Exteme Makeover – Nick Kepler Edition

rr_cover_newAs you can see, there’ve been some changes either done or to be done to the books I have out.

For starters, I did Bad Religion with a print edition, my first print book in eight years. Next up will be Road Rules. I never liked the formatting on Road Rules, and the cover has too much pixelation for my taste. So I’ve revamped the cover, redid the formatting, and will upload the book at the beginning of August.

I also plan to right a grievous wrong as I did not properly credit J.D. Rhoades for his introduction to the book. So, as you can see by the new cover, I’ve fixed that. It will show up when the various ebook pages are updated as well. And finally, there will be a print edition. No, I haven’t sold very many copies of Bad Religion in print. In fact, Kindle seems to be the preferred format. But there is very little cost up front for CreateSpace, none if you do an electronic proof. So why not?

NCShakedown-ebook600Come Labor Day weekend, a reformatted version of Northcoast Shakedown will appear, also with a new print edition. Jennette Marie Powell has been working on new covers for NCS, along with its follow-up, Second Hand Goods. Both books will have print editions as well, with Second Hand, barring any delays, appearing in early October.

Come Halloween, I will be putting out a print edition of The Compleat Kepler as well. So, by Christmas, you can have Nick Kepler on all the dead trees you want.

And finally, in December, the non-Kepler shorts will appear in a collection called The Compleat Winter. No, I don’t have a cover yet, but I do have a cover concept. I also need to collect the stories and put them into proper ebook and print formats.

In the meantime, we’ll be having a contest for Bad Religion. Stay tuned as I will announce it first on Twitter. Just follow @authorjimwinter and keep your eyes open. The contest will be announced this Friday.

Second Hand Goods: Jackie

Jackie Bouchaine has a small role in Second Hand Goods, but she is pivotal in both Northcoast Shakedown and is central to the third Kepler novel Bad Religion. Like Eric Teasdale, though, she came about quite accidentally.

While writing Northcoast, I reached a point where I needed someone on the side of the law who could help Kepler without risking their career. None of the police could do it. In fact, by that point in the story, they had to be a little antagonistic. I had an assistant prosecutor named Boyd who got Kepler out of a jam midway through the story, but again, he had to keep his hands clean.

So Boyd, being the busy man he is, sends over an intern, Jackie. She’s young and attractive and arrives to throw Nick off balance (and provide Elaine an opportunity to give him a hard time about it.) At the time that scene was written, I had met a bartender at a local club whom I thought looked interesting. She had a passing resemblance to MTV VJ Duff from the early 1990’s. So I modeled Jackie on the bartender and her personality, thinking this would be a one-off scene.

And then I had to get whiny property manager George Shannon safely out of town and get his financial records to someone Kepler could trust. Jackie fit the bill, so there’s a really good scene where Jackie is clad solely in a bikini, and Kepler is too wrapped up in his dilemma to even care. The scene was actually one of the better ones in Northcoast, and I liked the chemistry between the two characters.

So Jackie is there at the beginning of Second Hand Goods, sharing her engagement and giving Nick a sense of normalcy. She and her boyfriend also play an inadvertent role in setting the events of the story into motion. Later in the story, she saves Nick from a serious ass-kicking by sicking a bouncer in her father’s bar on a couple of thugs.

In the next book, events impact Jackie directly, and she has a stake in what happens to Nick. Which is good, because Nick needs someone non-judgmental to lean on when Bad Religion ends.

Second Hand Goods: Frank Windsor

Every PI is supposed to have a friend on the force. Spenser, for instance, had Boston’s Martin Quirk. Kepler has Homicide Sergeant Frank Windsor. It’s never clear how these two became friends, though it’s implied that it dates back to Kepler’s days as a claims investigator.

The earliest mention of Windsor comes in the short story “Valentine’s Day,” where Sgt. Windsor seems amused by Nick’s dilemma with a client-turned-stalker.

He’s the oldest character in the series. The original Nick Kepler and the one eventually written into an aborted novel are not the same character who first appears in “A Walk in the Rain,” but Windsor is very much the same cop: rumpled, greasy-haired, and fond of cheap cigars.

Windsor genuinely likes Nick, mainly because Nick used to be a cop and understands why he’s not anymore. I tried to work him into Northcoast Shakedown, but the best I could do was a passing mention. In Second Hand Goods, Nick is stuck in some pretty nasty stuff, and Windsor isn’t too happy being left out of the loop. His normal partner is a mob-obsessed detective named Paul Bertkowski, but Bertkowski is on vacation in this one. So Windsor takes a younger detective, Sarah Wiseman, under his wing. She really can’t understand why Windsor tolerates Nick. He’s cagey about a dead car thief and an equally dead Russian trigger man. He’s clearly hiding a fugitive (Lenny Slansky). Plus she’s convinced Nick is having an affair with Elaine, which is not true when she meets him.

