Back in 2009, when I was about halfway through writing the third Poke Rafferty book, Breathing Water, I began to hear a voice in my ear.
It had an attitude and a tone that definitely didn't belong in a somewhat grim Bangkok thriller. What it sounded like was the San Fernando Valley. What it really sounded like was a crook.
I ignored it for a few weeks, but it kept coming back. It was especially vociferous at night, when I was trying to go to sleep, and in the shower, which is where I usually go for ideas on the book I'm writing. (When I'm having a hard time, I'm so clean I squeak.) It wouldn't quit.
So I put Breathing Water aside for a few days and listened to it. And it told me a short story about a crook and a hamster. Someone said there was a story competition I could enter if I wrote something about Australia, so I changed the hamster into a koala bear and called the story "Koala Mode." My agent didn't like the story (he was right) so I didn't enter the contest, but the experience introduced me to a character named Louie the Lost.
In the story, Louie, a former getaway driver who changed his career got his nickname when he made a wrong turn in Compton following a diamond heist, buys the koala bear from a fence named Stinky Tetweiler (his family invented the perfume strip). Louie falls in love with the little bear because it is, as he says, so ootsa-pootsa cute, but somebody steals it. In his eagerness to get his pet back, Louie turns to someone I hadn't seen coming, Junior Bender. Junior, I learned as I wrote, was a burglar who worked as a private eye for crooks.
When I finished Breathing Water, I sat down, flexed my fingers, drew a deep breath, and wrote an opening sentence: "If I'd liked expressionism, I might have been okay." Six weeks later I had a book called Crashed, narrated by Junior, with Louie and Stinky in supporting roles. The koala didn't make the cut. It was the fastest I ever wrote a book, if we don't count the 72-hour pulp novels I knocked out in the seventies betwen Friday morning and very early in the morning of the Monday they were due, guided out of the ether by red wine, cigarettes, panic, and amphetamines. Not only had I written Crashed in record (sober) time, but I'd laughed myself senseless doing it
So I went to work on The Queen of Patpong and, from time to time, made notes about a story that would become the second Junior book, Little Elvises. In the meantime, Crashed was turned down by my publisher of the moment, HarperCollins, to whom I was under exclusive contract, so it seemed Junior would never be published.
HarperCollins let go of me after Queen, and by then I'd put Crashed up as an ebook. When I finished Little Elvises, it also went up as an ebook. In the meantime, the amazingly cool people at Soho gave Poke a new home. Immediately after I wrote the fifth Poke book, The Fear Artist, for them, I spent an absolutely wonderful seven weeks writing a third Junior, The Fame Thief, and I prepared it for ebook publication, too.
But in the darkness, fate moved its heavy hand. My agent, Bob Mecoy, sent The Fame Thief to Juliet Grames, the head editor at Soho, and to my film agent, Steve Fisher. Within about a week we had an offer from Soho for the entire series in hardcover/paperback and another offer from Blackstone, for audio. And then Steve called to say that two production entities, Lionsgate and another biggie which I won't name, were both bidding for film and TV rights. Lionsgate won.
The deal got written up in the book trades and in Variety as a "trifecta." My little ebooks were suddenly a "multimedia platform," whatever that means.
Whether there will ever actually be a film version is in the laps of Lionsgate, but the hardcovers and the audio will make their appearance beginning November 13 with the publication of Crashed. Then an extremely accelerated publication schedule will see Little Elvises coming out on January 29 and The Fame Thief on June 4, by which time I think I'm supposed to have written the fourth, which is tentatively titled King Maybe.
And there are these three great Soho covers, which look to me like hard candies that might have a mildly poisonous center.
So life is good, this week. And next week is Bouchercon.