NOTE: This post was originally published on Medium’s Writers’ Blokke.
Richard Castle is a New York Times bestselling author, responsible for such memorable characters as Derrick Storm and Nikki Heat.
Richard Castle is ruggedly handsome (in his own mind, at least). Looks an awful lot like that actor from the short-lived space cowboy show. You know, the one Fox showed out of order on Friday nights and then canned.
Richard Castle is a consultant with the New York Police Department, helping the Homicide unit solve some of New York City’s most bizarre murders.
Richard Castle is also…not real.
That’s right. Mr. “Is that Nathan Fillion or Jason Bateman?” is a fictional character, the namesake of an ABC police procedural titled, appropriately enough, Castle. For eight seasons, Richard Castle shadowed NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), solving cases while gathering material for his next series of novels.
Oh, and along the way, they fell in love. Because beyond the murder and the humor, Castle was a love story. For seven of its eight seasons, anyway (we don’t talk about season 8).
So, imagine my shock several years ago when, while browsing the shelves at my local Barnes & Noble, I saw a copy of Heat Wave. As in, Richard Castle’s Heat Wave, the first book in his Nikki Heat series. His name, Nathan Fillion’s mug on the dust jacket. An actual author bio and an honest-to-goodness actual story within.
These books…actually exist?!
To say I was incredulous would be putting it mildly. The Barnes & Noble associate’s reaction told me I wasn’t the first to react that way.
As it turns out, ABC churned out the novels in real life as they came out on the show (12 novels and three short stories in total, between Nikki Heat and Derrick Storm) to help promote the series. The books are, for the most part, entertaining enough. Solid fare (most of the time), but not necessarily something you’ll remember once you’ve finished. Half the fun of those books came from spotting the TV references.
But think about what I’m saying here: a fictional character has books out. In the real world.
A fake person was writing and publishing real books.
That more than anything contributed to me finally finishing the manuscript for Bounty and publishing it in 2015. I tell people all the time Castle was an influence on my own mystery series, and it was…but not for the reasons people think. Yes, there are similarities between Jill Andersen and Kate Beckett, but those are the product of coincidence and the female cop archetype more than anything.
No, Castle’s true inspiration came about because I could not believe someone who doesn’t even exist was out there, writing and selling books. Selling well, too, by all accounts.
So if nothing else, I wanted my books out in the world because I was not about to be outdone by a fictional character. Not in my world. Not in the land of People Who Actually Exist. If Nathan Fillion’s second most famous role could churn out actual books, then dammit, so could I.
Never underestimate the motivational power of spite.
Spite can take many forms; most people assume it involves proving the doubters wrong. Giving the haters the middle finger and doing the thing they’re convinced you couldn’t do. But that’s micro spite — there’s also macro spite. Where you direct your middle finger not at a person, but at the entire world.
Because I would be damned if I got outdone by a fictional character.
(Granted, Richard Castle still outsells me by leaps and bounds. But he had Disney [parent company of ABC and, presumably, the companies publishing the Richard Castle books] in his corner — not to mention a TV show starring the space cowboy guy and the pretty cop lady. I have…none of those things.)
Still, I had a creative epiphany that day, standing in the middle of Barnes & Noble.
If a fictional character could churn out relatively decent fiction at semi-regular intervals, then what the hell was my excuse? I had none. I’m real. He’s not. So if he’s sitting there writing novels for actual public consumption, then why couldn’t I?
Answer: I can. So I did. And I have. To the tune of six novels, a short story collection, three anthology contributions, and a non-fiction book.
I’m not quite as prolific as the dude who had a bulletproof vest custom-made that read WRITER, but that’s not the point. I don’t need Richard Castle’s storybook life or only-in-TV romance. I just need to sit down and write books, because that’s what I’m good at, and dammit, Nathan Fillion is not going to be better than me at that.
Have you ever read a book, and while reading it thought to yourself, I can do better than this? My attitude upon discovering Richard Castle’s books actually exist was a lot like that. It was the slow-dawning realization that whatever excuses I had made for myself didn’t matter. Here was proof that literally anyone could write and publish a book.
I don’t mean that in the “Ugh, who gave Glenn Beck a book contract?!” sense, either. I mean that in the “Well, if this is happening, then I really have no reason not to do it, either” sense.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Castle (the first seven seasons, anyway). Kate Beckett is one of my all-time favorite characters, and I try to watch the show any time it’s on syndication. It’s one of the few love stories I can invest in, and as the product of a single-parent home, I appreciate the way the show depicted single-parent relationships.
But the entire concept of a fictional character publishing books in the real world, promo material for a TV show or not, rubbed me so wrong that I had no other choice than to finish my first book, publish it, and get to work writing the second one. And the third one. And the fourth one. And so on and so forth…
So, whoever really wrote Heat Wave and Storm Front and all the rest…thanks. Because of you, I got off my pasty butt and actually got to creating.
Because if Richard Castle can be an author in this world, then so can I.
About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.