The first stirrings of what would become Northcoast Shakedown date back to 1988 or so. In the beginning, Nick had a much different back story. He was a struggling writer who supported himself as a PI with a girlfriend named Janine. I still lived in the Cleveland area at the time, and the story that evolved was based on the controversial death of the secretary of a local county commissioner over a decade earlier.
The story fizzled. Why? The writer was not really all that mature, which meant the characters who were supposed to be mature could not be. There were excessive references to Deep Purple and Star Trek and less-than-glamorous cars fawned over the way most people fawn over restored Detroit muscle or Porsches or Corvettes.
So Nick went into the drawer for over a decade while I learned what kind of writer I wanted to be when I grew up.
So twelve years and one city later, I’m waiting for the Great Y2K Meltdown in a corner bar in Dayton, Ohio, owned by Li’l Sis and her husband. During the party, she announced she had just written her first novel, then proceeded to ask when I’d write mine.
Nick returned shortly thereafter with a short story called “A Walk in the Rain” in the original Plots With Guns. He was different now. He was a part-time musician and full-time insurance investigator. I also had an outline inspired one afternoon as my landlord had some balcony work done on our building. While the contractor was banging away on a balcony across the courtyard, Comedy Central ran a rerun of Saturday Night Live from the lost years, featuring Eddie Murphy reciting his infamous “Kill my landlord, kill my landlord” poem. It’s one of those moments of serendipity when everything going on around you sparks an idea. I soon had a 14-page outline about the seemingly ordinary death of a guy who fell off a ladder.
Then it went into the drawer again while I wrote more stories. In 2001, after the chaos of 9/11, I got the news that my mother was dying and likely would not be around the following Christmas. If ever there was motivation for a boy to finish his first novel, that was it. The ex and I kicked out our antagonistic roommate, reclaimed a room in our apartment as office space, after which I set about writing Northcoast Shakedown.
It underwent multiple drafts, and a title proved elusive. Rejected titles included Three-Way Split (which ended up being the title of Allan Guthrie’s debut) and Coincidental Murder. I also refused to submit it for publication until I had at least the rough draft of a second one in the can.
But it made it into print. I do wish I’d waited a couple of weeks. I would have been able to give it to my original agent. Alas, hindsight and all. It’s back now. And it’s yours for only $2.99.