Crime Fiction and Romance

As I researched my first novel, NO BRAKES: ON THE WING, it became clear I needed to include some romantic scenes. Did you know that Romance is the most popular novel genre? Even crime fiction writers are spicing up their stories with romantic elements. Money talks and book readers buy Romance.

So I wrote some romantic scenes, hoping it would help the sale of my debut novel. Reluctantly, I might add. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family where romantic displays between my parents were kept to hugs and pecks. Surprise! Surprise! I discovered that writing romantic scenes was fun. I’ve toyed with writing a romance novel and decided to start with a short story. It’s titled, “The Hot Dog,” and is 800 words. Tell me what you think.


I first noticed him at a college football game. He was playing Frisbee in a grassy area adjacent to the bleachers. He had glossy, black hair that shined in the sunlight. After entertaining the crowd with athletic catches, he relaxed with a group of doting college girls. I wanted to meet him. My introverted nature began to harp its usual caution.

Nothing unnerves me more than trying to make small talk. After a few words, I go mute. People don’t appreciate good listeners – they want to be entertained by charming, effervescent people. That’s not me. My shy personality hinders me from going after what my heart wants.

Not this time, I vowed.  Today I was going to plow through my fears and approach this handsome stranger. How could I lure his attention from the throng of female admirers? I spotted the concession stand. Hot dogs! I purchased two. I maneuvered through the crowd.

A pretty co-ed blocked my path. “Is he yours?”

“Of course,” I said, shrugging her off.

When I sat beside him, I warmed to his soft, chestnut eyes.

“I have an extra hot dog,” I said. “Want it?”

He ate it in nothing flat. I laughed from my belly. He didn’t mind when I nicknamed him “Oscar.”

I began talking. For once in my life, the words rolled from my tongue. Oscar listened to every word. Before long, I was touching him while I spoke. He seemed comfortable with the intimacy I had never risked before. When the football game ended, Oscar walked me home. He stayed.

For the next two months, Oscar spoiled me. I no longer had to be the listener – I could gab all I wanted.  He paid close attention while I read him my English literature essays and practiced my Power Point presentations. Oscar never criticized or laughed at my mistakes. When I returned from a day of classes, he was thrilled to see me.

Meals were my favorite part of the day. Oscar relished every morsel I prepared. After dinner we’d cuddle on the sofa and watch television. I’d think about how lucky I was that he’d picked me. I grew to love him with all my heart. I knew he loved me. He told me so with his kisses.

No matter what the weather, we took nightly walks in the neighborhood surrounding the campus. Rain, snow, sleet – it didn’t matter. It was fun being together. Except once. He’d left my side to go exploring. Suddenly, two men materialized in front of me. One displayed a knife while the other ordered me silent. My mouth went dry, I couldn’t scream. My legs froze, I couldn’t run.  I knotted my fists to fight back.



Oscar appeared. I’d never seen that look in his eyes or heard that tone in his voice. Dangerous. Fierce. Menacing.  I knew he would kill the men to protect me. They knew it, too, and bolted. Afterwards, I fell to my knees. Oscar comforted me while I sobbed out my terror.

Two weeks passed. There was a knock on my door. The day I had been dreading had arrived – Oscar was going to leave. I opened the door with tears in my eyes.

“I’m Steve,” said a man with glossy, black hair. “Are you Sara?”

“Yes. Please come – ”

Oscar flew through the living room and leaped at Steve, knocking him onto the front stoop. Steve put his arms around Oscar. They rolled around on the stoop while I stared speechless.

“I missed you, buddy,” Steve said between Oscar’s licks and kisses. Oscar’s tail thumped against the railing. Eventually, Oscar allowed Steve to get to his feet and come inside.

Steve shook my hand. “I don’t know how to thank you. Somehow he got out of my backyard. I’ve been looking all over for him. Then I saw your ad in the paper.”

I swallowed my sorrow. Sometimes doing the right thing is too darned hard.

“What’s his name?” I said, half-choking on the tears caught in my throat

“Lucky.” Steve wiped his eyes. “You know, he really is a lucky dog. He found you.”

I had to get away. I didn’t want to start bawling. “I’ll go get his things.”

Lucky trailed me into the kitchen. After I gathered his food, toys, and leash, I knelt in front of him and stroked his face.

“I love you,” I whispered. I ended my good-bye with a kiss on Lucky’s forehead. When I stood, I discovered that Steve was behind me.

“Sara…um…sorry, I’m not very good at this.” Steve’s face turned a slight shade of pink. “Will you have dinner with me?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“Great!” he said. His soft, chestnut eyes were dancing. “What kind of food do you like?”

“Hot dogs.”


Photos by Geoff Scott (football), ED (street) and Eiliv Sonas Aceron (hotdog stand) on Unsplash.



Oh, Those Darn Speed Bumps!

Don’t you hate speed bumps? I do–especially when they slow me down from getting where I need to go.

I live on a gravel road with a straightaway. Speeders love the straightaway. They fly down the road, throwing gravel, kicking up dust, and sending pedestrians scurrying for safety. The miscreant drivers are usually visitors to the area, but some culprits live in the neighborhood.

The property owners association spent years trying to slow down the speeders. The community residents resisted speed bumps for the usual reasons: they’re inconvenient, they’re ugly, and they detract from the bucolic nature of the neighborhood. The POA decided to experiment with other traffic-calming strategies.

First came the speed limit signs. They were ignored.

Next came the radar speed sign to make drivers aware of their excessive speed. The result? Drivers used the sign to race against their previous speed records. Who could resist that kind of challenge?

Eventually, the residents resigned themselves to getting speed bumps. They worked!IMG_2763At first, residents grumbled about them.  But now the road keeps its gravel longer, the potholes are fewer, and the dust is less. Pedestrians can enjoy peaceful strolls. It took some time, but we became accustomed to the slower pace.

It’s all good.

Why am I writing about this? For a few years, I’ve been blogging on Tumblr. I have a steep learning curve when it comes to computer technology. Ask my ever-patient children. They know well the pitiful look I give them from my writing perch whenever I get stuck.

Tumblr was fairly easy for me to learn, but it had its downsides. My fellow writers recommended I switch to WordPress. I resisted. No, it’s too hard to learn. I’m too busy. My garden’s calling me. I need a cookie.

My lovely daughter gave me a pep talk. Funny thing, it was the same one I’d given her a couple of hundred times. Yes, it’s hard to learn new things, but you’re smart. You can figure it out. C’mon, you can do it!

I’m back on the learning curve. There are lots of speed bumps. I’m crawling over them. I’ll get used to the WordPress speed bump. Eventually, it will all be good. That’s what I keep telling myself.

In the meantime, please be patient when I accidentally publish a post before its ready, or the photograph I refer to isn’t there, or a blog post shows up in italics for some mysterious reason.

Thanks for reading.

Pep-talk comments welcome!

Best, Ellen

The Aftermath of Writing a Crime Fiction Novel

Write what you know is the first lesson a
writer learns in writing classes. While I was growing up, my father liked
action movies (he called them “shoot ’em ups”). My mother didn’t care for them,
so my father took me to all of the shoot ’em up movies.   I spent my formative years watching Clint
Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Gene Hackman movies.  I loved the car chases and the fights.  I later developed an interest in crime
fiction novels.

inspiration for No Brakes: On the Wing
came from a client who consulted with me on a nearly-impossible dilemma. The dilemma
changed my thinking about a particular recurring issue in my adoption practice.
I decided to take the dilemma to an extreme and write it in the genre of crime
fiction.  I knew the basics of criminal
law, but needed to learn more. It was important to me that my novel
be as accurate and authentic as possible, while leaving a bit of room for

A fundamental
element of any novel is conflict. Good stories require conflict. Who wants to read a book where there are no problems to solve, no arguments to
settle, and everyone is happy? Even children’s stores have conflict. Will
Goldilocks get into trouble for trespass, theft and destruction inside home of
the Three Bears? Will one of the Three Little Pigs figure out how to thwart
the Big Bad Wolf?

To enhance the
conflict element of my book, my protagonist needed some personal
challenges to overcome. Lucy Prestipino is a high school dropout, recovering
from alcohol and drug addictions. She’s a bicycle messenger who races against
the clock. She gets involved with a gang member and challenges a prosecutor.

One of my first
research topics was teenage addictions. I attended a seminar and immersed myself in internet research. Within a day, I
was bombarded with e-mails advertising rehabilitation services. Faster than I
could hit “unsubscribe,” I got more e-mails from different rehab centers.  Within a week, my residential mailbox was stuffed with hard-copy
advertisements. It still hasn’t stopped.

My internet research took
me into the dark world of crime. I found gangs that had their own websites. I researched crime scene
investigation, forensics, bullets, handguns, interrogations, trafficking, and domestic
violence—just to name a few topics. All are saved on my internet server’s
“favorite places.” Here’s a photograph of some of my favorite places. 


I read the frightening
and heartbreaking book, Finding Chandra:
A True Washington Murder Mystery
by Washington
reporters Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham. When Chandra disappeared, one
of the first actions taken by police was a forensic search of the young woman’s
computer. It made me wonder: if I suddenly disappeared, what would police find
on my computer? I shuddered at the thought. I told my husband, “If anyone
needs to look at my computer, make sure to tell them I’m a crime fiction
writer.” I didn’t want anyone thinking I’m an armed gang member who traffics in drugs. 

Soon afterward,
there was the reported case of Patrick Wayne McLaw, a middle school teacher in
Dorchester County, Maryland. Initial news reports stated he was also a writer
of science fiction. School officials became alarmed when he wrote a novel, set 900
years into the future, about a mass school shooting. He was put on leave
with pay and taken for a medical evaluation. The internet went berserk. Was he
being persecuted for his imagination? He hadn’t actually done anything.  The Baltimore Sun later reported that the
actions taken by the school system were based on a series of writings, including
a possible suicide letter, and a gigantic
model of a school he’d built in his backyard.

I don’t know what
happened to Mr. McLaw. I look at my “favorite places” and wonder if, one day,
I’ll be whisked off for an evaluation. 

It’s time for me to get my mail. I’m sure I’ll
find plenty of addiction rehab letters.