I’ve always loved the write. I was a newspaper reporter for twelve years before I started my private investigations business. I also took a whack at writing a mystery/crime fiction novel back in the mid 1980s. I really liked noir crime movies so I tried to write a novel along those lines. I got some interest from a fairly well-known New York agent. She liked my writing but not the book I wrote. Go figure. She asked me what crime fiction authors I read. I thought about and realized I never actually read any crime fiction or mystery novels.
The agent was surprised. She made two suggestions. One, keep writing and, two, start reading novels in the genre. Get the feel for what makes a good novel like this. I took her advice. Or at least half her advice. I started reading the greats of the genre: Elmore Leonard, James Crumley, Raymond Chandler, etc. Reading was more fun than writing and a lot easier. Eight years went by and I hadn’t written a word. All the while, I felt guilty because I knew I should write another novel. It finally dawned on me that I was putting off the inevitable.
It really hit home when I went to a book signing by Walter Mosley, author of the Easy Rawlins series. I asked him to sign the book to me, “the best PI in Denver.” He got a kick out of that and he asked me about my background. When I told him I had been a newspaper reporter and then a PI he just shook his head and said I should be writing crime fiction. I had the perfect background for it.
Within a couple of weeks I began writing The Low End of Nowhere. Eleven months later I had a two-book deal with Viking/Penguin. Apparently it was the right time for me to get writing. All my experiences in both the newspapers and the PI game went into my books. I didn’t get my stories from those experiences, but I got my characters from them. In my writing I would start with a couple of characters, put them in a difficult situation and see how they got out of it. I heard Elmore Leonard give a talk once and that’s basically what he said he did. It made sense to me.
I really believe if you don’t have interesting characters that people care about, all the action and plot twists in the world don’t matter. Create interesting characters, good guys and bad guys, and bring them to life. They’ll think of something interesting to do. The best compliment I received from readers was that they could clearly picture the characters in my books. Almost all my characters were all based on someone I knew or had met at least briefly. I didn’t try to recreate those people but rather they were a starting point for a character. I’d take something about a person that appealed to me or interested me or maybe even repulsed me and just run with it. They became real to me and behaved the way I imagined they would under the circumstances I put them in.
I’m not saying plot isn’t important. Of course it is. We read stories not character profiles. But when the characters become real enough and alive enough to the writer they almost start doing and saying things on their own. That’s what makes writing not just interesting but compelling and a butt load of fun.
My main character, Streeter, was based loosely on a childhood friend of mine. Also, he had certain traits I had or wished I had. Once he and I got in sync everything else fell into place. I hope you like him as much as I do.