The Lucky One is unique among my novels in that it is the only novel inspired by an image.
At the time, the news from Iraq was dominating the front pages. Because my town is virtually surrounded by military bases (including Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, Seymour Johnson AFB, Cherry Point Marine Corp Air Station, and the New River Air Station), stories in the newspaper about military personnel are often personal and focus on their families or the struggles they faced upon returning home. In addition, I have dozens of neighbors who have spent time in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
It was this combination of things that I assume led to the image. In my mind’s eye, I saw a marine staring at a photograph as if drawing strength from the image. He was in his fatigues and he looked tired and dusty after a long day on patrol, and though it was simply an image, I couldn’t seem to get it out of my mind. It was, somehow, calling to me and though it took a couple of years for me to figure out the nuances, I knew I would eventually end up writing about the image.
From there, I began to ask the type of questions anyone would: Why is he staring? Who is in the picture? What is the status of their relationship? And little by little, elements of the story began to form.
No, I thought, he doesn’t know her. He found the photograph in the sands of Kuwait. But he considers the photograph his lucky charm. And then decides that after his tour, he’s going to find her.
Not all those elements were maintained in exactly those ways, but it was enough to get the mind turning. The rest of the story slowly evolved from there.
There were a couple of other challenges in conceiving the story. Readers familiar with the military are sticklers for accuracy (blame Tom Clancy and Stephen Ambrose), and thus I knew I had to find a marine unit that had been posted to Iraq three times. (It’s easier to find one now, but in 2008, only a few units had served three times.) I also had to find a unit that suffered an inordinately high number of casualties. I also wanted a “variation” in the type of tours they did, just to keep the story interesting. And then, in order for him to be “lucky,” I had to find out whether what I was writing could be considered believable.
To do that, I relied heavily on magazines, newspaper articles, military web-sites and Google, and I eventually settled on the 1st 5th out of Camp Pendleton. From there, I had to learn the specifics about their tours (where they were, whether they faced combat, what type of fighting there was, the causes of casualties, etc.). Only then was I able to begin writing the story about Logan Thibault.
Again, I tried my best to make Logan memorable and again, I was drawn to an image of him walking along the side of a highway with a dog at his side. Zeus, by the way, was modeled after one of my German Shepherds; they’re a fun breed, if only because they seem to love learning new things, and tend to always stay by your side.
Once those images had settled and condensed, and once I was clear on all things military, I began focusing on the other characters: Beth, Ben, Nana and Keith Clayton. I wish I could say that I had images of them as well, but I didn’t. Instead, each was crafted in my more traditional way of doing things: by asking myself “what if?” type questions.
Finally, I chose to make Logan Thibault a Marine because I’d already written a book about an Army soldier. It was funny: I’d gone to a book signing at Camp Lejeune for Dear John, thinking I’d done the military proud in crafting a military story, but that wasn’t quite how the Marines at the base saw it. I was asked at least fifty times “when was I going to write a story with a Marine?”
In other words, I didn’t think I had much choice.