Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Meet Jonathan Quinn

Jonathan Quinn makes his first appearance next spring in my debut novel from Bantam Dell. Title still pending, but that’s an entirely different story.

“I make things disappear,” Jonathan Quinn said.

I think we’d known each other about six months at that point. We’d met in Germany when I was working there on a project for a visitor center presentation that would live at a new Volkswagen plant in Dresden. The job itself wasn’t in Dresden, though. It was in Berlin, a town Quinn knows well.

I thought at the time he was just another one of the wanderers I tend to collect, this one a fellow American working overseas. I think I first met him on the U-bahn (the Berlin train system) heading across town from the Mitte toward Ku’damm. I’m not 100% on that, though. The genesis of a character is often a drawn out process, and my memory of Quinn’s birth is murky.

By the time this particular conversation happened, we were both back in Los Angeles, where, it turns out, we both lived – Quinn much more comfortably than I. We were having dinner at a Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. At the time it was my favorite place to eat. In the past year and a half, they’ve changed the decor to some sort of 90s disco theme and I haven’t gone back.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

As he took a sip of his Singha beer, I thought maybe he was just going to leave it at that. After all, this was the most I’d ever got out of him about what he did for a living. But then he said, “Sometimes things don’t go as planned. When that happens I’m the one who makes it all look pretty again.”

“Tell me about Berlin,” I said. I had sensed from the beginning that something had happened there, something I wanted to know about.

“Nothing to tell.” He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was lying.

That’s about as far as I got that night. What exactly the ‘things’ were that didn’t go as planned, I wasn’t completely sure, but I did have my ideas.

I could have just let him die right then. He was forcing me to work pretty hard to get to know him. I’d dismissed more talkative characters sooner than this. But there was something about him, something that made me want to know more. He was interesting and mysterious. And I’d be damned if there wasn’t something that had happened in Berlin I wanted to hear about.

A week later as we rode in my car, I said, “You’re not killing people, but you do deal with the dead, right?”

“You’re talking in black and whites. You, as much as anyone, know the world is made up of grays.”

This answer stung me a little bit. He was right. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who only think in black and white, yet here I was trying to put him in a neat little black and white box.

“Let’s just say I don’t kill if I don’t have to,” he went on. “But you’re right about dealing with the dead. It’s a big part of what I do.”

“You dispose of them?”

“Exactly.” He smiled as if I was a student and he was a proud teacher. “Disposal is one of the services I provide.”

“How does that work?”

“That I’m not going to tell you.”

“But you will eventually.”


“These other things you do, what are they?”

He looked out the window into the L.A. night. “I think that was your exit,” he said.

He was right.

I moved over to the right lane, so I could get off at the next ramp and double back.

“Just getting rid of a body isn’t enough. You’ve got to make it look like whatever went wrong never happened. Blood, fingerprints, spent shells, things out of place. These are all problems I have to deal with.”

“I can’t imagine you went to school for this. How did you get in and learn about the business?”

“I was recruited.”

“Out of college?”

He shook his head. “I was a cop.”

For some reason, that surprised me. “Who recruited you?”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s dead now.”

“Did he teach you a lot?”


As I eased my car off the freeway, I decided to press my luck. “And Berlin?”

I was greeted with only silence. When I looked over at the passenger seat, Quinn was gone.

As time passed, bits of his story started coming to me. Not from anything Quinn said, but somehow I was sensing it, I guess. Even when he wasn’t around, I’d pick up on things. I would be at work or getting into bed or even watching TV and a name or a place or a situation would pop into my mind. Immediately I’d know it was part of Quinn’s story. Still, the problem was I had a lot of parts, but I didn’t have the whole.

The only way I was going to get that was to have Quinn tell it to me himself.

“Tell me about Orlando,” I said one morning.

“Leave her out of it.”

“Then let’s talk about Berlin.”

“Let’s not.”

The next day: “Is she a friend?”

“You don’t listen very well, do you?”


“She’s a friend.” I could tell he was holding something back.

“Was she with you in Berlin?”

