WRITING: Creating believable dialogue.

Creating believable dialogue is an art, but part of the craft can be learned.

First of all, there are two adages that come to mind when writing dialogue. Strunk & White’s ‘Omit needless words’, and Elmore Leonard’s ‘Skip the boring parts’.

My own process:

What I most often do is write pages and pages of dialogue before I start culling the pages back to paragraphs. I’m a stickler for verisimilitude, so I tend to write dialogue that’s close to the real thing.

However, dialogue has a function in fiction, so I remove the quotidian from the verbiage and keep that which hints or tells something about the situation or the perspective of the character, as well as moving the plot forward.

I dislike ‘exposition’, but you can inform the reader in dialogue without info dumps if you infer rather than inform. So hint at stuff, instead of explaining things outright.

Another thing is that in real life, people rarely say what they mean. So that’s important to keep in your fictional dialogue–sometimes people are direct, other times they’re circumspect. Some characters are blunt, others tend to be more sophisticated.

An example from my current WIP, In Pocket. Wolfgang the pickpocket visits his fence to cash in his plastic:

I slipped into the booth, ignored the smoke from his cigar smouldering in the chipped glass ashtray, and placed a stack of credit cards in front of him. Mink sifted through the cards, refused three and pocketed the rest. His pudgy hand reappeared with cash and a gold-plated necklace, the lock broken to make it appear snatched.

“Two hundred retail,” Mink said. “Yours for twenty.”

“I don’t wear jewellery.”

He dangled the necklace from his thick fingers. “It’s a woman’s.”

“Don’t have a woman.”

I stuffed the money he gave me in my breast pocket, not eager to let him know where I stash my cash.

Mink smoothed the necklace on the table. “You should get out more.”

“If that advice had come from someone who didn’t live inside a dingy bar stuffed in a back alley, I might’ve taken it.”

“Always the smart mouth.” Mink shook his head. “One day you’ll learn that moving around isn’t the same as moving up.”

“Is that the voice of experience?”

He steepled his stubby fingers. “Don’t push your luck.”

“Respect goes two ways,” I said, “Don’t insult my intelligence pushing that gold-plated crap on me.”

Grinning, Mink put the necklace away. “You’re right, I should’ve known better.”

I got up to leave, but he flapped a pudgy hand. “Sit back down, we need to talk.”

“We do?” I sat back down, even though I didn’t really want to. Mink is connected and while I don’t want him to disrespect me, I also don’t want to piss him off.

Mink leaned back and drew on the stub of his cigar. “You work hotels?”

“Lobbies, on occasion. Sometimes hotel restaurants at breakfast time.”

He blew a plume of smoke at the ceiling. “But no further?”

“Not much to gain from venturing into the corridors.”

“Not for a pickpocket.” Mink ground out the cigarette in the ashtray with a savage twist. I heard somewhere that he used to have a highly volatile temper. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be useful.”

I didn’t respond. Sometimes it’s better not to talk.

“I’m putting together a small crew for hotel burglaries,” Mink said. “You’d be a good addition.”

“I’m not into team sports, Mink.”

“I’m talking about a crew, not a team.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Members of a team all work towards the same goal, although there can be different tasks. A crew unites members with diverse specialties to work together as a cohesive unit.” He steepled his fingers. “You’d be part of a three-man crew. One stays by the door while two work the room. You have a good eye for valuables.”

I pointed at his pocket. “That necklace was a test?”

“You’d be in charge. I have passkeys, maps of the rooms, floor plans of the hotels. Three-way split. You, me and them.”

I shook my head. “Three people triple the risk.”

“I forgot, you don’t like to take risks.” Mink grinned, but his eyes stayed dead. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

I left the bar, glad to be back in the sunlight again.

If you can, please share your perspective on writing dialogue. And, of course, if you know anyone who might benefit from this information, share this post using the social media buttons below.


Rewritten: The introduction from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

Below is the rewritten beginning of the novel (old version is here), which is written in present tense. The rest of the novel is in past tense, except for the interludes…

The world is strangely tilted when I open my eyes to the deafening roar of the helicopter reverberating against the walls around me. The down draft of the blades stir the loose dirt on the grimy bricks and I shield my eyes as swirling grit stings my face. Around me everything remains dark. The helicopter’s searchlight must be trained on something else. Or someone else.

The wind dies down and the roar changes to a bass-line thumping as the police helicopter flies off. Just around the corner I hear a siren starting up. An ambulance, not a police vehicle.

I close my eyes again.

I must’ve passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. My shoulder smarts from lying on the bricks, but the dull pain in my abdomen is worse. I remember her face looking up at me. And the hard punches in my belly, now a faint throbbing.

Without opening my eyes, I push myself into an upright position, the bricks damp and cold against my buttocks. My legs feel like they’re asleep, but without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus.

The wall across from me is less than two meters away. To my left, a dead-end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster.

The siren grows louder and I lean forward carefully to peek around the dumpster.

