A funny thing happened to me on the way to navigating our pandemic times. Nearing the end of an MFA program I'd decided to tackle despite having already published ten books, I was experimenting with different approaches to fiction. Then, with all the darkness and uncertainty thrust upon us in 2020, it occurred to me I needed a little more light-hearted humor and mystery in my life. And I wondered if many readers did too. I needed a new set of fictional characters-- entertaining, quirky, and enjoyable people with whom I could laugh, solve vexing fictional dilemmas (such as a murder), or fall in love. (Without the end of the world at stake, thank you very much.)
Below is a photo, taken a couple of months ago, of a now defunct bowling alley not far from the small town where I was raised in upstate New York.
As humble as it may be, the place holds special significance for me. You see, most Sundays when I was young, my Mom and Dad would drag my twin brother and me to church. After church came other Sunday rituals, frequently involving car rides to visit area relatives. But just as often, Mom and Dad would drive us to this building after Sunday church for a different ritual: an afternoon of bowling.
You might not guess it from this photo, but our local alley was a vibrant place back then. I can still hear the rumble of the balls rolling and the crashing of the pins, hear the laughter, and see the smiles. I can smell the lanes and visualize the black and blue, lightweight bowling balls my brother and me, barely eight or nine years old at the time, wielded during our fledgling kegling adventures.
I remember watching Mom and Dad bowl, trying to mimic their movements. Dad was tall, and had a smooth, powerful style. Mom was physically strong too--careful and precise, but doggedly determined. Dad threw a heavy black ball while Mom's ball was red with swirls. There was no computer, only the lanes and scoring tables with paper score sheets. Our parents coached us on how to hold the ball, where to stand, and how to approach the foul line before releasing the ball. They taught us how to keep score.
I'm not sure what our parents were thinking when they took us bowling all of those Sundays. Maybe they thought the sport was a good way for two rambunctious young boys to blow off steam and somehow come to terms with one another. Or maybe, since both of them bowled in leagues on other nights, they were just out to have a relaxing good time.
Either way, the memories of all of those Sundays, some of which I hadn't thought about it in years, came flooding back to me as the pandemic took hold and the reality of all of the changes in our world began to set in last year. I started writing and the eventual result was Split City; not just a single book, but a concept for a new amateur sleuth mystery series.
It also dawned on me along the way that Split City pays special homage to my long gone parents, to a special window of time in my life, and to my relationship with my identical twin brother. (In case you're wondering, however, the book isn't autobiographical. Billy and Bo Gills are imagined characters, although I do interject a few things, here and there, taken from real life.)
I hope you enjoy the first in this new series and what I hope will be many more books to come.
Some advance reader reviews:
"An enjoyable, fast read, with great characters and an enticing overall plot."- bambooreading
"Split City by Andy Straka is filled with suspense and entertainment. I enjoyed reading Split Cityand found Billy to be a very likable almost-hero. The plot is quick-moving and fun to read, the characters are all strong, and even Herk, the dog, adds a lot to the story. Andy Straka has created the perfect non-professional detective that I am hoping we will see again and again. I believe that Split City is well worth reading, and I also can see it with a weekly TV series future. Split City is a great read and a sure winner!" - Trudi LoPreto for Readers' Favorite
"Feel good vibe murder mystery with fun characters. I enjoyed the writing style and getting to know the people in the town. These are people you want to go back and read more about." - Advance reader review