For writers, life itself is central casting.

For Conspiracy of Lies, my characters came from Germany, Russia, and America, and they all converged in Los Alamos where everyone wanted the secret of the Atomic Bomb.

I’ve always gotten far better stories by eavesdropping than asking questions.

Legendary author Gore Vidal once said: “Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps twenty players … I have ten or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”

He may be right. He certainly sold a lot of books.

It’s heresy, I know, to disagree with him. But I believe that if a writer only has a repertory company of ten or twenty characters, then those same ten or twenty characters will keep writing the same story over and over again.

For a writer, life itself is central casting.

We should be picking up new characters as we go along. We generally find them when we least expect them, and when they worm their way into our brains, we can’t let go of them until they tell their story.

And when the story is told, they leave.

Some return from time to time. But most don’t.

I have always been a collector of people, even those I never meet. For years, I have sat in airports – and I’m sure many of you have as well – watching the parade of people as they pass by.

I don’t know them.

But I assign them roles in life.

The blonde is looking for love.

She won’t have to look long.

The brunette has thrown love away.

More than once.

One has been jilted.

One has been bitter.

One carries a Smith & Wesson in her purse.

But which one?

Figure it out.

And that’s where the story begins, or maybe where it ends.

Or I sit in a roadside café in any town I’m driving through, and characters come to life over a plate of fried eggs, seared bacon, sliced potatoes, and biscuits that might have a real future as hockey pucks.

The young man at the counter is nervous and keeps looking over his shoulder.

The old man behind a newspaper is the reason.

One is on the run.

One has ended his run.

And one carries a Smith & Wesson in the belt beneath his jacket.

But which one?

Figure it out, and you’ll have chapter one in the books by the time you finish your second cup of coffee.

There are no wooden figures in life. There are no stick figures, not if you go to places you don’t usually go, wander streets that may not be on the proper side of town, attend a church where you are probably out of place, or spend the night in a walkup hotel.

You never have to go to your room. Just sit in the lobby a while and listen.

People are talking. People love to talk. Keep quiet, and they’ll never know you’re around.

I’ve always gotten far better stories by eavesdropping than asking questions.

By midnight, you’ll know who’s jilted, who’s bitter, who’s on the run, and who has the Smith & Wesson in her purse – why she plans to use it, who the guest of honor will be, how many will attend the funeral, who is coming to cry, who is coming to make sure the sonuvabitch is dead, and why they’ll never find a jury in fourteen counties to convict her.

The town may be big or small. It doesn’t matter. It never matters.

But if you come back after an all nighter on the streets and don’t have a novel begging to be written, then you’ve been wasting your time on the wrong streets.

Please click HERE to purchase Conspiracy of Lies on Amazon.

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