The novel follows Joe Tesla into the tunnels under New York City, since he lives in a Victorian house buried deep underneath Grand Central Station. I started writing it not long after I moved to Berlin a year and a half ago, and for months all I had was the first line “Subway tunnels breathe.”
Every time I rode the subway around Berlin I wondered whose story was hidden in that first line, and over time Joe Tesla appeared. At first, I wrote his story in between stops, thumbing it into my iPhone. I quickly realized that he lived down there full time. Unlike me, he wasn’t passing through. His world was in the in-between spaces that we all ride through without thinking about.
Why was he there? Was he homeless? The more I learned about him, the more I realized that he was just the opposite. He wasn’t in the tunnels because he had nowhere else to go, he was in the tunnels because he couldn’t leave them. If he could overcome that, nowhere in the world would be denied to him. But he can’t.
I’ve visited New York City many times and was always fascinated by the beauty of Grand Central Station with its iconic clock. When I learned that the pillar inside the information booth has a door that leads to a secret room, I knew that it must lead to an elevator that would spirit Joe down to his house.
Joe stayed in the back of my mind while I wrote Innocent Blood with James Rollins, adding a scene or two to Joe’s story while I chased vampires around the world. James, being a former veterinarian who just got a pair of puppies, suggested that Joe have a dog and thus he acquired Edison, Joe’s best friend and his psychiatric service dog. A dog who looked similar to one I saw riding the Berlin subway with his owner.
I found Edison in that train car because I wrote big parts of this book while sitting on a subway seat, watching who got on and off, missing stops because I was too immersed in my story to notice.
The Berlin subway is a great place to writ e a book, because of the ring line that circles the city center. This means that I can board, find a seat, and ride around for hours without ever having to leave the car. Also, there’s no Internet, so I can write in a focused cocoon without any e-distractions. Every time I’m stuck, I pack up my laptop and walk to the subway, ready to ride around until Joe’s next adventure is revealed to me.