It’s a pleasure to have Dana King as my next guest on the Crime Cafe podcast. He’s an author who gave an extremely funny reading during Noir at the Bar at the C3 conference
ages and ages ago earlier this month. If you’d like to read his blog post about C3, just click here. It’s about a thousand times more coherent better than mine, that’s for sure! 🙂
Dana’s guest post comes with an autographed book giveaway. The one pictured to the left, of course. Not only that, but Dana is giving away a digital copy of a short story to each and every entrant in the giveaway — whether you’re the winner of the signed paperback or not. Isn’t that awesome?
Just email your entry to Dana at danakingcrime[at]gmail[dot]com by Nov. 13, 2018, and you’ll be a winner, one way or the other.
And now let’s hear from the dude himself. Here’s Dana King’s guest post!
I’m often asked what it is that makes me uniquely qualified to write about Penns River. Well, sometimes I’m asked. Truth be told it’s not all that often, but I like talking about it so I’m going to.
Writers are often advised to “write what you know.” I know Penns River, even though you’ll not find it on any map. (I checked.) Penns River is a fictional amalgam of three small cities in Western Pennsylvania on the banks of the Allegheny River. The hospital I was born in was in one of them. I say “was” because it’s no longer a hospital. The first home my parents took me to was in another of the three cities. “Was” applies again, as the building has since burned to the ground, replaced by a vacant lot. (Rumors that the town fathers had the ground sown with salt are unsubstantiated, though reasonable.)
I finally ended up in the last of the three, just beyond the suburbs, in a house my parents went on to live in for 57 years. I went to school there, taught some school there, played ball there, and went back to visit several times a year during the 37 years between the time I moved away and the house was sold. I know Penns River pretty well.
It’s not the geography that matters. I know the people. Not so many individuals as I used to, but the kinds of people. I never quite lost the accent, and The Beloved Spouse™ used to say it took me less than a day back before it returned in full force. I was never a “yinzer,” though the stereotypical “jagoff,” “jumbo,” and “dahn-tahn” figure prominently in my speech. (“Dahn-tahn” is the traditional way to spell a pronunciation of “downtown” that has no accurate depiction in English phonetic characters.) TBS claims I say “warsh,” though I don’t hear it.
I subscribe to the local paper over the Internet, as well as to a Pittsburgh-only sports web site so I can follow the Pirates, Penguins, and Steelers in more detail. I’m probably a bigger Pitt football and basketball fan now than I was when I lived there, when I leaned heavily Penn State.
My time away from “Penns River” allows me to write it more honestly. I still love the area but now I view it with the eye of someone who has lived away long enough to see the warts. That’s why I had my main character, Ben “Doc” Dougherty, spend nine years in the Army before he came back to be a Penns River cop. He has perspective lacking in those who never left, yet still understands the place better than any new arrival can hope to.
Doc could have lived anywhere after he left the Army; he turned down half a dozen offers from private security companies. He’d seen large chunks of the United States and more of Iraq than he’d ever cared to. All he wanted to do was come home. “Coming home” is the key phrase. TBS once pointed out that when she and I used to travel to see my parents, I referred to that as “going home,” and returning to our current residence as “back to Maryland.”
Many of the locations used in the Penns River books exist, though some have been “refurbished” to suit my needs. (Note to Hollywood: you’ll need very few exterior sets and Pittsburgh has plenty of first-rate production facilities only twenty miles away. Just sayin’.) No actual people, but there are several amalgams of folks I know; most of the names were pulled from my high school yearbooks to lend authenticity. It’s fun going back, if only in my imagination. My hope is to convey that to the readers, and to give them some appreciation for a type of town that is too often forgotten in this country, though never by those who have lived there.
The first Penns River book had this as its dedication: To the Tri-Cities: the Hotel California of the Rust Belt. You can check out but you can never leave. Yeah. It’s like that.
Dana King has two Shamus Award nominations for his Nick Forte novels, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. His most recent Forte novel is Bad Samaritan, released in January from Down & Out Books. He also writes the Penns River series, of which the fourth novel in the, Ten-Seven, is scheduled for release by Down & Out in January 2019. His work has also appeared in the anthologies The Black Car Business, Unloaded 2, The Shamus Sampler 2, and Blood, Guts, and Whiskey.