When I wrote books in first-person, I inevitably heard readers tell me that they thought I was Lincoln Perry. He and I were one and the same. Not the character, of course, but the voice. I’ve heard numerous writers, all of whom I greatly admire, dispute this notion about their series characters. I’ve disagreed with almost all of them.
Lincoln’s voice was my own. When I first wrote a Lincoln book, I was 19, and I didn’t have any other voice, I just knew what I liked to read. So the Lincoln I imagined was as an odd mashup of literary influences: he was the Continental Op, Marlowe, Spade, Archer, Robicheaux, Spenser, Bosch, Kenzie, Cole, and….Koryta? Absolutely. Lincoln’s dialogue and sense of humor – or lack thereof, depending on your perspective – are undeniably similar to my own. Yes, he sounds like me. He’s just taller, tougher, smarter, better looking, and funnier, was my early line on this topic. The idea that Lincoln Perry is the character who sounds the most like me is absolutely correct. Perhaps that’s why he began to bore me. When he surprises me – and I truly believe this will happen – that’s when I’ll want to write in his voice again.
If I were to do a poll asking people to guess the character to whom I felt the deepest connection, the most bone-deep I know you connection – or, more chilling, the he knows me connection – I suspect the audience winner would be Lincoln Perry, but I actually connected most with Adam Austin of The Prophet. We share no history, no sense of humor (what little he exhibits), we’ve lived in different places, he had a brother and sister while I had only a sister, he was an athlete while I was a…(insert a term opposite of athlete here), and so on. We share nothing.
Here’s a story I’ll always remember, and treasure, from The Prophet’s publication. My publicist, Sabrina Callahan, who had worked on several books with me and had read the Lincoln Perry stories even though she didn’t work on those books, went into a marketing meeting and said “One of the reasons I’m excited about this book is that it’s the first time I’ve seen Michael put himself on the page. He’s Adam.” According to Sabrina, this was met with some confusion. It was met with my utter fascination, because it’s the most accurate read of the book that I received, far and away. While I shared so little with the character, the emotional connection was incredibly deep for reasons that I can’t explain, and, frankly, don’t want to try. I don’t want to try because that connection was the magic of it for me; that connection was the reason I loved writing the book, and anything good that came from those pages came from that bond I felt with Adam. When writing doesn’t feel a little like magic, or at least a little surreal, it’s probably not working.
Some of my most treasured readers are those who chastise me for the way I treated Adam Austin, because I’ve never felt more emotionally connected to a book than I did when Adam made a bad choice. Don’t do that, Adam. Why would you do that? God, Adam, don’t you see the consequences?
That relentless – and draining, it was truly draining to write Adam Austin – emotional engagement with character is a blessing that I can’t really describe, except to say that I hope for it each time out, and when it comes, the reward is magical. It’s why I come to the blank page with such excitement and, crazy as it sounds, with such a sense of responsibility. I feel for the characters.
Cemetery Dance just published a gorgeous, leather-bound limited edition of The Prophet. This came several years after I was done writing the story. While I was admiring their work, I randomly flipped to a page on which Adam makes a critical decision, and I winced and closed the book and put it on the shelf. I wrote the book, and yet I still can’t bear to look head-on at what Adam does, and at what costs.
At the end of LAST WORDS, you’ll find a teaser chapter of the next book. It’s Markus Novak again, but it’s first-person narration. I hope you enjoy the teaser, but you won’t see it in the actual book. (I went very literal with the term “teaser” evidently…) I’d always wanted to move from third to first with Markus, because I thought the events of LAST WORDS would leave a very changed man behind and it seemed like a fun idea to embrace that in voice. I wrote nearly 300 pages of the book in first-person, and then I scrapped it. That is not a decision that can be made lightly, I assure you, because tossing out five months of work is never a really great feeling. But I’d found myself writing Lincoln Perry under another identity – the deeper I got into the first-person narrative, the more my own voice bled into the book, and my own voice sounds too much like Lincoln now. At least to me. So after pacing around on high ledges for a while, I went back to third, and Markus reappeared for me.
I’ll be interested to hear what readers think of that first-person sample, which has somehow gone from teaser to artifact of a book that will never exist!