So, last time, I decided that I wanted to talk about my novel, Sam Kane: Into the Fire. I started with some background info on the main character, Samantha Kane. Today, I want to talk about her Yoda in the book, Jack Mayfair.
My mom loved John F. Kennedy. She rarely speaks of political things (perhaps that’s where I get it from?), but she will bend your ear on Kennedy. Of course, Kennedy’s nickname was Jack. Lot’s of other ‘John’s’ have been called Jack as well, so that was floating around in the back of my head. Fast forward to John Patrick Ryan, the hero / protagonist of the Tom Clancy novels where John, called Jack by just about everyone, is a C.I.A. Analyst who moves up the agency ladder and eventually becomes President of the United States. I read many of these books in my late teens and into my early twenties. While The Hunt For Red October is arguably the best known (given the movie), Jack became a favorite character of mine in another book, Patriot Games. The scene when Jack learns that his wife and daughter have been in a car accident hit me almost as hard as it hit him, and seeing the pain and rage that he went through in those moments… From that point on, I was hooked.
Sometimes when you’re writing, or at least, when I’m writing, you make decisions for reasons that might not be initially clear or even make sense to other people. I decided with Sam Kane that I wanted to scale down, do something more focused than things I had attempted in the past (sprawling, multi-character POV epics). This had the benefit of allowing me to spend more time on the characters I needed, rather than the ones I had. The first draft of Sam Kane was bloated to my mind. Too many characters, too many things going on. I had all this stuff I wanted rather than needed. I knew that had to change.
Of all the changes I considered, Jack wasn’t really one of them. I knew who and what he was, how he got to be the person Sam meets on the first day, and where he would be by the end of the story. What did change was how much I revealed about him. Into the Fire is seen through Sam’s eyes, a 1st person POV. That limits and frees you up. Since you can only really show the reader what Sam herself sees, you can just cut out loads of clutter, and that’s what I did with Jack.
Originally, I had this slow reveal through a book, The Mayfair Codex. Rather than actual interactions between Sam and Jack, Jack would just sit her down in his office, flip open the book and tell her to start reading. While it was an interesting way to get some backstory introduced to the story, it also started to feel lazy. Who wants to sit down and read a book about someone else who is reading a book? No one! So I cut all of that out and we get to know Jack only through Sam as she is getting to know him.
Jack Mayfair is a Wizard, he works with the Denver PD to make things that don’t make sense or scares them, go away. The arrangement is a precarious one. The PD don’t like him at all. In fact, they would love it if he went away forever and took whatever sideshow madness he found with him. They’re also afraid of him,so much so that they keep his existence, and involvement with weird stuff, a massive secret, which is fine with Jack. Part of his job is to keep this stuff secret.
Jack has a whole organization of Wizards behind him and isn’t afraid to use that power if he has to. Only he doesn’t like himself, or that power, or that organization. His family is an old one, fostered throughout the ages to hold power and influence, neither of which Jack wants. He is the last of his line and as such, he isn’t a very happy guy. There are hints throughout that maybe something bad happened to the others, something he was unable to prevent. As a reminder, there is a family grave plot in his backyard filled with tombstones marking the dead and serving as a reminder everyday of the danger inherent in his life. This leads him to drink and smoke too much, not take care of himself at all, and really, he is just going through the motions. Until he meets Sam.
Sam gives him a reason to give a shit again. She represents a mystery and a hope for the future. This brings him out of his fog but the barest breeze will push him back to the bottle and the fog.
I realized that Jack needed a thing. Sam had so many things pulled from my life and observations (Catholicism, for example), and Jack needed that too. Very early on, I decided that the Wizards in this world would be interested in the past, even if they didn’t realize that they were. Sam is obsessed with disco, which was before her time. Jack dresses like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca; he’s got the hat, the trenchcoat, the suit. He also uses a walking stick now and then in place of a proper Wizard’s staff. That’s all great and helps to round out the character, but I still knew that I needed something more personal.
A lot of people in my family smoke or have smoked; I am not one of them. It’s funny the things you focus on sometimes. I remember the lighters. Most people had the little cheap Bic lighters, or they just used matches. But one of my uncles always had a Zippo. These were (probably still are) the coolest lighters ever made. My uncle could do this snap-click-light thing that, as a kid, I just thought was magic. Plus, there was this smell; a combination of the flint and the lighter-fluid, I’m sure, but such a distinctive sound and scent. I smell that today and I think of my uncle. I hear the snap-click of a Zippo and it’s like I’m six years old again, riding in the back of his Lincoln. Speaking of his Lincoln, this uncle always had slicked back hair, wide sideburns and drove a Lincoln – he looked so much like Dan Aykroyd in his Elwood Blues persona that I started calling him ‘Elwood’.
Anyway. Jack needed something personal; I gave him the Zippo.
“Sorry about that,” he was saying as I retched into a bush. “First time is always the hardest. You get used to it. After a fashion.” There was something about him, about the way he was speaking. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I heard the snap-click of his lighter, smelled the tell-tale scent of flint and fluid.