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.

The Compleat Kepler: What Next?

cover-smallerAnd so we have reached the end, 13 tales of crime from America’s North Coast. In them, Nick Kepler has taken down an unstable cop threatening two of his fellow officers, made a couple of domestic abusers disappear, solved a decade old murder, nabbed a sexual predator, watched the events of 9/11 while chasing a fugitive in an airport, and even disarmed a gun-wielding maniac in the nude. To say Nick Kepler leads an interesting life is an understatement.

The events in this collection start in 1999 and end a month after those in Northcoast Shakedown, set in the summer of 2002. So what’s next?

Well, Second Hand Goods, the follow-up to Northcoast, takes place about eleven months afterward. So you have that to read until the next Keplers appear. What are those?

For starters, there is a short story called “Gypsy’s Kiss,” a sort of sequel to “Roofies.” In it Gypsy informs Nick that she is finally getting out of the sex trade. And she wants Nick to be her final client.

Then there is Bad Religion. Nick is hired by a mega-church to find out where all the money’s going. One of the people getting ripped off is a known Russian mobster. And he’s not even one of the crooks involved.

Beyond that, I haven’t decided. I have a story outlined call Suicide Solution, wherein a friend of Nick’s commits suicide after betting his and his wife’s retirement money on a shady deal to redevelop an abandoned amusement park. But will it be a Kepler story? I originally started on this in 2005, when it looked like Second Hand Goods would hit bookstores the following spring. I had the entire Kepler series mapped out, and I figured Nick would be only a couple years behind the calendar when each book debuted. Oh, if I only knew!

One of the reasons I’m rethinking this is that Nick is fixed to the calendar. That might not be important to you, but the author needs to be able to undo something like that before he or she writes. So Suicide Solution would have to take place in May of 2005 if I kept up Nick’s established timeline. I really never liked the “ageless” character. I can’t see Nick being 35 in 2003 and 36 in 2013.

I can, however, see another character taking over. And the setting for this one offers new story ideas as well. We’ll see. For now, know that there are two Keplers in the pipeline. Coming soon.

The Compleat Kepler: Lady Luck

cover-smallerLady Luck

The last completed story from the Deep Purple Project takes its inspiration from the last album of Deep Purple’s original run, Come Taste the Band. One of that album’s signature songs was “Lady Luck.” All I needed was the title. It would involve casinos.

But casinos did not exist in Ohio at the time. Here in Cincinnati, that was irrelevant. Drive west out US 50 or I-275, and you arrive in Indiana. There are three riverboat casinos within fifty miles of downtown Cincinnati. Not good for Cleveland. My septuagenarian aunt informed me that she had to go to West Virginia, Michigan, or even Canada to play her slots when this was written. (Ohio now has four casinos.)

So Nick was going to have to hit the road. He would have to go look for a husband who absconded with the kids’ college fund to count cards. At the time, I had just read books by Steve Hamilton and Laura Lippman that inspired a couple of story elements. Steve writes about the area around Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which has several Indian casinos. That made the perfect place for Kepler to go on a wild goose chase. Frustrated, Nick consults the element I got from Laura’s By a Spider’s Thread. In that novel, Tess is part of an Internet group where female private investigators share information. It wasn’t much of a stretch to think there were other such groups for PI’s or that Nick would use it. So on the group Nick consults, a colleague from Cincinnati complains about a guy at Louisville’s casino (really in Indiana as Kentucky has yet to legalize non-track gambling) It sounds like his errant husband, and we pick up the story at Lawrenceburg, Indiana’s Argosy Casino (now Hollywood Casino).

I’d actually never been in the old Argosy, but I knew the area well enough, including the extended parking. I actually used Belterra Casino (about forty miles west of Lawrenceburg) as a model. I also decided to make this more interesting than just a missing husband story. I had just seen the movie Rounders, where Ed Norton and Matt Damon play two hustling poker players who get into hock with a Russian nicknamed KGB. A lot of illegal poker games are played in every city, including Cleveland. If our missing husband upset the apple cart by not being the mark some seedy thug wanted him to be, he would likely also have someone looking for him.

