I’m hooked on the coast of California, having walked it and lived beside it for many years. My first novel (unpublished) was about walking the coast of California. Now, with twenty-some years of novel writing experience etched in my brain, maybe it’s time to write the California coast novel again and make it mystery/suspense.
However, walking is boring to many people as I’ve found out after many years of writing about walking in fiction and nonfiction. Let’s upgrade the concept and make it a book about running. Running is more exciting because runners push the limits of human endurance. Running the coast of California is an ultramarathon, and that really pushes limits. We’ll call the book Run into Trouble because—well, because I like the name.
I have a panel of experts to assist me; two of my brothers and a nephew run marathons. They can tell me about taking icy baths, taping toes and nipples (to prevent chafing) and regulating bowel function so as not to get caught having to go in the middle of a marathon. The running part of the story is going to be nothing if not authentic.
Let’s make the run follow the coast from the Mexican border to San Francisco, going through populated and rural areas, congested and open, sandy and rocky. Set it in 1969 during the Cold War with the tagline, “But is the Cold War about to heat up?” Add a million dollar prize—which is worth something in the days when most people have never even thought about a trillion dollars—to be awarded by the large and profitable government contractor, Giganticorp.
Oh yes, we need characters. How about Oliver Drake (“call me Drake”), a former undercover agent who now spends his time in Idyllwild, a mountain community in California, running and selling real estate? We’ll have ten teams of two world-class runners each (so they can keep track of each other in the “outback”), including a winner of the Boston Marathon.
Drake needs a partner. Enter Melody Jefferson who is assigned to Drake by the sponsor. An Englishwoman now living in Denver and working at a Jack LaLanne health club (remember Jack swimming San Francisco Bay on his birthday pulling 27 boats with his teeth—more or less?), Melody is the only woman in the race at a time when women have trouble getting into the Boston Marathon.
But wait. Drake and Melody know each other. They worked together six years ago in the UK. Undercover. That was supposed to be top secret. How does the obviously politically connected sponsor know this? Something is fishy. It gets a lot fishier (and not because they’re running beside the ocean) when Drake is almost knocked out of the race before it begins. Threatening letters add to the confusion of whether somebody wants them to (pick one): a. stay in the race; b. quit.
My brother says that anyone who can run an ultramarathon while injured and investigating mysterious deaths and other goings-on by night must be a superhero. Maybe it’s the ice baths. Saving the world’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Let’s hope that Drake and Melody are up to the challenge. And oh yes, they have to keep their eyes on the million dollar prize. Aren’t they smarter than the mostly younger athletes who may blow out their knees on the steep downhills?
We don’t want to slight either the race or the suspense. We’ll put a description of each day’s run at the beginning of a chapter so that the reader can picture the course, but separate it from the action so as not to slow down the book. Hopefully, this will satisfy everybody.
On your mark, get set, go!