Monday, September 15, 2014

Sometimes it just doesn't work

The other day I wrote a Smitty short story.  A short short story.  Numbering not much more than 580 words.  What I was trying to do was create a mood.  Create a mood and a distinct mental image that would linger in a reader's imagination for some length of time.  All in as few of words as possible.  I think I succeeded.  Apparently I'm the only one who thinks so.

Smitty, as you may or may not know, is a character I created who basically become the counter balance to my Turner Hahn/Frank Morales characters.  Turner and Frank are the good guys.  Two homicide detectives who try to follow the rules a civilized society dictates to its police force in how to handle and solve violent crimes.  Smitty is just the opposite.  Smitty is a hit man.  And the rules he follows are his own.  Neither civilization nor society have little to say in the matter.

What makes Smitty interesting . . . . well. interesting to me at least . . . is this; how do you make a dark character who is decidedly anti-social an interesting, and . . . dare we say it? . . . . a believable character who can actually generate some sympathy and affection from the reading audience?

You must admit.  An interesting conundrum.

Well, anyway.  Here's the short short story entitled, Sammy.  Read it and tell me what you think.


            She was sixteen.  Sixteen and in tears.  Long black hair, as black as a murder of crows, fell well past her shoulders. Her hair reflecting brightly the few shards of sunlight piercing through the fall foliage of the park's old trees.  Just a child.  Thin. Almost anemic. Without feminine form yet.  Yet the orb of her face was young and flawless in complexion.  Promising soon a beautifully exotic flower about to bloom.
            He sat down on the park bench, and, with one gloved hand stretching out, deposited a worn, tattered, but much loved old teddy bear onto her lap.  Startled, wiping a floodgate of streaming tears from her eyes, she stared at the scruffy looking child's toy in silence before turning to look at the man sitting beside her.
            The chill of the morning air promised a hard winter.  The riot of colors of the deep Fall foliage a visual feast to behold.  The small park setting in the middle of a small city almost empty of human presence this early in the morning.
            "This . . . this is Sammy.  My toy," she whispered softly.  Almost inaudibly.
            "I know," the man with the dark eyes and the gloved hands of a concert pianist replied with a similar soft whisper.
            "I kept it at Dad's house.  The last time I saw Dad it was sitting on the dresser in my bedroom. But that's been five, six years ago.  How did you get it?"
            "He asked me to give it to.  I promised him I would."
            "You knew my Dad?"
            "We were friends.  At least, I considered him my friend."
            "Someone broke into Dad's house last week and killed him," she whispered, eyes flooding with tears and streaking down her cheeks as she watched the dark man stand up and step in front of her.  "Do you know who killed my father?"
            Above her, hidden deep in the bowels of the canopy of a grand old birch tree, a robin began chirping.  Behind him a squirrel leapt from a tree and began running madly across an open stretch of grass toward another tree.  Paralleling the park the city street had a heavy flow of cars and trucks rumbling slowly in queue from one traffic light to another.  Yet in the distance they both heard the sudden, startling, extremely loud squeal of tires screeching across hard cement.  A half second later a moving mass of steel and glass traveling at a high rate of speed smashed into an immovable object of immense weight.  The resulting crash generated an unbelievable explosion of noise and destruction.
            The infinitely black eyes of the man glanced toward the direction from where the sound of a horrible accident had just occurred.  But then the dark orbs turned back to face the young girl in front of him.
            "You asked if I knew the man you killed your father.  Yes, I used to.  But he's no longer anyone's problem.  Go home, Cindy.  Go back to your mother.  She needs you.  Like you, she never lost her love for your father.  She suffers as much as you.  Go home.  The two of you put this behind you.  Make yourselves a new life.  It's all over now.  All over."
            He turned and walked away, gloved hands in the pockets of the heavy blue coat he was wearing.  Just walked away.  Leaving her clutching to her heart with both hands the tattered, raggedy old form of an ancient teddy bear, with memories of her laughing father clouding her vision.

