Four years ago Tony Lindsay had two novels under his belt. The first one, "Prayer of Prey," was a thriller about a drug addict who dies and is possessed by an evil African king. The other, "Chasin' It," was the story of a black drag queen. But try as he might, Lindsay couldn't get anyone to publish either of them. "People loved 'Chasin' It,'" Lindsay says, but "they were not ready for a drag queen protagonist who was happy and comfortable with his gayness. Everybody loved the book, but nobody wanted to market it."
After an agent suggested he write a black mystery novel, he spent the next two years working on one. Then three years ago he met Kwame Alexander, owner of a publishing company in Alexandria, Virginia, called BlackWords, at Chicago State University's annual writers' conference, and gave him a copy of "Chasin' It." Alexander called him 18 months later and asked if he had anything else. Lindsay sent him the mystery.
BlackWords published One Dead Preacher five months ago. The narrator, security escort David Price, gets more than he expects when a client's husband, a dynamic preacher, is murdered: Price is implicated and has to find the real killer. Characters mention such local haunts as Jackie's Place, a soul food diner on 71st Street; the Other Place, a bar on 75th Street; and the South Shore Cultural Center, still called the South Shore Country Club by some longtime south-siders.
Price enjoys the nightlife as well as a few vices, but he's more complicated than Shaft. He serves as president of his block club in Englewood and mentors boys. He struggles with his religious faith, partly because of the death of his infant son some years earlier, and constantly questions his lifestyle, noting at the start of the book, "I often want to be the man my ex-wife and my mother want me to be: a solid guy, a good Christian brother, one that comes straight home on pay day, one who doesn't know where the floating crap game is, one who doesn't know who's got the good weed or which chick gives the best head, just a regular Joe, like my old man."
A sales manager at Imagination Publishing, a downtown producer of custom magazines and newsletters for businesses, Lindsay grew up in Englewood and Brainerd and says his writing career started after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Lindsay, then in the third grade at Copernicus elementary school, watched his parents cry and saw the devastation after the riots on 63rd Street. Afterward he wrote an essay describing his feelings and read it to the student body. "The seed was definitely planted in grammar school," he says. He wrote horror and action short stories and read everything from Nancy Drew mysteries to gritty urban novels by Donald Goines. At Chicago Vocational High School, he wrote love poems to female classmates and penned a Shakespearean-style poem called "Ode to Pancakes" after studying The Taming of the Shrew.
While studying psychology during a stint at the University of Illinois Circle Campus in the early 80s, where he met his wife, he took a fiction writing class with Sterling Plumpp. Lindsay gave the professor his autobiography, which Plumpp showed to other teachers and students. Plumpp also steered him to two creative writing classes and wrote his student a letter advising him to be a writer. Lindsay took his words to heart, squeezing in writing time between jobs as a truck loader, messenger, cafeteria worker, and mental health counselor--one of David Price's previous jobs. But Lindsay says Price is based more on old friends than on himself. "Sterling Plumpp once told me to write what you know, so I drew from people that I know," he says. "I drew from people that I've admired or that I think are admirable that society may or may not say are admirable individuals. To be a man who lives in the hood and is the president of a block club is just as important as somebody who is a corporate executive, more so because he is giving back directly, hands-on contact. That's what I tried to show with David. Even though he had his warts, you still had to like him."
Lindsay, who now lives in Griffith, Indiana, is working on more mysteries featuring Price and a vision of black life in the 2030s. Next year BlackWords will publish a revised version of "Prayer of Prey." Lindsay says he'll keep setting his books on the south side. "I love the north side, but not as much as the south side," he says. "I go to Cubs games; I prefer a Sox game. I go to the Art Institute; I prefer DuSable."
Lindsay will read from One Dead Preacher and sign copies at African American Images, 1909 W. 95th, Saturday at noon. Call 773-445-0322 for more information. --Michael Marsh
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.