Character Development

I tell everyone that I am not a novelist and to this day that is  true.  It may change some day but for now I am novel-less, so to speak.

The closest I have come to writing a novel is when I wrote On Borrowed Time, my book of mysteries that revolve around Detective Anderson and his private investigator agency.  In the book, many of the character have recurring roles.  Two of these characters are B.B., Anderson’s stunningly beautiful “Office Manager, full-charge bookkeeper, and all around do everything person” and Nate Kubrick, an up and coming young private investigator.  Around mid-way in the series, I wanted to develop these characters more because they were pretty interesting and because I had plans for them later in the series.  So, I decided to write a story called Into the Dark Desolate Night where they were the main characters.  In fact, Anderson and his partner Coombs are not in the story, though they play heavily in the background.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the story involves B.B. more or less blackmailing Kubrick into stealing Coombs’ new car, a candy apple red Cadillac El Dorado convertible.  Along the way we discover that B.B. is short for Beth-Ann Banks, her boyfriend’s name is Ray Ramundo aka Ray Ray, and that Kubrick has a juvenile criminal past that is unknown to Anderson and Coombs.

Why B.B. wants Kubrick–and only Kubrick–to steal the car is the crux of the story.  In the end, though, Kubrick finds a major league Miami crime boss deeply in his debt.  This is a situation that he does not relish, but he cannot get away from it.

For the record, the title of this story was the original title of the book and it fit well with the cover of the book, but after talking to a “book coach”, I figured it was too long so I renamed the book to another story.  I am not sure this was the best move but I have researched the question of long book titles and it does appear the shorter titles sell better.

So far I am not sure how accurate this assessment is.

On Borrowed Time: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005H7LNDO

The Title Made Me Do It

I have mentioned that I live in Ventura, CA and before that I lived in Santa Barbara, CA.  Between the two cities, I have lived on the edge of the Pacific Ocean for 35 years.  However, since I can’t swim a stroke and I don’t fish much anymore, I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach.  My dog, Tinker, likes it, so we go for walks on the beach now and then, but I don’t spend enough quality time on it to be called a beach bum, however, I can see the ocean from most parts of Ventura and in my daily commute, I drive next to it for over 30 miles.

One day when I was trying to think up more trouble for my Detective Anderson character I may have been looking at the ocean when a title for a story popped into my head.  I cannot say for sure if the image of all this blue water was the reason for it but since Anderson seems to be around a lot of dead people, some by his own hand, and he lives in Miami, the deep blue of the sea made me think of this phrase:  Death and the Deep Blue Sea.  Maybe I was thinking of all of the mariners that have gone down to the sea in ships or maybe it came to me for some other reason.  I honestly don’t know, but it got me to thinking about how I could involve Anderson in a murder mystery at sea.

The first challenge, of course, was to get him on the water.  For this I used his partner, Detective Coombs.  Coombs loved to fish while Anderson detested it but Coombs kept inviting him to go on a party fishing boat with him and since Andy was tired of making up lame excuses not to go, he relented this one time.  Naturally, trouble followed when something awful turned up in the offal.  In a tip of my hat to Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal movie, Lifeboat, all the actions take place on board the ship.  This had to be done because Anderson was afraid that if the ship made landfall before he deduced who the criminal was, said criminal would be able to make his escape.

Between the time he and Coombs boarded the ship and the time they set foot on dry land again, our two intrepid detectives discovered who was murdered, who did the deed, and what was the main dish in the galley…  The entire story evolved from what I thought was a catchy title.

This story, Death and the Deep Blue Sea, is included in my book, On Borrowed Time.

How a near death experience inspired a story…or two…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a near death experience, and the drug induced hallucinations I experienced as I recovered from it, inspired me to write the story, Images, the third work in my Detective Anderson series that comprises my book, On Borrowed Time, but that was actually the second story idea that I came up with while I was in the hospital.  However, Images, was the first one I wrote even though I had the second story pretty much worked out in my mind.

The other story I came up with is called Eye of the Storm, and it follows Images in my book.  It does so because I wanted to add more characters to Detective Anderson’s world and I wanted to introduce his new private detective agency which I did in Images.  I also brought in his new partner in the story who was a character in the previous story, Welcome to Jupiter.

Now, how did I dream up Eye of the Storm?  More hallucinations?  No.  This idea came to me before the morphine drip really kicked in.  Since I was very sick, I was placed in a unit that was just one step down from the Intensive Care Unit.  This unit is on the top floor of the hospital I was in and if I peered out my window and between two buildings, I could see the Pacific Ocean.  On the second day I was on the unit, though, our annual “June Gloom” arrived and muted that view.  “June Gloom” as we call it here (no matter what month it comes in) is a heavy marine layer (a high fog) that can blot out the sun for days at a time.  If you have never experienced it, you might think that the fog is a thick layer of clouds.  From that I imagined two Floridians standing on the Ventura Beach and thinking that a hurricane was heading our way.  In my imagination, I visualized one of them looking at the other and saying, “It’s coming.”

From those two words emerged a 6394 word story involving mistaken identity, a murderous clan, helicopter chases, the near death of Anderson, and much more!

