This week, I’m looking for YOUR Nickel’s Worth on my book excerpt

image I’ve been talking about publishing my second book, “Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing: Pearls of writing wisdom from 16 shucking years as a columnist” since September. So guess what? That’s right!

It’s still not done.

However, please accept this week’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing as my doctor’s note. The truth is, I’ve been side-tracked by a lot of life-changing events the last few months, including moving into a new home, the latest season of The Bachelorette and the discovery of DubSmash. I’ve also been spending time visiting an old friend β€” a murder mystery I wrote 15 years ago.

They say for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Following that train of thought, the flip side of humor is drama. In this case, I’ve been delving into the flip side of my weekly humor column to work on “No Safe Harbor,” which has been collecting dust and patiently waiting for its final revision since I put it aside in 1999 to pursue my career as a columnist. I’ve decided the wait is finally over for this manuscript, which I’m preparing the final draft for in hopes of a mid-August debut.

It’s not your traditional murder mystery in the sense that it’s really more of a “why-done-it.” There’s no mystery behind who commits the murder, only questions:

Why was it committed?
What does a seemingly homeless young boy know about it?
Who can he trust?
And will a solitary private investigator with a dark past be able to find the answers before it’s too late for the both of them?

This is the premise behind “No Safe Harbor.”

For this week’s Nickel’s Worth, I’m turning the tables by offering a sneak peak at the first chapter and asking for your nickel’s worth. Aside from a handful of family and a few friends, no one has seen these pages. Please feel free to offer your suggestions and feedback.

Please be honest and don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’ve had death threats from people for making fun of fruitcake.

I can handle it…


Chapter 1

Flashing red and blue erupted across Lynda Bettington’s rear window, escalating her steady rhythm of panic into a mounting crescendo. Hands trembling, she held the road through a fishtail over the damp streets, pressing the accelerator closer to the mat. She raced onto Highway 99 toward Lake Washington. The roads there were dark, with streets spurring off every few blocks. She took a narrow side road as the car shot through pale lamplight and a maze of industrial alleyways. In the back seat, suitcases bounced and shifted, slamming against the rear doors as the car careened onto another pitted avenue.

Dampness just short of rainfall blanketed thin layers of oil, creating a slick skin over the asphalt. Suddenly, the car hydroplaned, pinwheeling across the roadway. Lynda’s grip locked onto the steering wheel. For an instant, red and blue flashing seemed to be all around her, until an explosion of glass and twisting metal replaced all thoughts of color.

A few yards away, the police car swerved to an angled stop.

The caution lights turned off, leaving only high beams spilling over the mangled car. Officer Dan Perkins sat forward and crossed his arms over the steering wheel. Next to him, Gerome Taylor tossed aside his seatbelt and cracked the passenger door, planting his foot on the road. He remained seated, staring at the wreck.

The rear of the Citation lay crumpled against a massive oak, leaving the hood section jutting onto the left side of the roadway. From their vantage point, the patrolmen could see into the front seat where suitcases had toppled, a few breaking through the glass. The wipers swept a growing mist from the windshield as the patrolmen watched Bettington slowly emerge from the car and fall palms-first to the pavement. She crawled over the oily blacktop, swaying in and out of consciousness, gazing into the high beams through blond hair streaked with blood.

Taylor reached across his partner and into the glove compartment. Removing a pair of rubber gloves, he went to the trunk and slid a waist pouch from beneath the spare tire. Inside was a revolver and two plastic bags of powder. He stopped by the driver’s door on his way to the Citation. “As of now, we’re in pursuit of a blue Citation, plate number LPQ-182. Call it in,” He said and started toward the wreckage.

Bracing herself against the fender, Lynda struggled to remain on all fours as the dark figure approached from the light. She thought there was something shiny in the silhouette’s hand, but her vision was cloudy. Her bangs and eyelashes were sticky. The world was at angles. A siren was wailing.

“This is six-zero-eight,” Perkins began reporting from the patrol car. “We’re in pursuit of a blue Chevy Citation, plate number alpha, Lincoln, Quebec, zero…”

Ahead, Taylor approached Bettington’s hunched form. He scanned the distance and saw the highway was dark in all directions. Placing his foot against her shoulder, he shoved her off balance.

“…Suspect is heading onto Route 99. Wait, we’ve entered an alley,” Perkins reported. His tone suddenly turned dramatic. “They’ve lost control. Dispatch EMS. They’ve hit a tree.” He flipped off the siren.

Taylor waved Perkins from the car. Tightening his grip over Bettington’s trigger finger, he fired a shot, jettisoning a slug through the driver door.

