Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A funny thing happened on the way up the Hill

A number of years ago, I began work on my own version of a hard-boiled detective novel. It began as an experiment, really. I’d long been enamored of the genre, read the entire output of the greats of that era: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, W.R. Burnett, and others. At the very least, even if it didn’t go anywhere, I thought it would be fun. I was curious to see what I could do with it.

I did have an idea, though, that my detective would be somewhat bumbling. He’d be a guy who solved cases more by blind luck and being in the right place at the right time, rather than any skill at deductive reasoning or knowledge of the human condition. So right away, I figured it would be more humorous than serious. But that would be okay too.

Anyway, I got two or three chapters into the thing and did have some fun. I didn’t give the detective a name and wasn’t sure I was going to. I wasn’t married to the idea, but I liked the way Hammett in his “Continental Op” series had never named his. If I didn’t name my own detective, it would be subtle homage to that.

In the midst of all this, I was watching television one evening, just clicking around, when I happened upon NBC’s Dateline program. It was one of those “To Catch a Predator” things, where Chris Hansen teams up with cybersleuths who tempt men looking for sex to a nice suburban house for some underage action.

A light went off, and immediately, I went to my desk and began writing. In mostly one sitting, the story Telegraph Hill was born, in which a bumbling private detective (somehow) gets goaded into visiting one of those nice suburban homes where he meets up with Chris Hansen and crew.

In the course of writing it, the plot required I give my detective a name. Further, it required that his name be Dick. Thus, Dick Londergan was born. It also required some other things I hadn’t foreseen when I wrote those first few experimental chapters.

For one, it required my detective be so hard-boiled and rooted in the golden age of detective fiction that he was almost oblivious to modern times. Less comfortable for me, not wanting to offend, it also required he have a gay assistant. I did the best I could with that, and Londergan’s assistant Kyle was born.

However, after finishing the story, there was really nowhere to send it. There aren’t a whole lot of "humorous pulp fiction meets modern times" outlets, if you know what I mean.

I did get excited to see a small press putting together an anthology called “Chicago Overcoat,” whose guidelines were to merge pulp fiction with something else. Alas, the small press folded and I don’t think the anthology ever did get off the ground.

So, I had this completed story and was a few chapters into a novel with the same characters, but by then I had moved on to other things. I began offering the story free to readers as an enticement to get them to buy my other stories. Of course, that doesn't really happen.

Tired of giving away something for nothing, a few months ago, I stopped offering anything for free and began charging .99 cents for it on Smashwords.

(I never did offer the story on Amazon, I suspect because it's so different from my other offerings, I feared it would lead to reader confusion about what kind of writer I was, or thought I was, or wanted to be.)

And so, we come to the purpose of this post:

Over the last few months, I’ve been puttering away on a few things. The next installment of the “Applewood” series, though hardly anyone is buying the first two. I’m a few chapters into a sequel to “Hope Town,” though sales of that book have stopped too.

I’ve also for years been working on something I call “The Reservoir” in which a man moves next to a lake in a small town and things . . . start happening. But in all sincerity, none of them were going anywhere, and anyway, it appeared no one cared if any of them saw the light of day.

Now, I don’t remember when or why it happened, but at some point in the last few months, I opened up those few chapters of unfinished humorous detective novel and began writing. I haven’t stopped since. It has indeed been as much fun as I thought it would be those many years ago. Between you and me, it’s fun to be writing anything again.

By sheer coincidence, in those same few months, pretty much the only thing I’ve been selling is Telegraph Hill, even at .99 cents. A handful of copies, to be sure. But still. I’ll take it. Gives me hope anyway that maybe there are folks who might be interested in this one too.

And so, I’m delighted to announce that the next offering you’ll get from me – probably within the next few months, lord willing – is the next installment in the Dick Londergan series. Not going to give away too much, but he indeed makes his way up Telegraph Hill, and soon finds himself in the most diabolical case of his life . . .

Stay tuned.

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