New York Times bestselling author [and scriptwriter for Law & Order], Peter Blauner, has written six critically-acclaimed novels including Slipping Into Darkness and The Last Good Day. Here, Peter shares the back-story behind his first novel, the Edgar award-winning Slow Motion Riot.
I began my career as a novelist with a determined sense of mission - sort of like the Donner Party, I guess. I didn't want to write a "snow on the tennis court" novel. I wanted to write a book that was engaged with the real world, not dewy memories of childhood or an ode to tragically wasted adolescence. But to do that, I needed to get out of my own life and into someone else's. So I remembered (or misremembered) a quote from the novelist Stanley Elkin, who said he always began by thinking about what a character did for a living. So I began looking for a job that would provide the characters, the language and ultimately the story I was looking for. And I found it one day when I did a story, as a journalist, about a probation officer in New York.
Here was a world I hadn't seen in a novel before. A dimly-lit 8 by 10 cubicle on the tenth floor of a municipal building, which became a crossroads of urban criminal life and, in some ways, a microcosm for the city. Because it was the 1980s and prisons were overcrowded, a wide-range of people were getting probation - Wall Street brokers, street kids selling crack, middle-class ladies with kleptomaniac issues. And the probation officer himself was the richest character of all - kind of a half-cop, half-social worker, who could either help these people or send them to prison, every appointment a potential existential dilemma. So I decided the only way to do this was full-on. I took of absence from my job at New York magazine and signed for a six months as a volunteer probation officer, going through the training program, sitting in on office visits, and eventually going out into the field with the gun-carrying squad serving warrants. Then I came home and typed as fast as I could, trying to capture not just the scary moments, but the surreal humor and the glimmers of humanity I saw. The result, in somewhat more polished form, is Slow Motion Riot. It's raw and rough, and there are parts that I wish were maybe a little more balanced and refined, but it's the way it was - or more accurately, it’s the way those characters would have seen it at the time.
Of course, the irony is that now I like some "snow on the tennis court" novels. But you can't tell young people anything.
Five of Blauner’s novels are available for the first as ebooks from Open Road Media: Slow Motion Riot, Casino Moon, Slipping Into Darkness, Man of the Hour, and The Last Good Day.