Freelancing for the Atlanta PD isn’t exactly a secure career; my job’s been on the line almost as much as my life. But it’s a paycheck, and it keeps me from falling back into the drug habit. Plus, things are looking up with my sometimes-partner, Cherabino, even if she is still simmering over the telepathic Link I created by accident.
When my ex, Kara, shows up begging for my help, I find myself heading to the last place I ever expected to set foot in again—Guild headquarters—to investigate the death of her uncle. Joining that group was a bad idea the first time. Going back when I’m unwanted is downright dangerous.
Luckily, the Guild needs me more than they’re willing to admit. Kara’s uncle was acting strange before he died—crazy strange. In fact, his madness seems to be slowly spreading through the Guild. And when an army of powerful telepaths loses their marbles, suddenly it’s a game of life or death.…
“A wonderful genre blend of old-style detective stories and supernatural, with a flawed hero and a fascinating take on a world that outlaws technology.”—All Things Urban Fantasy
“A grim and gritty police detective series, with a bit of science fiction mixed into an almost pulp-noir setting…a great series for both mystery lovers and those that enjoy a bit of sci-fi.”—News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, WV)
“[Adam] is very well developed and written. Fans of Jim Butcher will enjoy this series.”—USA Today
“Alex Hughes spins stories like wizards spin spells…a stellar debut!”—James R. Tuck, author of the Deacon Chalk series
“A fun blend of Chinatown and Blade Runner.”—James Knapp, author of State of Decay
“[A] tightly written futuristic detective story set in an alternate Atlanta.…This crisp debut marks Hughes as a writer to watch.”—Publishers Weekly
“[A] fast-paced sci-fi yarn.…Reminds me very much (and very fondly) of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.”—SF Signal
“Fans will want more by Alex Hughes.”—SFRevu
By Alex Hughes
The idea for Marked grew out of a brainstorming conversation I had at a writing retreat with the Even Odders, my group of amazing writer-friends I met at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. We talk as a group on video chat about once a week and go to see each other once or twice a year. That time, we were sitting around a fireplace in the evening, fortified with chocolate and wine, talking about great stories and great ideas. I knew I would need a concept for Book Three and so I opened up the question to the group.
“This has to be the Guild book,” I said. “But there’s something deeper going on at the Guild. Help me figure out the politics?” Two hours later, my head was swimming with a baker’s dozen ideas, and I’d had a chance to iron out my backstory. Cooper, the ethical founder of the Guild, was created and named in one fell swoop, three different factions were created and explored, and Adam’s old mentor took on a bigger role. I still had a bunch of pieces rather than a story, but I was feeling good.
The next day, I sat down to write a synopsis for the book. I stitched together many of the pieces into a whole that I thought made some sense, and set it aside, feeling proud and happy I’d been such an efficient plotter.
But reality, of course, had different plans. By nature, I tend to work by the seat of my pants when it comes to writing, and I’ve never yet written a story exactly like my initial plan for it. This time was no different. I found out in February that the book would be due in late July, far quicker than expected, and I had to figure it out.
I went back to my synopsis, which was cold and sad on the page. So I added a contagious madness scare (terrifying). I added Stone, Adam’s Watcher from Sharp, and played around with a subplot revolving around his son. Eventually this subplot got dropped. I considered a gunshot death, a hanging death, and finally settled on the difficult and odd death-by-electrocution that ended up in the final manuscript. I spent research time discovering the effects of electricity on the human body.
But in the end, I still didn’t care enough about the victim. Uncle Meyers was originally going to be a guy who caught Adam in a lie in school, and didn’t expel him. Then he was just a relative of Kara’s, somebody Adam knew but wasn’t connected to. But that didn’t give me the connection I wanted. Finally, in the very last revision of the process (after the editor had seen it and everything), I added the scene between Adam and Meyers at the beginning, a flashback to when Adam worked at the Guild. That scene, which I hadn’t planned, made everything work. It grew that way.
The madness grew too, from a little concept through several iterations before ending up as a real problem with a real backstory. It ended up in Arizona, in the middle of the desert, with a sheriff who made impossible decisions without apology. And it connected to other threads I’d been spinning in earlier novels.
The subplot between Adam and Cherabino also grew, through three or more versions, until what settled felt right. The scene in the French restaurant was the moment I knew it was all going to come together. It was layered, and deep, and interesting enough. It felt right.
When I’m working on a story, I always have a plan. I always set out the little boxes and plant my seeds in orderly rows. But at a certain point, the story has to grow on its own. It has to add its own layers and make its own way. Large portions of the plan must be thrown in the trash to nurture the little shoots that are growing well. Because when the story grows, when it takes on that life and strength of its own, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when the unexpected happens.
At a certain point in the process, Adam turned from a character I was herding through a maze into a living, breathing person who made decisions I wasn’t expecting. This happens every book, but every book it surprises me. There’s a scene in Marked where Adam tells Paulsen what he’s been doing at the Guild. The scene takes him all the way to the edge of a major decision, and Adam makes the opposite decision from what I was expecting going in. It was a magical moment for me as the writer, and it’s one of the strongest scenes (in my opinion) in the book.
As I’m now writing Book Four, and the characters are now coming to life all over again, I’m finding the unexpected moments just as much fun. I can plan all day long, I can water and plant and pray, but the miracle happens when the story grows.