Locking Down a Fourth Cold War Espionage Thriller

Writing the fourth novel in my Cold War espionage series, The Nick Temple Files, is proving to be problematic. Honestly, I expected to have number four done more than a year ago. I wrote the first in the series, Switchback, originally as a screenplay. The first draft of that screenplay took less than two weeks. Turning it into a book about a year later took a little over a month. The first draft of the second in the series, The Heraklion Gambit, a prequel, took two months to complete. And the third, and final to date, book in the series, Silent Vector, took about six months from first word to final draft. The time it’s taking to complete The Flemish Coil is due to a plot point I can’t figure out how to resolve. In addition, there are a number of issues I’ve encountered while writing the series, some of which are more daunting than others, and some of which continue with book number four.

The first issue is research. The books are all set in the not-so-distant past. The answer to making sure I get things as close to exact as possible is, of course, the internet. Appearances, addresses, and names of hotels back in the late 1950s and early 1960s; all elements of fashion and design; which airlines were flying which routes using which aircraft; what was on the cover of Life or Time or Der Spiegel on any day during the Cold War; government (American, Soviet, German, Greek, Kenyan to name a few) building addresses and appearances; automobile makes and models; the size and layout of cities from Berlin to Atlanta; major political and social events; standard and advanced technology, etc., etc., etc. It’s amazing how much information is available. The trick is to find a source that’s reliable and confirm the information in it through at least two other sources. An issue buried in all of this is making sure you spot those things that have undergone change in the 50 or more years since they, fictionally speaking, took place. For example, what kind of street food was available in the 1950s in Berlin? I failed to ask myself that question and made an assumption that it has been likely much the same from one decade to the next for some time now. Wrong. A small matter, but the details count, in my view.

The next issue is story-line consistency. Keeping the various threads that run through three different novels straight while working on what is supposed to be the fourth in that line is a tremendous challenge. I should have taken a more sytematic approach to this issue from the start. Instead, I find myself rereading the first three books to make sure the fourth’s continuity is unimpeachable. I may, at some point, have to bite the bullet and simply develop a reliable method which is relatively easy to reference and which keeps the details straight for me.

A final issue (there are others, but this is an essay not a treatise) is character consistency. This issue involves some artistic questions I have yet to fully answer. The first is, “How much will the core characters develop over the course of the books?” On the one hand, the Nick Temple of Switchback set the tone for the series. As I reread Switchback with The Flemish Coil (number 4 in progress) in mind, I can see some changes in Nick’s character that may or may not make it into the final draft. He seems to be getting mellower. On the one hand, that makes sense. He’s older and more experienced which can result in becoming mellower. The passage of time could just as conceivably make him more cynical. Either way, he should be changing. However, I like the Nick Temple of Switchback, and if I get too far from that character I may end up with a central character who simply doesn’t appeal to me. Watching the recent Star Wars movie brought this issue into focus for me. Now, far be it from me to publicly criticize one of the most successful franchises ever. The following is not critique; it's observation. With the exception of the natural signs of age, Han Solo in the most recent Star Wars film is the same person he was in the first film released in the late 1970s. I’m guessing the producers decided to portray Solo in a way that would have nostalgic appeal. Fortunately (or actually unfortunately), the audience for the Nick Temple Files to date is considerably smaller than the audience for Star Wars. I can do what I want with the characters without worrying too much about the reaction of hundreds of millions of fans. Lucky me, eh?

The bottom line is I just have to keep writing. At some point, the entire story, characters, plot and all, will emerge, and a fourth Nick Temple File will find its way into print.