Sodium lights flood the sidewalk with sickly orange light that reaches into the dead-end alley just far enough to touch my grubby sneakers. A neon-yellow ambulance races past the mouth of the alley, the sound of the siren fading quickly in the distance.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have lost them all.

Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor, gone.

I look at my filthy pants, stained with dark spots and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, smudged with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them with her before the stake-out.

I only had my phone and the gun. They’re both gone.

All I have left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

Around the corner I hear muted voices and the crackle of a two-way radio. A moment later I hear a car start up. My right hand grabs one of the plastic garbage bags and a spasm of pain pierces my gut as I heave the bag and toss it next to my legs.

The car halts at the mouth of the alley and the bright beam of a searchlight shines on the opposite wall, then swerves around towards the dumpster that hides me from view. The beam briefly illuminated my grimy pants and the garbage bag hiding my sneakers, but moves away without a pause. The light clicks off and the car trundles away.

I realise I’m holding my breath and let it out slowly.

I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

I raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster again, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Not enough information to determine where I am. Just another dead-end alley in the centre of Amsterdam. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I remember the carton in my inside pocket and take the pack of cigarettes. I open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of a cheap butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil curled around a tiny waxed paper envelop. I won’t use that unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly.

Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip of the cigarette in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the dumpster, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flows over my pants and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets damaged my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure. If this was the Red Light District it would be busier…

Two strikes, so it’s two in the morning.

Six hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

1400px-inpocket


Rate/Review this sample from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.


I passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. I remember I was running. From someone. Or something? The back of my head hurts. Guess I hit the wall behind me. Without opening my eyes I feel the bricks, damp and cold against my buttocks.

My legs feel like they’re asleep. Without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus. The wall across from me is less than two meters away. An alley. To my left, a dead end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster. I’m in a cul-de-sac.

Street lights flood the entrance of the alley with sickly orange light that touches my grubby sneakers. I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

Raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Can’t see which one. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have none. Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor—

I look at my pants, dirty and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, dark with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these dirty clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them. I only had the two-way radio and the gun.

They’re both gone.

All I’ve left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

I take the pack of cigarettes from my inside pocket, open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of the butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil with the small white envelop beside it. I won’t use it unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly. Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the trash cans, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flicks over my sneakers and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets hit my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure.

Two.

Two in the morning.

Five hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…


I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

1400px-inpocket


Writing During A Motorcycle Trip…

I went on a motorcycle trip from July 1st till July 20th. Just me, my trusty BMW R1100GS motorcycle, and my iPad with Adonit Writer keyboard in my tankbag. And camping gear, obviously. From Amsterdam I rode 700 kilometers motorway to Dijon, from where I rode secondary roads exclusively. First down to the Vercors, then Alpes Maritimes, Parc de la Mercantour and crossing from Sospel to Olivetta in Italy. The coast turned out to be even warmer than I expected, so I spent most of my time riding deserted mountain roads and visiting dusty villages that didn’t see many tourists as I rode a figure-eight through Tuscany. Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Parma.

Taking the example from the Italians themselves, I parked the motorcycle in a shady place around noon and spent a couple of hours writing until the heat dissipated enough to resume riding. My iPad has a longer battery life than most laptops, but I could always use an outlet. In many cases, the cafe/restaurant/hotel were so honored that I used their facilities to write on my novels, that I was treated with a pleasant hospitality, the staff leaving me alone and keeping other guests away from me so I could concentrate.

At home, I have many distractions, but in Italy I didn’t have many other things to do then ride, camp and write. Watching television was useless, since my Italian is ‘Amsterdam Restaurant Italian’, meaning that I knew how to greet and order food, but following an Italian conversation was impossible. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have enjoyable conversations in a mish-mash of Italian/French/English, but an Italian television drama went over my head.

I rarely spent more than one night in one place. I spent two nights in the Vercors to acclimatize myself to camping again, two nights in Firenze because I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the beautiful city, two nights in Parma, and two nights in Rocaforte because I didn’t want to travel in France on their Quatorze Juillet (July 14th, Independance Day). Instead, I spent most of July 14th in Caffe La Bottega Errante in Mondovi, a very pleasant cafe with excellent cappuccini, high ceilinged cool rooms and an English speaking staff. The atmosphere at La Bottega Errante proved inspirational – I think I wrote close to 8,000 words that day. Other places that were very conducive to writing:

– Chiar di Luna, an Albergo/Ristorante/Pizzeria in Careggine. A glass serre in shadow with a view of the fields and mountains, with a fragrant breeze coming in through the open windows, great pizza and excellent cappuccino.

– Ostello della Giuventu di Parma, the Youth Hostel in Parma, where the English speaking staff helped me with Italian phrases (thank you, Alessio). Along with the comfortable and stylish Auberge de Jeunesse in Liege, these youth hostels were the only places when I didn’t use my tent. In both cases because there were not many campings in the vicinity and the prices for a bed in a dorm were comparable to most Italian campsites.

