Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Balefire II ... the next book that never happened

Bantam didn’t want me to write The Alchemist.  What they wanted me to write was Balefire II … that is, Balefire I, only different.  In retrospect, I can certainly understand their point of view.  A lot of very nice people bought copies of Balefire I, so it stood to reason that these hopefully-satisfied readers might want to pick up a very similar story with the same characters.  All I had to do was sit down and write it.

And yes, I suppose I could have done exactly that, thereby making my dismayed editor and ever-skeptical wife happy; but there were a couple of inherent problems in the project that would make the writing effort difficult at best.

Let me try to explain.

First of all, let me start by saying that I try to write my stories as realistically as I can in terms of police and federal agent procedures, tactics, weaponry and … well .. impacts.  In real life, if a person gets hit by a hollow-point pistol bullet at pretty much any significant -- but not lethal -- spot on their body (we’ll ignore finger and toe wounds) including any ‘bullet-resistent’ vests they might be wearing, they will almost certainly go down hard … mostly because of hydrostatic shock.

Re hydrostatic shock: what we’re talking about here is the momentum (mass times velocity) of the bullet impact causing 1) serious local tissue damage (ripping, tearing, smashing and/or breaking) at the impact point, and 2) a high velocity pressure wave traveling from the impact point through the blood stream and right up into the brain.  Having attended an unfortunate number of autopsies during my 12 years of assisting in homicide investigations, I often got to see the results of such bullet impacts first-hand.  Nothing quite like seeing the masssive -- and often fatal -- brain-hemorraging resulting from a supposedly non-incapacitating arm, shoulder, or leg wound to make you laugh when the TV and movie characters bounce right back up from multiple gunshot wounds and continue fighting as if they’d been hit by nothing worse than a few well-aimed baseballs.

And it’s a rare movie that accurately deplicts the stunning imact of a high velocity bullet against a Kevlar® vest, the real-life end result being a stunned cop (the crooks aren’t supposed to have access to such vests) with a ‘half-orange' or even 'half-grapefruit’ sized internal chest bruise that almost certainly broke or cracked his sternum and ribs before going on to seriously bruise his heart.

You going to bounce right back up and re-engage in the firefight after something like that?  No, probably not … especially if there’s any possibility at all that you can just lay there and moan while your partners deal with the bad guys and save the day.

And we won’t even go into the oft-shown scene where a person (cop or crook) fires a handgun inside an enclosed space – such as a car or room – without ear protection, and then continues to function as though his eardrums hadn’t been blown out with brain-stunning effect.  In point of fact, the simple foolish act of firing a pistol out at an open-air practice range without ear protection is enough to leave you with ringing ears for several hours … and probably  some degree of high-end hearing loss in the bargain.  I know.  I did it once, unintentionally, one shot.  Won’t ever do it again!

So what does all of that have anything at all to do with me writing Balefire II?

Well, the main problem I was facing was that – in trying to write Balefire I as realistically as I could – the casuality rate (defined as death or serious injury) amongst the good guys turned out to be pretty high … much to the dismay of my Huntington Beach cop buddies, I might add.  Setting aside the possibility of massive literary reserection and/or pulling some of the characters back out of likely medical retirement, Balefire II wasn’t going to be ‘Balefire I only different.’  Out of necessity, it would have to be a different story with mostly new characters.  Not exactly what my editor had in mind.

Having said all of that, I suppose I should confess that the real reason I didn’t want to write Balefire II had a lot more to do with Ian Fleming than the good-guy casuality rate in Balefire I.  I’d read an article in which Fleming was quoted as saying that he never wanted to write another James Bond novel again, mostly because he was sick of the character … but he really didn’t have any choice in the matter because his publishers kept offering him scads of money to churn out yet another James Bond episode.  Poor fellow.

I tried to explain all of this to dear wife, but she wasn’t even remotely sympathetic about Fleming’s supposed mental problems, much less mine …. even though she did concede that nobody was offering me scads of money to write Balefire II.  But the idea of getting pigeon-holed into writing about a single character was a little chilling from my admitted niaive POV.

And besides, I had a great idea for a completely different story with a completely different set of characters that I really couldn’t resist starting to write … mostly because the real-life events that inspired the story had resulted in a much more dangerous situation than I’d expected when I volunteered for the assignment.

In the next blog segment, I’ll try to explain why.

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