St. Louis as a character
In real estate, it’s always: location, location, location. The same can be said for the setting of any book. It’s important to me that the location isn’t just backdrop. It needs to be another character in the story. It needs to be treated with respect, and, just like a flesh and blood character, the location has a role to play in the story’s development and mood.
In the “No Time” books featuring the runaway lawyer Michael Collins, the Sunset Resort and Hostel in Mexico represents freedom. In Good Intentions, the complexity and enormity of the issues that Judge Jim Thompson confronts in his courtroom are mirrored by the complexity and enormity of the issues confronting Oakland, California. In Little Boy Lost, the city of Saint Louis similarly mirrors the loss and grieving that is being experienced by Justin Glass. I think that Saint Louis is still mourning the loss of industry, departure of Fortune 500 companies, and abandonment of its core. Like other rust belt cities, it’s searching, still trying to find its way in world that changed dramatically since its peak at the 1904 World’s Fair.
Having lived in St. Louis and still having family in St. Louis, I’m very familiar with the city and have always thought it would be a good backdrop for a novel. As Justin Glass grapples with race and racism as he searches for the city’s lost boys, the city, as a character, provides depth to the story. The issue of “race” is not new to St. Louis. It has a long, significant history. It is at the crossroads of North/South and East/West, representing the tensions prior to and continuing after the Civil War. There was the Missouri Compromise. It was the location of the initial Dred Scott decision and major school desegregation cases in the 1960s and 1970s. That tension still exists, and it exists in Justin Glass as well.
But, I also didn’t want the City of St. Louis to be a one dimensional character, either. I wanted to show-off the great things that I love about it. That’s why I feature real locations, like Forrest Park, and real restaurants, such as Crown Candy and Pappy’s Smokehouse.
When I lived in Saint Louis after college, I worked at a foundation. My work brought me all over the city. I was exposed to the beautiful, the historic, and the fun. I was also exposed to the neglected. I met all of these great neighborhood advocates, politicians and entrepreneurs working to build the city, and I also saw all of the systemic things and selfish thinking that made progress difficult. I wanted the book to capture the city’s underlying tension and frustration as well as hope.