After the success of my first work of fiction, Angel with a Broken Wing, I knew I wanted to do another book.
But, I wanted to do something different. I started writing the first draft for Below the Wheel. My first book was about a man running away from his life. He was miserable in his job and wanted to hit the road and be gone. I always loved the idea of writing a road story. I’ve driven across the United States so I understood the subject and the lay of the land.
Below the Wheel is a story about friends and relationships. Two guys who worked together for years and grew tired of the rat race. They open a detective agency in Camden, New Jersey, and the story goes from there.
I write from my heart and my gut. The first draft of Below the Wheel was a brutal piece of work. Laced with graphic sex and violence, and peppered with profanity. When I let an agent read it, she liked it but couldn’t take the violence and filth. It was just over the top. I learned from crafting Angel with a Broken Wing, that less is more. Rather than lay it all out there for the reader, I decided to take a different approach. Clean it up a bit. Let the reader picture what’s happening in the scene using their imagination. They’ll get it. You can say it without actually saying it or showing it. I’ve learned a lot from writing this book, but more from editing it.
Like Angel with a Broken Wing, I added a new chapter during the editing process. I always like to leave things a little open for the chance of a sequel. But, I felt like this book needed a little more resolution than I originally gave it. So, I added a nice twist to the story. It also fixed something I never felt completely satisfied with. I feel better about the story and the fate of the characters now. When you write you have to look after your characters. They belong to you. I’d like to someday write a follow-up to this book.
Where did the title come from? That’s a secret. If we meet in person I’ll reveal that to you.
The Admiral Wilson Boulevard. You can read about it here:
It’s an interesting bit of history, but its portrayal in my book is accurate. In the 80s and 90s, it was a grey serpent littered with drug addicts, hookers, and vice. They only cleaned it up when the Democratic Convention came to town sometime after that. It’s all different now. Gone are the strip joints, short-stay- fleabag motels, and human detritus.
Alex Hunter: Like Christian Blackmore from Angel with a Broken Wing, they’re completely made up. I think writers sometimes base their main characters on themselves. I think that was the case here, but we always change things and add things that make them more interesting. I did quit smoking back in the 90s when my daughter was born. I didn’t want to be around my baby smelling like cigarettes. That sweet little head that smells like heaven. I just didn’t want to be the stinky smoky dad around her. I also thought of the health aspects that come from smoking cigarettes. I did use a nicotine patch to get me off the ciggies and it worked. It was rough going though. I’d get stressed back then or be fighting with my then-wife and really want a cigarette. So, I could relate to what Alex was going through in this story.
Alex also has a problem with alcohol. I like interesting characters with feet of clay. I always have. The underdog wants to do the right thing and save the world but struggles with himself. That’s why Batman is more popular than Superman. Batman’s parents were murdered right in front of him as a child. He’s got issues. But Superman was born Superman. He actually has to act like a wimp and a coward to fit in with us mortals. I like the imperfections in a character. It gives them life and relatability to the reader. Who wants to root for Joe Got-It-All? He’s probably a bore. I would much prefer to cheer for the underdog. The failure. The guy who has moments of greatness and yet somehow is undone by his own vices and devices. It just seems more real.
I hardly ever drink anymore. I just became bored with it. After so many years, it just didn’t make sense anymore. Why would I want to stand in a bar with a bunch of drunks? Why would I want to fry my liver and wreck my health? Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the occasional well-made Manhattan, but it’s just not interesting to me anymore. I certainly don’t need it to write like some authors. A clear mind will always prevail. But Alex still loves the bottle and struggles with it all the while trying to be a better person.
Scott Appel: He’s based on my real-life friend, Scott. I know most writers change the names of characters based on real people, but Scott’s my friend. We’ve been pals for over 20 years. When I told him the theme for this book he was enthusiastic about being in it with me. So we changed his last name and he came up with it himself. It didn’t mean much to me so I left it in. Why not write about what you know? It’ll make the characters more real. The banter back and forth between Alex and Scott is how we actually speak to each other. It’s all fun ribbing and slagging. That’s what friends do. Besides, Scott won’t sue me for using his name in my book. I’ve got too much dirt on him anyway!
