on October 8, 2009

My first Lucy Kincaid book will be released in October of 2010 and I turned in the proposal three weeks ago. Lucy Kincaid is a character from my NO EVIL series. In FEAR NO EVIL, she was kidnapped before her high school graduation by a man she met on the Internet. She’d met him through a group she believed was only Georgetown students and prospective students as she prepared for college, thinking he was a freshman. He gave her a false name and false picture. She gave him a real name and real picture. Hence, he had no problem snatching her in the parking lot of Starbucks because he knew exactly what she looked like–and she had no idea who he was.

Lucy is one of my all-time favorite characters, and as soon as I finished writing FEAR NO EVIL I knew that I would someday write her story. Not only did I want to write her story, but I had many story ideas for her. When I came up for contract this Spring, I wrote a proposal for a Rogan-Caruso trilogy. Rogan-Caruso Protective Services was introduced in PLAYING DEAD as the employer of my heroine. I thought my publisher wanted another trilogy. They didn’t. I was kind of stunned–but they asked what else I had. The only other thing I wanted to write–in fact, the series that I preferred to write, but didn’t think they’d go for it–was Lucy Kincaid. They wanted it.

I was thrilled. I’m aging Lucy for the series–if I followed real time, she’d be twenty-one. In Book One, tentative titled NO WAY OUT, she’ll be twenty-four. Still younger than most heroines, but since this is a series, this gives me room to grow her. She’ll age in real-time, or close to it, after that and if the series is successful, I’ll probably limit it anyway. I love series, but like television, I think some should have ended at a peak before they crashed and burned. X-Files anyone?

But for Lucy, I have several story ideas. Patrick Kincaid, her brother who was injured and in a coma at the end of FEAR NO EVIL, woke up after twenty-two months in SUDDEN DEATH. I probably shouldn’t have used real time for his coma–twenty-two months is an unusually long time to recover from a coma!–but Jack needed the time for his internal journey. Anyway, I adore Patrick. And my mom threatened to disown me if I killed him, so he’s alive and breathing. I have story ideas for him, too–yes, IDEAS. I would love to alternate books between Lucy and Patrick, ala how Tess Gerritsen handles Maura Isles and Jane Rizzoli. They are both in every book, but usually one is more important to the story than the other. I love that, and that’s how I picture Lucy and Patrick.

In NO WAY OUT, Lucy is waiting to hear if she was accepted into the FBI Academy. She’s living in Georgetown with her older brother, Dillon, who is quietly over-protective, and Dillon’s girlfriend (possibly wife–I haven’t quite thought all this through yet!) Kate Donovan. She’s working somewhere–not sure where yet, either at a police department or lab–while she waits. The wait can last twelve months to two years. It’s long and stressful. Once you’re accepted, you’re given a report-to date for Quantico. It can be months away–but you’re still a hired employee. At that point, you work at headquarters but aren’t yet an agent.

When I was in Washington last week with the FBI Citizens Academy, our last tour was of NCMEC–the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, co-founded by John Walsh. Though I was familiar with the organization, I didn’t know exactly what they did. Five stories in a building in beautiful downtown Alexandria, Virginia dedicated to solving hundreds of thousands of cases of child exploitation. Honestly, I left depressed. Every day their staff goes in and tracks missing kids. They view child pornography hoping to identify the child or the location. Hoping to pick up clues as to who the predator is. They have a forensic anthropologist on staff who helps identify skeletons. They have computer experts who age photos to show us what a kidnapped or endangered child might look like today. They have many success stories, but far more tragedies.

They also collect a mass of data on missing children and predators. They work with all states and many international agencies to help track sex offenders who are supposed to register. They can go into public databases, they maintain their own database, and they can cross-reference information. There are many law enforcement on staff from many federal agencies including the FBI and ICE who are assigned to NCMEC. They are the case managers–they have the experience as well as arrest powers.

I couldn’t possibly detail everything NCMEC does to help protect children, from proactive measures like parent education to investigating crimes, but it is a difficult job for anyone there. In addition to law enforcement, they have case analysts and many others who work tirelessly. Some analysts spend most of their time analyzing photos for example–photos or videos that are of child pornography. They do it to find a clue–like the success story where they enhanced a photo well enough to detect a diploma on the wall. They couldn’t read the name because it wasn’t complete, but they were able to figure out what college it came from and eventually, though an extensive process, learned that the photo was taken in the office of an elementary school principal. He was arrested.

I went on the trip to Washington with my FBI group primarily to tour Quantico for my Lucy books–and that was terrific. NCMEC was added long after I signed up. It affected me far more than any other portion of the trip. But I don’t believe in ignorance. Too many of us don’t want to look at the truth and ignoring it won’t make it go away. While finding out more about NCMEC was difficult, not only am I immensely proud of them, I’m also better informed. If everyone understood the real dangers out there–and some of the activities that lead to the dangers both for victims and predators–maybe we could slow, or decrease, the number of child sexual predators.

I began to think . . . what if someone with a long and decorated career just . . . snapped? Wanted to take matters into his own hands?

While I know the set-up of NO WAY OUT–and have since the spring of 2008 when I took the FBI Citizens Academy classes and one thing that some said sparked the whole idea–I didn’t understand motivations. Suddenly, everything was clear, like putting on new glasses.

Comment–say hi, talk about what you like and dislike about series characters or stories, ask questions about my trip, anything!–and three people will win a copy of FEAR NO EVIL where Lucy was first introduced. FEAR NO EVIL won the Daphne du Maurier award for Best Mainstream Mystery/Suspense.