Chicago is Noir central and beside being a dynamic city with a fantastic history and an attitude that defines CLOUT in capitals, as well as a wonderful place to set a mood-inspiring mystery, suspense, thriller, even a romantic paranormal tale. I grew up in inner
city Chicago amid the hubbub and excitement and noise of the city, where I early on decided that if I did not write about crime then I would be going into crime--as there were few choices for a kid in my circumstances. The kind of rough politics practices since Chicago's inception, as it turns out, are pretty much still in place, and the criminal history, the political history, and the history of the police department are all issues of endless discussion and debate and fodder for a fictionalist like myself. So going into crafting crime novels made sense for a young man who each Thanksgiving and Christmas rushed to the alleyway entrance on Loomis between Jackson and Madison to past on a smile for the ward bosses and aldermen who paid for their votes with free tukeys for the entire neighborhood and free toys for the tots and cigars for the dads. So there was a good side to the oppression. Even as a child, I felt the city's oppressive nature like an angry giant bull, a kind of God, its nails being the skyscrapers in the distance. But the closer to home oppression came in the form of our landlady who personally collected the rent in her mink coat.
I also felt the eyes of a thousand neighborhood windows on me; always felt watched, and I yet I found places of refuge in the city and I felt the freedom one finds in her museums and the Art Institute, the zoological gardens, and the Chicago History Museum as well as the beach on Lake Michigan and the downtown area--the Loop--if I wished to walk forty blocks! Chicago was friend and enemy at once for a Mississippi boy growing up there from age four to manhood, and for a writer it was and remains a great proviing ground and crucible--filled with too many moments of testing and temptation than can be enumerated here but mostly...for a writer who might have grown up in smalltown Corinth, Mississippi (had his veteran father not been out of work after four years of soldiering in WWII) the city was an ordeal by fire. Every day proved a journey and an adventure and fodder for stories yet to be born and shared. Chicago taught me how to slip into the shoes of anyone, any race,
crede, color, gender. Chicago was a melting pot within a melting pot, and our schools were yet another melting pot--the exact opposite of a small town in the Deep South. I think about that a great deal--what a difference in me had I grown up in Corinth rather than Chicago.
I loved the Chicago's pulse and its history taught in the schools in the early grades, and I always wanted to use Chicago as backdrop to my novels--and have done so on many occasions now. Most recently in a trilogy for HarperCollins 'starring' Inspector Alastair Ransom, set in 1893 Chicago with the great Chicago World's Fair/Columbian Exposition as backdrop to the action, intrigue, murder, and romance. I owe a great deal to Chicago as she has shown herself to be a formidable character and not simply a setting. In fact, when I set stories in such places as Atlanta or LA, I still draw on my experience of Chicago for inspiration to create the tension and feel of any major city. Not to mention recreating the dark shadows of the city in City for Ransom, Shadows in the White City, and City of the Absent. While this trilogy is the work I am most proudest of in over forty five novels, I know I could not have created Ransom's saga had I not been so thoroughly a Chicagoan. Finally, without having done the Chicago City series, I could not have completed my most ambitious work to date--Children of Salem - love in the time of the Witch Trials, an historical romantic thriller. So again, thank you, Chicago and Skinner Elementary, Carpenter Junior High, and Wells High School as well as Northwestern University.