The Big Idea: J.K. Beck

Author J.K. Beck’s new paranormal Shadow Keepers series (of which When Blood Calls, above, is the first) is about law and order in the world of magic. It’s the kind of set-up that suggests that there’s not much there that could be derived from real life. Right? Well… as Beck explains here, it turns out that the line between the real world and the fantasy world is not always a bright and shining one — and that’s what makes it especially interesting.

J.K. BECK:

Popular wisdom says that truth is stranger than fiction, but I never really believed that.  The fiction I was addicted to had witches and genies and charms and elves.  Magic coins and time travelers.  And no one I knew in real life did that.

And, of course, there’s the old adage:  “write what you know.”  But when I first started scribbling out stories, I had no interest in writing about being a kid.  After all, wasn’t the whole point of writing to escape from who you were?

That’s not to say I haven’t pulled some of my life into my writing.  As Julie Kenner, I have a series about a demon-hunting soccer mom.  And while my day-to-day reality may not involve hunting actual demons, I do own a mini-van, have two kids, and understand the demonic nature of dustbunnies under the couch.

But it wasn’t until I began working on the Shadow Keepers series that I’m writing as J.K. Beck that I also realized that sometimes truth is at least as strange as fiction—and that inspiration can come from the strangest of places.

The series consists of three books being released in Sept/Oct/Nov (When Blood Calls, When Pleasure Rules, and When Wicked Craves), and three more coming soon, and centers on an ancient paranormal judicial system, the purpose of which is to investigate, adjudicate and punish those shadow creatures who break the covenant.  In the October release, When Pleasure Rules, investigators have convinced Lissa, a succubus, to act as a confidential informant, hoping that through her unique skills she can get information from a new werewolf in town.

It’s a dangerous world, full of people who aren’t what they seem, and whose motives are never completely clear.  Sort of like practicing law in Los Angeles…

I’ve done several interviews since the release of the first book, and invariably I’m asked about the premise—how did I come up with it?  And the truth is, I don’t remember the specific moment.  But with my love of all things paranormal and my background as an attorney, it seems the perfect fit.  And once my mind hit on that—boom, the series was born.

Those repeated questions, though, have made me think back.  Maybe there was a kernel.  Something that I drew from.  Some hint of inspiration.  Or even just something that shows that real life is always going to be a little bit freakier than fiction.

And you know what?  I found that spark—and having remembered the incident, I know—I just know—that there’s a connection between what happened in my second year of law school and what I’m writing about now.  See if you don’t think so, too:

So there I was interning for the local Assistant United States Attorney.  It was fun, and I learned a lot, because at the time, especially since I got thrown into the middle of a big case.  A Big Case.  Anyone out there watch Breaking Bad?  Well, RV’s may be the thing now for cooking meth, but back in the day, in that part of the country, caves and storage sheds were the thing.  And the government had its eye on one major player  because not only was he cooking and distributing a ton of meth, but he was doing it to fund his Satanic temple.  Yeah, you heard me right.  His Satanic temple.

Let’s pause a moment to let that sink in.

You should have seen some of the stuff in the evidence room.  Polaroids of the kinds of things you fear your kids will see if they click on the wrong thing on the Internet.  Bibles stained with blood and who knows what else. Guns.  And all sorts creepy nightmare-inducing stuff of the “not within the milieu of the nice girl from Austin” variety.  It was, in a word, freaky.

At one point, I drafted a response to the defendant’s Motion to Suppress—basically arguing that evidence the government had collected didn’t violate any Fourth Amendment strictures.  I don’t recall the details of the motion, but I recall the hearing vividly. I’d taken time away from my classes to attend and I was sitting in the front row of the courthouse.  The defendant was also present at the motion, and he sat there at the defense table, facing forward, posture stiff as a board, throughout the entire hearing.  When the arguments were over, the defendant stood, wrists and ankles in chains, his body covered by a prison-issued jumpsuit, and he turned and started down the aisle toward the back of the courthouse.   He was tall and scarecrow thin, his skin pasty.

And as he stepped into the gallery where I was sitting, he slowed, swiveled his head to look in my direction, and fixed freakish red eyes upon me.  And, yes, they were red, like the eyes of a demon.  I felt my heart clutch in my chest, and in the time it took me to blink, he’d turned back, his eyes no longer on me.