Friday, September 5, 2014

When do characters/series you love start to become irritating?

Original cover
Right up front; a statement of fact.  I love reading the Jack Reacher novels.  They are superb reads covering the trials and tribulations of a man who is, by any definition, of mythic proportions.  Reacher is six-feet-five in height, weighs in around 220 pounds, with fists as hard as sledge hammers.  He's like a search and destroy weapon when he latches onto a problem.  He never backs off.  He never gives up. He as tenacious at solving a problem as a pack of wolves are as tenacious tracking down their next meal.

He's an ex-Army major out of the Military Police.  More or less forced into retirement, he now roams the country like a bum.  He usually owns no mode of transportation, lives in very cheap motels, occasionally works menial jobs so he can make enough bucks to buy a bus ticket to move on to the next city or state.  And wherever he lands, he always, always, always gets his ass into trouble apparently only he can dig his way out of in his own fashion.

Like I said, the guy is of mythic proportions.  And maybe . . . just maybe . . . that's getting to be a problem.

It's hard to identify with a myth if he wins . . . all the time.  Hard to identify with a myth if he is far superior in his skill sets to any and all enemies he faces.  Sure, all of us want to be invincible.  All of us ultimately identify with some entity that seems to posses all the qualities we do not have.  We are human.  Meaning  we sometimes win a few battles, but usually we lose the vast majority of our little ruckuses and ultimately learn how to move on and live our lives out in average mediocrity.

Think about it.

Sit back and think of all the books you've read, all the characters you've stumbled over and discovered; all the adventures you've had while buried deep in the bowels of a good book.  Now ask yourself  . . . did any of these hero-types have any frailties, any weaknesses, which limited their ability to triumph in their struggles?  Did any of them get into a sticky-wicket and wind up losing.  Even though they were the 'good' guys?  I suspect the answer is NO. Probably not.

Jack rarely does.  And when he thinks he's wrong, it winds up he really wasn't.  And then he has his quirks, his little peccadilloes, which irritate the crap outta me.  He blue-collar through and through even though he comes from a professional military family (father) and a rather European-elite intellectual society (mother).  There's really nothing blue-collar.  Yet . . . he prefers shopping in the nearest local Goodwill or Wal-Mart store for just about everything.

And then he's got this almost psychotic shtick about not being tied down owning any possessions.  So he doesn't own a house.  He doesn't own a car.  He shies away from modern electronic devices.  He never stays in one spot for more than a couple of months at a time.  He constantly is moving on.

Okay, I know this sounds like I'm complaining loudly about someone I don't like.  In fact, it's just he opposite.  If Lee Child (author) writes a Jack Reacher novel, I'm buying it and keeping it in my library as a treasured memento.  I haven't collected all of the Reacher novels yet ('cause . . . you know.  I'm a writer myself in the classic sense.  I'm piss poor).  But I'm making headway.  Eventually . . .

Nevertheless.  At some point in time I suspect this mythic-hero hubris is going to start to wear a little thin on me.  Fortunately, that doesn't look like it's gonna happen until we're to book 100 or more in the series (we've got about 89 books to go yet).

Friday, August 22, 2014

Problems with Stubborness

Screw it.  I was going to write today's blog about the Problem with Prologues.  But . . . in reality, that's not the problem that's bugging me. It's a symptom.  But not the source.  Here's the real issure yanking my chain.

I've got a character by the name of Roland of the High Crags.  He's a warrior-monk who happens to be a wizard.  He's the typical heroic character usually found in most epic fantasy novels. He's loyal, brave, incredibly daring, with a sense of humor. But more than that . . . In my opinion the guy has a far, far more complex character to him.  He's got strengths and he's got his weaknesses. And it is his one major weakness, which is his sudden plunge into blinding rage against those who would do evil things, which makes him interesting. And he faces characters, both good and bad, who are just as complex as he is.

