The Compleat Winter kicks off with a story set in the same fictional city as the still-fermenting Holland Bay takes place. The decision to set the story there actually came last. The incident that inspired it took place on a frigid January morning in Cincinnati.
As I recount in the print version, I had gone into work on Saturday morning to clear my plate without the phone ringing constantly. It was only 12 degrees F outside when I left. My car was in the Fountain Square garage, which is best accessed through the Westin Hotel on Fifth Street. So I braved the cold and made my way from the late, lamented Skywalk to the Westin. Inexplicably, a street corner preacher was out, shouting at the few people venturing out downtown.
Under my arm was American Skin by Ken Bruen. I generally ignore the street corner preachers, and I have to question the sanity of someone who would go out in such weather – hatless and gloveless, no less – to deliver a message to a sparse audience more interested in getting to the next warm space than any street corner theater.
Well, he seemed to realize he had an small, apathetic audience, which made me easy to spot. “You! With the red book! You’re reading the wrong book!”
In the story (which takes place on a city square that looks suspiciously like Cleveland’s Public Square), the unnamed narrator loses his cool, walks over to the preacher, and whacks him in the face with his book, its author named for the protagonist in American Skin. In reality, I saluted him the way many of us salute those who show the courage to cut us off in traffic. I wanted to go back and take a swipe at him, but 1.) I’m not violent, 2.) I’m not anti-religious, just anti-dogma, and 3.) there was a mounted cop trotting up the street anyway.
This episode would probably have been little more than a story to tell my wife or over a few beers. But as I sat in the Westin’s lobby restaurant drinking Starbucks and restoring the circulation to my limbs, it bugged me. I was pretty good friends with Ken and knew his history. I also thought it was pretty arrogant of the man to suggest that, since I wasn’t a dogmatic asshole, that I was somehow bad. Sitting at the table, I decided it was going to become a short story. On the way to the car, it was going to end differently. Getting on the freeway home, the book’s name came to me, something someone had said to me once in much warmer situation, with the name of Ken’s main character fixing itself to the fictional author’s name. I had Stephen Blake’s backstory by the time I got home. When I sat down to write, I already decided it would be set in the same city as Holland Bay, becoming an exercise in fleshing out the city.
All Kindle editions my books and collections are now on sale for 99 cents until the end of January. Get yourself some Winter here.