But I’d seen him, and I knew that everything he was about was real.  This guy was not only freaky, he was evil.  He was the personification of the scary things that hide in the dark.  They’re out there, you know.   Dark things, night time things.  And maybe some of them are good—maybe some of them don’t give a flip about the rest of us—but some of them are pure evil with nothing but malice on their mind.

I’m certain of it, because I saw it in that man’s eyes—and I’m not entirely sure that our system is enough to contain that kind of evil.  But it needs to be stopped, contained, adjudicated, and incarcerated.  And that’s where the core idea from the Shadow Keepers comes from.  One small incident that stuck with me.  One short moment that sparked the writer’s question of “what if” years and years down the road.

When Blood Calls: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt of When Blood Calls. View a book trailer. Read JK Beck’s Blog. Follow her on Twitter.

10 thoughts on “The Big Idea: J.K. Beck

  1. Given your background in romance lit. How would you say that informs the new series? Would you describe it as having a particularly strong romance angle, or are you trying for something different here?

  2. The premise sounds interesting but really, I would be embarrassed to be seen reading something with that cover. :-/

  3. Hey y’all. Great comments. And no, the cover definitely doesn’t scream Judicial System! Law! Order! The overall story arc of each book is a romance. The world in which the series takes place is a paranormal judicial system, and that world plays heavily in the books, with multiple plot threads playing out the legal thriller aspects. I’ve been telling folks that the books are romances with an urban fantasy/thriller flair.

    Ben, definitely a romance. Lately, actually, my background has been more urban fantasy. These were sold in as paranormal romances.

    MasterThief…I know so many lawyers who are now writers that we should form a club!

    Aurian…that’s why eBooks were invented :)

  4. @Aurian/JK Beck: That’s why I love my Kindle. I never judge a book by its cover, it’s all about the samples. I’ve gone back and looked at some of the covers on books I’ve read and gone, “Whoa, dude?”

    I’ve got my sample at home waiting for me. Thanks!

  5. @J.K. Beck #5:

    Heck, even law professors are novelists nowadays.

    As for a lawyer-writers club/critique group, I’d certainly join. (The potential names are endless – “Legal Fictions,” “Unbillable Hours,” “Standards of Review”, etc.) Plus, I’m the sort of person who needs the threat of an ass-kicking to write.

    Which leads to a practical question: who were the folks in your writing “support base” – people in your firm, friends from school, other writers? Did the other lawyers in your firm think it was cool that you were writing a novel on the side? (I’m asking because I have several short stories and/or a novel locked in my head screaming to get out after I graduate and pass the bar…)

  6. Eridani — I am such a Kindle sample whore, but I’ve bought sooooo many books after downloading samples. And my kindle runneth over bigtime (though, lately I’ve been running the Kindle app on my iphone and ipad…)

    MasterThief, love the titles :) When I first started writing seriously, it was screenplays, and I wrote with another attorney at the firm I was at. We’d park our rears at a fab restaurant in front of the Schubert theater in Century City and write until we couldn’t stand it any more. We never sold, but we actually came very close. After I started to focus on novels, I was back in Texas and fell in with an awesome crit group. It eventually whittled down to me, a woman who is a techie (her first book was about C++ or some other computer thingiemabob) and a woman who’d been a non profit director and had quit to stay home with her kiddo. We’re still crit partners and best friends.

    The lawyers in the firm did think it was cool–two were actually “blind” readers for me before I submitted–and the firm I was at when I was able to quit to write full time was and is incredibly supportive. Of course, at my first firm (Skadden Arps) I was working so many hours as a junior associate that I wasn’t writing at all…and soon got bit really hard by the bug!

    Good luck with your stories and novel!

  7. That’s far and away the best Big Idea piece I’ve ever read. Never heard of JK Beck before and can’t promise I’ll read this series, as I’m not big on the genre, but thanks! (other Big Idea writers can learn a lot from this, I think. Basically, don’t give away BAD ideas about your work but tell an interesting story that will make people want to check out your work for themselves. I know, easier said than one but most Big Idea pieces convince me I don’t want to have anything to do with that book. Again, a feature, not a bug.).

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