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My Road to Dark Rhythm (May 2019)

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

My novel Dark Rhythm grew largely out of a longtime inspiration for my writing, my love of movies. A more surprising inspiration came in the form of a love I was experiencing for the first time, for the city of San Francisco. That first motivation came very early. I’ve had it bad for movies since the first time I caught a decades-old black-and-white image on late night television. Raised in a religion that prohibited movie-going, however, I never set foot inside a movie theater until age 15, when I cut school, sneaked downtown and saw The Exorcist at Shaker Square’s (now renamed) Colony Theater. Not long after, I followed up with The Godfather, this time at Cleveland's aged Hippodrome theater, and then Enter the Dragon, again at “The Hipp.” Not a bad opening trio for a beginner, huh? And these were also my very first uncut R-rated films. Added to the infatuation I’d already developed for movies over years of watching them on TV (before HBO was even a glint in its creator’s eye), the commercial-free, cuss words-and bloodshed-and-nudity-charged version of the cinema hit me like Froot Loops amping up a first-grader.

Multi-leveled San Francisco vistas like this one helped inspire my creation of Dark Rhythm.

That exposure came just as I was beginning to recognize the bonuses that really well-made films offered. Terms like “character shading” and “psychological subtext” had begun to enter my vocabulary. I even got it that exceptional directors could bring a more rewarding mix of titillation and intellectual appreciation to the buzz already available through sex and violence and profanity. I had been in love with movies since well before that first afternoon in the cool darkness of the Hipp, but now I was a young lover: seduced and wildly open-eyed, but greedy for still more knowledge and experience.

Fast-forward to 1998, when my wife and I made our first-ever visit to San Francisco. I marveled at one late morning, roller-coastering mid-city vista that included a multitude of rooftops and absurdly sloping streets, an uncannily close Golden Gate Bridge, and fog rolling out from the bay like a great gray tide. The city’s vast assortment of restaurants produced not a single mediocre meal, regardless of price or location. One San Francisco attraction in particular (not the one you think, but you’ll know it when you read it) pasted an image into my mind that I couldn’t erase. That image came from a nondescript feature that shouldn’t have competed for a second with the many iconic sights I took in over those several days. But for some reason it stuck with me, like the mental loops planted in our heads by pop songs. That image gave me an opening sequence, that sequence a story, and that story—surprise—a screenplay! I’d written short stories before, but this extraordinary city forced me to envision a tale that, I believed at the time, only visual images could express. After I had shaped and reshaped that screenplay countless times, it nudged me towards a novel, still motivated by mental pictures that I continue to carry to this day. Dark Rhythm was born.

I once told a friend that, for me, friendship defined places. That belief still holds, but now I would allow that some extraordinary places also can’t help but define themselves, etching sights and sounds and events into our memories in startling ways. I have great affection for Chicago, and Montreal, and Yosemite, and especially for Toronto; but San Francisco’s slopes and angles, its ocean-scented nooks and crannies, charmed a story from me, almost apart from any conscious desire on my part. As I wrote and revised that story, and later, each time I re-read certain portions of it, I found myself in San Francisco again.

One of the paths in Golden Gate Park that served as sites for one of the novel's key sequences.

Although Dark Rhythm is a psychological thriller with sci-fi elements, it features two other ingredients near and dear to my writing heart. One is couples—in mutual adoration, in heated opposition, in domestic and life-and-death interdependence, and in a variety of ages and colors. They too often get short shrift in thrillers, but couples in love and in a full range of dire conflicts can generate an atmosphere as rich and varied as the City by the Bay itself.

Another often under-explored resource in thrillers is family. A line I've often heard attributed to AA orientations is stunningly honest and thought-provoking: "The people closest to us know which of our buttons to push because they put them there to begin with." Every time I heard it I thought, There's a story in there somewhere. Rich depictions of families of various types and complexities can easily be overrun by the breakneck plotting that drives the thriller genre, but that doesn't have to be the case. Dark Rhythm celebrates the joys and traumas generated by its characters' biological and chosen families by making both of them integral to the plot.

San Francisco, a compelling mystery, and the provocative and personality-shaping journeys that are romantic and familial relationships. I hope you enjoy experiencing them all as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

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