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Ari Marmell: Five Things I Learned Writing Hot Lead, Cold Iron

1932, and it’s business as usual in the Windy City. Yeah, the economy’s so low it’s looking up at Hell; Capone’s gone up the river; and anyone who knows anything says Prohibition ain’t long for this world. And still the Mob’s big and bad as ever, still got their fingers in every last one of Chicago’s nooks and crannies. You wanna get by in this city? You keep your head down and your trap shut, and you don’t make waves.

Especially when you got the kinda secrets I do.

So yeah, I give the trouble boys a wide berth. I sure as hell don’t ever work for them!

Except when I do. Except when some made guy’s moll tells me her daughter’s been missing for sixteen years, and they’ve been raising a good old-fashioned changeling in her place. Then, my better instincts aside, I start getting interested.

Me? I’m a P.I. Of course I am. Ain’t all these stories about a P.I? But I’m not your typical P.I.

The name’s Mick Oberon, or at least it is now. Yeah, like in that Oberon; third cousin on my mother’s side. I’m here in Chicago mostly because I’m in exile from the Seelie Court.

And like most of you have probably already figured, I’m not human.

* * *

1. As much as I hated homework back in school, I’m an anal-retentive OCD goober when it comes to real-world research for my novels.

I mean, seriously, I looked up the precise date of the spring equinox and phases of the moon in March of 1932 to make sure I got them right. I could have just made it up, and you know what difference it would have made? Zero. Zero difference. Hell, I ended up shifting the date a little anyway, because reality actually wound up being TOO convenient; it wasn’t believable.

That’s not a particularly difficult example–it was easy stuff to look up–but it’s the kind of detail-chasing that can suck you right down the rabbit hole. And when you’re in the rabbit hole, you’re not writing. Notice that there are absolutely no modern novels written by rabbits? THAT’S WHY.

A while back, I was answering some writing advice questions for a blog post, and I said something that got me yelled at. I said that it’s possible to do TOO MUCH research when writing a novel. A number of folks took issue with that, but I stand by it. There comes a point where your quest to unearth every little detail or get every little factoid just so is getting in the way of ACTUALLY WRITING. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve learned for your book if there’s no book taking shape.

2. Sometimes it is impossible to satisfy the aforementioned goober-portion of my personality.

The technology that causes elevator doors and train doors to open back up if there’s something caught in them? That existed in 1932. Had it already been installed on the L, in Chicago, though? Do you know? I don’t know. Nowhere I searched knew. The bloody Chicago Transit Authority didn’t know. (Yes, I contacted them. See: above, re: anal-retentive.) At that point, I figured it was safe for me to make up my own answer, and it STILL bugged me a little.

Through which process I also learned that my brain is an irritating little bastard who is quite happy to keep me from writing while it throws a little tantrum screaming “BUT WHAT IF I GET IT WRONG?!?!?!?!”

Stupid brain.

3. Slang is a motherfucker when you actually have to think about it.

No, really. Every slang expression in the book is genuine, and I had to deliberately decide where to place them and when to use them. You try going through a day where you have to fully think through even a one-word response! You’ll sound so off the cob, every mug you bump gums with is gonna think you’re lit on cheap giggle juice.

On the other hand, it would all have been worth it just to learn the phrase “Chicago typewriter.” You know what a Chicago typewriter is? It’s a Tommy gun. I LOVE that.

Gangland slang is WAY cooler than modern slang.

4. Speaking of slang, the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action” got it surprisingly accurate.

Well, maybe not so surprising, since a good portion of the crew probably grew up in the 20s and 30s. But yeah, the slang and expressions are pretty true to life. (And no, I’m not going to explain. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)


It’s funny, we tend to think of some of those speech patterns only in terms of camp these days. Deliberately over-the-top. But it really was quite genuine at the time.

5. Welsh and Gaelic evolved so humanity could commune with the Great Old Ones.

Seriously, I refuse to believe those languages were developed with human jaws and tongues in mind.

Or the other theory, that Wales and Hawaii traded letters and sounds back in the day. One got almost all the vowels, the other almost all the consonants.

Which I guess would qualify as either a vowel movement, or consonantal drift.

Before I get the bum’s rush for that, I think I’ll show myself out.

* * *

Ari Marmell would love to tell you all about the various esoteric jobs he held and the wacky adventures he had on the way to becoming an author, since that’s what other authors seem to do in these sections. Unfortunately, he doesn’t actually have any, as the most exciting thing about his professional life, besides his novel writing, is the work he’s done for Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. His published fiction consists of both fully original works and licensed/tie-in properties—including Darksiders and Magic: the Gathering—for publishers such as Del Rey, Pyr Books, Titan Books, and Wizards of the Coast.

Ari currently lives in an apartment that’s almost as cluttered as his subconscious, which he shares (the apartment, not the subconscious, though sometimes it seems like it) with George—his wife—and a cat who really, really thinks it’s dinner time. You can find Ari online at  and on Twitter @mouseferatu.

Ari Marmell: Twitter | Website

Hot Lead, Cold Iron: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound