Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Alligator Man - A Guest Post by James Sheehan

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger James Sheehan. James is the author of four thought-provoking legal thrillers. His latest, The Alligator Man, was released in October. James was our featured author on March 13, 2012.

Some of the most common questions I get asked about any book that I write are: Why did you write this particular book? Where did you get the storyline? Is it personal to you? Why did you pick this particular setting? What is your particular writing methodology? I am going to try and answer some of those questions with regard to my present book, The Alligator Man.

 Why did I write this book? Well, the general reason is that I wanted to write a story about one of those enormously rich CEO’s getting his at the hand of one of the employees he screwed mightily. That’s a forceful theme for a book. One we can all identify with. I can’t tell you how I arrived at the specific plot because that would give you the ending. However, I will give you a hint. I got the plot from two ski instructors in Aspen who told me a story about somebody who died there. If you want, you can contact me after you read the book and let me know if you solved that riddle.

 The other story in the book is about a father and son who were estranged from each other for 28 years. The father, Tom Wylie, is dying of cancer and his son Kevin decides to visit him, not because he cares, but because he wants some answers about why his world was blown apart when he was eight years old. He does get his answers and he gets to know his father in the process.

 I honestly don’t know where that story came from. Was it personal to me? Maybe. My dad has been dead for over 30 years, and I still miss him tremendously. I wish that he were around and had been around over the years so I could have talked to him and sought his advice during the crucial periods in my life. In that way, I identify with Kevin and his frustrations.

 I loved writing this book because the setting is so great---the Everglades, alligators, boa constrictors, a great blue heron and men behaving badly. What more could you ask for? I loosely based part of the story on an actual town and some real characters. That’s one thing about Florida--it has more than its share of colorful characters from the past.

One of my students asked me just the other day if I plotted out each chapter beforehand. He was under the impression that all writers followed the same methodology. I had to tell him that there is no one magic elixir. Writing is a creative process and you’ve got to be you. Some people do plot out every chapter. Me--I have a general idea and I go with it. Once my characters are developed, they take me along for the ride. It may not the best way to do it but it works for me. I’m as surprised at things that happen as the reader is. That spontaneity makes writing more fun for me.

 That doesn’t mean the process is easy. Not having every little piece of the plot mapped out means that I sometimes struggle with aspects of it. That was especially true with The Alligator Man. I just couldn’t get it right. Eventually, after tweaking and tweaking, I finally got the plot where it should be. At least I think I did. I will only know that for sure if each and every one of you read the book and let me know.

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