I’m often asked about my inspiration for King of Paine because the story melds two wildly different story lines (and because one of them centers around some pretty kinky sex, and on first sight I seem about as vanilla as it gets). In the main story, Special Agent Frank Paine hunts an online stalker who’s taunting him with crimes hinting at the agent’s own kinky past. At the same time, reporter Roger Martin is guided by an angelic woman to investigate missing senior citizens across the country. Naturally, the two plot lines connect in a shocking way.
Many authors look to their characters for inspiration; I tend to become intrigued by a plot point or theme first and then build characters around that. Given King of Paine’s split personality, it’s not surprising that it was inspired by two distinct ideas.
After receiving nice feedback about the sex scenes in The Jinx, my mind was predisposed to pursuing an erotic theme in the next book, and a case study in Psychology Today piqued that interest. The details escape me, but my recollection is that a woman had met a man in an online sex chat room and, after establishing a relationship, agreed to reenact a bondage fantasy in a live meeting. During the encounter she attempted to withdraw consent. The article examined the effectiveness of prior consent as a legal defense when the ability to withdraw it is impaired.
That case study led me to build a plot line around the world of online BDSM chat and the mix of ordinary people and devious predators who inhabit it. Even the wary may find it impossible to distinguish an innocent geek exploring his or her dark fantasies from a warped freak intent on doing harm. It made me wonder where that line could be drawn, and Frank Paine navigates that issue as he sorts victims from suspects.
My second inspiration derived from musings about personal accountability of the terminally ill. It’s natural to have a violent urge from time to time, but fear of God or imprisonment prevents most of us from acting on it. I questioned what moral forces would keep a desperate patient in check when the law and religion were less motivating. Consider this snippet from a conversation between Frank Paine and his FBI colleague, the cyber agent Jeronimo Reyes:
Jero sipped his coffee, contemplating his response. “I think we rely upon the good faith of strangers for our survival every day. I’m less comfortable when strangers don’t believe in the salvation of their soul, and the law fails to act as a backstop. And, for all the wonderful things people say about Simone Perlow, until we have the chance to interview her, she’s still a stranger to me—as is your new girlfriend, by the way.”
Several characters stricken with cancer figure prominently in the story, including Simone Perlow, the co-founder of an organization called Doctors With Cancer. This gave me an opportunity to experiment with how different people react to the same stressors. An FBI profiler can analyze a crime and predict with some statistical accuracy many of the demographic and psychological qualities of the perpetrator. When faced with a stressful change in life like loss of health, employment, or a loved one, some people snap.
Yet the predictive quality of these triggers runs only one way. No profiler can foretell how any particular person will react. Like my characters in King of Paine, some snap, others take courageous action. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.