By Jordan Dane
So, my friend Jordan demanded that I turn over my blog for this post. In fact, she pointed to a picture of my dog and, with a sly grin, said, â€œYou do the math, Sparky.â€ Fine. Anyway, sheâ€™s an outstanding writer with a sharp sense of humor. If you havenâ€™t done it yet, check out book 1 in her Ryker Townsend series, The Last Victim. I just bought it, so look for my review soon. Over to you, Jordan.
Horror makes me giddy. There, I said it. Iâ€™m not into overly descriptive gore, but the titillating anticipation of what is about to happen makes me tingle. I like the bizarro world of Dean Koontz when he tiptoes through scary notions and the paranormal. I watched the seductive Penny Dreadful on Showtime with equal parts abhorrence and glee, yet Iâ€™ve never seen the movie Jaws, by choice. I donâ€™t want to have nightmares about turning into shark poop, but I put my readers in a front row seat to darkness in my crime fiction books, without shoving them off a cliff.
In The Last Victim, my FBI profilerâ€™s secret is a gift and a curse. Ryker Townsend sees through the eyes of the dead. The last images imprinted on the retinas of the dearly departing become macabre puzzle pieces for him to decipher. These creepy flashes come to him as he sleeps. Hence, the tag line â€“ When he sleeps, the hunt begins. Ryker is an open vessel for the dead, and they reach out to him, sometimes beyond his nightmares in broad daylight, until heâ€™s unsure which side of reality he should be on.
Rykerâ€™s Basic Framework
In crafting Ryker Townsend, I wanted to look beyond his gift of communicating with the dead to solve heinous crimes. I formed him from two characters I loveâ€”Benedict Cumberbatchâ€™s Sherlock Holmes and Tom Misonâ€™s Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. Ryker has an eidetic memory. His mind is like a computer that spits out facts without a filter. Heâ€™s socially awkward and highly intelligent, but not exactly macho.
As an author, I have firsthand knowledge of the perils of an unfiltered brain. Writers need to â€œhearâ€ the voices in our heads, but it can get us in trouble at social occasions. This I know.
Rykerâ€™s Added Layers
I wanted Ryker to have more layers to his personality and his past. I needed to heap on the right baggage to make his job more challenging. Being an odd child, he had a special bond with his mother who embraced his psychic gift. His father didnâ€™t always understand it and Rykerâ€™s sister Sarah became jealous of the extra attention from mom.
Rykerâ€™s gift is at the center of all his strengths and his weaknesses to show how he lives with a trait most people would fear. When something happens to his dear mother, it creates a wedge between Ryker and his sisterâ€”and of course, itâ€™s my duty as an author to torture him.
I couldnâ€™t write about Ryker without delving into his personal life and heaping emotional heft into his Samsonite. Itâ€™s what makes him real. I force him to confront his personal demons while heâ€™s up to his neck in bloody murder.
The Last Victim (Novel 1)
In book 1 of Rykerâ€™s story, his life is laid bare. Heâ€™s in the middle of a hunt for a baffling serial killer who has eluded him. When a gory crime scene puts him in Seattle, home to his estranged sister (and her family that heâ€™s never met), his life becomes an onion with layers to peel away.
Heâ€™s kept his psychic gift a secret from everyone and withdrawn into himself. His only outlet is his work, but heâ€™s afraid of losing respect within the ranks of the FBIâ€”and he risks his cases being overturned by the courts if it became clear how he investigates. He hasnâ€™t told anyone about his nightmares, not even the trusted team who work for him.
After he realizes that the killer has targeted him personally, he must use his gift to hunt on his own termsâ€”alone. Ryker learns what itâ€™s like to become a victim and heâ€™s forced to deal with his past, a theme that will become his journey through any story I write about him.
Following the novel that established him, I wrote novellas that allowed me to examine his life in different ways. A common theme for me is spirituality and how investigators deal with the violence they see. How does it change them?
Redemption for Avery (Novella 2)
In novella 2, Ryker deals with the aftermath of becoming a victim and nearly losing his life. Heâ€™s confided in a special woman, and the relationship carries more risk and complications. Because this story deals with a brother who lost his younger sister to a serial killer when he was only fifteen, Ryker and his notions of family are put through an emotional wringer.
In the Eyes of the Dead (Novella 3)
In novella 3, I wanted him to struggle with lingering PTSD from book 1 in a case involving Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and superstition. Heâ€™s forced to confront his own beliefs on the afterlife. I had to examine the things that truly get my heart pumpingâ€”my own mortalityâ€”and the things I sometimes wonder when I canâ€™t sleep after the death of someone I love.
The Darkness Within Him (Novella 4)
In story 4, Ryker must recreate a horrific moment in a young runawayâ€™s life, the night his mother murdered his sister and tried to kill him. Imagine someone like Rykerâ€”who had a close relationship with his motherâ€”how would his feelings of failure with his own family affect him? Heâ€™s forced to confront the guilt he has for the way his mother died.
Fionaâ€™s Salvation (Novella 5)
In story 5, the reader sees his compassion for the dead, no matter who they were in life. He feels a profound duty to them in a grander scheme as if he has a role to play in death. He protects Fiona as she deals with her haunting demons, something he knows about.
Rykerâ€™s Journey Is My Challenge
Each character Ryker encounters becomes a mirror for him to see into his dark cornersâ€”and his journey becomes my own voyage of self-discovery. My characters explore where I sometimes donâ€™t want to venture, but I push to discover things about me through them. They are my teachers. The old adage to â€œwrite what you knowâ€ never worked for me. I believe you should write what you fear and dig deep for the truth to breathe life into your pages.
For Writers. How do you tackle adding layers to your characters to make them memorable?
For Readers. What novels have remained with you long after you closed the book? What made the story and the character(s) memorable?
Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Daneâ€™s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel No One Heard Her Scream as Best Books of 2008. Dane is multi-published in crime fiction thrillers, has books in over seven countries, and has written young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. www.jordandane.com