29 books in a single series? Ain’t ya running out of ideas? Ain’t ya getting bored? Ain’t ya tired of hangin’ with the same old characters?
Those’re questions I sometimes get at signings and author events, but in fact, I’m no more tired of my writing than I am of leading my life, keeping company with my family and friends, or waking up every morning and dealing with life’s (occasionally) gentle chaos.
And the comparison is apt.
The Joe Gunther series may have begun as a means to an end: a job writing books told with compassion, skill, and care, in the effort to become a professional, full-time writer. Over time, though, they’ve become an expression of my discoveries about human nature, a way to sort through and share a few of the foibles and complexities we humans all think are ours alone (and aren’t,) indulge in the English language as a painter does with colors, and have some fun along the way.
There are a lot of mysteries out there featuring dead guys, bad guys, good guys, and car chases. Mine do all that—if you allow the word “guys” to stand for all genders.
But what I’ve found most compelling over time—and what I hope infuses my series with freshness and a sense of reality—is that the series is as much about such “guys” as are a newspaper’s daily articles about everyday life.
That’s why I’m not running out of steam or groping for new ideas. I write about real places, real problems, and composites of real people. And my plots are rarely that far removed from what occurs across the country on a regular basis. Women killing each other because their daughters are competing for a cheerleading squad? Men shooting each other over a parking place? We are quite a species, and that’s old news!
So there’s the true spinal cord of the series: the reason they’re more why-dun-its than who-dun-its. But what about those car chases, which I’ll expand to include all the gizmos that’ve become a feature of modern fiction? DNA, electronics, money manipulations, guns, forensic science, and the like? I LOVE poking my nose into that stuff—especially the things I know little about.
The latest book is entitled, TRACE. It’s got a lot going on—actually three separate investigations being conducted simultaneously. But in its midst, it has a scene where the police are tracking an armed fugitive at night using a rotation of dog teams.
Ever wonder how they do that? REALLY do that? I did. All those TV shows and movies, with the dogs in the background and some breathless person saying, “The dogs got a scent, Sarge!”
So I reached out to a pal of mine with forty years experience running scent dogs for the police. He introduced me to Brio, his own dog, and we went out on the job. I’m still a cop, if semi-retired, so access was pretty simple. But the experience? Wow! I wrote an eleven-page scene in which the above mentioned search is launched and runs to its successful conclusion, and then I sent it to Chris, my dog handler pal, for editing. “The dog’s nose would be up at this point in the search,” he would write back. Or, “By now, she (the handler) would’ve taken him off the leash.” “Don’t use that flashlight then—ruins night vision,” was another, and, “Protect your dog! It knows its job, but it’ll sacrifice its life if you let it.”
Cool stuff. Interesting stuff. Stuff readers love, it turns out.
Am I about to run out of gas? Not hardly. Nor am I going to get tired of holding hands with my wife, stepping into the woodworking shop for a project, or riding to the store on my motorcycle. The advertisement said, “Life’s a mess. Clean it up?”
Or write about it, learn from it, and enjoy!