Monday, September 26, 2011

Building The Ultimate Protagonist:Guest Post

I am Jochem Vandersteen, I blog at and write crime. Steve Weddle was nice enough to offer me this blog post. I thought I’d use it to give you all some more insight into what went behind the creation of my new character, Mike Dalmas. He will be appearing in a new series at Trestle Press, starting with Find Her this week.

It all started with my plans to try and bring out a series with a publisher, instead of bringing it out myself like I did with my Noah Milano stories. I was interested to see how the advantages of that would affect sales.

I’ve been writing about security specialist Noah Milano for more than ten years now and his voice comes pretty easily. I like the kind of stories he’s in and didn’t want to stray too far from that with a new series but also didn’t want it to read like a Milano-clone. That’s when I sat out to create the Ultimate Protagonist.

I started with making a list of favorite hardboiled characters and came up with: Burke (Andrew Vachss), Joe Pike (Robert Crais), Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly), Jack Reacher (Lee Child), Mike Hammer (The Punisher (Marvel Comics), The Equalizer (TV show).

I concluded from that I liked strong, male characters that could investigate crimes but more importantly were ready to deliver justice. I liked the outlaw aspects Burke and the Punisher brought to the PI mix. I liked the brutal efficiency with which Reacher does his work. All of that made me decide he wouldn’t be a standard PI but a vigilante of sorts. That would also keep people that think the PI story is dead from not picking up the book.

I wanted to set him apart from the other characters by not making him a lone wolf. I decided to give him a family. That brought the problem: why would a dedicated father be a vigilante with all the risks involved. Another problem I had was: where would he get his missions if he’s not a PI. A glance at my list of favorites showed I still liked police procedurals enough to add Bosch to the mix. That’s when I came up with the idea of making him kind of a Black Ops killer for the cops. Why would he work for them? Well, what if he didn’t have a choice? What if he was being blackmailed into it? I saw enough interesting opportunities for character conflict in that one. To make sure he could do things cops couldn’t I made him a soldier instead of an ex-cop.

There he was, my new character. Husband, father, vigilante. All I needed now was a name. I decided to give homage to Hammer by giving him the first name Mike. I paid homage to Chandler by giving him the last name Dalmas (a Marlowe prototype was called Johnny Dalmas). Since I liked the Bay City setting of Marlowe and loved the homage Sue Grafton paid to Ross MacDonald by using the fictional Santa Teresa I made the corrupt city of Bay City the setting for his stories. It would also make sure I could use the cops, mayor and others of a city without upsetting anyone.

So, there it was. Now all I had to do was write a story. The result, Find Her can be found here.

I’m interested in learning the ways you came up with your favorite character.


John McFetridge said...

I think it's interesting that you made a list of your favourite characters and looked at the similarities.

I may be afraid to do that because of what it would probably say about me ;).

Sally L said...

Started with an idea for the character before the story? I thought they usually did it the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Def getting this story now. It sounds like it has a winner!!
- Mark