Some writers wonder where they receive the idea for the next novel and for me the crucial aspect of the conjuring up of ‘Soft Target’ was partly due to my years in law enforcement. As a former street cop and member of the elite SWAT I had witnessed multiple hostage situations – some with positive results and some with not so much. Entering public education after nearly ten years behind the badge left me wondering what would happen if a hostage situation occurred at a school in the United States. Sure, there had been school shooting like Columbine, Sandy Hook and the like and as terribly tragic as they were my imagination kept coming up with the greatest question a writer in two words ‘What if?”
After attending a symposium concerning school safety when I was Director of Student Services put on by local and federal law enforcement agencies one speaker intrigued me. Col. Dave Grossman, retired Army and psychologist who had created a program called ‘Killogy’. The psychology of when someone is forced to kill and the inner changes to that person or persons. He mentioned Beslan – the small village in Eastern Europe which witnessed the worst school killings in modern history. September of 2004 saw over 300 children brutally murdered in cold blood along with teachers and parents where the grand total was somewhere near 400 people with guesstimates probably closer to 600 individuals gunned down or blown up by Islamic Fundamentalists.
It had been a gruesome day for Russia and a wake-up call for the world.
That is when the question – What if? came to me while sitting in the audience – writers get ideas wherever they are and sometimes unexpectedly like what occurred with me.
What if an Islamic terrorist group were successful in taking over a school in America? What would be their plans? Their demands? Would they kill indiscriminately or more systematically? Who would be involved on both the ‘bad’ guy side and the ‘good’ guy side? What would be eventual outcome?
The first thought was what grade level of school – Beslan was an elementary school which was problematic with the terrorists trying to corral hundreds of toddlers and young children into a gymnasium. A high school – well in America the terrorists may be outgunned depending on the school district they descended on or at least would have to deal with older teen attitude which is enough to drive a parent to drink which is a no-no for these ideologues. So, what was left? A middle school where students are young enough to be scared out of their minds but old enough to follow orders at the end of a barrel.
Wilkins Middle School was created and housed with bright faced and strutting 13 to 15 year olds. The smiles left when 21 terrorists arrived like locusts with Rocket Propelled Guns, AK47’s, grenades and illegal cell phone jamming devices.
Now – the dilemma of the writer – who were the protagonists? The antagonists had been written, described and put into motion and it was time for a savior or saviors.
A school personnel or two would be a good read – local law enforcement – perhaps federal officers who happened to be in the area – maybe even an ex-special operations officer who witnessed firsthand the terror at Beslan.
The Protagonists had been created and ready to roll.
Some writers spend days or even weeks with story boards ensuring each chapter follows the previous chapter flawlessly and some writers utilize 3 x 5 cards with all pertinent information to ensure their characters remain the same throughout the writing process.
Me – the characters run the story. My spouse, Laureen, thinks I’m crazy by stating this but I believe many times my characters are real and tell me what is going to happen next.
It occurred in my first novel ‘Hunted’ where a psychopath had gotten upset by an innocent comment by a police detective and decided to make the hunter the prey. Zachary Marshall was funny, irreverent, smart, brutally honest and a cold blooded killer. Jonas Peters (a character in every on my works either as the protagonist or a cameo appearance) was brooding, haunted and fearless. A great team to go against each other and who ran the keyboard for me – their story their way.
That’s it – nothing fancy or earth shattering in my writing process. I create the world in which my characters live and they are the ones who advise me, sometimes rather forcefully, how that world will spin.
Sounds strange – but it works.
John Beyer has two doctorates - Ed.D. in Education and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology (though he is not licensed to practice and has no intention to do so).
He was in law enforcement for nearly 10 years serving as a street cop, a training officer and member of SWAT (entry team and sniper).
He followed those experiences with education for 26 yrs. as a teacher and administrator – on site and district office.
John has been writing most of his life. He’s traveled to at least 23 countries (and was actually shot in the head in Spain in 2000 during a march between Neo Nazis and Communists two days after running with the bulls in Pamplona). He was caught in a hurricane off the coast of east Baja (Bahia de los Angeles) while kayaking and lived to tell about it. Essentially, it’s hard to tell where experience leaves off and fiction takes over. You’ll want to read his books.