“Shots fired!” Perkins yelled into into the mic, dropping it as a second bullet pierced the windshield.

Taylor checked Bettington’s hand to make sure the revolver was secure. “You’re a real desperado,” he said, peeling off his rubber gloves and shoving them beneath his slacks. He walked away quickly, letting her arm fall to the ground.

Lynda’s ears held the thunder of gunshots. She watched the figure fade into the lights, her hand weighted down by the revolver. Gazing past the barrel, she could make out the white door of the police car etched with black words. Above it, someone was positioning himself, arms extended over the door frame.

A loud pop, and Lynda’s head jerked upward, knocked into the opposite direction before crashing back onto the asphalt. Though her eyes no longer faced the patrol car, the words they read held her final thought.

To Protect and Serve.

Taylor holstered his pistol. “How long until the medics get here?”

Perkins pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. “Five, maybe ten minutes.”

Taylor locked the waist pouch in the trunk then joined Perkins in the front seat. “I.A. is going to crawl up our asses. Probably assign a homicide detective,” he said. “They’ll both ask a lot of questions and scratch themselves a while, but we’ll get a clean shoot. Self-defense.”

“What about the gun?”

“Took it from a punk last month. He even had the numbers filed off already. It’s probably changed hands fifty times.”

“And the motive?”

“Heroin,” said Taylor. “We’re about to find some on the floorboard.”


Now it’s your turn. I tried a few writing devices in this first chapter. For example, when referring to Lynda Bettington from the patrolmen’s perspective, it’s always as “Bettington.” But when we see things from her perspective, it’s always as “Lynda.” I did this to illustrate the cold objectivity of the killers and their actions while, at the same time, trying to help readers identify with Lynda’s fear whenever we see things through her eyes.

Does it work?

Give me your nickel’s worth…



(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. Still looking for that perfect book for summer reading? Ned’s first book, Humor at the Speed of Life,available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble. Disclaimer: You should still use sunscreen when reading this book)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

53 thoughts on “This week, I’m looking for YOUR Nickel’s Worth on my book excerpt”

  1. I like the story itself – the first chapter does grip. However, I personally find the switch from Beddington to Lynda and back again to be a little annoying. I think the fact that the cops are corrupt comes across very well even if you just use Lynda throughout, and it’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who’s only called Beddington.

    Just my two cents worth. I love murder mysteries – let us know when the book is published.

  2. I found the chapter intriguing and it definitely gripped me as a reader. Well done. I’m wondering about point of view. You switched around a bit, which broke the flow for me as I needed to adjust to each new perspective. Have you considered telling the whole thing from Lynda’s pov? That would certainly be terrifying. She could hear the whole conversation and get a bullet at the end! I believe the readers will follow what the cops are doing without needing to be inside their heads. Just a thought from a pov stickler. Otherwise, I’m hooked..

    1. That’s a great suggestion! I’ll look back through it and see how that works. If nothing else, I’ll drop the device of changing from “Bettington” to “Lynda,” which might help, too.

      Again, thanks so much for taking the time to read and foryour input!

  3. Well written Ned. A couple of suggestions:

    1)”She took a narrow side road as the car shot through pale lamplight and a maze of industrial alleyways.” She probably did take the side road as she shot through the pale light as there is almost always a light at intersections. However she did not take the narrow side road as the car shot through a maze of industrial alleyways, as she was leaving Hwy 99. By dropping a “then” in before “a maze…” it becomes “She took a narrow side road as the car shot through pale lamplight and then a maze of industrial alleyways.” First the light at the intersection and then the alleyways.

    2) You had Bettington fire the stolen revolver (with help) before it was made clear that it was put in her hand. I had to go back after reading further along and finding out the gun from the trunk was fired by her and figure out that when he knocked her over, the cop had put the gun in her hand and shot it.

    Those are minor points Ned and the narrative is fine without them. It reads very gripping and pulls the reader in. Nicely done.

    1. Excellent points, Paul! By adding that one word, it makes the driving sequence better visually and logistically. Unlike how I normally drive…

      And I had my feelings about more prominently placing the gun in her hand. You and Brainrants confirmed it for me.

      Thank You!

  4. I’ll be honest, Ned. I didn’t laugh once.

    I just finished two volumes of noir stories, so this rings familiar and something I’d continue reading. Good work!

  5. Ned, glad I caught this post. You’re getting great feedback here which is uncommon on blog posts seeking it for writing (I have found). Here’s my input:

    – Agree with Paul above about the gun in Lynda’s hand. Show that. It not only de-confuses the reader, it also drives home the crooked cop staged death thing.

