Monday, 5 October 2009

Tom Cain is Blocked

I'm blocked. It's never happened to me before. Oh sure, there have been times when I fretted that i didn't know what was going to happen next in a story. There was a whole weekend at the Harrogate Festival when I petrified my editor with the revelation that I really didn't have a clue how I was going to follow up The Accident Man. He thought I was kidding at first. Then he told himself that maybe I was just exaggerating the extent of my problems. And then, with a palpable air of shock, horror and even a dash of panic, he understood that I really, truly, absolutely had no idea how to write the next book.
That, though, was a case of too many ideas, rather than too few. There were so many storylines flying around my head for the book that would eventually become The Survivor that i simply had no idea how to weave them all into a single coherent plot. But that was July 2007 and the book wasn't due in till January 2008. In the end, with a lot of hard work all round, the job was done and The Survivor came out on time. And since it's up for a Barry Award for the year's best thriller at the Bouchercon thriller convention in Indianapolis later this month (Bouchercon is the biggest of a great mass of thriller conventions, weekends and assorted gatherings that can and do occupy writers all the year round in the States), I guess it held together OK. This year's Carver book, Assassin, was deliberately planned as a simpler, sharper, tighter, wham-bam-thankyou-ma'am kind of story and it was probably the most painless I've ever written.
But next year's book ... well, that's turned into a total bloody nightmare. I've got the basic set-up, or at least I thought I had. I've got the main characters. I know the key twists and betrayals on which the story will turn. But for three months I've been stuck ... absolutely jammed ... motionless ... in short, blocked. And it's all down to one simple thing: I can't decide how to carry out an assassination that occurs about a third of the way in to the story. It's one of the key moments of the whole book: an evil foreign politician, loosely based on an actual evil foreign politician gets his well-deserved comeuppance courtesy of my man Samuel Carver. The hit goes down exactly as planned ... well of course it does, this is Carver, he knows what he's doing. And then things start to unravel ... well, of course they do, this is a Carver story and nothing is ever quite as easy for the poor bastard as it seems.
But what I can't get my head around is the way in which Carver does the dirty deed. My problem is perfectly straightforward. Carver, in theory, kills his targets by means of 'accidents'. That's why he's known as the Accident Man - durrr! But there only are so many ways of creating fatal accidents and Sam's already killed people in 'accidents' that caused a helicopter crash; three car crashes, carried out in two different ways; two plane crashes that were deliberately similar because the target was the same man in both cases; a burning (and then exploding) building; a poisoning (strictly speaking this was carried out by someone pretending to be Carver, as was one of the car crashes) and a shooting made to look as though it was carried out by the target's bodyguards. These, of course, are in addition to all the shootings, stabbings, stranglings, shooting-in-the-mouth with-a-distress-flares and general blowing-to-bits that have also occurred in the course of three absurdly action-packed books.
And now I have no idea what to do next. I'm completely and utterly stumped.
And it serves me right. I have committed, I now realise, two grave errors. in the first place, I gave my protagonist a characteristic that not only defines, but also limits him. James Bond. Jack Reacher and the rest can get rid of their enemies in any ay they choose, the more obviously and publicly the better. But I made Carver a man who kills anonymously, unattributably, in ways that are far more complex that a bullet from a Walther PPK, or a bone-shattering punch from a 250-pound giant.
How very, very thick of me.
Even worse, I then used up my material way too fast. My books are ridiculously profligate with their action scenes. Having watched way too many Bourne films and series of 24, I tried to go for the same non-stop kinetic frenzy of movement and combat: one damn thing after another .. and another ... and another.
This combination of compulsive originality and wanton improvidence has used up my creative capital way too fast. So now I'm racking my brains for new, even more extreme ways to off my bad guys. Maybe Carver could let loose a herd of killer weasels and chew the evil bastard to death, or feed him toxic oysters till he became first as fat; then as food-poisoned as Michael Winner; or waft some Russian polonium-210 in his face and give him a lingering-yet-inevitable death like Alexander Litvinenko.
Anything would do - anything outrageous, yet just about credible. But it hasn't come. Because if it had, I wouldn't be scribbling this blog, would I? I'd be getting on with my bloody novel ...



  1. If he was a woman, he'd have a few schemes up his sleeve . . . perhaps he needs an accomplice . . .

  2. That poisonous fish
    Pet rattlesnake
    Choke on a bite of steak
    Hypothermia/heat prostration
    Foxglove used as an herb=heart attack
    Toxic mushrooms (aminita)
    Torn to bits by hyenas on safari
    Tainted home-canned beans (botulism)
    Gas water heater blows up

  3. Thanks, Ann - that's my next ten plots sorted!

  4. Get the Final Desination films out on DVD. Final Destination 2 in particular has some great accidents.