Monday, July 23, 2012

Cast of Characters

I'm winding up revision of my second book in the Post Cold War thriller trilogy, The Poksu Conspiracy. As you might guess from the name, most of the action takes place in Korea, both South and North. The time is fall and early winter of 1993, when the world was trying to sort out the effects of the Cold War's demise. The U.S. economy was in the doldrums following the first Gulf War. South Korea continued to make significant progress in the export markets while its political leadership remained in the hands of the generals. Unification with the North and a lessening of foreign (read U.S.) influence was the rallying cry.

The Poksu Conspiracy is an adventurous tale of what might have happened based on historical events and past actions of American leaders. Early in the story, an audacious plot results in the deaths of North Korean Dictator Kim Il Sung, his son and heir apparent, and much of the communist leadership. Had that part of the story been true, the world would be a lot better off. But I digress.

The book could be called half thriller and half Korean police procedural. One of the main characters is Homicide Detective Yun Yu-sop with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Bureau. The story follows his efforts to solve a series of murders he believes are an attempt to silence leading voices who favor continued Korean-U.S. cooperation.

The story is quite complex, making the book a long one, running 160,000 words. Since much of it takes place in Korea, many of the characters have Korean names. And there are lots of them. As a result, it will likely be difficult for readers to keep up with everybody. Why don't you cut some of them out, my wife asked? Well, they all play a significant role in the story.

I went though the manuscript and counted 74 named characters, and that doesn't include a couple who are named only as murder victims. I decided to make a Cast of Characters, which would name only those who appear in more than one chapter. I figure those who appear in no more than a couple of contiguous scenes shouldn't be a problem. That cut the total down to 48.

Now I'm left with the decision of how to list the characters.  Should it be done as in a theatrical playlist, naming the characters as they appear in the story? Or should I simply put them in alphabetical order? Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Genisis of a Fiction-Writing Career

When I retired from the workaday world back in mid-1989, I knew my replacement at the trade association I had run for eighteen years would want to redo the office. I had been working at a roll-top desk I painstakingly finished in walnut stain after buying it at an unpainted furniture store. The association president said take it home, along with some matching wooden chairs. I had told everyone I planned to write novels after I retired, so I set up my computer beside the roll-top and attacked my new career.

Beware the Jabberwock will be FREE in the Kindle store July 12-14.
Being a long-time fan of the Cold War thriller, I naturally turned to that genre. Problem was the Berlin Wall's days were numbered, and the Soviet Union wouldn't be far behind. I had avidly followed the Soviet KGB's shenanigans and the CIA's countermoves. So I began to speculate on what might happen as the two long-time adversaries watched their playground plowed up.

Looking back at page after page of handwritten notes in the Jabberwock file, I recall doing a prodigious amount of research before getting far into the story. Much of it wound up on the cutting room floor, to use a film expression. I read extensively about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed as spies for leaking nuclear secrets to the KGB. I came up with a scenario for a character whose mother had been a friend of the couple, then scrapped it when a better idea came along.

I originally had a long list of character names, only a few of whom made the cut. The female lead, Lorelei, was originally conceived as the daughter of a once-prominent Virginia family. Her background changed completely when I got into the tale and made her the daughter of CIA officer Cameron Quinn with an intriguing background. I stayed with Burke Hill as the protagonist and gave him the complex past of an ex-FBI agent I had known several years before.

When I opened the book with a clandestine meeting in Vienna of a KGB general and a high official  in the CIA, I read up on ways to detect electronic surveillance devices. My old file contains several pages from an electronics magazine describing the equipment I used in Chapter 1. I did other research on such subjects as mortars, secure telephones, small sailboats, World War II LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized), the city of Toronto and much more.

At the time I had no writing credits, but I wrote the Metropolitan Toronto Conventions & Visitors Association with a detailed list of seven questions regarding parades and security in the city. A gentleman named John Hamlton, assistant director of public relations, sent me a two-page answer providing everything I needed. New writers who are afraid to ask people for information are wasting their time. People are eager to help writers.

In those days I depended on my internet service with CompuServe to do online research, though most of it was done with books and magazines from the Vanderbilt University library. My simple word processing program would only create small files, so I wound up with seventeen files to cover the entire book. It required printing one file at a time to get a complete manuscript. When I finally converted to Word, I got them all in one file.

As the Soviet Union fell apart, I kept up with the news of what was happening in Russia and imagined how things would play out of the situation kept deteriorating. Fortunately, what I imagined didn't take place but it made for a chilling story of what might have been. Beware the Jabberwock is available for the Kindle at It will be released later this month in paperback by Night Shadows Press and at for other ebook readers.