A Novel Journey
Jack Warren, the protagonist in the Rage books, begins his time in 51 Division in July 2000, but his story began years earlier. It was a journey I started on my own; Jack wouldn’t come along for many a long year.
An avid reader since the days I could sound out the words in Dr. Seuss, it seemed only sensible that I would one day try my hand at writing. Besides short stories scribbled for grade school assignments, my first serious attempt at prose —well, I thought it was serious—was a shrimp of a western called Unlawful, penned during my early high school days. I even submitted it as a grade 10 English assignment, and my teacher was polite enough to commend it as “a lot of work.”
I don’t think a copy of Unlawful exists anymore, for which I shall cry no tears. I dimly recall it being a violent hodgepodge of styles, drawing heavily from a host of oater authors and the Executioner series. Oh well, you are what you eat, and you write what you read.
My fascination with the world of gunslingers and Mack Bolan gave way to realms of magic, and fantasy is to this day the majority of what I read. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin are two of my most re-read series. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is a masterful blend of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and westerns, briefly reigniting my obsession with gunslingers.
With so many wizards and warriors in my life, it only made sense that my next foray into writing involved a fantasy epic. Well, I fully intended it to be an epic. So during grade 13 and my years at York University, I dabbled with Journey to Armageddon, later retitled Hammer and Flame. I can now admit that my reach vastly—vastly!—exceeded my abilities, but I persevered and even shopped it around to some agents and publishers. Needless to say, there are no copies of Hammer and Flame, or Journey to Armageddon for that matter, sitting on bookshelves waiting to be read.
In 1988, writing took a distant back seat to my new passion of chasing drug dealers and saving the world. But in time, policing gave birth to a new plotline, one pitting a street cop against a twisted serial killer. I placed the story in Toronto, and of course, Jack Warren had to be a 51 copper. I had graduated from writing what I read to writing what I knew. The story was pure fiction, but played out in the filthy, disgusting, violent reality of 51 Division.
Fatal Rage was born, and ready—as I humbly assumed—to be published. However, no one in the literary world agreed with me. Jack Warren and Greg Matheson found themselves in a box—I wasn’t using a computer then, firmly believing pens and typewriters didn’t crash—on a lonely shelf. Unread. Forgotten.
Time slipped by, sometimes too fast to see or appreciate, other times in an agonizing crawl. Occasionally, I’d take out Fatal Rage, dust it off, and visit with Jack, but it was never serious, just old friends exchanging a brief, “Hey, how ya doing?”
But then my wife gave the writer in me a much needed, albeit unintentional, kick in the ass. Chasing a dream, she quit her corporate job to be her own boss, and this inspired me to pursue my own goals. Fatal Rage—not Lethal; it wasn’t even a glimmer of a thought at that time—came off the shelf, out of the box, and into a computer. Yes, this time I was serious. I re-wrote it, re-worked it, and went looking for an agent.
Rejections, rejections and more rejections. Then I found Tina at Great Titles. It wasn’t love at first read, and Jack’s story underwent a few more revisions, but eventually I signed on the dotted line, and it was Tina’s turn to go in search of rejection letters, and she found plenty. I can’t say she didn’t try to get me published, but I was getting tired of rejections, polite rejections, as in, “We like your style, but the story’s not for us,” but rejections none the less.
Enter Jack David at ECW. He invited Tina and me down for a meeting, which I figured was a promising sign. And when Jack introduced me to his assistant, Jennifer, I took that as an omen since Jack and Jennifer (Jenny) were the main characters in Fatal Rage. But Jack—ECW’s Jack, not mine—burst my bubble with a blunt, “I like your style, but I don’t want the book.”
Well, not really. Tapping his copy of the book, he said there was a huge back story, that Fatal Rage could be book number four or five in series. He suggested that I write that back story.
Write another book? Like, now?
I had always planned on a sequel, but right now? I was hoping to take a break for a while. And not just one prequel, but three or four? I left the meeting with a strange mix of disappointment and inspiration, as delving into Jack’s—mine, this time—past intrigued me. What exactly had happened to him to make him the tortured soul I had first envisioned?
Well, the guys in the basement, to steal a phrase from Stephen King, got to work, and a week later I emailed Jack a synopsis. His reply was more curt than his initial rejection, two sweeter words had never been written: start writing.
And write, I did. In an amazingly short three months, the first draft of Lethal Rage was completed. While I still have periods of manic, all-consuming writing, I have not come close to repeating that time at my computer, where I frequently couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. I could, and did, actually lose myself in the book. Lethal Rage takes place in a hot, humid Toronto summer, but reality for me was a frigid winter. One time when I surfaced from the story, I looked outside and was shocked to see snow. I mean, really shocked, as in thrown for a loop, because I’d been expecting to see green trees and grass, not all that white stuff.
Lethal Rage went back and forth a few times between me and ECW, then came the day I was offered a contract for not one, not two, but three books in what was to become the Rage series. To bring my feet back into contact with terra firma, Jack explained a three book contract was pretty standard as it usually takes an author three or four books to prove himself and generate a following. That way, if literary lightning strikes and a big publishing company scoops up the author, then the original publisher can sort of ride the bigger guy’s coat tails by having rights to the first three books. Let’s hope, shall we?
So, I had a book, a publisher, a contract, and plans for a six book series. Nothing could stop me, right?
I’d kind of forgotten about the Toronto Police Service and the requirement to have secondary employment authorized by them. Any time a cop wants to work on the side, the job has to be given the okay by head office. TPS frowns on things like cops tending bar. But surely they wouldn’t have a problem with a book, right? A fictional story, with fictional characters, that just happens to take place in a real city, in a real division?
Again: yeah, right.
I was told no in no uncertain terms. No, I could not publish the book. No, I could not advertise the book. No, I could not sell the book. No, no, no, and again, no. All that without reading the book, just a brief synopsis of the fictional—I repeat, fictional—story. Kind of like having a doctor diagnose your illness without ever examining you. But that never happens, right? Oh, really.
I don’t want you to think everyone in the police was against me. In fact, there were several higher-ups who were in my corner. I’d like to give you their names, but I don’t want to cause anyone grief. Guilt by association, you see.
It seems to me, that as far as the brass is concerned, Brent Pilkey and his little Rage books don’t amount to much, and that’s fine by me. I didn’t write the stories to be controversial. I just want to tell some entertaining stories, and give all those non-cops out there a genuine look at policing. At the shit, the glory, and everything in between.
And I want to send out a huge thank you to all the cops and police civilian employees who have told me how much they’ve enjoyed Jack’s journey so far. Your approval means more to me than sales and any critic’s praise. I sincerely hope Jack, Jenny, Manny, and the whole 51 crew do you proud. Stay safe.