I have a commute of 30 minutes each way. Thankfully, I rarely have any traffic and the route is mostly interstate-like so I can let my mind wander. After I felt I had some success being able to write a science fiction short story, I started to think about other topics. I decided I wanted to write something from the viewpoint of the ‘bad guy’ feeling that that market was being underserved. Plus I find moral ambiguities more interesting than the typical black and white seen so often. At first I thought of writing a story from the perspective of a serial killer, called, wait for it, “Diary of a Serial Killer”. In the beginning I thought this was great, but realized that to be true to my character I would basically have to write torture porn. While there is no doubt a market for that (look at the dark underbelly of the Internet if you don’t believe me), I wasn’t sure it would be one that would sell books in big box stores. After some tooling down the road I thought of some other types of killers that might be more acceptable to readers (or, rather, less unacceptable), then came up with an idea for contract killer.
From the first the ideas came fast and furious and my mind was abuzz. I actually had problems getting to sleep that night the idea was so interesting. I began to make notes so I would have a chance of remembering some of my ideas. I started writing in first person as if I were the contract killer narrating his biography. My notes for my first story, “The Starfarer’s Journal” were a couple of paragraphs, my ‘notes’ for DoaCK (as I have come to shorten it) ran to over 6,500 words! I was very proud of my idea and wanted to show it around. The couple of people who read it, though, thought it wasn’t a very good story, it lacked anything in the way of plot or character development. Well, of course, it was a character sketch, not a story!
So I started to write a story. I intended to write a series of short stories and try and publish them, then maybe aggregate them into a book later if I wound up with enough material. I sat down and started to hammer out the first story, “Seacay meets Isabel” and that thing ballooned to more than 12K words in next to no time. The problem? Short stories have a sweet spot around 7,500 words and I’d blown past this. There are some magazines that will accept stories up to 12-15K words, but not very many, and the interesting thing is the payment per word drops off as the word count increases. Basically the author is penalized for writing long stories!
At this point I wasn’t sure I could effectively market what I’d written as a short story and started to think about the prospects of producing a novel instead. It looks orders of magnitude harder to get a book published than a short story (which is already really hard), but if I was proving to have problems writing short stories maybe I should consider trying my hand at the novel publishing lottery. I wrote some more and found out I did have a novel’s worth (around 70K words is considered a good length for a debut novel).
As I worked on my first novel I found myself with ideas for follow-on work, so started making notes for two more books. To a large extent this stuff just flowed, though it was always in fits and starts. I might go a week or two without any writing, then pop out 10-15K in a couple of days. Sometimes I would get an idea for a particular scene even though I had no idea how to fit it in, so would just jot it down and worry about that later. It’s a lot easier to edit existing content than write it, so I tend to do editing when I run out of ‘juice’ for content.
I’m going to talk about my characters, what motivated me to write about them, the backstory I created for them, etc. If you haven’t read the books yet and want to learn slowly as this and other information is revealed, stop now. This is really intended for people who really like the characters and want backstory on their development, not for people making up their minds if they want to read the books.
I like the idea of a true professional at the top of his game. Really experienced people make their career look effortless, they have such a thorough grasp of their industry that they practically move on instinct. At least that’s how it appears to outsiders. I wanted to write about a professional contract killer but quickly realized, with the feedback on my character sketch, that most people want more than what is basically a recitation of facts. Most readers want their characters to grow, one reason I’m sure why ‘coming of age’ stories are so popular. I didn’t want to write a story like that, I wanted to start after the character had become an expert.
So, what possible areas of growth could there be for someone who has invested every moment of their lives to become a consummate professional? How about love? If they were so damn busy focusing on their career, isn’t it plausible they would have no idea about love? OK, my character can grow by falling in love. Also, a quick Google revealed, romance literature represents more than half of all books sold so I had a huge and ready market for my killer falling in love. Later I learned that my killer would have to reform in order to satisfy the tropes of romance, but, as I mentioned elsewhere, I never let ignorance keep me from charging forward, so I started writing what I felt was a romance.
How to bring my protagonist together with the woman would would change his life? Since he was used to one-night-stands there needed to be something dramatic, but also work related. I scratched my head for a while before I settled on competing contracts. That naturally meant the love interest had to be involved in some sort of industry where it’s plausible she would interact with a contract killer, so what could that be? While I like the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (a couple who marry, not realizing they’re both contract killers) I didn’t find it realistic that they would find it so hard to kill one another. I wanted to come up with a way that they would be forced together yet there would be a window they could come to see each other as potential lovers.
