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LUCKY THIRTEEN BannerI should have titled this “How to Put a Strain on Your Marriage and Drive Yourself Insane in Five Short Weeks”, but that seemed kinda long for a blog post title, so I cribbed from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 cinematic masterpiece and changed the last word.

In previous posts, The Road to Getting an Agent Part 1 and Part 2, I wrote about the querying process.  Since I’ve got some time (I hope) before my agent gets back to me with the red-pencil treatment, I thought I’d jot down a few notes about how LUCKY THIRTEEN — and its protagonist Danny Jones — came to be.

LUCKY’s gestation period was short.  One might even call my brain-baby a preemie, but she was a fairly well-developed one.  All the right chromosomes were there — no trisomies (fortunately), no absences.  A bit A hell of a lot of post-natal care and feeding with help from Uncle Bud and Auntie Elizabeth ensured that LUCKY THIRTEEN would survive that precarious neonate state and one day emerge from the maternity ward ready to face the world.

She still has some growing up to do, but that’s okay.  Her new adoptive daddy will be taking special care of her.

So…how did LUCKY THIRTEEN/Danny Jones get conceived?  Funny, I keep asking myself that question.

Part 1: Ovulation

That first cell, oddly enough, wasn’t mine.  In a Heinleinesque sort of sci-fi twist, the egg belonged to — ready? — a man.  I don’t want to embarrass him or assault his masculinity (or have him head-butt me), so I’ll whisper his name:

Jack Reacher.

Hear that?  Shh.  Don’t tell him.

See, my buddy Reacher decided to do a little phonetics some time back in a novel titled Without Fail.  In it, Reacher throws out a statement about having more than enough information to get a voiceprint from some bad dude’s speech sample.  The statement looks good.  Nice and linguisticky.  Technical.  Convincing.

Unless you’re a linguist.

I’m not gonna harp on Lee Child or his main man — they rock my world, both of them.  But that tiny little overstep by Reacher in Chapter Eleven of Without Fail planted the seed.  And that seed came to me in the form of a question:

What if I created a protagonist who didn’t just toss out linguistic shit, but really was a linguist?

Part 2: Fertilisation

I played with that idea and finally worked up the courage to, um, help the Reacher Egg along.  Eight years of grad school, a library full of linguistic texts and class notes, and a head stuffed with morphological, phonetic, and syntactic rules made me, well, a pretty virile specimen of fertilising studliness.  Which is weird — given my anatomy.

Before the act of conception, I had a name for our baby:  Danny Jones.  It has a nice ring to it, ‘Danny’ is a nod to my sister’s given name, and there’s that fun bit about Daniel Jones the famous phonetician (who happens to be one of my academic ancestors).

I’ll tell you, that was one stimulating son of a bitch of a copulation session.  Frenetic, really.  Like that first time you fuck make love to the person you’ve been itching to take to bed.  The earth opened up and the heavens roared while I tossed around and played with ideas of language games and spectrogram analysis and dialect study.  My Danny was going to be able to do anything.

Part 3: The Embryonic Stage

Mission Conception was a success!  I didn’t even need a pregnancy test to tell me that.  Danny was a-growin.

Then something hit me:  I needed two things, neither of which I had.  A story and a bad guy (writers call those things plots and antagonists).

I made both of them up.

Part 4: The Fetal Stage

On 1 November 2015, I started writing.  No, I didn’t have an outline.  No, I didn’t know how the book was going to end.  I just wrote (okay, okay, I had a little help from some story engineering stuff that I’d read about somewhere).

I learned about trimesters and developmental stages, known in the writing world as plot points and pinch points and story arcs and twists.  I shot forward from Word One to Word Eighty Thousand at a pace of about 3,000 words a day — sometimes more, sometimes less.  My days started at 0800 (earlier if I had an idea that wouldn’t let me sleep) and ended at 1700 (official cocktail time chez nous).

I created characters and killed them.  Some I resurrected because I felt bad for them they made for a better story.

By the first week in December, with minimal labour pains, I gave birth to Draft One.

And then I tossed her placed her lovingly in the arms of her aunt and uncle.

To see what Reacher got wrong in Without Fail, check out linguist Geoff Pullum’s post ‘Learn some phonetics, Reacher’ on The Language Log.