The Early Days

Original cover to Northcoast Shakedown

Once upon a time, I wrote for the helluvit. Writing was my happy place. I’d rather knuckle down on a story than deal with real life. It was okay to dwell in the land of make-believe. I was creating!

Eventually, I had to decide whether to do this for real. And frankly, I probably should have done it years earlier. But I waited. At the time, I did not have an ideal living situation.

Finally, the then spousal unit and I ended the arrangement, and got on with our lives. (Eventually, we got on separately, but that’s a different story.) Between that and the illness that finally too my mother, I decided it was time.

But what to do? At the time, science fiction was in a rut. You had David Weber and Iain Banks. Heinlein died. Asimov died. People were bored to tears with Trek and not happy with the Star Wars prequels. And Scalzi, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly never hit the airwaves. So, building my own sandbox to play in did not seem a way to writing success.

So, I turned to crime.

I had discovered Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series and remembered fondly the early part of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. (The latter books? I think those were for Bob, not to mention some nice royalty checks.) I began reading Hammett, Chandler, Ross McDonald, John McDonald (no relation.) I discovered an up-and-coming writer named Laura Lippman and started circulating amongst the various short story and small press writers who did crime.

And one day, while I was watching reruns of the Lorne Michaels-free years of Saturday Night Live, I spotted my neighbor, a contractor, rebuilding the balconies across the courtyard of our apartment complex. Eddie Murphy had just come on by doing his Tyrone Green poem, “Kill My Landlord.”

Transplant the complex to suburban Cleveland, make the landlord (Not my landlord. I barely heard from the dude.) the guy on the ladder, and add in a fall. I spun up a fourteen-page outline that became Northcoast Shakedown.

In the meantime, I did what every established author told me to do: Wrote short stories, sometimes for pay, usually just for credit. (By the way, that was my first inkling science fiction might have been better. More paying markets.) But I built up a large network. I signed a contract for Northcoast. Had I been a bit more savvy, I’d have backed off and waited for an agent to respond. She did three weeks later, but too late. So, instead of my first novel being pitched to St. Martin’s Press and Simon & Schuster, I worked with a guy in his garage who had some decent connections to Borders. That not only ended badly, but it left me in limbo.

Still, it gave me the impetus to travel to my first Bouchercon. This was in Toronto, so it also marked my first time out of the country. I sat next to Ken Bruen at the Shamuses when he won for his novel, The Guards. And then I spent the rest of the weekend following Ken around and discovering Jameson.

I could spend the rest of this post lamenting that I didn’t know then what I know now, but that accomplishes nothing. I do know I found a community of writers who felt like family, including some well-known names. For four out of six years, I attended Bouchercon. (Couldn’t justify the expense to Anchorage, and Baltimore came at a bad time for me.) I miss Madison, Chicago, and Indianapolis (only 90 minutes away.) I miss the camaraderie. Hopefully, I’ll be back again.

An upcoming Bcon is in Nashville. I have a book coming out in January. Nashville is five hours away. Will I go?

As Robert Parker might say, I’d be a fool not to.

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