Sharon Woods Hopkins’ KILLERFIND

I got into Cape just in time to celebrate our wedding anniversary on June 23. Since then

KILLERFIND launched July 6


There’s a reason for listing all my activities. It explains why I’m just getting around to mentioning Sharon Woods Hopkins’ new mystery novel KILLERFIND, which launched July 6.

If I hadn’t been for all those distractions, I’d have knocked it out in a single night. It’s a quick read, better, I think, than her first book, KILLERWATT. (Which I also breezed through.)

KILLERWATT had Rhetta McCarter chasing all over Southeast Missouri saving the country from terrorists. I picked a tiny nit by saying that ” folks like me get bogged down in following the chase by landmarks and say, ‘Wait a minute: Those streets don’t intersect.” Sharon, always quick with an answer, fired back, “some of the geography was tweaked to make the story work.” She mentions in the acknowledgements: “As my dad would have said to anyone taking issue with that, ‘What do you want, an argument, or a story?’”

Either I didn’t read the second book as closely as the first novel or she was a little more faithful to the map in this book. I could pretty much follow the route her characters were taking without those jarring disconnects. (She even mentioned the Gordonville speed trap.)

More twists than a politician in a pretzel factory

If KILLERWATT had an underlying political message: there are bad guys out there who could put a major hurt on our power grid and the dumb feds couldn’t care less, then KILLERFIND is a more straightforward murder mystery where the cops were quick to jump on the wrong suspect and people had a habit of turning up dead. The plot has more twists than a politician in a pretzel factory.

Rhetta must have been an ATT subscriber because she could never get a signal when she needed to make a phone call in a tight situation

Order them here

If you want something that’s fast to read and keeps you flipping the pages, here’s a link. Order it from there or from an ad that’s running (at least right now) in the upper righthand side of the page and I’ll get a couple of pennies without it costing you anything extra. A lot of folks must be discovering Sharon and Rhetta because last week KILLERWATT was #1 and KILLERFIND was #2 in the Female Protagonist category on Amazon.

Sharon is cranking out a third book in the series. Husband Bill Hopkins has a book of his own at the proofreaders. Sharon is more prolific than Bill for several reasons, but one is that it’s faster to type than to write in crayon.


Pulling the Plug on Mother

I knew the day would come. When you’re 90 years old, unexpected things can happen. I had to pull the plug on Mother this week. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Let’s back the bus up

Her yard has a woods on the east side and rows of trees on the north and west sides. The neighbors and the fire station across the street all have trees. She thinks she has some kind of leaf magnet in her yard that attracts every leaf in the block.

It disturbs her.

Me, I’d say it was God’s plan to recycle the nutrients, and I’d leave ’em there.

She, however, wants them gone.

Taking the Murray for its last ride

Fortunately, the back yard butts into a no mans land that used to be a steep hill and cow pasture, so if she can chase the leaves that far, they go down where they’ll eventually fill up a gully in another hundred or two hundred years.

I left the other day and she was blowing leaves on the east yard. That’s pretty easy. She only has to blow the leaves about 75 feet to get them out of the yard on that side.

When I came back, she had started on the upper level of the back yard. I noticed that she was looking a bit tuckered out, so I offered to take over (knowing, of course, that my offer would be indignantly rebuffed). I left to run some other errands.

This time, I found that she had the 100-foot extension cord, plus the 25-footer, and was attacking the lower level of the back yard. Deciding that it was time for drastic action, I reached where the long cord plugged into the short cord and gave a yank. Within seconds, there was silence in the back yard. I had pulled the plug on Mother.

Putting up a brave front

I think even she knew it was time. She didn’t protest when I started coiling up the power cords and hauling them off.

But, that’s not the end of what happened this week. She was giving the yard what she thought would be one last cutting of the season (plus sending leaves off to leaf heaven) when she complained that “it’s not blowing.” I figured she had probably thrown the belt that spins the blades, cutting the grass and mulching the leaves.

When I went to thread it on, one of the pulleys kept popping off its shaft. When I took off the shroud that covered it, I discovered that the shaft wasn’t the same shape all the way up; it came to a point. At some point, the thing that held the pulley to the shaft had come off, the pulley had started grinding away at the shaft until it looked like a bad tooth. I wish I had taken a picture of it.

“Goodbye, Faithful Servant”

It was time to call Brother-in-Law John Perry. He’s seen and done it all when it comes to fixing things. He’d just never seen anything like THIS before. We loaded up a mess of parts and headed out to see Jake the Lawnmower Guy. He, too, had a Maude Moment – “Hey, Maude, Come here. Bet you ain’t never seen anything like this before.”

