Sunday, September 21, 2014

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Have you ever killed off a character you loved?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, I've certainly wanted to kill off a lot of 'characters' I've come across in my life, but we're talking fiction here. The answer is yes. Killing off a character that you like is never easy.  We all love killing the bad guys, seeing them get their just desserts. But when you kill off a sympathetic character, a character that you and your readers like and, who is a good guy and good friend to your protagonist, well, that's another story.  But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do for the sake of the plot and the story and a dash of realism.

Gaby, a character in my story Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne, set around the time of the Zoot Suit Riots during World War II, is missing. He's a friend of Bobby's, the story's main character.  And someone who knows Bobby's deepest secrets. But knowing them, he is sympathetic to Bobby and a friend to him.  So when he goes missing, Bobby wants to find out what happened.  And it isn't pretty. And though Gaby meets an untimely end, I liked the character.  So when I wrote The Blues Don't Care, a novel that "stars" Bobby in the main role, I resurrected Gaby to return in that story, which is set previous to the time of Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne. So, sometimes through the magic of fiction you can bring back a character that you like.  (This novel is not yet available.)

My short story Free Fall starts off with the main character, Rick, free falling to his death from a high-rise apartment in L.A.  So I'm not really giving anything away here. This was an interesting experiment for me as both the writer and reader know the main character, the narrator of the story, is dead from the beginning.  As the ground comes screaming towards him and in those few seconds before hitting, we get his story.  Having started this story off knowing my main character was going to die, I didn’t have time to become too attached to him, at least initially.  But, as I wrote his backstory, I started to like him and empathize with him and I think that gave the story a little more depth and interest as we realize all the events that led up to him taking this ultimate final step.

Spoiler Alert – Don't read this graph if you're planning to read White Heat: Probably the most heartrending death of a character both for me and my readers was the death of a dog in this novel. It's ironic because just a week or two before I got this question I read something that said you never kill a dog in a cozy.  Well, this book is about as far from a cozy as you can get.  Still, it was hard on my audience and I got a lot of feedback on that. Some people couldn't even read those parts.  And it was hard for me to kill him off.  But it did make people hate the bad guy even more – after all, who kills a dog?  I don't like the idea of hurting a dog anymore than anyone else.  But you do what works for the plot.  And in this case I thought it would jolt the reader into connecting with the characters in a more real way.  Suddenly the bad guy is really evil and the hero more sympathetic. Is that manipulative – maybe.  But isn't all writing?  Still, it hurt to write those scenes and you just feel it all well up inside you as you write. It was also hard on me because the real-life dog that the dog-character was based on was a dog I'd had as a kid.  Luckily that rascally dog lived to a ripe old age. End of Spoiler.

Killing off the characters in the three cases that I mention above worked for each particular story.  And you do what you have to do to make the story work.  But that doesn't mean you don't regret it sometimes. In one particular screenplay of mine, that was optioned over and over but never produced, I kill off the main character's sidekick buddy.  But I really liked that character and since it hasn't been produced, well, maybe it's not too late to save his ass.

(originally posted on 7 Criminal Minds blog)

Friday, September 5, 2014


Today I welcome mystery author and former private detective G.B. Pool to my blog. She’s
responding to the Meet My Character blog tour.

Besides having worked as P.I., she was once a newspaper reporter for a small town weekly. She writes short stories as well as two detective series, one featuring Johnny Casino, an ex-mobster, and also Gin Caulfield, an over fifty gal who’s still packing heat. G.B. teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story,” ”How To Write Convincing Dialogue,” and “How To Write a Killer Opening Line.” Website:

Here her character Col. Robert Mackenzie from her Spy Game trilogy tells us a little about himself and the series.

1) Please state your name. Are you a fictional character or an historic person?

My name is Colonel Robert Mackenzie. I’m a spymaker. As for whether this is fictional or not, let me put it this way: The facts are true. The rest is made up.

2) When and where is the story set?

The Odd Man starts out during World War II when my plane was shot down over Germany and I ended up working with German resistance fighters, anyway, that’s who they said they were. I was suspicious. I followed the head guy, Gunter Beyer, one night after I misunderstood what he had said to his beautiful wife, Monika. We ran into some real Nazis soldiers and I realized I had made a huge mistake. And had it not been for Monika following me, we’d all be dead.

Then Gunter and I got caught in the firebombing of Hamburg. Next, we helped Danish resistance with the escape plans for Niels Bohr who was then spirited out of Denmark on his way to Los Alamos.

