Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome mystery author Dale Phillips, who introduces ex-con Zack Taylor in A Memory of Grief (Briona Glen Publishing, June 2011 print and ebook editions).
Today Dale writes about character development.
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Many protagonists in mystery fiction whip out a gun when they're threatened, and the problem is instantly solved. Effective? Yes. Original? No. Boring? Possibly.
Or they'll call upon their ever-ready lethal sidekick to do even more deadly shooting, none of which ever seems to land them in serious trouble with the police.
Photo provided courtesy of
For my first series, I wanted something different, someone who would get into dangerous trouble and would have to use his physical and mental abilities to get out of it, rather than his shooting skills. It's more challenging for the protagonist, and for me as the writer.
So I created ex-con Zack Taylor, the hero of my novel A Memory of Grief, who has a lot of problems. The biggest one is that he hates guns, but gets into trouble with people who use them.
The same tragedy in his past that gave Zack his hatred of guns also encumbered him with a lifetime of guilt and self-destructive anger. He's gone from nearly drinking himself to death to a short stint in prison. Trying for some control of his life, he turned to the martial arts, and now uses his physical skills to make a living. He has survived by being emotionally detached and forming few bonds, and has drifted through life.
The death of his best friend, branded a suicide, drives Zack to uncover the truth. Traveling to Maine, where his friend died, Zack is a fish out of water, with no information, no connections, and no credibility. He must handle his grief and his growing frustration, while trying to smoke out a killer.
In the Zack Taylor series, I wanted to portray a conflicted man haunted by ghosts and inner demons. Someone who struggled every day with a heavy burden, and yet, because of his basic decency, a man who managed to find a way to live and to help others as he went on.
The sense of place in this series is important. Zack has spent too much time in cities like Las Vegas and Miami, with the wrong people. Despite being a complete outsider, Zack finds that the different environment of Maine is a balm for his difficulties, and he begins to sense the possibility of a more normal life. If he can survive.
Each title in this series echoes the theme of the book, and is taken from literature. A Memory of Grief is from the Epic of Gilgamesh, our oldest recorded tale. Future titles will be sourced from the Bible, Plato, Emily Dickinson, and Shakespeare, among others. Despite being a man of action, Zack has spent a lot of time alone with books, and his solitary existence has made him quite a reader.
Although A Memory of Grief was only recently released, Book 2 of the Zack Taylor series, A Fall From Grace is already at the publisher, and will be released soon. That's the advantage of going with a small publisher—you don't have to wait a year or more between books! Book 3, A Shadow on the Wall, should be out early next year, with more to come.
For influences, this series owes a huge debt to the late John D. MacDonald and his much-loved Travis McGee tales. Anyone who enjoys those books should find themselves in a comfortably familiar neighborhood with Zack's adventures. Homage must also be paid to the lineage of the tough guy in mysteries, a long line that stretches from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to Robert B. Parker's Spenser and James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux.
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Dale has recently published his first novel with another out soon, over 20 short stories, poetry, and a non-fiction career ebook out on Smashwords. He's appeared on stage, television, and in the independent feature film Throg. He competed on Jeopardy and Think Twice. He co-wrote and acted in The Nine, available at Libertynewstv.com. He's traveled to all 50 states, Mexico, Canada, and throughout Europe. More information can be found about Dale at DaleTPhillips.com.
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About A Memory of Grief:
Troubled ex-con Zack Taylor is haunted by the accidental death of his brother years before. Zack's guilt and anger have pushed him into a shadowy, wandering life, with little purpose and few attachments. When he hears of the death of his close friend Ben Sterling, a supposed gunshot suicide, Zack finds he now has a purpose — to find out what happened. Then his purpose becomes an obsession.
Zack goes to Maine, where Ben died, and is a fish out of water, with no connections, no information, and no credibility. People don't want to talk about Ben's death, so Zack gets ever more frustrated, making enemies, getting into fights, and breaking the law in his search for the truth. The only bright spot seems the potential for a relationship with a sympathetic nurse — if he can control his violent streak. To draw out the killers, Zack offers himself as bait. But without a gun, he must rely on his wits and his physical skills to survive a dangerous game of drugs and death. Though managing a measure of justice, Zack is changed in the process, and must learn to live in a very different world.