Today we sit down with retired school teacher and author, Jerry Frazier. He is going to tell us about his books, his inspiration and a bit about himself. Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in high school I watched my father, a journalist, as he wrote articles for newspapers and public relations magazines for what is now Verizon. I was fascinated with the process. On a side note, I have been composing music for fifty years now. I have close to two hundred published pieces for middle and high school band. While somewhat different, the processes are similar in many ways, so one thing simply led to the other.
Q3) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
I’m a Mozart, not a Beethoven. That’s not bragging at all, but I don’t take a long time to write a book. I do research along the way and incorporate it into the text. The slowest part, of course, is proofreading and editing and getting it cleaned up and ready for someone else to read.
Q4) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Being retired from public school teaching, I can devote as much time per day as seems fit. Some days that’s only a few minutes, while other days I can spend several hours.
Q5) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Probably the fact that I am a musician would be the quirkiest part of my writing. One book is about a jazz club in New Orleans, and I drew heavily on my background for that. But also, I’m interested in classical literature, and my second novel deals with Chaucer and his writings, and I have a quote from a Robert Frost poem.
Q5) How are your books published?
So far I’m on the indie track. I’d like to work with a major firm, but I am realistic enough to know that’s going to take some time.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Other authors have given me ideas at times. But mostly the inspiration comes from my background and where I live.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote it a couple of years ago, and I was sixty-seven at the time.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I read more than anything else. But my wife and I love going to estate sales.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
That’s a tough one. I have two Stephen King books that are high on the list: Duma Key, and 11/22/63. Also, I have recently discovered the talents of Wilkie Collins, and his book Moonstone is right at the top of the list.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They put up with me. Actually, they are quite supportive. Without my wife’s critical eye things would be a real mess.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That it’s so much fun to do. I love sitting down and finding out what my characters are doing and what’s going to happen to them next.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
All the typos and goofy things I do are frustrating to me. I read over something and wonder who came sneaking in and typed that junk into my soon-to-be-award-winning-novel.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have two that are completed. Probably my second one is a better written book, but I like the first one, Character Assassination, because it deals with music. Also, I didn’t follow any traditional formula on it. I wrote the way I wanted the book to read.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Read everybody you can. The more authors you read, the better you can decide on a style that will fit you.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I don’t get as much as I’d like. One reader said too many of my characters’ names started with the letter B.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
Adults who like crime fiction, adventure, and a bit of humour stirred in for good measure
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
I think a story should have many elements of surprise. However, as in music, a reader or listener can gain a great deal of satisfaction by being able to predict what will happen somewhere in the work.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
An adult. No, really, I started out with the normal dream of being a coach, or maybe a choir director. Later, after joining the band, I knew I wanted to be a band director. That only lasted forty-one years.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
One is available on Amazon.com. It’s titled Judge, Jury, Murderer. The other is titled Character Assassination, and it is in a state of flux right now, available to read on Bibliotech. That’s a library setup, and I have a couple of short stories there as well.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
Yes. Here is an excerpt from Judge, Jury, Murderer.
Early August is always hot and humid in San Antonio, Texas. You never have to worry about that. But on this particular Saturday morning, both the heat and the humidity were worse than usual as I drove down a winding street named Probandt looking for the crime scene. I’m a homicide detective out of the headquarters division of the San Antonio Police Department. We catch cases on a rotating basis, and my turn was up. Therefore, I’m sort of the lead detective on this particular investigation. No extra pay, but I get to act bossy for a while. That’s a nice boost to my ego, which tends to sag from time to time.
I made a left on Riverview Drive and drove the one block to the spot where the street ended, and where the little stream known as the San Antonio River joined up with San Pedro Creek. I got out and walked over to the gate in the chain link fence and headed down the steep, grassy embankment to where the body had been found. I needed to get this over with fast, because the heat of the day wasn’t going to do my sense of smell any favors when I reached my destination. A couple of uniformed officers were already there. The youngest one looked a little green in the face, as it was probably her first murder investigation. I felt sorry for her.
