My friend Steve Brewer has a new novel out, titled Calabama. I’ve read sixteen of Steve’s novels, and liked them all, but this one will probably rank among my favorites when time puts things in perspective.
I was a fan of Steve’s before we became friends. I met him a few years ago at a gathering of local authors, and bought a book from him, Bank Job. At the time, I hardly read fiction at all, tending toward nonfiction almost exclusively.
Bank Job got me reading fiction again, and opened my eyes to the crime fiction genre. My wife Rhonda minored in Theater Arts in college, and acted in several plays during and after college. She says, “Good acting is when you forget that they’re acting.” I find a parallel in Steve’s writing. With twenty-two years under his belt as a journalist before transitioning to a career as a self-employed author, he brings a journalist’s strengths to his fiction, an economical, cut-to-the-chase style that allows the story to be king. With Steve’s work, I’m reading a story, I’m not reading writing.
In an interview, author Eric Beetner said it best. He was asked, "Which author should be much better known?" He answered, "My go-to for this is always Steve Brewer. He's as good as Elmore Leonard with a fraction of the accolades."
On the website Mystery Fanfare today, Steve wrote about Calabama.
You need certain key ingredients to get going on a new novel -- a setting, a notion of the plot, a good opening line, a protagonist that speaks to you. I also like to have a title in mind before I start writing, though we all know they sometimes change.
Occasionally, the title is the spark that sets an idea on fire. That was certainly the case with my 18th crime novel, CALABAMA.
I first heard the term from a friend in Redding, California, where I lived from 2003 to 2010. Redding is an isolated city of ninety thousand people, way up north near Lake Shasta, and it's the setting for one of my other novels, BANK JOB.
Soon as I heard the word "Calabama," I knew I must write a novel to go under it. It was the perfect description for life in inland California.
When most people think of California, what comes to mind is Los Angeles or San Francisco or beach towns like Santa Cruz, where I live now. But the state's vast interior is rural and socially traditional and politically conservative and prone to pickup trucks. It resembles Arkansas (where I grew up), but with palm trees.
I've bucked that redneck mentality my whole life, so it was easy to create a character who'd do the same. Eric Newlin is a dope-smoking slacker who landed in Redding by accident. He's unhappily married, works for his father-in-law and dreams of escaping Calabama.
Eric survives a traffic accident, one of those near-misses that feel like an omen, and he decides his life is going to change. It does. It goes straight to hell. Jobless and broke, Eric gets mixed up in a kidnapping scheme with a local crimelord named Rydell Vance, and things go very wrong.
The novel's a hillbilly noir, full of violence and greed and backwoods bitterness, but leavened with dark humor.
Kind of like Calabama itself.
Alas, Steve and his wife Kelly moved from Redding to Santa Cruz several months ago. Santa Cruz is a lovely place, but good luck finding an all-night taxidermist in that town.
Calabama is available today on Kindle and Smashwords.