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 Amazon.com. It will be released later this month in paperback by Night Shadows Press and at Smashwords.com for other ebook readers.

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