– Lino’s Caffe in Parma. These coffee shops are part of a chain, but still, sitting in the shadow on a terrace with WiFi provided by the Municipality of Parma while being served strong and tasty cappuccino is difficult to beat. By way of thanks Katla kills someone in Parma’s La Cittadella…

– Caffe Bertaina in Mondovi, who graciously safeguarded my motorcycle gear so I could tramp around Mondovi in cargo pants and sandals, as well as enjoy the shady breeze of their terrace under the arches around Piazza Maggiore.

– The restaurant of Camping Michelangelo in Firenze, where I could write while looking out over this glorious city, with a friendly staff who clearly enjoyed their work.

All in all, when I returned to Amsterdam, I updated my Scrivener file and found that I’d written some 27,000 words while on the road, which comes to an average of 1,350 words a day. Most of the time, at home, I won’t get over 1,000 words a day, if that, so my French Italian motorcycle trip was enjoyable, refreshing and productive as well.

Rogue – A Katla Novel (Amsterdam Assassin Series 3) is now at 86,000 words, with a goal of 100,000+ words in September… Keep your fingers crossed.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from WIP “Fundamental Error”, a new Katla KillFile in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

This is a fragment from Fundamental Error, the third Katla KillFile in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, soon available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.

Assassin Katla is hired by a client whose brother is planning a terrorist attack…

The Fundamental Error KillFile (9,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, on her most dangerous assignment yet. When Peter Brandt watches his brother Roel convert to Islam and turn into a domestic terrorist, Katla needs to enter into the mind of a fanatic suicide bomber in order to thwart a mass-murder attack in the shopping mecca of Amsterdam.

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

 

PRESENT DAY

Right behind the Royal Palace, at the intersection of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Raadhuisstraat, you can find one of the most elegant buildings in Amsterdam, if not the world. Built to serve as the main post office in 1899 by esteemed architect Cornelis Hendrik Peters in Neo-Gothic style—a mixture of Gothic and Romantic elements similar to the Parliament buildings in London—this beautiful building was added in 1992 to the list of Amsterdam’s ten most valuable monuments. That same year, four renowned architects were invited to submit a renovation plan to transform the building into the first covered shopping and lifestyle centre in the heart of the city. With the new destination came a new name: Magna Plaza.

None of the shoppers or security staff paid much attention to the well-dressed Caucasian man strolling inside and standing silently next to the grand piano in the middle of the hall, gazing upward at the glass dome that covered the roof but let in the sunlight. Roel Brandt—known as Muhammad by the brotherhood—was well aware of Magna Plaza’s history. In fact, the venerable building’s glorious past was one of the main reasons for Magna Plaza becoming the target of the brotherhood’s first public display.

Muhammad turned on his heel, looking down the marble ramp of the main entrance.

After nearly a century of serving as the main post office, the building started its second life in 1992 with only minor additions or changes, the most significant to the façades undoubtedly concerned the main entrance. The almost inaccessible entrance of the central post office would’ve made public use of the building as a shopping centre difficult. After numerous studies trying to balance the accessibility with the integrity of the building’s design, the decision was made to bridge the connection between street level and the 1.5 meter higher main level as smoothly as possible inside the building. The new porch above the main entrance reinforced the improved access above the three new entrances.

Muhammad turned back to the interior. Originally, public access to the huge building was restricted to part of the black-and-white tiled lobby, leaving visitors able to just gaze up at the upper floors where only postal workers were allowed to tread. He studied the interior through the viewfinder of the Olympus camera around his neck, careful not to touch the button designed to operate the shutter. The interior parts of the camera had been removed to house the remote detonator, leaving only the lenses and viewfinder intact.

Even after the conversion from post office to shopping mecca, the central hall remained the building’s main feature. New arches were added to the already present gallery bridges to merge the central part of the building into one large open space surrounded by shops. To the rear of the building opposite the main entrance new elevators were installed, as well as escalators that allowed shoppers to rise slowly and feast their eyes on this Valhalla of greed. The basement—cleared of any unimportant partition walls—was adapted structurally where necessary, currently featuring an exhibition of paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. As a result of these changes, the spaces of the central part connected to form an open triptych, though the new spaces and arcades required structural additions—steel girders masked by prefab concrete covers that fitted in with the existing elements, painstakingly designed to continue the pattern of the existing structure. The new columns and arches—barely recognisable to the average unsuspecting shopper—were glaringly obvious to the man now quietly observing the graceful interior that would soon be turned into rubble and screams.

Muhammad lowered his fake camera, his face a polite mask hiding his disgust. Like the Bijenkorf and Kalvertoren department stores, Magna Plaza was a bastion of capitalism, crowded with people who filled their spiritual void with vapid consumerism. Popular brands like Emporio Armani, Swarovski, Mango, America Today, and Gsus Industries flanked smaller boutiques like Velvet and Sarah Pacini, the enormous shiny plate glass windows displaying their clothes, trinkets, ointments, and multimedia to lure the materialistic morons.