But Windsor has known Kepler for years, knows he’s scrupulous, and knows he holds back for good reasons. With the Russian mob involved, however, Windsor’s patience is pushed to the limit. Instead of an ally, Nick finds Windsor becoming an enemy on a front he never wanted opened.

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Second Hand Goods: Eric Teasdale

Of all the characters in Second Hand Goods, Eric Teasdale came about as an accident. When Lenny and Nick realize they have to hide the limo, they need someone outside the city who lives in the last place anyone would look. Enter Eric Teasdale.

He actually came about in an aborted short story involving Nick Kepler and two strippers. Originally, one of the strippers killed Teasdale, and Nick was left dealing with learning he’d helped set it up. Since I never rewrote that story, I thought about keeping Teasdale alive and making him something of a sidekick. So…

The aborted short became a reworked back story. It wasn’t Nick investigating the felonious strippers. It was Teasdale. The end result found Kepler firing him as an employee. All this comes out over the course of Second Hand Goods and its follow-up, Bad Religion. In the meantime, the new Eric Teasdale had to have a personality. I didn’t just want Nick to dump the limo off on some unemployed redneck who sits around in his boxers drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon all day.

So Teasdale has to have moved on since Nick fired him, which gives them an automatic point of conflict. Nick, of course, is not above lording it over someone who screwed him over at some point. He uses equal parts persuasion and coercion to get Teasdale to hide the car. That puts Teasdale at risk. He’s got his own investigative shop going. Seems that Sally Struthers correspondence course paid off after all. (Sure! They all do!) He’s also an auxiliary cop in a nearby township, serving as a detective when their speed trap police department and the county sheriff get into a pissing contest. “Get Teasdale to do it. He’s a private dick. He’s neutral.” Sweet gig. Hiding a limo with a corpse in the trunk that’s been reported stolen might risk that sweet gig.

Teasdale lives in Valley City, a speck on the map where their high school played my high school in the late, lamented Pioneer Conference in Northeast Ohio. I thought that was close enough to Cleveland for Nick to drive out to, since many in Valley City (which is neither in a valley nor is a city. Discuss.) commute to Cleveland daily, but it’s isolated enough, being almost a rural setting. I had a job in Valley City for a few months in 1988. I had a hard time finding the actual town. So it’s sparsely populated enough for Teasdale to stash the car at his place without arousing much suspicion. It’s also literally down the road from Nick. The apartment building Nick’s is based on a building that sat at the corner of Columbia and Lorain Avenue. (Don’t bother looking for it. They tore it down to put up a Walgreen’s. But the UDF is still there. I think.) Teasdale lives on Columbia Road as well, just twenty miles south. (And Nick takes the freeway. Driving a limousine in the middle of the night on a back road? That’s just crazy talk!)

So Teasdale’s home and occupation are established. I needed one more thing. What kind of investigator is he? Early on, I established that Teasdale was 1.) frequently broke and living in a trailer, 2.) a bit of a slob, and 3.) had a redneck-y love of old muscle cars, in his case, a 1968 Ford Thunderbird roughly the size of the USS Nimitz. In Bad Religion, it is established that Teasdale is afraid of carrying a gun, though he will if he has to. In short, he reminds me of Jim Rockford.

So what do I do with him? He’s got a history of his own. He could probably support a series of his own. Would I?

You tell me.

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Second Hand Goods: Elaine

In Northcoast Shakedown, Elaine Haskell sashays onto the page slamming down a stack of papers from an unwanted client and complains that she doesn’t work for that person. Nick responds by using that client’s file as a beer coaster. It’s clear that, despite her paycheck coming from TTG Insurance, her loyalties lie more with Nick. After all, she has a lot of time and effort invested in Kepler Investigations.

As Second Hand Goods get going, it becomes obvious Elaine’s interest in Nick is more than business. She rubs his shoulders. She nags him about taking a case when he should be on vacation. She fakes sleeping with him to throw a witness off the trail. Happily married with two kids and a minivan, Elaine still has a yen for Nick. And the feeling is mutual.

Still, Elaine’s feelings for Nick are more maternal than romantic. There is something about Elaine that drives her to nurture the men in her life. In Nick’s case, it even means putting herself in the line of fire. She sees herself as Nick’s partner, and over the course of Second Hand Goods, Nick reaches that conclusion as well. We learn that Elaine was instrumental in getting Nick setup in his own business inside TTG’s offices. Though it’s not said, it is implied that she is why TTG keeps him around years after they downsized him off the payroll.

So do they?

You’ll have to buy the book to find out, but suffice it to say, they are much closer by the end. Nick is nearly killed in this one. For Elaine, that’s something she cannot allow to happen.

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Second Hand Goods: Nikolai Karpov

He is the godfather of Cleveland organized crime. Unlike Vito or Michael Corleone, he is Russian. He also doesn’t care about ethnic considerations. He also doesn’t see himself as a criminal. He only sees himself as “an extralegal businessman.”

