Characters Who Fit

I should get back to writing book reviews…unfortunately I haven’t been reading much lately, between my recent wedding, the immense number of follow on chores and errands that came from that, finishing an old profitless and pseudonymous project, my new project, and the fact that I work on Eastern time but live in not merely a western time zone, but the one western time zone that has rejected the tyranny of Daylight Savings Time (as one should). There’s also the Oncoming Puppy. I did read a book about training him, so I guess I’ll have to let you -all four of you, and Mom- know if it was worth reading.

So that leaves me with writing about writing, which makes me focus on the new project more, at least. I had an idea for how this story would play out some time ago, but one of the major characters never seemed quite right. Now that I’m putting it properly together, I actually came to realize that, due to her position in the story and the backstory and attitude that required, I did not like her very much. The best I could wrangle for a personality was something very bland, and on the dislikeable side of bland at that.

This project is not really one that breaks any boundaries. In a lot of ways, it’s a chance to play with concepts that have been around awhile, but on my own terms. And it was looking at those concepts- I’ll admit it’s superheroes, I guess- that I found a place to fit this character that made me like her.

It was not a place I like, I want you to know, because it involves a profession I despise, a profession so far up its own rear end that the sure why to win its acclaim is to praise it shamelessly. There are too many movies and shows and book where someone does this for a living or aspires to be one. But it worked so well and allowed me to give this character a fun personality so that’s what she’s going to be.

They tell you to kill your darlings, but what you should mostly do is keep an open mind when developing characters. People, and more importantly you, should enjoy your protagonists. Don’t try to force them into roles or places that mean they must be unpleasant to write or read. The result is going to be jarring for readers, if you can even make yourself write it.

Life is Research

I’m working on a new project, which was not the project I meant to work on but it wouldn’t leave me alone after I did some thinking about the Kindle Vella (which will arrive…eventually).

I had to reach out to a gun nut friend (far gun nuttier than I, alas) to get clarification on something to do with bullet velocity. I appreciate knowing her and the time I worked at the range where I met her, not just because it was interesting and fun, but also because it has been very useful for writing.

A lot of things in my life have been like that. I did not choose to stick to my comfort zone, which was in a comfy spot, reading, with a beverage. I went out and did things, including things I wasn’t comfortable with or even good at doing. Sometimes I grew comfortable, sometimes I got better at doing them, but sometimes I never did either. Or I grew comfortable but am still terrible at some stuff, like video games, which I enjoy but am not good at.

These experiences have made me a better writer. I’m not an adherent of the ‘write what you know’ school. How dull that would be, at least for me, though God knows the modern suburban woman’s dramatized life subgenre is a best seller often enough (bonus points for her being a victim who is also a psychopath). But I do believe in knowing what you don’t know, and knowing you need to learn about what you don’t know when you encounter it, and nothing really teaches you that like having to go live outside of your comfort zone.

Not all experiences you write about will be one-to-one for experiences you will or even can have. But you can find analogues.

I don’t mean that in a trite way. Living outside of my comfort zone included multiple occasions of dragging a third of my body weight across twelve miles and still missing the time goal by half an hour all six times I tried. It meant making a public fool of myself many, many times in so many, many ways. “Living outside your comfort zone” is not a quote on Instagram accompanying a picture where some girl sits on a cliff. It is lifting an artillery shell (not. light.) in front of a crowd of cadets who are laughing at you, tiny slip of a thing, because you look ridiculous- but the NCO with his combat patch is nodding approvingly, probably because of some girl power slogan you don’t believe in. Meanwhile, you are aware that none of this means a damn thing to anybody in the long run because who in the real Army is going to ask you to lift an artillery shell?

On top of that, you get to meet different people and go different places. Human creativity never reaches its full potential alone. Others can inspire you (some of them are villains, true). The world is a place full of wonders, natural and manmade, and they can definitely give you ideas. For me, there’s something about travel itself that helps gets the creative juices flowing. You also get to really meet different kinds of people. It’s funny to me, sometimes, reading modern books from Big Name publishers and wondering if the author had ever met the kind of people they’re talking about.

Research is a key part of writing, and the best kind of research is going out and living life. You can do that and still find time to write, you know.

Kingdoms of Beasts

Did you ever read the Redwall books? Or the Guardians of Gahoole? Secret of NIMH? You know, those stories of animal civilizations where the animals are a kind of people, but not human. I think Watership Down is one of those sorts of tales, too.

