warning.”

Brian lifted his glass. “Well, we’re still kicking, and I’m grateful for that. L’chaim!”

I raised my own glass, tapped his, and drank. “L’chaim.”

Neighbors: Part One

“Could you repeat that, sir?”

I tore my eyes away from the body being wheeled out of my neighbor’s condo and turned back to the police detective standing outside my door, notepad in hand.

I cleared my throat. “He said he just wanted to borrow some milk.”

She checked her notes. “That would be David Ericson, correct?”

I nodded.

“Did he say anything else?”

I closed my eyes for a second, trying to remember. “No, not really.”

The cop looked up at me. “Not really? What does that mean?”

I sighed. “Nothing important. I mean, I asked him what he was cooking, that kind of thing.”

“Everything’s important. What’d he say?”

“He said he was making dinner for his wife again, forgot a few ingredients. Said the milk was for his almond-crusted chicken.”

“And that was the last time you saw him?”

“Um, no. Actually, he came back a little later for some flour. Traded me a glass of elderberry wine for it.”

The cop glanced up again. “Elderberry wine, huh? Any good?”

I shrugged, not sure it mattered. “Yeah, I guess.”

The cop flipped her notebook closed, then pulled out a business card. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Cook. If you think of anything else that might be relevant, just give me a call.”

I took the card. “Will do, detective. Thanks.”

She nodded and strolled back next door.

I stepped inside and pushed the door to.

My neighbor was dead. Not ten feet from where I slept, another human being had died. How fucked up was that?

At least she’d died in her sleep. That’s what the cop told me, anyway. Maybe she said that just to make me feel better. They don’t really know these things till later, do they? Don’t they have to do an autopsy or something first?

I realized I didn’t want to be alone. I called up Brian, convinced him to meet me at Shakespeare’s.

I really needed a drink.