A severe, icy morning in late January 2009 shoved Florida into my mind as I fought traffic on the way to my gym in Raleigh, N.C. I rode an exercise bike and listened to a collection of Jimmy Buffett songs that kept me thinking about Key West, Miami, and Tampa Bay. Eventually, I trudged into the wet area and eased into the whirlpool.
Later, as I stretched out on a white, somewhat durable plastic lounge chair, I thought about Travis McGee, the hero of John D. MacDonald's legendary series, who lived on a house boat in Ft. Lauderdale. I missed Travis almost as much as I missed the sun that morning. I wished John D. was still with us, and that another Travis adventure would soon be available to read.
I stretched out on the lounge chair and drifted toward a light nap with images of Travis and his friend, Meyer, having cocktails on The Busted Flush. At one point, Travis morphed into Bret Maverick, dealing cards and carrying on, but instead of a casino, he sat at a round table for eight in a private room at a country club. And rather than Bret's trademark black coat, matching pants, white shirt and black string tie, Travis wore a white golf shirt, navy shorts and ancient Reebok running shoes with no socks.
I saw cards sliding across the table to each player, and I recalled the chorus to the theme song for the TV series MAVERICK:
Riverboats ring your bell
Fare the well, Annabel
Luck is the lady that he loves the best
Natchez to New Orleans
Living on jacks and queens
Maverick is a legend of the west
This intrigued me, as I'm partial to golf courses, Seven-Card Stud, hanging out, talking smack, and avoiding work.
I drove home and got involved with other matters, but later that evening, the image of Travis McGee turning into Bret Maverick returned, grabbed me by the throat, and refused to let go. I'd written lyrics for songs, horrid poetry, stuffy plays, short stories, newspaper columns, and magazine articles, but I'd never found the attention span or the motivation to venture down (or up) the meandering path that leads to a completed novel. I thought The Trent Jones Spell would pass.
Pretty soon, I stitched together some of the places I've been and some of the people I encountered along the way. And Trent Jones began to take on a life of his own.
He's done some things that made me cringe, and I want to believe his drinking problem is even worse than mine. I was able to make a choice in my life, but because I want to write a series, I don't think Trent is going to be able to turn his back on the windy side of care, as Shakespeare might say. Actually, I can guarantee it.
Trent Jones is happiest when he has just a bit more than he can handle, whether that might be on a losing streak in cards or romance, poor putting, or someone with a gun who wants to kill him. He drinks too much, lives too much for today, and is easily distracted by good-looking women with uncertain intentions. In fact, the more uncertain, the better.
He's lazy, somewhat self-absorbed, and has a blinking neon light when it comes to morality. There's no doubt he'd rather play golf, deal cards and sip single malt than focus on the real world. But when violent push comes to lethal shove, particularly with his friends, a different Trent Jones emerges.
And maybe you will agree. He's a good guy in spite of himself.