Normally Wendy starts off the posts, but today, I’m jumping in with my own little piece of the writing universe.
As Wendy mentioned a few days ago, I’m currently suffering from Multiple Character Personality Disorder. So today, I thought I’d let you in on what happened when I went looking for William Knox.
Normally characters come to me before the story does. It’s like they drop, fully formed, into my head, and then they slowly tell me the story that goes with them. But with Bloodleggers, the scene and the plot outlines and conflicts came first. So for the first time in my writing life, I was left searching for a voice and a character to tell the story to me.
Wendy had her character for Regina early on, and told me as much, so I needed a character for my own. We knew, early on, that we wanted an FBI agent, because the story of Prohibition has always been wrapped around the stories of the G-Man as well. We tossed back and forth the idea of shadow operatives and secret societies, but I wanted a character based in the real world, for whom the world of Bloodlegging would be as foreign as it is for any other man on the street.
Remember, this is our world, this is reality. We’re not making this up, we’re just revealing the true, sordid tale of the hidden world, right?
Wendy needed a name for our pitch, so I’m a bit ashamed to admit, I grabbed the phone book. I knew I wanted a strong last name, short, and powerful, but not a cliche name like “Steele” or “Slaughter” or “Blood”. I wanted a good, real name with a strong sound. I turned to the “K” section thinking I’d hit on “Klaus” or “Karl” or a hard “K” sound. But fate opened the book to “Knox”, and the moment I saw it, I knew it was right. Then I just needed a first name, and glancing down the page, I saw “William”, which is a great name, because you can use so many permutations as well, “Bill”, “Billy”, or “Will”. It stuck, and I told Wendy I was going with “William Knox”.
So then I was stuck — who is William Knox? So hold on — because most of this is going to be happening to me as I type it — we’re going to find William Knox together.
It’s been plaguing me for over a week now. We know he’s an FBI agent, but that’s just a job description, it’s not a character trait.
But it does start the ball rolling. An FBI agent has to have certain characteristics, and that gives us some clues about William Knox. For example, at some level, he must be meticulous, as he needs to carefully record his observations — that’s part of being an FBI agent. If there’s one thing that the Academy is going to drum into an agent, it’s the rules of evidence gathering. So we can be sure that he’ll be well versed in that area.
We also can be sure that he’s going to have firearms training and at least some combat experience. It means it’s also very likely that he’ll be cool under pressure and capable in tight situations.
So we have our first glimpse — a dim outline, if you will — of Bill Knox.
That much was easy, but then the hard questions come, and that’s where I’ve been working for the last few days to really light up our character, and put some solid lines around our dim outline.
Bill Knox has just been sent to Denver on a Missing Persons detail. In the world of the FBI, that’s just about the bottom rung on the totem pole as far as investigations go. So we know that Bill just got put into the worst job in the agency. This means one of two things. Either he’s a recruit, fresh out of the academy, full of vim and vigor, or he’s an older agent who’s recently really pissed off someone in authority at the FBI.
For a couple of reasons I won’t go into here (spoilers, after all) I didn’t want an agent who’s happy and excited, but one who’s being punished, through no fault of his own. And that means that Bill Knox is an older agent. But how old?
Well, we know that Regina is relatively young (early 20’s), and since the youngest you can really get into the FBI is late 20’s, and we know Bill’s been an agent for quite a while, then that means that William Knox is older than his 30’s and, that rules out any romantic relationships with Regina. Since we know that Knox and Regina are going to meet, this leaves a protective relationship with the much younger girl. Regina also has some “paternal issues”, so I thought that, ideally, William could enter a father-daughter relationship with Regina. To really be a good father figure, he’d need to be quite a bit older than Regina, so the final age I settled on was 48.
Regina’s own father is a shady character, involved in criminal activity. William Knox is obviously the opposite of this, being in law enforcement. Thus, Knox will bring a certain knowledge that Regina has lacked, a sort of “normal world” light filtering into her own dark existence.
This opens lots of dramatic tension possibilities, from a surrogate father relationship, all the way to guilt from so quickly, emotionally, replacing her own father. There’s also a massive friction between the two, as Knox cannot condone the criminal activity in which she is involved.
But if Knox is 48, then what about the rest of his life? Once I got this far, I started having some of it come easier. Knox is an 18 year special agent in the FBI, meaning that he got into the academy when he was 29. Before that, he spent 8 years in the Military (the army) working in Signals Intelligence. Before his stint in the military, he worked on his parent’s farm in the Midwest, while trying to decide what to do with his life. It’s also the time of his life where he met his wife, Amy, who he married at the age of 21, in July of 1983. Seeking to escape his father’s farm, but unable to afford college, he enlisted in the army, and was accepted to the COMINT program when he showed aptitude with signal interception and recognizing intelligence signaling.