I finished out the war in London working for ‘’Wild Bill” Donovan and the OSS. I went back to the States after the war and ended up teaching a school for spies, first out of SAC, then with the newly formed CIA. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

3) What else should we know about you?

When I was lying in beautiful Monika’s bed, burning up with fever, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Then I woke up and realized she was just taking care of me and I figured my life was over. I was young; there was a war going on. Stuff like that happens. But Monika, a gypsy by birth who was spared the concentration camps when Gunter stole her away from her tyrannical father, told me I had a future. She could see it in my eyes. I laughed. Then years passed and I realized she had been right. My future was in the spygame. I was one of the best damn spies there was and better still, I could train men and a few women to be part of the last defense against tyranny coming ashore. Little did I know at the beginning, but the enemy often comes from within.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up your life?

After the war I went back to the States, finished college, and the Korean War broke out. This time I go back in the service as an instructor. I teach a lot of brass hats in the military how to beat the enemy by using my chess game theory: Know the enemy and be six moves ahead.

They let me have my own training camp in a secret location where I trained guys to blend in to their surroundings – foreign or domestic. I teach them well and my first group goes off to Berlin in the early Sixties.

When my pipe-line is blown a few years later, the survivors and I try to figure out who betrayed us. While we are looking toward the Soviet Union and East Germany, our prey is actually in Washington, D.C., polishing his political résumé. Greed and arrogance would have him stop at nothing, even selling out his country, to achieve the biggest prize of them all.

5) What is your personal goal?

My goal: Learn as much about the enemy as you can and then beat him with every trick in the book. We don’t have a choice.

6) And a question to the author: When can we expect the book to be published?

The SPYGAME Trilogy comes out in 2015.

The first book, The Odd Man, is just as Robert Mackenzie described it.

clip_image004The second book, Dry Bones begins at the 30th high school reunion of a group of people who graduated from an American military boarding school in France. Held in Sin City, Las Vegas, a handful of former friends unearth old memories and old murders.
The Premise: Someone wants to prevent the remains of a former classmate killed in Vietnam from being returned during the reunion. Hint: The school was a recruiting ground for CIA operatives who went to Vietnam during the 60’s and 70’s.

Master spymaker Robert Mackenzie and writer Elaine Barton put the pieces of this puzzle together by digging up bones in the catacombs of the old deconsecrated monastery in France where Elaine went to school, uncovering the real story of two mysterious classmates whose father, Etienne LeBlanc, had been a notorious drug dealer, and by discovering the true history of an antique dealer in Saigon who knows where most of the bodies are buried.

Switched identities and phony pasts entangle lives from Vietnam to France, all linked by an enigmatic man named Tran Van Quang and a jade Saint.

clip_image005Star Power, the final novel in the SPYGAME Trilogy, traces the activities of a world-famous actress, Irene Roman, who is a Soviet agent. She started her career in the 1950’s, when the McCarthy Era was captivating America and she uses her beauty and prominence to infiltrate many areas usually closed to the average Joe.

Her agent, Michael Walsh, part of the Popular Front movement in the 30’s and 40’s, recruited several stars for Party work as well as for their acting. He used a dumb little blonde named Estelle Murray until she learned too much about a plan to do more than infiltrate the movie industry with communist propaganda.

To push forward the Front's agenda, Walsh blackmails a script reader from MGM , Lillian Pritchard, a bit of a lush, who has an illegitimate son by a famous Hollywood screenwriter, Sidney Berman. Lillian is the only intelligent person in Walsh's life besides the fellow-traveling intelligentsia who are trying to make a statement in American movies.

The commies are more than willing to let the Hollywood Left write anything they want, just send all that lovely money back to Moscow. Irene arrives on the scene when more than money is required. She marries a rising star in Hollywood to get her foot in the door, followed by a few other famous men whom she uses. She even names a name during the HUAC hearings. Talk about your red herrings. She even marries the handsome American Ambassador to India to try to disrupt Chinese-Russian relations during the Vietnam War.

Master spymaker, Robert Mackenzie, runs into her several times around the world, once in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring. Because she looks like an old love, he finds it hard to get her out of his mind, but when he finds out she’s a spy, he decides to use her to America’s advantage.
Irene and her cronies want to oversee the ruination of America by weakening the moral and mental fabric of the country. Her final gambit is to assume the seat of a dead U.S. Senator in a fixed election and press to have America capitulate when a threat is uncovered that could destroy major parts of North America. Can Mac and his team stop this before it’s too late?


Thank you, Gayle!

And now Gayle is tagging writers Matt Coyle and Joel Fox to carry on the Meet My Character Blog Hop.