I did something last week that I haven’t done in far too long—started working on a new manuscript. I’d been up to my eyeballs in finishing Deadly Bones, then dealing with edits, then traveling, then getting the new computer that I just let the writing slide. Starting a new project is always daunting. Which series should I continue? Or should I do a stand alone? Mystery? Romantic suspense?
Maybe this year would have been the one to join the NaNoWriMo train; it’s the first November I wasn’t already in the middle of something else. But that “write for word count and don’t edit” just goes against everything that works for me, so there was no motivation to try it.
I’ve had emails from readers who’ve said they’re looking for more Blackthorne, Inc. books, so that’s what I decided to do. But whose story? I didn’t get that kind of feedback, so I thought it might be interesting to pick a different character.
And, what’s a character without conflict? My normal approach is to look at the character’s skill set and then deny him or her access to those tools. With my Blackthorne series, I’ll draw from the ‘pool’ of secondary characters from previous books and see if anyone’s demanding a turn center stage.
Going with my different character approach, I toyed with what might happen if I let one of the non-field operatives have a turn. Jinx, who had appeared in Rooted in Danger came to mind. Lots of potential there—I could shove him into the field, or take away his technology. Since it’s a romantic suspense, there will have to be a heroine. Who will she be? Will she complement his skills, or be his polar opposite? What ‘real life, on-the-job’ assignment will he have to solve? How will he change over the course of the book? Heck, I don’t really know enough about him to know where he is at the beginning of the book. Is he a loner? A party animal? A gamer? What does he do with the money he makes working for Blackthorne? Hot cars? More computers, or does he leave that side of him at the office? Womanizer?
Since I have yet to compile my series/character bible for these books, I went through the other four books (thank goodness for “Find”) to see what I’d already told readers about him. What I found was: virtually nothing. He didn’t appear at all in When Danger Calls, was mentioned by name twice, but only in a single paragraph in Where Danger HIdes. In Rooted in Danger, some of his skills get more page time, and he was actually on the page in person in a brief scene. In Danger in Deer Ridge, readers again get to see him at work, but he’s never an ‘in person’ character.
What did I have? Pretty much a blank slate. His real name was never mentioned. Nothing about his appearance, or family, or any other personal specifics. He’s one of two characters who ‘control’ the covert side of Blackthorne ops. He and Zeke, the other controller, have a friendly rivalry. Jinx is very good at his job, ferreting information from just about anywhere, but he’s not a hacker—or is he? That he stayed inside the letter of the law was mentioned, but from another character’s POV, so it could be unreliable information. It also allows me to create conflict should the need to hack into any computer systems arise—maybe Jinx has the skills, but is forbidden to use them at work. Maybe he’s willing to break those rules if the stakes are high enough.
About the only other thing I discovered in my search for Jinx’s existing character is that he’s hooked on high-caffeine soda, although I don’t know what kind.
Jinx might be a computer/technology wizard, but I’m sure not. Heck, I’m just learning my way around my new Windows 8 computer and Office 2007 after years and years with XP and 2003. What goes on underneath the hood is totally beyond me. Just because I think the NCIS computer technology is cool doesn’t mean it’s realistic. But that’s a totally different topic, one I’ve hit a few times already, I think.
Big question? Do I research everything before I start writing? That’s not my normal style. I prefer to write, then fill in the research blanks.
And it was the writing that was important. I might not have realized how much I missed it, but when I sat down and cranked out a few paragraphs and felt that “this is where you belong” calm settle over me, I knew I’d keep going and let the rest of the story unfold. After all, I have all those questions to answer. And that’s probably the best lesson from NaNo—get something on the page. After all, as Nora Roberts said, “You can’t fix a blank page.”
Here’s a peek at the very rough draft opening paragraphs. Some iteration of this may or may not appear in the next book. But I’m writing.
No matter what his Klingon-spouting nephew said, today was not a good day to die.
Fists clenched, stomach in knots, Jinx stared at the satellite feed on the plasma screen. No sound, but his brain had no trouble filling in the terror-filled screams and shouts of innocent villagers. No wiping the screen or frantic keyboard strokes could filter the flames, smoke and flying debris. The urge to throw his can of [heavily caff soda] at the screen was tempered only by the knowledge that the boss would have his ass in a sling—after all, it had taken Jinx six months of lobbying to get Horace Blackthorne to fork over the funds to upgrade the system.
“Better eyes on the ops will help us stay on top of things,” Jinx had argued. He hadn’t thought about what it would be like to have to watch when things went south.
Not to mention it would be a waste of a perfectly good soda.
He stared at the screen, straining to make out the Blackthorne, Inc. team. The team he’d told it would be a cakewalk. In, grab, and go. Lift a brew for him, and see you back at the compound.
Another silent explosion bombarded his vision. Reflexively waving away the distant smoke, he stepped closer, squinting. Praying for a glimpse of someone in ops gear. Preferably upright and moving. There. Another step closer. Definitely not a local. But it wasn’t as if the teams went in wearing garb emblazoned with a Blackthorne logo.
Damn it to hell, this was his fault, his screw up.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society