With the upcoming release of THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH, I thought it might be fun to pull back the curtain on my debut novel, THE CITY OF SMOKE & MIRRORS. I don’t know if this is something writers indulge in, honestly.
Format-wise, I’m thinking a short, chapter-by-chapter commentary. And it’s in point form, inspired by IMDB.
This commentary is on just the book. If you want to read about the creation of Dill himself, check out The Joys of Writing: The Creation of Dilbert Pinkerton.
All right, let’s do this. Part 1 will cover Chapters 1-12.
Chapter 1: Burn, Baby, Burn
-The first two chapters were written in one sitting.
-Since Danny’s DeVito’s performance as The Penguin in Batman Returns played a role in Dill’s creation, one of his lines from the movie is a chapter title. Expect more of that for future chapter titles. At least until I run out of Penguin lines.
-In the beginning, I wanted to kick off every book with Dill (and probably with Tony) already snout-deep in trouble. Kind of like a pre-opening credits scene in a TV show or action movie. Didn’t quite work out that way with THE DAME WAS A TAD POLISH, but I’d like to do that with some of Dill’s adventures.
-Originally, “Roasty” Ron Rawlings was “Toasty” Tim something, named after my college friend Darren McPhee whose nickname was “Toasty.” Mickey (Tony’s dog) was “Toby.” A friend pointed out that, adding Tony, that made three character names starting with T, which might confuse some readers. So, “Toasty” became “Roasty” and “Toby” became “Mickey.” It worked out well because after the book released, I discovered Mickey Spillane’s work. So Mickey turned into a retrospective tribute.
-Don Komodo was originally Don Quasimodo, a hunchbacked mobster. He would only be Dill’s reason to leave the city, with no other appearances. Once he became Don Komodo, the dragon forced himself more into the world.
-When researching revolvers Dill could use, I discovered the brand Clint Eastwood used in the Dirty Harry movies. Thus, The Daymaker was born, named after the famous line “Go ahead, make my day.” I loved coming up with alternate nicknames. My favourite part of every new Dill adventure is when he pulls out The Daymaker for the first time.
-I played a little bit with comic book sound effects in my writing, but it really came out here. It’s been well received by most readers, so that’s not something I’ll be stopping anytime soon.
-As I said in The Creation of Dilbert Pinkerton, I never intended for Tony to be Dill’s best bud. Tony’s appearance was supposed to be brief. But dammit if I didn’t have a blast writing their back and forth dialogue.
Chapter 2: Beady Eyes
-One of the first things I imagined when writing the book was Dill’s office. The Hovel Office is obviously a play on words with The Oval Office.
-Integrity City and St. Ligeia are mentioned, along with St. Ligeia’s fate. That’s my first hints towards the bigger world Dill lives in, where the superhero is an endangered species. More on that in future books.
-Tony’s “Mum-buh-fuh-bah!” always cracks me up. I love writing incoherent dialogue.
-This chapter serves as introducing more of Dill to the reader. You see the pigsty he lives in, that he’s okay with eating bugs, and he’s not a morning person. And that he’ll laugh in the face of even high paying, hoity-toity clients.
-This scene plays out rather stereotypically, with a dame at the detective’s door. Since this was my first time writing a hard-boiled style book, I guess I wanted to write something familiar not only for the reader, but for myself. Thankfully, Dill’s such a disgusting jerk, which I like to think is a little less stereotypical of those books.
-Originally, all of Dill’s dialogue and narration was very informal and colloquial. For example, every time he used an “ing” word, I wrote it as “in,'” replacing the g with an apostrophe. It got old fast for all my friends who helped edit the book. In retrospect, I see why and glad I changed it.
-While I really enjoyed writing the first chapter, it was this chapter that sold me on Dill. The moment he blurrily turned his back on Ms. Chabar and said, “Coffee. I need coffee,” I knew I could write endless books with him.
Chapter 3: His Way or the Highway
-Okay, the Dodge Shadow. People have asked me, “Why a 1987 Dodge Shadow?” When I worked night shifts with my friend Mike Rideout at Subway, we had a running joke about kidnapping co-workers and selling them in Mexico for $50,000 and an ’87 Dodge Shadow. Don’t ask me where that came from. Blame it on late night exhaustion and hysteria.