    – Your question about character referral… I personally always use the last name. Always, except in scenes where both are the same, like Smith Sr and Smith Jr., or where dialogue allows first names. Just my style. That said, I read your chapter and didn’t notice a damn thing, which should tell you one of two things:
    A) Too subtle to notice, or
    B) Masterfully unnoticed and effective

    – I didn’t find any SPaG issues, though I wondered about the capitalization as the cop read the license letters phonetically. Why are two in caps and ‘alpha’ is not? I’m guessing Bill Gates hosed you.

    – Your dialogue is great. It’s written as spoken but readable, so it sounds genuine. If one of these cops is a major character, like the killer, have him say something to Lynda that shows his evil nature… or whatever nature he has.

    – You destroyed a Chevy Citation. Applause.

    Good luck with the rest!
    * Disclaimer: I’m a scribbler/writer, not an author, nor have I played one on TV.

    1. I have to agree with your observation on the comments. Then again,I have someof the most intelligent readers in the blog-o-sphere; obviously, they come here out of pity.

      β€” The feeling about the name reference and gun placement seems to be universal β€” so I’m sold!

      β€” The reason for the capitalization of Lincoln and Quebec is just because they are formal/proper names. It’s an editorial habbit. Or Hobbit. Not sure which.

      β€” As for the evil dialogue, I did have him mockingly call her a “real desperado” before he staged the gun and then shot her. But maybe I should punch it up more by having the other cop say something as well…? I’ll look it over and see if it works in the dialogue. Thanks!

      β€” Inside note: My ex-wife used to drive a Citation…

      Many, many thanks BR. You’re always welcome to “scribble” here.

      1. Cool! Yes, if the cop is a regular in your story, punch up the evil. Maybe even something that foreshadows a future evil deed, or his own undoing. As for the capitalization, I’d say go either/or – all of them capped, or none of them.

  6. Okay, Ned, I’ve just been through some serious rounds of editing myself, so I’m in nitpicking mode.
    I’d prefer not to know the cops’ first names right away. It seems almost like a formal introduction, which seems awkward to me. Lots of writers do this, and it trips me every time. We can learn their first names later, in casual conversation, if their first names are important.
    I would also almost not like to know the victim’s name right now. I think her name is not important until the investigation begins. (Lots of other may disagree with me on this, but imagine if it were a movie; you wouldn’t know her name in this scene.)
    If you want extra nit-picky, I think you could get rid of words like “Suddenly”, “For an instant” and “slowly”. I think the action reads better without them.
    Other than that, it’s just the right kind of opening scene for a contemporary novel. It’s a good hook. You’re off to a great start.

    1. Nitpicky? I see it as right on target. I think referring to the two cops only by their last names is a great observation. I’m on the fence about not revealing Lynda’s name yet, but I have to agree it adds a sense of mystery to the situation. As I move through the next chapter, I’ll see if it works to wait on that info. If it does, I will definitely make the change.

      And yes, the action should drive the pace, not the descriptors “Suddenly,” “Slowly,” etc.

      Great nit-pickiness πŸ˜‰

  7. Ned, it sounds like you’ve been at a few crash scenes! It’s terrifying (and I worked a Trauma Unit for years). I’m no writer and it all works for me except a vague sense that including the officers’ first names seems like overintroduction of two terrible guys at this initial point. I’m curious about whether Lynda turns out to be a sympathetic character or not and will be eager to read the book when it’s finished.

    1. Thanks, Beth! I’ve been an extrication teacher with the fire department, so yes β€” I’ve been on more than a few crash scenes. I’m glad it came across πŸ˜‰

      I’ve definitely decided to ditch the first names with the two officers. And as for Lynda… her tragic story is gradually reveled πŸ˜‰

      Thanks so much for reading, and for your feedback!

  8. I found it very interesting. In common with others I didn’t care for the shifting POV. I also would like to get more of Lynda’s thinking as she’s racing down the road and as she crawls from the car.

    I look forward to reading the rest! πŸ™‚

  9. And they call me The Hook….

    You’re on the right track, Ned. The switching perspective didn’t annoy me at all.
    I admire your grasp of fiction, Ned; the prospect of creating my own world rather than chronicling the events of my own makes me tremble like a Kardashian in a public library.

    When the time comes, you’ll have my money, Hickson.

    1. Sorry, I meant no disrespect. I can see why you wouldn’t want to get confused with the captain or Dr. Hook. I promise you will always be The Hook in my book.

