Monday, February 15, 2016

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Jaclyn Johnson!

With today being February 15, today is a day to celebrate. No, we're not celebrating because I survived Valentine's Day--and I was an absolute boss this year, let me tell you: flowers (Jen loves tulips), a big teddy bear, and a very nice dinner prepared by yours truly. Jen got me the male equivalent to flowers: four bottles of craft beer. This is how we do romance at the Farm. Come at me, see what happens.

We have several book-related reasons to celebrate. Five years ago today, Jaclyn Johnson arrived in a big way--according to Amazon.

Yes. Today, we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Model Agent: A Thriller's release. Of course, we celebrate the release of Jaclyn's seventh full-length adventure Chemical Agent: A Thriller tomorrow (well, later today if you pre-ordered on Kindle; you can read most of the first chapter here).

It has truly been an amazing journey with this character, folks. Let me really tell you how it all got started, in case you're new here and didn't know.

After I had finished the first draft to Zombie Showdown in November 2009, I was in bed, sound asleep. At about 3:30 one morning, maybe two days after finishing, I had a dream of a smokeshow-esque, leggy blonde--yes, ladies and gents, I'm a red-blooded American male, and I'm dreaming of blondes as a single guy back then--walking down the street in the stereotypical Catholic school girl kilt and white blouse, wearing what looked like ordinary reading glasses on a rather cute nose. Yet in my dream, my subconscious took note of what went on behind the spectacles. While I saw the woman's eyes, I also saw red telemetry data popping up on the inside of the lenses.

Whatever could that mean? I had asked myself. For a while, I didn't know. What I did know, though, may shock you: I had originally thought of her as a potential antagonist.

Yup, that's right. Our as-yet unnamed heroine was supposed to be a bad guy. Why? Because as my dream evolved, I watched as she set charges and blew up a familiar-to-me building, walking out as if nothing had happened--and then walking to a modeling shoot down the street, whipping the blouse off to reveal a black bra while telling the photographer, "Let's get this show on the road!"

Seriously, what protagonist does this?

I put the unnamed character on the shelf for a little bit, until I had a conversation with an old high school chum on Facebook a few weeks later. Jackie and I met our freshman year at Fitchburg High School, and she's now a married mother of two, and a police officer in a southeastern Massachusetts town to boot. I had told her about this character, and I said to her, "You know, in a way, this character could be you." If I saw Jackie's face through Facebook Messenger, I would have pictured her turning as red as a tomato, all while saying, "Gosh, I'm honored!" We hammered out a couple of ideas, including the character's name--

Me: "What can we call her?"
Jackie, almost a little too quickly: "What's The Rock's real name?"
Me, smirking: "Dwayne Johnson."
Jackie: "That's it! I want to be Jaclyn Johnson!"

No B.S., that conversation actually happened. And so, Jaclyn Johnson was born out of a lifelong friendship.

However, we were still a few months away from anything really happening, writing-wise. If memory serves, I enjoyed the Christmas season. Still writing under the old John Fitch V pen name at the time, I worked on edits to Obloeron's prequels, and I hadn't really stuck my toe into the waters of self-publishing; Turning Back The Clock was out, yes. The original Obloeron Trilogy was coming. It was when 2010 rolled around and I was in conversation with another author that I brought JJ out of the dusty depths of my mind and to the forefront with a colleague for the first time. We spoke about it, and with this author pal releasing his first thriller, I thought maybe I should do one, too. Monkey see, monkey do.

In time, my thought process regarding her antagonist status changed: in further conversations with Jackie, we made this character the living embodiment of her, she who fights for the downtrodden and despises human trafficking (i.e. a small part of the plot to Double Agent, as well as the plot to the follow-up novella). Jaclyn became the protagonist and the series lead. I also decided to write with a mainly liberal political slant, unlike Vince Flynn and Brad Thor and David Baldacci's conservative ideals, and I outfitted her with all the accoutrements she uses and--on the suggestion of my author friend--gave her a handicap to overcome. Recalling a brief moment from my teens where a gentleman wore sunglasses in a friend's coffee shop, I looked up eye conditions and found one to give her (I could not for the life of me tell you what it is now, if you asked). I wanted to give my cousin's young daughters a heroine they could read and look up to (boy, if they only knew how she turned out; again, Jackie would really blush something furious if she knew what her namesake gets up to with her British boy toy). And in doing so, I needed to keep her alive somehow, to keep the series going. I knew I had something here. In essence, and because of this, Jaclyn Johnson became a comic book thriller heroine in novel form.

That's basically it, folks: Jaclyn is a comic book character. That was the key to the whole thing, to make it a fun story. I make no apologies for this. Some readers love Jaclyn. Some don't. The ones who get it, love it. The ones who don't... well, it's not their cup of tea, and I understand that. Not every reader is going to like every book and every character, not every reader is going to like outlandish, superhero-esque plots.

At first, I had wanted to write a book which would appeal to UK readers, as Kindle had just arrived in England. I came up with the plot to what became Rogue Agent--yes, I wrote Rogue Agent before Model Agent--and lo and behold, by the middle of March, I had a first draft of about 105,000 words. But I wasn't ready to release it yet. I didn't want it to be just another book.

By August 2010, I had another dream at 3:30 in the morning, and no, it wasn't about a blonde: it was a scene in Boston with a mighty explosion in a skyscraper. I vaulted out of bed and brainstormed about an anti-terrorist group named R.O.C.K.E.T. Rogue Organization of Crooks and Killers Eliminating Terrorism. I may still yet write about this group one day, but the idea morphed out of control and turned into what became Model Agent. I wrote it in the later stages of 2010 and into the first half of January 2011.

A month later, on a dare, I published it.

Did I publish it too early? Maybe. This is hindsight talking. I decided, though, I didn't want to lessen the comic book factor through re-writes, and I stand by that. But even so, it has become my personal best-selling series: I released Rogue Agent in June, then started in on Double Agent. That book came out in November 2012, and after watching author pals like Amanda Hocking and David Dalglish and Daniel Arenson have great success with free, loss-leading series openers, I made Model free via Smashwords. It went free on iBooks almost immediately.

When it went free on Kindle in January 2012, sales for the other two books went crazy. I bought ENT sponsorships for the first three, and I started writing Federal Agent the week I met Jen.

And here we are, five years after the initial release. Model Agent has been downloaded well over 105,000 times, mainly for free. The rest of the books--Rogue Agent, Double Agent, Promises Given Promises Kept (a novella), Federal Agent, Literary Agent, and Travel Agent--have seen about 8,000 copies sold in the interim, in ebook, trade paperback, and audiobook form (for the first four novels, that is; Laura Jennings is currently recording Literary). Tomorrow, Chemical Agent, the seventh book in the series, hits ebook retailer shelves, as well as a trade paperback edition. An audiobook will follow, of course.

And yes, there will be plenty more of Jackie Baby to come--I've brainstormed Ticket Agent, the eighth full-length novel in the series, and I've already written a prologue short story to set Ticket up, one I will give away to folks on my newsletter mailing list later this year (which is a hint for you to sign up for my newsletter). I'd love the sell-through to the rest of the series to improve, of course, which some would say is a hindrance to my being successful at this writing thing and supporting my family with the writing, but I do know this: my writing has improved with every book, will continue improving long after Chemical is released, and this series is uber-successful not because I say so, but because the readers I have already entertained say it is successful.

And I have the best readers, folks. I absolutely have the best readers.

With that said, I would say it's time to celebrate, don't you think? Champers for everyone.

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Jaclyn Johnson, and the Fifth Anniversary of Model Agent's release. I wouldn't be the author I am today without you.

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