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The Sirens of Suspense




S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.


Find S.W on Facebook and Twitter.



They said to write what you know, so I wrote about bars and music. I had to get creative with the murders, but I’d seen plenty of violent drunks over the years. It was enough to go on.

Early on in the process of writing my debut mystery novel, “Bad Citizen Corporation,” a beta reader told me that I’d given myself a real challenge by setting the story in a bar. He wasn’t trying to be discouraging, just reminding me that it was a setting used by some of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.

It was a challenge I had to accept because I knew I couldn’t write any other kind of book at that point in my life.

I have romanticized bars ever since my dad first took me to the NCO Club as a kid. I can still picture that dark room—the long wooden bar, netted red candles glowing from every booth. I drank Coke with Maraschino cherries that day, soaking up the ambience and studying those gregarious men on their lonely wooden stools.

Years later, in my late teens, I acquired a fake I.D. that said I was 25 years old. The guy in the picture sort of looked like me if you squinted your eyes, added 30 pounds and had a great imagination. I guess it was good enough for the kinds of dive bars and seedy punk clubs my friends and I were drawn to.

One place we frequented was run by an old German guy with a raspy accent who called every male patron “Fritzy.” It was up on the boulevard, a few miles from the beach. The crowd, just like the eclectic jukebox, was a mix of well-worn classics and young punks.

He only served beer to his patrons, but kept a personal reserve of vodka tucked away behind the bar. Truly one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet, but with a wicked sense of humor that could stop you dead in your tracks if you got out of hand.

In my early twenties I hung out at another place a little further inland. They sold cheap pitchers and the day drinkers would happily teach you how to play pool at the cost of a couple dollar bet per game. I lost a lot of money that way, but soaked up some homespun wisdom and questionable advice from those pool hall philosophers.

Soon I went from hanging out in bars to working in them. I needed the drinking money, after all, and I’d sampled enough cocktails to fake my way through mixing a few myself.

Bars look a lot different from that perspective. Those isolated men on their lonely wooden stools? Needy know-it-alls who nursed their drinks and didn’t tip. That pool shark? Dealing weed in the men’s room. The guy whose I.D. says he’s 25? His Junior Prom’s next weekend.

And the fights that would erupt out of nowhere and over nothing. Bottles breaking, barstools flying and blood all over the floor. Even in some of the nicer places I worked I watched manicured businessmen turn into chest-thumping cavemen during the course of a civilized Friday happy hour.

Thank the lord for bouncers. If it wasn’t for them the bartenders and other patrons would have to break those fights up. It was worth every free drink I gave those guys, and every twenty-dollar bill I slipped them at the end of my shift.

So when I wrote a mystery about a punk rock cop and chose to set much of it in a beach cities bar, I was just trying to conjure a few of the more colorful ghosts from my past.

The truth is, bars work in fiction because they are great places to see all sides of humanity. From the docile and withdrawn wallflowers, to the red-faced, belligerent braggarts and everything in between. Like a classroom, only with more liquor.

Keep that in mind the next time you’ve had one too many at your local. The most sober person in the room is usually the one serving the drinks—German accents not withstanding—and they just might have a notepad back there with them.



WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MYSTERY SETTING? Tell us or leave a comment for S.W. on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION! (US entrants only, please.)



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