Creating Geiger

Mark Allen SmithBefore writing his first novel, Mark Allen Smith spent ten years as a television investigative news producer and documentary producer-director, and over twenty years as a screenwriter. He livesin New York City with his wife, Cathy Nonas, has threechildren—Zachary, Lexie and Rachel—and plays music and softball every single chance that he gets.

There must be a thousand reasons why we decide to write a novel. Passion for a story that comes to us in a flash. Commerce, money, or the quest for fame. Inspiration born from real life. The exploration of feelings and memory… From the start, I knew why I decided to create Geiger, the professional torturer and unlikely protagonist of THE INQUISITOR, and its sequel, THE CONFESSOR. He would be my conduit to an examination and discussion of a subject deeply important to me – torture, in all its various forms.

Back in 1980, as an investigative news producer for ABC, I worked on a story about a brutal torture/murder of a teenager by Paraguay’s fascist dictatorship. The experience shocked me and dragged me into a new awareness. Then, in 1987, came the murder of 6-year old Lisa Steinberg in New York City after years of torture by her adoptive father. More stories about parental abuse started to emerge. I had become a father, and remember trying to put myself inside the head of a man who tortures his own child. Then another thought came: If a child survives years of torture, who do they grow up to be? How do they anchor themselves in the world? That’s when Geiger was ‘born.’

When I began my research on the history of torture, the sheer volume of material solidified my resolve and the novel’s purpose. I knew that everything that happened in the story would be, and had to be, a result of Geiger’s nature and actions, so before I had any plot I set about creating his character in intricate detail – his physical nature, his routines and rituals and tics, his mode of speaking, his surroundings, passions, dress, diet – and perhaps most important…his past. The ConfessorI lived with Geiger in my head for a good six months, a sole presence without a story to inhabit, watching him become more and more real. This man was not going to be your classic protagonist who the reader could easily get to know and bond with – and I knew from the start it would be a huge challenge to make the reader invest in a man who, at the beginning, seemed monstrous. The danger of losing the reader early on was ever present. I had to find a way to make the reader want to hang in there while things unfolded – and I sensed the way to do that was getting the reader to want to know the answer to this question: What makes someone grow up to become Geiger? Tricky stuff – but really what the book is all about: the theme that the potential to knowingly inflict pain on someone is not some ‘evil’ aberration (That torturer guy is crazy…not like the rest of us…not like me…’), but an element of the human condition. History makes this clear – whether it be a ‘professional’ seeking information––or a religious zealot––or a parent tormenting a child. My task was to let the reader gradually sense Geiger’s suffering and buried humanity…and ultimately care about him.