It’s my pleasure to have Jim Winter as a guest on my blog. As noted herein, Jim and I go back several years to a time when we both had books released by a publisher who won’t be named. In any case, he’s here today to discuss his latest novella, Gypsy’s Kiss. I’ve read it and it’s awesome. So … without further ado, here’s Jim!
I’ve been talking a lot about endings as Gypsy’s Kiss is the end of the Nick Kepler series. Perhaps, though, I should talk about beginnings. Just where did Kepler come from?
I began many, many years ago with the idea of a slumming Holmes type who could solve crimes by seemingly impossible leaps in logic. For someone that brilliant, I needed a fitting name. I thought of two astronomers, Nicholas Copernicus – who first suggested the Earth might not exactly occupy the center of the universe – and Johannes Kepler, who figured out how all that worked. Hence, Nick Kepler.
And that character was a dud. Only the name remained. So I tried again. My first real attempt at a novel was called August Snow and featured a Cleveland-based writer named Nick Kepler who supplemented his income working as a private detective. Some elements of Nick Kepler as he is known now came about. His police pal Frank Windsor appeared in that manuscript. Nick lived in Cleveland. And Deputy Rick Reese, based on a close friend, also got his start. The book fizzled after about eighty poorly typed pages. I went off to make up Star Trek stories for about seven or eight years, maybe four years longer than I should have.
And then in the late nineties, on a summer Saturday afternoon, I was chilling on the couch with a beer in the apartment where I lived. Outside, my upstairs neighbor, a carpenter by trade, was doing repair work on the complex’s balconies. Inside, I stared dumbly at a rerun of Saturday Night Live from the Eddie Murphy years. This particular episode had Eddie doing his infamous “Kill my landlord, kill my landlord” bit. As so many stories begin, this one started with an almost audible click in my head. Instead of my neighbor, what if my landlord was out there on the ladder? And what if someone gave him a really good shove?
A normal person’s first thought would be “That’s horrible!” or “So much for my cheap rent.” Instead, I pondered how you could get away with that. There would likely be witnesses. But if he had a heart attack… And an induced heart attack…
Digoxin, a digitalis derivative, would be an almost untraceable means of giving someone a heart attack. I say almost untraceable because the coroner would have to have a reason to suspect something digitalis-related caused said heart to blow its motor like an overworked Chrysler from the 1980s. When a man’s heart fails while he’s working hard on a ladder on a 90+ degree day, the coroner’s going to assume the deceased might have wanted to take it easier that particular day.
Once my murder scheme was in place, I needed a story. So the Nick Kepler who was a writer became Nick Kepler, the freelance insurance investigator soaking his former employer for office space and secretarial help. In fact, Elaine did not even appear until I started drafting the story in 2002. But this was 1998. All I had when I finished writing was a 14-page outline I showed a couple of friends and put back in a drawer.
And then we come to New Year’s Eve, 1999. Paranormal romance writer Jennette Marie Powell invited me to the bar she and her husband owned for what promised to be the final New Year’s Eve in human history. (Spoiler alert: The computers survived, and so did we.) At the party, she showed me a book she’d written called Nothing to Hide and said that she had found a publisher already. And where was my first novel?
Jim spends 2000 and 2001 trying to get into a crime fiction mood. First, who was Nick Kepler? I began by writing several short stories about him just to get to know him. By 2002, I had started the novel in earnest, finishing it just ahead of my mother’s death later that year. (I promised her I would finish a real novel before she died. Made it by two months. Thanks for pushing me, mom.)
Multiple rewrites and a draft of a follow up (Second Hand Goods) later, and Northcoast Shakedown emerged. It debuted in 2005 with a publisher neither Debbi nor I will talk about. No, sir. We’re not talking
The press imploded. I went independent and released the three novels originally slated for publication. I went to start a fourth, my first Kepler novel to be written since 2006 and…
Nick wasn’t talking anymore. He had a few things to say, and one of those was my last short story to feature him, “Gypsy’s Kiss,” didn’t cut it. Hmm…
I reworked the story into a novella (or novelette if you want to get technical about it. I don’t.) In it, Nick finds his favorite informant is something much more than he expected. And he finally resolves his complicated relationship with Elaine, who actually did not appear until a late into crafting Northcoast Shakedown.
Gypsy’s Kiss shakes up Nick’s world while revisiting his past. It’s a satisfying ending for the character, whom I considered killing off, and it leaves the door open just a crack. Will he return?
You can buy the book on Amazon!