Had this rattling in my head:
The Evolution of Blacky Jaguar
It started with a single black and white photograph on a random article I found on my Facebook feed. A group of teenagers lined up with their backs to the camera, showing off their crew patches on the back of their leather jackets. Taken somewhere in 50’s Sweden when the greaser scene hit the farmlands; there was a strange homespun feel to it that caught my eye. The second thing that caught me? Two words on the back of one of the jackets, “Blacky Jaguar”.
What the hell?
Sure, things get lost in translation and I can only assume the kids meant Black Jaguar or Black Jaguars but the ‘mistake’ made so much sense.
So I took it and ran.
Here’s the original concept: Eastern European, self-absorbed prat. Obsessed with Elvis and Fats Domino. Gun for hire and remorseless killer. Talks in stilted, English garble. Initially, he was going to be the foil in a PI story I wrote 300 words for and lost interest. Then I was going to write a crazy short about this Blacky fella running around the South Bronx and causing general mischief. Nobody would understand him and fisticuffs would something, something, something.
None of it stuck, and my insistence on certain character traits potentially kept those stories from becoming something more than a forgotten Word file.I was so convinced that my initial concept was ‘perfect’ that I was blind to any further refinement. That’s a troubling obstacle we can face whenever we write, but I chalked it up to the character not working for me.
So I shelved Blacky. Got started on writing a novel and found myself in need of a character to serve as my protagonist’s accomplice and occasional info reservoir. So I came up with Danny Clarke, an ex-member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He’s self-absorbed, rocks a mean pompadour, loves Elvis…
Wait a minute…
THIS was Blacky. He just came in and invaded like the rat bastard he was.
Alright, great, maybe my first instincts weren’t taking me in the right direction with this guy. So in Blacky came—a major character in a story that wasn’t his, always threatening to take over. After I finished the initial draft of the novel, it hit me; Blacky needed to stretch his legs. I started to write ‘The Ballad of Blacky Jaguar’. I was energized – finally cracked a character I so desperately wanted to give stories to.
That fell apart fast. Besides, ‘ballad’ implied a final story, so that didn’t fly. This guy needed to live. He needed to play in whatever universe I was building here (and I’m a pantser, so this was tough).
So walking back to Port Authority one evening, I spot a Plymouth Fury driving down 8th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen. Not a normal sight in the city for me, especially a custom classic like this. It was gorgeous. Not the 59’ model Blacky would soon love, but still a vehicle worth naming. The idea occurred to me, what if Blacky lost the one thing he gave a damn about? He’d be pissed, hell, furious…
Oh, that’s it! ‘The Fury of Blacky Jaguar’. I’m a clever guy!
He’d call the car ‘Polly’ (for reasons tied to certain plot points in the novella and to be discussed in another story) and Blacky would go blinding violent at its disappearance.
Great starting point, but he still needed a world to inhabit, a place that would make him stand out, but also be comfortable. That’s a no-brainer: The Bronx. The Irish have a great history in The Bronx, and my own formative years had me chatting up quite a few guys with thick lilts and long yarns.
Only one problem left; Blacky was too big. I mean, this guy is raging id, a cartoon character. That type is easy to get tired of real fast. I’d settled for novella length to prevent fatigue, but he still stretched the seams. He needed someone to bounce off, and someone different. I decided to go with law enforcement and purposely created Linda Chen as a subversion of a few standard tropes. For one, she’s a person of color AND a woman in the FBI. She’s your typical pariah and has a past with Blacky, but she broke his heart without real regret. How great would that be, HE was the one scorned. Take that yah Irish bastard!
Only thirteen drafts later, and we were done!
Now, Blacky’s been sent out into the world on his lonesome. It’s a hell of a thing to see, and I’m excited for what comes next for him. Hopefully, folks will get to see what trouble he gets into in my novel and how a man like Blacky handles himself during the holidays too.
But it’s pretty amazing how a single captured moment became something so much bigger than that country bumpkin and his homemade jacket patch ever intended it to be, well, at least to me.
If Blacky’s the kind of fella that interests you, check him out in ‘Love At First Fight’ a story that appeared in the last Shotgun Honey Anthology or in his debut novella, ‘The Fury of Blacky Jaguar‘ available now!
Want to score a free copy of The Fury of Blacky Jaguar because you’re a cheap bastard (that I’m judging, ALWAYS judging)? We’ve got a giveaway going over at My Bookish Ways!