Lost in the Ivy: Interview with author Randy Richardson

In celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday, Wrigleyville Nation contributor Randy Richardson is reissuing a revised edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy (Eckhartz Press, $15.95) on Opening Day, March 31.

Leading up to the book’s release, Wrigleyville Nation will be giving our followers an exclusive first peek at what best-selling Chicago crime writer Libby Fischer Hellmann calls a “fast-paced thrill ride through Chicago’s Wrigleyville.” Each of the next three weeks we will whet your appetite by posting a new chapter from the book, which is available now for pre-order through Eckhartz (www.eckhartzpress.com).

WN: Give us a brief synopsis.
Randy: The book revolves around reporter Charley Hubbs, a die-hard Cubs fan who has landed in Wrigleyville after leaving behind a mysterious past in California. While trying to start a new life and put together the pieces of his past, he becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. When he is charged with killing his flamboyant neighbor, he enlists the aid of a seductive, whip-smart bartender in a daring courthouse escape. From that point on, Charley finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse through the streets of Wrigleyville. I can’t tell you much more than that without spoiling the ending.

WN: What inspired the story?
Randy: In the mid-1990′s, when Lost is set, I was living in a studio apartment that is basically the studio apartment that the protagonist Charley Hubbs has stumbled into at the onset of the story. Like the apartment in the book, my studio bordered Wrigleyville and Boys Town, two very different neighborhoods living, somewhat uncomfortably, next to each other. While I was living on the border of these two divergent neighborhoods, there had been a spate of hate crimes – or gay bashing incidents – against gay men in Boys Town. Against that backdrop, a neighbor of mine died in his apartment. Initially, there had been rumors that he had been killed. Then the story was that he had committed suicide. Eventually the story became that he had died of a drug overdose. I knew very little of this neighbor other than that he was gay and threw some pretty wild parties – at least they were wild in my imagination, as I had only overheard them through the thin apartment walls. After moving out of that apartment, my neighbor’s death kept gnawing at me. My overactive imagination got me wondering about other scenarios. What if he really had been murdered? And what if signs began to point to his quiet, unassuming, new neighbor as a suspect in his murder? With those thoughts in mind, the seed was planted for what would become Lost in the Ivy.

WN: If the story is inspired by a real-life event, are other parts of it reality-based as well?
Randy: Well, this is a work of fiction. There are obvious similarities between Charley and me. Like Charley, I was a newspaper reporter, though that was a long time ago. The Wrigleyville apartment that Charley moves into is modeled after the studio I rented in the mid-1990s. Charley’s thoughts sometimes are my thoughts, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise since I am, after all, the author. But what happens to Charley is purely fictional. If this were a story about the real me, it would be dreadfully boring.

Some lesser characters, like the judge and the newspaper editor, are composites of real-life judges and newspaper editors I have known. If you know or have known any judges or newspaper editors, you know that they are almost always novel-worthy characters.

I will acknowledge that there is one character in the book that is a fictional recreation of a real-life character. I do not believe that I am spoiling anything for you by revealing this. In the opening chapter the reader is introduced to a bouncer named Bobby at the Ginger Man tavern. He is a fictionalized depiction of Bobby Scarpelli, the real-life bouncer who opened the doors to the Ginger Man when I frequented it in the mid-1990s. As Sun-Times reporter Dave Hoekstra eloquently reported in a loving tribute to Bobby on May 28, 1998, Bobby opened the doors to a lot of hearts. Bobby, who Hoekstra described as “Chicago’s best known rock ‘n’ roll bouncer, died at age 50 of complications from liver disease. To me a huge part of the Ginger Man and the Wrigleyville I knew died with him.

WN: What inspired the title?
Randy: The title of this book derives from a quirk of Wrigley Field’s ivy-covered wall. On rare occasions, a baseball gets stuck or lost in the ivy. In such a case, the outfielder is supposed to throw up his arms as a signal to the umpire that the baseball can’t be recovered. If the umpire accepts the outfielder’s position, it becomes an automatic ground-rule double.

