Guest Blogger: Danger Lurking in the Fog by Greg Messel

We have a great guest today!  Greg Messel, author of FOG CITY STRANGLER, is here to talk about one of the great joys of reading and one of the premier goals of a writer of mystery.
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DANGER LURKING IN THE FOG

By Greg Messel


In my new mystery “Fog City Strangler” most residents of San Francisco—particularly young blonde women—are very jumpy and hear lots of things that go bump in the night. 

The man who calls himself the Fog City Strangler, seems to be a phantom. He suddenly attacks women in the privacy of their homes, murders them and disappears leaving behind no clues. No one can figure out how he’s getting into the women’s apartments.

This excerpt from Chapter 2 focuses on a young blonde woman and the fear that she is living with. 

The petite Nancy Roskelly, age 22, a San Francisco secretary, just over five feet tall, had twinkling green eyes and shoulder length blonde hair, which was often pinned up on her head to give her a more formal appearance in the gray flannel suit, button-down world of San Francisco’s financial district.

Nancy had lived alone for almost two months. Her previous roommate, Sarah Bradshaw, had moved out after her marriage in September. Nancy was hoping to find the right young woman for a roommate very soon. She not only wanted the companionship but she also missed having someone else to pay half of her rent.

“I hate to admit it,” Nancy said in a low conspiratorial tone as she entered her apartment with her boyfriend, Tony Lee, “but I’ve been pretty jumpy lately. Every creak of the floorboards in this house gives me the chills. When I’m in my bed and I hear sounds, I’m just sure someone’s breaking in. Sometimes I’m certain that I hear footsteps.” She rubbed her arms to calm down the prickly sensation she felt from even talking about it.”
Many people enjoy reading as they go to bed at night. I had a friend who said she loves to be reading a book that makes her anxious to go to bed each night. 
I’ve also had that experience while commuting to work on a bus. I loved riding the bus because I got to trade reading for driving in heavy traffic--a good swap on any day. However, there were times when I was at a suspenseful point in the book I was reading and I could see that my stop was just a few blocks away.  
“Nooooooo! I can’t stop now,” I would think. 

That is one of the great joys of reading and it’s one of the premier goals of a writer, especially when your novel is a mystery. 

As an author I try to put “hooks” in at the end of my chapters, so the reader is anxious to read the next chapter. 

Examples of hooks in “Fog City Strangler” are one chapter ending with a man suddenly appearing and holding a knife to Amelia’s throat. Another chapter ends when after Sam and Amelia have gone to bed at the beach house, a mysterious car slowly drives into the driveway with it’s lights off.  The driver puts on gloves, grabs a gun out of the glove compartment and then sneaks towards the house.

In my series of mystery novels with recurring characters and generating suspense is one of the greatest challenges. I’ve always thought that the unknown is more threatening that the known. It is true in building suspense in your story as well. 

When you are alone in your bed late at night and hear strange noises it immediately builds “suspense” in your life.  Upon investigation you could discover that  something harmless is causing the noise. However, as you lie in bed your imagination runs wild about what it could be. Generally, you imagine the most terrifying of possibilities to be the source of the strange noise. 

As you get out of your bed to try to find the noise in the darkness, there is true suspense and terror. We should keep this in mind as we build suspense in our writing. 

It’s not necessarily the shark attack but the anxiety that comes when a shark fin suddenly appears in the water and has not yet been sighted by the protagonist. 

There are a few things that can be done to amp up the suspense. One is don’t take it too easy on your main characters--put them in peril. I went to a writer’s conference in the Seattle area last fall and one best selling author, when discussing development of plot, said you should pull up a big truck of poop (he didn’t say poop) and dump it on your protagonist to start the story and let them work their way out of it. 

The stakes need to be continually raised so that there is some urgency. Nothing builds suspense like a race against the clock. It helps to have an powerful, ruthless villain that you are convinced will stop at nothing. This adds to the sense of foreboding. 

