Thriller Writer Tj O'Connor

Dying To Be A Character

Mar 30, 2016

What a month. Holy crap on a peanut butter sandwich what a month. I’ve had more ups and downs and twists and turns than in my novels. But when you write those twists and turns, you can control them, right? Well, no, my characters control all that. But they let me have a say. Sometimes. In real life, you’re at the mercy of life itself. At times I thought my world was on fire—new book almost finished, a new book deal, I didn’t crash my Harley into that tractor-trailer … and, well, other things words can’t explain. But then there were the lows—lost contracts in the mail, speaking when I shouldn’t (big surprise, right?), dreadful communications … misunderstandings. And more … too much work and not enough hours. Loss. Lost chances. Days without focus. Nights without sleep.

What’s next, an IRS audit? Identity theft? Will I lose a billion dollar lotto ticket?

Gulp. Okay, I’ll suck it up. I was not careful what I wished for and I’m getting some of it. The books, the edits, the travel, sleeplessness, the toils of contracts, editors, and predators! Bring it on! I’m tough. I can handle it … and for the most part, I love it! And for those challenges I cannot overcome, no fear … I have a solution.

I’m going to become my characters. Yep, I’m stepping into the pages of my books and assuming a new identity.

Why not? They live a more exciting life than me—at least, these days. They’re immune to the realities of life. They swashbuckle and chase bad guys. They’re witty and smooth and adventurous. They survive the pitfalls in life and go on to a bigger, better sequel.Damn, I’d like a little of that!

Truth be told, I’ve been a lucky guy most of my life. I’ve done most of what my characters have. Perhaps not as smooth or as cool, but been there, done that. Now, I’m just a UFO (old, fat, ugly guy) banging away on the keyboard chasing my life’s dreams and wishing for some years and memories back. So, eh, I shouldn’t complain, right?

But what if we could actually become our characters? What if we could write our own life, our own stories, and our own ending? How cool would that be? I was thinking about that all night when I should have been sleeping. Instead, I was jotting email notes to myself about my new thriller and pining for do-overs on my recent screw-ups. I took a good look at my recent characters and came up with some thoughts …

Oliver “Tuck” Tucker (The Gumshoe Ghost Mystery series)—Tuck is a homicide detective extraordinaire—he’s a sarcastic, fun-loving cop who chases bad guys with a history of crime. Tuck’s favorite things are: Angel, his wife; Hercule, his Black Lab; and Bear Braddock, his curmudgeon former partner. His weaknesses are his sarcasm, and, oh yeah, he’s dead. Tuck is already so much of me and I don’t want to be a deaddetective, so I guess I’m stuck with writing about him and not stealing any more of his life, er, death. Eh, could be worse.

Richard Jax or Patrick “Trick” McCall (New Sins for Old Scores)—Jax is a lucky-to-be-alive BCI agent trying to clear his name after his partner and ex-fiancé are murdered. He’s a little onery at times, down-on-his-luck, and grousing about the spirit of a World War II OSS man, Captain Trick McCall, haunting his case. Now, Trick is my kinda guy—sarcastic, fun-loving, a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventurer, and all around smooth operator. He chases bad guys, his lost life, adventure, and dames … all at once. And not necessarily in that order. Yup, my kinda guy!

Jonathan Hunter (Double Effect – my soon to be completed thriller)—Hunter is a border-line wreckless CIA consultant with too many one-liners and a complicated sense of right and wrong. He’s called home after 20-years by his estranged brother and arrives in time to witness his murder. He’s on the trail of Salvadorian gangsters and a Middle East terror cell plotting the demise of the US! Hunter is tormented by many things, not the least is a dead brother—his only family, his recently lost career, lost loves, and a lost future. He is confronted by a beautiful and alluring widow, a hateful and jealous deputy sheriff who would kill Hunter for the widow, and a team of FBI agents all with their own agendas; especially the sultry lead Fed—Victoria Bacarro—who can’t get enough of him—in or out of handcuffs (insert snicker here). So Hunter’s a good candidate for me to daydream about. Except he gets the crap kicked out of him a lot. And shot. Hopefully you’ll read about him in the next year, but life for him is complicated and dangerous and painful. Still, he’s my number one character to become for a lot of reasons. The biggest is his sidekick, Oscar LaRue, who is based on my mentor, Wally F. I lost Wally last summer at age 92 (you can read about him in one of my earlier blogs). The relationship and dynamic of these two characters is soooooo the two of us over the years. Writing these parts brought back great memories. I think I’ll keep them around for a couple books—even if they don’t sell.

In the end, my books are really about me reliving life lost to age and reason. My characters and I share more than just the keyboard and pages—we share life. They are me and I am them. Some of them like the adventurous, risk-taking, cool characters. The sniveling, cowardly, killers and weirdos, not so much me. Sure, sure, some of you will disagree (thanks a lot, Greg).

Earlier I said … what if we could actually become our characters … write our own life, our own stories, … our own endings? How cool would that be? The truth is, we can do that. I do it all the time. Anyone can and you don’t have to be a writer or a spy or a federal agent or even a dead detective. You only have to do it. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I wanted to be a detective, a government agent, and swashbuckler and have adventures. I did all that. I’m still doing it. Sure, sure, I have bad days and weeks and even years. But life is something I can control … most of the time.

And yes, there are those things I wish I could just jump off my world onto another and have something I truly, deeply want. That’s not always possible. It’s not always right or fair. Mostly, it’s not always simple. So, in those cases—and there aren’t many—I simply write about them. I live through my stories, my characters, and my plots. I live those lost wishes vicariously through them. It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And I don’t get beat up, shot, or dead—win win.

So the next time you sit back and wish—be careful what you wish for. And if you can’t be careful—just do it.

We’ll again chat next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery, will be out in late 2016-early 2017! He is currently working on a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

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I first fell in love with writing while in grade school and over the years continued to dabble with characters and stories whenever life allowed. Lately, I've focused my energy on pursuing this dream—interrupted only by life as a security consultant and the demands of two Labrador retrievers.

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