I finished Spree this past Saturday. It wasn’t an easy ending to write, because I had to give it a lot of thought in order to orchestrate things properly. One of the problems I had with writing Spree was that my main characters, for the most part, are criminals. While I enjoy exploring the criminal psyche this way, it’s still a little difficult to make them sympathetic characters. You have to find a balance. I thought it was interesting when I was watching the extras to a movie called Takers that centers on a group that pulls off high-dollar heists and the cops who are trying to find them.
One of the cops is played by Matt Dillon. Dillon is a good actor, even if he’s not what I’d call Hollywood handsome, not by any stretch (or maybe it’s just me). In Takers, he’s a LAPD detective who is so dedicated to his job that he’s lost his wife to a divorce. At one point in the movie, he even takes time from a weekend outing with his daughter—the purpose is to help her with a homework assignment by visiting LA landmarks so she can write an essay—to work on the case.
Anyway, one of the problems the filmmakers said they had with Dillon’s character was his brutality. He has not problem roughing someone up to get information from them, especially if they’ve been busted for something. The trick, the filmmakers said, was to show how far he would go to get the information without having him actually go so far that the audience would turn against him. To that end, they filmed a very long scene of him roughing up a criminal and then cutting a lot of it to achieve that balance. Personally, I found his dogged determination to pursue the case more alienating, but maybe that’s from being separated from my kid for so long. I can’t even imagine forsaking an outing with her in order to get a few more tidbits of info on the bad guys—even if the tidbits he gets end up being crucial to the case.
So I had to balance the ending, because I have criminals for main characters and, unlike Lyle Villines from the Pipeline stories (BTW, I have an idea for a new Lyle Villines novel, for those of you who like him), these guys have pretty much always been lowlifes. Lyle fell into it in an effort to make extra money. But Steve Wilson, my main viewpoint character, grew up on the streets of LA, while Eddie Jones has ties to the Mafia back in New Jersey. Meanwhile, you have a LAPD detective, as well as the FBI, pursuing them.
How do you balance that? Well, to answer that would be to give the ending away, so I’ll leave you wallowing in mystery.
One of the interesting experiences I had while writing this book though, was that I ended up borrowing a couple of my daughter’s characters from her YA crime novel The Doc is In. She has a couple of FBI agents who run an elite team that investigates hard-to-solve serial bank robbery cases. That’s the focus of her book: a guy known only as Doc is running orphan teams, claiming to hold the money for them until they turn eighteen. But her main character, Lauren, learns that he really kills them and keeps the money and goes to the FBI. The two characters I borrowed are Dale Navarro, the team commander, and his second, Jennifer Xu . My cop, Brad Ferguson, got interested in Jen, as she insists you address her, but didn’t think anything would come of it. The team is lending a hand to the case because they’ve hit a wall in the follow-up to the case of the Kid Bandits (my name. Jesi doesn’t use a name, if memory serves). I made sure I cleared this with Jesi—of course—and when I talked to her a few days later, she suggested a further use for Jen—which I won’t reveal here as it’s another surprise in Spree—that helps her on her sequel to The Doc is In.
I like the concept of an über-world, which means the world of your books is consistent: characters from one book might be mentioned or even make cameos in others, even if the current story has no relation. It’s something you see a lot in sf/f, but I’m not sure if anyone’s ever used another author’s characters in their own original stories. I’m sure there’s at least one more example out there. I’m just saying I don’t believe I’ve encountered it.
One of the other things Jesi and I talked about was the library I intend to accumulate for research purposes. I’m currently reading a book called El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency by British journalist Ioan Grillo. He’s spent ten years in Mexico investigating what Mexicans call El Narco from the inside, and there’s a lot of good information in it for me. Mind is a library copy, but I intend to obtain my own for my personal library.
What else would I need, though? Think about it: I write crime novels. I need information on things like forensics, police procedure (I’m going to try to arrange a ride-along with a local PD soon), things like that. But I also need to know about illegal things, like drug manufacturing, the use of explosives, things like that. My library could end up looking highly suspicious, especially in the age of the Patriot Act where you can be held just because LE decides you could be a terrorist. I’m hoping good relations with local LE—and published novels—will allay that for me. But it’s an interesting thought: that I could get into legal trouble for simply having a library of research material for my writing.
Ah, the risks we take for our craft. Think of the poor folks who write erotica. What kind of strange circumstances do they find themselves in? What risks do they take? It must tax their minds with worry.
I’ve also decided to try and learn Spanish. I had help on Pipeline from a friend of my daughter’s, but it would be nice to know it myself. Since the Drug Wars scenario fascinates me so much, having a working knowledge of the language would be nice, but I need street Spanish, everyday Spanish, not the stuff you learn in high school or college. That’s too formal. I need the slang, things like that. I don’t know if even Rosetta Stone would help me there, as good as they’re supposed to be (besides, who can afford them? Not a lowly writer, that’s for sure).
Well, this post has been rambling and pointless but, hey, it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to. Some weeks are like that. I always feel a little drained when I finish a novel, and the new idea I have for Lyle is preoccupying me to boot. Plus, it’s later than I usually write my post, I have a couple letters I need to write, and I’m critiquing The Doc is In one more time for Jesi, so you’ll just have to put up with a little rambling this week.
At least I didn’t get off into the whole rant about responsibility that I thought about writing.
Maybe I’ll get to that one next week.