Monday, July 30, 2012

BIRTH AND GROWTH OF A NOVEL


Earl Staggs, novelist and short story author, two-time Derringer award winner, and an all-around good guy, is my guest this week.
The idea came to me shortly after the tragedy of 9-11 when terrorists left a scar across the world that will never heal.  I was equally heartbroken and angry.  The angry part of me wanted to go out and find anyone planning to commit such a horrible, unspeakable act and exterminate them.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought, “What if a group of people did exactly that?”
What if a group tracked potential terrorists, and if they planned to take innocent lives, stop them before they committed their murderous act?  Yes, there are alphabet agencies with that responsibility. There’s the CIA, FBI, NSA and others, but they have restrictions.  They can only react after the fact and do not arrest and prosecute people for making threats.  They take action only after innocent people are killed.
The agency taking form in my mind would be secretive and operate under the radar of scrutiny without restrictions.  If they were absolutely certain a terrorist group would attack and kill, this agency would stop them first – permanently with great prejudice.  Most terrorists are committed to die for their cause.  If that is their wish, this agency would accommodate them. If they want to meet Allah and collect their virgins, the agency would put them in the Express Lane.
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I felt it was an incredible idea, but could I actually build a novel around it? Only one way to find out.  Try it and see what happens.  I worked on it for several years.
I created  a main character with experience in Special Forces and named him Tall Chambers.  When Tall retires from the Army at the age of 37, he joins the special agency.  The agency has eyes and ears all over the world, and other operatives with skills and backgrounds similar to Tall’s fill out the unit.  Tall accepts the agency’s mantra of “Kill one terrorist, save a hundred lives,” even though he doesn’t like killing under any circumstances.  He learns to concentrate on lives saved, not those taken.
But that’s when a strange thing happened.
Tall grew as I wrote until the primary focus of the story shifted from chasing terrorists and centered more to how the job affected him and those around him.  The agency became only a backdrop for Tall’s personal story. 
When Tall loses the person closest to him, his focus becomes entirely personal.  He uses the agency’s resources and contacts to find the person responsible for his loss and set things right.  This quest leads him to a decision between exacting personal revenge or preventing a corrupt power from moving into the most powerful office in the world – the Presidency of the United States.
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I was pleased with how this story turned out and feel it could be my best work to date. Now I look forward to seeing TALL CHAMBERS: JUSTIFIED ACTION in print. That should happen within a few short months, and I’m excited about it.
ABOUT EARL
Mystery author Earl Staggs recently received his second Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned a long list of Five Star reviews. SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of 16 Mystery tales, is available in print and ebook. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences, seminars, writers and readers groups. Email: earlstaggs@sbcglobal.net Website: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

13 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

An inriguing idea. I like the fact that you decided on focus on what happens to Tall as a result of his killing people.

Polly said...

Love the idea, Earl. Sounds like my kind of book. But then I like when characters cross ethical lines and how they justify their choices. I look forward to reading it.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Earl,
I can see why you're excited about this book. It starts with a deeply felt emotional event and has a most interesting protagonist. Good luck! TALL CHAMBERS: JUSTIFIED ACTION sounds like one of those blockbuster novels we all hope to write.

Jan Christensen said...

Great post, Earl. It's wonderful to learn how an idea evolves as the story is written, sometimes surprising the writer as well as the reader. Thanks, Ellis, for hosting Earl.

Jinx Schwartz said...

Thanks, Earl, for insight into how an event can trigger an idea for a book. You are a great story teller, and that's why your books are great.

Darla said...

Thanks for sharing your process! And it's nice to read that "the primary focus of the story shifted" ...

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks, everyone, for your encouraging comments. A lot of time and sweat went into this one, and I'll do a happy, happy dance when it comes out.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Earl,
I so enjoy a story when the main character grows and changes. Best of luck with your next one.

jrlindermuth said...

Interesting portrayal of how an idea (and characters) grow before they're done with us.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

This sounds like a really exciting novel, Earl. Best of luck with it!

VR Barkowski said...

Great post, Earl. You've captured what it's like when the story takes the lead and carries the author along for the ride. I don't think there's anything more exciting for a writer and subsequently for the reader. Your book sounds terrific!

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks much John, Jacqueline, and VR. It's been a long road for this one. I hope it makes it into print and has a good life.

Kaye George said...

I'm glad I finally made it over here. I loved reading about the genesis of the book. Congrats for getting it out there soon! Sounds like a great plot.