During a winter break, I had gone through great pains to finish my thesis. It had been more or less a cultural analysis of Irish Rebel songs, which, like my books, had a lot of property damage, and fighting, with merry and bouncy tunes and boy, were these people having way too much fun.
That made up three credits of a semester where I had only two other classes, and no social life. The paper was mostly finished before the semester had even begun. I was even more finished when I pounded out two term papers before the first month was out.
What part of “no social life” do you not understand?
I started writing A Pius Man in February, 2004. I was finished with it by April. There were a lot of nights where I was up until three in the morning. The story wouldn't get out of my head or leave me alone. For the first time in my life, instead of making it up when I went along, I did an outline. I drew sketches and diagrams.
The sad part is, I kept footnoting the darned thing.
And it all came naturally to me. Two spies would follow the lead of a dead terrorist looking in the Vatican archives, and discover yet another dead researcher from the archives—a crime investigated by Giovanni Figlia. They would have to find Giovanni Figlia and his entourage from the Secret Service and the Egyptian police. And with modern technology, it was easy for the spies to know what the primary investigators were doing. “Sinister looking priest #1” would have to keep up as well, to make certain that nothing inconvenient would be discovered. The Interpol cop from Ireland would have to fly in and confirm that all this was, yes, linked together to Pope Pius XII.
And, thanks to maps on the internet, I can make the bus terminal arriving from the airport be one point on a straight line from the Vatican to the Spanish steps.
Should any of my other books see the light of day, you'll note that I have a pattern of property damage at public places. A gunfight in a science fiction convention; a battle at the Cloisters; a shootout at a Fireworks factory in Long Island; the Muir woods in San Francisco; a hostage situation at a Barnes and Noble bookstore; a chase with MacGyver moments in CostCo. Been there, done that, blown it up.
And for some reason, I couldn't get one image out of my head—an armored SUV going down the Spanish steps.
After that, the characters had to connect the dots, do the research, find a personal connection to the situation, and most of all—what is worth killing over for a secret over sixty years old? No offense to anyone on any side of the “debate,” but if someone proved that Pope Pius XII was a Nazi, or that he was a hero, who would kill for that?
End result: the book was eight hundred pages long. Two hundred thousand words, when the average novel was only one hundred thousand. And I had brought in EVERY, SINGLE, CHARACTER I had ever written, over a dozen books, excluding the science fiction ones. Because what had started with a simple and straightforward murder turned into an all out war, and I needed every person I could conceive of to support what protagonists I had standing. A very small army of light against a large army of darkness, and I didn't even have Sam Raimi.
From 2004-2007, there were several variations on the story. The first had an additional character. One had a character introduced from the very beginning who was used to bring in most of the history; he didn't disappear, but he was shifted. One version took out about 50% of the story and made it around five hundred pages.
Then there was the easy version. Split it up into three books. One character gets deleted, one gets transferred into book two, several sequences get shifted so that the character moments aren't all in one place or another, and ta da, instant trilogy.
Two major plot points in the story became a matter of what intelligence agencies call “blowback.” When someone fires a gun, gunpowder residue gets on the shooter's clothing, even though the gun is pointed away from the shooter.
In the world of intelligence, blowback means that an operation has come back to bite you on the ass: either an assassination went wrong and the target wants to return the favor; some dictator dislikes you blowing up his favorite weapons research facility and would like to bury you, that sort of thing.
If I used the blowback as the basis for completely different books, then dang, book one is only over a hundred thousand words. Excellent. Fill in details and character in books two and three, not to mention “previously, in A Pius Man” moments that I can use to pad the book.... or keep the audience up to speed. Either way....
And then, after all this was done, it was time for the hardest part of all. I had to sell it.
After all, it was only one book, being marketed to a publishing industry that was swamped with hundreds of manuscripts per day, manned by people who had to slog through this slush of paper.
How hard could it be?