Here are the first few lines of the story:

“It’s coming.”

 “Yes.”

 “Should we stay, ride it out?”

 “No.  It will make landfall here, we would not survive it.”

 “Then let’s finish and go.”

 “Agreed.”

So would I go through my sickness again if it meant coming up with two more stories?  No.  I would have to take a pass on that even if I never wrote another word.

How a near death experience inspired a story…

I am positive that near death experiences have inspired countless works of fiction and non-fiction.  I just never thought this would happen to me.

In my case it started out innocently enough; I woke up one morning with pain in my abdomen, severe pain, but even at that I didn’t think too much of it because until then I had been fine.  I tried to go about my business as usual but the pain prevented me from doing this so, reluctantly, I went to the emergency room.  The doctors there were very concerned and immediately began a series of test.  It turned out that I had a severe case of pancreaticitis caused by a dysfunctional gall bladder.  They told me that if I had waited a few days, my pancreas would have ruptured and I would have died.  A sudden shock to my pancreas would have sufficed as well.

After being admitted to the hospital, I was told that I could not eat or drink anything until my pancreas was cleared of all the poison in it; to reduce my pain and allow me to get by without food or drink, they started me on a saline IV and Morphine drip.  Essentially I went on a 4 day stoner because that is how long it took my pancreas to become stable enough to let the doctor go in in remove my offending gall bladder.

During this time, I was in and out of dream states almost to the point of hallucinating.  It was during one of these sessions that the oddest thing happened; a vision of a car that I owned years ago came into my mind.  It was a car that I had totally forgotten about, or so I thought.  What is more, the car was parked outside my then residence like it was always parked and to make things even stranger, a series of memories of this car continued with different views of the car parked in that spot. Some views were from the side, some from the back and so on.  After I returned to full consciousness, I remember this event and began to wonder why I still remembered this car and where these images were stored in my brain.

It took me several weeks to fully recover from this illness and during that time I was haunted by this question.  My mind mulled over a lot of possibilities but not being a doctor, I had no clear explanation and maybe a doctor would not have one either.  Then several ideas struck me: What if the brain really was like a computer and what if the brain could get clogged up with “files” like these memories of my old car?  What if this overload lead to debilitating conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease?  What if we could go in and clean out these files like you do on your computer?  Would that make your brain function better like deleting files on your computer makes it run faster?

At that point I had written my first two Detective Anderson mysteries (outlined in my blog posts I’m sorry, what did you say? and When a friend drives a story, but is not the story), now I wondered how all of these questions could involved Anderson and his team?

Well, throw in a “mad” scientist scorned by the local academia who is killed in a mysterious car wreck and then toss in the sexy owner of the Miami Dolphins (circa 1970) who pays Anderson a fortune to find out what really happened to him, then you have a wild rambling mystery that borders on science fiction. The story also introduces the hugely successful Anderson Detective Agency and a partner for Anderson.

And though the title of the story is one word, Images, at 19,324 words, it is the longest story that I have written to date.

Here is the On Borrowed Time book trailer that hints at this mystery:

And now a word from our sponsor…

For anyone born in the ’50’s or ’60’s, the phrase above is quite common and well known to you.  It was uttered just before a break in a television program and often by the sponsor of the entire show (such as the Colgate Comedy Hour).  You rarely, if ever, hear that phrase anymore because breaks come just as something interesting is about to happen, which makes you hang around until the show comes back on.

Well this is one such break.  I have been writing a lot about what inspired and challenged me to write various stories and I will continue to do so in the next blog post which tells of a story inspired by a real dog, just not the one that wrote the previous post, she writes her own stories.

In the meantime, I would appreciate it you would go to my Amazon.com author’s page and look at the books I have written.  If you see any you like, then please make a purchase–and give it a review.

http://www.amazon.com/John-Darling/e/B002BM7WGA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

When a friend drives a story, but is not the story

In my last entry I told about my friend Keith and the story I wrote about him.  In Weekend, the entire story is about Keith, I even used his real first name in it (I would never use a real last name in a story) but sometimes friends of mine do not make up all the story line, just parts of it and in the story Welcome To Jupiter, a friend played a big part of it.

This is the second story in the Detective Anderson series that make up my book, On Borrowed Time.  In the first story, Tat, Anderson is a small town homicide detective with a big problem.  As it played out, he was able to tackle the problem and gain great notoriety, nationwide notoriety, all of which he loathed.  I used his loathing as a way of moving him out of the small town of Bridgeville, CA since I had greater plans for this character.

But where to send him?  I first thought of Las Vegas but that was too close to California, then I thought of New York City, but that was too big a town and his notoriety would surely get him recognized.  No, I wanted to send him someplace small and quiet for a while but as far away from Bridgeville as I could get him; so I started looking at a map of Florida.  When I saw the name Jupiter, I knew I had the spot and by playing off the famous Las Vegas sign, I had a catchy title as well.