“What’s up, Menchaca? You look a little pale around the gills, girl. Is this your first stiff?” I couldn’t help teasing her just a little. She’s a good officer and a great person, and she can take it.
A large cloud passed over us, temporarily cooling us down, allowing the sweat to dry a little in the moist morning air. The young police officer looked up at me.
“Oh, Hi, Malone. Didn’t see you come down here. Yeah, it’s my first one, and this is really gross. How could anyone do something like that to another human being?”
“Beats me,” I said. “But when you think about it, we humans have a long history of doing bad things to each other. I mean, stoning people has been around for millennia, and crucifixions, the ever popular drawing and quartering, and who knows what else. We are nothing if not creative in the way we kill and maim each other.” That didn’t really help Menchaca’s mood much, and I immediately felt bad for saying it.
She looked at me sadly and said, “I know, but still,” and trailed off at that point.
Joey Garibay, her partner, was busy looking around for evidence, and noticed me. “Hey, man, how’s it going? Yeah, this is a real mess. I mean, we don’t usually have this kind of shit here in S.A. This is for places like New Jersey.” Then he grinned at me in a mischievous way and playfully jabbed a finger in my stomach.
“Yeah, yeah, rub it in. I know I’m supposed to know all about this type of murder since I’m from Jersey and all. And I’ve seen my share, believe me. But it still isn’t easy to deal with.” I glanced back at Anita Menchaca to see if she was regaining her color. Nope, not yet, she was still pale and a bit shaky.
“Come over here and take a close look at what’s left of this girl, man. She’s a bad scene.” Joey was trying to be tough about the condition of the body, but that wasn’t easy to do for him or anyone else. A young girl’s arms and legs had been cut off at the elbows and the knees and she had been decapitated. The severed arms were placed as if still attached, and were straight out from the body. The lower legs were also there below the upper parts, and were crossed at the ankles. The head was where it would be if it were still attached. And on top of her torso lay a strange object attached to a belt loop on her jeans. It looked like a red plastic heart about three inches across. Something a child might like. It really looked out of place amidst all the gore.
“Look,” Menchaca shouted, “her left pinkie is gone!” We looked. It was. The more we examined the girl’s body, the worse things became. What had we stumbled into here?
“Did you find any I.D. on her?” No one had yet told me who the victim was. “She’s so young. You think she might have been a student over at Burbank High School? It’s only about five blocks from here.
“Not yet,” answered Menchaca. “But you’re right. She looks so young, like she might be a high school student, or maybe college. It’s just so terrible. A total waste of life. But you know what the strangest part is? She looks like she’s on a cross.” Anita was right about that. The body was laid out with the arms outstretched and the legs straight even though the limbs were no longer connected to the rest of her body. That must have taken some real time and effort. I couldn’t imagine doing something like that.
Joey was trying to get into some pockets on the jeans the victim was wearing, but they were tight, and he was a bit squeamish about digging in a dead girl’s clothing. I walked over to the body, knelt down, and felt on the outside of the pockets, found nothing. “We’ll have to wait for the M.E. to get into the back pockets. We can’t move her until all the photos are taken.” I stood up, looked around in the mixture of grass and weeds nearby, noticing something that didn’t look natural there. I walked over to it, and it was a back pack. Using a short stick that was nearby I carefully opened the bag without moving it and without touching it with my fingers. I didn’t want to get fingerprints on it and get nabbed for this crime. No wallet or anything that might have identification was visible, so I left it for later. Then I looked back up the embankment to the chain link fence put there to supposedly keep people out. Right. One part of the fence looked like it had been pushed down lower than the rest, so I climbed up to it to inspect the area. Also, that part had no barbed wire on top like the higher part had. As I looked around I noticed several things: first, the grass had been flattened on the embankment; second, a small piece of fabric was attached to the top of the fence, and it seemed to match the shirt that was on the body; and third, the grass was tamped down in a pattern descending to the exact spot where the body lay. This was how the killer got her to the side of the river. He must have stopped his car almost exactly where mine was, taken her out, dumped her over the fence, climbed over it himself, and then carried her to her final resting place.
