by Delia C. Pitts
Details at the end of this post on how to win a signed copy of Pauper and Prince in Harlem, and a link to purchase it.
Now that I’ve published the fourth entry in my contemporary noir mystery series, readers often ask me, did you start out planning to write a multi-book series? Or did the arc begin life as a single novel and expand like weeds from there?The answer is a little of both. Before tackling the creation of my first private eye book, I had written over sixty fan fiction short stories and novellas. So, I was comfortable in the short form across a wide variety of genres. From comic sketches and character studies to erotica and police procedurals, I’d tried my hand at it all. One day, on a long car trip with a dear friend, she asked me what I wanted to do next in life. I said I wanted to write crime fiction, but I didn’t know how to start. She, an exceedingly wise woman, pointed out that as I’d already finished sixty-some stories, I had written the word-count equivalent of at least four books, maybe more. I’d never thought of my fiction output that way. But as I dug deeper, I saw the valuable insight my friend had given me: I already knew how to write pieces of three, five, even ten thousand words. Thinking of my novel as a seventy-thousand-word giant was overwhelming, a daunting challenge that numbed me into inaction. But if I cut my novel down to bite-size chunks, I could tackle the task. So, I did.
I started with an arc in mind. I knew the mixed-race private eye at the heart of my series would be a hard-luck rambler, SJ Rook, whose climb from the trough of destitution and despair would form the structural backbone of my books. I planned that each novel would focus on a murder mystery, but the story threads twining around that central case would concern Rook’s personal quest to form family connections in a tough neighborhood of colorful characters.
In the first book, Lost and Found in Harlem, we meet Rook at the nadir of his catastrophic decline. He is homeless: the brothel where he rented a room has been gutted in a suspicious fire which killed an innocent woman. Rook is determined to find the arsonist, but he isn’t a trained investigator. So, he teams up with a tiny Harlem detective agency run by an eccentric father-daughter duo: magnanimous veteran sleuth Norment Ross and whip-smart Sabrina Ross. Brina, as she’s called, is as talented with ledger books as with a gun. Over the course of the novel, Rook learns the basics of the private eye business as he tackles several small but knotty cases while pursuing the vicious arsonist. By the end of the story, Rook has vanquished the murderer. And he’s found an apartment, a cat, a job, and a burgeoning love match. He’s started to make a home in his new Harlem neighborhood.
Over the course of the next two novels, Rook develops a strong set of investigative skills. He is insightful, dogged, curious, empathetic, and tough. Rook’s partnership with Brina Ross is a work-in-progress, strained at times by his personal demons. He’s earned the affection of his wily mentor, Norment Ross. He has also formed a wary collaboration with a New York Police Department homicide detective. Archie Lin values Rook’s off-brand neighborhood contacts and willingness to cut corners in pursuit of answers. Rook bends the rules Lin is sworn to uphold. Together, private eye and cop, they make a pretty good team. All of these relationships are tested in Practice the Jealous Arts and Black and Blue in Harlem, which trace Rook’s determined efforts to bring to justice a vibrant cast of murderers in artistic, literary, and religious settings.
The fourth book in the series, Pauper and Prince in Harlem, offers Rook his toughest challenges yet. The drive-by killing of a boy sets the private eye on a mission to find the hitmen who gunned down his young friend. Pursuing his quarry, Rook dives deep into homeless camps and high-rise kingdoms run by vicious mobsters. As in previous books, the detective’s private life is put to the test by unexpected twists in his relationship with his crime-fighting partner, Brina Ross.
Rook’s story isn’t finished, not by a long shot. I’m at work now on a fifth addition to the series, Murder My Past, in which events and people from the past burst into the present with deadly force. Shocked by his own personal tragedy, Rook must solve the disruptions that trouble his friends, colleagues, and clients. After this, who knows what lies ahead for the private eye and his series? I can’t wait to find out!
To enter to win a signed copy of Pauper and Prince in Harlem, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “harlem,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 18, 2020. U.S. residents only for print copy, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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