HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK:
LAKE CHARLES, Ed Lynskey
First, I want to extend a big thanks to the tireless Patti for inviting me to be a part of her weblog.
Reaching back to give the genesis of Lake Charles is a long stretch for me to make because it was begun some eight years ago. I’d written at least three books in my Private Investigator Frank Johnson hard-boiled series (still going, by the way: The Zinc Zoo will be out in late 2011), and I wanted a break away from the character Frank and his troubles. Lake Charles then served as my diversion. I’ll talk a little about each aspect of it.
Date. I’d grown weary—oh so weary—of the ubiquitous cell phones. Every other driver I saw on the streets chatted on one. I guess I’m the last person in the country who doesn’t own or carry a cell phone, beeper, or other wireless gizmo. Anyway, that was the reason why I cast my main character Brendan Fishback in the 1970s. I wanted to eliminate the ease and handiness to the cell phones. He’d have to go run down a coin phone to hold any communication.
Conflict. Brendan had to be an edgy, young man with a lot on his plate. He’s powering through a pot self-detox when he is accused of falsely murdering his girlfriend Ashleigh Sizemore and arrested for it. He later makes bail on a legal technicality and heads off to nearby Lake Charles to grab a little R&R that soon goes horribly awry.
Setting. My long-time office mate’s husband hails from the Johnson City, TN, area, and I’d heard stories about life down there. One strange tale, I recalled, was of a manmade lake then later drained for some reason. The formerly inundated towns—their buildings, flagpoles, and streets—were still intact on the emptied lakebed. That ghostly image sticking with me, in part, inspired the fictional Lake Charles. The usual urban city found in classic noir this time becomes a dying lake with green scum congealing on its surface and contained by a leaky earthen dam. As a kid, I’d hiked on long jaunts along the lovely Appalachian Trail wending its way through the Great Smoky Mountains (in North Carolina and Tennessee). I believe this was how I came to identify the right place to stage Lake Charles.
Characters. I’ve always admired strong, tenacious ladies, and they played a big part in my growing up. Enter Brendan’s twin sister Edna and their mother, Mama Jo. Edna, a rough customer, is kidnapped at Lake Charles, but we suspect she can fend for herself. Mama Jo uses some tough love to help pull Brendan through his personal crisis. His father Angus left them when Brendan was still in diapers for reasons yet unknown. I like the idea of a distant or missing parent as a way to tear a big hole in the main character’s emotional fabric.
Dreams. A dream sequence was also integral to the story. Brendan’s pot withdrawal spawns his vivid dreams, a side-affect that I’d researched to find out. Also, his Uncle Ozzie is something of a clairvoyant who once consulted with the renowned psychic Edgar Cayce. Brendan has inherited some of Uncle Ozzie’s mystical talents.
Pace. I like to read the novels that keep moving. Keep it snappy. The characters use cars, planes, boats, buses, bikes, skateboards, taxis, or some conveyance. This is how we live, even in the 1970s. Brendan aims to leave his hometown in a quest to catch up with Angus last heard from while toiling on the Alaskan Pipeline. While returning home from a rock concert in a distant city, Brendan finds Ashleigh murdered inside their motel room, and he has no memory of it. Teamed up with the Army vet Mr. Kuzawa, Brendan chases down the right clues to solve her murder.
Humor. This one is always difficult for me. What I hold as funny might not strike you the same way. Black humor as done by Westlake, Willeford, and Lansdale makes me laugh aloud. Slapstick, cute dialogue, and over-the-top antics bore me fast. That sort of stuff usually falls out of my work during the subsequent rounds of edits I make. Dry wit and low-keyed banter work better for me. Sometimes humor just arises from the situations which is a cool thing to have happen.
Lake Charles went through edits right up until the final stages. The late George W. Scithers, the first editor for Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, suggested some changes, including how to open the novel. I just hope I don’t take eight years to bring my next titles into print.
Ed Lynskey is a crime fiction writer with his family near Washington, D.C. His five mysteries featuring his P.I. Frank Johnson are THE DIRT-BROWN DERBY (Mundania Press, 2006), THE BLUE CHEER (Point Blank/Wildside Press, 2007), PELHAM FELL HERE (Mundania Press, 2008). TROGLODYTES (Mundania Press, 2010), and THE ZINC ZOO (Mundania Press, 2011). LAKE CHARLES (Wildside Press), a stand alone, is due out in 2011 from Wildside Press. His work has been anthologized by St. Martin’s Press and University of Virginia Press while his poetry has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. His reviews have appeared in New York Times Book Review and Washington Post. His mystery fiction has been praised by James Crumley, Linda Fairstein, Ken Bruen, Bill Pronzini, John Lutz, Barbara D'Amato, and Megan Abbott.