Returning to the body and looking at the immediate area, it looked like he had dismembered her at this very spot. A while after death, a body doesn’t bleed out, but a little blood was in the grass at the point where each limb had been severed. That meant he had also carried some type of cutting tool with him—a saw, or an axe, or maybe even a sword. This dismemberment was not a quick process, so it must have been done at night when few people were out and about. Only a few houses were nearby, and from where the body was found it was probable that nobody in the houses on this side of the creek could see anything other than his car. Going up the hill again and looking around I could see that my car would block the view from the house closest to the scene. The killer would have had complete privacy for his atrocious act.
After jotting some notes on a yellow junior legal pad I returned again to where the body was. Not sure what I could do, I tried to offer a little comfort to the two young officers who were obviously not at ease with this situation. “Guys, you’re doing great,” I offered. “It’s never easy to come up on something like this, and the first one is the worst, of course. But don’t ever expect to get used to it because you won’t. Eventually, though, you’ll be able to tolerate horror even though you can’t rationalize it.” I patted each one on the shoulder and gave them a friendly smile, hoping to make them feel a little better. I wasn’t sure that I was able to help them much, but that was the best I could do at the moment.
Hearing a vehicle arrive I looked up at the street and saw the Medical Examiner getting out of her van. Sylvia Perales was a striking figure. She was tall, lean, muscular, and beautiful. She had dark eyes that could penetrate right through someone. And ever since I met her, her smile could always melt me down in a hurry. She actually hopped over the five foot fence with no effort, skipped down the bank and walked to where we were standing. “Hey, Theo, how’s it going? Are you breaking in some newbies today?” Menchaca and Garibay looked at her as if they couldn’t believe someone could be that chipper in this setting.
By this time Rogelio Morales, otherwise known as Roger, the SAPD photographer, had worked his way down with his equipment in one hand, and a burger in the other. “Buenos dias, gang. What’ve we got today? Oh, wow, a beheading. How unique. And here I thought it was going to be just another dull, ordinary everyday stabbing.”
I chanced a glance over at my two uniformed officers. Sure enough, they were staring at Roger with the most bizarre expressions. Something between awe and total disgust, I think. Here they were scarcely able to keep breakfast down and this guy was happily munching away on an early lunch while gazing at the body. Anita looked away hastily and made some strange gurgling sound as she did. Joey was in a little better shape, but not much.
Sylvia came over, beamed her five thousand watt smile at me, and shook my hand as a somewhat belated greeting. I felt my knees wobble a bit. I had no control where this lady was concerned. She looked at the body. “Ouch, this is not the usual San Antonio crime scene, is it? Somebody really did a number on her. Do we know who she was?” I told her we couldn’t find anything without moving the body. Also I mentioned the backpack nearby, and that I didn’t want to get my prints on it.
“Yeah, Malone, you’re in enough trouble all the time without doing anything like that.” I looked at her as if to ask what trouble she meant, and she did the smile thing again along with an impish little chuckle. “Just kidding, dear. Chill out. I know you’re the darling boy of the department.” She then looked over at Menchaca and winked at her, giving her a bit of a smile as well. Anita smiled back, and seemed to come out of her near state of shock. Joey lightened up along with his partner. I liked these two young officers. Word was they were partners in more ways than one, that in fact they were actually planning to be married when they felt the time was right. From time to time I would catch them looking at each other in a way that told me the gossip was actually true, that they were very much in love. But for the most part they kept things on a professional level when in uniform. Joey and Anita had the right attitude and work ethic to become good at their jobs. What they didn’t have was experience, but that comes along on its own, and they were getting a hefty dose of it this morning.
“Has anybody found a clue yet? Anything that will help us nab this jerk?” I looked at the pair who were there when I arrived, and then at Sylvia. They all shrugged and moved about to see if they could find any items that would lead us to capturing the fiend who had done this. As everybody was saying, this is not a typical San Antonio homicide. We have our share of stabbings and shootings, but they’re usually over some ex-girlfriend or a bet or an argument at a bar. This was none of the above. This was a deliberate, cold-blooded killing followed by humiliation of the victim. So in a way, our two young officers were not the only ones who were going to gain experience on this case.