He knew why the brotherhood had chosen him for his current task of bringing down this shining symbol of the perverted Western civilisation. While Roel Brandt had disavowed his name and materialist upbringing—and shown in the camp to be fully prepared to be a martyr for the cause—the blond hair and blue eyes granted by his Dutch heritage allowed him to move effortlessly and without suspicion where his brothers of the faith would be instantly noted. His appearance alone made him valuable beyond the mere possibility of martyrdom through self-sacrifice, not to mention his technical prowess.

So Muhammad had been chosen for a more difficult task.

Despite spiritual guidance and mental cleansing, those who sacrificed themselves for the cause might have doubts before they embraced their martyrdom. Even the strongest believer was still human, still fallible. Any martyr, no matter how well prepared, might have difficulty following the true path and bringing their mission to a satisfactory conclusion. Standing before their God, they might entertain second thoughts, and their flagging determination might need a gentle nudge.

A nudge Muhammad could provide with the remote detonator in his camera.

The phone in his pocket vibrated to signal the imminent arrival of the martyr, so Muhammad went to the escalator, ascending to the first level. Going up another level required walking down the arcade to the next escalator. A deliberate set-up to force customers to pass at least half the shops on a floor to ascend to another level. Probably wouldn’t bother most customers, but Muhammad was disgusted by the manipulative efforts of the capitalist architecture. He looked away from the window displays at the empty space above the lobby as he made his way to the next ascending escalator.

If you enjoyed this fragment of Fundamental Error, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Follow my blog and you will be notified about publication dates, more fragments and snippets, and articles on Katla’s Amsterdam.

If you’d like to become a beta reader or reviewer for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

This is a fragment from Peccadillo – A Katla Novel, the second novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.

Chang lay spent on the bed, enjoying the best feature of his hotel room. From the bed, he could look through a window pane straight into the bathroom, where Jacqueline was lounging in the bath. She’d been energetic, almost aggressive in her lovemaking, but the heroin had dulled his libido and he’d taken ages to climax, which seemed to have pleased her.
She tapped the window and gestured for him to join her in the bath. He shook his head, gestured that he liked looking at her and blew her a kiss. She arched back in the soapy water and started giving him a show of what he was missing, caressing herself with her eyes closed and her mouth half open, showing her cute little overbite as she panted with excitement.
While he’d waited for her to arrive for dinner, he’d borrowed a book from the concierge on the history of the building. He’d been aware that the building had been erected for the Burgerziekenhuis and had been designed by the same architect as the famous Concertgebouw, but the book had been informative.
Last time Chang had been in Amsterdam, the graceful Burgerziekenhuis building had become an office for the City Council, which always struck Chang as a disgrace for a historical building, where Queen Wilhelmina and her daughter Princess Juliana had stayed, when Juliana’s husband Bernhard was recuperating from a serious accident in 1937, and soccer genius Johan Cruyff was born ten years later.
When the Burgerziekenhuis opened in 1891, the hospital had been a technical as well as an esthetic marvel, with a huge main building and a spacious garden with separate pavilions, electric illumination, central heating and water-powered elevators. Economic recession and the Second World War depleted the budget and the Burgerziekenhuis hovered on the brink of closing in the post-war years, but in the 1960s the building was renovated and regained its position as a modern hospital until it became superfluous when the Academic Medical Center and the VU Medical Center were built in the 1980s. One month before its Centennial, the Burgerziekenhuis closed its doors and moved to Almere.
The hospital pavilions, situated behind the main building, were converted into offices and housing, but the beautiful main building needed to be rescued. With minor renovations that left most of the old building intact, the decentralized City Council used the building in 1992 to house Stadsdeel Oost, the local council for the East borough. When the East borough merged with Watergraafsmeer, the need for more office space caused the Stadsdeel to move out again in 2008. For almost four years the former Burgerziekenhuis temporarily housed a police station, until it came into the hands of the Eden hotel chain, who turned it into their latest four star hotel, the Manor. When Chang became aware of the chance to book a room in the famous building, he didn’t hesitate at all. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about tripping over Rolling Stone fans camping out on the steps, like he had the last time he stayed at the Amstel Hotel.
Jacqueline was climaxing in the bath and slipped down under the soapy surface. She reappeared a moment later, her blond hair plastered around her face and her eyes shining. Chang smiled as she pranced wet and naked into the room.
“Would you like to chase the dragon?” he asked and showed her the heroin. Her eyes twinkled and she kneeled by the bed, resting her head on his thigh and blowing kisses at his penis while he warmed the heroin with the butane lighter and handed her the silver pipe.

If you like this fragment of Peccadillo, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series. You can download a sample with the first few chapters for free from Amazon, or the whole novel (105,000 words or 420 pages) for only $4.99. The first book in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, has been temporarily reduced in price, from 4.99 to 2.99 USD, until January 4th, 2013.

If you follow my blog, you will be notified about publication date, more fragments and snippets, and articles on Katla’s Amsterdam. If you’d like to become a beta reader for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

This is a fragment from Peccadillo – A Katla Novel, the second novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, available on Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. See the ABOUT page.