The problem is this;  I created this fantasy character to write a series . . . a long series . . . featuring him and a few of the characters he meets in his adventures.  I wanted to create a fantasy series that ultimate postulates the idea that Magic is just another name for Science.  Writing the first book of the series I fell into wonderful quandary of thinking about Time travel, Multiple Universes, and possibly meeting one's self from out of the distant Past and the far Future.

In short, one hell of a kick-ass fantasy series.  Or . . . at least I think so.

But no one has read the first novel of the series (Roland of the High Crags: Evil Arises.  See the right hand column of this page and find the book).  So how do you write a series when no one reads it?  How do you continue to write a series and generate ZERO INTEREST from any lit agent or book publisher who works in this genre?  Why not just move on . . . forget Roland and his adventures . . . and go on to something else.

That's the rub.  The conundrum.  The kink in the grand scheme of things.  I'm just too damn stubborn to set Roland aside.   Roland deserves an audience (hell . . . for that matter, ALL the characters I've come with need to find an audience of their own!)  Yeah, I know . . . I know.  There are all kinds of reasons on why Roland has not taken off.  One of them being that perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . the writing is atrocious and the writer himself is a talentless hack.

But, I read this stuff.  Regularly.  I know what's in the market these days.  I can live with the charge of being a talentless hack.  Sort of . . . 

So, for your entertainment, I thought I'd share the open few pages of the prologue from book two of the series.  Book two is called, Roland of the High Crags: Treacherous Brethren.



Know your enemy, my son.
 Respect his skill; admire his cunning.
                For the Dragon was built
                                For War.
                                                                -From the Book of St. Albans-


                                                            In the Beginning . . . . .