“I’d say I don’t have a clue, but I don’t want to hear all the responses to that, so I won’t say it.” I knew they’d all jump on me big time for that. Sometimes silence is golden.
I traced my path back to the fence where I spotted the fabric, looking at the ground and Sylvia followed me up the little hill. “Looks like the soil is baked pretty well around here. We haven’t had rain since March, and footprints are hard to see. The tall grass isn’t helping anything either. The rest of the group inspected the area around the body and came up with nothing as well. Roger came over and informed me that he had completed his snapshots of the victim and the surrounding area including the backpack. We could now open the pack to look for information. I quickly put gloves on, opened the backpack, and came up with a small electronic device for playing music, a package of chips, some chewing gum, and a few items of makeup absolutely essential for today’s youthful female. Nothing to go on there. But at the very bottom of the bag was a wallet. Now we had something. I retrieved it, opened it, and found several photos of someone who must be the victim along with two other girls and a couple of boys. Also in the wallet was a driver’s license. We had a name, an age, and an address.
“Gather round everyone,” I announced. “We hit pay dirt here. Her name is Gloria Benitez, and she lives on Prado Street. She’s nineteen years old, and is not an organ donor. Guess that doesn’t matter all that much since her organs probably are not worth donating right now anyway. So I’ll go and talk to her family. I don’t know if they’re even aware that she’s dead.”
Anita said, “Joey and I will do that. It’s probably better since we work this area, don’t you think?” I agreed, and secretly was relieved at not having that task to do today. Then she asked me how I prepared myself for a visit of that type. I told her that the only way I could do it is to put myself in the place of the people I was going to visit. How would I act if someone came to my house with news that a loved one had died? Well, I had experience with that, since I had lost both parents. I knew what it felt like, and that helped me to empathize with family members of victims. Anita nodded and assured me that they would think that through on the way to the family’s house.
I looked around at the group, and everyone was jotting down the information I had given them. They finished, turned their gazes back toward me, and were ready for further instructions. Each person seemed to have gathered some momentum now, and had something besides the grotesque scene behind them to think about. “Did anyone find anything else?” Their faces told me they had not.
“I have a question,” said Joey. “Do you think that red heart was hers, or was it something the killer left there for some reason?”
“Good question, and unfortunately I don’t have a good answer at this time. Maybe we can figure that out somehow. We need something concrete to go on, that’s for sure.” I thanked him for starting my brain working, dismissed them, and we all headed back to our vehicles. The Medical Examiner’s team was preparing to move the body to the Office of the Bexar County Medical Examiner. The folks there would have a big job ahead of them with this case.
As I neared my unmarked Crown Vic, Sylvia came over to me. She quietly asked me, “Have you seen anything like this here in San Antonio? I haven’t. I figured that after doing this job for five years I’d have seen everything I was going to see, but this is a different animal. What do you make of it?”
“Right now I don’t know,” I replied. “It’s new to me, but then I haven’t been here as long as you have. This is only my second year in the Big Enchilada. That is what people call this place, right?”
She smiled at me. “Some do, some don’t. We have Alamo City, River City, the Big Enchilada, and plain old S.A. Most folks aren’t imaginative enough to come up with more colorful nicknames. But we do love our enchiladas here, along with the tacos, burritos, chalupas, tamales, menudo, and—“
I stopped her there. “Whoa, I can handle all that but the menudo. If I can’t identify it, I don’t eat it.” I knew what was coming, and in a way I wanted to hear it, especially from her.
“But that’s a Texas tradition, Theo. Legend has it that Generalissimo Antonio López de Santa Anna and his troops were on the run from the Texians and had little food left. Oh, since you’re not from around here, you may not know that Texians are the gringos who lived in Texas back in the nineteenth century. Anyway, since food was running out, Santa Anna told the cooks that they were to use everything at their disposal. He didn’t want anything left of the cow but the ‘moo,’ if you believe in legends.”
