I was asked by author Laurie Stevens to participate in the “Meet My Character” blog hop today. Laurie is on the Board of Sisters in Crime LA with me and she writes the terrific Gabriel McRay psychological thriller series. The two books in the series have won 9 awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 and the 2014 IPPY for Best Mystery/Thriller. Her second book is currently up for a Kindle Book Award. Laurie is a “hybrid” author, having self-published her books, finding an agent for worldwide rights, and then selling her books to Random House, Germany.
MEET JOHNO BELTRAN
Johno Beltran is not a series character, as of yet, but I like him so much that after creating him for a short story, "Dead End," a current Anthony Award Nominee (winner to be announced at Bouchercon on November 15), I decided to continue his saga in my next project, the novella Psycho Logic (Stark Raving Press).
Johno Beltran used to be an LAPD homicide detective but he was defrocked through no fault of his own and his life degenerated to the point where he now lives out of his car and works as a valet parking attendant. Here's how Johno explains his downward spiral:
"I was one of four homicide dicks assigned to the [torture-murder] case. On my way from the scene to the crime lab I made a ten-minute detour by my house to grab a lunch bag from my wife. I had evidence in my trunk. By the time Vico’s hit squad of eight-hundred-dollar-an-hour lawyers got finished, my left-over meat loaf sandwich had turned into a wanton extravaganza of evidence-tampering."
The poor guy lost his career, his wife, his home, most of his friends and his reputation. By the time we meet him, all he has left are his gut instincts, his detective's skill set and his beloved aqua blue '64 GTO Bobcat convertible.
"Her stacked quad headlights greet me like a lover’s eyes. I call her Marylou and she’s the object of my desire, if a bit cramped to live in. She is also the one and only thing of beauty I was able to salvage from my former life. I had to give up my half of the house for that car. Not the smartest financial move I've ever made but, on the other hand, that house was never going to get me from zero to sixty in four-point-six seconds."
Johno was born from my desire to write a character with expertise in investigative methods, criminal behavior, weapons and such. But I didn't want him to be an active cop because I didn't want to write procedurals. An ex-cop fit the bill but it's also a cliché. So I pondered ways of making him different. The infamous OJ Simpson trial figure Detective Mark Fuhrman came to mind. Fuhrman, an alleged racist, wasn't exactly my idea of an ideal protagonist, but I was fascinated by his situation. What if a similar fate happened to a nicer guy?
I liked the idea of a sympathetic and honorable cop getting fingered by a team of slick attorneys to be the fall guy in their defense of a truly evil psychopathic killer. The defense is successful, the murderer gets sprung from the jaws of justice, and Johno's life winds up in the toilet.
Johno's debut in "Dead End" occurs four years after the trial of Dr. Luke Vico, plastic surgeon to the stars, who also happens to be a brilliant homicidal maniac. As Johno described the situation:
"If I hadn't skipped dinner to spend that night working the Angela Landau crime scene, I might not have been so desperate to eat something the next morning. And if I hadn’t stuck to the truth on the stand they might never have found out about that fucking ten-minute detour. And if I hadn't blown my top on TV when they let that weasel’s ass walk, I might still be working homicide. And if I hadn’t put my fist through the living room wall, my wife might not have left me. But impulse control was never my strong suit—maybe the only thing Vico and I have in common."
Dr. Vico drives his $100,000 BMW into the restaurant lot where Johno works, brazenly smacks his girlfriend, then tosses Johno his keys. In the course of parking the BMW, Johno finds something that makes him suspect Vico has another victim stashed away somewhere. This leads Johno into a noir journey whose twisted ending leaves readers wondering if Johno has set his own doom in motion. At least, that was my intention.
My next project started where "Dead End" left off because I, for one, was dying to find out what happened to Johno next. I had committed to write Psycho Logic, a novella, so I used the opportunity to explore Johno's fate. While "Dead End" was written from Johno's POV, Psycho Logicopens with the POV of a woman who just happened to be walking down Malibu beach at the moment of the short story's dramatic conclusion. So the opening scene of the novella is a retelling of "Dead End's" penultimate scene from a different POV. An anonymous innocent bystander in one story becomes a principal character in the next.
The added length of the novella gave me room to explore more of Johno's personal life, and I soon discovered him developing a romantic interest in the passerby on the beach, the no longer anonymous Alyssa Lido. I don't work from outlines so I had no idea their distant exchange of glances would turn into the core of the novella's story. Their relationship was completely unintended when I started writing, and that's what I love most about my writing process. It's the unexpected that keeps me coming back to my desk, that motivates me to write, that inspires my stories. Johno Beltran is a prime example.
Next up, I suspect Johno will be lobbying for a full-length novel. I can hardly wait to see what he'll do with a hundred thousand words to inspire.