Friday, January 27, 2017


Sometimes great scenes in writing happen by accident. Or are birthed by mistakes. My buddy Don pointed out I'd used an airbag incorrectly in a previous novel. MISTAKE. So I figured I'd fix it.

I have this need to get something right.

So I researched airbags. And I emailed two friends who'd been in cars when the airbags deployed.

Armed with that information I set about to write a scene in the next book that would properly show an airbag. Of course, I had to come up with the correct conditions for such an incident.

My next book is set in Spencer County, Indiana. And the number one ticketed offense there is drunk driving.

Ingredients for the scene:

1 drunk driver
1 sheriff in a Ford Explorer
1 county road

Then I had to figure out who's airbag would go off and under what circumstances.

I put the drunk on a tractor and had him back into my sheriff, setting off her airbag. The scene sounds simple, right? And by itself the premise sounds boring.

But I had great fun with it. And the scene was not in my original outline. Accidental fiction can be good for your book.

Here's my scene (or at least the start of it):

It was a big red Case tractor, double wheels on the back, hitch, with a raised disc harrow attachment used for cultivating the ground prior to planting—all of it caked with dried mud and in need of washing. Piper was stuck behind it on 66, on her way to Hatfield, an unincorporated dinkburg where Mark the Shark lived.
Piper figured this ten-mile endeavor would take her an hour away from her cold case…fourteen minutes to Mark’s, fourteen minutes back, and a half hour at the bank or looking through his records to show him the bookkeeping error and ease his conspiracy fears.
But the tractor was fouling her time-frame.
It belched fumes; her windows rolled down, the stink wafted inside and made her eyes water. It was noisy; overwhelming the oldies station she’d had on and just now clicked off. It was slow, riding in the center of the road, impossible for her to pass on either side without risking the ditch. And it wasn’t traveling straight, sometimes in the proper lane, sometimes veering into the left lane. Usually it held to roughly the middle.
She honked.
The driver raised his left hand and flipped his middle finger.
“Really?” Piper stuck her head out the window and hollered: “Pick a lane!” Then thinking he might not be able to hear over the racket the tractor was making, she used the PA in her car. “Pull over. Spencer County Sheriff. Pull over.”
The tractor had no rearview mirrors that she could see, and the driver hadn’t turned around to notice who was honking at him.
She honked again, this time laying on the horn. Piper really didn’t want to further delay her return to the alluring skeleton case by citing the farmer for a simple traffic violation, but— She honked a third time, the driver took both hands off the wheel and gave her the dancing double middle fingers. The tractor, which according to the speedometer in Piper’s Ford was going about twenty miles an hour, shimmied to the right. As she started to pass, and reached to turn on her flashing lights, it sped up, drifted back to the left, and nearly clipped her front fender. She pumped the brakes and eased behind it, matching its speed—twenty-five miles an hour now. A boxy station wagon pulled behind her, and another car was coming farther back. Fortunate no one was in the opposite lane at the moment.
The tractor wobbled farther right, then left, shuddered, and went faster still. Thirty miles an hour.
“What the hell?”
Then the driver tossed an empty whiskey bottle off to the side of the road.
“That’s it.”

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USA Today Bestselling author Jean Rabe has written 35 fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels. The Dead of Winter, her 36th, is her first mystery. She has roughly 100 short stories in print, has edited a couple dozen anthologies, and has edited more magazines than she cares to tally. When she isn’t writing or editing, she tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, visits museums, and tries to find gamers who will play Axis & Allies with her.