Genevieve Bouchard: She’s the insurance agent with whom the boys share an office in Camden. This character is based on an actual girl I knew back in the 90s who sold insurance for a living. She was my agent for years. I didn’t know much about her, but she looked like the character in the book. Even though I was married back then, I always liked her. She just seemed like a cool, nice person who was down to Earth. She did have a common-law husband though. They never married and he did run a contracting business. But the Bruno Cartiglio character is completely made up. I never met her significant other. I just created him based on the biker types I’ve met in my life. He’s just a bad egg.
Dr. Ignatious Feeny: The coroner is based on a customer I knew back when I worked for First Union Bank back in the 90s. He looked like Iggy in real life. Right down to the teeth. He was an odd character. A little touched in the head. My father always taught me to treat everyone fairly. I had good customers and bad ones. But they all had money in my branch and deserved respect. This guy would always ask me if he could use the phone in my office. I let him because he told me his neighbors were listening in on his conversations. He was obviously nuts but a harmless person. Just because someone is different or weird doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. You’d be surprised how well people respond with a little kindness. So he gets to be the brilliant but weird coroner in my book!
Ezra Chambers: The Police Luitenant was completely made up. I just pictured Morgan Freeman in the role and he was born!
Otis Guth: I based him on this fat, slovenly guy I once worked with at a record store in the early 90s. He wasn’t like Otis Guth at all. But when I think of the character in my mind I see that guy. Just hard to look at and listen to. Otis’s history is all made up except for the bit about him pursuing the kids who stole the car. That happened to a police officer friend of mine.
Alyssa Ward: She’s completely from my imagination as well. But when I think about the character, I probably was inspired by the lovely Alycia Lane the former co-anchor at KYW-TV in Philadelphia. Google her, and you’ll see what Alyssa Ward looks like in my book. Quite the babe!
Robert Wick: He’s based on a manager I had when I worked at Security Financial Services in the mid-90s. He was a gruff hard-ass but I loved him. He was great at his job and a fair manager. I would put him in the top 3 of the best men I’ve ever worked with. He wasn’t as mean or as foul-mouthed as my character, but he had that same swaggering confidence. A brilliant guy.
Karen Moore: This poor thing was based on several drug-addled prostitutes and strippers I’ve met in my life.
Her daughter Luna, is completely made up. I just wanted to create a truly good and innocent person in this story. A victim of circumstances not of her own making. A good kid, who had great potential but had just been dealt a bad hand in the game of life. The only rose to grow in a garden filled with thorns and spent hypodermic needles.
Pastor Victor Dorath: I was once in love with a girl named Linda Bradley back in the 80s. She was from Philly and I lived in Wildwood at the time. I met her on the beach and was smitten. But I hardly ever saw her. She was a straight-A student and somewhat religious. I actually went to see a pastor in Cape May, NJ for counseling. I know it seems nuts now that I think back on it, but I just needed someone to talk to about my feelings. I based this character on that gentleman. He was really sweet and a kind ear at the time.
Darren Cain: He’s based on a manager I once worked for back in my Midlantic Bank days in the 80s. He had appeared one day from New York and seemed to have an evil streak to him. No one liked him because he was so intense. But he liked me, and I think he probably had a thing for me. (He was gay) When I think of Darren Cain I see Pete Rallo. A crazy, misunderstood guy that was drunk with power. Oh, he later died from AIDS.
Lisa Devlin: (A minor character but worth mentioning) She’s based on a girl I knew who actually did work at Gloucester County College. I was taking some night courses there back in the 90s when I was married. (Like Christian Blackmore in Angel with a Broken Wing!) My then-wife thought I should finish my education. (Her family was extremely collegiate) Lisa was this nice girl that helped me navigate my classes and credits. I ended up hanging out with her a few times at a bar called Rock Lobster that used to be on Deleware Avenue in Philly.
Did I leave anybody out? I think that’s it.
I hope you like reading Below the Wheel as much as I did writing it. I think my next book of fiction may be something different again. I was thinking maybe a music story about a kid who rises in the music business in early 80s Los Angeles.
I still would like to release a collection of stories from my youth in Philadelphia, and Wildwood, NJ. But we’ll see.
You can get it here on Kindle and Paperback:
This song is dedicated to my sister Jane.
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You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1