That Which Doesn’t Kill You: Marie Force on Fatal Reckoning
by Marie Force, author of Fatal Reckoning
Last year around this time, I was getting ready to write Fatal Reckoning, the next book in my long-running Fatal Series, and a thought was circulating that wouldn’t let up: It was time, my fiction-writing mind was telling me, for Sam’s dad Skip to pass away. For those who don’t know the series, Sam is Samantha Holland Cappuano, a hot-shot homicide lieutenant with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, DC. She’s married to Nick Cappuano, a politician who has risen to vice president over the course of the series. Sam’s dad, Skip, is the former deputy chief of the MPD, who was shot on the job and left a quadriplegic almost four years earlier. His unsolved case haunts his daughter, who has tracked down hundreds of leads that’ve lead nowhere. Her many wins as a homicide detective are overshadowed by the most important of unsolved cases.
So back to this time last year… I had written thirteen books in the series, in which Skip has always played a vital role, consulting on Sam’s cases from the confines of his wheelchair. Despite his restrictions, his mind remained as sharp as ever. However, his physical condition had deteriorated, and it was becoming ever more difficult for me to keep him on the landscape in a meaningful way. I didn’t want his role to remain exactly the same in every book, but that’s what was happening.
Enter the gut feeling that it was time to say goodbye to Skip. I took that feeling seriously and consulted with a few close friends who are HUGE fans of the series. Would you hate me if I did this, I asked them, after explaining my thought process. Each of them said the same thing—they would be very sad to say goodbye to Skip, but they could understand my rationale. I talked about it with my editors at Harlequin and asked if they’d be willing to help me keep the storyline under wraps until release, and they were all in with me on the plan.
May 1, I was in Phoenix on a get-away with two of my college friends, and I wrote the opening chapter, in which Skip passes away suddenly, in the backseat of our rental car while one of them drove us to Sedona. You can read that opening chapter at marieforce.com/fatalreckoning. I wrote the first half of the book in May. THAT NEVER HAPPENS, especially with a Fatal book. They tend to be the most difficult of my books to write due to the twisting turns of the suspense plots. I had written Skip’s death, his funeral and the immediate aftermath. I was right at the point where Sam goes back to work, more determined than ever to find the shooter who shortened her father’s life. So there I was sitting pretty on my word count going into June, ahead of schedule on the book that was due July 31.
That’s when real life threw me a massive curveball. I was out to lunch with my dad on the 10th of June, my birthday, when I noticed he was jaundiced. I’d been with him two days earlier, and he’d been FINE. The next day, I flew to Seattle for a long-planned meeting with the team at Amazon, while my brother took our dad to the doctor. On Wednesday, I flew home from Seattle, and on Thursday we found out my dad had pancreatic cancer, the same thing my mother had died from fourteen years earlier. The words “pancreatic cancer” were PTSD triggers for my entire family after what we went through with my mom. Dad had major surgery on June 26 and then, when complications set in, again on July 4 and July 11. We lost him on July 12th. Thirty-two days after we realized something was wrong he was gone. To say we were shocked and numb is putting it mildly.
A word about my dad here—there’d be no Skip Holland without George Sullivan. Skip IS him in so many ways, especially in the close bond he shares with his daughter. Sam and Skip are Marie and George. I jokingly referred to my dad as my best girlfriend, but it was actually true. We were thick as thieves from the day I was born. We GOT each other. We had the same sense of humor, many of the same interests and we had a flat-out blast together. He was chairman of the board of my company, an honorary title that had one duty—calling me every morning at nine a.m. to make sure I was up and writing. “Someone has to work around here,” he would say, cracking up at his own joke, “and it ain’t gonna be me.” Losing him has been like losing my right arm, only more painful. In addition, my kids, who are 23 and 20, were shattered by the loss of their grandfather, who’d been the last grandparent standing since 2009. He was their indulgent third parent, the parent who said “yes” to anything they wanted. This was a tough loss for us all.
And then there was the book that was due on July 31st, the one where the character I’ve been writing since 2006 loses her dad. Even I couldn’t have made up this scenario—and my imagination is rather vivid. The book that was so far ahead of schedule was now in danger of not being finished ever, let alone on time. A shout out here to my editor, Allison Carroll and the entire HQN team, who told me to take the time I needed, which was a priceless gift in the mist of this nightmare. In more than ten years as a published author, this was the first time I had to ask for a deadline extension.
I forced myself back to work and tried to put at least 500 words a day on the page, which is about a quarter of my usual output on a deadline book. A little at a time, I got it done and turned it in around the 20th of August. And then I told my readers the story of Fatal Reckoning and what had happened to me while I was writing it. I no longer cared about keeping the plot a big secret from them until it was released. I learned a valuable lesson here—they said they’d rather have warning that a beloved character is exiting than to be blindsided by it on release day. Good to know.
In trying to get back into the story, I went back and read the first half of the book, all of which was written before disaster struck my own life:
Sam has to tell the EMTs that her father has a do-not-resuscitate order.
I had to do the same thing for my dad.
Sam’s son asks if he can say a few words about his grandfather at the funeral.
My son asked me the same thing in almost the same words I’d used in the book.
Sam gives her father’s eulogy.
I gave my father’s.
There were bagpipes at Skip’s funeral.
I’ve never been a big fan of bagpipes, but when your longtime police officer friend offers to play them at your dad’s funeral, you say yes, please. And they were magnificent. I get chills just thinking about the beautiful soundtrack my dear friend Russ provided that day.
The parallels were incredible. My husband Dan brought a bit of levity to the situation by saying, “If you’re going to predict the future in your books, how about writing one about the woman who wins $20 million in the lottery?”
Sometimes you have to laugh so you won’t cry until the end of time.
Fatal Reckoning was released yesterday. It’s dedicated to the Chairman of the Board.
About Fatal Reckoning:
When tragedy strikes, a cold case suddenly turns hot—and deadly
A peaceful morning is shattered when Washington Metro Police lieutenant Sam Holland’s beloved father succumbs to injuries from an unsolved shooting while on duty four years ago. As the community rallies around Sam and her family, one thing becomes crystal clear: her father’s death has turned the unsolved case into a homicide—and it’s on her to bring her father’s killer to justice.
But the case has been cold for years…until an anonymous tip that’s too shocking to believe leads Sam down a dark and dangerous path. Her husband, Vice President Nick Cappuano, knows if she can’t solve this case, it will haunt her for the rest of her life. She’ll need the strength of their bond to pull her out of the darkness before it’s too late, because as the missing pieces rapidly fall into place, Sam realizes the truth might just break her all the same—and that her father’s killer isn’t done yet…
Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of the Fatal Series from HQN. Fatal Reckoning, out this week, is book 14 in the series. Book 15, Fatal Accusation, will be out on December 31. Marie says there’s “no end in sight” for Sam and Nick’s story. Find out more about Marie and her books at marieforce.com. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/marieforceauthor, on Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram @marieforceauthor.