            They hung in the clear blue winter’s sky like two glistening jewels.  Two dragons.  One a Winged Beastie, her giant bat-wings stretched out to the fullest, riding the thermal drafts of the rugged forest hills like some dreaded Dark Lord.  Her wingspan was a good fifty feet.  Her body, a charcoal gray color, with its long serpentine neck and equally long horned tail delicately balancing her in her flight, sat in the sky as if she was a natural part of it.  She was a fire-breather.  An old warrior.  Supremely confident and master of the skies.
            Her rider, strapped in the heavy saddle just in front of the Beastie’s forward shoulders, had wrapped himself in a heavy cloak to keep the biting cold at bay.  The air was frigid cold.  Winter’s harsh grip had taken hold of the land and would not let go for another six months. Snuggled close to his body was the heavy looking crossbow so favored by King Dragons.  A weapon of immense power and range and very deadly in the hands of a marksman.  And something else was held close to him underneath the cloak.  Something important. 
So important it required him to keep his crossbow strung and notched.
            Two dragons riding the empty winds in maleficent grandeur.  Terrible to behold.
            Harbingers of Destiny.
            And I?
             Once a Bretan warrior-monk and accomplished wizard, now condemned and hunted by my brothers and all humanity, I rode in the saddle of my fierce Cedric high above and behind the unsuspecting Dragons.  Cedric was a Huygens-bred Great Wing.  A beast much resembling the smaller, but equally dangerous, Ferril Hawks which populates the forests and mountains of the High Kanris.  But bigger, much bigger, and far more deadly.  A powerful bird.  Capable of carrying me and my weapons of war high into the skies to hunt Winged Beasties and their masters.
            This was my Cedric. One does not own a Great Wing.  Neither bird nor man is the other’s master.  To fight the ravages of the Dragon,  man and bird must unite in a common cause.  They must blend into a well honed weapon with one partner knowing what the other will do in the heat of battle even before the other knows himself.  Cedric and I had fought the dragon for decades.  We knew each other’s soul as if it was our own.
            Neither of us could believe a Winged Beastie and King Dragon rode the cold blue skies of the
Northern Hill Country.  Yet there they were.  Both radiating from their souls a sense of boredom and being lost at the same time.  I sensed their half-hearted attempts to search the forests below for something they expected to find.  They were on a mission.  They were lost yet they were near to where they should be.  Given time they would find what they sought. They would deliver the dispatches the dragon clansman clutched beneath his cloak tightly to his chest.
            It was not that we were surprised in finding dragons.  Dragon clans possessed baronies in the North Country.  The Malawei, the Bruinii, and not too far in the west, along with the Marouth.  Malawei and Bruinii were near.  Small clans hardly large enough to keep the lands they had carved out of the enclaves of human kingdoms surrounding them as their own. Yet they too would have been an oddity to have one of its fabled fire-breathers riding alone in the clear skies here and now.
            But this clansman was neither Malawei nor Bruinii.  This clansman dressed in red and trimmed in black was Hartooth.  The First Clan.  A warrior of the fabled clan who first rose out of the swamps of the Far South.  A warrior far from home.  Far from the skies and forests he would be familiar with.  A creature who was decidedly out of his environment. Yet more importantly these Dragons were enemies.  The rider was a warrior of a legendary clan.  Legendary in their intense hatred for all of things human.  Wherever a Hartooth appeared, so too appeared death and destruction.  He was, for me as an outcast Bretan warrior-monk or not,  my sworn enemy.
            There was but one option for my feathered comrade and I to take.  We had to destroy the Hartooth courier and his fire-breathing companion.  We had to find out why a warrior of his clan was so far north.  It was imperative we snatch from his dead or dying body the messages he held so close to him and ascertain the real threat he represented.
            Reaching for my bow I quickly pulled it from its leather pouch strapped to my saddle and strung it.  Notching arrow to the string I said nothing, made no movement to signal my comrade, nor had to.  We were a team.  A well oiled machine.  The moment his sharp sense of hearing heard me string the bow he waited long enough for me to notch arrow to the string.  And then, in the blinking of an eye, he folded his wide but powerful wings and threw his beaked head down.  We, like a massive stone, dropped from out of the skies in a steep dive.  The cold winter air flew past my face at an incredible speed.  I felt my face grow numb and the sense of touch in my hands begin to disappear.  But this did no matter. Our enemies were rapidly approaching and our goals were simple.  Destroy both dragons and allow neither to escape.
            When it appeared we were about to crash into Dragon and fire-breather I sat up in my saddle, lifted the bow and pulled the string back to my ear before releasing the arrow.  It was a swift, sure, and practiced move.  One I had done a thousand times or more in my life.  The arrow flew from the bow straight and true.  It hit in the middle of the unsuspecting warrior’s back with such force it threw the warrior forward and actually penned the creature into the neck of his comrade.  The fire-breather lifted its head and screeched in pain as it started to turn and look behind and above him.
            Too late!  The Winged Beastie had no chance to dart away.  With talons extended my giant comrade and I slammed into the fire-breather’s neck with a horrendous jolt.  The collision almost ripped me out of the stout leather straps holding me into my saddle.  Cedric’s talons gripped the Beastie’s neck into a death grip and we, dragons and all, began plummeting to earth in a spiraling Dance of Death.
            The fire-breather tried to twist out of my Great Wing’s grip.  A stream of blue-white flame roared from the Beastie’s mouth as it tried to turn its head and engulf us in his fiery fury.  The roar of the flame, the heat of the fire, and the smell of burning sulfur almost saved him.  Close came his final blow to I and my faithful comrade.  But Cedric’s grip was too strong.  The Beastie could not turn his head far enough to hit to dislodge his tormentors.
            Onward we plummeted to the ground below.  I felt the life draining from the fire-breather and from the Hartooth.  And then, only few hundred feet above the snow covered forest below us, the fire-breather expired and Cedric released his grip and twisted away at the same time.  Hartooth rider and his Beastie crashed into the a small clearing with a thunderous finality.  A dark cloud of snow and soil was thrown up into the air and momentarily hid our enemies from view.  But we circled and waited, bow notched again with arrow, and both of us anticipating anything from below.  But there was no need.   The cloud of snow gently blew away.  Below us our prey lay in a jumbled heap of broken bones and splayed limbs.
            Cedric landed in the clearing some distance away from our fallen quarry and in a position which, if the fire-breather was still alive and wished to again use his hot breath against us, would be difficult for him to do so.  I leapt from my saddle after unstringing bow and replacing it in its quiver.  From my side I withdrew the curved blade of a Dragon scimitar and gripped it firmly as I approached the mass of flesh before me.  No life force could be felt within the stilled heart of the fire-breather.  But the Hartooth clansman was, for the moment, alive.  His life force was draining from his soul rapidly.  He had only moments left in this world before journeying over into the Netherworld.   He, still strapped to his saddle, had been ripped away from his companion and lay to one side of the dead Beastie.  As I stepped around the dying creature to face him I heard the clansman snort out of rattling chuckle of amusement as our eyes met for the first time.
            “Ah! I travel to the Dark World thanks to the deadly aim of a Bretan priest.  So be it.  I go honorably.  As it should be.  We were destined to meet, human. Our destinies were set long ago.  My life ends and yours continues on for a little time more.”
            He coughed, blood trickling down his lips.  From out of his chest the shaft of my arrow was visible.  He held one hand to his chest and coughed again.  And again chuckled in amusement.
            “Destiny, our destines, human, are set in stone.  It is the destiny of the Hartooth to rid this planet of all your kind.   It is the destiny of all of your kind to accept your extinction.”
            I nodded, frowning.
            “What if I do not believe in destiny, warrior?  What then?”
            “Ha!  Believe or not!  It does not matter.”
            He tried to laugh but had no strength as his life force deserted his physical form.
            Using the tip of my sword I reached forward and slid part of his red cloak to one side.  Lifting the heavy leather courier’s satchel from his body I cut the straps holding it to him. Picking the satchel up with the tip of my blade I stepped away from the dead and moved back to a position close to my comrade.  A quick perusal of the dispatches  made me frown even more.  The Hartooth were coming.  And they were coming in force.
            Destiny.  Our destines  sat long ago.  Set in stone forever and incapable of changing.
Did I believe that?  Was it true?  Was it the destiny of mankind to be eradicated from this world by the Hartooth?  Was it meaningless to resist?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Story That Never Wants To End

