How did you get on board with “Naked Came the Cheesesteak?”
Randall Brown: I wish I remembered, but ever since I turned fifty this year, my memories have begun fading. In any case, I’m so thrilled that we found each other. I’m a huge fan of PS Books!
Nathaniel Popkin: I have trouble saying no….no, really, I thought it would be fun to write under a completely different set of circumstances than what I am used to, and to work with these excellent writers.
Warren Longmire: I’ve been tangentially connected to Philadelphia Stories for years through my time as editor at Apiary Magazine and have recently been on a panel or two they held at Rosemont College. Though my focus is on poetry, I had done some fiction in the past and was intrigued by the chance to jump back in. I’m happy to have a chance to represent North Philly, my birth place, among the panel of writers.
Tell me a little about the characters and story in your chapter.
Randall Brown: I focused on one of the detectives in the story and her search for the murderer and his/her weapon(s) of choice. That search leads her through the icy city streets on the first winter strom of the year. Also I had been in the middle of a binge of CRIMINAL MINDS, so I think that show influenced my chapter a lot, especially the desire to profile characters.
Nathaniel Popkin: My character is the killer, who in the imaginative framework of my chapter is the writer. He is in hiding and seems to be seeking revenge on someone. Or not—it may be hard to tell. I just was interested in playing with some concepts, particularly those having to do with authorship and the wall between word and story, story and reality. With a book written by a chain of writers, the process really is the thing. So why not acknowledge it in the fiction itself?
Warren Longmire: My chapter attempts flesh out some back-story on Chelsea, the lead investigator in the murders and introduces are father Howard. The last we saw her, she had pretty brutally beat down a suspect (and incidentally, the only other black character in the novel) in the killing from Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood in Philly not far from where I grew up. There was then a detour into a new, suspected mysterious character in West Philly hinted at being involved. I wanted to give nods both to this new development in the plot and explore what would make a black women from a hood-tinged area of a city become a police officer, let alone to participate in police brutality.
What are your thoughts on the direction of the story so far now that we are mid-way through the novel?
Randall Brown: It has more ups and downs than a paper route in Manayunk.
Nathaniel Popkin: I just hope that the reader is rooting for the writer.
Warren Longmire: Lots of twists right? SUCH MISDIRECTION! The previous chapter in particular through much doubt into where the investigation was heading.
What was your writing process like?
Randall Brown: I am a very, very short fiction writer who primarily focuses on flash fiction, stories under 1000 words. So I think having to write a single chapter of a novel was a good experience for my own foray into longer forms. I approached it by writing the chapter in bite-sized chunks.
Nathaniel Popkin: I paced around my office, which is around a half wall/bookcase from my bed. I finally sat down. For some reason the idea of a New Yorker Magazine holiday party appeared in my head (not that I would know what such a party is like). I went from there. By the end of the day, I figured that the rest of the writers were going to come to my house and do a little cheesesteak number on me. So I was hesitant to press send. Then I did and no one showed up, so I went back around the wall and went to bed.
Warren Longmire: I tend to stick to place and image in my writing. Quiet moments draw me in and help to set the scene. Finally, I have a strong connection to the music of the language in my writing. The most difficult part of this project (in addition to sticking the word limit) was using these techniques in the service of my characters.
How do you feel about writing a serial novel? Is it challenging particularly because the novel is a murder-mystery?
Randall Brown: It was a challenge, because every chapter that preceded mine changed my own views about what my own chapter should tackle. As I wrote my chapter, to be very honest, I still had no clue who had done it.
Nathaniel Popkin: I have no idea what I’m doing being part of mystery-thriller, or whatever this is. Not my territory. So I was afraid, really afraid. Frankly, I’m not even sure anyone knows what to do with my chapter. Will they ignore it? Reader, feel free to skip right over!
Warren Longmire: YES. Even when I did write fiction, it was never genre. I’d enjoyed the process, though, and am excited to see the results.