He pulled out his calculator. Well, this is Missouri. He pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil and started writing down part numbers and getting more excited all the time. He could just see himself out on the Lake of the Ozarks in his new bass boat.

Finally, tearing up his parts list, he said, with the images of the bass boat fading away, “I have a couple of used mowers you might want to take a look at.”

Taking it easy on first lap

I went back to Mother and said, “I have the solution to your lawnmower problem and it’s only gonna cost a quarter.”

“A quarter,” she said. “What can you do to it for a quarter?”

“Well, if I can borrow a gun from John, I can buy a bullet for about a quarter and I think shooting it is about the only course of action that makes sense.”

Vrooooom! Vroooom!

After complaining that the new mower operated differently than the old one – “I won’t know what to do with my left foot. The old mower had the clutch on the left…” – she bought a used Troy-Bilt 21-horsepower, 46-inch mower. Her old one only cut 36 inches and had 11 horses hitched to it. (I can hear her complaining about the cost of feed already, not to mention having to build a bigger barn.)

The new mower has modern safety features. If you put it in reverse, the mower blades stop. If you lift up off the seat, the mower blades stop. If you come completely OFF the seat, the mower blades stop and the motor dies. Keeps you from being run over if you’re ejected.

She needs rocks in her pockets

The only catch is that mother weighs about 72 pounds. I noticed that the blades kept kicking out. I watched her awhile and figured out that she’s so light that every time she hits a bump, the seat flies up just enough to engage the safety interlock and kill the blades. We’re either going to have to fatten her up or make her keep a concrete block in her lap.

Not bad, thought, for someone who had to overcome adversity.

Sharon Woods Hopkins’ Killerwatt

Sharon Woods Hopkins, author of Killerwatt, is a Panther.

She divides the world of writers into two camps: the Plodders, who work on a set schedule and approach writing as a slow, methodical slog; and the Panthers, who pounce on writing whenever they have something to say and the time to record it.

[I’d add a third P – the procrastinators, which is me.] Click on any photo to make it larger, by the way.


After I wrote this post, Sharon gently pointed out that it was time to get my hearing checked. She said she was a “pantser,” not a panther. It’s probably good I didn’t label her a “cougar.”

A pantser, Writer’s Digest clarified, “is a term most commonly applied to fiction writers, especially novelists, who write their stories “by the seat of their pants.” The opposite would be a plotter, or someone who uses outlines to help plot out their novels.

“I’m all Panther”

“I’m all Panther,” she said at her Painted Wren Gallery book signing on Nov. 4, 2010. “I sit down when I have time and when I know I can devote my time without interruption. I might write for five or six hours. I don’t plan it. I’m not by the clock.”

Cape area thriller

Sharon has written a mystery thriller with lots of Cape Girardeau area landmarks mentioned: Cape, downtown, Perryville, Scott City, Marble Hill and lots of familiar streets. (She did change a local hospital to St. Mark’s. “I didn’t want a lawsuit.”)

In fact, I told her after I had read the book that I had a minor quibble. I thought she might have been too explicit in her locations and directions. “Folks who don’t live here won’t care about the detail; folks like me get bogged down in following the chase by landmarks and say, ‘Wait a minute: Those streets don’t intersect.”

“You want an argument or a story?”

Sharon admitted that “some of the geography was tweaked to make the story work.” She mentions that in the acknowledgements: “As my dad would have said to anyone taking issue with that, ‘What do you want, an argument, or a story?'”

“It’s a ‘goal’ kind of novel” she explained. “The protagonist has a goal to get to (saving the country) and things happen to knock her back.”

That’s an understatement. People turning up dead, shot, nearly drowned and / or poisoned in the hospital go beyond the “knock her back” category in my book, but, of course, Sharon is a Canadian who ended up in Marble Hill married to my student body president campaign manager Bill Hopkins. She probably uses a different dictionary than most of us.

Rhetta isn’t Sharon per Sharon

Sharon denies that she modeled Rhetta McCarter after herself. I mean, they’re only both insurance/mortgage agents; only both drive hot old Cameros; only both have .38s, and only both got a mistaken voicemail message from a possible terrorist. Oh, yes, both of them got blown off by the authorities when they tried to report it.

“I’m not nearly as foolhardy as she [Rhetta] is. I wouldn’t have done the things she did to save the country.”

[I’m not sure if this is Rhetta or Sharon. I shot it at Sharon’s office party last year.]

“I draw upon real people”

If you are in Sharon’s orbit, you might find yourself in the book. “I draw upon real people. I took different pieces from real people I knew. I knew how the book was going to end and I had a beginning. In the middle, I would think that this might happen or that might happen and suddenly a character would appear. I’d think, ‘Oh, where did HE come from?’ He might become a central or a secondary character. When I’m in the middle of a book like this one or the one I’m writing now, these characters are real to me. I even talk to them. They’re real people.”

