“Race Card” is the first Nick Kepler story I ever wrote. It predates my first published story, “A Walk in the Rain,” by about a year. Before I got serious about writing, I wrote without thought to word count. There’s an incredible freedom in that, but it’s a double-edged sword. “Race Card” shows a writer used to working with larger casts than normally found in 5000-word-or-less stories. The plot is more complex.
Yet I was also world-building. I needed to get used to writing about Cleveland, a city I had left ten years earlier. And I needed to know where Nick lived and worked. I ended up introducing two characters who play a part in the three Kepler novels I’ve written: Wolf and Reese.
One of the happy accidents of this story was the character of Margo. I gave Kepler a black girlfriend to heighten his sensitivity to race, and the character kind of stuck. She holds his hand in “Valentine’s Day” and motivates him to do the right thing in “A Walk in the Rain.” Eventually, I needed to raise the stakes as high as possible for my 9/11 story, “Flight of the Rat.” Leaving Margo’s fate in the balance was the best way to torture Nick.
Because isn’t that what we do? Torture our characters?
This eventually found a home in Judas, a noir zine run by Anthony Dauer. By then, I’d already published “A Walk in the Rain” and “Valentine’s Day.” But I was glad “Race Card” found a home.