Nicky Wang missed riding the hills around Kowloon, but the Galaxy enduro motorcycle he’d left behind in China was no comparison to his current ride. He raced down the Herengracht to the Brouwersgracht, and noticed at a glance that the pedestrian bridge across the canal was empty, so he pulled the KTM 690 in a controlled skid and rode up the steps. The bridge itself was wide enough, but the posts on the steps were little wider than his handlebars. Nicky popped a wheelie and braked slowly at the end of the Melkmeisjesbrug, keeping his front wheel aloft as he rode between the posts down the steps back to the road. As soon as the front wheel hit the road he went full on the front brake, lifting the rear and tilting it sideways. Compared to the Galaxy, the KTM was a heavy brute, but it handled exquisitely. His rear wheel landed on the bricks again and he balanced for a moment, then rode off down the Brouwersgracht in the direction of the Haarlemmerdijk.
He slowed down as he spotted a couple of motorcycle cops on enduro motorcycle. Not that he was afraid that he couldn’t outrun them, but he couldn’t outrun their radios, so he limited his urban enduro escapades to avoid attracting too much attention.
His dashboard clock told him he had ten minutes before he had to meet Lau at the restaurant. He rode the KTM in the direction of Centraal Station, unable to suppress his inner hooligan as he took the bicycle path across the Singel, turned left and sidled past the waiting cars, hooked a right onto the Prins Hendrikkade and raced between cars to get to the front of the queues at the traffic lights. A few minutes later he parked his KTM in front of Prins Heerlijk Snacks, next to the Ducati Monster from the blonde behind the counter. He waved at her as he strode onto the Zeedijk, knowing she’d keep an eye on his prized possession until he returned.
Pulling a ball cap down low over his eyes to make sure the police cameras didn’t get a straight shot of his face, Nicky moved like a shadow down the Zeedijk and entered the restaurant. He walked all the way to the back where a table was reserved for the Red Poles. As he passed one of the waitresses she asked him if he wanted tea, but he told her to bring tea when Lau joined him. Sitting with his back against the wall next to the stairwell that led up to Zhang’s office, he could survey the whole restaurant in a single glance.
Nicky disliked having to report in, running the risk of being filmed by the police cameras, when most of the times the orders he received could just as well be relayed through burner phones. Lau didn’t like to use cell phones, though, and being the senior Red Pole, he could pretty much do as he wanted.
Lau appeared in the stairwell, and Nicky rose from his seat to give his senior the corner seat. Before he sat back down the waitress came running and placed a pot of tea on the table. Nicky served Lau first before he poured himself a cup.
Lau was the first to break the silence. “You checked out the crane, Sai-Lo?”
In Triad hierarchy, even among equals in rank, there is always the Dai-Lo, Elder Brother, and Sai-Lo, Younger Brother, relationship.
“Yes, Elder Brother. The controls are in a different order, but that’s not a problem.”
“You will be responsible for the perimeter, Nicky. I’ll take Chen and Wu into the office with the accountant.”
“Can Chen help me arrange the funnel?”
Lau lit a cigarette, drawing some irritated glances from customers nearby, but they didn’t dare meet his gaze. “Chen has to be on quay when Sieltjes arrives. I want him to escort her inside. Until then you can do as you see fit.”
Nicky rose from the table. “See you later, Elder Brother.”
He pulled his ball cap down low over his eyes and left the restaurant.

If you like this fragment of Peccadillo, check my ‘About’ page for a link to the Amsterdam Assassin Series. You can download a sample with the first few chapters for free from Amazon, or the whole novel (105,000 words or 420 pages) for only $4.99. The first book in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, has been temporarily reduced in price, from 4.99 to 2.99 USD, until January 4th, 2013.

If you follow my blog, you will be notified about publication date, more fragments and snippets, and articles on Katla’s Amsterdam. If you’d like to become a beta reader for the Amsterdam Assassin Series, email Martyn V. Halm at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com and put ‘beta reader’ in the subject line. Thanks for your support.


KATLA FAQ: Why I chose an assassin for my protagonist…

Why I write what I write is very simple in essence. I write what I write because no-one else writes it. And I want to read what I write. I wanted to read a story about a female freelance assassin, someone who enjoys her job without being a freak, pervert or weirdo. Someone whose view of the world is bleak enough to do the job without remorse, but not so bleak as to make her bitter. With a heart cold enough to make dispassionate decisions, but still warm enough to trust and love someone who accepts her for who she is.

In stories, whether books or movies, hired killers, in any shape or form, are mostly perverted weirdos, as if killing in exchange for money debases someone more than killing for God and Country. A soldier can justify his actions, as he is ordered by his superiors to kill ‘the enemy’. A mercenary can be ethical, following certain ideals in joining an army that fights for what he thinks is right. But a freelance assassin is a realist, someone who accepts the responsibility of taking a life without justification, for there can be no justification for the taking of a life. Reasons, sure. There are always plenty of reasons to kill another human being, but rarely a justifiable reason. But then, isn’t justification just another illusion? Is there justice in this world? Are the evildoers punished and the righteous rewarded? Anyone who takes a good look around them knows better.

