These four books represent more than an historical crime fiction series. They are, indeed, the story of one writer’s journey, my journey, not just as a writer but a person as well.
The story is well documented: After the publishing of two contemporary crime fiction books with a small press, I turned my attention to the stories my wife’s late uncle told me about Arkansas City, Kansas. There were underground tunnels; a nickname of “Little Chicago”; and the mysterious “Grandfather on the Hill”, an unknown figure who actually controlled all of the illegal activities in the town. It was fascinating but daunting and challenging as well.
But I ventured forth, crafting the tale of Baron Witherspoon, the facially scarred World War I veteran who became a beat cop and suffered what is now known as PTSD while harboring dark secrets from the past. It was a one-off, an attempt at creating a tale that did not involve current technology or even the same verbiage.
I pitched it to two entities: one was The Wild Rose Press who is my current publisher. However, before the contract was signed and I was set to work with an editor, someone out of the blue referenced the fact that series books sell well. Could I let this be a one-off?
On a two hour plus drive home from the OWFI conference, I cobbled out the basic plots for four more books while doing my best to pay attention to the road. I was going to continue writing historical crime fiction. Then, maybe, a minor character from the series could be a spin-off, taking the series from, let’s say, the 50’s to the 70’s. And then….
Well, research is an amazingly difficult and thought-provoking task. I did everything I could to keep it as real as possible, believing it was necessary to pay honest tribute to the residents of the town I was writing about. Ark City Confidential was an enjoyable piece to write and got sufficient praise to motivate me to continue. Secrets of the Righteous was darker, covering not one but two serial killers, an expression that did not exist in the mid to late 1930’s. Lost in the Plains came about when I learned there had been several prisoner of war camps in Kansas during World War II.
Along the way, various co-workers and friends have come along for the ride, so to speak. Actual names or variations thereof have been inserted as characters, whether they were dead prostitutes, pimps, killers, or revival tent preachers. Everyone I asked for use of their name was thrilled to achieve a small bit of literary notoriety. They cheered and liked on social media, hoping for my eventual success to claim “they knew me when.” Of course, my wife always had a small part in each as did Larry Hammer (my wife’s late uncle), Dixie McGuire (my wife’s aunt), and Daisy Mae’s Cafe, a real establishment in Arkansas City that also plays a significant role in the books.
Which brought me to the last two books. From Somewhere in a Dream was to have been Book Four. Several drafts were completed and I had begun work on Book Five when the man who provided the inspiration died. It didn’t seem right to continue on without his smile and the “attaboy” I got from him. He always deflected the praise, not realizing how great an impact he had. So, I completed what was essentially a novella and combined the two into the single final volume of the Ark City Confidential Chronicles.
But that’s not the end. Because for most writer’s journeys never end. They segue and continue and morph and develop and grow. It was nearly two years ago, April of 2018, that I formulated an idea for a new historical crime fiction series. I developed a character closer to myself, someone I could infuse with my thoughts and attitudes. Someone through who I could speak.
It’s far too early to go into details or describe anything that would have any resonance. Suffice it to say a first draft exists. It has been shelved pending all the marketing that goes with the last book. It’s a minor stop along the road, a chance to catch my breath and pay tribute to those who have patted my back and pushed me forward.
I can honestly say i enjoy writing now more than I ever have. More than in college when I was significantly younger with greater energy and yet less of an understanding about story-telling and, well, life in general. It’s a great thing to be a writer, to use words to create worlds, to bring characters to life and watch them live, to entertain and provide an emotional jolt to those readers.
Those four books pictured above ARE a complete series. But they are also stepping stones and building blocks on this writer’s journey. And, in truth, the journey has just begun.