Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where my ideas come from: Murder Club

Murder Club was the 14th book I wrote, but before I talk about it I need to give some background.

Back around 1998 I started a small software business with a partner. The basic idea for this business was that I was going to use this scripting technology to quickly build a core set of customizable network management products, my partner was going to offer training services, and we would also offer consulting. The idea was really a great one, but I made two very big mistakes. Well, really three. First, I rushed into this without seeing a lawyer and having papers drawn up, and while we had a verbal agreement that I would own my work and he would own his if we separated, we had no legal separation agreement going into it. Second, while I covered most of the startup expenses, including an expensive industry tradeshow, Interop, he volunteered to handle the website. He was thinking ahead and I didn't realize what a killer this would turn out to be. Third, I ignored things I shouldn't have.

So we start this business. I've got my head down as I'm rapidly building our products, my partner is working on his training class, we're meeting with different companies to get some beta testing sites lined up, and my wife, who was working in software sales, quits her job to join us. Interop turns out to be a huge success. This is a giant show--miles of floor space with the big companies building small little mansions for their booths, while we have a small 6-foot table in the Siberia section of the show called Startup City, we still get a steady stream of potential customers to us, many of whom seem excited about what we're doing. But as it turned out due to reasons I can't discuss here, this turned out to be the beginning of the end.

So for the next 3 months things are deteriorating quickly between me and my partner. Even with that, we've gotten about 40 customers and about 100K in revenue--and these customers include Lucent, The US Army, banks, utility companies, financial institutions, colleges and military contractors. And I'm getting customers telling me these are the most useful network management products they have. And we're getting more training and consulting interest. And then the plug gets pulled. My partner takes down the website. This in effect kills us. All our marketing literature we'd been sending out and all the prospects we met at Interop have our website address. With our website taken down, we're dead. Before and after doing this company, I'd worked at a number of startups, all of which were heavily funded with venture money, and none of them were ever able to generate the customer list that we got in only 3 months of having the product available--or generated 100K in revenue in less than 7 months of operation. And now not only were we dead, but now it was going to get really ugly.

Here's where I started acting smart. I hired good lawyers. The first lawyer I hired was just great--a very even keeled man who was able to get the other side to agree to arbitration so we wouldn't have to go to court. Since he wasn't a litigator, he pointed to a real pit bull of a lawyer--if I ever had to go to court again, I'd want this guy at my side. I don't want to go too much into the hearing except that the judge ending up giving me what I asked for, which at this point was simply the products I built (my ex-partner was claiming ownership of them). I'll give one story about the hearings--my lawyer had told me that when I was examined by the other attorney, she should only ask me yes or no questions, but if she asks me a why question, I can say whatever I want. So the very first question is a why question--and I launch into my whole defense. She tries stopping me, and I tell the judge that she asked me "why". And he turned back to her and told her that she did ask me why. So I continue and give out my whole story.

While this whole mess was going on, which was unbelievably stressful, I had a dream where I'm meeting a good friend of mine, this Russian software engineer I'd worked with for years, at a Russian restaurant, and we're getting blitzed on vodkas while I'm telling him my sad story. And this friend of mine, now drunk, starts bragging how he's heard of a guy who for a not too outrageous fee will fly a Russian to this country, and after your problem disappears, the Russian will be flown back to disappear back there.

So all of this had formulated into my idea for Murder Club--a husband and wife whose lives are being ruined by a vindictive business partner, and the rabbit hole the husband finds himself tumbling down when he lets himself go as far as to hire that Russian to make his problem disappear. I had this idea for years, and after writing a thriller (Dying Memories) and a horror novel (Monster), I wanted to write a noir novel again, and something absolutely pure noir with no compromise. And so I finally set about to write Murder Club. Once I was done I showed it to two authors I respect a lot, Roger Smith and Ed Gorman, and here's what both of them had to say with their comments edited to remove spoilers:

"I love it, Dave. It is very tight, very fast and very claustrophobic, left me breathless at times. It also has the stench of pure evil running through it, that is really unsettling. A profoundly pessimistic and very disturbing ending. Difficult to forget." Roger Smith

"I love Murder Club! Just as a pure story it may be my favorite of your books. The Russian angle is fantastic as is the reality of the perils of partnerships. Ill pay you the highest compliment I can--they remind me of my two favorite Lionel White novels The Money Trap and Before I Die. There are no similarities in stories or characters but the mood of desperation so beautifully sustained and twisted even deeper with surprises--masterful, Dave!" Ed Gorman

So where is Murder Club now? It's still unsold. There's no question in my mind that this is the best noir novel I've written, as well as the bleakest, but I also know it's going to a hard sell, especially in today's climate. So far I've shown it to two editors working for Big Six publishers, and both tried to buy it, and both were blocked. At this point I'm accepting that my profile needs to be raised before I can sell this, but I also think there's a good chance that will be happening soon. I've heard from my film agent that Outsourced is moving quickly towards production, I also have a film deal agreed to for A Killer's Essence (and am waiting for an updated contract and will give more information about this once I get it), and things are looking very promising for a film deal for The Caretaker of Lorne Field. So for the time being, I need to put Murder Club in a drawer, and when these things happen Murder Club will find the right home.

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