By C. Kevin Thompson
I picked up a copy of Lee Child’s debut novel, The Killing Floor. It was his first Jack Reacher novel. Originally published in 1997, this edition (the fifth edition in 2012) is a mass paperback and contains “a new introduction by the author.” It was this intro that inspired me to keep on keeping on.
Child tells the story of how he came to be Lee Child, the author. Working in network television in England, it was apparent to him their jobs were on the chopping block, although they had just signed a new contract in 1988. By the end of the sixth year of the contract, “the ax fell,” as he had predicted. During this time, he’d been reading in the thriller genre and had decided that if the ax ever did fall, he was leaving the television field and going to become a writer.
So, in 1994, with no job, he went into a store in the Manchester Arndale mall and purchased what amounted to about six dollars of legal pads, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, and an eraser. (Ahh, the good old days.)
He stated how he loved some things and disliked others, and it was these thoughts that helped him know what he wanted to write, how his characters would behave, etc.
Child came to a couple of conclusions early on all writers need to be reminded of from time to time. First, Character is King. He states that there are about six books every century that are remembered for their plot. However, people remember characters. “Who remembers the Lone Ranger?” Child asks. “Everybody. Who remembers any actual Lone Ranger storylines? Nobody.” So, Child knew his character needed to carry the weight. And being out of work and broke at the time, his character was going to have to “carry the whole weight.”
The second conclusion he came to was this: If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late to get on. Although he admits this phrase may have been originally stated in a meeting about investments, he felt it could be readily applied to writing. So, he knew his character and subsequent stories needed to be fresh. So, the lesson for us today? No dystopian vampires.
His third conclusion was this: You can’t design a character too specifically. When you do, you find yourself creating a laundry list of characteristics that seem forced and ever-increasingly implausible. Instead, he felt his character needed to flow from the story. As the writer, he need to relax and allow the character to come to him.
Child didn’t even have a name for this character at the beginning. It wasn’t until a little old lady asked him (being a very tall man) to reach for something on the top shelf at a store that the name came to him. Child thought, “Well, if this writer thing doesn’t work out, I could always be a reacher in a supermarket.” Hence, the last name of his main character. As for the first name, in 1997, there were very few if any “Jacks” out there. His was one of the first. The rest became copycats.
Isn’t it amazing what being broke, having no job, and developing a hunger for writing can create? Now, with scads of books on the market, and two of his Jack Reacher books made into movies thus far, I think all those questions about how to pay the bills have been solved.
C. Kevin Thompson’s debut novel, The Serpent’s Grasp, won the 2013 BRMCWC Selah Award (First Novel category) and is not available in second edition! Also, the first three books in Kevin’s Blake Meyer Thriller Series are available, 30 Days Hath Revenge, Triple Time, and The Tide of Times! You can visit Kevin at www.ckevinthompson.com: “Where imagination meets eternity.”