The book’s title serves as a double entendre. The protagonist has lost his identity and is desperate to get it back. The place where he finds himself is Wrigleyville, the neighborhood that surrounds its famous land¬mark. Ironically, it is a neighborhood that according to city council decree, doesn’t exist. The council’s neighborhood-map ordinance, which passed unanimously in 1993, named and demarcated 77 “Community Area” names and 178 Neighborhoods. Wrigleyville is not one of those. Since its passage, the city’s official map has never been amended. So, technically, there is no Wrigleyville. It exists largely as a creation of realtors and developers.

WN: Wrigleyville is almost its own character in the book. Will readers even recognize the Wrigleyville that you depict, since the book is set two decades in the past?
Randy: Probably not. In the decade since the original publication of this book, the Wrigleyville neighborhood that serves as its backdrop has undergone a drastic makeover. Once a working class neighborhood, it has become Bourbon Street North with bars and restaurants lined up and down Clark Street and Sheffield Avenue. The slow process of gentrification went wild in the late 1990s and early years of this century. Some would argue that the neighborhood that doesn’t exist has during that time lost its identity. Even the ballpark, under its new ownership, is beginning to get a face-lift with plans for its first massive Jumbotron.

WN: Tell us how you came to sprinkle all of the Cubs-related anecdotes and trivia throughout the book.
Randy: It’s a thriller but I also wanted to make it fun. I actually wrote the book with the idea that it would follow the heart of a Cubs fan, using Charley Hubbs as the thematic heart. So in some ways, if you are a Cubs fan, you know what to expect. There is futility and there is hope, and I lighten the story with all of those Cubs-related anecdotes and trivialities. There is a character wearing the costume of a black cat. There are references to the curse of the billy goat and to the infamous trade of Brock-for-Broglio. If you are a true Cubs fan and you pay close enough attention, there is a big clue that will tip you off as to the identity of the killer. Hopefully the book is entertaining for those who are not Cubs fans too, but it should be especially fun for those who are Cubs fans. As comedian and Cubs fan Tom Dreesen said, it is a book “not just for Cubs fans but for all who love a great story.”

WN: Why are you re-issuing the book?
Randy: Let me count the reasons…
The No. 1 reason is that the original version of Lost in the Ivy is dead. It is out of print and is only available through resellers. Last I checked, you can find 27 new and used copies on Amazon, prices ranging range from 39 cents (plus $3.99 shipping) to $188.70 (no, that isn’t a misprint). No book should die. If someone out there in the world wants to read it, they should be able to find it – and not just in a resale shop.

The No. 2 reason is that the publishing landscape has changed dramatically since I originally published Lost in the Ivy in 2005. The Kindle had not yet been introduced to the world, and ebooks existed in only rudimentary form. I saw this evolution occurring, and even became the first to donate a free ebook to what was then Chicago’s Underground Library. The beauty of ebooks is that they don’t ever have to die. All books should be able to live forever as ebooks. By reissuing Lost in the Ivy, I’m giving it that chance at timelessness it never had. Eckhartz, by the way, will be releasing Lost in ebook format in early summer.

The No. 3 reason is that while I still like the original version, I don’t love it. I’ve grown a lot as a writer since it was issued, or at least I would like to think I have. I also made many naïve rookie mistakes in terms of my publishing choices that first at bat. By reissuing it, I am able to correct all those missteps.

The No. 4 reason is that there was an opportunity. Eckhartz Press, the publisher of my last novel, Cheeseland, expressed an interest in it. That this season happened to be the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field seemed like kismet, that this was meant to be at this time.

In conclusion, I’m not reissuing this for those who read and enjoyed the original version. I certainly appreciate their support and would obviously love it if they did pick up the new edition and shared it with their own circles of friends and families. But I don’t really expect them to buy it and read it all over again. I’m reissuing it for those who haven’t read it, and not just for those living today but for my son’s children and their children. I also am reissuing it for myself. We don’t always get second chances, and this was my second chance, to issue the book the way that I want it to be and to live on for eternity.

WN: How is the new edition different from the original? How much has been changed?
Randy: The answer is a little and a lot. The basic elements of the story and the characters remain the same but the structure is different, new chapters with new intrigue have been added to it, I’ve tried to give more depth to the relationship of the main characters, and I’ve tightened the writing so that it hopefully reads better.

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