Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Blogger: ED LYNSKEY

Why I Titled My Latest Noir Lake Charles

Lake Charles, Tennessee, the setting, and title, of my Appalachian noir, doesn’t exist as far as I know. The manmade body of water is a product of my imagination. Later, I discovered there is a Lake Charles in Louisiana while I was reading a title in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, either The Tin Roof Blowdown or The Glass Rainbow. But Charles just happens to be my middle name, and it fit nicely when I was looking for the name of my lake. Lake Charles takes place in the Great Smoky Mountains, where I’ve spent a fair amount of time.

Back when those “dirty hippies infested” the mountains (as one of the cranky locals told us) in the early 1970s, I hiked on the Appalachian Trail for 150 miles. We embarked on our long trek from Fontana Dam, a hydroelectric dam actually located in North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail spans the top of the lofty dam built by the TVA during the 1940s to generate cheaper electric power to the region. Anyway, the backed up lake submerged the mountain hamlet of Fontana. Learning this bit of trivia as a kid had a strong tug on my imagination.

The TVA also constructed my Lake Charles. But mine is impounded by an earthen dam that my hero, Brendan Fishback, observes is leaky and growing unstable. So, his regard for Lake Charles further dims. The marina where he puts in his bass boat was a happening spot—a lot of dancing, laughing, and smoking—with the youth of his parent’s generation. Not so much nowadays.

Brendan is freaked to find a putrid green scum covers the once pristine water’s surface. His friend Cobb voices their mutual contempt, declaring only carp can thrive in such a “cesspool,” and their hopes to catch any bass are dashed. A stubborn cuss, Brendan refuses to turn around and leave, as most visitors would do. He persuades Cobb how they should make a day of it. The fun-loving Cobb agrees, and with Brendan’s twin sister Edna racing on her jet ski, they head out to the middle of Lake Charles.

Brendan is besieged by vivid dreams, how he communicates with his girlfriend Ashleigh. She’s dead. He was arrested for her murder and then bailed out of prison. He wanted to forget his legal troubles and escape his disturbing dreams by getting away to Lake Charles. Unfortunately, the polluted body of water is a cursed lagoon where a person’s hard life can only turn harder.

Before the day is finished, Edna has disappeared on her jet ski. So, Brendan and Cobb decide to hunker down for the night and get up at dawn to launch their search for her. Late after they’ve fallen asleep, unseen combatants swarm and bushwhack them. First blood is shed when one bushwhacker is shot dead in the chest. The next morning, they deep six the corpse in the lake’s scummy depths, break camp, and slog along the thicketed shores.

By now, it’s obvious to the reader that only dire things can ensue from spending any time near Lake Charles. In the distance, Brendan sees the gray-black columns to forest blazes pluming the sky. He encounters no wildlife. All the prime hardwood has been lumbered. The sunken foundation to the homes of former residents warns him that they had better also desert Lake Charles while it’s still possible. An enterprising criminal has adopted the remote area to grow the illicit marijuana crop that sells quite well.

Once again, tragedy strikes Brendan. He then calls in Cobb’s father. Mr. Kuzawa, a Korean War vet, knows how to deal with the criminal element. They leave behind Lake Charles and the narratives shifts into an almost detective novel mode as they go track down Edna and pry Brendan off the hook for murder. As the noir’s title suggests, Lake Charles is still not yet done with Brendan. He can’t secure any real peace of mind without his final return despite his fervid vow to remain away from it.

Geography doesn’t usually play such an instrumental role in my novels. Lake Charles is my first book taking its title from a specific place. Whether this was a conscious decision in my writing strategy isn’t clear. The dying lake as a cancerous blight in an otherwise picturesque landscape provided a central theme to hang the narrative on. That’s how Appalachian noir works.

Ed Lynskey is the author of the P.I. Frank Johnson mystery series (including The Zinc Zoo out in 2011) as well as a small town cozy mystery, Quiet Anchorage, also now out.

Read the first chapter Lake Charles to learn more about the book and author.

Lake Charles is up for pre-order sales at Amazon Books.

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