NAUGATUCK — Many authors tap into personal experience in their early works and produce semi-autobiographical novels and stories.
Borough author Phil Beloin Jr. takes the opposite tack in his fiction, and it shows in his first novel, “The Big Bad,” which was published by Hilliard and Harris in July.
The crime-suspense volume—the first of three in a series, Beloin hopes—is, in his words, about a one-time mob henchman who is “living off the money he got for turning his boss over to the IRS for being a tax cheat.”
Nick Constantine, now an alcoholic bar owner, wakes up after a bender with two dead women in his bedroom and no idea who they are or how they got there. From there, Beloin says, a multifaceted story of criminal intrigue involving the boss he betrayed and a beautiful woman they both desire unfolds.
“It’s so far from how I live” Beloin said. “Here I am in a middle-class, suburban setting, and this is just so different from what I am. I’m able to just kind of imagine it, and you can really get in there and play with it and toy with it. All these self-destructive behaviors of other individuals are kind of like fodder for ideas.”
The rest of Beloin’s body of work, which he has compiled over the last 11 years, is similarly steeped in crime, sex and violence, exploring the ins and outs of society’s seedy underbelly. He says he has four more novel manuscripts near completion in addition to short stories, many of which are published on the Internet.
Finally hitting “paydirt” with Hilliard and Harris, a Maryland publishing house, was “just fantastic,” he said, though the manuscript was rejected by several other publishers. That rejection helped him develop his skill as a writer.
“What developed the craft mostly was the manuscript getting rejected by other publishers,” he said. “Usually publishers won’t tell you what’s wrong because they’re swamped with manuscripts, so they’ll pretty much just send you a form letter. So I had to sit down and say, ‘What didn’t work?’ It was mostly guesswork, but I did bounce it off a couple writer friends that I’ve known since college. They said ‘maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that; problem here, problem there,’ and by changing those, that’s when I was finally able to get this publisher to accept.”
He said his work is influenced mostly by other writers of so-called “hardboiled” crime novels—such as James Crumley, James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard Jr. and James Cain—as well as by the crime shows which permeated the television waves in his youth.
“Growing up in the 70s, I just loved all those crime shows they had on,” he said. “You know, like Magnum P.I., Cannon, Barnaby Jones, all those had kind of had a mystery feel to them, which is kind of what I write today.”
Beloin, who, like many writers, has held an array of odd jobs over the years to support himself—he now works seasonally for a company that builds and maintains tennis courts—was originally interested in a career in the film business, and even attended the University of Bridgeport’s film program.
“After college I made some films with some guys, some low-budget horror movies; they didn’t do well,” he said. “But that creativity was still with me.” He said he has no interest in returning to film, which he called a “young guy’s business” because of the degree of physical labor involved in low-budget filmmaking.
“The Big Bad,” as it were, itself started out as a screenplay some 15 years ago. Beloin said he used the screenplay “almost an outline for the novel,” though he was able to flesh out the characters and develop the storyline in different ways.
“A book affects you a little more than movie can,” he said. “It gets into your psyche differently.”
Beloin moved to Naugatuck in 2002 when he married his wife, Tammy, a borough native. One of the novels he’s working on is set in Naugatuck, and is about “a guy who works in a supermarket and gets into trouble with the ladies, and some of his customers—another crime novel.”
He said his interest in writing about crime developed over the years as he got older.
“When I was in my 20s, I was kind of naïve about the darker side of human nature” he said. “I figured everybody was good, you know? Everybody’s got good in them. Now I’m more pragmatic.”
Plus, he said, writing about “the bad guys” is just more fun.