-The name Nevermore Bay came from an Edgar Allan Poe course I was taking at the time. I batted some names around with my old friend Mitchell Smallman until we came up with Nevermore Bay. St. Ligeia also came from the Poe course (his short story, Ligeia). The name carries some meaning behind it, which you’ll learn as I reveal more about St. Ligeia.
-A wild Mickey appears! His breed and appearance is based on a dog whose owners were regulars at the Blockbuster Video I worked at in Toronto. They named him McFly, after Back to the Future, one of their favourite movies…and mine. In fact, McGurk (Mickey’s actual name) was first McFly, in tribute, until I changed it to McGurk – a reference to Superman’s Myxzsptlk. At this point, he’s just Mickey.
-In retrospect, I hate the infodump for Nevermore Bay and The Buzzard. It sort of works, I guess, with Dill researching, but it still feels clunky.
-I still like the line, “Nevermore Bay looks like a gargoyle puked all over Chicago.” I think that sums up the city quite well.
Chapter 4: The Comissionary Position
-So, the cops’ names. I’m sure it’s blatantly obvious for comic book aficionados, but all the cops are named after Batman creative teams. As they appear in the chapters, I’ll mention them. One thing I tried to do was pair up creative teams as different squad car partners.
-Commissioner Gordon O’Neil is named after long-time Bat-editor Denny O’Neil. I think I threw in “Gordon” since he was the commissioner. This was only the start of the Bat-references.
-Something for my own entertainment: the desk sergeant Dill harasses at the beginning of this chapter is based off Officer Frick from one of my favourite video games, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father.
-Gardener Road, where Alana Cardalini lives, was the street I grew up on in Sydney, Nova Scotia. I think it was actually Gardener Street, but ah well. It’s Road, here.
Chapter 5: The Juice Ain’t the Only Thing Getting Punched
-The cars lined up for the party were originally described as just “a buncha fancy cars” until a car fanatic friend suggested actually naming brands.
-Squad car #27 is a reference to Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27. That number appears a few more times in the book.
-Officers Ed Rucka and Greg Brubaker are based off Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, the two writers on Gotham Central. I roll my eyes at these “clever” name switcheroos now.
-Officers Paul Cooke and Darwyn Dini are based off Paul Dini and Darwyn Cooke. Actually, I don’t think those two ever worked together. Paul Dini of course, was a huge part of the Batman Animated Series. Darwyn Cooke did the graphic novel Batman: Ego. He also redesigned Catwoman’s costume that she’s had for a number of years, now.
-Mayor Kane Finger is a mix of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, creators of Batman. Kane infamously screwed over Finger regarding the rights to the point that Finger wasn’t even mentioned in any of DC’s credits until recently.
-Alana Cardalini, aka The Socialite, was originally supposed to be much more like a super villainess, part of The Buzzard’s rogue gallery. At one point, I think a scene near the end of the book took place at her mansion, with Tony mixing it up with her attack dogs or something. I’m really pleased with how she turned out, instead.
-Alana calls Dill “Dilly.” I tried having every major character call Dill something different; partly to mix it up and partly to give each character a little quirk interacting with Dill. O’Neil venomously calls him Detective. Eli Jones calls him Mr. Pinkerton. Tony calls him Dill. Don Komodo is the only character to call him Dilbert.
-Not sure where Reg Reginald came from, but I feel like I tried too hard to make him British.
-Dill’s reaction to his gun being stolen mirrors Jack Nicholson’s Joker reaction to Batman stealing his balloons in the first Batman film.
-Good lord, this was a long chapter. Sorry about that. I should’ve split it in two.
Chapter 6: Get Out of Jail, Free
-When I started writing the book, Dill was just “The Armadillo” (friends like Tony called him Dill). Here, the holding cell officer shouted his name as “Dillo! Arma Dillo!” I realized something needed to change.
-The Shatterpack is name-dropped for the first time. You can bet they’ll appear eventually.
-The quick back-and-forth between Dill and Tony convinced me that Tony would be around for the long haul.
-The extra scene with O’Neil was actually written when I was nearing completion of the whole book. Originally, Dill got the information about Bison’s gang from a thug he was locked up with. That didn’t feel very organic. Plus, any time Dill can be an ass is a bonus.
