Author Jason Dean on the inspiration for James Bishop
With the new James Bishop thriller THE OUTSIDER out now, author Jason Dean reveals the inspiration behind his leading man...
Posted on June 4, 2015 in Guest Author
What was the inspiration behind James Bishop?
Now there’s a question and a half. I imagine the creation of a story’s lead character is a slow and painstaking process for most authors – I know it was for me. I do remember that when I was working out plot ideas for what would eventually become my first book, The Wrong Man, I had absolutely no idea who was actually going to star in the thing – at least, not at the outset. All I really knew was that the main character would most likely be male (hey, write what you know) and that he’d need be the kind of person who’d not only interest me as a writer, but as a reader too. And just to complicate things further I also planned for this novel to be the first in a series, meaning this character would have to be somebody I’d want to keep coming back to on a fairly regular basis.
So, no pressure then.
As the weeks passed and my string of disconnected setpieces slowly began to morph into something resembling an actual plot, I started giving more thought to the kind of person I wanted my lead character to be. I’d already made inroads into the more superficial aspects, such as his name, appearance and nationality (since my story was set in and around New York I felt it was probably a good idea to make him an American – good thinking there, Jase). And borrowing elements from my own personality, I also decided Bishop would be a fairly taciturn guy, very methodical in his working methods, and in possession of a dry sense of humour. But I didn’t really know what made him tick yet, so for further inspiration I thought back to those series characters I loved as a reader and made mental notes as to why they appealed to me so much.
Take John D. MacDonald’s classic knight-errant, Travis McGee, for example. Now what I always liked most about Trav was his no-nonsense attitude towards solving problems, as well as his complete independence from the rat race – mainly thanks to his life as a self-employed ‘salvage consultant’. But on the downside I did find his constant moping grated after a while, and he also tended to rely a little too much on his good friend Meyer when a particular problem became too taxing, which didn’t exactly strengthen his character. In contrast, I wanted Bishop to be a little more self-reliant and not so consumed by angst and self-doubt. And while Trav was essentially confined to the state of Florida for most of his stories, I wanted Bishop to be free to roam around the landscape at will. Because let’s face it, America is VAST and there for the taking.
Another thing: I didn’t want Bishop to have any kind of background in law-enforcement either. Quite the reverse, in fact. I mean, I love police procedural thrillers as much as the next person, but I felt there were more than enough novels with cops or ex-cops as protagonists that we didn’t really need another one clogging up the bookshelves. No, my instincts told me Bishop should have as little to do with the law as possible, which was at least partly influenced by my love of Richard Stark’s crime series featuring the implacable heist-man, Parker. Of course, I had no desire to turn Bishop into a full-blown criminal sociopath like that guy, but I did want someone who viewed the law with the same contempt. And since it looked as though the beginning of my first novel would require Bishop to be framed and jailed for murder, I felt that ambivalent attitude would be more than justified.
Additionally, I made Bishop a close-protection specialist (at least for the first few pages) as I hadn’t encountered many of those before in thrillers. And since the stories I wanted to tell would have Bishop in close combat situations where he’d need to know his way around weapons, I decided to have him sign up for a tour of duty with the Marine Corps after graduating from high school. Problem solved.
And I felt that was enough to be going on with. I figured I’d get to know more about Bishop’s character and personality once I started writing the book, which is pretty much how it happened. And it’s very much an ongoing thing too. THE OUTSIDER is the fourth novel in the James Bishop series, and I find I’m still learning new things about the guy.