|The Bishop / SCU Series — The Birth of The Idea
Since the publication of the Shadows trilogy in 2000 (Stealing Shadows, Hiding in the Shadows, Out of the Shadows), I've received lots of questions about the books, from where I got the ideas and what kind of research I had done to whether I'm psychic myself. Well, since so many of you asked, I thought I'd explain just how the trilogy — and ongoing series — came about.
I always did love mysteries and suspense, reading the classics like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers when I was younger and pretty much everything I could get my hands on in the years since. I love them all, from the gentle, virtually bloodless "cozies" to the really dark and edgy suspense dominating today's bestseller lists.
As for the paranormal, I vividly remember rushing home from school in order to watch eerie episodes of the groundbreaking daytime soap Dark Shadows. I remember reading book after book on subjects such as reincarnation, telepathy, psychic healing, telekinesis, and precognition. As with my other reading in those years, I had nothing in mind beyond exploring my varied interests. It never occurred to me then that one day I would actually use the bits and pieces of information, facts and speculation, stored deep in my brain.
But that absorbed knowledge, like so much else of my teenage years, floated to the surface eventually. And found its way into my writing, at first in small characteristics and elements and later in much more important ones. A heroine hiding from the world because of her psychic gift; a "haunted" Southern mansion; a couple whose romance was merely the latest chapter in an eternal love story; an entire wacky family of psychics.
It was fun and challenging to use those paranormal elements within the framework of a romance. But, gradually, as my work progressed into single-title, I discovered that the ideas simmering in the back of my mind were taking on a darker, edgier form.
Ever one to follow my nose, I paid attention to those ideas — and Cassie Neill immediately stepped center-stage. A gifted, troubled psychic, bound by her abilities and conscience to help others even at the risk of her own life — and sanity. With Cassie came the title Stealing Shadows, and I knew I had the beginning of something that would require more than one novel.
That was obvious to me because there were other characters also demanding their own stories, some misty and vague because it wasn't quite their time to take center-stage, and others fully-formed and rather arrogantly insistent that they wanted in now. Characters like Noah Bishop, FBI profiler and so much more, whose story I saw and understood almost instantly and with startling clarity. Bishop ended up anchoring my trilogy, appearing in all three novels as a secondary character and taking center stage for his own story only in Book 3.
What I had, I realized, was fodder for quite a few stories. So I decided to begin with three stories, a trilogy that would be connected only by the paranormal elements — and Bishop. Each book could and would stand alone, but the complete trilogy would tell a bigger story and would, I hoped, lay the groundwork for future stories.
So Book 1, Stealing Shadows, tells the story of Cassie Neill, a fragile, wounded psychic whose determination to be alone and at peace is shattered by a killer's bloody rampage. It's also the story of Ben Ryan, a small town lawyer and former judge who does not believe in the paranormal — until a haunted Cassie Neill walks into his office.
Book 2, Hiding in the Shadows, unlike most of my novels, was born, literally, in a single moment of inspiration, with a "what if" idea that gave me the backbone of the entire story. It's more usual for me to have several "moments," several different ideas, in character and plot, which jell eventually into a story. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times in my more than twenty-year career when I saw the central premise of a story in a single blinding moment before I ever wrote a word of it. It's such a rare occurrence, one of the magical "possibilities" that keep me writing because, when it happens, it makes working a pure joy — at least for that wonderful moment.
In Hiding in the Shadows I had that moment, and the idea fit in well with the paranormal themes I wanted to explore. This story is different from Stealing Shadows in several ways: it takes place in the large city of Atlanta rather than a small town; the paranormal elements are less obvious; and the developing relationship between hero and heroine is much more ... conflicted. Bishop, of course, takes part, and during the course of the story we find out a few more things about him, including the fact that he's working to put together a new unit within the FBI, leading a team of agents whose abilities are very, very specialized.
An early review of Hiding in the Shadows made a comment about "smoke and mirrors," and I think that reviewer was right on. Nothing in the story is quite what you think it is — including several of the characters.
Book 3, Out of the Shadows, had more time to "simmer" in the back of my mind before I began writing it. That's invariably true of trilogies, and one reason I love writing them. By the time the actual writing begins, both the characters and plot tend to be almost fully fleshed-out, which makes the work of getting the story down on paper much easier than usual. Of course, "easier" doesn't necessarily mean "easy." One of the joys of being a writer — especially one who flies by the seat of her pants, never using an outline — is that the unexpected always rears its head, not only surprising the author but frequently demanding interesting adjustments in whatever "plan" I had in mind.
I knew the story would be Bishop's story; I knew what had happened in his past, the mistakes and regrets and tragedies; and I knew he would be reunited with the woman he had loved — and badly hurt — years before. I knew he was leading an elite unit within the FBI, a group of men and women with unique abilities, agents he had recruited himself and molded into a highly effective — if unorthodox — team of investigators.
I knew all that. What I didn't know was that the story would be as much Miranda's as Bishop's, as much a story about an exceptionally strong woman as it was about a fascinating and enigmatic man. And though I knew that more than one character possessed paranormal abilities, and that those abilities would figure largely in the plot as it unfolded, I was caught off guard more than once by unexpected developments — and pure surprises.
Sometimes what comes Out of the Shadows is nothing at all like what you imagined. Truths and lies, monsters and angels, deadly danger and incredible joy. Sometimes, what's around the next corner is so unexpected it takes you completely by surprise.
Even if you're the author.
This trilogy did indeed lay the groundwork for future stories. And all that information I stored in my brain years ago, facts and speculations about the paranormal, is combining itself beautifully with my love of mystery and suspense — and the always fascinating dynamics of the relationships between men and women. I never knew, watching Dark Shadows as an enthralled kid, that one day I'd create my own "mythology," my own world of the paranormal. And I never would have guessed how much fun I'd have doing it.
So ... have you ever wondered what it would be like to read someone else's unspoken thoughts? To see the future before it happens? To move objects with your mind, or heal with a touch? What if you could feel other people's emotions? What if you could talk to the dead?
Part of the sheer joy of being a writer is the ability to create a world in which the paranormal — is normal. Where the unusual abilities of men and women only make them more human.
I like this world. I hope you do too.
Oh — and that question you had about whether I'm psychic myself?
I knew you were going to ask that.