I was given a piece of advice by someone whose words, at least on the publishing industry, I treat as gospel: “If you want a career as a writer, you have to do a series.” This was exactly the opposite of what I thought I should do, and what I had been doing. I assumed that if you did a series, you were confining yourself to a smaller and smaller pool of readers. No one would buy the sequels that didn’t buy the first, I reasoned, and you’re going to lose readers with every book as people burn out. This person told me that every time I wrote a standalone, I was starting from scratch with marketing. That’s not to say I didn’t want to do a series. Like every writer, I have lots and lots of ideas that never make it to the page. I’ll happily fill in backstories on even the most minor characters, and long to elevate them from cameo, to supporting player, to eventual lead. I just forbade myself from writing any sequels until I sold the original novel in question. I didn’t want to spend my time expanding on a book I hadn’t even sold yet. So I waited.
Mr Blank was the obvious place to start writing sequels. I published it early, with a great outfit, and I really enjoyed writing that one. It came easier than most, simply because I was writing as close to my natural internal monologue as I could. It’s also a damn fun world to play around with, dark enough to keep from becoming Disneyland, but with that all-important sense of fun. Despite the ending, a sequel was a foregone conclusion, at least to me. This went through several titles before I settled on the Elmore Leonard-esque Get Blank.
I should note here that these Liner Notes, though always a little obscure, should not be attempted without having read at least Mr Blank, and will probably make way more sense if you’ve also read Get Blank. Lucky for you, both are available from my publisher.
I ended Mr Blank (SPOILERS) with our hero picking one name and retiring. So my first challenge was getting him out of retirement. In the earliest drafts, this was going to be the fault of Vassily the Whale and his henchmen kidnapping Blank. I had a vague idea that Vassily would want a MacGuffin, which would probably be Polybius. I ended up hanging onto the trunk scene, and extracting the whole Polybius plotline for the third book (oh yeah, as of this writing, I’ve done two drafts of a third book), but the catalyst for the adventure changed. What would get our hero out of retirement? Mina. Had to be Mina.
I knew I wanted to keep them apart for most of the book, because while I wanted to depict a happy couple, these can be irritating to read. Unfortunately, she ended up getting relegated to a damsel in distress status (although I tried to hang onto her attitude through it), which is sad considering how much fun I have writing her. I promised myself she’ll get a lot more page time in the later books, and thus far I’ve kept that promise. I also wanted to make sure that Mina’s innocence was never doubted by Blank. It looks bad, but he never thinks, “Hey, what if she’s not what I think she is?” He trusts her implicitly (which continues the subversion of the femme fatale trope, which was the genesis of Mina’s character to begin with).
I also wanted to mine the first book for both characters and conflict, but not too heavily. Give the sense that this is the same world, but not make it too small. I think I failed here, at least partly, as the most important characters in this one are all fairly important characters in the last. It did give me a chance to expand on personalities, and writing Victor Charlie especially was way too much fun for one person to have. I usually end up having a favorite supporting character to write, and VC, along with the deranged megastar Rodrick Rand, holds the top spot for me.
Unlike previous Liner Notes, I don’t have to explain where the whole universe came from, so I wanted to get into some specifics. Trivia about the source of some characters, and in the process, out myself as a giant nerd. So here goes.
Vassily the Whale, Arkady Lazarev, and Tatiana Renko were all NPCs in my long-running Vampire: The Masquerade game. Arkady was a Malkavian gangster, Vassily was his ghoul, and Tatiana was a ghoul and later rival (his other ghoul was Boris the Cossack, and I used a picture of Alan Moore for his character). And yes, this is my way of telling you I had a long-running Vampire: The Masquerade game.
Heather Marie Tooms is based on a character I played in a friend’s Hunters game. His name was Chuck Finley (reflecting his pitch as a cultier Michael Westen), and unlike Heather, his fame was confined to a single pilot. His signature line, “Welcome to the Palisades, bro,” is from Party Down, and you should totally watch that show because it’s amazing. I ended up turning him into an unsuccessful, brainwashed version of Sarah Michelle Gellar, because I wanted to play with a real femme fatale, especially one who was clearly completely fucking insane. She’s beautiful, but our hero is completely uninterested because a) he’s with an incredible woman and b) he’s not into crazy. It was a fun dynamic to explore. While I have no specific plans to bring Heather back, I wouldn’t rule it out.
As for the Rosicrusophists, they are in no way based on a great and true religion who are prominent in Hollywood. I don’t know where you would get that idea. You must be Misguided.
The pro shop and cafe at the gold course are entirely real. The waitresses there do your standard diner patter, but it’s all in Spanish, so instead of “hon,” you’re “cariño.”
The Lizard People in the book were originally just C.H.U.D.s. Yeah, I’m from the ‘80s, and that’s a sentence that makes sense. A reader of mine was like, “Oh, I thought this was going to be about the Lizard Kingdom under downtown.” I was confused, and this was one of those situations where everyone assumes I had heard of something insane, because it’s me. Nope. So yeah, there’s an Underground Kingdom of the Lizard People under the library. There was even an article in the January 29, 1934 edition of the Los Angeles Times all about it. I have a plan to go back to this group at some point, probably inspired by all those Conan comics I read as a kid.
The standoff in the church came from an errant thought, “Hey, what if Blank runs into someone else’s noir plot that’s happening at the same time?” I wouldn’t be surprised if I go back to that particular well, as my conception of the Information Underground is that there is a constant undercurrent of dames, betrayals, Maltese Falcons, murders, and the occasional misplaced grilled cheese constantly swirling around in a paranoia tornado (a paranado?).
And that Dr. Zhivago thing? Happened to me. I mean, it was a good movie and all, but no cannibalism. Zip. Zilch.
I might have forgotten some stuff, as most of my Blank thinking is wrapped up in stuff that’s not published yet. If you have any questions, let me have ‘em!