Guest blog: Dietrich Kalteis on writing Poughkeepsie Shuffle

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First off, thanks again for inviting me to write a guest post about my new novel, Paul.

Poughkeepsie Shuffle is the story of Jeff Nichols. He’s a former inmate of Toronto’s infamous Don Jail. After getting his release, Jeff tries to rekindle a relationship with his ex, Ann Ryan, wanting to make his way in the world by taking a job at a used car lot. It soon proves to be not enough to keep them afloat, so when the lure of easy money comes along, he gets himself mixed up in a smuggling ring, sneaking guns across the U.S. border. The trouble is Jeff’s the kind of guy who doesn’t let the lessons of past mistakes get in the way of a good score. And as things spin out of control, he hangs on, trying to hit the motherlode.

 

I set this one in Toronto for a couple of reasons. First, I grew up there, and I wanted to recreate it the way I remember it back in the mid-eighties. It was a grittier, character-filled place, before the meat packing plants started giving way to gentrification, and the rail lines that once lined the land below Front Street started disappearing, leaving behind its industrial heritage.

 

Second, being located across the lake from Niagara and Buffalo, the city has easy access to the US, making it the perfect setting for a story revolving around smuggling. I read an article a few years ago about a gunrunning ring that operated between upstate New York and Ontario. It was taken down by the OPP, working alongside several U.S. law enforcement agencies. There was also an increase in gang violence back then, and that worked into the story too, heightening the danger for Jeff and the others delivering guns to warring gang and selling to the highest bidder.

 

PoughkeepsieShuffleCoverThere were also bits of personal experience that I weaved into the story, and there are a couple of characters loosely based on real people I had met. For instance, I really did meet a guy who went to South America and stumbled onto what he dubbed a miracle cure for hair restoration. He was so gung-ho about getting rich off it, he spent all his time and even more of his own money trying to get it into the  North American market. Man, did he learn about red tape.

Then there’s the Conway character who I based on another guy I met who wanted to teach the world to sing, wanting me to help him market his new company in exchange for singing lessons. And there’s Archie, the Elvis impersonator, a character based on a wanna-be Elvis I met one morning in a copy shop. There he was in shorts and flip flops — with his morning-after hair and sideburns, looking like he was coming off a rhinestoned night — running off a bunch of flyers for an upcoming gig.

 

Living in Toronto back then helped me add something to the scenes I was describing, but there was still a lot of research to be done too. I went through a lot of news archives, photos and old map books to get it right.

 

Writing this one in first person from Jeff’s point of view limited the scope, not allowing the viewpoints of other characters, but the sense of closeness and the biases of the main character made it well worth it. As I worked my way through the first draft, I was happy with the way it was turning out. Actually I had fun putting myself in the shoes of a guy willing to break a few rules in pursuit of easy money, a guy who figures he’s on the fast track to riches only to find he’s actually on a runaway train.

 

There’s dark humour mixed with rising tension as Jeff keeps getting in deeper. Sometimes it’s his cleverness, sometimes it’s his lack of it, and other times it’s his desperation. He’s just an unwitting participant in his own undoing, and I think readers will like Jeff and cheer him on, hoping that if he doesn’t win, he’ll at least survive.

 

Poughkeepsie Shuffle will be released September 11, 2018, published by ECW Press, and available online or through your favourite book retailer.

DKalteis 2018 Photo credit Andrea Kalteis

Dietrich Kalteis is the award-winning author of Ride the Lightning (bronze medal winner, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best regional fiction), The Deadbeat Club, Triggerfish, House of Blazes (silver medal winner, 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards, for best historical fiction), and Zero Avenue.

His novel The Deadbeat Club has been translated to German, and 50 of his short stories have also been published internationally. He lives with his family on Canada’s West Coast. His website is http://www.dietrichkalteis.com/