Monday, April 19, 2010

Writing A Pius Man, Part 5: A Love Story?

Part 5: Love Among the Spooks

In my usual description of A Pius Man, things slip through the cracks. It's a thriller. It's a war story. It's apologetics with bullets. It's a political techno thriller. There's a shootout down the Spanish Steps. We shot up the Vatican, blew up a hotel, blew up an airport, waged war against mercenaries, the Swiss Guard, killer priests, a dozen nations, have some fun with the UN, the World Court, and everything short of killer robots.

Oh, yeah, I have a love story in there too.

Don't look at me like that. I wasn't going to fill every page with shootouts, chase scenes, and explosions. None of my characters remotely resemble Bruce Willis. They all have hair, for one. Also, each character is a fully three dimensional, red blooded person, not some sort of bloodless, passionless plot device—none of them look like Tom Hanks.

As strange as it might seem, I am a romantic at heart. That said, if someone hands me something that even has a mild tinge of a romance novel, it better have a fantastic, original plot, or I will smack that someone with the novel. And possibly make them eat it.

I am uncomfortable and suspicious of any book that has a hero and heroine fall in love inside of one book. It has to be done well, or take place over a good period of time. That said, there are circumstances I can believe. It's common knowledge that high stress situations can lead to intense emotional bonding. In Stockholm syndrome, it happens over the course of hours, if not days. And that takes place between terrorists and their hostages. It shouldn't be too unreasonable that it should happen between two allies.


I had one character I had designed previously—Scott “Mossad” Murphy, first member of the Goyim brigade of Israeli Intelligence. I wanted his attention dragged to Rome from a tip by a German intelligence officer.

Designing this German was easy—I wanted the exact opposite of Murphy. Scott Murphy, the perfect spy, was short-ish, pale, with almost no distinguishing features. Slap on some makeup, he's whatever he wants to be. Therefore, physically she had to be beautiful. Drop dead gorgeous.... which made them a perfect fit. All eyes could be on her while he slipped into the background.

But how do I create a woman who was believably beautiful without turning her into something out of a fantasy novel? Simple—I use the physical features of someone real. I used the features of someone I knew. And what do you know, the previous year in college, I had someone who matched that description perfectly. Her name was Manana.

Enter Manana “Mani” Shushurin of German intelligence... she was raised in East Germany, hence the last name.

Murphy could blend in and disappear. However, when I made him, he had a disdain for weapons. He was spy—he was not Jason Bourne, he was not James Bond, though he could pass for George Smiley. He didn't do weapons. If he needed a weapon, he didn't do his job.

Therefore, Shushurin had to be the expert in weapons and hand-to-hand combat.

I would bear no idiots in my books, so they were both smart, capable professionals, with complimentary skill sets and equal intelligence.

And somewhere along the line, two people who existed in a very lonely profession wound up falling in love in the middle of my thriller. Obviously, they weren't busy enough getting shot at. They were too good at keeping their heads down.

Ironically, this was part of the story I hadn't planned.

Joseph Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, author of a slew of comic books, tv shows, and novels, once wrote about characters in his work. Sometimes, they take one path when you tell them to take another. And sometimes you have to drive back along the path and take the route you wanted to take originally, with them pouting in the back seat.

Timothy Zahn, the only Star Wars novelist I will acknowledge anymore, mentions a similar phenomenon. He cites one instance of his character, Talon Karde, kidnapped and held hostage, and being led to a sinister temple of doom—as Zahn tells it “Karde had his men slowly surrounding them, and I had to pull them back because he had to go into the temple for the story to progress.”

Yes, for those of you who are wondering, writing fiction has been described as a form of schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder—usually by the authors themselves. Then again, when you generate an entire character biography in your head, have to decide what is perfectly in character for them to do at any given moment, make their reactions consistent... having another person in your head is the easiest way to put it.

Thankfully, I managed to tie the romance subplot into the overall story fairly easily. It even became critical to the book. How can two people falling in love save the world?

Well, you'll have to read the book to find that out.

Hey, it worked for Terry Goodkind.

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