Silent Prey — Behind the Scenes

The Beggarman

Most of the brainstorming for this book happened while the author was working on The Empress File [1]. That book — another stab at a social-justice thriller [2] — had a lot of weird elements in the background, and the flavor of it influenced the author. So the first version of what never became Beggarman Prey was stillborn.
It would have been a very strange book, at least in the context of the Prey series. Silent Prey sends Lucas to New York, where he's out of his element. Beggarman Prey would have sent him down to Miami, which is about as opposite Minnesota as you can get, both in culture and climate, and still be in the United States [3].
The opening sequence remains the same: Bekker escapes from prison and vanishes. But instead of going to New York, he heads to Miami. He's a fugitive from the law, his scarred face is on every newspaper in the nation, and he has nowhere to go.
Enter the Beggarman, a southern-Florida based drug lord (or perhaps just a criminal underworld boss, but drug lord fits the setting stereotype better [4]). His nickname comes from his rise to power literally from the ghettos. He doesn't have old-money connections, or ties to any of the established power structures. He looks like a hobo, almost, and relates on a personal level to the people living on the streets. The displaced and homeless trust him in a way they would never trust someone from a respected family [5].
The Beggarman (somehow — this version never went past the first chapter) finds Bekker before the authorities do. Bekker is insane, but still a genius. The Beggarman wants to use that genius as a tool, as a resource. And Bekker, for all his intelligence, has nowhere else to turn.
And... that is about as far as the author could get with the plot. Lucas would go down there, but he'd have no authority or jurisdiction, so he'd be there... why? To observe? To help? That far out of his element, he'd be more of a hindrance than a help. The author knew Florida well enough to do it — he'd been a reporter in Miami for nearly a decade — but he just couldn't get the plot to work in his head. So after some more brainstorming, he took it in a wildly different direction. Miami was gone, the Beggarman was gone. Everything changed [6].

Butterflies and Spiders

Bekker collects spiders. Not actual spiders, mind you, but the dried-out eyelids of his victims. It's horrible, nasty, altogether too much in gross-out territory. It's very effective at shocking the reader [7].
For the vast majority of the writing, it wasn't spiders. It was butterflies. He had his butterfly collection (remember: eyelids) suspended from fishing line like some kind of macabre mobile. That works fine too. Or it would have worked, if the movie Silence of the Lambs hadn't come out just a few months before he started writing the book.
While Bekker is a very distinct psychopath from Hannibal Lecter, they share more than a few characteristics. The "butterflies" reference was a bit too close, it was felt, to the moths in Silence of the Lambs. And so the author changed it to spiders at very nearly the last minute..

Eleven Missing Days

This book has one of the earliest editing-level errors in the, series [8]. The author writes one thing, consistent throughout the novel, and then decides (for one reason or another) to change it. But while changing it, he or she misses an early reference, and so the original version goes through. It's an inconsistency that is always seen by the reading audience, but they're damn near impossible to see during the writing process.
In the original US hardcover, the Bekker's trial took twenty-one days. It's a huge, sensational trial, with all sorts of expert testimony and witnesses from all over. Lots of psychologists for the defense, trying to establish an insanity defense. Lots of stuff that was cut from the book because it got in the way of the action [9].
The author decided to cut the length of the trial from twenty-one days — long, but you do get trials that drag on forever — to a more reasonable ten days. That makes sense given Bekker: he's relatively well-off and well-respected in his profession (provisionally), but he's not a mega-celebrity [10], and there's not much doubt about the sequence of events. So not an amazingly short trial, but not a really long one either. Ten days.
But he missed the earliest reference to the length of the trial, just three pages earlier. On page 8, the trial lasts for twenty-one days, the original length. On page 11, it's ten days.
And the important bit is that this kind of mistake happens all the time. When you're writing, you only see a small bit at a time. You don't see the full picture. You're working on tiny pieces, individually, for a span of months or years. Worse, you've written all of it, so you know, deep down, that the words are right. Somehow.
But the readers, seeing differing descriptions of the same event in the span of three pages get those references thrown at them just a few minutes apart. It makes it look like the author's an idiot. How could they possibly mess up in such a short space?
Well, they do, and I'll bet that the first draft of the trial chapter, and the revision of the trial length to ten days, happened months apart. He didn't see it because he wasn't reading the book like a reader; he was editing it like a writer [11].
This was a somewhat embarrassing error, but it wasn't the last. And it certainly wasn't the worst [12].

A Note on Design

In this new era of self-publishing and wide-scale independent presses and digital delivery, it's easy to overlook that publishers are still a corporate structure, with different parts doing different things, and that the various parts might not necessarily know what the other parts are doing.
This isn't anyone's fault per se, but it's a truth that anyone in a corporation is aware of. Nobody knows everything, information is compartmentalized, and sometimes errors happen because of that. Without perfect oversight — which is impossible — you're going to have things falling into the cracks of the system. One of these cracks tends to be between the writer and the cover artist [13].
Again, this is changing. People self-publishing on the internet will frequently do their own covers, or commission them personally [14]. The idea that an author has nothing whatsoever to do with the cover is an alien thought, like there's no way that could possibly happen in a just universe. Well, it does happen. The author doesn't have much say over the cover design. The author usually doesn't even have any input on the title [15].
This book, Silent Prey takes place in New York, in the middle of a brutal summer. That places it in August or so. But the US hardcover features a newspaper that very clearly is dated October 12, 1991.
This is a minor detail, but I have received complaints about it, saying that the author an idiot for getting it wrong. Seriously.
The message I get from this is not the one the letter writer intends. Their intent is to say "The author is an idiot for messing this up," but all I hear is "I am an idiot who doesn't understand anything about how books are made."
I find this upsetting. I really do. The author is human, and he makes mistakes, and some of the mistakes end up in the books. He owns those mistakes, and it's fine to call him out on it [16]. But if you spew three pages of vitriol on something over which the author has no control, it says more about you than about the quality of the book.
Or something like that [17].