A spy! I’ll make the love interest a spy. Spies will plausibly interact with contract killers from time to time and vice versa. OK, how to bring them together? The competing contract again. Let’s make her agency a little dysfunctional (this is easy, it’s government after all) and accidentally hires the contract killer to protectively kidnap someone under protective watch by the spy future love interest. What agency? That requires some thought. The CIA/KGB/MI5 is a hackneyed trope, I want something different. Since I’m writing this for my personal amusement with the idea of trying to sell it later (it can easily take years before a book idea goes from concept to bookshelf, if you don’t love writing you would never last until (if) money came in) I decide to have a love interest that I would find attractive. Using my beautiful wife as a starting point, I decide on a big beautiful butt, modest chest, long dark silky hair and natural tan skin. In thinking about that image, Brazilian women immediately pop into mind, so my spy becomes Brazilian. I don’t even know if Brazil has a spy agency, but since it’s a government surely it has something. No matter, this is fiction after all, and if it turns out no one has heard of this agency I can always say that’s because they’re so good at their job they haven’t become public.
She’s gorgeous, of course. While my main protagonist’s face is average, he has a great body, who wants to read about fat ugly people? However, she needs some background to explain why she’s in this position. Well, if she’s a really hot spy, how about a sex lure? Well, there isn’t any point in having a sex lure for a protection assignment. Maybe that was how she got her start in the spy business and has worked hard to put that aspect behind her? What type of partners would she work with if she’s that hot? How about gay guys? They wouldn’t be interested in her physical charms so she could interact with them on an intellectual level. So, now I’ve assembled the team against whom my contract killer will operate. I want my spies to be competent as well, but my main protagonist needs to be just enough better that he can get the upper hand.
Because my protagonist happens to be an expert in adapting to new cultures and moving about as if a native, he has exceptionally honed skills at hiding in plain site. That means he’s really good at spotting tails, shaking them off and doing his own tailing. That allows him to quickly detect when the competing team gets onto him and allows him to turn the tables. Then, using the same skills, he’s able to breach their perimeter and go on the offensive. Though he largely treats women as disposable playthings, he nonetheless is interested in women who have similar skills, so when he busts down the door and finds that her reflexes are almost good enough to get a shot off, that impresses him. Though he’s capable of managing his sex drive, that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate beauty, so he takes a detailed accounting of her physical assets. He’s already impressed with her reflexes and beauty, then when he finds out she’s smart, really smart, likely smarter than he is, he finds himself dangerously intrigued by her. This sets up the dynamic where he wants to be away, yet finds it hard to leave.
I knew I had to bring my lovers together again through their work but couldn’t think of how at first. Both are too professional to fall in love no matter how great the sex was, so there would be no plausible reason for them to contact one another. I decided to make the next encounter an accident. Fate usually has to step in at some point, though in many stories fate rides shotgun. I figured just a little fate would be OK, and would be a good way to bring them together again. At that time the woman working with my female protagonist was just to be different from the two guys from the earlier story, I had no idea how large a factor she would wind up being. She was only short-haired blonde because it was contrast to Isabel’s long black hair. It’s amusing to me that so much of what I write I ‘discover’ as I type. I’ve heard authors mention that they didn’t know what was going to be on the other side of that door as the protagonist creeps up the stairs and always thought they were full of crap. Instead, I find myself doing exactly the same thing. Sometimes it happens at the keyboard, sometimes it happens in the car commuting and sometimes it happens as I lie in bed ready for sleep.
To reinforce my lovers love, and encourage them to think longer term, I decide that they need to spend some quality time together so I invent the excuse of a low budget leading to ‘payment’ being made in a week-long lovemaking. However, I remained convinced that the professionalism of the lovers would still keep them apart so needed a means to keep them aware of each other: a friend in common. Though this section’s secondary character started out as just being someone different from the two guys in the first section, she morphs into a key co-protagonist because I needed a way to bring my main protagonists together in the future. What started as a throw-away line of them talking about movies and books in their drive to the countryside wound up being a major character element. I certainly didn’t plan that when I initially wrote it, another one of those spontaneous events.