The story starts out in the Cincinnati area, where I’ve lived since 1991, and follows the normal route to Cleveland. Even the truckstop where Nick finally phones his client after dealing with the muscle and the husband once and for all, is a standard pit stop for anyone heading north.

It’s also the only story in this collection that takes place after Northcoast Shakedown. I tried to work in Elaine, but the story required some judicious trimming. Still, it brings Nick into the period between Northcoast and Second Hand Goods.

The Compleat Kepler: Love Don’t Mean A Thing

cover-smallerLove Don’t Mean a Thing

This story was originally written for an anthology called Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes, edited by Michael Bracken. Unfortunately for Michael and the rest of us who contributed, the publisher pulled the plug in a fit of reorganization. So after two years of waiting, the story reverted back to yours truly. I turned around and submitted it to Thrilling Detective. Needless to say, editors Gerald So and Kevin Burton Smith were happy to have a story that was already largely edited by the time it came over the transom.

When it was accepted, one of the first things Kevin told me was that Kepler does a damn fine Humphrey Bogart in this one. And with the last line in the story, I have to agree.

The original impetus for this story was sex. Now, Nick has no problem hooking up, as evidenced by Northcoast Shakedown and Second Hand Goods. In the latter, he not only is seduced by his client, but he and Elaine…  Well, maybe I’ll wait until Bad Religion is released to tell you more about that.

But sex was never central to the story, except maybe in “Roofies” (which was about sexual assault). The anthology had “sex” right in the title, so this story was going to be about sex. Since I was doing these shorts chronologically, this story ended up occurring about a month before Northcoast Shakedown. In that one, Nick is meeting with Tanya, a witness to one of his cases, at his favorite watering hole. A red-headed waitress named Audrey gives Nick a dirty look for bringing this glamorous blonde into “her” bar. I decided to build on that dirty look.

I’d attempted to do a couple of stories about Nick and Audrey before, never successfully. When this story came about, with sex as its reason for being, I decided that Audrey had always had a crush on Nick. But this being a crime story, there needed to be a crime. But did the crime need to happen before the story began? This was not a mystery. It was noir, and there is nothing more noir than a divorced man who doesn’t understand that his marriage is not only over, but it’s over by court decree. So Audrey marches into the bar, divorce papers in hand, very hungry to devour a man. It just so happens Nick is game and agrees to be Audrey’s dessert.

It’s not unknown that ex-husbands (and ex-wives and ex-lovers) often stalk those who dumped them. Audrey’s ex is one such unbalanced person and sneaks into his old house, gun in hand, ready to teach a lesson to his “unfaithful” wife and the man encroaching on his “property.” Oh, friends and neighbors, this is not something Nick Kepler tolerates, not even when he’s caught in the nude at gunpoint. He manages to subdue the wayward ex and proceeds, with considerably less guilt than before, to repeat some of the events of “A Walk in the Rain.” Yes, our wayward ex-husband goes into the trunk, but he’s alive for the trip to a remote beach out near Cedar Point, the coaster mecca 60 miles west of Cleveland. There, Nick releases him from the trunk, but, at gunpoint, tells him to walk to Canada. It’s night. It’s freezing. It’s Lake Erie.  Our boy will drown before he even reaches the breakwall. Nick relents and strands him out in the middle of nowhere, then dumps his car on the freeway.

But was Audrey just after a good time? Or did she know her ex would come after her if she brought a man home? Was there a reason she decided to sleep with a man with a reputation for bringing the abuse back to abusers?

The Compleat Kepler: Might Just Take Your Life

cover-smallerMight Just Take Your Life

This title immediately suggested a sequel to “A Walk in the Rain,” where the consequences of Nick’s actions come back to haunt him. In the original, Nick’s friend Angie kills Joe Kopinsky, her abusive ex, after getting his gun away from him. Rather than face a grilling by the prosecutor, she convinces Nick to make Joe disappear. Nick does so and admits that, had Angie not killed him, he would have.

But did Joe have family? Wouldn’t someone miss him? Someone does, and he decides to avenge his brother’s death. There’s a whole section of Medina County where Nick (as well as yours truly) grew up that, at least in the early 2000’s, was still mostly farmland. And this was the perfect place for Joe Kopinsky’s brother to employ some painful persuasion techniques on Nick. He wants Angie. He’s convinced Angie killed Joe, but Angie’s good at keeping a low profile. She only emerges in public places when she’s in Cleveland and stays out of sight the rest of the time.

