James Carol: Writing a Crime Series

James Carol

If you’re attracted to the idea of genre writing, and specifically crime or mystery, then you may have more than one, standalone novel in mind. But, if writing one book seems daunting, how do you even begin to work on a whole series of them? Here, James Carol, creator of a new detective series starring FBI agent Jefferson Winter, shares his experience of starting out on long-term, multi-novel project.

James Carol writes …

When I was eleven I got my hands on a copy of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. Though not my favourite book, it was definitely the most influential. After that eye-opening experience the cosy world-view traded by Enid Blyton just didn’t cut it anymore. I was scarred for life, but in a good way. If I had to pinpoint a moment when my love affair with books began, that was it.

For someone who loves books as much as I do, and who’s brain is wired like mine, it was only natural that one day I would want to have a go at writing one. The opportunity to do this came around the time of my thirtieth birthday. For the previous fifteen years I’d been trying to crack the music scene. I’d got close a few times, but like the old saying goes, close don’t get you that cigar. When I hit thirty I decided it was time to cut my losses and run.

Broken Dolls by James Carol
Broken Dolls by James Carol

So I gave myself three months to write a novel, and by the end of that three months I had 100,000 words of something that had a beginning, middle and an end but could in no way be described as a novel.

Here’s the thing though: I loved the process. Even as I was addressing all those envelopes to publishers, I’d started work on my second novel, a scary little serial killer tale entitled ‘Yin Yang’.

In the same way that the Dead Zone is the most influential book I’ve read, ‘Yin Yang’ is the most influential book I’ve ever written. Originally the main character was an FBI profiler who’d come over to London to work a case – sound familiar? In the end the FBI guy became a Scotland Yard detective because I didn’t have the writing chops.

Fast forward ten years and I was trying to develop a new book series. From the start I wanted my main character to be an anti-hero. I wanted him to be someone who swam in the opposite direction from the current crop of protagonists; someone who was more cerebral than kick-ass … someone who didn’t always get the girl.

‘Yin Yang’ never got published, but it was a favourite amongst friends and family. I’ve always liked the story, too, even though some parts now make me cringe. So I decided to rewrite it, this time with an FBI guy taking the starring role.

That was the plan, and it was a good plan. Except the FBI guy turned out to be an ex-FBI guy with a genius-level IQ and a father for a serial killer… and the story, which was eventually titled Broken Dolls, ended up nothing like ‘Yin Yang’. But, hey, that’s writing for you. More often than not those best laid plans are going to turn out nothing like you expected so you might as well get used to it.

Anyway, that’s how Jefferson Winter came to be.

One of the most interesting things has been watching Winter grow and develop. Over the last few years he’s gone from being a word-sketch on a sheet of paper to a character who’s completely real to me. In particular I love the way he’s so adaptable.

A great example of this is Presumed Guilty, the first in a soon-to-be-published spin-off series of eBooks set during Winter’s FBI days. Writing this gave me a completely different perspective on Winter – the nineteen-year-old version shares a lot of similarities with the thirty-something version but everything is so much rawer and intense. The same but different, in other words. I’m anticipating the TV version of Winter will be another case of “same but different”, but that’s what makes this character so exciting.

The other thing I wanted was to have a character who would just keep going and going. Ten books, twenty, thirty. As long as people want to read about Winter, I’ll be happy to provide stories. So if I met Winter twenty years from now, what would I say to him? You know, I hope that I’ll be able to turn around and tell him that it’s been one hell of a ride. I think he’d like that.

Broken Dolls is the first Jefferson Winter novel. Further books in the series are due to be released annually. Look out too for the spin-off Jefferson Winter eBooks.