“I guess so, but I just can’t get into the idea of asking someone to pass me a big helping of cow udder, you know?” She laughed at that, and I did as well. Sylvia then asked me where I had eaten in San Antonio, so I told her about my culinary outings, which included Burger King, Whataburger, Bill Miller, Mama Margie’s, most of the normal chains. I didn’t know much about the local cuisine and was not sure what I could and could not handle.
“Then you need to come with me and let me show you some good places you haven’t visited. We have some great restaurants here. What time do you get off today?”
That was a shocker. I told her I’d be done by around six this evening and she said she’d meet me at a place called Azuca on South Alamo Street at seven sharp. I hastily agreed to that. Not sure what was happening, I was nevertheless happy about the idea of getting to know Sylvia better. I also was happy that I had an actual date on Saturday night.
We went our separate ways and I drove to the substation on Mayfield to check in and see what else was happening. I had reports to write and turn in on the case that we were just beginning, and knew that would take up the rest of the morning. That was fine with me, however, as the day was heating up rapidly and the air conditioning was good in the station. Moving to an empty desk I fired up my laptop to check my e-mails. My mind, however, was in two places: here with the work, and wherever Sylvia Perales might be right now. Trying to focus totally on work for a bit I opened my e-mail.
Something puzzling was waiting for me there. I had the usual interoffice mail urging better efficiency and a higher conviction rate—the usual bureaucratic bullshit. But one heading was unique and caught my attention. On the subject line were the words “Have a heart”. I didn’t know who the sender was, but I opened the mail to see what it was about.
Good morning detective Malone. Hope this finds you in good health. I wanted to say I enjoyed the scene today at the river. You and that Sylvia Perales looked good together. You should go after her, Theo. You’d make a fine pair.
But that’s a different story. I wanted to let you know I’ll be checking in with you periodically to help you with your newest, and perhaps most baffling, case to date. I’ll be happy to assist you in any way I can. But I must be off right now, so I will bid you adieu for the time being.
Your humble assistant,
A guy with a heart
Stunned, I sat for a moment, not knowing what to think. Who had sent this? Why had it been sent to me? And what was its purpose? I had no answers for any of these questions. Someone had obviously been watching the proceedings as we inspected the crime area, but who was it and where had he or she been to be able to see us? I was shaken by this and had no idea what to make of it. After a few minutes I decided to shrug it off for the time being and move on to the other items on my morning agenda, the reports that were due on this and a couple of other cases.
After an indeterminate amount of time one of the officers rounded the corner and announced, “Mama Margie’s in five minutes if you want to go with us.” That surprised me, and I looked at my watch to see that the morning had flown. I decided that a meal might help settle me down so that I could finish the day out in a good frame of mind. After e-mailing off the completed reports I shut down the e-mail account and turned off the laptop. I rose from the desk and met three other officers who were leaving for lunch. Two of them were Anita Menchaca and Joey Garibay. The third was Pete Weber, the comic relief for the substation.
We arrived at the café on Zarzamora only a few minutes later and marched over to the counter, passing by the longnecks that looked so inviting in their icy cooler. Not the time for that. We placed our orders and managed to find the last empty table. Anita volunteered to get chips and salsa for us from the bin in the corner. We each took turns getting our drinks. Before long our food was there and we were eating and enjoying each other’s company. Pete Weber looked at me and asked, “Tell me, Jersey Boy, can you get food like this way up there?”
“No, we don’t have that much Mexican food there, and what we have is not as good as this,” I replied. “More chips anybody?” A couple of nods told me that indeed reinforcements were necessary, so I got up and plodded over to refill the basket. Remembering I had a dinner engagement this evening I decided to go easy on the chips, however. Returning to the table I asked, “Anybody get a strange e-mail today?”
Blank expressions answered that question quickly. Pete responded by saying, “Hey, man, every e-mail I get from HQ is strange. Is that the kind you mean?” I told him no, and that it was nothing bad, so not to worry.
