Complex characters are among the best ingredients of a well-written narrative, and thriller author Burt Weissbourd’s thrillers are the perfect examples of this in action. In The Corey Logan Trilogy, the author has crafted well-rounded and intriguing characters and brought their stories to life. We wanted to find out more, and asked the writer and former Hollywood producer himself what part complex characters play in his widely beloved trilogy.
It took me a long time to understand that the most important work I do in writing a novel—what takes the most time, the difficult, careful thought—is creating the characters. Many writers focus on plot. For me, building complex characters is what keeps me up at night. It happens at the very beginning, before I write anything at all. I carefully consider my central characters, their strengths and weaknesses, their emotional make up, their quirks, their gestures, what they enjoy, what makes them uneasy. Creating, actually fleshing out, exciting multi-dimensional characters essentially allows the plot to work itself out in unexpected ways. It’s the foundation of whatever story I tell. In fact, characters, for me, inevitably end up telling me the story.
As a producer developing a screenplay, you learn to look for stories with strong, complex characters and a “rich stew” — that is to say a situation with conflict, emotional intensity, and the potential to evolve in unexpected ways. That is exactly how I approach the books that I write. Once you have interesting people in a “rich stew,” the characters take over. It’s all that I can do to keep up with the twists and turns and the unexpected places that the people lead me.
INSIDE PASSAGE (BOOK ONE)
Corey Logan was set up. She knows Nick Season’s terrible secret. Coming home from prison, all Corey wants is to be with her son. To get him back, she needs to make a good impression on the psychiatrist evaluating her, Dr. Abe Stein.
One of the challenges in, and motivations for, writing Inside Passage was creating an original and compelling psychiatrist.
Early on, I made several decisions about Abe Stein, one of my two protagonists:
Abe has worked very hard to be comfortable with who he is. He’s self-aware. He really doesn’t worry about what others think – about how he looks, how he thinks about things, what he does in his spare time.
Abe has an intense inner life. He may not have an easy time with practical tasks – he’s always having trouble lighting his pipe; he often tosses his spent match into the waste basket only to find that it’s still burning and he’s started a fire – but he’s a master at navigating his way through psychological complexity. He gets what makes people tick and often thinks about people in unexpected, especially insightful ways.
Abe is often preoccupied and distracted. Because his inner life is so intense and interesting, Abe will often loose his focus as he follows a train of thought down some winding back road. The judge has taken away his driver’s license because he keeps getting distracted with some thought and sideswiping parked cars.
Abe focuses intently on his patients and genuinely believes that it’s on him to help them in real and meaningful ways. He’ll be sitting in his office staring at the ceiling apparently not listening to what his patient is saying. In fact, he’s turning over every word, doing everything in his power to get inside his patient’s skin, feel what he or she is feeling. He has remarkable empathic capacities.
So I paired this self-aware, inwardly oriented, not-at-all good at negotiating his way in the world, master of emotional complexity with a tough, self-reliant, not so self-aware, literally able to navigate on her own in wild country, extremely able-in–the-world woman, and as they fall in love, we find that there’s very little they can’t do together.
The Corner Bookstore, NYC
I gave an early draft of Inside Passage to a psychiatrist friend and was touched and honored that she asked if she could give the passage about Abe’s personal experience in therapy to her patients.
The passage read, in part:
At first, you work to understand why you feel what you feel. There’s lots of talking about that. Then there’s one failure after another. It’s discouraging. But you just keep after it. The fear is still there, and it’s real, but at some point you’re ready to take a chance again, try a worrisome thing. And little by little you begin to do things you thought you could never do. There are lots of setbacks, but when that happens, you talk about what’s holding you back and how you could handle it differently, and eventually you try it again… And then sometime later, you begin to see how you’ve grown stronger. It’s incremental change, baby steps, but the time comes when you know you can do hard things, even if you make mistakes….
TEASER (BOOK TWO)
Teaser, the sequel to Inside Passage, took months of research before I could actually write the antagonist, Teaser. In creating Teaser, I drew from Dr. James Gilligan’s excellent book, Violence. His understanding of violence, violent criminals (“the living dead”), and of the realities of prison life—that is to say of “the violence that prisoners routinely inflict on one another”—led me to understand Teaser.
Teaser takes Corey and Abe into the interconnected worlds of private school kids and the runaways who roam Seattle’s streets. Their son Billy’s friend, Maisie, is abducted by the diabolical “Teaser”, truly the most frightening, treacherous man they’ve ever imagined. Teaser is a mystery to everyone except, finally, Abe and Corey, who alone realize what they must do to rescue Maisie. They contrive a plan that shocks even them.
MINOS (BOOK THREE)
Minos is the most difficult book I’ve ever written. I had to imagine a disturbed teenaged girl, Sara, actually walk in her shoes. Sara has constructed an entire mythological universe and language, an alternative reality where she lives and struggles with a terrible secret, too frightening for consciousness. She’s trying to reach Theseus, ancient Athens’ “hero of all heroes,” the young champion who slew the minotaur. Sara needs him to help her slay the Beast, a present-day monster that she can’t even identify.
Sara is sent to Dr. Abe Stein for therapy. She doesn’t want to talk about her friends or family. When he asks what he can do to help, she scoffs. When he presses her, she asks him if he can help her reach Apollo’s oracle at Delphi, to ask Apollo to influence Theseus. She asks if he can give her more power to fight the Beast. Sound preposterous? It gets worse, there are monsters in her world—the Furies with snakes for hair, blood dripping from their eyes, and brass-studded scourges; Cerberus, the three headed hellhound who guards the gates to the underworld, Phae, the Crommyonian sow, a monstrous wild pig that ravaged an entire region, and of course the ferocious, child-eating Minotaur, a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man.
So the challenge is to make Sara’s intense inner life coherent, believable, understandable and finally, infused with present day meaning. The primary tool I had to accomplish this was the Greek myths. A word about the myths. They’re very dark. Offending a god, even a small slight, can have horrific consequences. For example, Prometheus is chained to a rock with an eagle feeding daily on his regenerating liver. Atlas bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. When Minos fails to sacrifice the Cretan Bull to Poseidon, as promised, Poseidon makes his wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the white bull and their offspring is the hideous minotaur. And so on.
Sara is tormented by these horrific stories, and it’s made worse as her friends start dying in the present. Abe is dumbstruck by her prescient knowledge of Snapper’s hideous murder. Snapper is Sara’s friend and Abe’s wife Corey’s client. In Sara’s world, Snapper is the Horseman, Theseus’ charioteer. So the ultimate challenge of this book was not only to make Sara’s world credible, but to make sure that the reader is hugely emotionally invested in Abe’s efforts to crack the code inside Sara’s head. And, when together they’re able to do that, make sure that the reader understands viscerally how important, how essential, it was for Sara to construct and hide in her mythological world. I think the reader will be surprised, even astonished, by the horrible buried secret that Abe and Sara finally discover together. Hopefully this revelation will satisfy, resonate on multiple levels, and finally thrill a reader with its unexpected, chilling truth and significance.
Corey Logan Trilogy: Inside Passage, Teaser, Minos
Feature image via Weissbourd