Though I was writing from my contract killer’s point of view, I wanted the evolution of my female protagonist to be realistic as well. She is beautiful, but also intelligent and really good at her job. Though lacking the detailed expertise that makes my contract killer such an expert at his job, she nonetheless is an expert at hers and rapidly moves up in her agency. As might be reasonably extrapolated, she makes enemies as she achieves her rapid success, all the more so because of her beauty. I wanted to lay the groundwork for a plausible need to rescue a damsel in distress, but hate the trope of the stupid beautiful woman as a danger magnet, so wanted something I felt allowed my spy to be an expert at her job yet nonetheless be vulnerable enough she would need rescuing.
To lay the groundwork for that I arrange for her enemies to maneuver her into an ‘impossible’ job where she’s expected to fail and thus begin the downfall in her agency. Of course she’s smart enough to realize this, but is also interested in the challenge and knows that success will lead to greater things, so willingly takes on the challenge. When her own ideas fail to achieve the goal, she’s reminded of her lover, the contract killer, and eagerly uses this as an excuse to see him again. Of course they’re successful working together, it wouldn’t be much of a story if they failed and she wound up being ejected from her agency as a result. Her success, though, lays the groundwork for her later downfall and the subsequent need to be rescued by our main protagonist.
Now I need to show the shifting mental world view of my contract killer. He’s way too practical to simply decide that he should change his deeply ingrained habits for sex, no matter how great it was. What would cause him to think about such a change? That’s where my blonde protagonist becomes critical, she acts as the interface. So, my throwaway line about them talking about movies morphs into a critical plot element. Just like real life, it’s so hard to predict which elements become major factors to success in retrospect.
At this point my female protagonists weren’t lovers, just good friends. My brunette spy had sex on a regular basis, just didn’t have as much fun as with my contract killer. All this other stuff evolved out of my desire to make their backstory what I felt was more realistic. If Isabel was a really good sex lure doesn’t that imply she doesn’t let herself get emotional with her targets? If she lacks emotion isn’t it plausible that she feels nothing at all during sex? She’s a consummate professional and uses her intelligence to be excellent at her job, but doesn’t that imply emotional detachment? Just like my contract killer has to be emotionless at his job, doesn’t she need to be emotionless at hers? OK, but if she doesn’t care for sex, why would she have bothered having sex with my killer to begin with? All the sudden my somewhat accidental decision to have her have the ability to ‘flash’ her sex appeal becomes a major plot point.
If you were really good at something, had invested a lot of time and energy becoming one of the best in your field, wouldn’t you be intrigued by something that violates your expectations? That’s why Isabel decides to come onto Seacay, she wants to understand why she was being unsuccessful with her attempts at controlling him with her sex appeal. Our killer, as described very early on, has the ability to switch off his sex drive as he finds those thoughts distracting during a job. He needs his focus to be 100% on the job in order to be ensured of success. This inadvertently wound up being the reason they work so hard to sexually impress each other, which accidentally lead to them ‘imprinting’ each other. Though Isabel finds she can capture Seacay’s interest when he’s off the job, because he turns out to be the kind of lover that is sincerely interested in pleasuring his partner, she winds up having unexpectedly rewarding sex. That encourages her to experiment more with her sexual lure techniques which incentivizes Seacay to be even more diligent and round and round they go until they become hopelessly fixated on one another.
Now Seacay can’t see any other woman but Isabel and for the first time Isabel is actually interested in a man. Of course I still need to bring them together over and over, to be true to my characters they need to be too professional to allow any overt change in their behavior. Now, if Isabel really didn’t like sex at all it doesn’t seem that plausible to me that she would be that interested in overcoming Seacay’s resistance to her charms, particularly given she’s worked so hard to get out of the lure business. That means she has to get some sex she enjoys, where would that come from? How about other women? Based on my reading, women are generally much better average lovers for other women than men (men being lousy lovers is a trope I flagellate rather severely), OK, she gets physical pleasure from other women. But who? All the sudden Tessa jumps up again as an even larger figure, she can be Isabel’s primary lover.
That begs the question, though, on why the heck would Tessa spend so much energy trying to set Seacay up with her lover Isabel? I scratched my head on that for a while and eventually come up with her love for Isabel being selfless to the point she wants Isabel to be happy even if it means losing her as a physical lover. A little stretch, though in doing so I choose to make Tessa rather promiscuous so it became less of a physical thing and more of an emotional thing.