I had to walk a fine line with this one, which was written for the old Hardluck Stories ezine. I didn’t want it to become torture porn. Fortunately, Andy Kopinsky had many of the same problems his late brother Joe had. It gave Nick the leverage to manipulate him into getting careless.

Originally, when I had the entire series mapped out, I planned for the final Kepler novel to bring Nick full circle. His final case would be a direct result of “A Walk in the Rain,” complete with an ambiguous ending of a wounded Nick cradled by Jackie Bouchaine (Northcoast Shakedown, Second Hand Goods) and saying, “I got him.” Fade to black. Did he die?

Did Jimmy in Quadrophenia? Only the reader would know for sure.

The Compleat Kepler: Roofies

cover-smaller

ROOFIES

So which Deep Purple song inspired this one? There’s a song they did on their 1973 album Who Do We Think We Are? called “Mary Long,” a dig at British moral crusader Mary Whitehouse. There are a number of other titles I could have pulled from that album for story fodder: “Woman From Tokyo,” “Smooth Dancer,” “Super Trooper,” and “Rat Bat Blue,” the last of which could have been slapped on anything and made a cool title for a PI story.

But “Mary Long” starts with the lines “Mary Long was a hypocrite/She does all the things she tells us not to do.” That stuck with me. I changed it to “Harry Long” to make him a man. Obviously, his nationality went from English to American, so the change in gender and location immediately began generating ideas. So who was Harry Long, and why was he a hypocrite?

Maybe Harry’s a fine, upstanding citizen. I made him a middle-aged man who does all that white, middle-class suburban stuff: Joins the Rotary, active in his church, etc. There was one of those silly Freemason conspiracy shows on History at the time, so I decided, “What the hell. Let’s make him a Freemason.” Why?

They tend to frown on their members cheating on their spouses and indulging in various vices that might draw unwanted attention. I may not buy into the whole dark fantasy of the Freemasons scripting all of history, but even I know they are a secret society. And Harry is not the kind of secret they want to keep. Why?

Because Harry likes to go to the strip club. And it’s not the Masons or the Rotary Club or his pastor who’s worried. It’s his wife, who hires Nick to tail him. As the story begins, Nick is about to write this case off as a paranoid wife with a very busy husband. It happens. Then Harry goes into Silky’s, and we are introduced to one of Nick’s favorite informants.

Gypsy is a stripper and a call girl whose history with Nick dates back to his early days as a PI. She was his informant way back when and took a bullet for him when he tried to save her from some unsavory characters. In gratitude, he got her off heroin. She is slowly working her way out of the sex trade, but will do anything for Nick. And Nick would do anything for her.

When Gypsy realizes that Harry has been slipping some of the girls rohypnol, aka “roofies” or “the date rape drug,” she demands Nick do something about it. Nick tries to get his pal Rick Reese involved, but the police can’t really do anything without hard evidence or a girl to submit to a drug test right after the fact. Furious, Gypsy sets a trap for Harry, using herself as bait.

The real story here is in the backstory between Nick and Gypsy. She is loosely based on Elaine from the Matt Scudder series, Scudder’s hooker girlfriend who is saving up and investing to get out of the trade. But Gypsy is a rougher character, having to claw her way up further than Elaine to escape the life she’s leading. And that bullet she took?

That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Gypsy and Nick.

The Compleat Kepler: Cold Cocked

cover-smallerCold Cocked

The Deep Purple song that inspired this one was an obscure one off Machine Head called “Pictures from Home.” Some would ask, “Why not ‘Highway Star’ or ‘Lazy’ or ‘Space Truckin”?” Or, for that matter, why not “Smoke on the Water?” Well, actually, I did come up with a story inspired by “Smoke on the Water,” but it’s a lengthy one involving a fictionalized version of the abandoned Chippewa Lake Amusement Park near where I grew up. I outlined that one, and it may or may not become the fourth Kepler novel. I have not decided yet.

