A couple of weeks ago I began the story of Deadly Lessons' origin.
When my agent friend Laura gave me a clear rationale for being a published author - in essence, that it would help me to become a produced television scriptwriter - I set off.
Truth be told, like many stories, the seeds of the origin came from real life experience. And there's kind of two parts to that.
But first - pretty major spoiler alerts. In my enthusiasm to share the roots of the story I may give away key plot points. So, I implore you; please do not let this column dissuade you from reading the book.
Let's deal first with the creation of Winston Patrick.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that at the time I was writing the book I was a practicing classroom teacher, then at Dr. Charles Best Secondary School in Coquitlam, B.C. If one really is supposed to 'write what you know,' it made sense to me that Winston Patrick would be a teacher. It wasn't always thus.
Though Laura was the immediate impetus for writing the book, it was certainly an idea that had crossed my mind. A long time reader of the crime genre, I initially conceived of a series about a private detective who wasn't particularly good at this job. And along the lines of Howard Engel's Benny Cooperman series, I wanted my detective, Mickey Jones was his name, to be wholly Canadian - read unarmed. I enjoy the hard-boiled, tough as nails detective but I’m also intrigued by the hero who kind of stumbles his way through the mystery, solving crime essentially by accident because he’s really not that great at his job.
Read into that what you may.
In my head, Mickey would be routinely bested by his adversaries and only his stubbornness and tenacity would help him to reach his aims. Somewhere along the lines, Mickey the private investigator became Winston the lawyer turned high school teacher; and his origins also came from experience.
As a new teacher, I encountered three colleagues who had previously been lawyers, some longer than others. I found myself wondering if there was some kind of connection between the two vocations (full disclosure: law school was a path I crossed but did not take, though I stood at that juncture for some time considering its merits). I have heard it said (it’s possible I said it) that teachers are frustrated lawyers, lawyers are frustrated teachers and they’re both just frustrated actors. I thought I would combine all three of my experiences in these realms (I studied some criminology in college and clerked for in-house counsel for an oil company – not exactly legally stimulating but I could lay claim to at least a modicum of background legal knowledge).
Finding legal issues in the classroom was far easier than I would have imagined. Teaching an elective senior Law course, teenagers not only concocted some of the most intriguing legal scenarios, many students had experience with them.
I arrived at the central premise of Deadly Lessons actually quite easily. What are the worst things a teacher could do to a student: sleep with her or kill her? What if it was both or at least it was suspected that was the case?
This premise gave me the opportunity to merge Winston’s two worlds, the legal and educational, and, like Mickey, fumble his way through an investigation he is woefully ill-prepared for. But what intrigued me even more than that was taking the story beyond just the sordid teacher-student romance angle and imbuing it with an even darker undercurrent.
That dark undercurrent was also inspired by what I saw as a shocking true experience – and I’ll share that next week.
Next week: Deadly Lessons Origin Part III – Hey, I wrote a whole book on the story you don’t think I can detail my process on it in just two columns?
Also – if you read last week’s column you’ll recall I’m earnestly hoping people will spread the word – it’s a revolution! Please visit, like, share or whatever else we do on my Last Dance Facebook page. And don’t forget to pester your local library like I’m pestering you.