A while back I was asked what book drove me to crime fiction; the first crime books I read were Encyclopedia Brown and Agatha Christie. But what books inspired me to write?
Eight Million Ways to Die, by Lawrence Block; Down in the Zero, by Andrew Vachss; and Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke. They all came out a long while ago. I first began to write in college, in the '90s. I'd written a few stories in high school, but mostly a huge and stupid space fantasy novel that I wish I could remember the title of. Dreamslayer, I think. I had another Clive Barker-esque tale called Dirge, the Immortalist I was working on. But once my friend Jack Chan handed me a Dashiell Hammett book- The Continental Op- I was hooked for good.
My first crime novel was of course, envisioned as a series, because the trinity of authors above dealt in series. Burke, Robicheaux, Scudder. My guy, named "Phil," was a heroin addict in recovery who takes a job from a pharmacist to find his runaway daughter. The trail leads him to New Orleans, where he hooks up with a female cop, finds the girl, and her old man happens to be the bad guy, as we all expected. I never finished it, and I regret not following through, but I think Phil is best left simmering in my brain to develop further. He's from a time in my life that is thankfully long gone, and the ideas he inspired are ready for another novel someday, currently called Weekend Irish.
So why's Warren Zevon up there? That song has continued to be an inspiration for crime stories long after Phil went in the drawer. It's about a guy in a dead-end life robbing a 7-11, it going bad, and leaving him watch the surf recede on the beach as he waits for the inevitable. Zevon's father was a small time mobster, and he was never home. According to his biography, the old man was never around and little Warren idolized him. He lived the wild life he imagined for his father vicariously through his songs, and this is one of the most heartfelt. I listen to it sometimes when I need the right tone of melancholy, when a man wants to do right but knows he'll end up hurting someone in the end.
© 2011 Thomas Pluck