So now I’ve assembled all my parts for the damsel in distress and subsequent rescue. I’m able to keep my characters true to the way I envisioned them, Seacay takes close to a decade to realize he’s fallen in love with Isabel, Isabel accepts that she has fallen in love with Seacay (though both sort of ignore what’s going on with Tessa), but both are too professional to give up their careers. The damsel in distress is what brings them together.
This is when Tessa evolved into the expert in hand-to-hand combat. I wanted her to be excellent at something that would make her a good spy, but not necessarily any form of competition for Seacay or Isabel. Plus I thought it would be interesting to see Seacay not be _the_ master at something he claimed mastery on. I like some imperfection along with my moral ambiguity. That’s also why I wrote the ‘Inspector Clouseau’ part, I wanted to show that bad luck happens and, despite that, the protagonist can win in the end.
After Isabel was rescued from the clutches of her enemies I wanted to show some of the ‘what happens later’ so wanted to cover the exfiltration portion. Then, as Seacay says, “my understanding is we’re in the ‘happily ever after’ stage that no one ever seems to document.” I wanted to document some of that aspect. I also wanted to show some of the fruits of Seacay’s success as well as his paranoia.
A word about the sex… When I was first starting to write DoaCK I intended it to be a romance novel. Though I don’t read in genre, everything I had read about it told me that there was steamy sex in it. I had a great time writing the sex scenes, though I’ve been told I’m too mechanical. Then, later on, I got some lesbian action going further eroding the romance tropes, so after some pointed comments from some beta readers, I gave up on targeting the romance genre. After thinking about it, though, I felt that the sex scenes were important to the character development and if I completely removed them I would shortchanging them and the reader. A few of my readers concurred with my assessment (that the story would be different if the sex was entirely removed), so I cut out much of the detail and ‘fluids’ but left in the overall arc of each encounter.
Why the lesbian bondage bit? Well, I felt that it would be a useful insight into Isabel’s psyche as well as give some insights into Tessa’s personality. The dramatic, instant transformation from a disinterested sex lure doing her job to a person massively turned on is meant to be related to the ‘coregasm’ concept. I’ve read that a number of women report having orgasms when they do a flexed arm hang. So far as I know there’s no good explanation for that, but the number of anecdotal reports seems to be so large that there has to be something to it. My idea, then, was that Isabel experienced a coregasm as her arms were stretched above her head during the beginning of the bondage. Not used to that, it disturbs her equilibrium to the point where she begins to react sexually to all the other stimulations the dominatrix begins applying. Afterwards, even though she had a great time doing it and enjoys remembering/watching it, she has no interest in attempting a repeat because she feels it requires her to be completely vulnerable, something she has no interest in. I felt it would be interesting to see Isabel vulnerable and out of control, something I tried to convey regarding Seacay when he first found out about her incarceration. Tessa, though, never seems to be vulnerable. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but she just doesn’t seem to fit with that concept. She has other interesting personality quirks (at least I think they’re interesting), though you need to read book 2 to see a lot of them.
One of the reasons I so often mention Seacay’s interest/addiction to Isabel’s natural smell is to convey an idea I’ve read about a number of times. The more genetically identical two people are the more their natural smells tend to turn each other off. The opposite is generally true: the more genetically distinct people are the more their natural smells tend to be acceptable. By having Isabel’s smell be so attractive to Seacay I’m attempting to demonstrate their genetic compatibility. The idea, from an evolutionary point of view, is the more similar your immune system is to a potential mate the lower overall fitness of any offspring. The more _dis_ similar the immune system the better overall offspring fitness, hence the evolutionary drive to find more different people attractive.
Yes, I have a hair fetish… My wife has nice hair and sometimes will let it down so I can play with it, but most of the time she has it up in a bun. She recently cut 6-8 inches off and it now looks a lot more frizzy on those few occasions when she lets it down. Since I’m initially writing this for my own amusement I wanted to envision someone who had the same sort of beautiful hair, but kept it down and in display. Yes, it is a pain in the ass to manage that much hair and I intellectually appreciate that my wife gets tired of it, but in my novel I can keep the hair down and long the way I like it.
I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse behind my thought process, I’m also going to do one for the next two books in the series…