Guest Post/Virtual Tour ~ Harkness by Michael Bigham


Who’s Talking Here?

I must admit I’m a compulsive eavesdropper. I eavesdrop on parents talking to their children at the market, to friends chatting in coffee shops, to couples huddled together in a theater line.

Okay, I may be more than a mite curious, but eavesdropping does help my writing process. To be an effective writer, you need to use dialog properly. Some think that dialog isn’t important in constructing a narrative, but dialog done right creates tension, defines characters and advances the plot.

When I eavesdrop, I discover juicy ideas for plots. Someone may be talking about her Uncle Rick who had been a cop in Kansas City. “Weird guy. Kind of a jackass. Nobody in the family liked him.” All of a sudden, I find that one of my characters has an Uncle Rick from Kansas City. I work him into the narrative. He’s probably going to be a jackass. More importantly I’m learning the rhythm and pacing of dialog. Writing good dialog doesn’t come easily. It takes focus and practice. Here’s a bit from one of the masters of dialog, Ed McBain, author of the 87th Precinct mysteries:


“Are you a drug addict?” Byrnes repeated. He was whispering now, and the whisper was loud in the silent room. The clock in the hallway added its voice, commenting in a monotone.

“Who… who told you?” Larry said at last.

“Are you?”

“I… I fool around a little.”

“Sit down,” Byrnes said wearily.

“Dad, I…”

“Sit down,” Barnes said. “Please.”

Larry sat in the chair his father had vacated. Byrnes paced the room for several moments, and then stopped before Larry and asked, “How bad is it?”

From this short bit, we learn not only that Larry is a drug addict, but almost we glimpse how the two of them relate. This passage creates a tension that just can’t be done with narrative summary.

Let’s look at another example from my novel Harkness: A High Desert Mystery. In this passage, Sheriff Harkness interviews the friend of a young girl that is missing:


“You know that Virginia Kelly is missing.”  When she nodded, I continued, “Her mom says she was here yesterday afternoon.”

 “She was,” Marybeth said.  “She left around five thirty.  Her ma wanted her to get home for dinner.”

 “How’d she leave?”

One of the cow dogs followed a little girl into the house.  “Potty,” the girl said. Marybeth told her that she was old enough to go to the bathroom by herself.

Turning back to me, she said, “She walked.”

“It must be a couple of miles back to town.” The cow dog sat next to me and plopped his head on my leg.  He had one blue eye and one brown.

 “Maybe a mite more,” she said.  “Dad had our truck.  He works evenings at the mill.”

“And your mom?” 

The little girl came out from the bathroom, crawled up on my knee and asked me to tell her a story.

“Kathy, go out and play,” Marybeth said.  When we were alone again, she told me that her mom was out working in the fields.

“What about Joey and Virginia?” I asked.

“He’s a buttface,” she said.

“You don’t like him?”

“He’s just going out with her because he thinks that he can…” She shrugged.  “You know.”

“Yeah, I know.” I wondered if she really did.

To do dialog well, a writer must not only use the right rhythm and pacing, but she must realize different people use different patterns of speech, grammar and slang. Here, Marybeth uses the terms “a mite more” and “buttface”. They’re terms a 12 year old might use in 1952, but not be spoken by a Harvard professor in a classroom.

One of my pet peeves with some beginning authors is that their stories are told almost exclusively in narrative summary. For me, that’s boring. I check out by page fifty. Dialog spices up the story and can be used not only to create tension, but to define a character. In the first example, we learn a lot about Byrnes in a short amount of time. Dialog pulls the reader into the story and done correctly is a great tool for any writer.

I’d like to thank Lori’s Reading Corner hosting my post. She has a great site here and I hope you’ll check back.  My novel Harkness: A High Desert Mystery is available at both Barnes and Nobel and Amazon. 

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bighamRaised in the mill town of Prineville in Central Oregon beneath blue skies and rimrocks, Michael Bigham attended the University of Oregon and during his collegiate summers, fought range fires on the Oregon high desert for the Bureau of Land Management. He worked as a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Michael lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter. Harkness is his first novel.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Blog

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harknessPublisher: Muskrat Press (October 17, 2012)
Genre: Mystery
ISBN-10: 0615721974
ISBN-13: 978-0615721972
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository



Harkness isn’t your typical Western sheriff. Cowboy boots make his arches ache, he’s phobic of horses, but he does have a horse of sorts – a `39 Chevy pickup he calls Hoopie, and a sidekick – a neurotic wiener dog named Addison.

