Despite the overwhelmingly positive response for the latest Marty Singer book, The Wicked Flee, many readers have expressed disappointment that there’s not “more Marty” in this particular go-around and are worried that future books are going to stop exploring his life, his thoughts, and his character.
First, I want to thank you for being concerned in the first place. It’s incredibly flattering to hear that so many people have invested emotionally in Marty and his story. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.
Second, please don’t worry! I’m even more invested in Marty and I don’t see that ending any time soon. I enjoy lifting the rugs and peeking in the closets of this person I created as much as I do the shootouts and suspense. There will be more of that to come.
Third, if you want to know why I went a little off-track with The Wicked Flee, keep reading. I’ll try to explain why I did what I did (spoilers!) and hope that you’ll understand why Marty took a slight back-seat (actually, passenger seat), in his fifth book.
Many readers have asked, why mess with a good thing? Why make The Wicked Flee different from the previous four books?
The short answer is that I wanted to stretch my creative muscles and see what I could accomplish using established characters and settings. I’d also received a few complaints that the first four books lacked pace and “thrill.” Those two items together gave me the motivation to construct a different kind of adventure for Marty.
The first thing an author can do to affect the sense of pace in a book is time-compression—the trusty “race against time” plot device.
In most mysteries and hard boiled crime novels, the plot is told, at least in part, as a retrospective—a crime has been committed, the deed discovered, with the hero working backwards in time to uncover the villain. Sure, there are gunfights and knuckle sandwiches, but the nugget of the mystery is in the rear-view mirror.
In a thriller, you can’t afford any of the niceties of deduction. Something bad is happening now and if you don’t stop it, the moment has passed…and even worse things will happen.
So, unlike the other Marty books, the action of TWF (except for Sarah’s early scenes) takes place in about ten hours.* With no time for reflection or sleuthing while Lucy is being kidnapped, the pace has to be faster, the set up more thrilling.
Point of View (POV)
Another tool in the toolbox is POV.
By splitting the novel’s narrative into chunks told by other people, I can manipulate temporal overlap (characters describing the same moment in time, but from their perspective) to increase suspense. Differing viewpoints also allows me to give the impression of speed simply by jumping to another window onto the story instead of waiting for Marty to discover the relevant info. **
To put on my Writer Nerd hat, this is one of the dangers of first-person (I/we) narration (the POV of the first four books)—the reader only gets to experience what the narrating character does. Consequently, the pace slows down as each piece of the puzzle is revealed to the main character…and thus the reader.†
What’s the cost of combining a thriller pace and multiple POVs? A deeper understanding of character. That means no monologues, no self-critiques, no time at home (sorry, Pierre!), not much philosophizing about life.
And that’s what astute and sensitive readers of the previous books missed the most—the chance to get to know Marty more. Unfortunately, that was the price to be paid for putting together a book that moves fast and ends with a bang.
Another benefit of multiple POVs is that it gives the writer the opportunity to show a character being observed by others, thereby giving readers a chance to see another facet of someone they thought they knew.
For example, my editor suggested I rewrite the scene in the hotel room with Trish (Chapter 27) from Marty’s perspective to reinforce the concept that this was a Marty Singer Mystery. But I kept Sarah’s perspective.
While I agreed with my editor in theory, I felt that I had two important things to accomplish: Sarah coming to grips with what Trish’s life was like, and her observation of Marty’s skill and sensitivity in talking with the girl. I thought both were important for the reader to experience through Sarah’s critical and intelligent eye. I would’ve lost both, probably, if I’d used Marty’s perspective for the scene.††
I had a great time writing The Wicked Flee the way I did and, frankly, the idea for the book occurred to me almost exactly as it came out, so I’m not sure I could’ve told this story any other way.
I’m sure I’ll return to this kind of storytelling in future novels—maybe I can mark it with a little badge that warns people that it’s a thriller?—but Marty will be back soon with his observations about other peoples’ driving, crack wise about his relationships, and ruminate on life.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks for reading and keep your eye out for upcoming titles over the next few months!
*I got the idea from listening to Jeffery Deaver speak at a conference last year, where he revealed that he shoves every book he writes into eight hours or less of “book time”…and his record is one hour.
**Are you a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books? Go back and leaf through them again. Did you notice that not all of them are told from Reacher’s perspective?
†Smart cookies will notice, of course, that I kept the first person perspective for Marty throughout TWF. I’d originally planned to tell the entire story from a third-person perspective—even Marty’s—but it just didn’t sound right, so I rewrote Marty’s parts from a first-person POV.
††I did rewrite a chapter from Ookie’s POV (Chapter 9) that also gave us a view of Marty, but in this case I agreed with my editor 100% and changed it. Maybe I’ll put together a “director’s cut” of chapters that didn’t make it into the final version.