24 June 2014

Kill My Landlord, Kill My Landlord (or How Eddie Murphy Sparked a PI Novel)

by Jim Winter

One afternoon in 1999, I was watching reruns of Saturday Night Live from when Eddie Murphy was the only reason to watch the show. Outside, my upstairs neighbor was up on a ladder doing some balcony work for our landlord. On SNL, Eddie Murphy began doing one of his most famous bits as a prison poet. The poem had the refrain "Kill my landlord, kill my landlord." Most people would just laugh and say, "Wow. Eddie Murphy used to be funny before Pluto Nash." And that thought did cross my mind.

But I also wondered if my landlord instead of my neighbor did the balcony work, could one getting away with shoving him off the ladder?

Kill my landlord, kill my landlord.

Naturally, I started scribbling notes. What was the landlord's name? (Not mine. I usually dealt with his wife, who was a very nice lady.) How do you shove him off the ladder and make it look like an accident? I spent the evening banging out the basics of a story and had 14 pages of an outline by the time I got shut down the computer. I even tacked on Eddie Murphy's poem at the beginning for inspiration.

Kill my landlord, kill my landlord.

All this went into my first novel, Northcoast Shakedown. I guarantee when people finally read it, they weren't thinking of Eddie Murphy. They might have wondered if my landlord looked over his shoulder or if I had a blonde neighbor who entertained me with chicken wings. (I had a blonde neighbor. Never saw her eat wings.)

It's one of the more unusual places someone has found an idea for a story. Pink Floyd's The Wall might be the most odd. The classic album sprang from an incident where Roger Waters spat on an obnoxious fan. It wasn't even the most memorable incident that night. (Waters hurt his foot later horsing around backstage.)

I talked before here about where stories come from. There were the usual sources: Snatches of conversion, ripping from the headlines, what if scenarios. It's these strange moments that grab a writer's mind that are the most interesting. Sometimes, there's not even a story in the beginning. There are only disparate elements that a writer finds interesting and keeps mixing them up until he has a story. Think Caddyshack. The original story about a caddy trying to get a scholarship is still there as a polite suggestion, but Harold Ramis had no clue what his movie was about until he realized the real conflict was Bill Murray vs. the gopher.And that was after the movie was finished.


  1. Story ideas originate so many different places and ways, and I always enjoy learning about another one. Eddie Murphy hasn't given me any story ideas, but he sure has brought me a lot of laughter and an occasional moment of embarrassment since he left SNL. My most recent story evolved from a phrase I overheard from a nearby table in a restaurant.

  2. I hadn't heard anything of the back-story of The Wall, disappointingly uncouth at first blush!

    The juxtaposition of the neighbor on the ladder and Kill my landlord sounds great!

  3. Chevy draining the pool was a classic moment.


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