Katla is a realist, pur sang. She knows there are more reasons to kill other people than people to do the job. Do the job properly, that is. There are always ambitious punks who can be hired to kill for a nickel. As Creaux says in Reprobate: “The world is overrun by amateurs, but bereft of professionals.” If you have carefully built a company and your business partner is driving your company into the ground, and you know you cannot buy him out or talk sense into him, maybe it’s time to get a professional to do the job.

Katla is an expert in disguising homicide, which makes her a particular breed of assassin. Most professional killers want to remain detached from their targets, needing the distance to separate themselves from the act. Dispatch the target with the minimum amount of fuss. Use a suppressed semi-automatic Ruger .22 Mark II and shoot a dumdum into the base of the skull, with just enough power to enter, but not to exit the cranium, so the bullet will bounce around the dome of bone and shred the brains. Just a trickle of blood, maybe bulging eyes from the pressure in the head, caused by the gases that exited the barrel pressed against the entry wound. Clean and easy. Except that such a kill would send up a red flag at any law enforcement office. Warning: Professional At Work. Same goes with any kind of skilful applied violence. Whether you garrotte someone or bomb his car, if you cannot disguise the homicide, there will be an investigation. And since your client most likely stands to benefit from the death of your target, any criminal investigation is to be avoided. Unless the investigation clears your client, or rules the demise of your target accidental or self-induced.

Katla has the mind of a hunter and trapper. Not the kind of hunter who runs around the woods drunk with a bright orange vest to avoid getting shot by his equally drunk buddies who will use an elephant gun to shoot a squirrel. Katla studies her targets like a dedicated hunter tracks his prey, like a trapper finds the places to position his snare. Stalking her target and constructing the perfect strategy towards the demise is as much an intellectual endeavour as a physical challenge, demanding both acumen and stamina. To become the perfect assassin requires a study both of human nature and human biology, its inherent flaws and how to put them to full advantage. With that pursuit of excellence taken into account, Katla’s fascination with her job make her choice of occupation not only understandable but even admirable, to an extent.

My own life has had its moments of violence, enough to make me realise that violence lurks in pretty much everyone, although the veneer of civility may have more substance on some people than others. To the outside world, Katla seems more than composed, she has an almost Zen-like attitude towards life, but it’s rooted less spirituality than reality. Katla knows how fragile life is and how easily destroyed, which makes her appreciate her own life and that of her loved ones. Fate is fickle and the wrong circumstances or timing can extinguish any life prematurely, so celebrate the life you have today and don’t live in the future life you might never receive. To be aware of the present is the greatest gift.


Sample Sunday: Fragment from Peccadillo, second novel in Amsterdam Assassin Series.

This is a fragment from Peccadillo – A Katla Novel, the second novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Still amazed that Katla had so readily accepted her lunch invitation, Anouk looked at the kitchen clock for the fourth time in five minutes. Katla didn’t strike her as the type of person to be late, but then, she didn’t know that much about her. She stepped back and studied the lunch spread, mentally checking her list. Ciabatta, warm from the oven. Vegetarian salad, with a separate plate of smoked salmon and smoked chicken. Another plate with cold cuts and slices of cheese. Tea pot rinsed and ready for boiling water. Percolator on the stove, filled with water and coffee…

Newk and Baaba sat outside on the kitchen window sill, disgruntled at being banned from the kitchen, but Anouk didn’t know how Katla would react to the cats. And their tendency to steal food at every opportunity. Better to leave them outside for the time being.

She sighed. Maybe she should’ve suggested lunch at a café instead. Too late now. The memory of Katla’s predatory gaze gliding over her skin brought back the goose bumps. Anouk rubbed her arms. Bram, reticent as always, steered away from the topic of his mysterious new girlfriend whenever Anouk mentioned her. And Zeph described her appearance as ordinary.

Ordinary…

Although Katla did her utmost to appear inconspicuous, only casual observers would overlook those vibrant eyes and that cruel mouth. Like one of those Gustav Klimt women—coolly observant, detached and slightly hostile. The thought sent shivers through her bruised spine.

Five minutes past one.

Well, either Katla wasn’t punctual, or she thought being on time was impolite.

She felt a bit queasy and looked out the kitchen window. Newk and Baaba pawed at the smooth glass and meowed, though the drizzling rain didn’t touch the window sill.

She needed to pee.

She looked at the clock. Six past one.

Anouk hurried down the hallway to the toilet, pulled up her dress and sat down.

The doorbell rang.

Fuckfuckfuck.

The urge to pee was unstoppable. She wadded up toilet paper while she urinated.

The bell rang again.

Fuuuuuuuck. Pleasepleaseplease. Don’t be impatient.

Quickly she wiped herself, flushed the toilet, and was about to storm to the front door when she realised that she had not washed her hands. The bell rang for a third time as she rinsed her hands and took the towel with her to the front door.

Katla combed her fingers through her tousled hair, probably from the motorcycle helmet in her hand. Behind her, a battered XT350 motorcycle was parked on the sidewalk. Her bright blue eyes glittered with amusement, as if she could guess why Anouk was late to the door. “Hallo.”

