Amazon recently sent me an ad for crime novels, grouped, not by author, or publisher, or genre subdivision (noir, police procedural, etc.), but by crime. As if I’m sitting there thinking, “What I need is a damn good kidnapping,” or, “I could use a bit of larceny tonight,” or, even, “Gosh! I wonder if they’ve got a good book about jaywalking?”
Well, I suppose it’s as fair a way as any to classify a book. Personally, though, I’ve always had a thing for books that don’t quite fit the marketing pigeonholes, however they’re arranged. Books that take a bit of this, a bit of that, throw in a whole bunch of disparate ingredients, and turn them into something new. Start with a detective story, bolt on a Victorian penny dreadful, add a bit of Wellsian SF, and, if you’ve done it right, you’ll have my interest. The ingredients may vary. It’s the way they’re mixed that counts.
My new novel, DEVIL IN THE WIRES is one such hybrid beast—although I’m hoping, if I’ve done it properly, you’ll soon be so caught up in it, you’ll never see the join. On the one hand, it’s a contemporary thriller. It starts with a perilous mission in Iraq, moves to Paris, then London, and ends with some very bloody goings-on in Chicago. What makes it different is the premise, which is fantasy: that there are ancient powers—gods, for want of a better word—which can be captured, drained of energy, and used to provide electric power for modern cities. Handling them is big business, as you might expect. It’s also dangerous. The entity in the present book, for instance, could make Three Mile Island look like a fun day in the park, if it wanted to.
And that, of course, is the thing our hero has to prevent.
His name is Chris Copeland. In many ways, he’s a pretty ordinary guy. He moans about his job, he doesn’t trust his bosses, and he wants to get back with the girl he left a couple of years earlier. But he’s got a knack for dealing with the gods—a knack that’s given him a decent living for a while, but now looks like it’s fast becoming a liability.
DEVIL IN THE WIRES is a story that changed in the telling. A very minor character, who didn’t even have a name in the first draft, somehow acquired solidity, a face, a name—Dayling—and a major role in the plot. Likewise, Chris’s girlfriend gained an unpleasant past in the form of an abusive ex-lover who, again, became an important figure for the book.
I’ve said before I sometimes feel these stories pre-exist somewhere, and I’m just trying to dig them up, bring them out to light, as best I can. Well, the same goes for the characters. Often, I’ll be halfway through a book, and suddenly learn something new about someone, something unexpected, yet that makes complete sense (at least to me). Or maybe, as with the two guys above, they’ll emerge slowly, bit by bit, like the people you don’t notice when you walk into a busy room, little suspecting how important they’ll become.
I began this piece by talking about genre, but at the heart of any story are its characters. We’re people, and we like to read about people. I’ve no real recipe for writing, but if I had to find one, I’d say this: you take a bunch of folk, throw in a catalyst, and see what happens. They’ll each respond differently. Shailer, the rising corporate lackey, is full of upbeat pep-talk and private fears. Dayling wants the god to free him from his past. Woollard, the cop, is desperately trying to deal with things the best way he knows how, and finding that he’s miles out of his depth. And Chris—well, he’s got the hardest job of all. He’s just trying to stay alive.
From Iraq to Paris, from London to Chicago: the devil’s in the wires, and Hell’s about to follow.
Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago, which is where much of his present book is set. Devil in the Wires will be available as an e-book in May and as a mass market paperback about a month later.
To learn more about Tim, please visit his website.