In his triumphant return to the pages of The Delete Bin, merely popping in perhaps from his sojourn as a book-writer and blogger in his own right (write?), Geoff Moore deliberates over his career as a novelist, specifically as a music nut with a penchant for titling his work like a boss, or rather in deference to THE Boss.
He also talks a bit about his newest book, Duke Street Kings, a tale of friendship, betrayal, the advertising industry, and the possibility of swimming with the fishes, gangland style — all set to a beat you can dance to.
In 1962 Bo Diddley sang Willie Dixon’s words: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But the artwork and especially the title will surely influence your decision to purchase it.
In the mid-1990s I set about writing my second novel as my first attempt was quietly disintegrating in landfill somewhere in the environs of Montreal. Taking Stock was to be a novel about work. In my life I’d found that when my career was going well my personal life was a mess and vice versa. One propped up the other. Neither ever went well at the same time and I wondered what would happen to a man if his alternating pair of support systems tanked at the same time.
I set the story in an advertising agency because I knew I could write knowledgably about the business. Back then some great work for major clients was being produced in nontraditional centres and many of these boutique shops had goofy names, the days of Madison Avenue and a gigantic string of partners’ initials had passed. I was reminded of the music industry following the decline of punk, incredible new sounds emanating from places like Athens, Minneapolis and of course Seattle. I decided to name my fictional ad agency Murder Incorporated because I was and still am stone in love with the Bruce Springsteen song. My fictional agency partners didn’t care a whit about the Boss; they were enamoured by the sepia and self-promoting graphic possibilities of American organized crime as portrayed during Prohibition and Depression: Tommy guns, violin cases, black cars and fedoras.
My publisher said Taking Stock was a boring title. I argued that it was honest although I conceded it wasn’t exactly up there with In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead or The Ministry of Fear – how could you not want to read those books? Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson, two authors I admire, had both named books after Stones albums and referenced other songs as titles. As a reader and a music fan I was predisposed to like the prose of these gentlemen. I countered with Murder Incorporated because the only Springsteen literary citation I was aware of was Greasy Lake and Other Stories by T. Coraghessan Boyle (Viking, 1985).
I was living in Calgary when Murder Incorporated was published in 2003. I confess to spending time in local bookstores surreptitiously re-shelving copies, moving my book from the Mystery section into General Fiction and ensuring the cover faced outward. My efforts did not boost sales; Murder Incorporated was D.O.A. although there was one dizzying week atop the Edmonton Journal’s best seller list – my late brother had papered the room for a reading and signing appearance.
One of life’s modest miracles occurred while I was living in Calgary. Two dear friends whom I had known since high school or earlier relocated within months of one another, most of the old gang was reassembled. We shared Montreal: les Canadiens, the Expos, the 1976 Olympics, the first Quebec referendum and God knows how many concerts at the old Montreal Forum. Together in the pub with other friends our trio was like an exclusive little club. This would make a great story, I thought, ex-pat Montrealers reunited in Alberta, except we’ve no animosity, conflict or betrayal: boring.
“Where desperate lovers park we sat with the last of the Duke Street Kings.” Backstreets is one of my favourite Springsteen songs because of its vivid imagery, the singer looks back with regrets (too many to mention) that positively ache through my stereo speakers and, anyway, he had me at his first howl of despair. I began to plot a novel about the dissolution of a closely knit group of friends. I would call it The Last of the Duke Street Kings. Because this novel would include the narrator of Murder Incorporated as a major character I wanted another Springsteen title to suggest continuity, but not a sequel. Alas, I never once imagined a dozen years would slide by in the interim.
I liked my working title because it suggested finality, the end of a gang. The problem was how to relevantly incorporate it into the story. In Montreal’s west end there are streets and avenues with names like Royal and King Edward. Why couldn’t there be a Duke of Windsor Street somewhere between them? And wouldn’t the neighbourhood guys contract it to Duke Street? And if one of those guys ended up operating a pub in Calgary might he not call it the Duke Street Tavern? And if this pub sponsored a midnight shinny team might they not dub themselves the Duke Street Kings as their star player is a music nut and the publican himself is a washed up bar band lead vocalist?
Unsurprisingly my publisher objected to my proposed book title, specifically its length. We were able to compromise on Duke Street Kings (ED: read the synopsis here). The printer’s ink is still wet but my new novel is finally ready for market. Bruce Springsteen will never know this, but he’s responsible for the names of two novels, and in the Calgary of my imagination, the names of an ad agency and a pub. I’ve always considered Bruce Springsteen my artist in that I discovered him all by myself, without prompts from my older brother’s and older sister’s record collections.
To close this latest chapter of my life I can only quote from John Cusack’s affectionate film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s wonderful High Fidelity:
Geoff Moore is an author who has lived in Montreal and Calgary. He now lives in Edmonton, where there is a very big shopping mall, with (probably) a number of bookstores that may need some impromptu re-shelving from time to time.
To learn more about the release and sale of Duke Street Kings, mosey on down to falcon-press.ca for more information.
Since Geoff likes to scribble his thoughts down when he’s not book-writin’, you can also join him at megeoff.blogspot.ca to see what’s on his mind.
Thanks to Geoff for sending along a copy of the new book to me, and of course for this post. We missed ya, buddy!
All images of Duke Street Kings by Geoff Moore found in this post are courtesy of Falcon Press. Design by Heather Volpe © 2015.