Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Hero: The Stalker

Here's something lovely about blogging as a writer:  I can tell you about Jack McIntyre, my hero.

He's a federal judge, a job he's held for two weeks when my story starts.  He's the youngest judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Before that, he'd been the United States Attorney (i.e., the lead federal prosecutor), where he'd successfully prosecuted Dino "T-Rex" Reggiano for money laundering and RICO violations.

He's good-looking in the black hair & chiseled chin-mode of Superman, rich and single -- the kind of guy the glossy magazine "Philadelphia" would describe as an eligible bachelor.  He owns his own tuxedo, and looks damn fine in it.  He's a good cook and a considerate lover.  He's never been in love.

Got a mental image of this guy?  Good -- because if I can't get him across in a blog, I'm toast as a novelist.

In the novel, of course, telling is verboten.  I have to SHOW the reader all of this, and I have two and a half paragraphs, or less, in which to do that.  Two and a half paragraphs in his POV.

There's the rub: Jack's not a particularly conceited guy.  I can show the clothes sense, I can reference his age (because it's a liability in his mind), but he's not going to be thinking about his looks, let alone his success.

When Blackjack & Moonlight begins, Jack's still nervous about being a newly minted judge.  Now, I happen to know from clerking for a very experienced jurist, those nerves never entirely go away.  It's a pretty lonely job, sitting up above everyone, deciding stuff that -- if you get it wrong -- you won't know until a panel of three appellate judges tells you a year or more later.  Most judges have some awareness that any mistakes they make will have an immediate effect on the case before them -- so they work really hard not to make any mistakes.  Especially since the lawyers will behave as though everything the judge does is right.

First lesson for a lawyer in a courtroom:  no matter what, thank the judge.

Okay, back to Jack.  He's nervous about being a new judge, he walks out to the bench, starts the hearing, looks over at the lawyer for the defendant...and falls in love.  That's my heroine, Elise Carroll, he's looking at.  They've never met each other, but one look and he's convinced he's going to marry her.  That leads him to disqualify himself as the judge on the case, and when Elise demands to know why, Jack announces that he's in love with her.

Do I personally believe in love at first sight?  It's not actually happened to me, so I don't know.  What I believe is that some people think they've fallen for someone and when that relationship works out and the story is told later, it's called "love at first sight."  I figure if the relationship doesn't work out, the feeling fades and is forgotten.  No one ever says, "I fell in love at first sight but s/he was a jerk..."

I've submitted Blackjack & Moonlight in two contests and I've read the first ten pages to my (non-romance) writers' critique group.  The first chapter (which you can read here) has generated some interesting comments, of which my favorite is that Jack is a stalker.

You may think, "That's crazy."  (I would agree.)  But that's because I told you about him.  In the show-don't-tell version, a reader could see that he's a judge and immediately load in a lot of presumptions about judges.  They're all-powerful, they're deliberate and decisive, they're arrogant.

If an all-powerful, arrogant guy takes advantage of his position of power to hit on a woman, and then follows that up with a lot of phone can get to the label "stalker" pretty quickly.

Other misconceptions by readers:  Jack's a sex-fiend, Elise is spineless, she doesn't get angry at his presumption (that one made me laugh -- I exhausted the thesaurus entry for "angry" describing Elise's reaction to Jack's announcement!), and that oldie-but-goodie: there's not enough conflict.

My take-away from all this is two-fold.  One, some comments reflect my failure to convey my characters thoroughly enough to avoid confusion but other comments reflect the reader's inclination to read into my story stuff that's not there.  Two, I should pay attention to the first sort of comments, and ignore the second.


  1. Well hey, I'd read it. Your writing, for what it's worth, flows effortlessly.

  2. What a lovely compliment, Anonymous. Thank you.


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