Being the latest in what will probably be yet another short-lived series, in which yours truly reclines on a hammock by the pool with a jeroboam of Elf-Wonking Juice™ and lets a proper writer talk about the origins of his or her characters and stories. This week: Reed Farrel Coleman, author of INNOCENT MONSTER. To wit:
“Every author is sick to death of the questions about where ideas come from. We’re sick of the question because, as writers, the answer is so bloody obvious. Our ideas come from everywhere: from newspapers, from television, from life, from an incident that happened thirty years ago, from some seed planted in our twisted little brains. Where our protagonists come from is less obvious and much more interesting. In the two novels (HOSE MONKEY, THE FOURTH VICTIM) I wrote under the pen name Tony Spinosa, my protagonist, Joe Serpe, was a product of circumstance: mine and the world’s. For several years, I’d been making cash driving a truck and delivering home heating oil (a form of diesel fuel once popular in the northeast USA). I came to truck driving late in life, so, unlike driving a car, the process was fascinating to me. I also enjoyed the very physical nature of the work, so different than my writing. Hence Joe Serpe would drive a heating oil delivery truck. For once I was writing about something I knew about first hand. The other half of Joe’s equation was his struggle to come to grips with personal tragedy in the aftermath of 9/11.
“Moe Prager, the protagonist of my most popular novels, is a different matter altogether. Moe is the product of another failed protagonist from an aborted series and from the plot of a novel that shaped him as much as anything else. In the 90s while I was writing my first three novels (LIFE GOES SLEEPING, LITTLE EASTER, THEY DON’T PLAY STICKBALL IN MILWAUKEE) featuring insurance investigator cum novelist Dylan Klein, I tried to write a second series featuring a Jewish, Brooklyn-born, hotshot NYPD homicide detective named Moe Einstein. Problem was my grasp exceeded my craft and though the novels had their strong points, they weren’t publishable. I didn’t have the chops to pull them off and Moe Einstein—Jesus, can you imagine all the lame puns I generated with that name—was too clever by half. I hadn’t yet developed my own voice to a point where I could escape the clichés and overdone conceits of the genre. Still, Moe Einstein stuck with me. I liked the fact that he struggled with his religious identity and that he was wed to his Brooklyn neighborhood. I liked that he was unconventional and loyal to his family.
“Well, by the time I came to write my fourth novel, I was faced with a dilemma. I could either try to continue writing the Dylan Klein series or forge ahead into new ground. I tried to write DK4, but it just wasn’t working because of something I’d done plot-wise in Stickball that would have caused me to make a major shift in book 4. Looking back at it, I think I unconsciously sabotaged the series because I had taken it as far as I could. Basically, I had used the first three books—plus the two unpublished Moe Einstein books—to teach myself how to write. If you read my DK novels, you can see the growth for yourselves. Frustrated, I searched for a new direction. Boom! In New York Magazine, a story about a missing college student. I remembered reading many stories like it over the course of my life: a college student, usually male, comes into Manhattan for a night of partying and disappears off the face of the earth. What happened to them, I wondered? What were their stories? Who could the detective be to answer those questions? Moe Einstein raised his hand and volunteered and I picked him…sort of.
“Moe kept his first name, but lost the Einstein. And now Moe was short for Moses because he would lead people to the Promised Land, but never quite reach it himself. I emphasized his allegorical nature by naming his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam. Moe Prager was born. This Moe would not be a hotshot detective, but an everyman cop, a guy in uniform who gets hurt on the job but in a completely inglorious manner. He had to be someone any reader could relate to. In uniform, Moe had done one great deed, but was never really rewarded for it. That’s something I know I can relate to. Plus Moe would be intimately close to the reader. He would do more than tell you what he was doing. He would tell you what he was thinking and, most importantly, what he was feeling. So Moe was an outgrowth of an earlier character and the plot of the book I was writing. Yet, Moe is such a fine character, I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have found my way to him no matter what.” - Reed Farrel Coleman
INNOCENT MONSTER is the sixth Moe Prager novel. Reed Farrel Coleman has won the Shamus Award for Best Novel of the Year three times as well as the Barry and Anthony, and has twice been nominated for the Edgar.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.