(Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series in which authors discuss their works, or their lives.)
Tom Pitts is the author of two novellas, Piggyback and Knuckleball, and several short fiction pieces. Pitts is also an acquisitions editor at Gutter Books and Out of the Gutter Online. His first novel, Hustle, came out in 2014. His latest novel is American Static (Down & Out Books), which takes place in San Francisco, Oakland, and California wine country and features bottom-feeding criminals, corrupt cops, and death-dealing gangsters.
But here, Tom talks about a more personal plot involving a milestone he didn’t see coming.
Life’s real milestones
By Tom Pitts
The other day I received yet another application for an AARP membership.
A laughable milestone many of us go through when we hit the top of the hill, but it got me thinking about milestones. The ones that you expect and the ones you deserve.
When you’re young, you expect the trail of life to be littered with big moments. And life is. But those moments never come when you expect them, and they certainly don’t unfold like you want them.
Anticlimax was definitely a watchword in my nihilistic youth. You soon learn counting on life’s big moments doesn’t really buy you anything.
So you start to look toward life’s smaller moments to mark your passage through time. Life’s real milestones. Looking back it wasn’t graduations and weddings and big contracts. More like rehabs, arrests, and broken bones.
Recently I had a tooth pulled. I’m 50 years old and I’d been lucky enough to have never lost one till now. I mentioned this to my dad—who’s 85—and he chuckled. “Never? There’s a first time for everything!”
Of course, this is coming from a guy who still has every single one of his teeth. I remember lying in the chair as four dental school kids yanked and wrenched on my sad molar, thinking about my station in life, my expectations versus life’s actual payout. It hurt more than the extraction.
As a writer you think the big markers will be the first novel published, the first time you’re asked to sit at the big table with writers you’ve read and respected, the first royalty check you cash, the first time you get the call from Hollywood telling you they want to make your book into a series….
And although all these things have happened, the outcome (or the high) is never as you’d hoped.
I think the most exciting writing milestone for me—the one that most made me feel like a six year-old on Christmas morning—was getting that first story published.
When asked what it was like to pitch in the World Series I once heard Orel Hershiser quoted as saying it was no different that pitching in Little League, that the excitement, the thrill, was no greater than when he was a kid on the mound.
And I believe him.
I’ll do well to remember life’s real milestones: the loss of a parent, losing a tooth, colon cancer screenings, IRS audits, and all the magic moments you watch your kids go through. Knowing they may not be milestones, but they’re magic just the same.
Philip Kerr’s death on March 23 caught many of his longtime readers by surprise.
Kerr, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Bernie Gunther novels, was at the top of his game, writing books that delved deep into his characters and captured the Nazi Germany era about which he was writing.
His 2017 novel Prussian Blue was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. (The Edgars will be presented to the winners at the 72nd Gala Banquet, April 26, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.)
And Kerr’s latest novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, is due to hit bookstores and devices on April 3.
While Kerr’s novels never lagged, few of us knew that he had been battling cancer for more than eight months.
Despite social media and book events, most readers know little about the authors they follow.
And I think that is the way it should be. Authors and, I believe, entertainers don’t owe us the details of their lives. We don’t need to violate their privacy.
We are not their best friends, we are their fans. Their work is what should speak for them.
And Kerr’s work certainly spoke for itself.
Writing about a cop who lives and works in Berlin during WWII, dealing with the depths of Nazi- and postwar-era Germany, is a gutsy thing to do. But Kerr made his Bernie Gunther a man who hungered for justice, loved his country, and hated what had become of it.
As I wrote in my review of A Man Without Breath, Kerr expertly explored complex moral dilemmas in an immoral society. My review stated: “Bernie struggles daily to keep his soul intact away from true evil and to bring at least a smidgen of order where chaos rules. Bernie is no Nazi sympathizer and his refusal to compromise his integrity drives Kerr’s solid plots. Kerr’s meticulous research delivers myriad surprises about life under the Third Reich while smoothly melding with an intense thriller supported by realistic characters.”
Kerr’s debut novel, March Violets, introduced the character of Bernie and was the first installment in the original Berlin Noir trilogy, which was published in the United States in 1993 and included The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem.
Kerr left the character of Bernie for 13 years, returning to him in The One From the Other.
Kerr wrote nine additional Bernie Gunther novels: A Quiet Flame, If the Dead Rise Not, Field Gray, Prague Fatale, A Man Without Breath, The Lady From Zagreb, The Other Side of Silence, Prussian Blue, and the upcoming Greeks Bearing Gifts.
Several of Kerr’s Gunther novels became instant bestsellers, including six New York Times bestsellers (Prussian Blue, The Other Side of Silence, The Lady From Zagreb, A Man Without Breath, Prague Fatale, and Field Gray) and five USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestsellers (Prussian Blue, The Other Side of Silence, The Lady From Zagreb, A Man Without Breath, and Prague Fatale).
Kerr also was honored with several award nominations and honors. He was a three-time nominee for an Edgar Award for Best Novel for Field Gray, The Lady From Zagreb, and Prussian Blue; a Shamus Award nominee for If the Dead Rise Not, and a winner of both a Barry Award and the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Ellis Peters Historic Crime Award for If the Dead Rise Not.
In addition to its Edgar nomination, Prussian Blue was also nominated for a Barry Award for Best Novel.
Kerr’s novels have been published in 37 territories.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 22, 1956, Kerr studied law and philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Following university, Kerr worked as a copywriter for several advertising agencies.
In addition to his Bernie Gunther novels, Kerr wrote two nonfiction books, 15 adult novels (including the Scott Manson series), and ten children’s fiction books (including the Children of the Lamp series).
Kerr lived in London and is survived by his novelist and journalist wife Jane Thynne and their three children.
Rest in peace, Philip Kerr, and thank you for the wonderful novels that will continue to enthrall readers.
Photo: Philip Kerr photographed at his home in Wimbledon, London, during the fall of 2016. Photo by Nina Subin; used with permission of Putnam.