Today’s post is a guest post from a newcomer to this blog but not to writing — Neil Plakcy’s latest novel, A Cold Wind, is the eighth in a series. Eighth! I was incredibly impressed and asked Neil if he would tell me all about it. He obliged with the story of how his series, Have Body, Will Guard came about. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m sure you will too. Thank you, Neil!
Thanks for hosting me, Gillian. I was particularly inspired by this comment you made: “I’m especially interested in the fact that A Cold Wind is the eighth book in your series. As a writer, I’d love to know what challenges you’ve faced writing the series.”
The first challenge is that I didn’t know that Three Wrong Turns in the Desert was going to turn into a series! One day as I was driving home from work, I was feeling down. I wanted to chuck everything and run away, so I started fantasizing about where I’d go and what I’d do.
Since I’ve been living in Florida for more than half my adult life, I’d have to go somewhere warm, because I couldn’t face living in a cold climate again. I’ve never been to Africa, so I chose Tunisia—hot, relatively politically stable, and a fascinating place.
As I drove, bits and pieces of the story came together. My protagonist, Aidan Greene, would be more sympathetic if he’d been kicked to the curb by his long-time partner, not just running away. I am an English professor and I work with lots of teachers of English for Academic Purposes, so I thought that career would give Aidan the chance to pick up somewhere new.
Of course, there’d be a handsome guy in Tunis who’d sweep Aidan off his feet. I have a friend who writes a thriller series about a male-female pair of bodyguards, and I was interested in how a bodyguard would operate, so Liam McCullough stepped on stage, on his way to meet a client who needs chaperoning through the desert on a difficult journey. I was inspired by a photograph of a gorgeous naked guy showering outdoors, and I gave Liam the background of a Navy SEAL who’d left the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to justify that fabulous physique.
The story evolved, concluding with a happily ever after ending that brought my two heroes into each other’s arms after much struggle. It was only after I’d finished, and Aidan and Liam kept talking to me, that I thought there might be another book for them.
Would their love survive working together—especially if their first joint client was a sexy young singer fresh out of the closet, with an eye on Liam’s impressive physique? That idea grew into Dancing with the Tide. I’d already written a lot about Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, and the Sahara Desert, so I set this one on the resort island of Djerba. Putting the three of them together in a resort villa was fun and amped up the interaction between them.
So the story kept evolving, book after book. I tried to build romantic tension out of the ongoing changes in their lives. In the third book, Teach Me Tonight, they’re hired to guard a teenager attending an intensive English course on the Tunisian coast. Another change of scene—this time to a make-believe monastery filled with hormonal teenagers. Aidan goes undercover as a teacher, with Liam as the director of security for the program. Aidan remembers how much he loved teaching—will this return to his former career signal the end of his bodyguard efforts with Liam?
Halfway through the series, I got tired of writing about places I’d never been and so I transferred another bit of my fantasy life to my characters – I moved them to the French Riviera. I fell in love with Nice on a summer study trip when I was fourteen, and I’ve been back several times, so at least I had a good idea of the landscape. It has been great fun to find interesting corners of the Cote d’Azur for their clients to get into trouble.
One of the most interesting aspects of the character development has been the way in which Aidan’s background as a teacher comes into play. He’s very empathetic and able to relate well to their clients and understand their cultural differences, and he has a good ear for languages, too. I love that I’ve been able to take a mild-mannered teacher and turn him into one of the heroes of an action-oriented romance series.
With each new book, I tried to come up with new challenges for their relationship, but eventually my editor said that she thought the romance between them was too settled. What could I do to shake things up?
For Under the Waterfall, I turned to Shakespeare, the great thief of plots, and stole one from him – Romeo and Juliet, recast with two young men whose fathers are at odds. I set it on the island of Corsica, a rugged, gorgeous place with a lot of criminal history. Could Aidan and Liam not just protect their clients, but engineer a way for the young lovers to be together? Could they be good role models?
The latest book in the series, debuting on March 29 from Loose Id, is A Cold Wind, in which the bodyguards turn matchmakers. Their client, a deposed Russian oligarch fresh out of the closet, is suffering from a midlife crisis while in danger from unknown forces. Can Liam and Aidan fix him up with their widower neighbor while protecting him?
I’ve never had an overall arc for the series because as I said above I never expected that one idea, hatched on my way home from a bad day at work, to develop into eight books.