Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, meeting in Cleveland this year, I thought I'd ask Les Roberts for a guest post. Les Roberts is the author of 16 mystery novels featuring Cleveland detective Milan Jacovich, as well as 11 other books of fiction.
Les Roberts is the past president of both the Private Eye Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League. He came to mystery writing after a 24-year career in Hollywood. Les has been a professional actor, a singer, a jazz musician, and a teacher. In 2003 he received the Sherwood Anderson Literary Award. A native of Chicago, he now lives in Northeast Ohio and is a film and literary critic. Roberts’s newest book, Whiskey Island is available at Amazon.com, BN.com and other online retailers, in both print and eBook editions. Les Roberts blogs at: LesRoberts.com
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The Supporting Cast
When I was five years old and living in a high-rise Chicago apartment building, the manager was very imposing.---tall, good-looking, piercingly deep voice, and always wore bow ties. By the time I was ten, I learned he wasn't omnipotent, but only a loud-talking phony-baloney jerk. So when I was creating Bert Loftus, the major supporting character in my newest novel Whiskey Island, this man kept appearing in my imagination, insisting I base a character on him. Similarly, the greedy landlords in the novel, Jeff and Vicki Ogrin (known not very affectionately as The Ogres), are based, both on appearance and personality, on my lady love's grotesque and obnoxious next-door neighbors.
If I were to thumb through my other 25 novels (and no, I do NOT sit around and re-read them all day long), I would recognize all of the supporting characters, some vital to the plot and some taking up no more than a paragraph, as people I know, people I've met, people I've seen on the street or in a restaurant. I don't base them on movie actors, which is bizarre and lazy, and I don't make them up out of whole cloth. Everything we mystery authors put on paper, even fantasy, horror, imagination or sci-fi, comes from something, somewhere, or someone we have experienced. The hired gangster in Whiskey Island, whom I nicknamed "Hatchet-nose," in my mind is just like my memory of a guy in my high school. Nice guy he was---but even at sixteen years of age he looked like a serial killer.
I've never met Thomas Harris, and I'm fairly certain he never personally became acquainted with an insane cannibal. But I'd bet the farm that somewhere in his life he knew a brilliant and totally loony genius, and the memory of that genius, under his skilled fingers, fleshed out and made a world-famous fictional villain of Hannibal Lecter.
So think of all those in your life, past or present, who made a lasting impression on you in some way---how they looked, how they talked, how they walked, the clothes they wore. Let those memories fill you, simmer in your head, allow you (since you're writing fiction) to tinker with them until they're exactly the way you want them to be---and voila! You're just about ready to write a book!
Now all you need is a plot.....
Read a sample from Whiskey Island
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