      Thanks for reading and foryour feedback, my friend πŸ˜‰

      1. To clarify, I was referring to your ability to “hook” readers. But thank you for the loyalty.

        Don’t forget me when you’re casting the movie, Ned…

          1. No offense, Ned, but maybe you could just stick to yanking your own chain?
            I mean, you’re a handsome man (though you’re no Steve Guttenberg), but…

  10. i like the feel of this ned, though i think it would flow better from one perspective. that’s my buffalo nickel’s worth. i’m a fan of old noir pulp fiction so i enjoyed this and besides it sounds like one of my experiences when trying to outrun the cops for going 5 over. still got the ticket.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Beth. The perspective shift seems to be split 50/50 in terms if liking or not liking. I’ll take a hard look at it again. I tend to write things as I would visualize them unfolding in a movie.

      And I thought that was you who sped by me followed by all those troopers…

  11. The change in perspective didn’t bother me much either. Having a little more mystery surrounding the cops would be a bit more bait for the reader but I am very intrigued by Chapter one and look forward to reading the rest of this!

    1. Thanks, Susan πŸ˜‰ I actually spent time with crime scene detectives, a homicide detective and private investigator β€” all of whom gave feedback as I was writing so that it would be accurate. One of their experiences in discovering evidence of child abuse, I used in the book. It still gives me goosebumps.

      *points to arms*

      See? πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for reading, Susan!

  12. LOVED it. Sitting in my car at the grocery store angry at all the &*%# crooked cops.

    – You could convey cold objectivity by not giving Linda a name at all β€œthe driver” β€œthe woman,” etc. when we are seeing the cops perspective, but there may be a reason in the plot why you did. Keep the perspective shift, IMO.
    – Yes to clarifying gun placement in her hand.
    – I like your dialogue, and you the tension is conveyed very well. Some of the expository parts – would they have already discussed and planned this beforehand, thus eliminating the need to ask? Like, instead of β€œAs of now…” Start with: β€œCall it in,” he said and started toward the wreckage. β€œThis is six-zero-eight,” Perkins began. And for the gun and motive question, maybe use action, rather than the last bit of dialogue? I knew that the gun was going to be clean and I knew the white powder did not bode well for our driver, without being told, but I may just be naturally evil. If I have misunderstood, just ignore.

    Good luck. Kudos for returning to it.

  13. It’s all a matter of perspective, it seems. I’m of the mind to have it from the cops’ view. Who doesn’t love a mystery woman? Good noir feel to this.

    1. Thanks, Ross. I’m definitely considering providing less info about Lynda. I think it would work, plus having the cops chase someone would lead th reader into believeing it’s a typical car chase. Then, to end it with them killing her… that might work really well. Thanks!

  14. It’s definitely an exciting start that draws you into the story. The only thing I would say, and it’s similar to some of the comments about names, is that I think it would be better if you didn’t give every detail about everything – allude to things a bit more, just talk about a sound, or the outline of a shape, or a smell, give us the job of trying to work out what some of the things are, don’t tell us everything.

  15. Hi Ned!
    First of all, I can’t wait to read what happens next and WHY the cops are crooked. In fact, I love that you are going to approach a murder/mystery from a why perspective.
    Regarding POV – at first, I was confused. BUT, that’s not unusual for me – it’s probably why I have to read Mr. Grisham more slowly than how I usually read.
    Reading it through the second time, I could appreciate what was happening and LIKED the differing POV. It added mystery and made me feel like I was in the moment. Next chapter please!!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! The POV seems to be split, but I think I’m going to stick with the shift because I like it to read as if you’re watching a movie. Maybe I should just make it screen play? Anyway, I really appreciate you taking the time to read and give your feedback. This has been really great. I’m hoping to have the second chapter posted Friday. I’m just doing the first few chapters to introduce the main characters and see what folks think. After that, I’ll have the feedback momentum I need to put the final touches on the rest of the manuscript πŸ˜‰

  16. I love stories that start right in on the action. The same thing applies to lovemaking. Too much foreplay makes me want to set off some firecrackers to get things moving. So this grabbed me right away.

    I like the idea of more than one voice, but maybe a way to do that without confusion might be to switch in alternate chapters? I am not a published author but when people read my mystery they are always slapping my wrist for changing point of view on them mid-stream.

    I like the characters right off and I’m told that is half the book. If the characters aren’t interesting, it doesn’t matter how exciting the story is.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with you analogy β€” on both subjects. Jump right into the action and then smooth over the details as you go πŸ˜‰

      Glad to hear the characters got you interested. That’s always a tough order when you’re asking someone to committ to 300 pages or so. Thanks for reading and for the feedback!

