A Hell of a Ride

Dandy-LoinBoundary Waters was the second book in a two-book contract that included Iron Lake. When Pocket Books (now Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster) bought the books, they knew nothing about the second book.  I didn’t even have a title for it, only a vague idea.

Contractually I was obligated at some point to supply my editor with a synopsis of the second manuscript.  When I did that, I sent copies of the synopsis to both my editor and my agent on the same day.  A week later, I got a call from editor and my agent on the same day, both saying the same thing:  Eek, this isn’t Iron Lake!

I explained to them that I’d written Iron Lake and that I wanted to write a different kind of book this time.  I explained to them about my desire to explore the element of suspense in order to understand it.  From the tone of their voices, I knew they weren’t entirely convinced.

So I wrote the second book under a cloud of doubt.

In re-reading Boundary Waters, I can see what a complex plot is involved, something that has now become part of the gestalt of a Cork O’Connor novel.  I remember how hard it was to work through all the elements that needed to come together in that story.  There are contract killers, uncertain paternity issues in high places, dark forces at work from the outside world, secrets that crawl out of the past.  There is a boy being brought into manhood in a bloody, dramatic way.  And there’s Cork O’Connor and his family trying see to the threads that hold them all together.

It was Boundary Waters that helped me discover my process.  I thought that book through from beginning to end before I set pen to paper, so that I would understand the complexities of the design and see how the whole tapestry.  I outlined it chapter by chapter.  And when I wrote it, I knew where I was going.  That helped immensely, and it has been the way I’ve written most of the books in the series.

Readers who know the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness often write to tell me that they believe I’ve captured the setting well.  And they almost always ask why I haven’t used real locations.  My answer is simple: I wanted the story free of geographic reality so that I could move the action in whatever way was necessary.  But I also wanted the essence of the Boundary Waters to be there, to be true to all the senses.

I’m glad I stuck to my guns, paid little attention to the fears of my agent and editor, and wrote the book I wanted to write.  I’m enjoying immensely my re-reading of it, and although I know the story from beginning to end, I find myself racing along, rapidly turning those pages to find out what happens next.  It’s like getting on a roller coaster I’ve ridden before.  I know the twists and turns, but it’s still a hell of a ride.

3 thoughts on “A Hell of a Ride”

  1. In a previous post, you wrote that the idea for the book came to you all at once — the image of the naked man tied between two trees, being tortured to death.

    I’m curious: How do you go from an almost ex nihilo idea/image to a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline? After that initial flash of inspiration, what’s the next step?

  2. Hi, Kent. I just discovered this blog; I should check your website more often. I just wanted to say that I look forward to reading your reactions to rereading your work. I also just read the prologue to HEAVEN’S KEEP on your website… and cannot wait to get my hands on a copy! See you at whatever booksigning has a copy for me first.

  3. Mark,
    The image that now opens Boundary Waters came to me after I’d outlined and begun that book. But the process would have been the same. I get the core of the idea–something compelling that I can’t seem to let go of. I let that idea roll around in my head for a long time. Events, characters, motivations, red herrings, moments of suspense, chronology, all suggest themselves to me. After weeks (or sometimes months) of thought, I have, in my head, the whole story. That’s when I sit down to outline. After the outline, I finally put pen to paper.

    Always good to hear from you. And I’m glad that prologue piqued your interest. I know I’ll see you at one of the signings!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.