Richard Phillips discusses the unplanned path that turned one of his secondary Rho Agenda characters into the protagonist for three new novels.
What makes a hero? For Jack Gregory it’s a serial killer’s soul.
As I was writing my Rho Agenda trilogy, one of my secondary characters took on a life of his own, acquiring a much more important role in the trilogy than I had originally envisioned. By the publication of Wormhole, my third Rho Agenda novel, many of my readers wanted to know more about how Jack ‘The Ripper’ Gregory came to be the mysterious killer they had come to know. Based upon that outpouring of interest, I signed a second deal with 47North to write three Rho Agenda prequel novels featuring Jack Gregory.
What does this say about my writing style? Yes, you’ve guessed it. As opposed to a detailed outliner, I’m a notorious pantser who loves to add the odd bit of scene detail, such as a broken manikin in a dark store-front window. But then I can’t resist looking deeper inside that store to see if there is anything else in there that might spill out to impact my story. It’s not that I don’t structure each story ahead of time, but each one evolves during the telling, and that evolution brings forth new life.
In the case of the aforementioned Jack Gregory, I needed a tough NSA agent to help my young Rho Agenda protagonists survive the turmoil they had accidently unleashed on themselves and on the world. What I ended up with was much more than that, a killer with a mysterious something extra along for the ride.
In designing the three prequel novels that introduce Jack Gregory, I wanted each one to be an independent thriller as opposed to a trilogy. However, it was also important to have a multi-book arc that reveals the true nature of the alien being that comes to share Jack’s mind and that shows Jack’s struggles against the insanity that threatens to consume him. Once Dead is the opening salvo in this internal war and is scheduled for release on August 19th, 2014.
While it is fairly common for authors to write books about an interesting secondary character, one of the more unusual instances of this can be seen in Orson Scott Card’s great novel, Ender’s Shadow, which retells Ender’s Game from Bean’s perspective rather than Ender’s. But the retelling of a tale from a second perspective is something best left to the hands of master craftsmen like Card. That said, I encourage all of you other pantsers out there, and even you hard core outliners, to step through the dark storefronts in your mind and explore the hidden stories of the secondary characters who populate your worlds. You might just discover a novel idea.