  17. I like the shifting POV, like when you’re watching a movie and you see the action from Lynda’s car then the cop’s car. I appreciate her name too, like Lynda is betting a ton on whatever it is she’s gotten herself involved in. I’m curious as to what that is.

    I’m going to hold you now to your feelings not getting hurt.

    I got tripped up on a couple of the word choices/sentence structures:
    1 – “The roads there were dark, with streets spurring off every few blocks.” Streets coming off the main road are what makes blocks. I’m not sure what the image is supposed to be. Maybe something like “The roads there were dark, with neighborhoods spurring off every few blocks.” This might show that there are some streets and some alleys, and not every asphalt off-shoot is a proper street. Or something.

    2 – I’d like the red-pen the hell out of this paragraph:
    from “Dampness just short of rainfall blanketed thin layers of oil, creating a slick skin over the asphalt. Suddenly, the car hydroplaned, pinwheeling across the roadway. Lynda’s grip locked onto the steering wheel. For an instant, red and blue flashing seemed to be all around her, until an explosion of glass and twisting metal replaced all thoughts of color.”
    to “Dampness just short of rainfall mixed with layers of oil, creating a slick skin over the asphalt. The car hydroplaned, pinwheeling across the roadway. Lynda’s grip locked on the wheel. For an instant, red and blue was all around her, until an explosion of glass and crashing metal replaced all color.”

    3 – I think the hood of the car can just be “jutting over the roadway.” Does it really matter what side?

    4 – I think Lynda can be staring at the high beams through “blood streaked blond hair.”

    5 – Is there a reason Taylor is a silhouette? Has Lynda been knocked so hard she doesn’t remember she was just in a car chase with the cops? I think it can stay that she watches the “figure fade” since Taylor is not a human being at this point, but a monster.

    6 – I think it might flow better if “Gazing past the barrel, she could make out the white door of the police car etched with black words.” was “Gazing past the barrel, she could make out the black words on the white door.” There’s no confusion that Lynda’s car and the cop car are the only two out on this road and so I don’t need “of the police car” to know that’s the car she’s looking at. Her’s is blue, so the white door is enough to know what car she is looking at.

    7 – This one is awkward: “Though her eyes no longer faced the patrol car, the words they read held her final thought.” Perhaps something like, “Her eyes no longer faced the patrol car, but its words were her final thought.”

    Points of confusion:
    1 – I’m curious, is this a piece of the corruption, or a typo? The plate number Taylor gives Perkins is LPQ-182, but when Perkins calls it in he says, “alpha, Lincoln, Quebec, zero…” ALQ-0… is it a piece of the puzzle?

    2 – Perkins is driving and Taylor is the passenger, but then Taylor reaches across Perkins to get into the glove box so Taylor would have to be the driver. Taylor seems to be the leader of these two, so it would make sense that he’s driving, so should he be? Or does he reach forward to get the rubber gloves from the glovebox?

    3 – Ditto on everyone else with the gun placement. The way it is now it seems like Taylor is shooting at Perkins.

    4 – Is EMS really as much as 5-10 minutes away if Lynda could hear the sirens? I know the sound of sirens travels a great distance, but that much? They would be more like 10-15 minutes away at the point she heard them if they’re 5-10 minutes away when she dies.

    Final thoughts:
    I think you can leave the where the gun came from for another chapter. Maybe flashback to the punk and show Taylor taking it rather than answering the question here. More like, “What about the gun? And the motive?” / β€œHeroin,” said Taylor. β€œWe’re about to find some on the floorboard.” That answers about what the white powder is since it’s not as clear as the gun being a gun, and leave that mystery for another chapter.

    All in all, I really like it. I’d keep reading to know more about these characters, about why Taylor is corrupt and how he dragged Perkins into it, about what got Lynda into this mess and why she had suitcases…

    1. Oh, and if I’m totally out-of-line, off-base, or completely wrong, it won’t hurt my feelings for you to say so. This is all just my opinion. Take it or leave it as you see fit.

      1. You have some really valid points, Melanie. Not offended at all! Definitely, I need to carify sme of those things, and your suggestion for the “rain-slickened asphalt” was excellent. Thank you! πŸ˜‰

        1. I’m glad you weren’t offended. Sometimes I go too far. I’m sure you will, but keep us updated on the progress. I’m excited to read the whole thing.

        2. P.S. I think you may have influenced my story today. πŸ™‚ I thought I was influencing myself with a character I’ve used a couple of times, but when I re-read it, it occurred to me the implications of a corrupt cop came from reading your chapter yesterday. πŸ™‚

            1. Thankfully my health insurance doesn’t cover that cure. I quite like being influenced by the greats. πŸ˜‰

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