I had completed The Brass Ring, and I told my friend Christopher Buckley, renowned poet and creative writing professor. I said, “Hey Chris, I’ve written a book.”
His reply was “Who says?”
Chris was right. The months passed, the years passed, and no one recognized that I had written a book except me (and a few friends). What could I do? I started on another book. Like Ring, this one would involve a global stage, lots of travel, crime, and some stuff I’d learned from my own curiosity and from experts, one of whom was John Hughes, former Assistant Commissioner of New Zealand Police, now deceased, and several of his contacts in the world of criminality, intimidation, and murder. I also had the lesson reinforced about “backing your own horse,” putting confidence in your own judgment about story, characters, and plot.
I got The China Contract into raw form, but semi-complete. I went to The San Francisco Writers Conference, hunting for an agent. I didn’t find one. Getting an agent in America for fiction is like panning for gold on the moon. Okay, yes, that view is weighted down by a heavy dose of sour grapes, and I could go on for hours/days/years complaining about it, but it doesn’t stop me trying. On this occasion, however I met, and later worked with, a well-known and well-respected story editor (there are several types of editors in publishing, as you probably know, and we can take that up later). A few thousand of my dollars into the process, he said to me, effectively,
“Dubai? Why the hell are you using Dubai in this story?”
Dubai plays a small but important role in the global manhunt that took Detective Inspector Nigel Hawkins around the world in his pursuit of the assassin and generally distasteful reptile named Delmore Bates. I felt Dubai added further exotic color to what was emerging as a complex if attractive narrative.
He said, “Nobody’s ever heard of the place.”
I didn’t want to drop it or change it, and didn’t. Now Dubai is well-recognized, and I feel good about having seen that coming in the plot. The editor has never called me to apologize (Imagine that!) or to comment on what turned out to be fortunate foresight in using a creative location that would, in time, be known by most readers. Again, I had had the luck to meet people who knew the Middle East “back in the day,” and from that I had researched and learned some of the local history and economic direction of Dubai. You like to use those bits and pieces when the opportunity arises. Think of the chess game I mentioned above. Dubai isn’t going to win the game for you, but it might be a good “bishop” move.