His name is Nikolai Karpov, and he imposes his presence on Nick Kepler in a big way. Karpov owns Collinwood Distribution, a shipping company on Cleveland’s east side that fronts and covers all manner of “extralegal” business for him. When the sexy Valeria hires Nick and claiming Karpov is the client, Karpov wants a sitdown. Whatever Karpov wants, Karpov gets.

During the writing of Second Hand Goods and its follow-up, one of my beta readers suggested that Karpov wasn’t scary enough for his nickname, The Antichrist. Within the story, though, there is a reason he is called that. Prosecutors have been trying for years to bring down Karpov, who has, in fact, left a bloody trail across the Northcoast. Unlike John Gotti, the Teflon Don, they can’t even bring an indictment. Karpov is, to them, this malevolent force they can’t touch, kind of like the devil. Hence the name.

In reality, when he was conceived, I was subjected to an acquaintance’s intense love of the poorly-written Left Behind series. In Left Behind, the actual Antichrist is a Romanian male model – Well, I thought he seemed like a male model – named Nicolae Carpathia. Rather than malevolent and evil, I found him to be an annoying metrosexual with a huge ego. To tweak the writers’ noses, I named my Russian mob boss Nikolai Karpov. Mind you, there are Russian Karpovs. They used the name in the Val Kilmer version of The Saint. There are no Romanian Carpathias. Unless you mean the mountains.

Neither here nor there. Karpov knows he’s a gangster, but to him, it’s business. And he desperately wants to be accepted in the legitimate world. When he meets Nick, he takes an almost paternal interest in our young, self-absorbed PI. It’s a relationship Nick doesn’t want, and he dreads the moment when Karpov points out not only the similar initials, NK, but that they’re both named “Nick.”

Second Hand Goods: Valeria

She is a tall, slim brunette who manages to bed Nick Kepler by Chapter 4 of Second Hand Goods. And when Nick gets a call from Lenny Slansky, his car thief informant, about a missing limousine, it might be clear to the reader she’s known about Nick longer than he’s known about her. Clear to the reader, but not to Nick.

So who is she?

In the beginning, nobody knows. Nick thinks she’s just the unfortunate date of a boorish dirty cop, then the unwitting mistress of a suspected Russian mobster. (Suspected hell! They call him Ivan the Terrible.) Nikolai Karpov, the real power behind Russian criminal activity in Cleveland, thinks she’s just a secretary for one of his legitimate companies. And Ivan the Terrible? He thinks she’s his lover and partner in crime.

By the time Val’s identity becomes known, many people end up dead, including some innocent bystanders. All through this she plays the victim, leading Nick, Karpov, and Ivan the Terrible along. But even that raises more questions than it answers.

Will she return?

I don’t know yet. She’s the perfect character for a sequel to Road Rules, something I haven’t decided on yet. But really, her genesis was a scene I wrote when this story started out as a short story called “Lady Double Dealer.” In it, Nick was breaking into an expensive house in Cleveland’s suburb of Shaker Heights. He finds Val there waiting in the bedroom. She then proceeds to ransack the house, taking a few things (like the owner’s BMW) and not telling Nick why she was there. Explaining why both Val and Nick were there in the first place proved to be too complicated for a short story. So “Lady Double Dealer” was dropped, and Second Hand Goods became the sequel to Northcoast Shakedown.

Leigh Neely over at Women of Mystery is digging Second Hand Goods and is offering a free book give-away. http://tinyurl.com/8v5ohf5

Second Hand Goods: Nick Kepler

When we last saw Nick Kepler, he’d just (Spoiler alert!) forced the widow of a child molester to sign over her million-dollar life insurance pay-off to her husband’s victim. This time, he’s going on vacation.

Or so he thinks. What really happens is he attends an engagement party for Jackie Bouchaine, the law student who helped him out in Northcoast Shakedown. There, he picks up one of the guests, a beautiful Russian girl who calls herself Valeria. Still thinking more with his dick than his brain, he takes her home and makes her breakfast the next morning only to find himself hired by her to find a missing limousine. So much for his vacation.

Nick is older in this one, but not necessarily wiser. He still lets dangerous women lead him on, and the only one he seems able to resist is his secretary Elaine, and that’s getting more questionable by the minute.

I’ve still got Nick on the calendar with Second Hand Goods. It’s July of 2003 in this one, and there are references consistent with that. The book was originally completed in 2004, so it was a no-brainer.  I’ve toyed with putting Nick on a floating time frame, like Marlowe was. One writer vehemently demanded I not only do this, but keep him ageless, so he would be perpetually 35 or 36. I don’t like that. Nick needs to age, needs to change. I need to send him to hell in a bucket. You don’t do that staying forever young.

But the floating timeline has a certain appeal. I don’t have to back-project technology or politics or the condition of the city of Cleveland to 2004 or 2005 with the two books in the pipeline. Still, I have no idea whether to drop him from the calendar. Part of this is because Hurricane Katrina provides some very good possibilities for Nick to leave town mid-series.

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