The Origins of Riley Parra, Part One – The Book

It’s Pride Month! And as part of that, Storybundle has a lovely group of books dedicated to queer heroes of all stripes. LGBTQ+ heroes, saving the day, kicking down the notion that a gay character requires a tragedy to be in a book. I’m extraordinarily honored to be part of this collection with my books Riley Parra Season One and Trafalgar & Boone in the Drowned Necropolis. You can get the bundle here, and read all about the other authors in this collection. I’m especially thrilled so many people are going to be introduced to Riley Parra through this bundle, so I thought I would talk a little about her origins and how she went from a character without a story to a real-life webseries.

The day after Valentine’s Day 2009, I started a story. I didn’t know what it would be, but I had a few things I wanted to include in it. I wanted to write about a detective, a homicide detective who fell in love with a medical examiner (I should note this was before Rizzoli & Isles began its tedious game of toying with lesbian fans… the true inspiration was Beckett and Lainie on Castle). I knew I wanted the cop to be named Riley because that name hadn’t been leaving me alone for a while but none of my characters felt worthy of it. Riley needed to be a tough, no-nonsense, lead character. She needed something epic, and I didn’t have anything epic.

Josh Ritter helped inspire what Riley would eventually become. His song “Wings” is a dark, brooding story about a man and woman on the run through Idaho. The last verse heavily inspired how the first Riley story would end: “At last we saw some people, huddled up against the rain that was descending like railroad spikes and hammers. They were heading for the border, walking and then running, and then they were gone into the fog but Anne said underneath their jackets, she saw wings.” I saw Riley Parra, police detective, noticing two men watching her. And when they walk away, they have wings tucked under their coats.

The other song, “Thin Blue Flame,” is a ten minute epic about the state of the country and the world, an almost nihilistic song that builds from quiet contemplation to rage at everything the narrator sees in the world… but it ends with a quiet verse in which he realizes that the Heaven he thought was lost was right in front of him: “Angels everywhere were in my midst, in the ones that I loved and the ones that I kissed.” That was who I wanted Riley to be. She sees the darkest, most awful things. She knows things are even darker than most people knows, and she’s the only one fighting back. But she has love. She has someone who supports her and takes care of her and who is strong enough to catch her when she falls. So in a way, I didn’t have Riley Parra at all until Riley had Gillian Hunt. Then the pieces all started to fall into place.

My readers were intrigued by Riley and her world, and I loved writing her, but I had a problem. I wanted to write as many stories as possible, but I also wanted to write other things (Riley’s world was too dark to set up a permanent residence in). I didn’t want people to think I had abandoned the series when I moved on to other things. I decided that each short story would be an “episode” and ten stories (give or take) would make up a season.

This was at a point where I had two novels out, no GCLS Award, just one author in my publishing company’s big pond, so I had no believe this would even get published. I just thought it would be a fun little writing project, and presenting it as a series would make it more fun for the readers. Little did I know where it would lead! I certainly imagined the possibility that maybe someday it might turn into something more, but those were just dreams. Shoot-for-the-moon fantasies.

The first Riley Parra novel was released by Supposed Crimes, my second and current publisher, in 2011. There were five books, five seasons, and when it ended I thought that would be it. The first year I didn’t have a Riley Parra novel on my schedule was the year I crossed paths with Christin Baker and Tello Films, which will be the focus of my next blog post!