Ten years ago today was a major milestone in my writing career with the official release of my first mystery novel, Deadly Heirs. The fantastic crew that I worked with at the time at Howard County Library in Columbia, Maryland, arranged a nice little release party that morning, decorating the office as private investigator Chase Michael DeBarlo’s office, and a new phase of my life as a published author began. However, it was a long and colorful journey for DeBarlo to make it to those pages.
Imagine, if you will, a seven-year-old boy sitting quietly in a large, cushioned golden rocking chair that dwarfed the child reading the tattered pages of the latest Encyclopedia Brown book that he checked out from his school’s library. After excitedly trying to solve the mysteries and figuring out how Encyclopedia had once again caught Bugs Meany in a lie he runs off to find some paper, a pen, and some crayons to create his own little mystery stories. That was the genesis of my writing career with early influences also including Cam Jansen, the Hardy Boys, and Hitchcock’s Three Detectives. I also wrote some short stories that year in second grade about the American Revolution that impressed the school and I was asked to read some of my work in class. Imagine reading the “Big Boat Mystery” to your classmates when the one you’ve deemed the culprit is one of the kids listening to you read the story (he’s still the culprit in Deadly Heirs, by the way, as a sort of homage to those early shorts)! Mary Beth Markam was my first autograph request.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. I had continued writing a few mystery short stories over the years, a few ghost tales, but my two largest writing outlets at the time were my journal and song lyrics. Sitting in front of a Mac Classic in Computer Business Applications class with Mrs. Lola Franks we were given a basic word processing assignment: type up… something. One page. So, there you go… within a decrepit classroom on the second floor of the old Bowman Building that has since been torn down, Chase Michael DeBarlo was born.
His first case wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t really even a case. In “The Missing Donut Seed” Chase is caught in a flood while pursuing Knuckles Knucklehead and is desperately trying to find a way to get downtown in the deluge. Short and silly. That was the premise of the Chase Michael DeBarlo short stories that year and for the few shorts I wrote after I graduated. However, the (doughnut) seed of Deadly Heirs was first planted back then, too.
From “The Missing Donut Seed II”:
“It was 8:14 P.M. The night was cold. The night was wet.
I had had a rough day on the job – clues, suspects, paperwork – you know the deal. That’s when she walked in. Miss Stella Moonlight radiated in the doorway…”
Sound familiar? Yes, remnants of my early writing found its way into the finished novel. Also, Stella Moonlight became Stella Boardwick who, instead of radiating in DeBarlo’s doorway, ended up singing at the Flamingo Lounge (which made its first appearance in “A Deep Dark Secret II”, the seventh of these shorts).
Enter Tex Murphy. Tex is, in many ways, a similar type of gumshoe private investigator but far more down on his luck and lives in the post-nuclear holocaust future. I played the full-motion video game series in the mid-90s (Tex is finally making a comeback!), loved it, and was inspired to take DeBarlo in a similar direction. Some original artwork was created for a Chase Michael DeBarlo computer game, but it never really went anywhere. In the meantime, I started writing the accompanying novel for the game, and Deadly Heirs was begun.
I took pieces of what I had written in high school and created Chapter 1 in 1997. From there I fleshed out the plot line with an audio recorder that I kept in the car, and Deadly Heirs was being molded during my final few months in the Air Force as I drove to and from work. There’s even a sizable chunk that I recorded with my son, Collin, when he was only four years old. He wanted Chase to investigate a farm with all the animals being suspects!
Off and on over the next several years I wrote on the novel when I could find the time, which was usually during my lunch break at work. I could sometimes find some time at night, but I was usually too tired by then for that type of creativity. I had an hour commute after work, would make dinner when I came home, cleaned up and/or did stuff with the kids — a baseball coach at times — until they went to bed, more cleanup after that… Let’s put it this way: I was grocery shopping at midnight. But when I did get those moments to write I would inspire myself with all kinds of cool detective-like jazz, including some of the old music from Tex Murphy. I still have the playlist on my computer to this day.
Scores of people have asked me over the years where I find the time to do all that I do, and I usually respond with, “I don’t sleep much.” And to those that tell me I should get more sleep, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Not much has really changed there. I take on way too much and never have enough time for it all, but there is so much I want to do and accomplish in this life.
At some point along the way I deemed I was nearly complete and started querying agents to represent me. Yes, this breaks the rule that you’re not supposed to start querying for fiction until you have a completed manuscript, but waiting on a response back then took so long since nobody was taking email queries. And was it ever long! I worked queries and follow-ups and sample chapters and various forms of a synopses for a couple years. I was frustrated since everyone who read Deadly Heirs loved it, and I kept getting met with every form of excuse for a rejection that one could imagine. At some point I threw up my hands and elected on choosing a small publisher, figuring it would at least get my foot in the door of the publishing world.
And my beloved Deadly Heirs with Chase Michael DeBarlo and a full cast of colorful characters did just that. Since then I’ve published two ghost books and the sequel to Deadly Heirs, System of the Dead. I also have two more books on the way and I’m really just getting started with my Ghostorian Case Files series.
Chase has been seen about elsewhere, too, and I’m not talking about the infamous DeBarlo character from The Matrix Online. Chase was featured in a short story “Failed Rescue” that I gave to an anthology titled Studies in Scarlet and in freebie short story on my website named “All Hail Hack Tucker”. Both of these are set in DeBarlo’s world although not told from his point-of-view. I also included him in a number of mini-mysteries that I’ve provided with my newsletter, which had been monthly but is more like whenever I can get to it. These are in first-person like the books and are somewhat similar to my original shorts (but a little less silly). Chase is also going to be featured in a short story in my upcoming Campfire Tales: Midwest from Schiffer Publishing this fall. Even Deadly Heirs is in its Second Edition with extended scenes that weren’t included in the First Edition.
Clearly my super-ego, Chase Michael DeBarlo has been a part of me for most of my life. While he really didn’t get a name until I was 17, he has been there in spirit since I was 7. There was even a while there that my own son, Chase Michael, wanted to be a detective (then he wanted to be a ninja!). DeBarlo is my own and a part of me — a bit skeptical, a bit sarcastic, and sly enough to accomplish what he needs to and solve the case, satisfying some of his own curiosities in the meantime.
I can’t wait to see where we travel together in the future.