Backstory to Where's Eli?

Development of the Story

Unlike Occupational Hazard, the story behind Where’s … Eli? was not a long festering one. 

Early on, I decided that the new story would include Eli B. Ativa, who was just briefly mentioned in Chapter 12 of Occupational Hazard. I wanted to add to the series a character I had been writing about, one who’s eccentric, free-wheeling, somewhat of an airhead, and who had Walter Mitty-like characteristics, but yet was still quite intelligent. He’s another attorney, like Al, but much different from Al who’s more straight-laced, serious, responsible and diligent. On the other hand, this Eli is flighty, flakey and only gets serious about things that interest him. So, at some point I started to jot down thoughts to flush out this character, another attorney cousin of Mick’s.  

I also envisioned that Eli would drive Mick so nuts with his screwy ways that Mick would consider Eli to be such a bad influence that he would warn, demand really, Al, Mick’s more favored cousin, to stay clear of him.

Also, I still had material that I wanted to use. There were unpublished stories entitled “Road Rage” and “Eli’s Basketball Chronicles.” And there were other ideas bouncing around in my head that I did not want to go to waste: about someone going to a Rhythm Review dance dressed up like a Blues Brother wannabe and about someone altering parking signs and traffic signals to make them more driver friendly. 

I believe I came up with the Where’s … Eli? title before the central story about a money-grab and recall planning to have Eli appear at the very beginning of the story and then to not show his face again until the very end. In between, despite being seriously sought after, there would only be some sightings of him: Eli playing championship basketball at the neighborhood Y, Eli at a Rhythm Review dance dressed like Elwood Blues, and a disguised Eli on the evening news earning the name of Parking Spot Zorro

At some point I decided that the story would revolve around some kind of cybercrime and began researching the topic. I read The Fox (2018, Putnam) by Frederick Forsyth, the same author who wrote The Day of the Jackal, back in 1971. The Fox was a story about international cybercrime and was all about cyberspace and attempts to procure access codes by penetrating the firewalls of sensitive databases, and the like. I also researched a number of internet sites about this complicated topic.

I even went back to a short story (tentatively called, “Too Good to be True, or is it?”) that I started and never finished about the Nigerian prince email scam and perused a number of emails that I saved from that scam’s heyday.

I thought the story would involve some kind of hack of Al’s computer. As I started to write, however, the hacking idea was discarded as being unworkable, and the story line changed to be one involving identity theft, albeit Al’s bank determining that it was Al’s computer that did the on-line banking transactions that emptied out his accounts, which got the bank to accuse Al of doing like other crooked attorneys who tried to steal clients’ escrow funds by a self-perpetuated identity theft.

I would draft the very first chapter while in St. Louis for a wedding in September 2018 and by the end of 2018 there were maybe the first six chapters drafted, plus pages and pages of random notes of thoughts, compiled starting during the summer, about Eli and the as-yet not fully formulated story.

I would find myself facing the same situation I faced while writing Occupational Hazard. I had the first part of the story set but did not know where to go from there. I had no plan, no outline. Just as I proceeded with Occupational Hazard, I would write the rest of Where’s … Eli? step by step. 

And, just as happened with Occupational Hazard,  ideas did come to me and I managed to proceed systematically toward the finish line incrementally without any major hurdles or difficulties. Again, lots of inspiration came to me during my post-midnight shower. My mind would be blank, but I would start to think about where I was in the story and about what the next step should be. I’d get ideas, jot them down, and sometimes scribble out whole dialogues or scenes, and in some cases would have the next chapter substantially drafted and only had to bang it out on my computer.

And in truth, I did not figure out who was behind the theft of Al’s funds, whether Eli or some mysterious character, until about halfway through the story, at which point an outline and plan of where to go from there began to vaguely emerge and did more fully show itself when I was about three-quarters of the way done.

A couple of minor characters returned to play more important roles this time around. I refer to Julius Ortiz, Mick’s computer guy, who is Al’s proposed expert witness, and Alfred “Red” Russo, the hood who had gotten Mick thrown in jail for a year. Red’s “crooked cop cousin” Vito is back as well.

Smitty and JBJ, who played key roles in Occupational Hazard, return in Where’s … Eli?. Paolo, who had a minor role in Occupational Hazard, is back as well in Where’s … Eli?.

As I wrote Where’s … Eli? and needed names for new characters, I started to purposely use variations of my friends’ names for those characters. Thus, Carol Falconetti, Judge Peter B. Frey, Cheryl Stone, Gail Rubin, David Mazza, Gregor Weissman and Thomas Hope are each names derived from the names of friends. I also assigned the combined name of my late cats (Patrick and Mick) to the character named Patrick McCormack.

Also when I wrote the chapter where Al’s legal assistant and cousin Francesca (named after my mother who died since Where’s … Eli’s release) gives birth to her first child, one of my best friends died after a brief illness. I decided that Francesca’s baby would be named Patrick after that friend, and the reason given for an Italian giving her child such an Irish name (rather than the Italian variation of Pasquale) was to honor that friend. And the stated tribute was, in truth, my honoring the life of my deceased friend Pat Kane.

I wonder now what would have happened if Pat had not died right at the time I was writing about the birth of Francesca’s baby. If he died beforehand, would I have written that segment like I did? And, if he died later, would I have gone back and revised it? We will never know. 

From the point when I started to scribble the first notes that would lead to Where’s … Eli?, it would take about a year for me to finish writing it and then another four months of editing, cover-design, proofing, interior design, etc., for the paperback to be available to purchase on Amazon and through Ingram-Spark. Pretty quick compared to the perhaps 26 years that ensued between when the story that would become Occupational Hazard was initially conceived in its raw state and when the finished story finally hit the market. Of course, being the second book of a series, Where’s … Eli? benefited from its principal characters being fully formed and its base cast of characters already being in place.