Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I Write About ...

I'm often asked what my books are about. Simple enough, right? I mean, I wrote them so surely I can sum them up in a few sentences. As easy as that may sound, it's not. If you consider the fact that it took me three hundred or so pages to tell the story, or that I may not get around to divulging the color of my main character's eyes until the second or third chapter, well, are you beginning to see where I'm going with this?

If you ask me that question, what's your book about?, and my eyes flash with panic, like I'm about to bolt for the nearest door, don't take offense. It's a really hard question to answer.

When I was a child I daydreamed a lot. Most nights I went to bed and lay there in the dark imagining myself in some wild adventure. Being a boy, those adventures often involved car chases, or me driving the family car like a skilled madman, but there was a catch. My daydreams HAD to be realistic. Before I could take off at break-neck speeds in the LTD (that was a car made by Ford, kids), I first had to come up with a logical reason why I would do so. Then, with justification in my pocket, every daredevil maneuver had to be possible. No Dukes of Hazard dirt-pile jumping for me. Not in momma's car. And if I crossed a ditch at high speed, that ditch had to be shallow enough to cross. Most nights I fell asleep long before I worked out the details.

That's a true story.

I write about fictional people who have real problems with real solutions. No vampires or goblins or, I cringe just writing the word, ZOMBIES. I obsess over getting the details right. Not only does it have to be possible, it has to be plausible. Just because a character can behave a certain way doesn't mean they should do so without a justifiable reason. Take Jayrod Nash, for example. In THE NIGHT TRAIN, Jayrod is the abused boy who runs away from home by hopping a freight train, but the story isn't a sermon on child abuse. When I sat down to write this book I wanted to tell the story through Jayrod's eyes. He was abused, but he was still a boy. He still enjoyed the things boys enjoy. In many ways he didn't realize his life was that different from the other boys he knew. My contention was that even abused boys have fun sometimes. They laugh sometimes. Not all days are bad. Some are hell. As I wrote his story, I got to know him. I spent untold hours pretending to be him, in his situation. Then I realized something was missing. I needed to add the other half of the story -- the abuser. It was when I added the point of view of Jayrod's father, Jonce, that THE NIGHT TRAIN took on a life of its own. It was that click that told me I had found what I was looking for.

Since writing THE NIGHT TRAIN, I've received comments from readers who say they were abused, and they told me I got it right.

But what about NORTON ROAD? What's it about? Again, I wrote from two different points of view. Both sides of the conflict. Pap Jones is a contrary old man who continuously sneaks into the furniture factory next door at night and tries to disrupt production by tinkering with sewing machines or taking the blades off saws in the frame shop. In the grand scheme of things, he's harmless. Bodie Craig is the ex-cop tasked with putting a stop to Pap's shenanigans. Bodie is young and ambitious, but the main difference between him and Pap is that Bodie lacks a moral compass. When Bodie crosses the line, Pap refuses to back down, and the two become mired in a struggle that spirals out of control.

The most frequent comment I get from people who have read NORTON ROAD is that they think they know who the book is about. Everyone seems to know who Pap is, or who Bodie is. The truth is, the book is fiction. The characters are fictional.

What are my books about? They are about real-life conflicts. I take it as the ultimate compliment when readers refuse to believe the characters are products of my imagination.

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