Shane Gericke hands Emily Clark the mystical royal purple T-shirt of the Mystery Chix and Swinging Dicks author group, which throws Saturday morning readers brunches at RT conventions. Emily won the chance to have a character named after her in his new novel Torn Apart, which will be released this week.
Author Shane Gericke about how a character in his novel Torn Apart came to be named after RT BOOK REVIEWS reader Emily Clark.
What was I thinking???
Well, before I answer that, I owe you a little background.
My debut novel, Blown Away , won RT’s coveted Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Mystery. I was honored, and deeply touched.
I was also confused. I’m a thriller writer. I write hard-core crime novels: cops, killers, mayhem and death. When I got the astonishing news that RT had judged my book the world’s best debut mystery of 2006, I had to admit that I'd never heard of Romantic Times. Let alone that I'd written something, um, you know ...
So I called RT and asked. Found out the judges had loved the blossoming relationship between my two series stars: police detective Emily Thompson, whose entire family had been wiped out by a serial killer, and Martin Benedetti, a sheriff’s commander who'd lost his wife to cancer. Blown Away became a national bestseller three weeks after its release, was given a Top Pick from RT, earned a raft of positive reviews and translations into German, Turkish, Slovak, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese, and then won Best First Mystery. It was, to channel Frank Sinatra, a very good year.
But the RT honor intrigued me the most.
I flew to the Houston convention to receive the award, but could only stay the day. So, figuring that I should dance with the one who brung me, I signed up for the full Pittsburgh experience. Then I hurriedly e-mailed romantic suspense writers I knew: “Help! What do I do at an RT convention, anyway?"
“Lotsa stuff,” author Lori Avocato replied, though with class and erudition ’cause she’s smart and writes great. She asked me to join a reader outreach group, The Mystery Chix. Even offered to rename it to Mystery Chix and Private Dicks, ’cause I was joining the team. (I suggested “Swinging Dicks.” Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed.) There were a dozen of us, and the brunch we were throwing on Saturday would be popular: hundreds of readers, free food and drinks on us, and a goodie basket from each Chix and Dick.
That last concerned me. I hadn’t written a bajillion novels like the remarkable Carole Nelson Douglas, who was also in our group. I only had the one, Blown Away ; its sequel, Cut To The Bone, wouldn't be in bookstores for months. So, I could give away a signed book, a T-shirt, some Chicago stuff (because that’s where I live), a bookmark ... and that was about it. I’d feel like I was wearing burlap to a fancy affair, and that wouldn’t do: I’d need Dockers and a nice shirt at least. Maybe a sport coat. (I had to uphold whatever little honor my gender will admit to.) I racked my brain for something really cool ...
No one else was giving an RT reader the opportunity to have a character named after her or him. It would be fun, and would also fulfill my desire to thank romance readers for their tremendous support of my to-that-point short career as a novelist. (Until Blown Away, I was a Chicago newspaper editor.)
So we planned the brunch, opened the doors, let the flood come in and empty their plates. We mingled and chatted and talked about books and asked readers who their favorite writers were and got to know as many people as we could.
Then, we gave away our baskets. Lori Avocato held out the big purple hat holding all the names of the attendees. (Maybe it was Lori Andrews? Lois Greiman? One of those L names, for sure ... ) I rummaged through the paper blizzard and drew the lucky winner.
And that's when I slapped myself silly.
You see, Emily is the name of my main character. She’s the star of the series. Having a second character named Emily in the same book would guarantee, um, how to say it ...
Death by editor.
You can't DO that, poor Michaela tut-tutted in my head. You can't have two characters named Emily. It will confuse readers. It will confuse you. It will ...
She'd be correct. But my real-life Emily was striding to the front now, huge grin on her face. Her mother, Kai, whom Emily accompanies to these conventions because Mom's a die-hard romance reader, was whooping. The room was alive with happiness.
No way was I throwing water on that. My folks didn’t raise me an idiot.
"Hi, um, Emily," I recall stammering. "It's really great to meet you. I'm delighted you're going to be in my next book ... " Meanwhile frantically thinking: How am I gonna make this work? How do I please both Emily and my editor. How do I —
I gave up and had another sweet roll.
On the flight back to Chicago, after four days of pushing my eyeballs back in my head from the fairies and werewolves and Ellora’s Cave stuff and endless cocktailing and Mr. Romance flex contests — you don’t see half-nekked cover models at ThrillerFest, that’s for sure — and hanging with Heather Graham and her way-cool hubby and having a drink with Wendy Corsi Staub and meeting Lisa Jackson and dancing with Hank Phillippi Ryan and Toni McGee Causey at one of the nightly mixers and signing my name on the bathroom wall at the Mystery Lovers bookstore because its delightful owners invited all us Chix and Dicks to do the same — the perfect solution to my dilemma presented itself:
Just like in a romance novel!
On other words, don't try to hide the second Emily where you hope readers won't notice. Instead, introduce her in a delightfully cute way, one that will inspire readers to say, "Awwwww, that's so cool."
Which I did. By having Martin Benedetti, Emily’s true love, run into Emily Clark at a restaurant. Marty was on his annual deer-hunting vacation with his best friend (and Emily’s boss at the police department) Hercules Branch, and it went like this:
A young woman walked past the booth. She was pretty, with medium brown hair carefully combed and blue jeans neatly pressed. A skinny young man with a soul patch grabbed her butt. She pirouetted to break the grab, kept walking.
“Welcome to the Mars Cheese Castle Restaurant, now open for breakfast,” she said, handing Marty and Branch menus shaped like muskies. “My name is Emily —”
“— Clark, but please call me Clark, cause we Martians are terribly formal.” Her brows danced mischievously at the gag. “I’ll be your server today.”
Branch opened to the specials. “Those guys back there,” he said casually, nodding at the booth. “Are they friends of yours?”
Clark’s eyes rolled so high the irises disappeared. “Local football heroes,” she said, disdain dripping from each syllable. “Think they own this town.”
“Seem to think they own you too,” Marty said.
Her wry smile said, Goes with the territory waitressing. “Just passing through?” she said. “Or are you staying at one of our fine water park resorts that provide a wonderful weekend getaway for you and the entire family?”
“I’m impressed,” Marty said.
“You managed to say that with a straight face ...”
I finished the scene, wrote the rest of the manuscript, and sent it in for review. Holding my breath. Michaela said it was fine. Phew!
So I e-mailed the chapter to the real Emily Clark. I'd never named a fictional character after a real person, and wanted to make sure the portrayal was acceptable to her. Not that I was required to do so — it's my book, I can do what I want — but it was the right thing. Since she'd be showing it to everybody she knows, I wouldn't want to portray her in a way that would embarrass her.
She loved it, said go ahead.
You can see the results at your friendly local bookstore.
|As for Emily Clark, she’s now a photographic model. I think she lights up the camera, and her portfolio proves it. Check her out at www.emilyclark.webs.com. Mark Abercrombie, the photographer who shot Emily’s modeling picture for this article, has a great eye, and I like his work lots. You will too. See his stuff at www.mga-media.com.|
So thanks for reading this. Your support of my books the past five years has been tremendous, and most sincerely appreciated. I couldn't have done this without you.
And, I wouldn’t want to.
And look for the *Web-Exclusive Review* of Shane Gericke's Torn Apart coming soon!