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The Sirens of Suspense




Darrell James is a Tucson author. His short stories have appeared in numerous mystery magazines and book anthologies, and have garnered a number of awards. His latest story appears in the Lee Child anthology, VENGEANCE, with Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Alafair Burke, Karin Slaughter and other notable authors. His Del Shannon series of novels include: NAZARETH CHILD, winner of the Left Coast Crime Eureka Award for Best First Novel, and SONORA CROSSING, released in Sept. 2012, and nominated for the Rocky Award for Best Novel set in the western region. Book three in the series, PURGATORY KEY released this month.

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I’ve often read passages from books by great authors and thought, “Where do they come up with this stuff?”

The long held writer’s axiom is “write what you know.” This is often been construed to mean write about the career field or academic specialty or special source of knowledge you have acquired. And the truth is writers do write what they know. They daily draw on every source of insight and understanding, every lived experience, every snippet of bedroom conversation, every social behavior encountered, every coincidence or traumatic life event.

But can one truly experience, first hand, all that goes into the writing of a wonderful novel?

I have experienced a lot in life. My early career took me to nearly all places around the country and around the world. I’ve witnessed incredible natural phenomenon and breath taking wonders of nature. I’ve encountered people of varied social strata, people from different origins, nationalities, and race. People with different religious beliefs, different social values, different ways of viewing life. I’ve suffered loss and failure. I’ve thrilled to success and gain. I’ve witnessed a myriad of off-beat behaviors and remarkable coincidences.

To prove the point, I once had a client, business owner, who shortened the legs on the chairs in front of his desk so that sales people would have to sit in an inferior position to him, giving him the negotiative advantage. It was wildly effective. (Try making your point while looking up at someone from the floor.)

In another situation, I witnessed two gentlemen travelers, from drastically different parts of the country, engaging in idle conversation at an airport diner counter. Through the course of engagement it was shockingly revealed that, on his frequent business travels, one of the men was actually dating (read “sleeping with”) the estranged wife of the other man. An awkward situation, for sure. But to further add to the bizarre nature of this encounter, the two men became good friends, often meeting up in some city for golf in the course of their business travels. (No word on what became of the wife/girlfriend.)

So, you really can’t make this stuff up, right?

Or can you?

I will tell you that none of the events I’ve mentioned here, nor the specific academic knowledge I’ve attained (which includes degrees in Engineering and Business Administration) nor any my many actual social encounters, have ever appeared in any of the stories I’ve written. (Currently three published novels and more than thirty published short stories, as well as, other works that are in progress.)

So what happened to all that life experience, did it just go to waste? And where do the all characters and events, that shape the story land, come from?

The answer is…IMAGINATION.

Defined by Encarta, imagination is: the ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or experienced personally.

“Never seen or experienced personally”… fairy dust, in other words.

In my latest novel, PURGATORY KEY, the third in my Del Shannon series, two teenage girls have gone missing on an adventurous summer outing. Finding them becomes the mission of Del Shannon, a female missing-persons investigator from Tucson. A quest that leads her to into the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana, and ultimately to fictional, Terrebonne Key, an island at the isolated reaches of the swamp. Where a pair of beautiful and dangerous white tigers roam the mangrove by night. Where a believed-dead, violent fugitive, now lives with an eccentric, domineering heiress. Where a long-held legend of lost treasure teases with opportunity. Where greed and lust are the motives of the day.

That long held axiom of “write what you know” may still have some validity. One of my favorite books of all time, as a child, was MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne. Quite possibly an influence on this particular book. All that we know, all that we’ve learned, all that we’ve experienced, perhaps, defines the limits of our individual imaginations. But it’s fairy dust that come out the other end. And it’s fairy dust that tells an amazing tale.



WHAT BOOKS MOST INFLUENCED YOU? Tell us by commenting below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of PURTGATORY KEY! (U.S. entrants only, please.)


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