Monday, November 09, 2015

How I Came to Write My Book: Liam Sweeny: WELCOME BACK JACK

Welcome Back, Jack came from close to home. It was my first full-fledged crime novel, a police procedural set in New Rhodes, a city in the Capital Region of New York. It’s a fictional city, but it’s largely based on Troy, N.Y., the “Home of Uncle Sam.”

I wanted to take the truth of the city, and expand on it, blow it up to fictional proportions. Troy was an industrial city when industry first came to America, and that’s reflected in the tunnel system that forms the killer’s nesting ground. In fact, Troy had its own serial killer, a man named Gary Evans, who was on record for killing eight, though that number is likely higher. In fact, one of the bodies was buried in the swamps behind my house when I lived there.

With Jack, I wanted a rough character, but I wanted to avoid the Dirty Harry archetype. Jack smokes, but he struggles with it. He drinks, but he’s not a lush. And he takes chances, but it’s a part of his flaws, not a badge of honor, and he pays for it.

Welcome Back, Jack is a hard-boiled police procedural. I did a ton of research on police procedure, going even as far as the psychology of serial killer investigations. And it was a balancing act, figuring out where the creative license should be applied. A multi-agency task force, like the one in my book, has its own problems, and its own pace. And the pace of a task force and the pace of a novel are miles apart.

Trying to realistically portray the serial killer investigation was interesting, and it taught me something. Good, workable leads don’t come in every five minutes like they do on a TV show, or every third page like they do in a novel. Adjusting investigations to novels, or especially screenplays, have real-world effects. For example, shows like CSI and Law and Order influence juries in actual criminal cases, where people are acquitted because there’s no expert testimony, DNA, or literal smoking guns. 

When I was writing Welcome Back, Jack, I didn’t have to worry too much about the “CSI Effect”; my killer left too much evidence – it was all in connecting it to him. But there were parts where the DNA came back far sooner than it would have. As a rule, in New York, “top-of-the-pile” DNA evidence still takes about two months. 

All in all, I hope that I struck a balance between what could have happened and what did happen on the page. And I hope anyone who reads it buckles up.


Margot Kinberg said...

So glad to see this feature back! Thanks, Patti. And I always learn a lot from finding out how other writers get inspired and go about getting their work 'out there.'

Charles Gramlich said...

Great title. This sounds quite good.