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I included stigmata in my Armageddon trilogy because I figured that if you were going to describe a Biblical apocalypse, with demonic possession, angelic visitations, and holy relics, you should also throw in associated supernatural/Judeo-Christian phenomena, like people afflicted with the Wounds of Christ. For storytelling purposes, it wasn’t enough for those with stigmata to just bleed: the agonies they felt also gave them psychic abilities like prognostication and knowing when a holy relic or demonically-possessed person was nearby. The Wounds always hurt, but the pain increased in proximity to the supernatural.
Once I got that squared away, I had to decide who to give these Wounds to. I wanted those afflicted to be a kind of living holy relic, highly sought-after by the forces of both Hell and Heaven. Some religious people would get the stigmata, certainly. But I also wanted to inflict stigmata on other people: ones you might consider undeserving. Unlikely. Non-believers.
To make things interesting, I decided to have my stigmata-afflicted character be a drug dealer, and I named him Ozzie. From the outset, I wanted Ozzie to go from a bad person to a less-bad person. He would become a hero, of sorts, and a believer in Christ through sheer pragmatism. The third book in the trilogy is called The Holy Warrior and the Last Angel for a reason: Ozzie becomes the titular Holy Warrior. The least likely holy warrior you could imagine. A murderer and thief, a peddler of drugs, a gang member who would kill you for looking at him the wrong way, or even the right way. A cruel man who never smiled, not once.
His transformation throughout the novels is something to be read rather than described. But in creating Ozzie, I had to work out who he was. You could just hang a label on someone and call it a day: he’s a killer. A gangbanger. Whatever. But it doesn’t invite you to look deeper, and as I needed Ozzie to be an important character in whose head you’d be staying from time to time, I had to work out his details and background.
Okay, so he’s a drug dealer. What does that mean? Where does he deal drugs? How does he get them? What does a drug deal look like, exactly? It’s not like you go to the mall and pick up crystal meth at a kiosk. And if he’s in a gang, what kind of gang? How is the gang organized? What’s his role in the hierarchy?
I never bought drugs outside of a pharmacy, so I had no personal experience to draw from. So I had to do research. As this is a fictional character who happens to be in a fictional gang, I drew the vast majority of my cues from fiction: books and movies. New Jack City. Training Day. American Gangster. Blood in, Blood Out. Colors. I pored over news articles and interviews of drug dealers in and out of prison. Over time I got a vague picture, but the details eluded me: I couldn’t just borrow characters and situations from other people’s work.
So I had to make it up. I created a New York City drug gang, from the boss of the city to individual territories within certain boroughs. The territory bosses had free rein within their turf, but had to send their monthly cut to the borough boss. Independence with limits. Once I had the hierarchy, I could plug in various characters, who then had their roles to play, including Ozzie.
Some readers told me that they found the gang stuff to be pretty realistic, but I didn’t tell them that I made it up myself, according to how I’d run an illegal drug operation. In the end, it worked: it provided the necessary framework for both character motivations and story, and how things turn out for Ozzie was dependent on how he started out as a territory boss in Brooklyn, New York. Ozzie, being a cunning sort, used his clairvoyance and precognition to great personal advantage until…well, you’ll just have to read about what happened in The Blessed Man and the Witch.
And if writing doesn’t work out, I may have career options in the field of extralegal intoxicant distribution. We’ll see how it goes.