I read the Redwall books like crazy. They’re pretty big books for kids books. I quite because I got older and my tastes a bit more complex. The Redwall books were trope-y as all get out and you could tell Jacques was running out of steam after a certain point. They were fascinating, though, and there was always a sense of a larger world. The Salamandastron books were the best. Badger Lords and Ladies FTW!

What stands out about Redwall and the rest is that they are PG-13 to R. I am not kidding. There are deaths that put the flashy cynical stuff you find on streaming services to shame. The big bad of the first Redwall book is crushed by a bell! Redwall is violent. Very, very violent. Slavery and barbarism are everywhere to be found. There is a lot of joy and happiness in the lives of the animals of Redwall, but a lot of sorrow and death, too. The snake in the first book is something out of a horror movie!

It’s funny how these “Kingdoms of the Beasts” books work. They’re epic fantasy, but the worlds have a lived-in feel where the rules of magic- if there is any- are defined as you go along. They’re violent but not cynical.

You can get away with a lot of violence if it’s animals doing it to each other instead of any human involvement, it seems. I wonder if parents saw the cute animal covers and assumed they were G-rated? My parents wouldn’t have cared- I saw Jurassic Park when I was four- but I think some might have.

Foolishly, by the way. Better the violence wrought by Cregga Rose Eyes upon vermin who prey on the innocent than the crass, cynical melodrama that is found in a lot of Young Adult fiction these days. Young readers will learn of violence in fiction books; there’s no guarantee they’ll learn of honor, or the value of civilization, or find heroes truly worth emulating.

Heroes Who Are Wrong Sometimes

Since I wrote about villains, I guess I should address something on the other side that I see a lot.

Much hay has been made of stories that teach about failure. Mind you, the failure is not really the fault of the hero, so while it can be interesting because yes, outside forces will screw you no matter how hard you try, I feel the frequency of this story misses out on another truth: sometimes, you failed because you were wrong.

Yes, sometimes in life good people are wrong about things. This is a theme of a relationship between one of the main characters of Paladin and a secondary one. It’s a rather stupidly human thing to do and that’s why I like it.

It’s okay and even interesting to write heroes who make the wrong call about people or situations. Dealing with failure is one thing; dealing with a failure that is your fault, your actual fault because you were wrong about something, is another.

This is what is meant by flaws. Not clumsiness or too much cursing or a weakness for chocolate or whatever. Those might be problems and they’re certainly relatable, but they’re also overplayed (interestingness I leave to you). If you’re looking for a didactic angle, they’re better corrected by a self-help book or a therapist than your story; stories teach different kind of lessons.

Also, if your character feels like they’d be making a bad call, then let him or her make it. Your character doesn’t need to be an archetype. People know the archetype! But they don’t know the person you’re writing about yet. They’ll make a more impactful role model, too.

Luke Skywalker was whiny and selfish at the beginning of Star Wars, but by the end of the trilogy he was able to selflessly put that aside to face death and worse. That means a lot more to a lot more people than starting and ending with some paragon; a lot of them know they’re at least sometimes whiny and selfish and, frankly, they shouldn’t be, they may not realize that they can overcome it. Show people that people can overcome real character flaws, survive their own poor judgement, and live- a happy life, even- with the fact that they are the source of their own failures.

Plus it is a lot more interesting. There is no challenge like overcoming yourself, in terms of both difficulty and the glory that comes with success.


One of the truths of genre fiction is that any story is only really as good as its villain. Historical fiction doesn’t have to do this, crime fiction plays at it mattering, literary fiction is a beast I have no interest in understanding …but fantasy and sci-fi? Villains matter.

Not that a good villain is strictly necessary for a good story, but they do elevate it. “German National Socialists but magic” or “in space” are ubiquitous and, at this point, a bit dull. Nebulous Malicious Evil (may take the Lovecraftian form) needs a bit more detail and some kind of original gimmick to really hit the mark.

But a Darth Vader does something extra. He’s got a malicious style, if that makes sense, and is actually very snarky but it’s a dark pit of a sense of humor. The family aspect is a nice touch that gives him dimension. Dimension George Lucas wasn’t quite up to exploring, in my opinion, though the Clone Wars series did a good job of making it work.

