Over the weekend, I participated in a fun Q&A session with Mark Lefebvre of Kobo Writing Life, the self-publishing platform run by Kobo of Canada. It was a lively session with questions provided by Mark as well as the readers who’d come to see me in Toronto. One of them asked about whether Sam’s dad Skip would ever walk again in the Fatal Series. I shared with the readers one of my cardinal rules of series writing: Don’t do stupid things.
When we first met Skip in Fatal Affair, he’d been a C2-C3 quadriplegic for two years after he was shot during a routine traffic stop that became anything but routine. C2-C3 is a very significant injury. Two years in a wheelchair wrecks havoc on muscles and other vital systems. Later in the series, as we all know, the bullet that doctors had originally declined to remove from his spine due to the risk of death began to move, giving Skip sensation in his extremities for the first time since the shooting. Doctors determined the bullet HAD to come out now, and surgery was performed, with mixed results—the bullet is gone, sensation continues to occur, along with pain that has been hard for Skip and his family to manage.
Some readers have hoped that Skip would bound up out of his wheelchair and walk again. They expect him to miraculously recover three years after the shooting, and I certainly empathize with reader desire to see a beloved character recover. However, that’s not going to happen. Why? Because allowing him to make a miraculous recovery would be stupid on my part. A full recovery is so far from the reality of his situation it’s not even funny—and frankly, it would be disrespectful to those grappling with spinal cord injuries without the magic wands possessed by fiction writers. I expect that Skip’s condition may improve somewhat. He may be able to do a few things he couldn’t do before the surgery. But will he walk again? No, he won’t.
Remember the episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie “jumped the shark”? That was the beginning of the end of a fantastic show because the writers did something stupid. They allowed their lead character to step out of character to do something that wasn’t natural to him. “Jumping the Shark” is now a “thing” when it comes to long-running TV shows, book series, movie franchises, etc. You never want to jump the shark by doing something stupid with one of your characters. You don’t want to drag your audience out of the realm of reasonable suspension of disbelief by doing something that simply wouldn’t happen in real life. I worried about the shark when I made Nick vice president, but I think I was able to build a convincing case for how the president wanted to capitalize on Nick’s popularity to bolster his own sagging numbers. I got away with that. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t get away with having Skip miraculously rise up to walk again because that couldn’t happen in any reasonable scenario after so many years of inactivity and disability.
Back to that cardinal rule: Don’t do stupid things. Don’t ruin a series that’s firmly rooted in reality by doing something that couldn’t possibly happen. What do you think of my thoughts on Skip’s recovery and the cardinal rule I follow in series writing? I’d love to hear your feedback.
I received a question from blog follower Jo Ann Wood last week: Tell us how you plan the stories. Do you make an outline of what’s is going to happen? Or do you just start writing and hope it all comes out right?
Thanks for the question Jo Ann! No, I don’t plan anything. I start with a basic premise of what I’d like to see happen in the book and then I let it unfold organically. Sometimes I wish I were more of a “plotter,” especially with the Fatal Series, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. One of my favorite things about writing the way I do is when unexpected things happen, such as Sam and Nick’s smoking hot make-out session in Fatal Frenzy. I didn’t plan that in advance. One minute she was arriving home to him on the sofa, and the next… Well, you know what happened! After I finished that scene, I was like WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!? I love that! I love that the stories surprise me as I write them. I think NOT planning them in advance makes them more exciting to write because I don’t know what’s going to happen, which keeps me engaged in the story as I write it. Thanks for the great question, Jo Ann!
If any of you have other questions about the behind-the-scenes with the books, feel free to post them in the comments, and I’ll reply to you as time permits. Thanks for reading and for following my blog!