Northcoast Shakedown – How’d It Come About?

Northcoast Shakedown was the first novel I ever wrote “for real.” Oh, I’d written one long ago that will never see the light of day just to see if I could write a piece that long. And I’d written some long stuff for myself and others, never for commercial consumption. But Northcoast was the first serious attempt at a novel, at least that didn’t fizzle by page 60.

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, my friend Jennette Marie Powell informed me she had written her first novel and subbed it to an ebook publisher. Sure, this was before Kindle made that a viable option, but it was new and she wanted to try it. And then she asked me, “So when are you writing yours?”


I decided to take start working on Nick Kepler, a variation of a character I’d first come up with back in the late 1980s. Originally, he was going to be this Holmes-like brainiac. But I could never get into the head of a character like that. So Nick became your stock PI character. Which is why my first two or three attempts back in the late 80s and about 1991 or so fizzled. I started writing short stories about Nick to get to know him. I wrote “Race Card,” which showed up in Judas and “A Walk in the Rain,” in the second or third issue of the classic Plots With Guns webzine. But I needed a full-length story for Nick.

One day, my landlord was having a contractor work on the balconies in my apartment complex. It was a Saturday afternoon, and while he was working, I was lounging about watching reruns of Saturday Night Live on Comedy Central. Eddie Murphy’s “Kill My Landlord” bit came on. I looked out the window and thought, “Ya know, someone could shove that guy off one of the ladders and make it look like an accident.” So how would I kill my landlord?

I grabbed a legal pad and wrote out the words to Murphy’s poem (“Images” by Tyrone Greene”) and began sketching out a story. I ended up with a 14-page outline. By 2002, with ten beta readers and a couple looks by some heavy duty writers in the field, I started shopping the book.

That part I could have done better, but that’s a tale for another day. Suffice it to say, my landlord, Eddie Murphy, and the contractor all conspired to create what became Northcoast Shakedown.