Mothers and sons in words and pages

Not everyone would write a political thriller with a character based on their mother. I can hear her reaction now.

“Hey Mom, I put you in my book about the presidential candidates getting assassinated.”

“Well, I hope I’m not the assassin. Wait, depending upon who’s running, maybe I do want to be the assassin.”

When I wrote my latest novel, The Campaign, back in 2006, the characters were ok, blandly ok. But there was not much empathy, no emotional eye to the chaotic storm that fell on a nation experiencing the death of all of their presidential candidates in a 48 hour period. I took the James Patterson and Dan Brown approach to writing a thriller: keep it fast, keep the chapters short, keep readers guessing. But I missed something that those two have down pat: there’s got to be an emotional tie to the story.

If you’ve been reading my blog (thank you so much, by the way) you know the backstory to The Campaign. My mother died of pancreatic cancer in December 2010. I rewrote the book to include a character based on her, which was both my way of honoring her memory and helped me deal with the void of her absence in my life. I took the spring of 2011 to recall many experiences with her; the kind that I wanted Dallas Police Chief Scott Turner, the hero of the story, and his mother to recollect while Scott took care of her while she was in hospice in his home. As the story unfolds, Scott gets word that the first assassination takes place in Dealey Plaza, the site of the JFK assassination over four decades ago. His mother immediately knows that Scott will be torn between staying with her and doing his job. As the tough, Texan woman she is, she makes his decision for him: go do your job or feel the full impact of a mother’s wrath.

In writing The Campaign, I rediscovered just how powerful the mother/son relationship is. They span the entire relationship spectrum. Some are wonderful; some are pitiful. Some grown men can never tear loose of the apron strings, some sons can’t wait to tear loose from underneath their mother’s thumb and never look back. Whatever the relationship may be, the mother/son relationship is as strong a bond as any. As I see it, only the father/daughter relationship is as strong. It is these relationships that provide the fertile soil from which good novels, the kind that readers don’t want to put down, the kind that they tell their friends they must read, the kind that helps the writer cope with his or her own demons and even gives him or her a chance to honor the person that meant so much to them over their lives, are grown.