People ask me all the time, what made you want to write your novel? I really wrote Damnable for one reason – because I wanted to tell a fun story, one that readers would find exciting and scary and disturbing and suspenseful. A page-turner.
That was all I had to start with. No plot, no theme, no main character. When I sat down and started typing the first scene, I had nothing but the desire to write a good book.
I didn’t even have a title in mind, let alone the foggiest notion about my main character.
Of course, no one can really write with nothing in mind, not if they want to have their words form coherent sentences. So when I began putting thoughts to (virtual) paper, I had a scene playing out in my head, but it was only a vague conceit. I envisioned someone being killed trying to save a woman from a dead man. But not just any man, and not just any woman. This man was the brother of the eventual protagonist, and the woman was not merely an innocent bystander. I belted out a draft, looked it over, decided it was a good start, then worked out the general plot of the book. That first scene became the prologue.
Everything starts with character, so in order to frame the plot, I set out to develop my protagonist. While writing the prologue, one side of my brain seemed to be whispering to the other, and ideas for the rest of the novel had started to form. What if someone had set in motion events determined to send everyone who’s ever lived to Hell? And what if the only one who had a chance to stop it was someone who figured he’s already going there?
It felt like I was on to something, so I took stock. What did I know enough about to make my character real? I’m a lawyer, but the thought of a lawyer going to hell is sort of like the thought of an alcoholic having liver problems. Besides, outside of a courtroom, a lawyer’s biggest weapon is most likely his or her ability to bore someone to death. No, I knew I had to go back to my military experience for this character; specifically, my experience as a military special agent. And while my experience as an OSI agent meant I was familiar with many different aspects of law enforcement and forensic techniques, the primary skill I had developed during those years was in how to conduct interrogations.
Thus was born my main character, Jake Hatcher. An ex-special forces operator who was trained as a field interrogator, someone who specialized in extracting information, and who had particular expertise in doing so under exigent circumstances in non-standard settings. Someone who was extensively schooled in coercive interrogation tactics, in addition to having elite combat training and battle experience.
Someone who did a lot of dirty work – bad stuff that nice people don’t do – and was damned for it.
This someone also also just happened to be chosen to play a vital role in the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, one to end the dominion of Heaven and send everyone to Hell.
On the other side of the ring I had my villain. I have to confess, compared to Hatcher, he came easy. Demetrius Valentine. Super rich, super smart, and obsessed with revenge against God to the point of derangement. Esteemed, privileged, and wealthy, he is Hatcher’s opposite, but, like a mirror image, very, very similar. And,fortunately for the rest of us, whereas he’s a bad man, Hatcher’s a bad ass.
As I touched upon above, character is everything. Once I had my two main characters firmly developed in my head, the plot seemed to form itself. When you know your characters intimately, you know their motivations, and when you know their motivations, you know what and why. Figuring out who, when and how then becomes simple.
That, then, is the answer to the question. I had a hard-boiled special forces operative who’d been disgraced being dragged into a plot to send everyone to Hell I had a brilliant sociopath determined to bring down Heaven.
Oh, yeah, did I mention the community of Carnates – irresistibly beautiful women who are the hybrid offspring of demons and humans? Perfect in every way, except they have no soul?
So, what made me want to write Damnable? Hell, how could anyone not want to write about all that?
About Hank Schwaeble:
Hank Schwaeble is a thriller writer and practicing attorney. His first short story, “Mugwumps,” appeared in the anthology Alone on the Darkside in 2006. In 2007, he won a Bram Stoker Award for the anthology Five Strokes to Midnight, which he co-edited with Gary Braunbeck. The book includes three of his short stories.
A graduate of the University of Florida and Vanderbilt Law School, Schwaeble is a former Air Force officer and special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He has conducted major criminal and counterintelligence investigations for the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
A distinguished graduate from the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, he graduated first in his class from the Defense Language Institute’s Japanese Language Course, and was an editor of the law review at Vanderbilt where he won four American Jurisprudence Awards.
Schwaeble is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association. He lives in Houston, Texas and is currently working on his next novel.