Back in the late nineties, when I decided I wanted to write crime fiction, I salvaged an old character I created years earlier named Nick Kepler. My original vision of him was a Sherlock Holmes type working with a cynical Vietnam vet annoyed by Kepler’s lack of street smarts. I named him for two astronomers, Nicolas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, because, hey, he’s smart.
That Nick Kepler never got beyond the character sketch stage. I then attempted a novel about a writer who supplemented his income as a private investigator. I needed a name. Since the smart Nick Kepler wasn’t using his anymore, I took it. And so I attempted to write a novel about a writer named Nick Kepler. And it fizzled.
But while genius Nick vanished into the ether, writer Nick did not. Nor did Deputy Rick Reese or Lt. Frank Windsor. They just hibernated in my file cabinet for about a decade.
Then in 2000, I started working on an outline for a story inspired by Eddie Murphy’s “Kill my landlord” bit. Nick came out from hibernation and needed a new backstory.
At the time, I’d just started work at an insurance company I later started calling online BigHugeCo. As I got the lay of the land, the more the idea of a freelance insurance investigator sounded good. After all, it works for Sue Grafton. So I had him working for a company I eventually named TTG that downsized him into his own agency. But I had to go further back than that to explain why he didn’t just go across town to Progressive or down to Columbus to Nationwide. Most PI’s I’ve met are ex-cops. Not all of them, but a majority. So I gave him a history as a patrolman at one of the Medina County suburbs. I picked Brunswick because it’s one of the quieter burbs. Nick wasn’t quiet while he was there. No, he caught his partner raping his wife and decided to treat it as a domestic violence situation. By pistol whipping the guy. Suffice it to say, that marriage ended, but so did Nick’s career with that particular department.
This led to a short story called “Race Card,” which ended up being the second story published, and “A Walk in the Rain” (See the books page.) A third story, “Valentine’s Day,” fleshed Nick out to the point where I was comfortable starting on Northcoast Shakedown. The rest is history.