A member of my writer’s group, the North Texas Speculative Fiction Workshop, Jamie Schultz has published his first novel, Premonitions. It’s a fast-paced urban fantasy and crime novel that blends modern-day thieves with magic, dark gods and cults. What could go wrong? Here’s Jamie to tell you a little bit about how he came up with this book:
She drove west, foot to the floor, trying not to look at the thing in the passenger seat.
That was the original first line of Premonitions, my new urban fantasy novel about a group of occult thieves that gets in way over their collective head. The line didn’t survive to see the finished first draft, and neither did the scene containing it, but the damage had been done, and the whole book fell out of there. You can almost see it between the words of the sentence: she’s got something terrible in the passenger seat, and she’s driving like hell to get away from something even worse.
I should back up. Premonitions is an odd sort of genre mix—a heist novel dressed up in its very finest urban fantasy gear, and probably wearing horror underwear. It’s loaded with well-meaning crooks, terrible demons, nefarious crime lords, and the very nastiest of black magic. The horror and fantasy elements were things I’d already been working with for awhile, but for the crime stuff, you can blame Charlie Huston, and Don Winslow, and Tom Piccirilli, and Elmore Leonard, and—well, let’s just say I’d been reading a lot of crime fiction at the time I started writing. I had been reading so much of the stuff, in fact, that I never actually made a conscious decision to mash that type of thing into my work. It seemed completely natural, and it was only after I’d finished that I stepped back and thought, “Dear God, what have I wrought?”
In retrospect, it seems like a good fit. Urban fantasy tends to draw lightly from each of noir and horror to begin with, lifting tropes with gleeful abandon and putting them to its own evil uses. I think I might just have cranked that dial up more than is typical, especially from the noir side. The bad guys aren’t all-powerful, and the good guys are crooks, and while the characters spread out quite a bit along the good-evil spectrum, nobody’s hat is exactly white. The characters are flawed, often frightened or desperate, and sometimes they make bad decisions.
Anyway, having steeped myself in that type of reading, that first sentence rattled loose from my keyboard. She drove west, foot to the floor, trying not to look at the thing in the passenger seat.
What next? Well, I knew that I wanted to work with a larger cast than I had in the past. There would be a central character, but instead of a lone figure, she’d be part of a group. The heist setup practically wrote itself. It just needed one more thing—motivation. Why should a reader be sympathetic to a bunch of thieves?
There are lots of ways to make this work in typical crime fiction, but with fantasy, I had a broader palette to work from. Make the main character see the future, I thought. Just glimpses. Hallucinations, really, superimposed on and indistinguishable from her regular perceptions of reality. Then make them get wildly, horribly out of control if she doesn’t keep them in check with a grotesquely expensive black market concoction. Poof, there it was: A great reason for her to need stupid amounts of money, combined with a plausible reason for her success at a difficult, illegal, and typically unhealthy occupation.
Of course, everybody knows that the heist at the center of a good heist story is doomed to go wrong… but now I’m veering off origins and on to spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.
*Editor’s note: Origins is a semi-regular feature where writers can tell my audience about how they came up with their books. I try to largely concentrate on science fiction and fantasy writers, but, if you are interested in writing a piece on your book, let me know.