[Here are some real people from her office. I shot them at Halloween 2010. I don’t know if they are in the book. I don’t recognize their characters.]

Did I like the book?

So, did I like the book? I knocked it off in a couple of hours. When I was on the road, I’d pick a book that was interesting enough that I would keep reading it, but that wasn’t so interesting that I’d stay up all night to finish it. This would fall into the stay-up-all-night category.

In the interest of full disclosure, Sharon was kind enough to give me a copy of the book and to thank me (and others) for letting her pick our brains.

Bill said Sharon needed journalese translations

I got an email from Bill saying, “My wife is writing a novel where a bad guy gets killed in a car wreck.  I told her that her journalisticese needed to be honed by a professional (and that would be you).” She wanted a short news report about the first victim going into the Diversion Channel.

I complied with a Joe Friday, just-the-facts version that was more or less incorporated in Chapter One.

Then, not knowing when to leave well enough alone, I sent her this version. I’m not a fiction writer on purpose (if you discount some of the expense reports I submitted), so this was a stretch for me.

She made nice noises and refrained from saying that my narrative was longer than her novel. Since it’s never going to get published anywhere else, here it is. You have my permission to skip it. Nothing of value is going to happen after this paragraph.

Finding the vic in the Diversion Channel

Sheriff’s diver Frank James pulled himself out of the water by the tow cable attached to the Blue 2006 Toyota Celica. He opened the door and water, along with a two-pound catfish poured out.

“OK, haul away. It’ll be a lot lighter now,” he hollered at the tow truck driver.

He dropped his SCUBA tank on the ground, pulled off his gloves and mask and collapsed on the running board of Pumper 103 called in from Cape Girardeau for mutual aid.

“Not right now,” he said, shaking his head and giving a wave-off gesture. “I have to get my heart rate under control and get my thoughts straight.”

I had to rewind the movie

A few minutes later, he gave a head nod that indicated that it was OK to come over. “Man, I’ve never had that happen before,” he said. “I had to sort of rewind the movie in my head to make sense of it all.”

“Here’s the way it’s going to work,” he continued. “I only want to have to tell this story once. Shoot, I only want to have to THINK about this story once. The deal is that’s it’s off the record. I don’t want to see a tape recorder. I don’t want to see a notebook. If I ever hear that you’ve told anyone what I’m about to tell you, then you’ll never get anything from me again.

“When I’m done with this, I’ll give you a formal statement. I know you don’t like doing that and you’re on deadline, but that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

I’ve done tens of dives

Seeing a shrug that he accepted as agreement, he kept going. “I’ve done tens of these dives; scores if you count training. Normally they go the same way. Either the car is empty and you have to search around because the person was ejected or escaped and left the scene, or the person is still strapped in their seatbelt. That’s one of the good things about seatbelt laws. It makes it easier to find the vics.

“Anyway, I hooked up the tow cable so the car wouldn’t get away, then I deployed two floating air bags to keep the car from sinking any more. There was no rush. This was recovery, not rescue. The water pressure was equalized between the inside and outside, so opening the door was no sweat.

“This wasn’t one of the lucky ones where the poor stiff was belted in. I swept under the dash area, but no joy. When I was outside the car, the only way you could tell which way was up was by a dim glow above you. Inside the car you didn’t even have the glow. The water was so murky that my light wouldn’t penetrate more than about six inches.

“Someone was watching me”

“After searching the front part of the car, I stretched out to swim over the seats to get into the rear. I had the strangest sensation that someone was in there with me, watching me. Your mind plays tricks like that when you’re in the dark. It’s easy to get turned around.

“Suddenly, this hand came down from nowhere and started to grab my regulator. Jesus, it was like something out of a Grade B horror movie. I started thrashing around trying to get out of there and suddenly it had wrapped its arms around me. I was on the verge of panic. I was sucking air out of the tank like crazy. I had to get out before that thing either grabbed my mask or I ran out of air.

“Just then I realized that this thing wasn’t going to hurt me. It was just the vic who had floated to the ceiling of the car. I had pushed off between him and the car seats. My air bubbles must have displaced enough water to move him and cause his hand to drop down into my field of vision.

“Holy crap in a canvas bag!”

“Holy crap in a canvas bag! I had to stay in that car long enough that I didn’t look like some kind of wild-eyed freak show when I surfaced. The guys would never have let me live that down.