If she was, he didn’t hang around to tell me.

Each day I kept pressing, harder and harder, using the bit of information that had seeped into my mind.

“What did you learn about the fire in Colorado?” I would ask. “How long did you work for Peter?” “Why do you hate the cold?”

And finally, “Tell me what happened in Berlin.”

Finally one afternoon, he looked at me for a good long time before answering. “Okay,” he said. “If you think you’re ready.”

“I’m ready.”

“You’d better write this down.”

So I did.

Brett Battles
The first Jonathan Quinn thriller
arrives Spring 2006
from Bantam Dell


20 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you, now I have goosebumps. Again.

You can’t wait to read this book, folks, believe me. It totally rocks.

Comment by J.B. Thompson

Great post, great story, can’t wait to read the book. Title or no title.

Comment by Jason Pinter

Brilliant presentation, Brett. Wish I had that kind of insight!

Comment by JT Ellison

Love this. Definitely place it on your website. I think all writers can relate to having those “conversations” with our emerging protagonists–the information coming in fits and starts, not in the organized or linear way we want, and causing us to miss freeway exits. I think I’ve shared a shower with Mas more times than I care to remember.

Comment by Naomi

Naomi, I swear I just nearly did a spit take on the shower comment.

Comment by Brett Battles

Fascinating, Brett! Definitely a compelling taste of what’s to come. I’m with everyone else — can’t wait!

Comment by Bill Cameron

You already had me sold, but this just makes it that much harder to wait for the book.

Comment by Stephen Blackmoore

Great stuff, Brett. How about MEET JONATHAN QUINN for a title?

It’s such a great character name. I love it.

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

Brett, that was terrific. But if you tell everyone that we don’t actually make these characters up, you’re going to put us out of business…

Comment by Marcus Sakey

Interesting (and vaguely disturbing 🙂 look into character development. The whole having a conversation with yourself, oops! of course I mean you and “Jonathan” conversing while tooling along the L.A. freeway system, slightly disturbing and yet enlightening. I am guessing that L.A. is full of writers, having seen my share of folks conversing with invisible friends, while cutting across three lanes of traffic, at 70 m.p.h.
Thanks for the insight into how you and Jonathan met. I’m glad your friendship has grown into something a bit more substantial. I’m looking forward to reading your book.
And about that title thing. I agree with Rob about using Jonathan’s name in the title. I was wondering if you had considered the whole making things disappear angle in the title as well? Maybe something along the lines of words that could be associated with magic? Just a thought.

Comment by Theresa


Comment by m.g. tarquini

Given that L.A. probably has a zillion writers per square inch, the snarled traffic suddenly makes sense.

That said, this is awesome. I knew I was fascinated with your story and with Quinn when we were talking about it, but this just jumped it up as an absolute must read as soon as I can get my hands on it. (Can they move it up?)(grin)

Comment by toni mcgee causey


Before you do any Freudian analysis on me, I’ll have to clarify that Mas is not in the shower with me when I’m writing in my head! But it did sound funny and disturbingly warped.

Hope you and your family are doing well. And good luck with the title–that’s always difficult, but oh, so important.

Comment by Naomi

Fantastic post Brett.

You’ve just made us all doubly impatient!

Comment by Sandra Ruttan


Brett, I’m having a dinner party. Please bring Quinn. I’ll keep the location a secret and sweep the place for bugs and cameras. Tell him all is clear. You may think Quinn’s fictional, but he’s obviously real. I want to ask him some questions about the fate of the world. And no, I’m not on any medication. Nor should I be. I think.

Comment by Derek Rogers

Fantastic stuff, Brett:)

Comment by Jeff Shelby

Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I hope you enjoy the book as much as this post!

And Derek…I’ll ask Quinn, but he doesn’t do dinner parties.

Comment by Brett Battles

Stunning, Brett.

When your first novel is acclaimed by the NY Times Book Review and UCLA hires you to teach all of its creative writing courses, let me know. i want to be the first to sign up.

Comment by Elizabeth


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