As an example, in the second installment in my mystery series--Deadly Plunge--the two main characters are investigating the goings-on in a creepy old house. The house has signs of a lot of strange activities but at the time it is unoccupied. It is a multi level old house and I established that it has very creaky stairs between the levels. This sets up a chance to build suspense later. 
As the characters are quietly searching through the house for clues, they hear creaking sounds on the stairs a couple of levels below. Someone is coming! Who could it be? Are the protagonists in the story in danger? What will happen next?
The main characters were nervous about poking around in the strange house. That last thing they wanted to hear was footsteps on the stairs.  As the footsteps get closer and louder, the protagonists must decide what action to take--and quickly. 

There is a plot in “Deadly Plunge” where the main female character, Amelia Ryan is being stalked by a creepy guy who has become obsessed with her. His intent is to kidnap her.  

In this case, the reader knows this stalker is after the female protagonist but the main characters don’t. This adds to the suspense because they are doing things which will--unbeknownst to the main characters--put themselves in danger.

I concluded one chapter with the kidnapper watching Amelia’s bedroom window waiting for the light to go out so he can strike. One another occasion Amelia is taking French lessons and listening to tapes through a set of headphones. This makes her vulnerable to the attacker as he creeps closer to her without detection.

In “The Last of the Seals” the main characters, Sam Slater and Amelia Ryan, are being secretly observed and tracked by some mysterious figures. Sam is still uncertain about why these people are stalking him and his girlfriend.  

One night, as Sam is running down a pier in the fog to escape one peril, there is something in the fog that he fails to see. It is two men sitting in a car watching him. They are obscured by the shadows and fog. What do they want and what happens next?

Fog is wonderful. San Francisco fog practically becomes a character in the story. Fog conceals people and events and prevents a clear picture of what’s occurring. It adds to the creepy feeling where at any moment something can suddenly appear out of the fog. 

It is exhilarating to read a story like that and it is exciting to write a suspenseful story, especially when it works. 

One of the tag lines I’m using to promote my book sums up the feeling I’m going for in my mystery novel. 

“Danger lurks just around the corner in foggy San Francisco.” 

About the Author:

Greg Messel grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Edmonds, Washington on the Puget Sound with his wife, Carol.  Fog City Strangler is his seventh novel and is the fourth in a new series of Sam Slater mystery novels. Greg has lived in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming and Utah and has always loved writing, including stints as a reporter, columnist and news editor for a daily newspaper.
Follow news about Messel’s writings and books at www.gregmessel.com.

About the Book: 

As 1958 nears an end San Francisco is being terrorized by a man who calls himself the “Fog City Strangler,” who preys on pretty young blonde women.  The strangler announces each murder by sending a note and piece of cloth from the victim’s dresses to the local newspapers.

Private eye Sam Slater is worried that the Fog City Strangler may be eyeing his beautiful blonde wife, stewardess Amelia Ryan. Sam’s angst mounts as the strangler continues to claim more victims. His anxiety is further fueled when TWA launches an advertising campaign with Amelia’s picture on a series of billboards plastered all over the city. Sam fears the billboards may attract too much attention–the wrong kind of attention.

Meanwhile, Sam and Amelia are hired to try to find the missing daughter of a wealthy dowager who fears she has lost her only child. The missing woman went for a walk with her dog on Stinson Beach, near San Francisco, and seemingly vanished into thin air. The woman’s husband arrived at their beach house and found the dog running loose but there was no trace of his wife. The police are stumped in their investigation.

As Sam and Amelia look into the disappearance of the woman on the beach they discover that nothing is as it seems at first glance. On a stormy night a shadowy figure sets fire to the beach house where the couple is staying–hoping to stop their investigation.

Fog City Strangler is a stand-alone thriller but is part of the Sam Slater Mystery Series–Last of the Seals, Deadly Plunge and San Francisco Secrets.
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