“Let me take that.” Anouk took her helmet and stepped back into the hallway. “Please come in.”

Katla entered in an aura of cold damp air and wet leather, closed the door behind her with one hand and touched Anouk’s shoulder with her other hand as she kissed her softly on both cheeks. Flustered Anouk felt the blood rise to her face, but Katla didn’t notice and strolled down the hallway to the kitchen.

“Smells good. Did you bake bread?”

“Ciabatta,” Anouk replied, grateful the hallway was dimly lit. She returned the towel to the toilet and followed Katla to the kitchen, where she put her helmet down on a chair.

“What would you like to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

“Coffee would be great.”

Katla shrugged out of her jacket and hung it over the back of a kitchen chair. Underneath she wore a maroon blouse from rough silk, with cut-outs that left her muscular sun-kissed shoulders bare.

She turned to the window and finger-waved at Newk and Baaba. “Your cats don’t look happy.”

Anouk busied herself at the stove, hoping the warmth of her oven would provide an alibi for her flushed cheeks.

“They’d eat our lunch if they have half a chance, so I opted to leave them outside. At least until you arrived. You mind if I let them in again?”

“Not at all.” Katla grinned. “I’m prepared to fight any cat for my lunch.”

Newk and Baaba stormed inside and wrapped themselves around Katla’s long leather-clad legs. As she reached down to stroke their fur, Anouk stole a glance into her blouse showing just a bit of cleavage. Her small high breasts were cupped in a frilly Chantelle bra, not a Marlies Dekkers as she had expected. As Katla straightened Anouk turned back to the stove to grab the percolator. “Cream, sugar?”

“Black. Thanks.” Katla took a sip from the hot coffee. “Lovely cats. Siamese?”

“Yes. You have cats?”

“No cats. A macaw.”

“Ah, yes, Zeph told me.”

Katla’s impossibly blue eyes fixed on her. “Zeph told you?”

Shit.

“He takes care of my cats when I’m away.” Anouk smiled back uncertainly. “He told me he’d taken care of your macaw, when you were, uh, you know. Hurt.”

“Hurt. What a wonderful euphemism.” Katla looked around the table. “This salad is vegetarian?”

“I put the salmon and the chicken separate, so you could choose.”

“That’s considerate.” She took one-third of the salad and added salmon. “I’m not vegetarian, though. In fact, I’m mostly carnivore. You made this dressing yourself?”

Anouk nodded.

“You’re not shy, are you?” Katla tilted her head. “Or are you afraid of more faux passes?”

“You make me nervous.”

“Because I got hurt?”

If that’s what you’d like to think. Anouk shrugged. “Well, yes.”

“I rarely get hurt.” Katla rubbed her thigh. “Last time was a mistake.”

“What you might call ‘an occupational hazard’?”

“No. What you might call ‘a mistake’. And the matter was rectified.”

“Rectified?”

“The person who hurt me is no longer in a position to hurt anyone.” Katla gave her a predatory smile. “Retired, you might say.”

“But you walk with a limp.”

“Which is better than not walking at all.”

“Mistake or not, if you’d had another job, you wouldn’t have been hurt.”

“Wishful thinking is an exercise in futility.” Katla spooned some salad in her mouth and chewed enthusiastically. “You’re not worried about me, are you?”

“I’m concerned about Bram. If you can get hurt, so can he. By association.”

“By association? How close would this association have to be to become perilous?”

“I don’t know. That’s what worries me.”

“Well, don’t worry. I don’t take Bram to work.”

Anouk tilted her head. “What is your work?”

“I’m a businesswoman.”

“You’re not an ordinary businesswoman, Katla. Ordinary businesswomen don’t tend to get… hurt.”

“You can say the word. Shot. I got shot.”

“Why did you get shot?”

“Because someone made a mistake. Like I said before, I rarely get injured on the job.”

Anouk chewed slowly. “So what is it that you do? Exactly?”

“I’m a corporate troubleshooter.”

“That’s not exactly specific.”

“That’s about as specific as I can be.” Katla made herself a sandwich. “The corporations I work for wouldn’t want me to go into detail to someone without the proper security clearances.”

“Say I’d want to hire you. Hypothetically.”

“If you want to discuss hypotheses, I can give you a theoretical answer.”

“Let’s say, I’m a corporation and I have problems with the competition.”

Katla chewed her sandwich. “You have to be more specific. Security problems? Or is their product commercially more viable?”

“What can you do in that case?”

“If the product is more viable? Shift the balance.”

Anouk tilted her head. “How?”

“By making the competitor’s product less viable.”

“I understand that, but how would you proceed?”

“Clients rarely ask specifics. Results are all that matter.”

“Seriously? Why? Because you do illegal things?”

Katla pursed her lips. “Not necessarily illegal, but involvement might taint a corporation’s reputation. I rarely report what I do. Or even specify invoices.”

“So you have a free hand?”

“Nobody really wants to know what I do, as long as I get results.”

“How do you get a job like that?”

Katla shrugged. “How did you become a sculptor?”

“I always wanted to create, and that’s my medium.”

