Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series if one of the freshest to come around in some time. In this guest post, he tells us how he came up with the thief and detective for criminals.
Like most writers I know, I’m a functioning schizophrenic, or (if there is such a thing) a multiphrenic. I’m inhabited at all times by a cloud of fictional personalities, muttering in the wings like a crowd of not-very-good actors, impatient to be summoned into the brightly lighted space of the stage.
This condition is especially bothersome for those of us who write series. I currently write two, so I have an acute case of multiphrenia. It’s not only the primary and secondary characters in my series who are whispering in my ear all the time. It’s absolutely everybody. Every character who passes through a story, who waves from the crowd, who has a good scene, who provides a bit of exposition—in short, every character who doesn’t actually die—wants to get back on the page. Their attitude toward page space and dialogue is (probably unconsciously) taken from Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, can I have more?”
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I recognize these voices when I hear them because I’ve written them before. After all, on some level I don’t begin to understand, I created them. You’d think they’d be more polite, but the moment they see a potential slot coming up in a work-in-progress, they agitate to fill it. The pushier ones suggest entirely new book ideas in which, just coincidentally, they would get most of the good lines. I’ve learned to treat most of this as background noise, keeping one ear out for a useful idea, the same way I can hear my name spoken in a crowd of people at a party.
That’s the main reason the Junior Bender books are different. They started with a voice I’d never heard before.
I was writing the third Poke Rafferty thriller, Breathing Water, when the voice started to talk. And talk. And talk. It wasn’t a voice I could identify, it was no one I had written; near as I could figure, it was someone breaking through from the undoubtedly frustrating limbo where unwritten characters hang out. He had a story to tell me, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I was doing well with Breathing Water, and I’ve learned the hard way not to walk away from anything I’m doing well with, so I ignored the voice. But it wouldn’t leave me alone, so I set aside a Sunday and just let it talk.
And what did that get me? The voice told me a deeply stupid short story about a crook and a hamster. I wrote it all down, mainly to make the voice go away. The guy who was telling me the story turned out to be a Los Angeles getaway driver with no sense of direction named Louie the Lost. He buys a hamster from a fence (don’t ask) and falls head over heels in love with it. When it’s stolen, he calls up a friend, a burglar, to find out who took it. The burglar turned out to be Junior Bender.
I showed the story to my agent, who said, “Uhhh.” But I knew that Junior—a burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks—was someone I wanted to spend more time with. The moment I finished Breathing Water, I let Junior tell me the story that turned into Crashed. The first draft took six weeks, a lifetime record for me (most of them take six to eight months), and I laughed all the way through it.
As of this writing, I’ve told four stories from Junior’s life: Crashed, Little Elvises, The Fame Thief, and the one I just finished, Herbie’s Game. Louie the Lost is an important character in all of them. But still, at times when he’s sure Junior is out of earshot, he tries to tell me getaway driver stories.
He even suggests titles. They’ve all got his name in them.
Meet Timothy at our LA themed Noir At The Bar, along with Josh Stallings and Marcia Clark, on Saturday, July 20th, 7PM at Opal Divines, 3601 South Congress.