His marriage, although strained by his posting to Germany for 2 years without his wife, flourished, and in 1988, his wife gave birth to their daughter, Miranda. However, a miscarriage in 1990 made his wife stop wanting more children, and their relationship struggled. He resigned from the military in 1990 with an honorable discharge, a college degree in electrical engineering, and a reference from an NSA agent that got his foot into the door at the FBI. With a background in intelligence gathering and encryption, he made it into the FBI academy in mid 1992, at the age of 29, and graduated as a special agent late in the year.
His work in intelligence gathering helped him to quickly advance, and in his second year, he was promoted to a field agent, and rebased from Virginia to Chicago. This moved his family to an area near his home, and put him back in contact with his family, which was good.
However, in 1996, his father contracted cancer, and he took a six month leave of absence to tend to his father, and, eventually to help arrange his funeral. Three days later, his mother put a gun in her mouth, and he stayed on leave to arrange her funeral as well as help to sell off the family farm.
He returned from his leave a somewhat darker man, witholding anger towards the world. Although his work didn’t suffer, he began to be more physical in his arrests, and was reprimanded several times for excessive force.
In 1999, he came home to find his wife and daughter sobbing. His beloved Amy had breast cancer, and needed radical chemo and a double mastectomy to fight it. For the next 12 months, he took hardship leaves and spent late hours doing Coms intercept work from home, as his wife’s health deteriorated. At the age of 38, on Christmas Day, he was left with a 12 year old daughter, and an empty bed.
He threw himself into his work, and did his best with his daughter, but they grew apart. When 9/11 happened, he didn’t come home for six days, and his daughter never forgave him.
In 2005, at 17, his daughter took a GED test, passed, and dropped out of school, suing him for emancipation. He was required to help pay her expenses until she turned 18, and she went to college in California. They talk on holidays and birthdays, but rarely any other times.
In 2009, Bill Knox followed a money trail from a group of drug dealers, thinking to find terrorist connections, and instead, it led to election fraud run by the Democratic Machine in Chicago. Worse, it led to an FBI agent who was taking a pay off to look the other way as the Union thugs stuffed ballot boxes. With an airtight case, he turned it over to the state Attorney General, and secretly leaked a copy to the newspapers, forcing the Illinois AG to take action.
By April of 2010, the case was in court, and Bill Knox faced a fellow agent and testified to that agent’s guilt. Officially, he was awarded a medal, behind the scenes, everyone at the Chicago office loathed him for turning against one of his own.
At the end of August, 2010, William Knox was walked into his superior’s office, and told he was being permanently transferred to Denver to investigate a rash of missing persons. He had 30 days to sell his house and move. 21 days later, he was on the flight to Denver, on the night of Sunday, September 19th, 2010.
Knox is an honorable man. He knows what is right, and he sticks by it. He has dark moments, brought on by the loss of his parents, the loneliness of living without his wife, whom he genuinely loved, and the guilt over the loss of his daughter.
He is a lapsed Christian, and cynical about the world. He has worked hard to find the truth, but seen murderers let go by bleeding heart judges, and guilty men go free for lack of evidence. He’s seen the dark side of men who sold out their own people for money, and the seedier world of Chicago politics where men’s lives are bought and sold daily.
He comes to Denver a tired man, looking at those last two years before he can take retirement and find a quieter life somewhere. He is not quick to accept new things, and usually needs to be shown solid proof before believing things. He is intelligent, sharp, and a good observer of both evidence and people. He has a deep voice, not ridiculously so, but a good solid basso register. I thought it might be a bit gravelly, but then I thought, “A gravelly voiced cop, how cliche can you get?” So, no gravel.
He likes Italian food, being Italian on his Mother’s side. (His grandmother and grandfather were Italian, but his grandfather died young.) He’s also fond of a good steak — and he’s been known to eat junk food when needed.
He drinks coffee, black, no sugar, and probably too much. He doesn’t drink often, but if he does, it’s got to be good scotch, although he’s not against a good Courvosier with dessert if he’s eating out.
He’s a farmboy, so broad-shouldered and strong, and he hasn’t let himself go physically. He has a full head of dark hair graying at the temples, and large, but not bushy black eyebrows. His eyes are blue, but not extraordinarily so. He has a strong jaw, with no cleft, and thin lips beneath a typical Italian nose. If anything, think of the English singer/actor, Morrissey, but a little lower in the cheekbones, a little thinner in the chin…
He dresses in a suit and tie, he is an FBI agent after all, but likes to relax in jeans and a t-shirt (he’s a farm-boy, after all, as well.)
So there’s William Knox. Now he’s got a voice and a look. And I’m finally, finally over my multiple character personality disorder. I hope you like him, because he’s in my head now, and he’s going to start talking soon… Actually, he already has.