Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chasing Evil, Finding Themes

by Leslie Tentler

Thanks so much for having me back again at Working Stiffs! It’s been a whirlwind month so far. I’ve been busy doing promotional activities for MIDNIGHT FEAR, the second book in the Chasing Evil trilogy that was released on August 1.

MIDNIGHT FEAR introduces Reid Novak, a special agent working for the FBI’s fictional Violent Crimes Unit. There’s also Caitlyn Cahill, a former D.C. socialite who played a prominent role in bringing her serial killer brother to justice two years earlier. An act that is now coming back to haunt her.

All three books in the Chasing Evil trilogy are based on a deliberate, common theme: federal agents handling serial murder investigations. But as I wrote each novel (all three are now completed; the final one will be released in February), I began to recognize a second, underlying trend and one that I hadn’t planned intentionally: The main character in each book comes from a legacy of law enforcement.

To that point:

  • In my debut novel, MIDNIGHT CALLER, Special Agent Trevor Rivette’s father is a disgraced, embittered former New Orleans cop. Trevor himself went into law enforcement due to the powerlessness he felt growing up in his father’s abusive household, and his desire to right his dad’s many wrongs.
  • In my current book, MIDNIGHT FEAR, Reid Novak’s father is a retired D.C. vice detective, and his grandfather was a beat cop. Reid’s father, however, is everything that Trevor’s father was not. Kind and gentle, he continues to play a big role in his son’s life.
  • And in EDGE OF MIDNIGHT, the trilogy’s final (and still to be released) book, Special Agent Eric Macfarlane has ties that are high up within the federal government: His father is an associate attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice. Driven and ambitious, Eric’s father sets the bar high for his only son.

While the father-son dynamic in each story is different, it clearly shapes who the main character in each book has become. When I recognized the similar patterns within these stories, it also got me to thinking about how each of us is shaped by our own parents, as well – their personalities, their interests and dreams for us, as well as their disappointments and regrets.

I give credit for my becoming a writer to my mother, a schoolteacher who was a master raconteur as well as an avid reader. She taught me the escape of a good book from an early age. Especially in the summer, we’d take regular trips to the small bookstore around the corner, and to the public library, then return home with our arms piled high with adventures to be read. I still can’t diagram a sentence to save my life, but I got my ability to write from reading. It’s where I learned how to build a story arc, establish pace and instinctively know if a sentence or paragraph “reads right.” I don’t think my mother ever intended for me to become a writer, however. She just wanted me to share her love of books.

My mother especially loved those big, sweeping historical romances – another interest she passed along to me. In fact, many years ago, my first attempt at writing was an historical romance, set on a Louisiana plantation. But I wasn’t ready then, my writing hadn’t matured enough (nor had my attention span), and I think I made it about five chapters in before ditching the entire effort.

But I kept my desire to write.

At some point, my interests moved away from historical romance and onto contemporary romantic thrillers. I love the elements of danger in those kinds of stories, and the heightened passions that come along with that. While no one really wants that kind of crime or risk in his or her real life, I’d think, it’s exciting to see it play out from the safety of a book.

As a new writer, I feel like I’ve learned so much during the time spent writing the Chasing Evil trilogy. Everything from critical aspects of homicide investigations to the underworld vampire culture in New Orleans. And I also know that I still have so much more to experience and learn.

Enjoy what’s left of summer and read a good book by the water somewhere!

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Novelist Leslie Tentler worked in public relations as a writer and editor for nearly two decades before deciding to pursue her love of writing fiction. Her first manuscript won multiple Romance Writers of America chapter contest awards, including the prestigious Maggie Award of Excellence.

Leslie is a native of Kingsport, Tennessee. Growing up, she was an avid reader, first of Nancy Drew novels and then surreptitiously devouring her mother’s historical romances at probably too young an age. As she got older, her reading interests moved to dark, contemporary romantic thrillers, which she writes today.


Jenna said...

Excellent post. Thanks for visiting with us again, Leslie! Don't you love those things that happen when you don't realize it, like themes?

leslie tentler said...

Thanks, Jenna, and thanks again for having me! I honestly wasn't aware of the father-son dynamic in each of these stories until I was well into writing book 3 and then it sort of jumped out at me. :-)

Ramona said...

Very interesting, Leslie. I think you've got theme and character insight going here.

I think we are all shaped, to some degree, by our parents. Why shouldn't our characters be so as well?

leslie tentler said...

Ramona, so true! I love writing about family members for that very reason. By getting a glimpse of the MC's parent, or siblings, you can get some real insight into why a character is who he is.