With the forthcoming release of my latest book, Alpha, I know one of the popular interview questions will be: “How did you ever come to write this story?” Another will be: “But wasn’t your first book entitled Beta? Why the reverse titles?”
Allow me to answer the first part of the second question. No, my first book was entitled Night Shadows. However, in the Mallory Petersen series, Beta was released before Alpha and this is the story behind the story.
This starts almost twenty years ago when I first moved to Oskaloosa. I had been writing short stories and even the introductory trilogy to a comic book series that unfortunately didn’t get off the ground. One of my earliest characters was a police detective named Sam P. Peterson. He lived and worked in East Moline. He also starred in my comic book trilogy, acquiring superhero powers.
After almost two years in Oskaloosa, I joined the American Taekwondo Association and quickly moved up through the ranks, earning my first degree black belt in under two years. I immediately entered the instructor trainee program although I had been instructing classes for awhile. My second degree came in 1994, my third in 1997, my fourth in 2000, and my fifth in 2007. In 1996 I opened my own club in Grinnell, closed it in 2003, but by that time I had acquired the Oskaloosa club.
The writing bug kept scratching at me though and I thought about resurrecting my Sam Peterson character. However, I was in admiration of all of the fantastically skilled women in the ATA so I changed the character’s gender and made her a fourth degree black belt. Peterson was changed to Petersen in honor of a co-worker at a radio station where I worked for awhile after college. Mallory Petersen was born and boy, was she hot.
Blonde, blue eyes, six foot tall, attractive as a Playboy centerfold. She idolized Bogart’s Sam Spade so much she adopted his coat and hat. She not only owned a taekwondo club in Des Moines, Iowa, but ran her own private investigator’s office. And she accomplished all this before the age of 28.
I am a prolific reader and I noticed many authors use a pattern of titles for their books. The alphabet series from Grafton, the numbers from Evanovich, and others. I thought I’d do the same and start with my first title as Alpha and work my way through the Greek alphabet
In the original manuscript, Mallory Petersen investigates the murder of her boyfriend. Along the way, she discovers his secrets, one of which was he was involved with narcotics. To temper the tension, I chose to make many, if not most, of her usual private investigator cases unusual. She meets a lot of oddballs and accepts several out of the ordinary cases, including finding a lost goat and trailing a husband cheating on his wife, both of whom are blind. I wanted a lot of humor in the Petersen stories.
That first draft ended up being about 40,000 words of pure crap. Part of the reason was my immaturity as a writer. For instance, trying to be clever, I gave Mallory way more experience than her years deserved and had her befriending many of America’s other detectives, including such personages as Nero Wolfe, Kinsey Milhone, Joe Gunther, among others. The scenes were short, the action not detailed. My first critique group hammered me not even two chapters in.
By then, however, the idea for Beta kept bugging me, so I dropped Alpha and concentrated on the ‘second’ story. After years of research and rewrites and endless rounds of edits, while also completing Night Shadows, Beta, along with Shadows was accepted for publication.
Almost immediately, I dug Alpha out of the dusty pile of manuscripts and short stories. After honing my craft for so many years, I thought I might be able to salvage the basic plot and a few of the better scenes. I reread the entire story crossing out anything worthless, including the friendships with other detectives from around the country. With pen in hand and a fresh legal pad, I started with sentence one in chapter one. I added the subplot of Mallory searching for her landlord’s missing daughter and a sub-subplot (is that a word?) of her trying to figure out why she keeps receiving white RSVP cards from friends and family. (This latter was part of the original manuscript although in a different form.) I added new characters, kept a few from Beta, and basically had a lot of fun during the rewrites.
Several obstacles faced me with the rewrite of Alpha. When I created the series, I wanted to have a time line. Alpha takes place in October and Beta takes place in November of the same year. However, since Beta had already been published, I didn’t want to bump Alpha up to December because of various factors in the story, including the season. My solution was to have it a NOW and THEN type of story where Mallory is relating the tale that occurred in October in the past tense to her current boyfriend in present day and present tense December.
Another obstacle I had was in Beta I introduced an arc about the murder of one of her high school classmates. A previous classmate had died in October so I had to make sure to include a scene about that first murder.
Of course I had more research to complete with Alpha but I saw so much of Des Moines in the process. I cruised around a cemetery and unknowingly trespassed into the train yard. I met with a big surprise when I visited the Val-Air Ballroom I couldn’t resist including in the story.
I have many people to thank for assisting me: Jon Neuschwanger for providing me details on the sting operation, the Des Moines Police Department, ‘Chewi’ Lockhart who is the manager of the Val-Air, Rick Howell who gave me railroad information, and of course Kat Hinkson, Angi Roe, Susan Schaeffer, and every other critiquer (again I think I just created a new word) who offered advice and was honest enough to tell me when I was wrong.
Alpha was accepted by Oak Tree Press in June of 2011. It will be available August 2012 in soft cover and soon after in eBook.