(I really need to mock up a fake cover, but I don’t want the graphics to look hopelessly cheesy. Working on it… UPDATE! I made this up in GIMP. Thanks to Bey Deckard for the genetic hourglass Photoshop combo!)
Now that I’ve dipped my toe in the water by creating the query letter, I can’t set aside my brilliant tradpub thriller idea. And I’ve realized that there’s no reason I should sit and spin and play the waiting game if I don’t have to – I have a blog, a platform, an audience. I have constant traffic on my posts on A Little Life and She Who Must Not Be Named, traffic driven by Some Mysterious Force. (I know, I’m very fond of caps lately; it’ll pass.) So, what if I can exploit that, right? It only takes the one person with the power to Make This Happen to read about this book-to-be, and hey presto.
So I’m going to do character/process sketches of the MCs for a few days. I’ve finished my last editing job, for now, I have a ghostwriting job that doesn’t interfere with Big Thinking on this, so, here we go.
From the query: Long term AIDS survivor Jeremiah Bridges discovers that the antiviral medications keeping him alive well past fifty also keep this new virus at bay. If the world discovers that, the medications will be diverted in a harsh triage, and he and his family will die.
Jeremiah is one of a handful of characters who survived from my original apocalypse idea, along with the concept that HIV antivirals would be effective against this new pandemic. As noted before, the AIDS patients in a Chinese hospital were unaffected by the SARS virus, and that could have been because of the meds, and “could have been” works for me.
Jeremiah is our long term survivor in more ways than one. Your traditional apocalyptic hero is a man’s man who can hunt and fish and kill and make houses out of duct tape. What I wanted was an “urban survivalist,” someone who’s wrestled the bears of government bureaucracy, medical indifference, general incompetence, to keep himself and his family alive. It’s the fight I know all too well from 22 years with a full blown AIDS diagnosis.
Like Jeremiah, I was diagnosed when you were told to get your affairs in order (1992 with HIV, 1994 with the Big Kahuna). And I learned that when you hear about terminal illness patients losing their “struggle with” the disease, well, the struggle with the illness itself, in the United States for sure, was the least of the battle. It was firing doctors who suck, or who shrug and say “he’s dying anyway,” or who run 5 Minute Mills and get irritated when you come in with a list of questions or demands. It was fighting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, a bunch of layabouts who’d appointed themselves the “gatekeepers” to Ryan White services, a middleman millstone who provided no actual services other than a handful of bus posters on safe sex and then ginned up numbers on how much of the “community” had been “served” based on views of said posters, to get more Ryan White funding for a handful of overpaid graphic designers. It was fighting an AIDS patient bill-paying service who’d simply just not pay your Blue Cross premium if there wasn’t enough money in your account, instead of telling you that, and then fighting them and Blue Cross to get reinstated. And. So. On.
Then I decided that the stakes, for the reader, weren’t high enough if it was just Jeremiah fighting for his own life. So I’ve given him a wife with HIV (whom he met years after both their diagnoses, and years after the pills came around to save their lives), and a young daughter who was born without the disease, thanks to prenatal medical intervention (a real thing). As always with an eye on Hollywood, I’m saying the girl should be adorably around 8 to 10, but Hollywood is free to alter that 🙂 So he’s fighting for them, too.
Again, the premise here is not the end of civilization, but a radical remaking of it. And new systems put in place, that “ruthless triage” I’m anticipating when protease inhibitors are found to inhibit the pandemic. A system that would probably say, well people with AIDS have had their bonus round, we need these pills for key personnel who just happen to be everyone in the richest 1%. With so much of our pharmaceutical manufacturing outsourced abroad, there’s no way that the existing HIV pill mills in the US could meet this new sudden demand. So someone’s going to go without.
That said. There are limits to what a Civilization Survivalist can do in a situation like this. Sooner or later, we’re talking about having to do some extrajudicial shit.
Jeremiah is one of the moral linchpins of the book. I decided to make him a hardcore NA/AA guy, someone who’s a stickler for the rules because bending rules is what always got him into trouble. Not the self-righteous prig type, Billy Buttonhole sticking his finger in your chest and telling you what “you better gotta gonna do this that the other if you’re serious about your sobriety,” but the Don Gately type from Infinite Jest, the hardened criminal who’s coming to grips with a lifetime of fucked-upedness, and has no desire to play Pope of AA and order others around.
He’s a recovering heroin addict, a felon who stole to support his habit (not old lady purse snatches; I’m thinking something more like check washing, ID theft, bad behavior but not entirely off-putting to readers).
And so he’s got that other set of urban survival skills, too. But he’s put those aside. He knows that going back to that kind of shit leads straight back to dope.
When it becomes clear that he and his wife’s access to meds is getting cut off? When it becomes clear that criminal behavior is what it’s going to take to survive, to keep their daughter from becoming an orphan? Well, then you see the Don Gately who beat the crap out of the Canucks who were threatening his charges at Ennet House. Then you see the guy who didn’t blink when Shit Got Real.
But, that’s still a moral quandary for him. This isn’t one of those Man On Fire things where the dude is triggered and just gets busy killin’ and that’s that. Especially when he and the gang that’s coalesced around him rob a pharmaceutical warehouse, and net a big pallet of opioids as well. They can sell them to junkies for bank, but then what? He has to wrestle with who he becomes over this arc.
There’s a secondary character, Jason, a guy who’s his sort of friend, another HIV survivor who’s still using, who’s got no compunction about doing anything it takes and fuck those guys. He’s the one who opens the novel by telling Jeremiah to lie to the clinic where he works, to say he lost his pills, his wife’s pills, and get a replacement 90 day supply. It’s Jason who already sees the pattern in the handful of deaths around them, the opening of the pandemic that at that moment only looks like a few “died unexpectedly” cases. So Jeremiah is wrestling with the need for the first lie, the first crime, from the first page.
And it’s Jason who turns Jeremiah into an outlaw, who has the charisma to create a gang and lead it, but who needs Jeremiah as his consigliere, the brains behind the operation. Over the course of the story, Jeremiah represents the need for order if civilization’s going to survive, whereas Jason is the proto-Humungous, the one who welcomes the chaos, who wants to lead a gang of fucking marauders. Jeremiah needs to both symbolically and literally kill Jason, commit the ultimate crime to restore law and order.
There you go, tradpub! Order now, operators are standing by at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up next, “Derek Reed, burned out Army captain.” All my military reading for my Adam Vance stories may finally pay off in cash money!