It might be one idea that launches the story but several come into play before I’m through – or even old scenarios get dusted off, rearranged, and used in this newer context. I’ve written here on Criminal Minds previously how an article in my hometown paper the L.A. Times about a planned subdivision had hit hard times during the ’08 economic meltdown inspired, if that’s the right word, my latest novel Warlord of Willow Ridge. As my colleagues have noted this week, you start with a “what if” for a character or situation and build out from that. Yet it’s also the case that nuggets and full blown outlines and characters I’ve previously worked out for something else can be mined.
As an example, for some time I’ve been intrigued about the notion of an avuncular liquor salesman who was also a killer. Maybe he was some sort of hitman for hire or he was an assassin for a super secret government agency. This idea sprang from back when my dad had a friend who was a freewheeling liquor salesman. He dated smart, good-looking women, drove swanky leased cars, got to travel servicing his accounts, do special events and what have you. A black Don Draper if you will.
Spring forward some years and at one point I was determined to create a comic book series or at least a graphic novel using my liquor salesman as the main character. I wrote a couple of different outlines of who this guy was and why he went around bumping off people. In one of the scenarios, he wasn’t a killer per se but a bona fide spirits rep who Kolchak-like – a reporter character of TV, prose and comic books who invariably gets tangled up in horror cases – due to his job encounter werewolves, serial killers, aliens and the like. But none of my proposed pitches really go to how I saw this character.
Then came New Pulp.
As I recently noted on the other site I blog for, Thalia Press Authors Co-Op in a piece entitled Pulped Fictions, and by others, particularly the hard working Keith Rawson on LitReactor, e-books, them internets and print on demand have helped to usher in an ascendant neo pulp sub-genre. Long story short, I’ve recently been working on what will be a series of e-book novellas in this mold. One of the ideas is in the tradition of 1970s paperback vigilantes like the godfather of them all, The Executioner (who spawned The Punisher in Marvel Comics), The Nullifier, The Baroness, et al.
But as I sat down to work out the particulars of my modern-day vigilante, I knew my liquor salesman wasn’t the main guy…but he could be the uncle of this guy. That when something drastic happens to our hero to transform him, to send him after the bad guys, ol’ unk steps forward to help and Shazam! our guy and us learn he’s more than just a smooth talking booze pusher. Now if I can just come up with a cool moniker for my guy.
Hopefully another idea will bubble up when I think on it or one of those massive cover-all vinyl ads plastered on a bus passes by and something clicks. Though I’m pretty sure I won’t be calling this dude The Hugo Boss Man. I mean, that does have a ring to it, but not exactly the badassness I’m looking to convey.
But never say never I guess.