FINALIST of the 2016 Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Independently Published Book
“Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Quinn’s search for the one missing person he can’t find, his own daughter.”
Shelf Unbound: You’ve written dozens of novels, both crime and science fiction. How has your writing evolved since you began?
David Grace: I’ve sharpened my craft in the basics of writing fiction: character development, plot structure, narrative and dialog. In my more recent books I always work to introduce emotional plot issues and events into my stories.
Earlier in my career I would decide that I wanted to write a “chase” book or a serial killer book or whatever sort of plot I picked and then I’d figure out what kind of a story that fit that plot type.
Now, I start with the personality of the hero and the challenges I want him to have to deal with and then I craft the story around that character and those issues. I think that leads to more rounded characters and more interesting stories. For what it’s worth, my favorites are The Concrete Kiss, Death Never Sleeps, Death Never Lies, Death Doesn’t Care, Shooting Crows At Dawn, True Faith and this book, The Wrong Side Of A Gun.
Shelf Unbound: How did you develop your main character, Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Quinn?
Grace: I always start planning a book with an idea of what kind of person the protagonist is. What is his life all about? What is his personality? What is his character?
I want to be able to predict what he would do in any situation. Think about the character Andy Sipowitz in NYPD Blue. If you asked anyone who was a fan of that show what Sipowitz would have done if X happened or Y happened they could tell you what his response would be. He’s three-dimensional and unique. I want to create characters whose personalities don’t leave any question about how they would react in a difficult situation.
As I do for all of my principal characters, I wrote a bio for Virgil Quinn, when and where he was born, where he went to school, when he got married, etc. in order to try to understand him better.
I can’t begin plotting a story until I understand the personalities of the principal characters. But I also have to know a little bit about the kinds of challenges the character will face and how I will want the character to react to them. That gives me a guide to what kind of personality I want him/her to have, so there’s a bit of back and forth between building the character and constructing the plot.
Shelf Unbound: How did you come up with the story idea for The Wrong Side of a Gun?
Grace: I liked the emotional element of someone who once was lost and then was found, but I didn’t want to write a bad guy/kidnapped child story. I thought that the tension between a somewhat unbalanced mother and a married-to-his-work law-enforcement father with the child in the middle used by one as a pawn against the other was a more interesting way to explore this “lost child found” element.
Against the background of Virgil’s search for his runaway wife and daughter, I wanted to show Quinn involved in various different criminal investigations.
I didn’t want to write this book with just one long, strung-out crime story—find a clue, find another clue, to here, go there, string it out until, finally, three hundred pages later the hero identifies the criminal.
I felt that the book would be more interesting, faster paced, if the reader saw Virgil investigate and solve several different crimes in different places and in different ways with the missing-child plot line progressing in parallel in the background.
Once I identified those other criminal events that Quinn was going to tackle I began constructing a story that would tie all of the pieces together.
Shelf Unbound: Which authors or novels have influenced your work?
Grace: In crime novels, Michael Connelly, Martin Cruz Smith and John Connolly. I think they are all excellent writers. I like all the Michael Connelly “Harry Bosch” novels.
Martin Cruz Smith’s novel, December 8 is an amazing book. If you want an example of what a great writer can create, read it.
In the thriller category I very much admire Daniel Silva’s talent. I would recommend any of his Gabriel Allon novels. I think he’s a terrific writer.
In science fiction and fantasy, Jack Vance and Robert Silverberg, both of whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing personally. Great talents both. For Vance, check out The Blue World and Showboat World. For Silverberg, read Lord Valentine’s Castle and Nightwings.
Shelf Unbound: What novel are you working on now?
Grace: Usually I write the book then pick a title. This time I already have the title, but I’m keeping it a secret until I release the book because I don’t want anyone else to grab it.
The new book is set in Los Angeles. I know who the two main characters are, what their personalties are, and what each of them are after, the emotions that are driving them. I haven’t outlined the book in a chapter-by-chapter format yet but I do know the major story elements.
I’ve taken a little break from writing fiction for a few months while I concentrate on non-fiction essays. I think I’ll start working in earnest on the new book sometime in the next two to three months.