Originally, I picked the year 2002 as the year the The Assassin starts, expecting it may bleed into 2003. The reason was simple. It was twenty years after the main character - Janet Goodrich - retired and, along with Karin rode off into the sunset to live the good life.
All well and good, but look at the historical context. Here’s just four world events that affect the book’s plot.
1. Yasser Arafat rejects an Israeli offer in 2000 that gives the PLO everything they asked for, including reparations to Palestinian refugees. Why? Because it required a peace treaty and recognition of the State of Israel and its right to exist.
2. As the result of number one, the PLO encourages Fatah and another splinter terrorist group called the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade to start what became known as the Second Intifada on West Bank. The Israeli security forces have their hands full trying to contain and put down an uprising that is more violent and widespread than its predecessor.
3. 9/11 happens in 2001 and the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan. In the background, the planning of the invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein had already begun.
4. In January 2002, the Israelis seize a ship in the Red Sea containing 50 tons of weapons destined for the PLO. It was not the first, nor would it be the last.
These events and more affect the day-to-day operations of the Mossad as well as the CIA. The U.S. is still struggling with the aftermath of 9/11 and trying to figure out how to deal with a global threat from fanatic, Islamic terrorists. Israel’s three intelligence agencies are stressed trying to evaluate how best to put down the Second Intifada while accurately assess a growing threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza. The spectre of the near disaster that the 1973 Yom Kippur War almost was played heavily on the minds of Israeli leaders. None of them wanted to relive the surprise attack the Egyptians pulled off and the near defeat of the Isreali Defense Forces.
As I am write, I have to keep these and other related world events in mind. In fact, as I was struggling, - see blog called “Struggles” - I realized I didn’t account for the effect of some of these events on the plot. It means I have to go back and re-do sections to accommodate them. Joys of writing historical novels!
Every so often, as I write, roadblocks appear. By that I mean, I get to a point in the story where I’m stuck, literally.
Think of writing a novel as weaving several plot lines together into a single piece of rope. Each character and each scene is another thread woven into a plot line. The problem I run into is that sometimes, I don’t have the thread and therefore, the story can’t go forward.
Yesterday, I just stumbled into one of those places and didn’t like what my brain and fingers were putting on the screen in front of me. So I stopped, took a day or so off to get my mind off the book.
It didn’t help because my subconscious kept coming back to the story, rehashing what I wrote and then deleted. Then, my brain scripted out several other ideas. The conscious part of my writer’s brain fought with the unconscious. What one liked, the other didn’t.
So where am I now? Not quite dead in the water, but I’ve certainly slowed from thirty knots plus as the words flowed from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard and into ones and zeros in an electronic file.
All this started two days ago and now, amazingly enough – trust me, I don’t have a clue how this works, but a plot element appeared that I liked. Now, the hard part is working it out so it fits.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned a created a traitor. Well, that thread gives the main character/heroine/protagonist Janet a break while the Mossad figures out what to do. Meanwhile, the bad guys continue to create mayhem so Janet gets an assignment from an unlikely source that lets her operate solo, just like she did before she retired. It took awhile, but the idea works.
Quick progress report. I’m about 48,000 words into the novel or about 175 pages with the lines a space and a half apart… If I were to guess, I am probably about forty percent through with the first draft. Most of my books are between 120 and 140,000 words.
So, as I was plugging away, I realized a new villain was needed to make the story more interesting because the characters took me to a place I didn’t expect. Yeah, I know, I’m the author and I can control that. Well, as I have found, you can’t. The characters take you and places I don’t expect.
In a passage about a thousand words back (I don’t know the real number, but it was several pages and at roughly 250 - 300 words per page, 1,000 is good enough, the FBI agent do-gooder agent got neutralized politically. This meant, I needed a new bad guy. It was easy, he was already in the book, got passed over by one of the heroines and now is a disgruntled employee. Voila, a traitor…. Oh, and the FBI guy may raise his ugly head later.
The traitor’s now in two more passages and I’m working through his motivation and how his treason affects the two heroines. The obvious answer is that he affects their operations, but I am trying to come up with something more sinister.
The Assassin now has two major antagonists – a traitor and a terrorist. Don’t ask me how this is going to come out because while I have a vague idea, the characters got together in the back of my mind and changed the story. Now I have to write what they want to do, not me.
When I start a novel, there is a hesitation. The book starts with ideas running around in my head, slowly coalescing into a plot, or at least, the idea of how the story will unfold.
That evolves into two or three page document outlined what I think will happen and it sits on my laptop for days or weeks or months while my sub-conscious percolates scenarios, characters, locations, conflicts and all the other things that a novel contains. Note, that while this is happening, nothing is being written.
Then what happens is while I am working out or walking the dogs, I start writing scenes in my head, even down to the conversation between two of the characters. Or, I could be driving down the highway and something about the potential manuscript pops into my conscious from the recesses of my mind.
Literally, I could be anywhere – in a grocery store, standing in line someplace, listening to instructions on an IVR system (the plot is more interesting than the prompts – who knows what.
Sitting down at the laptop is the last thing that happens. Why? Because I know what is coming. The need/desire to write the story is an irresistible force that keeps me planted in my chair. On the creative side, I can go for about four or five hours during which, there are breaks to search the Internet for a name, or a fact to give a scene some context. Often times, the research, assuming I want to be historically/factually accurate causes me to rewrite what I just wrote or change what I was going to write.
I try to write first thing in the day. The force that drives me keeps bringing me back to the computer to write. And then, in breaks I have to deal with things like email, calls to set up vet appointments for my dogs, going to get a haircut, working out, paying attention to my wife. All these things pull me away from the keyboard.
Breaks come only when the creative side of my brain says, I’m done for awhile. When it comes, my brain slows down, I can’t type what is flowing through my brain and the text is terrible. It is time to stop. At least for a few hours.
Does this sound like obsessive compulsive behavior? Probably. I can deal with it but it is hard on the ones around you because you disappear into your garret for hours on end. It is the way of the writer/author.
I was struggling in trying to find a way to get either the CIA or the FBI or both hot on the trail of Janet. They were stuck (and as the writer, so was I) because they had compiled a lot of data on hits which they thought Janet carried out, but didn’t have a description much less a name.
There had to be a solution other than leave them hanging while the story rolled on. I rejected that idea because it makes it difficult to create conflict between the FBI and the CIA over Janet. The FBI wants to get the glory of arresting her and solving unsolved murders, assuming they can get a conviction. The CIA wants to blackmail her into working for the CIA or becoming a contractor.
Already, in the book, there’s the inherent conflict due to interagency politics. Even today, despite statements of how they work well together, they don’t. Like any bureaucracy, they’re extremely protective of their turf and it all comes down to their share of the Federal budge.
So, what did I do? Enter in a Cuban refugee who brings with him pages from several files from Cuban intelligence as his bonifides to get him asylum. The idea works and I can’t t tell how it comes out, because I am still writing it!