Friday, July 17, 2015

Kentucky as a setting for "Blood Flats"

A lot of readers know that I hail from Ohio. Some of them have asked me why I chose to set Blood Flats in Kentucky, rather than in my own state.


Since Blood Flats is a crime novel that involves meth trafficking, gangs, and violence, a few readers have asked if I intended to portray Kentucky in a negative light. 


Well, for starters, I should set the record straight regarding my own ties to the Bluegrass State. While I have spent most of my life in Ohio, my hometown is Cincinnati, which is just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. (The state border is about ten miles from my front door.) I worked in Kentucky for more than ten years, and I attended Northern Kentucky University (NKU) twice: once during my undergraduate years in the 1980s, then again when I was pursuing an MBA many years later.


Moreover, I have significant family connections to Kentucky. My grandmother's people were all from Maysville, a Kentucky town on the Ohio River. I still have relatives in the area.


In other words, Kentucky is sort of like my second home state---suffice it to say that I have spent a lot of time there over the years.


But why did I pick Kentucky as a setting for Blood Flats?


When writing a contemporary American crime novel, an author has several basic choices. 


The suburbs is one option: But the suburbs can be tough for certain types of crime novels. Since Blood Flats is in many ways a modern-day Western, a suburban environment of SUVs, minivans, and manicured lawns wouldn't have been a good choice.


Then there is the inner city. The inner city gives crime writers a lot of options. But Blood Flats, again, is written in the spirit of the old Westerns. I like to think of Lee McCabe as the sort of classic honest-man-done-wrong, not unlike the character in the Clint Eastwood movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales.


This more or less mandated a setting where certain types of Wild West scenarios could plausibly take place: running gunfights, dangerous outlaw gangs, and bars where a careless stranger could easily get himself killed. 


These were the thoughts that led to the creation of the fictional Hawkins County, Kentucky. Hawkins County is slightly removed from the beaten path--which (in my view) makes it the ideal location for the sort of story that unfolds in Blood Flats. It is a place where substantial lawlessness can go unchecked for a period of time, and an independent-minded protagonist (Lee McCabe) can logically reach the conclusion that he is on his own when confronted by criminal elements.