FADE UP FROM BLACK: The Return of Harry James Denton

Copyright ©2022 Steven Womack
Spearhead Press

What do you do when the college where you spent 25 years teaching suddenly closes its doors and six weeks later, the world shuts down because this mysterious new disease no one’s ever heard of threatens to bring the entire human race to its knees?

Well, what I decided to do was hunker down and write a book.

The last Harry James Denton book, Dirty Money, had been published in 2000, twenty years earlier. I’d always intended to keep writing the adventures of Harry, but life got in the way. Becoming a parent for the first time at 48, then rinse-and-repeat three years later.

Divorce… Remarriage… Financial struggles, personal struggles, and then in 2015, serious health struggles. A heart attack and quintuple bypass in 2015. A cancer diagnosis in 2019, followed by a year of brutal chemotherapy.

At a book signing back in the ‘90s, someone made the comment: “You’re from the one-damn-thing-after-another school of plotting, aren’t you?”

I took it as one of the nicest compliments anyone had ever paid me. But now life was imitating art.


So in 2020, when the Watkins College of Art announced it was closing its doors and the Covid-19 shutdown began, I decided to go back and catch up with Harry.

This meant some choices, though, and some of them weren’t easy. Where do you pick up a series when you haven’t touched it in a couple of decades? Harry had a lot of dedicated fans when the first six books came out. Would any of them even remember him now?

And the logistics of the book were daunting. Did I pick up where Harry left off in Dirty Money? At the end of that book, Harry was headed back to Nashville from Reno, Nevada after the birth of his daughter. He and his once-significant other, Dr. Marsha Helms, had kinda sorta made peace with each other, but they both knew their relationship—at least their romantic relationship—was over.

Being there for the birth of this daughter changed Harry, profoundly and deeply. Funny thing, when I wrote that book, I had no idea that the same thing would happen to me a few months after Dirty Money was published.

Again, life imitating art…

There were a few things I knew up front that I wanted to change. Throughout the first six books, Harry was always broke. He drove old beaters that he and his best buddy, Lonnie, kept running with duct tape and baling wire. He rarely had more than twenty bucks in his pocket and was always one step ahead of his creditors.

I knew that needed to change.

I also had to decide how and where I was going to start the new book. A few months after he got back to Nashville from Reno?

That seemed unworkable. Too much time had passed for me and Harry both.

So I had to create a backstory that would explain what had happened in the intervening years between Harry’s time in Reno and the beginning of the new book. I wanted readers to know why they hadn’t heard from Harry in so long.

After a lot of brainstorming, I decided to set the new book in 2016, when Harry was a lot older and a lot had changed. As Harry relates early in the book, he came back from Reno after becoming a father to a newfound determination to get his life together. He was a parent now, damn it, and it’s time he started being responsible.

So Harry and Lonnie start a business together, a company specializing in corporate cybersecurity. A dozen years later, they sell the business and Harry—who once had his phone disconnected for not paying the bill—is richer than he ever imagined possible.

Then I imagined a circumstance where Harry—whose daughter, Alex, is now sixteen—becomes a single father. You’ll have to read the book to find out what that turn of events was, but Harry’s world is rocked by all this.

It took quite a bit of time and bandwidth, but once I had that part together, the next step was to plot the new novel out. This is where some of my own stuff came into play.

I was admittedly traumatized by my last few years in academia. In 1995, I was the first faculty member hired at the then-brand new Watkins Film School, the first film school in the state of Tennessee. For the next 25 years, I anchored the screenwriting program and had served five years as Chair of The Film School.

In the last six or seven years, however, I’d watched as the school I’d once committed much of my professional life to went slowly down the dumper. It was painful beyond description to watch. When the College’s last commencement was held via Zoom in May of 2020, I was kept on for the summer to do a “teach-out” with a couple of students who just needed a few hours to graduate.

So there I was, the first one through the door when the party started and the last one to leave.

This wasn’t the first time in my life I tried to work through my own crap by way of fiction.

I came up with this idea of setting a murder mystery in a film school. I’d learned the hard way that academia could be vicious, that as Professor Sayre said way back in the Fifties: “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low…”

And then I came up with an idea that really lit me up. During my time in academia—especially as a department Chair—I’d often felt like people were out to get me (and sometimes they really were). So what would happen if Harry got approached by a failed writer and burned out screenwriting teacher who claimed someone was trying to kill him?

And then Harry, who’d been out of the detecting business for years, blows him off?

And then the guy really is murdered

So there it was. I would write a murder mystery set in a film school where the murder victim was… me.

What came out of it was Fade Up From Black: The Return Of Harry James Denton.

I hope you get a kick out of it. You can order it from any brick-and-mortar bookstore or from Amazon by hitting the button below.



Edgar and Shamus Award-Winning Author