In Chapter 1 of my new thriller Escape Velocity, my main character, Georgia Griffin, is leaving what she believes is a successful job interview with Mr. Ken Madigan when she spots a rival in the lobby:
Georgia’s stomach cramped with hunger as she emerged into the lobby and saw a woman in her mid-thirties glancing through a magazine. Tailored suit, precision-cut blond hair, leather case laid neatly across her lap. Completely professional, and she had ten years’ experience on Georgia at least. No. No way. Georgia walked briskly over to the woman and stood between her and the receptionist.
“Ms. Millichamp?” she said quietly, extending her hand.
The woman stood up and smiled. “Sarah Millchamp. Nice to meet you. I know I’m early.”
“I’m Misty. So sorry to tell you this, but Mr. Madigan’s been called out of town unexpectedly. He’s headed for the airport now.”
“Oh!” The poised Ms. Millchamp quickly regained her composure. “That’s too bad. But of course I understand.”
“Thank you for being so understanding. This literally happened ten minutes ago, and I’m completely flustered. I know he wants to meet you. Are you parked out here? At least let me walk you to your car.”
She put a sisterly hand against Ms. Millchamp’s elbow and began steering her toward the exit. “Tell you what, can I call you to reschedule as soon as Mr. Madigan gets back? Maybe you two can have lunch. Just don’t take that job at Google in the meantime.”
“Now, don’t pretend you haven’t heard about the job at Google. In Brad Dormond’s department? They’re our worst nightmare when it comes to competing for good people.” The air in the parking lot mingled the spicy scent of eucalyptus with the small of rancid engine grease, and her stomach lurched. “So, see over there? That’s the entrance to the freeway. Bye now. I’ll call you soon.”
Georgia waved as Sarah Millchamp backed her car out. Then she hurried back inside to the receptionist.
“Hi,” she said. “That lady, Ms. Millchamp? She just let me know she has a migraine and will call to reschedule. Will you let Maggie know?”
The receptionist nodded and picked up her phone. “That’s too bad.”
“Isn’t it, though?”
Done and dusted, as Gramma Griffin would say.
Georgia comes from a long line of proud con artists, and I want the reader to see early on that she is going to do a few things the rest of us might only fantasize. Georgia takes chances.
But not so fast. Once the book was released, I started hearing that the scene resonates with some readers because it reminds them of their own behavior. First, a friend who is a well-respected lawyer described the time she saw a notice for a job she wanted, so she tore the notice down and threw it away before she applied for the job. Then a gentle-seeming, wholesome kindergarten teacher at my Barnes & Noble reading drew gasps and laughter from the crowd when she confessed that she misled a fellow interviewee by saying the interviews had been moved to a different location.
Today I received an email from a woman who says, “When I read Georgia’s 1st interview at the beginning of the book I totally was taken aback because of something I did once. I’ll share that story sometime.” I hope it involves poison.
What’s going on here? When I wrote the scene, I didn’t know anybody who had done what Georgia did. I just imagined what my particular character would do. And now I discover some people have actually acted this way in real life. It seems when I go into my trance and imagine my character taking action, I can sometimes be downright prescient.
Here’s another example: In my first book, the Edgar award-winning The Last Billable Hour, I loosely based one of my composite characters on a person I had encountered in real life. Call the real guy Joe. My fictitious character likes to hunt on his ranch out of season, and in the book he gets injured in a freak hunting accident. Just seemed like something that would happen to my character. Imagine my surprise two years later when I got a call from a friend: “Guess what just happened? Remember Joe? He got injured in a freak hunting accident!”
Now, if that hunting accident had occurred before I wrote my book, people would have assumed I copied it from real life. But since it happened the other way around, what’s the explanation? I spent a lot of time observing and thinking about Joe (who I didn’t know personally) in order to incorporate him into the composite character for my book. I incorporated Joe’s contempt for rules, his penchant for risk-taking, and the thrill he got from illicit activities. Score one for me, two years later Joe was lying in a ditch beside his hunting rifle (happily more scared than injured.)
Excuse me while I get back to predicting the future.
Susan Wolfe is a lawyer with a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University. After four years of practicing law full time, she bailed out and wrote the best-selling novel, The Last Billable Hour, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. She returned to law for another sixteen years, first as a criminal defense attorney and then as an in-house lawyer for Silicon Valley high-tech companies. Born and raised in San Bernardino, California, she now lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, Ralph DeVoe. Her newest novel, Escape Velocity, was released in 2016. Visit Susan at authorsusanwolfe.com or Facebook.com/SusanWolfeAuthor
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