By Dave McDonald
Every fiction writer should write their first book about something near and dear to them, like what they did for a living. After all, you are an expert on the subject, you have hundreds of associates to pick, dissect, and mix into potential characters, you have all the scene data to assist you in placing the reader there, and you can chose the time period. So you have the who, what, where, and when. All your research is behind you. It’s just a matter of recall and most likely a whole bunch of embellishment. Now all you have to do is build an intriguing story around your career knowledge.
That’s what I did.
I worked as an engineer at a jet engine manufacturer and eventually became a technical customer interface. In other words, I travelled the world interfacing with airlines on engine problems, fixes, and implementation plans to minimize any impact to their service. I accrued over five million miles of air travel and went to over thirty different countries. I have been arrested, detained, shot at, under house-arrest for three weeks during a civil war, touched by lepers, eaten unbelievable things, and gotten up in the middle of the night to step bare-foot on bugs or into six-inches of water(try that half-awake). But most of all, I acquired a life-time worth of good friends of varying colors, sects, religions, environments, levels of wealth, and cultures. I learned so much about people and life. It was a wonderful, treasured experience.
I had data.
Writing a book had always been a dream, I’d just never had the time to try it. But when the time became available, I had gathered decades of data. So I sat down and wrote “Killing by Numbers”, a thriller about managerial greed at a jet engine manufacturing plant; greed that leads to fraud, evolving into murder when engines explode and airplanes fall from the sky. A
young man climbing the corporate ladder and his secretary/girlfriend get caught up in the panic which ensues with the crashes and the subsequent murders of several vice-presidents.
When I wrote the words ‘The End’, I had made a dream come true; the first of ten dreams so far.
Ten years later, I had learned so much about writing, I took a year to edit and rewrite “Killing by Numbers”. And I enjoyed ‘killing the babies’ as Hemingway said about editing.
Every book since the first has required some level of research, although I still utilize many of the characters and places I experienced in my work career.
My advice to the novice fiction writer is to gain your footing by writing about what you know before you venture into the imagined world. You have data to bolster your story and to share with the reader, use it. Once you’ve finished, edit, edit, edit, and then edit some more. After fifteen or twenty total book edits of both line and content, and hopefully some credible reviews, which you must listen to and learn from, maybe then you will have the confidence to let your imagination create your next story.
Powerball winners are being murdered and their winnings are missing.
A decorated former Marine officer is tired and broken until given another shot at life: a loving girlfriend, a lottery commissioner’s job, and a seductive female governor as his new boss. Within his first week as a commissioner, Brent Layne discovers he’s trapped in a corruption pit with everyone around him either lying or dying.
On the way to Sally Kellerman’s office, it struck me that this dedicated employee, my employee, trapped in a boring bureaucratic state job, had gone out of her way to help me. I needed to show my appreciation. I pulled the Taurus to the curb and checked my phone. I needed some directions.
Twenty–five minutes later, I arrived at Sally’s closed office door with a bouquet of assorted flowers mixed with long-stem red roses. Though I had never met a woman who didn’t like roses; I didn’t. The smell of roses reminded me of funeral homes. Regardless, Sally’s office could use some color and fragrance. Fabricating a smile, I knocked on her office door, and waited. Nothing. After a polite pause, I knocked again, a little harder, and the door opened. I stepped inside. No one was there. As I turned to leave, something crunched beneath my foot. Damn it, I had stepped on a pair of glasses, Sarah Palin glasses, Sally’s glasses. As I bent over to retrieve the remnants, I saw a pair of feet, one bare and one wearing a black, flat shoe, on the other side of the desk.
I dropped the flowers and rushed behind the desk.
Sally was on the floor, on her side, a plastic bag covered her head. Her bulged green eyes seemed even larger than when magnified by her glasses. A swollen blood-dried gash protruded from her forehead just above her left eye. Her blue-lipped mouth was stretched open in a silent plea.
The bag was sealed around her neck with duct tape, the same duct tape that bound her hands together behind her back.
I squatted and pressed my fingers against her neck searching for a pulse. There was none.
Bent over the frail, masculine woman, a shiver rocked my body. What had I done?
Bean and I had probably gotten Andrew killed by our insistence to visit him when his killer was already there. The murder may not have happened if we hadn’t called and demanded a meeting.
And poor innocent Sally wouldn’t be dead if I hadn’t involved her in my investigation. There were no ifs, ands, or buts to dilute the blame; she was dead because of me.
And shit, Bean might already be dead as well.
My guilt was like a covered pot of liquid heated to boiling; I was on the verge of erupting. I needed to cry, or scream, or hit something; anything to vent, to relieve the pressure. I clenched my jaws and squeezed my hands white.
Men had died following my orders, but that was different, that was war, people died. Sally was an employee, trying to help her appointed boss who had gotten in over his head.
I squatted next to her, slowly shaking my head. I wanted to rip off the plastic bag and ease her mouth and eyes closed and straightened her rumpled hair. She hadn’t deserved to die, not like this, not because of me.
I should’ve never taken this fucking life-changing, life-ending job.
I had to shake off my emotions and think. Sally was gone. I couldn’t change that.
I relaxed my hands and took a deep breath and let it out through pursed lips.
I could stay and call the police. Two murders both found and reported by me. Who would the police suspect?
I stood and looked around the office for any clues, anything that may lead me to the killer. There was nothing obvious. I eyed the desk for a list. There were papers scattered everywhere. I wanted to sort through them, but obviously the murderer had already done that. And I didn’t want to leave my fingerprints. Thinking of prints, I bent down and, using my tie, wiped Sally’s neck where I had checked for a pulse. I wasn’t sure prints could be left on skin but I couldn’t take any chances.
There was nothing more to do here. My vulnerability was testing my control. I needed to get out of here now.
I left, closed the door behind me, and paused to wipe off the knob. As I turned to walk away, I remembered the flowers, those damned horrible-smelling roses. As I turned to go back, an old black man pulling a cart carrying a plastic garbage can came around the hall corner.
The old man nodded at me and said, “Afternoon.”
I could only think about leaving, getting away. I rushed by him without responding.
For decades, I travelled abroad. At the time I was performing my job. In retrospect, I was collecting data; sights, smells, emotions, experiences, and stories for my second career.
Over the past ten years, I’ve belonged to two writing groups. I’ve given presentations on editing at writing conferences. I’ve had a writing critique partner for the past eight years.
I’ve written ten novels, with several more in seed.
I live with my wife, Linda, and dog, Bentley, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
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