A great place to start a book is in medias res, a Latin phrase that means in the middle of things. I've heard this likened to putting your characters up a tree and then throwing rocks at them. I did that at the beginning of Captain Rakehell (recently reissued by Delphi Books). I stuck Lady Amanda Gilbertson in a tree. The rocks I threw at her were metaphorical: three bumbling thieves and a dashing hero in a black mask on a black horse.
Another fun way to get things rolling with your characters is take them out of their element and plunk them down in a completely foreign environment. I did that in Return Engagement. Plucked Noah Patrick out of Hollywood and dropped him in Belle Coeur, Missouri, a small town on the Missouri River.
Noah is one of my favorite characters. Smart, funny, thinks fast on his feet. So does Joe Kerr, the hero of Marriage By Design, which comes out on July 25, 2006.
What if these two very different guys, Noah Patrick and Joe Kerr, were to find themselves in a very strange place. A place where no man has gone before....
Noah: Hello? Hel-looo? Where are we? I don't see anything. (Squinting, shading eyes with his hand) Just a big, empty...nothing.
Joe: We're in cyberspace. You're an actor. Think of it as a blue screen, the background they put you against in a movie to deliver your lines to a CGI character that the computer will fill in later.
Noah: You're a detective. Why don't you find a way out of here?
Joe: Why don't you relax? However we got here, we'll be able to get out the same way.
Noah: (Walking away) I'll relax as soon as I find the door marked EXIT.
Joe: I wouldn't go too far.
Noah: (Stops, turns around) Why not?
Joe: You aren't leaving footprints.
Noah: Yikes! (Scoots back to Joe.)
Joe: Good choice. I'm a detective, not a bloodhound.
Noah: I get lost going to the bathroom, but this one takes the cake. My wife Lindsay will never believe it.
Joe: Then I suggest you don't tell her.
Noah: You aren't married, are you?
Joe: Not yet. Mia and I are engaged.
Noah: That explains why you think you can keep anything from a woman. Can't be done. They have powers. Lindsay says it's in their hormones.
Joe: No. It's in their brain cells. I keep telling Mia that I'll make a detective out of her yet, but she says she wants to keep designing. When I met her she hated designing wedding gowns. She quit her father's company Savard Creations just to get out of it. Go figure.
Noah: We're alone, aren't we?
Joe: Do you see anyone else?
Noah: No. And I don't want to. I especially don't want to see Lucien Savard. Good luck to you, pal. Your intended's old man is a nut job.
Joe: Lucien wouldn't be caught dead here. There's no furniture to bust up. Relax.
Noah: That's the second time you've told me to relax. It's getting on my nerves. So is this place.
Joe: I told you. It's cyberspace.
Noah: Uh huh. And where is cyberspace exactly? Does it have coordinates? Can you show it to me on a map?
Joe: Are you trying to give me a headache?
Noah: I'm trying to get you to look for the door.
Joe: There is no door. Why should I look for one?
Noah: How about to keep me from screaming like a girl?
Joe: Why don't you just chill?
Noah: That means the same thing as relax and it ain't gonna happen, Sherlock, till you find the door. Joe: Ay-yi-yi.
Noah: It's not freaking you out just the teeniest little bit that somehow we've ended up in cyberspace?
Joe: No. Why should it?
Joe: You're getting your shorts in a twist over nothing.
Noah: That's my point, Sherlock. Cyberspace is nothing. It's not real.
Joe: It's as real as you are, as real as I am.
Noah: Cyberspace is nothing but a URL, a universal resource locator. I'm not a resource. I'm a married man with a wife an kids. I'd like to get back to them before Lindsay thinks I've gotten lost again and sends Uncle Ezra out to find me.
Joe: That's the last thing we need. Lindsay's crazy uncle showing up with his shotgun.
Noah: Relax, Sherlock. Lucille is never loaded.
Joe: I don't care. I don't like guns. Okay. (Moving away from Noah) I'm gonna find the door now.
Noah: (Singing) Lucille. Why can't you be true. Oh, oh, Lucille --
Joe: Knock it off, Patrick. You want out of here or not?
Noah: You bet your bippy I want out of here. Lead the way, Sherlock. I'm right behind you.
And Joe stalks off into the wild blue wander of cyberspace with Noah trailing behind him humming Lucille under his breath...