Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest Blogger Today: Elise Warner

Hello Patricia-it’s a pleasure being here today and having the chance to talk about the background for my cozy mystery Scene Stealer. My novel takes place in New York City, the home town of a born and bred New Yorker-me.

Taking the subway to Lincoln Center to buy tickets for their theatre subscription series, I couldn’t help noticing a well-dressed little boy and a scruffy looking man seated across from me. Something was wrong-the two didn’t seem to belong together. The unlikely pair stayed in my mind and developed into the characters I used in my cozy.

The little boy became little Kevin Corcoran, the spokes-child for the Cowboy Bob’s Big Bad Burger commercial. The scruffy-looking man turned out to be his kidnapper, a character actor named Larry Dunn. An actress I had once toured with developed the traits of a retired school-teacher, Augusta Weidenmaier, a strong and caring woman who becomes an amateur detective in her quest to find the child.

No matter how long you may live in my city, you can easily stumble across something you’ve never seen before and I used New York as the backdrop for my story. Parks, Off-Off Broadway theatres, dark streets that hide the few cold-water flats that remain and buildings so tall they hide the sun. Buildings you’re sure weren’t there a month before. You can visit a talk show; study acting or dancing, voice or acrobatics, wander around Greenwich Village, find a place to dine on Restaurant Row, see a celebrity at Sardi’s and, if you stumble across the right street, watch a motion picture or television show being filmed.

I became more aware of New York’s sounds and smells and tastes as I wrote Scene Stealer; the taste of fast food, the smell of garbage and the clean scent of rain, the fragrance of a fresh cup of coffee. The screech of a taxi, the blast of construction, the music issuing from car radios and elevators and shops and most of all, the many different languages and accents you can hear from one end of the city to another. I tried to use this experience in my mystery and I’d like to include a page from the first chapter.

SCENE STEALER Excerpt – Chapter 1

After a chance encounter on the subway, Miss Augusta Weidenmaier, a retired schoolteacher living in New York City, is determined to help the police in the search for missing 9-year-old child actor Kevin Corcoran.

I must have been staring at the child. They were such an unlikely pair: the boy clean and neatly dressed, the man unkempt. For a moment our eyes met; his were frightened, seeking help. Or was it my old lady’s imagination gone wild? No, I understood children. All those years of teaching elementary school, I knew this child was afraid. The man seated next to the boy nudged him and the child lowered his eyes.

As usual, the Broadway/Seventh Avenue local at Sheridan Square was crowded; I stood to one side to allow passengers to exit but the man pushed his way on, dragging the child behind him. A new rush of passengers hid them from my sight when the subway stopped at 14th Street.

Such a darling boy; why did he seem familiar? Of course! The child was the spitting image of that little tyke in the Cowboy Bob’s Big, Bad Burger commercial. The commercial where the boy, dressed in chaps and a ten-gallon hat, twirls a rope and dances a hoedown with animated French-fried potatoes. Big blue eyes and a warm smile people returned. But this adorable child wasn’t smiling.

The train stopped at several more stations. Where were we? I couldn’t see a thing with that portly gentleman standing directly in front of me. I craned my neck to see around him but garish sprays of graffiti obscured the sign indicating the station; I could barely decipher the lettering. This stop was Columbus Circle; the next would be Lincoln Center. Folding my unread magazine, I clutched my purse and umbrella and murmured, “Excuse me. Pardon me,” over and over again as I tried to make my way through the throng. I managed to reach the door just as the train announced its arrival at the 66th Street station with a nerve-jangling screech.

Two extremely rude teenagers blocked the door. One was lost in the cacophony of sound that leaked from his oversized earphones. The other was engrossed in paring his fingernails. A gentle thrust with the tip of my umbrella and I was able to make my exit.

The child and his companion were about fifteen feet ahead of me. When the boy looked back, I thought I could see his lower lip tremble. Impossible, he was too far away and my vision, though I hate to admit it, is not what it used to be. The man placed his hand on the child’s shoulder; they picked up their pace, reached the stairway and melted into the crowd.

Was it the young actor who performed in the commercial or was it someone who looked very much like him? And why wasn’t he attending class this morning? Today was Tuesday, a school day. A very special Tuesday for a retired gentlewoman like me; at 9:45, Alan Gilbert was scheduled to conduct the New York Philharmonic in an open rehearsal of Strauss “tunes” at Lincoln Center. The public was invited to attend. I eagerly awaited a morning spent with Mr. Gilbert and was pleased to have obtained a $10 ticket. It wasn’t often I could afford such a treat. My concern for the boy abated as I thought about the music, Maestro Gilbert and what was reputed to be the maestro’s “blazing heat and power.”

The traffic light turned yellow, then green. Car horns blasted the air with impatience. I checked to see if the vehicles flowing past would obey the signal, since at my age the body slows a bit, and was about to step off the curb, when the little boy tugged at the sleeve of my jacket.

“Ma’am.” The child gasped, then took a deep breath. “Help me.”

“What is wrong, child?”

I never heard his answer. There was a sharp poke in the small of my back and the next thing I knew I lay sprawled flat in the gutter.

For more about Elise-please log on to www.elisewarner.com, www.wordpress.com/elisewarner Scene Stealer is available through www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com, www.borders.com, www.carinapress.com and wherever eBooks are sold. Scene Stealer is also produced by www.audible.com in an audio version.


Taryn Kincaid said...

Love the way the idea came to you! Inspiration everywhere, even (especially?) on the subway!

Elise Warner said...

Patricia: Loved posting on your site. Many thanks. P.S. wrote an article about Christmas cards that was published by American Spirit Magazine about a year ago.

Taryn: The subway holds so many stories. Many are fun, some are sad. Inspires us all/

Susanna Fraser said...

Lovely excerpt! Your character's voice comes through strongly right away.

Janni Nell said...

I read "Scene Stealer" a while ago. Will there be another Augusta Weidenmaier book? [No pressure or anything. :-)]

Jenny Schwartz said...

I'm reading "Inside the Apple. A Streetwise History of New York City" and it's great. People and place interwoven. Elise, you live in a fabulous city that captures the imagination and won't let go. One day, I'll get there :) Till then, books like "Scene Stealer" let me visit!

Katherine Bone said...

Elise, I'm sure there are so many fascinating stories to be found just by riding the subway. What a wonderful way to get inspired, but more than that, to take what you've seen and create something for everyone to see out of it.

Wishing you the greatest success with Scene Stealer! ;)