Jeez, Louise!  Its been a long time since I've written something in here.  But that's the iffy thing about blog writing.  Especially for a writer (a good writer, or a bad one, or one totally pedestrian in nature.  It doesn't matter).   Coming up with something to write about  . . . on top of ALL the other writing you're supposed to be doing . . . gets to be a real drain on the imagination.

Or to put it more crudely;  it becomes a major pain in the ass.

But a topic hit me this morning that's worthy of a blog.  Maybe even worthy of a comment or two, depending of course, on whether there is anyone out there to comment on.  I doubt anyone is left who used to read this blog (all two of you).  Ah well, here goes anyway.

The subject of today's blog is;  A Story That Never Wants To End.

Here's the background you need to know.  A few weeks ago an idea came along for a short story featuring a rather unique character.  A combo of a Perry Mason lawyer and a Charlie Chan detective.  But a character with a definite 'odd' affinity for the strange and ghostly.  And . . . maybe . . . somewhat of a question of his gender.

The guy's name is Maurice.  He's a lawyer.  A lawyer who talks to ghosts.  In fact, it turns out a number of his 'clients' are ghosts.  Souls who have suffered through a violent end of their lives coming back as ghosts to 'hire' Maurice in an attempt to bring the perpatrators of the crimes to their long deserved rewards.  In the stories I hoped to throw in a court seen, ala Perry Mason, to give it some color.  And that, dear readers, is the rub . . .

