For New York Times best-selling novelist Alan Jacobson, creating his recurring protagonist FBI Agent Karen Vail was an accident.
“I needed an FBI agent in a novel I was writing and she kind of came right off my fingertips. She exploded from the pages and I couldn’t write her lines fast enough. I knew I had something special there. During that time, I had started doing research with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. A short time later, when I began writing THE 7TH VICTIM, the first book in the series, I knew the main character was going to be a female FBI profiler. Karen Vail was perfect for the role and once I started writing that first paragraph, I never looked back. Writing Vail excites me—and it shows,” explained Jacobson, a New York native.
In addition to THE 7TH VICTIM, Vail has also starred in CRUSH, VELOCITY, INMATE 1577, NO WAY OUT, and his latest SPECTRUM(due out Oct. 7). She and her supporting cast appeared in several chapters of HARD TARGET, which featured another one of Jacobson’s recurring characters: Department of Defense black ops agent Hector DeSantos (who debuted in THE HUNTED and joined forces with Vail in VELOCITY) and a new character FBI Agent Aaron Uziel, aka Uzi.
THE 7TH VICTIM was originally intended to be a standalone, according to Jacobson. However, his publisher asked him to consider making Vail a series character, something the author was reluctant about doing.
“I’d seen a number of colleagues get stale writing series, in that after a while they were inadvertently writing the same books over and over. That did not sound appealing to me, so I decided I’d stay away from series . . . until my publisher told me they really wanted me to make Karen Vail a recurring character because of the tremendous advance response they’d gotten from the sales reps and booksellers. I explained my concerns and told them I’d have to think about it,” recalled Jacobson. “After a week of navel gazing, I figured out a way to keep Vail—and thus me—fresh from book to book. My goal was to write a different story each year while remaining true to the character, retaining what we all love about Karen Vail yet allowing her to grow over time. Six years and six novels later, I’m very glad my publisher urged me to continue with Vail because I love each one of her stories. In many ways, that series has changed—and certainly defined—my career.”
Jacobson is known for thoroughly researching his novels. In fact, Jacobson researched THE 7TH VICTIM over a period of seven years, thanks to his having unprecedented access to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
SPECTRUM is also a novel that took a long time to write. Jacobson began writing it in 1995. In fact, part of it occurs in 1995 as it tells an origin story of Karen Vail. The book opens with Vail graduating from the police academy and joining the New York Police Dept. (NYPD) as a patrol officer. Her trial by fire is investigating the murder of a young woman by the killer dubbed Hades, which remains unsolved. After nineteen years, Vail—now a seasoned FBI profiler—crosses paths with Hades again, who has terrorized the Big Apple for two decades.
“While visiting my family in New York City (in 1995), I went somewhere rich in history and mystique. It got me thinking, ‘Wow, what if . . .’ I bought a reference book (which) sat on my shelf for nearly twenty years. I would take it out every few years and think about it. I had some ideas for a story but nothing that made me run to the keyboard to brainstorm . . . until I put Karen Vail there . . . and everything fell into place,” said Jacobson.
He continued: “(SPECTRUM) gave me an opportunity to show us Vail’s career, beginning with her first day on the job as an NYPD patrol officer. This allowed me to explore Vail’s origins as a character and a person. We know who she is in the present day—a skilled FBI profiler—but how did she get there? What was she like as a rookie cop and what events made her the person—and top cop—that she is today? For me, it was a tremendous challenge: I had to write Vail differently, yet the same. We needed to see the same essence of her personality, but I needed to place it in a young adult. Like a planted seed, we were able to watch her grow, shaped by the experiences and cases and people she encountered over the years.”
Numerous events were alluded to or mentioned in the five prior Vail novels, so readers knew that there were several critical incidents that occurred in her life and in her career. SPECTRUM gave Jacobson the chance to explore the formative “episodes” that made Vail the person and law enforcement officer we now know, including how she became a profiler for the FBI.
Jacobson’s friend Mark Safarik, one of the FBI senior profilers whom the author has worked with for twenty years, appears in SPECTRUM.
“It was odd at first writing his scenes,” confessed Jacobson. “Mark’s like a brother to me, so I felt confident that I could write his dialogue, capture his personality and the essence that makes him so good at what he does. But it was still a weird experience putting words in his mouth. Initially he thought it was strange reading it, as well. He called it ‘an out of body experience.’ He sat back and said, ‘Would I say that?’ He concluded, ‘Yeah, I would.’ That’s when I knew I nailed those scenes.”
DeSantos also makes a brief appearance in SPECTRUM and will have center stage in Jacobson’s next novel.
“I’ve had great fun mixing and matching my world of characters, and my readers have commented that reading one of my books is like visiting with old friends,” he said. “(I) teamed him with Vail in VELOCITY and they had tremendous chemistry. The pairing allowed me to explore Vail’s character in different ways and to play off the dichotomy of Vail—required to follow orders per FBI directive—and DeSantos, who pretty much has free reign to do what he needs to do to get the job done. As you can imagine, the opportunity for conflict, action, and suspense is great.”
Jacobson and Safarik co-authored a personal safety eBook called STAYING SAFE that they’re giving away for free on Jacobson’s website when readers subscribe to the author’s newsletter.
“We were doing an interview for THE 7TH VICTIM and one of the questions was how a woman should handle a particular situation that opens the novel. Afterwards, Mark and I thought we should write an article on personal safety for women,” he said. “But when we got into it, we realized there was way too much important information for just a one-thousand-two-hundred word article. We kept writing and ended up with a forty-three page eBook—full of tips for men, women, and youths. Mark and I talk about why violent criminals do what they do, and we teach you the principles behind personal safety so you can apply those ideas to just about any situation you find yourself in.”
For Jacobson, while certain aspects of research are enjoyable, the best of his job is creating and telling stories.
“I’m happiest when I’m writing, when I’m creating,” he said. “And from what my readers tell me, they’re happiest when I’m writing too.”
Alan Jacobson is the National Bestselling Author of nine critically acclaimed thrillers. His 20 years of research and training with the FBI’s profiling unit, DEA, US Marshals Service, Scotland Yard, SWAT, and US military bring unparalleled realism to his stories and characters—prompting the San Francisco Chronicle to say, “Alan Jacobson researches his books like a good newspaper reporter and then pushes the envelope into reality more thoroughly than the typical crime novel could ever allow.” Alan’s thrillers have made numerous “Best Books of the Year” lists and five have been optioned by Hollywood.