Write What You Love.
I envy the Rogue Women Writers, because I don’t have a background in what I write. So I’m not writing what I know. In fact, I never intended to write thrillers or a series.
When my first novel, “A Perfect Evil,” became an international bestseller, my publisher wanted another book with FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell. I’d started an entirely different novel for the second in a three-book contract, but my publisher insisted I put it aside and write a sequel. Then they wanted a third, and suddenly, I found myself writing a series.
Only recently have I revealed that I didn’t particularly like Maggie in the beginning. She doesn’t even enter the novel until chapter seven. How could I possibly write a series with a protagonist I didn’t really know or like?
Despite all that, I discovered one thing I did love—doing research.
At book signings, experts started introducing themselves to me, volunteering their expertise. One of those experts, a deputy prosecutor, became a close friend. When I confessed my predicament, she offered some advice that saved me and, ultimately, saved Maggie O’Dell.
She suggested I give Maggie something I liked. Then she added that Maggie needed a sense of humor, sharing that it was the one thing that got her and fellow law enforcement officials through some of their darkest times.
So Maggie acquired a dog and a love of college football. Her sense of humor is a bit dry. But it worked! Slowly I came to like her. And I enjoyed throwing her into situations to see what she would do—like putting her in the path of killers and most recently, the path of a tornado in “Desperate Creed.”
The best research was (and still is) listening to the experts tell their stories. Over the years those experts and my research have helped me bring to life a variety of topics: Ebola (“Exposed”), Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (“At the Stroke of Madness”), domestic terrorism (“Black Friday”), the bird flu virus (“Reckless Creed”) and human trafficking (“Lost Creed”).
In 2015 I started a new series. Ryder Creed is a former Marine K9 handler who rescues abandoned dogs and trains them for scent detention. I’ve loved dogs since I was old enough to crawl and have surrounded myself with dogs ever since. So when I started this new series I wasn’t just writing about something I love (dogs!), but finally, something that I know.
This time, I’d created a protagonist who I understood immediately. With Ryder Creed I’ve found a kindred soul—both of us happy to live quite simply in the company of dogs. I also created my favorite character to date—Grace, a scrappy Jack Russell terrier is one of Creed’s best scent detection dogs.
To my pleasant surprise, I’m still doing research. And still loving it!
For each book in the series I push myself to find new and different things for the dogs to detect from explosives and drugs to the lost and the dead. But also, viruses like C. diff and the bird flu. Dogs can detect certain types of cancer earlier and better than any lab tests we currently have. Recently, the Omaha police department acquired one of ten dogs trained by the AFT National K-9 Academy to detect firearms and shell casings. I can’t wait to meet Peace.
Next year will be twenty years since “A Perfect Evil” was published. I can’t believe I’ll be celebrating my twentieth anniversary as a published author. “Hidden Creed” is Book #6 in the Ryder Creed series and is my 20th novel! It will be released next summer.
Oh, and I should probably mention, Maggie O’Dell is in all of the Ryder Creed novels. Turns out, I’m not done with the ole’ girl, yet.
What wonderful inspirations. I can’t wait to read the new Maggie O’Dell story. Thanks, Alex, for being with us here at Rogue Women Writers. Now what about your readers? Do you have any great stories about your dogs (or other pets) to share with us? Do let us know in a comment.
….Karna Small Bodman
Research seems like the most fun part of writing! And having experts on call is a must. I once emailed my old chemistry teacher to say, “Maggie’s locked in a room with this, this and this. How can I get her out of there?”
I seem to be in a minority, but I’m more of a cat person. So my characters have cats.
PS We have a number of K9s at my department. They have more energy than five other dogs put together!
Clearly you received good advice, both on the adding dogs and a sense of humor! (All you need is love and a dog!) Thank you so much for stopping by, Alex. I'm looking forward to HIDDEN CREED come summer!
I know and love your two series, Alex! The connection between Ryder and Grace is magic! So excited to see that DESPERATE CREED will be published this summer!