Chapter 7: Bye, Son
Chapter 8: The Head Honcho
-Ugh, in retrospect, I hate that really forced pun for Chapter 7’s title and its place at the end of the chapter.
-Bison was patterned after two things. The gang motif came from a one-note biker assassin in Batman vs. Predator II. His personality and general look, if it wasn’t obvious, was based off of Superman villain, Lobo. Instead of The Main Man, he calls himself The Head Honcho. My favourite way to describe him physically is Fred (or Ben) Savage on steroids. I should find a way to use that in a future book.
-I still like Dill’s line about diamonds and dogs. One is a girl’s best friend, the other is man’s best friend. And you can’t cuddle a diamond. Well, not without trying, I suppose.
-I still question whether Dill is a huge, unlikeable bastard for getting his best friend drunk enough to start a fight. I guess he knew Tony could handle himself, but yeah, that was a pretty big dick move, even for Dill.
Chapter 9: Drag Race
-For many readers, Drag Race is a favourite. Many say it’s how the action is written. Full disclosure? I had no idea what I was doing. My friend Kyle Smith was reading the book chapter-by-chapter as I wrote it. When he read Chapter 8’s cliffhanger, he asked how Dill would get out of that. My response? “I dunno. Dill’ll figure it out.” That’s how I write most of Dill: toss him into a scene, I’d free-write, and let him take over. I know generally where I want him to end up, but how he gets out of it is totally up to him. So I kept writing, drawing this out, until Dill stumbled into a solution.
-Originally, every time I wrote “The Buzzardmobile,” it was accompanied with Dill saying “ugh” in parentheses. My editor friend, Darryl Fabia, put a big red line through this, with a big “NO.” Once was enough. He was right.
-The constant inner monologue with Dill wanting to pass out was a late addition. Looking back, I went a little overboard on it.
-The half dozen sleep darts hitting Bison simultaneously? That gag was stolen right from this scene Ace Venture 2: When Nature Calls. I imagine the same sound effects, too.
Chapter 10: Intensive Care
Chapter 11: Bedside Mannerisms
-I got a little silly with the hospital’s P.A. announcements. Dr. Sbaitso, for example, references an old program that came with Sound Blaster sound cards for PC. Dr. Itor’s call to the supply closet referenced The Janitor posing as Dr. Jan Itor on Scrubs. Dr. Eccelston is of course, referencing Doctor Who.
-Nurse Pauline is named after my mother.
-I don’t know how many readers picked up on it, but this is where Dill flushed the pearls from his system. I…don’t know where he put them. Better not to ask.
-Dill’s “mom,” Caitlyn Cavanaugh was originally just some veterinarian flown in to Nevermore for Dill. Including her was a late addition. I also merged her with the character who would take after Mickey later in the book. Originally, that was another new character, one of Tony’s exes, who happened to be a veterinarian. Merging the two characters and making her Caitlyn simplified things.
-Don Komodo is like a ticking Looking back, I might have removed Komodo altogether (except for references) and focused more on the police and The Buzzard. Then again, Komodo and his goons were popular among readers, so maybe it worked out for the best. It kept Dill moving, at least.
-Not much to say about Chapter 11. Alana rears her ugly head again. And Reg adds Dill to his will, which feels really clunky and unnecessary now that I think about it.
Chapter 12: Off the Cuff
-Caras Feliz was originally called Guy Smiley, loosely based off a Mexican luchador wrestler I created for a tabletop wrestling role-playing game I once played. Someone pointed out that Guy Smiley was also a Sesame Street character, so that had to change.
-Honestly, I wish I’d done more with Caras Feliz. He was supposed to be kind of a Joker-style character for The Buzzard but it didn’t quite work out that way. I’ve mentioned before that I feel the book was too crowded and I think Feliz was a good example of that. Especially later on in the book.
-No Nose McGraw, though, was a hoot to write. I actually plugged my nose and spoke his lines to figure out how they’d sound and then write it accordingly. My editor friend Darryl told me he probably laughed the hardest at “Didderd Binkerdun!”
-We get our first official appearance by The Buzzard here. His design is a mix of a few things: the helmet from DC Comics’ Hawkman, the armour and costume from Batman of course, and the metallic style to it from the knights of old. Really, the metallic costume is more like, say, Owlman. I honestly didn’t realize this until after the book was published.