“You can be creative in more ways than one. I’m creative in finding solutions to other people’s problems.”

“Like opening my door?” Anouk asked. “Without keys?”

Katla gazed at her, her eyes inscrutable. “Bram had a key.”

“You opened the door, not Bram. And I overheard him say you did it quicker than with a key, so I know you didn’t use one.”

“I picked your lock.” Katla shrugged. “So?”

“That’s illegal.”

“Not for me.” Katla fished a wallet from her coat and showed her an ID card. “See?”

“Locksmith?” She studied the card. “I can’t tell if this is real or not.”

“It’ll stand up to official scrutiny.”

Anouk shook her head. “Lockpicking isn’t part of a locksmith’s curriculum.”

Amusement glittered in the cool blue eyes. “How would you know?”

“Because they drill out the lock if you lose your key…” Anouk held up her hand. “Wait, they replace the lock so they can charge more money?”

“Replacing the cylinder also reinforces the client’s false sense of security,” Katla replied. “Makes them think not even a locksmith can pass their locks without power tools.”

“But it’s not more difficult?”

“Depends on the lock.” Katla fished in her jacket again, took out a leather case and opened the flaps to reveal an array of delicate steel instruments that reminded Anouk of dentist equipment. From her bag she took an ordinary portable toolkit with a folding set of pliers and several screwdrivers and placed it next to the opened case with the picks. “These tools open seventy-five percent of all locks. Including yours.”

Anouk studied the picks. “These are only available to locksmiths, right?”

“Those are high quality picks, but starter sets are commercially available. If you have the money, you can buy all the equipment you need.”

“But, even if I bought these tools, I wouldn’t know how to use them.”

“I can teach you in an hour, but proficiency takes practice. And you have to train regularly to keep up your skill.”

Anouk poured a generous amount of sugar in her cappuccino and stirred until the foam disappeared. “You always carry this equipment with you?”

“Sure,” Katla replied. “Why not?”

“You have that card, but wouldn’t it be illegal to carry burglary equipment?”

“Burglars carry glass cutters, metal wire, and suction cups. Lockpicks are not illegal to carry. It’s illegal to use them without authorisation, but Bram authorised me to open your door.”

“You’re prepared for everything, aren’t you?”

“Of course.” Katla stuck her tools away. “Does that surprise you?”

“Not really. You don’t strike me as someone who leaves a lot to chance.”

“Neither are you, judging by this wonderful spread.”

Anouk smiled and took some salad, while she watched her eat. Katla studied the sculpture in the garden, the metal beak dipping into the pond and rising, the huge bird slowly revolving with water dripping from the beak.

“I saw something similar to your sculpture in Boston, in a private Zen garden.”

“At Christopher Melling’s house? That’s one of mine, yes.”

“Melling. That’s it. Wow, that is impressive.”

Anouk smiled. “Thanks. I hope it’s still there.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Melling died and his house was sold. I don’t know if the new owner is into Zen.”

Katla pursed her lips. “Melling died?”

“Yes, real tragic. Autoerotic asphyxiation gone awry.”

“Melling didn’t strike me as a kinky guy. But then, neither did that Australian singer.”

“From INXS?” Anouk took another sandwich. “I guess you never know. It’s a shame, Melling was so close to becoming the next Frank Gehry.”

“But you must be famous too, if you sold work to Melling.”

“I sold about two pieces in America, one in Dubai, two in Europe, and eight in Asia.”

“Dubai?” Katla’s eyes widened. “You’re Nouk?”

“My agent advised me to shorten my name, so my brand would be more unique.”

“You made the Whirling Dervish.”

“Yes. I had to rebuild it three times, because the fine sand screwed up the works.”

“I love the Dervish. I watched it for over an hour.”

Anouk blushed. “Glad you liked it.”

“I had no idea.”

“What were you doing in Dubai? Working?”

Katla held out her cup. “Do you have another coffee for me?”

“Sure.” Anouk poured her another cup from the percolator. “Work-related?”

Katla looked at her sculpture in the garden. “The Dervish is more elaborate. This one is more like the one in Melling’s garden.”

“Melling bought a sculpture from my early collection. The Dervish had more input by the client.”

“You don’t sound happy about that.”

Anouk pursed her lips. “It was frustrating. I’m not a designer, I’m an artist.”

“Rich people expect things to be done their way.”

“I didn’t care for that. Clients can choose from what I’m making or have made, but I’m not allowing anyone input in my work anymore.”

Katla spooned some more salad on her plate. “So what are you working on now?”

“I can show you later.” Anouk looked at a drop of salad dressing in the corner of her mouth. A delicious ripple of pleasure and anticipation made her hands tremble and her mouth dry. “I’d love to hear what you think about it.”

Katla’s tongue snaked across her lips and removed the tantalizing drop of salad dressing. “The pleasure is all mine.”

If you like this fragment, check my ‘About’ page for links to the Amsterdam Assassin Series. You can download a sample with the first few chapters for free from Amazon, or the whole novel (113,000 words or 380 pages) for only $4.99.

Thanks for your support.