Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Perils of Plotting

Maybe perils is a bit melodramatic, but it's eye-catching. How about dilemmas? Okay, still a little heavy, but it carries the connotation of difficulty. Things don't always pan out the way we plan. Take my new book, whose cover appears here. As I've said before (likely too many times), I'm a "pantser" when it comes to plotting. I start with a basic idea and jump in feet first.

With this book, the second Sid Chance entry, I did a bit of cogitating and came up with the idea of building the story around the subject of Medicare fraud. I got the impetus from a CBS news piece about FBI agents in Miami tracking down storefront scammers who billed Medicare for durable medical equipment, like power chairs and such. It has been a lucrative business, but I didn't recall any mystery novels delving into it. I know, somebody will write that they've read a dozen of them, but I haven't.

Anyway, I researched the subject, learning the requirements for setting us an operation able to bill Medicare. I read about the new regulations aimed at making it more difficult for fraudsters. I learned that some drug traffickers were finding it more lucrative than selling dope.

Before I plopped down on my recliner with laptop on lap, the local paper ran a few stories about the problem of killers who are kids getting tried in Criminal Court and sentenced to prison. If they weren't genuine ciminals when they went in, they probably would be when they came out. In juvenile correctional facilities, they get guidance designed for people their age.

The main story featured Nashville's youngest murderer of recent memory, a black boy who shot a man during a drug deal at age twelve. He was released from prison at twenty-five after spending more than half his life behind bars. He vowed to lead a changed life now, though he hadn't been able to find a job. I read a few months later that he'd been arrested for beating up a girlfriend, but I already had my character who vowed to go straight.

My man, Djuan Burden, appears at a Medicare scam shop in the process of closing and ready to skip town. The owner had just been shot, causing Djuan to flee in panic. A pair of Metro Nashville homicide detectives with his description and license number, plus a paper he'd left on the desk with his fingerprints and his grandmother's address, promptly arrest him for the murder.

PI Sid Chance is hired by the grandmother, who had reason to believe in Djuan's innocence, to prove he didn't murder the shop owner. Sid and his sometimes partner, Jaz LeMieux, find evidence of Medicare fraud which the cops missed because they were only interested in the homicide. Sid turns it over to an FBI agent who is a key contact as the story progresses.

Great so far, but at this point the plot switches gears. Sayonara Medicare fraud. The story turns into a tale of bad cops and other villains involved in murder and revenge and similar nastiness. There are good cops, too, of course, including Homicide Detective Bart Masterson and Patrol Sgt. Wick Stanley, who along with Sid and Jaz are members of the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club. While writing the book, I attended the Metro Nashville Citizen Police Academy. It prompted me to dedicate the book to the men and women who wear the badge and risk their necks day and night to keep us safe.

I suppose what happened with the plot to this book illustrates why I prefer the "seat of the pants" method of plotting. I had no idea things would turn out they way they did. It's exciting to learn what characters wind up doing and how they steer the story into new dimensions.

You'll find more about the new book here at my website.

No comments: