The process I use to develop a book is not very precise. Sometimes things just come to me, and other times I spend a lot of time doing research on a key point that had triggered the idea of a book. So, book ideas have come in a flash and have been based on more thoughtful detailed analysis.
All my books start with something familiar. The Bootlegger’s Legacy was based on a gossipy story I heard while drinking with a group of male companions. They were talking about two people who were sometimes part of the group. These were all business people meeting at bars to discuss work and various other subjects to lessen the anxiety of not being the person you wanted to be. Much of these discussions centered around money. The story was that these two not so bright businessmen were going to do a drug deal to pay-off their massive business-related debt. It was an act of desperation laced with stupidity. As it turned out, this was just bar talk and nothing ever happened.
From that tiny memory I had an idea for a book. It was going to be a buddy adventure with lots of screw-ups by the amateur drug dealers and their encounters with Mexican criminals. It was going to be, hopefully, funny. I sat down to write. After a few pages it wasn’t funny, and I had no idea how any of the plot lines would develop. I knew nothing about Mexican drug dealers.
While I was thinking about how to make this small idea into a book, I remembered my childhood experience with a bootlegger in my middle-class neighborhood in Oklahoma City. I liked the idea of two friends trying to find a way to make some quick money because of their business problems so it occurred to me to have them look for money hidden by a bootlegger from the 1950s in dry Oklahoma. One idea ended up as something entirely different: but still with some aspects of the original.
This happens over and over with my books. Take something, an experience, a location, a profession, known characters, an encounter or just an idea and turn it into a full-length book. This requires a lot of imagination and good deal of bullshit. To keep me centered while I make stuff up, I rely upon familiar settings to make the scenes feel more real to me and the reader. I’ve been there, I know that town, that place, that bar; it is comfortable to write about and it makes the characters more real—to me and hopefully, the reader.
My current project is China Deep Dive. It is not about China. It’s about something that happened that I was a part of. It’s mostly about a very large con-game that was led by the most unlikely people to fleece a bank, a major US company and the China government out of millions of dollars. It occurred, in of all places, little Las Cruces, New Mexico. In case you are wondering, I was not part of the con. I was very much an innocent bystander, conned as much as anyone. But I did help provide a veneer of respectability. The story is about how all of that blew up, left many people financially harmed or dead. Yes, I said dead—that’s mostly the made-up part. While there was a tragic accident in the “real” story, the fictional one has many people dying. It adds to the drama.
So, what is real and what is fiction? I would guess (not through with the book yet) that something like 20% is based on the true story and 80% is pure fiction.
One book that might be even more true is Murder So Wrong. That book (and series) was based on an actual newspaper war that came about due to a defeat in a governor’s election in Oklahoma. I was in Oklahoma City at the time and became friends with one of the major players at one of the newspapers. In the book his character is Taylor Albright. At the time, I had no idea I would write a book about those events (otherwise, I would have kept notes). Many of the characters and events in that series actually happened. Although, once again, much of the mayhem that drives the stories is fiction.
As a bonus (I hope) for reading my blog, I’m enclosing the first chapter of China Deep Dive. I’m working on that book right now and would anticipate a completed book in three to four months, unless I sink into another one of my black holes. If that happens all bets are off.