Harkness is a man of his times, shaped for both good and bad by his experiences in WWII. He deals with issues like bigotry and sexual suppression in a believable manner. We come to know him as a good man, but never a self-righteous one. The pursuit of justice is his job, and he’s good at it, but he never loses sight of where his next woman, or his next drink, is coming from. Harkness is the keeper of secrets in his little town and to solve the crime, he must decide which secrets to expose. One secret involves Judge Barnes, the county’s most powerful man. But Harkness had a secret of his own: he’s in love with the Judge’s wife. How much is Harkness willing to risk to catch a murderer?

Set on the Oregon High Desert in 1952, life in the small town of Barnesville has been easy-going for Matthew until a star-crossed teen-age couple disappears and he’s forced to deal with some horrific murders, one of which strikes very close to home, before finally confronting the killer man-to-man on the High Desert.

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Excerpt ~ 

Three dozen young men, most of them towheaded, in football pads and cutoffs grunted as they pushed blocking sleds in the late afternoon sun.  It must have been ninety-five degrees out, but thank God, not a hundred.  It got so unbearable here ‘bout when it cracked a hundred, the snakes and coyotes hid in their holes until the sun went down.

“Pick it up, Rob,” Coach Conroy yelled in a high-pitched voice.  “What are you?  Some kind of pussy?”

I said my hellos to Conroy, an ugly man wearing a jarhead haircut, a permanent smile, and an Alabama sweatshirt—takes a special man to wear a sweatshirt in this heat.  He asked me if I found Joey yet.

“We’re still working on it,” I said.  “I understand that he disappeared after practice.  Anything unusual happen yesterday?  Anything that might relate to the boy’s disappearance?”

“Like what?”

“Like anything.” I felt a bit aggrieved.  Smart folks playing dumb made my scalp itch.  Good old boy drawl or not, Conroy was no dummy. 

“Ordinary practice.  Joey did break loose for a sixty-three yarder in scrimmage.”  Conroy tooted his whistle twice and, without further prompting, the kids broke into groups for specialized drills.  How could a man smile so much?

“Joey especially close with anyone here?” I asked.

“Ronnie, over there.”  Conroy pointed at the quarterback, a lanky kid with fire-red hair.

“The Gearhart kid?”

“Good quarterback, nice kid,” Conroy said.

I thought of his old man sitting in my lockup. “Maybe being a drunk asshole skips a generation.”

Conroy looked at me quizzically for a moment.  His masculine smell was overwhelming, like he was some great beast king.  He opened his arms as if to embrace his team.  “We’re going to State this year, mark my words.  We’ll win State. Barnestown, State Triple A Champs, 1952.” I didn’t doubt him.  He was a firecracker, but I found myself not caring.  Ronnie Gearhart sprinted out on an option and tossed a clothesline pass down the field to a waiting receiver who muffed the catch.  Linebackers and defensive tackles panted like Chihuahua’s chasing a greyhound.

“We’ll wrap up in half an hour.” Conway was already moving toward his team and seeming to forget me.  “Okay, ladies,” he yelled.  “Pick it up!”

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Harkness Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule


Monday, May 6th

Book spotlight at Between the Covers

Tuesday, May 7th

Book spotlight at The Writer’s Life

Thursday, May 9th

Author interview at Beyond the Books

Friday, May 10th

Author interview at Blogcritics

Monday, May 13th

Guest post at Murder by 4

Tuesday, May 14th

Guest post at Marilyn’s Musings

Friday, May 17th

Guest post and giveaway at The Busy Mom’s Daily

Wednesday, May 22nd

Author interview at As the Pages Turn

Thursday, May 23rd

Book review at The Book Connection

Friday, May 24th

Author interview at Literarily Speaking

Tuesday, May 28th

Book spotlight at Tribute Books Reviews & Giveaways

Thursday, May 30th

Book review at Thoughts in Progress

Monday, June 3rd

Book review at Community Bookstop

Tuesday, June 4th

Book review at WV Stitcher

Wednesday, June 5th

Guest post at Lori’s Reading Corner

Thursday, June 6th

Guest post at The Story Behind the Book

Friday, June 7th

Podcast interview at 6:30 PM EST at A Book and A Chat

Monday, June 10th

Author interview at Examiner

Tuesday, June 11th

Book review at The Library at the End of the Universe

Wednesday, June 12th

Author interview at Pump Up Your Book

Thursday, June 13th

Book review at CelticLady Reviews

Monday, June 17th

Author interview at Broowaha

Tuesday, June 18th

Book spotlight at The Dark Phantom Review

Wednesday, June 19th

Author interview at The Dark Phantom Review

Thursday, June 20th

Book spotlight at Literal Exposure

Monday, June 24th

Author interview at Paperback Writer



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  1. Thanks for hosting Michael today. It's always nice to visit your blog. I had a chance to read this book and would definitely recommend it to lovers of western mysteries. I hope your readers check it out.


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