Jupiter was the perfect spot.  It was a small town clear across the continent from Bridgeville yet only 90 miles from Miami, FL where I eventually wanted Anderson to go.  The problem is that Anderson liked Jupiter and his wonderful waitress friend Mags, so I had to find some trouble for him to get into to spur him into eventually moving on.  What kind of trouble this was is the kind of trouble that has spurred men on since time began: Woman trouble.

The woman I chose was a drop-dead gorgeous friend of mine who is also a fantastic songstress.  The lady can really belt it out.  I didn’t use either of her names in the story, nor will I use them here, but in this story I call her Rita LeCount.

As it happens, my real life friend once consulted with me about writing little skits for her singing act; skits that would fit around a series of songs.  I thought it was a great idea and we talked about it at length but this idea never got past the talking stage do to gig venues, band issues, and the like.  But what didn’t work in real life often works out in fiction and that is what happened here.  Rita and her partner Belle Davida developed such an act in Jupiter and were becoming very well known because of it.  Even some big Miami nightclubs were knocking on their door.

Well Anderson took one look at Rita as she entered his favorite cafe where Mags works, The Sanguine Café, and fell madly in love with her.  The fact that he had never met her didn’t mean anything to him; he soon started haunting her shows while keeping his feelings to himself until the right time.  Then one night he hears that Rita may have some trouble in the way of an ex-boyfriend heading her way.  Well with him being an ex-cop and being in love with Rita he was going to make sure that the trouble went in another direction.  So he contacted his friend, Sgt. Coombs, of the Bridgeville PD and asks for some information which Coombs provides (Coombs later joins up with Anderson for many adventures, but that is another blog).  One night at a dive where Rita and Belle were performing, this bad news shows up.  So Anderson confronts him, though he has no legal standing, but having been a cop for 20 years, he knew how to roust a bad guy.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as he had planned, but the audience sure loved it.

I could have used a variety of device plots to get Anderson to Jupiter and to get him in trouble so he’d move on, but by using some “ready made” items in my life, I think the story turned out more realistic and entertaining.  This is something all authors can do.

 

I’m sorry, what did you say?

The first story in my book On Borrowed Time is called Tat and it has three distinct elements about it. First, a rather bizarre occurrence was the inspiration for the story, second, it is the first mystery I had written, and third, I “sold” it to the first magazine I submitted it to–and then I cancelled the sale.

First, I was sitting in a bar in my hometown of Ventura, CA called The Bombay Bar and Grill talking to my friend Kieth who was a bartender there and had been for about 20 years.  This establishment is exactly 2 blocks from the Pacific Ocean so you get a lot of people coming in adorned in beach wear.  On this day, a lovely young lady came in wearing next to nothing (just enough to avoid being arrested) and sat down next to me even though I was the only one at the confirmed “longest bar in the county”. For some reason I did not know at the time, this brought a smile to Kieth’s face.

Being a man, I had to look at all that the lady displayed, which was plentiful.  So when she turned to me and asked, “Do you like my tats?”  I almost said that they were one of the finest pair I had ever seen until I realized that she used a word different than the one I thought she said.  Like an idiot, all I could do is respond, “Tats?”  I had never heard that term before.

She was referring to her tattoos which adorned much of her sumptuous flesh; something I had overlooked when I first laid eyes on her even though they were plentiful.  My befuddlement must have been a cue for her to go on because for the next hour or so she pointed at each tat and told me exactly where and why she got it.  While she was hot to look at, she was a BORE to listen to and all during the time she was into her diatribe I looked over at Kieth only to see a smirk on his face. He seemed to be enjoying my boredom.

After she decided to move on, Kieth told me she was a regular ditz who always drove guys crazy with her hot body and boring personality.  I told him that he should have warned me off but all I got was that damn smirk of his.  I got even with him by writing a story about him called Weekend which I will tell you about next; for now just know that it is about a bartender stuck in a dead end job who almost gets murdered.

Anyway, later I started thinking about this encounter with this big breasted, much tatted lady and wondered what I would have done if I were someone who objected to people tattooing their bodies?  .

Second, these thoughts made me decide to write a detective story which fell into the lap of Detective Anderson, Homicide Division, Bridgeville, CA.  The first draft of the story was loaded with swear words and very profane, which is not how I write, but given the subject matter (a serial killer who defiles the bodies of those he kills), it fit the story.

Third, after I finally finished the story, I sent it to pulp magazine to see if they would like to publish it.  The response I got amazed me–the editor loved Anderson and the story.  He went on and on about finally ending his note with “if you write anymore Anderson mysteries, send them to me”.  Well that got me to thinking about a lot of other mysteries Anderson could work on, so I politely declined the editor’s invitation to publish this story and instead wrote 10 more stories and self published On Borrowed Time–after I took out the profanity so it would appeal to a wider audience.  I have since added another story and, sadly, Anderson’s obituary since he has been presumed dead…

There is another element to Tat that I will talk about later in another blog post that concerns my habit of never throwing any work away even if you cannot finish it at any given time.

One final note: I decided to use the town name of Bridgeville because I wanted Anderson to be located in Northern California (he moves soon after this story) and because Bridgeville is the only town that I know of that was sold on eBay.