We had done all the damage we could do to our lunch, so we hauled ourselves out of our chairs and made our way back to the station. I resumed my report writing, and before long my thoughts again turned to the strange mail from this morning. I couldn’t worry about it now, though, because there was glorious paperwork to do and I wanted to be done in time to get to that place called Azuca. What kind of word was that anyway?
Azuca is located just outside the central district of San Antonio. It’s in a trendy up-and-coming area known as Southtown. The two buildings that make up the place look really old. People were packed into one side, laughing and talking, and generally having a good time. I was optimistic about the evening.
“It’s a Spanish word, but with a twist,” Sylvia told me when we were seated in the cozy restaurant. Look around you. See all these, uh, portraits? They are of Celia Cruz, a famous Cuban singer. She was basically the salsa music version of Ella Fitzgerald. She was that good, and that well-known. During her performances she’d yell out the word ‘azuca’, which is like the Spanish word for sugar.” I liked the paintings on the walls. They were in neon colors, and depicted someone who looked like she loved life. No way could I look at those without smiling. I noticed glass fixtures around the room that were highly unusual. Many of them looked like huge flowers. Some were wall hangings while others were pendants on the ceiling. Sylvia noticed me looking at them. “If you behave during dinner, I’ll show you where those are made when we’re through in here. It’s actually in the parking lot right outside.”
I was in awe of the decorations and had not noticed that the waiter had brought something to our table. I looked at it and decided that it must be cornbread. About that time a warm, thick slice of it was handed to me by my smiling companion. “Warning,” she admonished. “This stuff is addictive. Especially with butter on it.”
She was right. I’ve never had cornbread like that. It was rich, buttery, sweet, creamy, and blended to a perfection I couldn’t believe. So I knew right there that if this was an indication of what was to come, wow. And it turned out that it was. This was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. And it was truly a unique dish. I’m not even sure what some of it was, but it was heavenly. I was told that on the other side of that beautiful vine-covered entryway in a separate building was the bar and club. Live music, flamenco demonstrations, tango lessons, even cigar making classes. She added, “When the weather’s cooler, the outdoor area is a wonderful place to come and relax. Of course we’d melt out there today, but in November it’s really nice. Sometimes they make a huge paella dish out there, and that’s fun to watch.”
We finished our wonderfully exotic meal, I paid, and then we went to the glass blowing gallery in the parking lot, and got a demonstration there from Gini Garcia, the artist. Wonderful work. A lot of it was similar in style to the work of world famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. All in all, quite an evening, and I had enjoyed Sylvia’s company so much that the rest of the day seemed long ago and far, far away. She was quite a lady. We went into the parking lot and I noticed a slight mist descending upon us, almost cooling the air. The gentle breeze helped with that. As I walked Sylvia to her car, that strange e-mail popped into my mind. I decided to discuss it with her. “I have one small bit of shop talk I want to discuss with you before you escape my clutches. This morning I got an e-mail and it was really eerie, like someone had been watching us at the river. He—I guess it was a he—said he’d be discussing things with me in the future, and might be able to help me. Something like that. He said you and I looked good together. So I know he was there, or he wouldn’t have known that you were there. And then he signed off as my humble assistant. Does that make any sense to you?”
Sylvia looked puzzled. “No, it doesn’t, really. I mean, who could it have been? Where was he when he was observing us? And why would he say he might be able to help you? You’re right, that’s eerie.” At that I was hoping I had not made a mistake by mentioning it to her. But she recovered, smiled, and said, “I had a great time tonight. We should do this again. I’ve been trying to figure out some way to get to know you better and today seemed like the perfect chance.” Then she touched my cheek lightly, did the high-wattage smile, and then turned and got in her car and left. I was frozen to the spot for a moment, enchanted by her. I could sense real trouble heading my way here. And I liked it.
About Jerry Frazier:
I grew up in Brownwood, Texas. After graduation from high school I attended TCU in Fort Worth. I taught three years in the Texas Hill Country and returned to TCU for graduate study. From there I moved around for a while, and finally ended up in San Antonio where I taught for nineteen years. I’m retired now and living in Windcrest, Texas. I’m married to a lovely lady named Christine. I have three kids from an earlier marriage and she has one.