I took all the titles from the album and tried to come up with an image. “Smoke on the Water” was pretty obvious. The old park was, until the land was finally cleared in 2010 for development, prone to arson fires. “Pictures from Home,” though, didn’t go the way I expected it. Those who know the song tend to fixate on the lines “I’m alone here/With emptiness, eagles, and snow,” which doesn’t work for a private detective prowling the mean streets of Cleveland. There’s nothing empty about Cleveland. Eagles there are a band featuring Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and former Clevelander Joe Walsh. And snow? You’re not alone in the snow in Cleveland. There are two million people in that whole corner of Ohio who want butcher Punxetawney Phil and Buckeye Chuck for lying to them about snow.

But the title… Now that’s different. Pictures from home? The story starts with a picture. And Nick’s taking the picture. I decided to make that a shocking picture. He’s photographing a carefully staged murder scene. The idea is to show the woman who tried to pay him to kill someone the photo. When she hands over the money, in swoops Nick’s pal, Homicide Sergeant Frank Windsor, to slap the cuffs on her, and the “deceased” shows up at the police station, they have a slam dunk for prosecution. Only someone cold cocks (hence the title) Kepler and the “deceased” dies for real in this one. Now, both Kepler and Windsor are suspects. And it’s up to Windsor’s partner Bertkowski (who first appeared in “Just Like Suicide”) to straighten things out.

Megan Powell, the editor of the old Shred of Evidence zine, snatched this one up, having published “Full Moon Boogie.”

The Compleat Kepler: Flight Of The Rat

cover-smallerFlight of the Rat

“Flight of the Rat” was a story I debated about doing. It was written shortly after the first draft of Northcoast Shakedown in late 2002. 9/11 was still raw in our memories, but Iraq was little more than saber rattling ahead of a midterm election, or so I thought. Like comedians in the month following 9/11, I approached this story under a cloud of “Too soon!” apprehension.

I remember asking Neil Smith about possibly doing a 9/11 story for Plots With Guns. At the time, he said most of what he’d seen was gimmicky, designed to be little more than a ripped-from-the-headlines angle designed for shock value. And he was right (assuming I remember this conversation correctly. It’s been over a decade.) Most of the early stories involving 9/11 were gimmicky crap.

But I had trouble dealing with the tragedy. I didn’t live in New York, and at the time had not even been to the city. Most of the writers I knew at the time lived there, though, and one of the planes went down in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, my extended family’s home until about World War I. We used to attend huge family reunions there when I was in junior high. Someone took down a plane on that day in my family’s backyard? Might as well have crashed it into the Scripps Howard Building in downtown Cincinnati. It was the same thing to me.

Enter Anthony Dauer, editor of the now-defunct Judas, which later became The 3rd Degree. Anthony was a military vet who now worked as an IT analyst for a contractor near the Pentagon. He saw the plane that hit the Pentagon and later learned a friend was on that plane. I mentioned I had an idea for a story. He wanted it. So I wrote.

The story has two components. First is Harry Z, who has an Algerian name. He calls himself Harry so he’s not hassled, and has affected an American accent to blend in. Harry is a large black man who does fugitive apprehensions, and much better than Stephanie Plum. But he’s also from the North Africa, a heavily Muslim part of the world. Nick frequently helps out Harry Z, who makes an appearance at the beginning of Second Hand Goods. He was an obvious choice to be affected by the hell that broke loose that awful day.

The other part was Margo, Nick’s news reporter girlfriend. At some point, I would need to explain why she wasn’t in Northcoast Shakedown. The real reason was that I was afraid she’d become the series’ Susan Silverman to Nick’s Spenser. I didn’t want to have her on one of the planes. That would just be too exploitative. Then I read a story, quite funny, actually, about Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. Seth was supposed to be on one of the flights that hit the Trade Center. Only he missed the plane. He was hungover after a night of partaking of Boston’s many fine adult entertainment establishments, and slept in.

What if Margo was supposed to be on one of the flights (sitting next to Seth no less? I left that part out.)? As a reporter, the station where she interviewed would probably put her on the air at Logan International as their person on the scene. But Nick wouldn’t know anything about that. He’s too busy chasing this whiny sonofabitch through Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland.

I don’t know how effective the story is on its own merits. It did flesh out Nick’s background quite a bit.

It was also very cathartic to write.