Growing up, I always thought I wanted to live in the big city. Possibly this was due to the fact that my entire childhood input of anything even halfway resembling “culture” — well, if you don’t count Fats Waller, which I do, actually — consisted of the two-page Sunday Arts section of the Milwaukee Journal. I knew how to stun a hooked catfish with a paring-knife handle, though, and how not to get barbed by him, and how to lick peanut butter off the knife’s sharp blade (not all at the same time, of course).
So there was that. But I wanted something more, all the wonderful things that were made and done by the members of my own species, so the minute I could, I moved to a place where the human population density exceeded a half dozen or so per square mile.
Which in retrospect may have been a mistake. Because while learning to be a writer (remember that? learning to be one, instead of just uploading immediately and without benefit of editing?) I worked in a big-city hospital, where I discovered (among many other things, including the fact that people have insides just like catfish) that my tra-la-la view of my own species was, shall we say, a bit rosy. And I’m not just talking about the ER on Friday night.
On the other hand, I found what I wanted, just not where I thought it would be — at a concert, say, or in a museum. Bottom line, what I learned during those long ER nights is what lies at the heart of serious crime fiction (and, I would argue, what makes it serious): the awareness that mostly, everybody’s up against it. Life can be hard and bloody. No matter how big my trouble is, somebody’s got a worse one.
We do what we can. And we’re all in it together. I put a cold cloth on your forehead today, you squeeze my hand tomorrow. Somebody shoots somebody; someone else cleans up the mess, or tries.
And for today, at least, back out into the puckerbrush, where the human population density is still less than a half dozen per square mile, I’m happy to report.