FIREPROOF is the tenth novel in the Maggie O’Dell series. Ask author, Alex Kava about the milestone and her first response is, “I’m so glad I didn’t kill her off.”
Kava goes on to explain that she never intended to write a series when she penned her first thriller, A PERFECT EVIL. That book was meant to be a stand alone. In fact, the FBI profiler assigned to the case – Maggie O’Dell – doesn’t come onto the scene until chapter seven. So how does that happen?
The book became an international bestseller, landing on the bestseller lists in the US, Britain, Australia, Italy, Japan, Poland and Germany. And although Kava admits that initially she found the character of Maggie O’Dell “stubborn and annoying,” her readers disagreed. They fell in love with the young profiler who was brilliant and a bit of a rebel in her professional life all the while finding her personal life crumbling around her. Kava’s readers and her publisher demanded a sequel. Then a third to perhaps complete a trilogy. But then they insisted the series continue.
So how does an author go about writing a series she didn’t plan?
“By the seat of my pants,” Kava said. “At that time, I didn’t even read any series novels. To make matters worse, I had given Maggie an alcoholic, suicidal mother and also put her in the middle of a bad marriage. It made great conflict for one novel, but suddenly I had to deal with those issues again and again.”
Kava, who does extensive research for her novels and relies on her network of experts in law enforcement, credits one of her sources for helping her “deal with Maggie.”The district county prosecutor introduced herself to Kava after a luncheon where Kava had been the keynote speaker. The two became fast friends and Kava acknowledges that many of her plots have been shaped and inspired after one of their lunches or dinners together. Early in their friendship during one of these outings, Kava says she confessed to her friend that it was a challenge writing the character of Maggie O’Dell.
That’s when her friend gave her what Kava says was some of the best advice of her career.
Her prosecutor friend told her, “Maggie needs to lighten up. She shouldn’t be so serious all the time. We [law enforcement officers] have real lives. We have families. We have friends. Let her have a sense of humor.”
That’s when Kava decided to do just that. “I finally gave Maggie some bits and pieces of me. I gave her my weird, dry sense of humor. I gave her a dog and my love of college football.” She admits it helped her, not only like Maggie more, but also understand her.
Throughout the series Kava has thrown her protagonist into all kinds of predicaments, exposing her to the Ebola virus, putting her in the path of a hurricane and in the middle of a terrorist plot to bomb Mall of America. Kava insists on pushing the envelope, explaining that she didn’t want to get into the habit of writing the stereotypical profiler hunting a stereotypical serial killer. Though Maggie O’Dell has certainly had her share of confrontations with serial killers, they have been far from stereotypical. But at the same time, Kava also tries to include and explore controversial issues like teenage drug use, political cover-ups, the Catholic Church priest/child abuse scandal and the underground cadaver business.
In FIREPROOF Kava throws Maggie O’Dell into a serial arson investigation while examining the effects of sensationalism by the news media. And although Kava insists both she and Maggie have matured and that there is no longer an antagonistic relationship between the two of them, Kava has continued to toss and stir up Maggie’s personal life. In FIREPROOF the FBI profiler finds herself battling a journalistic expose’of her career while getting to know her half-brother and once again, propping up a self-destructive mother.
The series that never intended to be a series appears to be going full force. Asked if there’s a few more Maggie O’Dell novels to come, Alex Kava said, “I feel like Maggie and I have just hit our stride.
Alex Kava is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve novels, ten in the critically acclaimed Maggie O’Dell series. She is the recipient of the Mari Sandoz Award. Her novels are published in over 26 countries.
Alex Kava is also the author of two stand alone thrillers, ONE FALSE MOVE and WHITEWASH.
Deb Carlin is the co-author of the short story, AFTER DARK in the anthology, FIRST THRILLS.