Lanny Larcinese is a native mid-westerner and dyed-in-the-wool city guy transplanted to the City of Brotherly Love where he has been writing fiction for eight years. His prize-winning short stories and non-fiction have appeared in magazines and online publications. He is very active in the writing community, supportive of those behind him on the curve and deferential to those ahead of him whose inspiration and mastery of craft are constant sources of stimulation.
My deep roots in the grit of urban life decreed a single direction my fiction would take: crime.
Born and raised in Detroit, my family’s restaurant in the industrial, racially mixed part of town made for a singular high school and college career—delivering spareribs and chicken from dusk to dawn on weekends. Like Travis Bikle in Taxi Driver, my windshield was a lens to lives appearing normal during the day; but shielded by the darkness of night, a three-dimensional display of the Seven Deadly Sins—a circus inhabited by whores, druggies, brutal cops (think Mulholland Falls), sex in doorways, Hopperesque, well-lit buses with a lone, semi-conscious passenger swaying as if on a tilt-a-whirl, after-hours private drinking and drug dens known as “blind pigs,” where men in boxer shorts danced under blue lights with half-naked babes as each held a beer while Miles wailed in the background. They tipped big.
Following the accumulation of such impressions, my stint in law school introduced another layer of experiences. How do we view behaviors? What do we do about them? People’s actions weren’t merely good or bad but along a spectrum, with degrees of liability making notions of guilt or innocence tricky for which there might be presumptions of wrongdoing but also defenses—each case representing a long line of experience and thought and sanding of society’s obligation to the individual and, in turn, the individual’s to others. I never intended to practice law—my orientation was business— but fascination with legal concepts like justice (a process), equity, evidence, and the correspondence of rights and duties was an overlay to my earlier life at the raucous Bungalow Bar B-Q where mobsters, professional athletes, hard-working laborers, entertainers, street punks and everyday folk arrived noisy and drunk after bars closed at 2:00 a.m. and wiped greasy chins amidst the din as the jukebox blared Patsy Cline singing, “I Fall to Pieces.”
Finally, a few years before I left the Motor City for the Windy City, I stood amidst the 1967 riots which had reached my neighborhood. In smoke from still-burning fires thick enough for coughing fits, I walked agape for blocks on sheets of broken plate glass as people emerged from busted store windows with arms loaded with shoes or TVs or clothes or whatever the stores had sold. The experience shocked me, as did revelation of the thin membrane separating civilization from insurrection and the nihilism arising from despair.
Given such experiences embossed during my formative years and after a satisfying, rewarding, fulfilling career in various modes of business, my desire to write fiction would be influenced by noir crime writing, especially the idea of a character who knows what he’s about to do is wrong but does it anyway, a moral vulnerability that reeks with drama.
That was Bill O’Dwyer’s story in I Detest All My Sins. As a Jesuit teacher, he had sex with a student who was the niece of a congressman. Bill spent the book in the throes of guilt from the cascade of consequences to himself and loved ones. The story is grounded in the streets of Philadelphia, my home for the past forty years. Like the D.C. streetscapes of George Pelecanos, actual business names, addresses, street life, etc. are part of the story. Bill’s journey, however, isn’t merely to traipse Philadelphia streets, or traverse from prison to a normal life, but a path toward redemption and assuaging guilt—through friends, a lover, and by a nemesis.
And as Richard Price’s NYC urban landscape and its denizens are characters in themselves, my stories are also populated with place-specific city people. South Philadelphia is prominent in Death in the Family. More than just a neighborhood, South Philly is a deep sub-culture, an Italian-American enclave that over decades gave rise to Philly’s Italian mob. When I first moved to the City of Brotherly Love, I lived on South Philly’s northern edge. Being of Italian heritage, I understood its culture of skepticism toward civic authority (e.g., immediately evident by its parking anarchy) and why goodfellas get waxed by their own.
My next work, Fire in the Belly, still under development with probable publication early in 2021, hews closely to an actual incident in Philadelphia in 1985 in which police dropped a satchel charge, a bomb, from a helicopter onto the row house of an anarcho-primitivist cult, killing twelve and burning down sixty-two row homes. Fire in the Belly, as with the actual incident, weaves together issues which inform my stories: psychodynamics; degrees of guilt; civic malfeasance; racism and ethno-centrism; permutations of morality; unexpected consequences; character defects; and paths to redemption or damnation.
As a crime novelist, I never struggle with what to write; the human condition is rich with material. The well-known writerly advice to “write what you know,” is comical to me.
My whole damned life is a writing prompt.