1. In all honesty, I am not certain that this is the case. It would have happened around the same time, but the kernel idea for the Beggarman plot may well have arisen during the final edits for Eyes of Prey, when the author was trying to decide, "Well, now what?" [18]

2. And featuring the same problem he's encountered every time he tries to insert a social-justice theme into a thriller: the theme gets in the way of the plot.

3. As a San Diego resident, I feel that where I live is more opposite to Minnesota than Miami is. Miami has wetlands and swamps, as does Minnesota. San Diego has deserts, mountains, and beaches. And while Miami and Minnesota have opposing climates, I'd argue that at least they have climates. San Diego barely has weather. But then, I live there and have some biases about it [19].

4. He would actually have been similar to a lot of modern-day Mexican narcos.

5. The author hadn't lived in Miami for a decade at that point, and a lot had changed. There was a huge influx of refugees from Haiti and Cuba, one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the US until Katrina, and various other social changes. When I went back and viewed the neighborhood I grew up in, many years after we'd left, it was frightening. Everything looked run down or broken, the elementary school I'd gone to had hooped razor wire on the fence, and one building looked like it'd been hit by a bomb. The divide between rich and poor was larger than ever, and it was the people at the bottom the Beggarman would have been appealing to. He would have had a lot of support.

6. Except for the physical floppy discs he was storing the books on. They were labeled "Beggarman" for the entire duration of the writing, even after it became clear that there was no such character anymore.

7. The scene where Fell gets tangled in them? The word "nightmare-inducingest" would come to mind if it were a word. Which it isn't.

8. I don't really know what else to call them. They're not typos, they're not mispellings [20], they're not compositing errors. They're something else.

9. And this sort of cut is exactly the kind that leads most often to the kind of mistake I'm discussing. You have someone mention something from earlier in the book, and then you cut the whole "earlier in the book" part, and suddenly there's no antecedent for the later reference. This can seriously screw with the continuity of a book [21].

10. All of this was three years before the sensationalism of the O.J. Simpson trial, which lasted for more than seven months from opening statements to verdict. For a trial like Bekker's, in today's media climate, ten days seems naïve.

11. There are those people who say that the author should do a read-through before sending the book off, and that doing so would magically kill the errors. Well, the author does so, several times. The problem is that when you've already been over a book, back and forth, out of sequence, editing every last little detail, reading it makes no difference. You're numb to the whole thing. Errors are not hard to spot; they're invisible.

12. Your milage may vary, as everyone has different opinions, but my personal pick for "most embarrassing error" goes to one in Winter Prey, while "worst error" still goes to the one in Secret Prey. Those will be discussed on their respective Behind-the-Scenes pages.

13. Even moreso if it's a cover for a translation in a foreign language. The number of steps between the cover artist and the author are ridiculous, and the cover often has nothing to do with the book. At all [22].

14. And while this may be insulting to some people, I personally feel a lot of the self-done or self-commissioned covers are terrible [23].

15. John Sandford titled several of his early books, but in each case the publisher put on a new title. Now he just sends a synopsis and they generate a title from that [24].

16. As long as it's not outright threats. I've received a few of those as well.

17. I frequently end my rants with this phrase. "Or something like that" can be interpreted to mean "Now I may not be exactly right and many details are hazy, but this is my approximate opinion and I really don't have anything to add at this point." [25]

18. Many of these "Well now what?" moments lead to wild proto-plots that never go anywhere. Between Certain Prey and Mortal Prey the author would occasionally entertain the idea of spinning off Clara Rinker into her own series. This didn't happen, but for a while it was possible.

19. A few years ago my wife and I took a week-long vacation to Orlando, Florida, mostly so I could take her to EPCOT [26]. It was late January, but Florida was warm, and San Diego is, well, San Diego. As it turned out, San Diego and Orlando were the only two warm places in the US, and we went from one to the other. Weirder, both have Sea Worlds, and both are within driving distance of Disney and Universal Studios. But one has hurricanes and alligators [27], so I guess there's that.

20. Of course this is intentional.

21. The single worst one I ever found wasn't the author's fault. In the The Devil's Code the main character breaks into a house and steals a briefcase full of stuff (and I am vastly simplifying for clarity). Later he throws the briefcase over a fence before climbing said fence. But for the audio book, they cut the scene in which he steals the briefcase. During the subsequent chase sequence, he throws the briefcase over the fence and that is the first time the audience has encountered it. And, again, the author gets the blame.

22. And sometimes they're blatantly stolen or reused from other sources. The Italian hardcover for Certain Prey is a thinly-photoshopped version of a still frame of Trinity from The Matrix as she delivers her famous "Dodge this." They should have tried harder.

23. Look, I understand. I am not an artist. I can not art. But I don't pretend otherwise. And don't think that your Friend From High School Who Is Pretty Good At Art is good enough. Odds are they aren't. Either stick with a simple, no-picture typography-based thing, or pay out the money to get a professional cover artist to do it.

24. Nobody knows who They are in this. Some people insist there's a little old lady in New Jersey who comes up with the titles for every book ever, and all the publishers defer to her wisdom. Others say it's a computer. I don't want to investigate too closely, as there are some secrets Humans were not meant to know.

25. Or something like that.

26. Fun fact! EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow! While I love the place, knowing the name's origin gives it a dystopian feel.

27. Hint: it's not San Diego.