On a hot summer’s day down South, I got into a conversation with a man who braggingly stated he wasn’t much of a reader. He felt it was a waste of time. He then asked me why I wrote crime fiction, out of all the things I could write. Typically I would have bid him farewell and made my egress, but I was bored and wanted to see how much foolishness the elder was about to spew.
“I tell you,” he said, “Only thing I watch is Tyler Perry movies and read the ‘good book’.” The man would go on to say, having never read my novel, that it was a “Shaft rip-off”. I remember walking away, leaving the man to furiously fan his face with a magazine in the humidity, and I thought the world really is divided between readers and non-readers, and I fear the readers may be outnumbered.
The man was typical, unfortunately. But his ignorance got me thinking, why do I write crime fiction and noir? Sure, I’ve written other things in the past. As a kid I was convinced I’d write comic books for a living and even do the artwork, since I wasn’t a bad sketcher. In high school a friend paid me to write love letters he gave to his girlfriend when their relationship was on the rocks. When I was broke in college, I won an erotic fiction contest penning a few tales under a name I dare not mention.
And in grad school I got poetic, forming a spoken word/ jazz band with a friend and sold the albums online. And more recently, I freelanced for an independent greeting card company but quit after the first week when I struggled to jot some jargon that allied with two snuggling cats.
I love to write. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, it’s just something I have to do. And when it comes to crime and noir, they’re the only things that interest me. I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of people—why they do what they do. Why certain crimes are committed more in lieu of others, and what are the motivations for those crimes. But writing crime fiction is more than that, it’s recognizing that within us all is the potential to do horrible things—to rob, to deceive, to harm, to murder—to tap into a darkness which has existed since the beginning of time. The Greeks and Shakespeare both understood the duality within human beings, and recognized that inside each person is a kind of war between, in the most elementary terms, “good” and “evil”.
Some people have assumed that crime writers, me included, have to be the most disheartened people on earth in order to write what we do. But on the contrary, we’re comedic and lighthearted. And no one loves a good party more than me. And if it’s not a night out in slacks, toasting glasses of champagne, you’re likely to find me stretched out in a booth at a local pub conversing with friends without a care in the world.
Of course stories are always being written and though I laugh and carry on over a beer, I’m constantly watching, observing—the woman at the bar with a large purse that’s doubling as an overnight bag. What is she waiting for? Who is she waiting for? The man drinking in a hooded sweatshirt when the bar is easily 90 degrees, and the doorman with a limp—his Achilles’ heel—hoping his sheer size will deter anyone from causing a ruckus, since his agility is in question.
It’s what Alonso Harris (Denzel Washington) called the ‘magic eye’ in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day. It’s how we see the world and it can’t be turned off. Writing crime fiction isn’t so much of a choice as it is a calling, it’s in my design and I’m sure it’s something other writers can attest to. I sit down and think, maybe I’ll write romance or something for young adults, and in that moment I forget how to write. I can’t even produce a single predicate—I’m dead. Writers write to feel alive, and if crime fiction and noir is what makes the blood pump faster through the veins so be it.
And who knows, one day when the smoke settles and human beings stop trying to destroy each other in unimaginable ways, then I’ll take a seat in the sun and pen a children’s book…but don’t hold your breath.