Or a villain can be just skin-crawling evil. This is less common these days- everyone is trying to recreate Darth Vader while forgetting he really was evil, reasons aside- but Sauron from Lord of the Rings is actually this way. The movies and hippie-ish understanding of LotR make it hard to believe but Sauron is terrifying. This is the near-divine being who brought down the best and brightest hope of humanity, Numenor. He didn’t destroy it. He perverted, twisted it into a mockery of itself by exploring its weaknesses, leaving no other option for the Maker of the Universe but to eradicate it. He did this with beyond human cunning, and afterward, rallied an army do massive and terrible that he nearly killed the still-true remnants of that noble kingdom. He would have succeeded if not for the desperate slash if a broken sword from a grieving, defeated prince. Sauron’s evil is never properly depicted on screen, and Tolkien is too classy to describe it in detail, but it is in his dungeons that Arwen’s mother is so traumatized she cannot remain in Middle Earth. She was, unfortunately, not a unique case.

You can base a villain on a bully taken to the 10th degree, or even a bad teacher, or all sorts of things you’ve brushed against in real life, too. Take a character suggested in a song and flesh it out into a real- and terrible- person. I’ve done both those things before.

See, a good villain is not just someone people “love to hate” or someone with a striking s sense of evil style. The villain that carries a story to the next level is one that makes the reader realize the villain is a force for your heroes to reckon with, with bonus points for touching some visceral part of readers and giving them at least a little shiver.

Now, the trick is to take my own advice…

Amazon Concerns

Amazon has begun removing books that fall outside the primary viewpoint of its executives and I assume employees. They basically came out and said “we do what we want and find this offensive; we don’t have to tell you why specifically.” (I cannot find the statement itself on my work break this morning, so I could be off.)

This is concerning. No matter your opinion on the book that was removed, the fact is that’s a pretty open ended statement. People get offended by different things, even people ostensibly on the “same side”. Monty Python no doubt greatly offends one left-wing Amazon employee while another left-wing employee loves it a lot, for instance. I assure you that there is a variety of offensiveness on display among Amazon’s indie authors. If it can offend a sense- aesthetic, moral, whatever- it is present there.

On top of that, the author of that removed book has resources to find workarounds. Most indie authors don’t. Amazon dominates the reading market. The best way to reach readers is through them. If Amazon comes for your tiny little novel and this endeavor is largely just a dream you’re trying to make real, a hobby you pay taxes on, what other option is there? It’s intimidating.

I know the response is that “they won’t bother with the unimpressive likes of you.” Which is presently true. I made less than $60 on my books last year. I’m nobody, and frankly, but for money, I am content with that. But the likes of me is a lot easier to crush utterly than someone established in some way and I’m not greatly worried, but I do see a concern. I was bullied some in middle school. People who like to crush others aren’t looking for a challenge. They like the act of crushing and softer targets are much more appealing because it’s easier to crush them.

There are alternatives. I like, in a technical way, the way Amazon does most things. I’d rather not try to hunt down a less optimized, less profitable alternative. I’m not writing things that I think will offend anyone, but the rules seem to move a lot and I’m busy making ends meet at my day job. But I worry a bit.

Book Review: The Cadfael Chronicles

I have been depressed (like many), then busy, and then found out my desktop version of WordPress is no longer working, so this post comes to you on the app after much delay.

I’m not typically one for historical novels. I like a bit of the fantastic in my reading, or just go for pure nonfiction. However, I grew up occasionally seeing the Cadfael series starring Derek Jacobi, which I enjoy, and have known for awhile that they are also books. This past December I embarked upon this nineteen book journey and it has been an absolute delight.


Wookie Mandalorians

No-Katan’s army needs Wookie Mandalorians.

They were legitimately a thing in the old EU (“Legends”). In fact, one is a key quest giver of the bounty hunter questline in the last lingering part of the EU, The Old Republic MMORPG.

And they could look so cool:

Creed, not race, Favreau. You said it.

Book Review: A Bloody Habit

It being October at the time of this writing, I decided to reread and review a fitting novel for the spooky season: A Bloody Habit by Eleanor Bourg Nelson. Set in early 1900s London, the lawyer Jack Kemp, a young English gentleman bachelor, finds himself tangled in the dark truth of vampires (while he’s reading Dracula, then a new novel). Also, there are Dominican friars who hunt vampires and occasionally play practical jokes on each other.