“After I settled down, I did a quick feel of the victim. I couldn’t detect any obvious signs of trauma that would account for his death. I can only speculate that the car went under quickly and he couldn’t figure out how to get out. He managed to get his nose into a tiny air pocket that must have kept him alive for quite a while. God, that must be a rough way to go. That poor bastard.

“OK,” he said.” I needed to tell that to someone. I didn’t want the guys I work with it to hear it because they’d always wonder if I’d freak out some day and get someone hurt. I don’t talk about stuff like that with my wife. Get your notepad out we’ll do this version for the world.”

He put on his official face and dictated,  “Deputy Frank James arrived on the scene of a one-car auto accident on the west side of the Diversion Channel bridge on I-55 north of the Scott City Exit…”

I should have been a reporter

After I threw this together, I realized why I never saw reporters with muddy shoes. They make all this stuff up. It’s us poor photographers who have to actually be there.

Shameless Plug: Buy MY Book

Carla Jordan, director of the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum has agreed to sell my Tower Rock: A Demon that Devours Travelers photo book by mail if anyone doesn’t want to make the trek to Altenburg. Here’s the contact info. The price is $14 plus postage.

Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum
P.O. Box 53
75 Church Street
Altenburg, Missouri 63732






Home Safety Tip

Home Safety Tip of the Day: Remove the key from your double cylinder deadbolt lock, even if you’re only going to be gone a few minutes.

Wife Lila and I always make it a point to remove the keys from the front and back doors if we’re going to be gone for an extended period of time, but this morning we were going to be gone only for about an hour, so we didn’t bother. She was going to pick me up at the service station where I was having my oil changed, then we were going to have breakfast. We left the house at 9:10. We returned at almost exactly 10. I went to my home office to edit some photos, and she went to the back of the house, where I heard her say, fairly calmly, “Somebody has broken the glass in the back door and it’s standing wide open.”

My underwear was untouched

She dialed the West Palm Beach Police non-emergency number while I headed to the bedroom to see if it had been hit. I could see two of her dresser drawers open and two of mine pulled out a couple of inches. She noticed two wooden jewelry boxes were missing.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, we’re not big jewelry people. I don’t even wear the 20-year watch I got from the company. Most of her jewelry consists of inexpensive things I’ve picked up on the road, like when I covered the Queen’s visit to the Bahamas, or gifts from her mother and grandmother. They are things that aren’t worth a lot of money, but are priceless in sentimental value.

The contents of my dresser drawers were untouched. I guess the perp got it open far enough to see that it was my underwear drawer and decided that there couldn’t be anything of value in there based on the condition of my underthings.

The officer arrived within about 20 minutes and was a total pleasant surprise. I figured he’d show up, get enough for a minimal report and leave. Instead, he took a lot of time surveying the house and found some footprints in the backyard, which indicated that the bad guys had jumped the fence behind our house to get out. He left to walk the neighborhood to see what else he could turn up.

Good news

He came back about 45 minutes later and said, “I have good news and I have good news,” and handed Lila this school photo locket of Matt. He said that he guessed that Bad Guy One must have handed the jewelry box to Bad Guy Two so he could jump over the fence. One of the drawers must have come open and some of the stuff had fallen out. The other piece of good news was that a neighbor saw the mopes and followed them a couple of blocks until they disappeared. When the cop walked the path, he noticed that two businesses had video cameras that could have picked up the guys walking on the street.

This evening the officer called the house to make sure everything was OK and to tell us that the first video he watched didn’t show the faces clearly enough for an ID, but it gave him a direction of travel that might have taken them past a third business with high-quality surveillance cameras that he was going to check later. He was able to determine from the video timestamp that the burglars hit our house about 15 minutes after we left this morning. We don’t know if it was a random thing or if someone saw both of our cars pull out and figured the house was empty.

So, rather than just replace the glass on the back door, we’re going to replace the whole door with one containing hurricane impact glass. It’ll not only give us storm protection, but it’ll also make anyone who wants to break in have to work hard. The salesman said you can’t smash it with one blow of a sledge hammer, it’ll take several.

And, we’ll make sure not to leave the keys in the deadbolt. They might be able to come in through a window, but they won’t be able to walk out the doors.

Must have been after gold

Either the bad guys heard us coming home and took off before we saw them or they were interested in only gold and silver jewelry. None of the electronics, computer or camera equipment was touched. After the officer gave us the OK to move stuff around, Lila found that they had dumped one of the boxes out and left some novelty holiday earrings behind, plus this set of 60’s stained glass Peace earrings.

Both the Steinhoffs and the bad guys would have come out ahead if I had just taped a 20-dollar bill on the door with a note saying, “This is more than you’ll get for fencing all the jewelry we own. Please take this and move on to the next house.”