In the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, near the Art Museum — yes, the museum with the steps from Rocky — there is a house, an impressive, well-kept three-story Italianate Brownstone, which many here mistakenly believe is the home of a notorious, real-life, long-time state senator (the man does own a house on the block, but it’s down the street). A corner property, this house immediately catches the eye.
The senator was an important man in Philadelphia politics for decades until he went to prison for fraud. For a while, I had played with the idea of a crew breaking into the house and stealing something (as my friend, the writer Eryk Pruitt likes to say, “Some people just need to be robbed.”), but I couldn’t get traction. I could envision the planning, and I had a few ways figured out for them to get inside, but I couldn’t visualize the guys who would do the job. More importantly, I couldn’t hear them. They didn’t say anything.
Around this time, I became acquainted with a woman who had briefly dated the real-life senator. I liked the idea of the job being initiated by an ex-girlfriend who might have an axe to grind. Coincidentally, I fought a fire in this woman’s apartment building (she got home after the fire) and now, being familiar with its layout, I decided this was also the character’s building. Important disclaimer: neither is my character anything like the actual woman, nor have I discussed any part of this woman’s dating history with her, only learning of this brief relationship third-hand.
Then I wrote a short story titled “Mister Wonderful.” It was an odd story for me – rather than any sort of substantive idea, it started with a visual, a premise – an injured man, trapped in a car that has come to rest upside down in an icy, shallow stream bed at dusk. I worked out some of who he was and why he was there, miles away from home or help, as I got him out of the car and through the woods, away from the police. I finished the story but realized that I wasn’t finished with him. I imagined that once he was on the mend, he’d be anxious for work.
Now, I had the house, the target, the inside person, and most importantly, the right guy for the job. Like I said, he was anxious to work – perhaps too anxious – which led me to make a critical change: instead of having the burglary be the centerpiece of the book, I have it take place in the first chapter. Things go bad quickly.
Thanks for this opportunity, Laura.
© 2017, Tony Knighton. All rights reserved.