Creating the Perfect Storm: Guest post by Private Eye Writer Grant Bywaters
Today I welcome Grant Bywaters. His novel The Red Storm won the Minotaur Books/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition.Grant has worked as a licensed private investigator and is currently finishing his Bachelor's degree in psychology at Portland State University. He lives outside Portland, Oregon.
Grant Bywaters: Creating the Perfect Storm
Around the time I was getting my private investigators license, I was also working on my Associate degree and found myself sitting in an African American history class. I could not help but think how difficult my job would have been if I had to also deal with segregation laws. Naturally, the two things going on in my life at that time spliced together into the early concept of my detective, William Fletcher.
In the 1920s, Fletcher was a heavyweight contender in New York trying to get a chance at the crown prize of all sports, the heavyweight title.
Historically, the first black heavyweight champion was a larger than life fella named Jack Johnson. Johnson won the title in December of 1908. He was also ahead of his time and did not allow racism to slow him down. He taunted his white opponents, loved fancy clothes, beautiful white women, and fast cars.
Johnson's behavior predictably brought anger amongst the predominantly white racist public, causing Jack London to call out for a Great White Hope to beat Johnson. Eventually in 1910, one such Hope defeated an aging Johnson under the hot Cuban sun and the color line was drawn. It would not be until 27 years later that a black heavyweight contender by the name of Joe Louis from Detroit would be allowed to fight for the title.
It was during this gap between these two great champions that Fletcher, like many real life black contenders, was unable to get a title shot. Angered at his boxing career going nowhere, he starts doing muscle work for the criminal syndicates before ditching it all and starting a new career as a private detective in New Orleans.
New Orleans was a natural fit. It is a city that I have come to love and also because the town had more lax segregation laws than most southern cities during those times. This made it a bit easier for Fletcher to do his job in a very turbulent racial period of American history.
For Fletcher’s detective work, I tried to use some aspects from my experience as a private detective. One example is Fletcher does not have any office where a femme fatal can come in asking for his help. I never had an office nor did I know an investigator at the time who did. It was an unneeded added expense. Our car was our office and if we met clients it was usually at their homes or some coffee shop.
Doing the historical research for the novel came naturally. It has always been something I enjoyed doing and one of the reasons why I got into investigative work. Writing is also something I have always liked doing, which you have to do a lot of in investigative and really any legal type work.
I will say that when I finally did sit down and wrote The Red Storm, I never imagined it would win anything. It has been a surreal experience since being told it won the Minotaur Books/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition. Sure, somebody has to win these competitions, you just never expect it to be you.