I’m pretty excited for you to meet Dez this June.
He’s been with me for quite a while, though the Dez you’ll meet in “The Gatekeeper” wouldn’t recognize the earlier iterations of the character.
I call it the Rumpelstiltskin Effect.
In the original German folktale, Rumpelstiltskin was an imp who’d connived to steal a woman’s first born, unless she can guess his name. Guess his name, and you control him. Don’t, and you don’t.
It’s the same, I’ve found, for fictional characters. You gotta get the protagonist right. Do that before you figure out the plot and the setting. And by “right,” I mean his or her name, and voice, and background.
Don’t suss all that out, and the protagonist won’t do what you want.
It sounds psychotic. But that’s only because its, ah, psychotic.
The Dez you’re going to meet is Desmond Aloysius Limerick. He grew up all over the U.K., including in Manchester, Ireland and Scotland.
He’s 35. He spent a lifetime in the military; though, which military I obfuscate for the first couple of books.
And he’s amazing fun to write. He literally writes all of his own dialog, if I’m smart enough to get out of the way.
But in past iterations his name was Kell. Also Kelso.
And he was from California’s Imperial Valley.
And he was in his 50s.
He was laconic, a sort of modern-day cowboy character.
He was a cop.
He was a criminal.
And in every one of those iterations, I started writing the book and it … just… fell… flat.
No rhythm. No cadence. Action sequences that existed because I was bored. Villains whose function was to, well, twirl mustaches and be villainous. Because that was convenient for me, the writer.
And then one day I remembered a Howard Chaykin comic book, “Iron Wolf,” which I read when I was 12. The character owned a spaceship called The Limerick Rake. And I remember thinking that that name was cool.
I applied “Limerick” to my illusive hero. I felt that weird tingle in your cerebellum, when you’re onto something.
I went through every thriller and mystery novel I’d read in recent years, nixing every first name I saw therein. A hundred “Jacks,” a score of “Franks,” a dozen “Jasons.” None of them would do.
“Limerick” has three syllables, so it would have a nice cadence against a one-syllable name (a la The Limerick Rake).
I tried “Dez.”
Ah. Yeah. Dez Limerick. There it was.
And when I sat down to write the first couple of pages, I, instead, banged out the first four chapters, and Dez’s voice was fully formed. He’s loquacious. He doesn’t speak the King’s English. He’s not as funny as he thinks he is. I don’t remember inventing any of that; it was all just there.
And when I knew how he speaks, I knew how tall he is, and that he’s bow-legged, and plays guitar.
It was all just … there.
And come June, you’ll get a chance to meet him.
I can’t bloody wait.