Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That One Image

When I sat down to write THE STOLEN, the third Henry Parker novel, at first I was somewhat lost. I had a very specific idea in mind for what kind of book I wanted THE MARK to be, and the idea for THE GUILTY came to me while I was still penning the first book. The ideas for my first two books were in my head early. THE STOLEN was the first book I had to write totally from scratch, without a sense of what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be different from the first two--in some ways more chilling than thrilling--but I needed a story that would accomplish that without deviating too much from the tone and pace I'd set in the first two books.

Then an image came to mind. I can't remember exactly where I saw it, but I read a recent story about Elizabeth Smart, the young girl kidnapped by polygamists and held against her will for nine months while the nation prayed for her safety. I read about her parents, her community, how it affected everyone around her, including us. For some reason, that crime planted the seed for my story. And it grew, and one image popped into my head.

Picture a family at the dinner table. They're eating, talking, passing the food. The kids are acting up, mommy scolding them. It feels like a normal family, but there's an air of sadness about them. Then the doorbell rings.

When the mother goes to answer it, her jaw drops. She begins to cry. Standing outside the front door is her young son who disappeared years ago, vanishing without a trace. She gathers him into her arms, tears falling freely, embracing the child she thought she'd lost.

The boy hugs her back. Only he's not sure why. Because even though he's been gone, he has no memory of where he's been.

That's where my story would begin. This would raise several questions: How was the boy taken? How could he not remember the last few years? And what would it be like to suddenly be five years older, the world having grown while you did not?

Henry Parker is a young man, estranged from his parents. In many ways, Henry has chosen to forget years of his childhood. When he begins looking into the disappearance of this boy, I thought it was a beautiful symmetry: a young man who never really was a child, trying to find out the truth about a boy whose childhood was taken from him.

As much as I want my Parker novels to be page-turners, gripping crime novels, I want the readers to feel engaged with the characters even more so. Anyone can fire a gun. Anyone can investigate a crime. But the reader won't care unless they feel an attachment to the person doing it. I want each book to be somewhat of a personal quest for Henry, and in each book I want the reader to learn a little more about him.

So when the mother sees her young son on that porch, a boy who has literally and figuratively been lost for years, in my mind I saw two people standing there. 

Daniel Linwood, age 11. 

And Henry Parker.

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