Talion began as a novella about a friendship between teenage girls from very different backgrounds. The story dragged, weighed down by exposition of the characters’ pasts and a present where the conflict arose from their general distrust of one another. Nothing was happening! I came to realize the plot needed a catalyst, a threat that would bring them together or destroy them.
So Conrad (Rad) Sanders entered the story, stalking them, watching them sunbathe at a old dam in the mountains, waiting his chance. The narrative was third person with multiple points of view, and I couldn’t avoid including Rad’s. But his character was so far outside my experience that I couldn’t get very far without doing research on sexual sadism and serial killers.
I didn’t have to look far for material. Serial killers had already been popularized in other fiction, most prominently Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs and his compelling villain Hannibal Lector, whose powers verged on the supernatural. It seemed Harris and every other creator of fictional serial killers drew material from the work of the FBI agents who had studied these criminals: Robert Ressler, John Douglas, Roy Hazelwood. These men had spent years tracking, interviewing, and analyzing serial killers. They had written books on the subject, both popular works and criminology texts. After reading these, I moved on to books by police detectives who had worked serial killer cases and books devoted to the crimes of particular notorious criminals: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, the Zodiac killer, etc.
I came to the conclusion that serial killers are losers. Abused or neglected as children, driven by rage and inadequacy, they lack the capacity for empathy that makes love possible. Yet, like all monsters, they can be fascinating.
Before long, Rad began to take over my novel.