The story refuses to wrap up into a tidy short story conclusion.  It keeps going on and on and on.  We're well past the short story limits.  With no end in sight.  So now . . . dammit! . . . it appears as if I have ANOTHER novel to write featuring ANOTHER character I'd like to get to know better!  I've got all the commitment and stick-to-it-tivness of a bowl of grape jello.  Ideas and characters just keep popping into my head and distracting me all the time.


Ah, well.  Thought I'd share the opening few paragraps with this character. Maurice is the name . . . as is the title of the story.  Tell me what you think.


Flipping the Zippo lighter open he thumbed the old relic into life and lifted the bright flame to the end of the cigarette. 
            And paused . . .
            A bright pink Caddy convertible slid into the No Parking Zone as if it belonged there and quietly came to a halt.  A big battleship of a car, with high tail fins in back and a spread of metal across the front hood big enough to be the landing deck of a Nimetz-class aircraft carrier.  Hot pink. Freshly polished . . . with white vinyl seats.  The white so intense he thought about lifting a hand up to shade the glare from his eyes.
            One big sonofabitch of a car.
            Had to be a '59 Caddy convertible. Looked just like the one he remembered his grandmother had way back when he was six or seven.  Yet it looked as if it just rolled off a showroom floor.  But as if the car wasn't enough to gawk at, the guy sitting behind the wheel was . . . was . . . unreal.
            At first the thought of Charlie Chan.  White three-piece Southern Plantation suit.  Perfectly tailored.  Very expensive material.  Hung on the guy's frame like a million dollars.  Not even a smidgeon of dirt anywhere to be seen on the white.  With white loafers.  Glistening white loafers.  But instead of a white derby sitting directly atop the man's head there was, instead, a wide brimmed white fedora.  The complexion of the guy suggesting oriental origins.  Or maybe not.  Maybe Egyptian.  Or Romano. Definitely pudgy around the midsection. Obviously the guy enjoyed his groceries. But . . . you really couldn't call him fat.  Not yet.  No . . . this wasn't a Charlie Chan.  Charlie Chan was a Hawaiian-Chinese homicide detective based out of Honolulu.  A fictional character concocted by a writer from out of the 1930's.   This guy . . . this guy, as he rolled out from behind the massively wide steering wheel of the car and reached into the back seat to extract a rather expensive looking leather briefcase, along with an odd looking twisted black ebony shillelagh-like cane, was real. 'Bout five eleven . . . maybe six foot.  'Bout two ten, maybe two twenty on the bathroom scales.  With just the suggestion of double chins beginning to thicken.
            Not Hawaiian.  Nor Chinese. Not anyone from the Far East. This guy had the greenest/yellow eyes he had ever seen and a smile that seemed to burst out from somewhere deep within. A smile that could warm up the frozen heart of a Spanish Inquisitor standing in a dungeon cell directly dead center on the North Pole.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Return of the Bad Guy; part II

The bad guy.  The villain. The rotten little bastard who deserves to be slapped around like a cheap punching bag in a run down gym on some forgotten back street and then sent to bed without supper . . . after putting a bullet hole through his forehead.  That guy.

Maybe the ONE character(s) in a Noir/genre novel that is an absolute must.  Creating a character who, more or less, fits the description of 'the hero' in a novel is all well and good.  But necessary?  Necessary . . . is perhaps too much of a demand (possibly another topic to explore some day?).  But a bad guy . . . ?

It's funny.  Most readers have found their heroes and have become avid fans.  They look forward to the next novel and/or movie that features them.  But there are those who secretly enjoy a 'good' bad guy.  One who revels in the amoralistic freedom of someone unrestrained in the normal conventions of acceptable behavior.  (the supreme amoralistic villain who fits this bill is, in my opinion,  Lord Voldermort from the Harry Potter novels.  Now THAT guy knew who to throw a party of exquisite PAIN!)

We love our good guys.  But many of us secretly admire the freedom and lack of conscience found in so many of the truly classic ne'er do wells.  I'm thinking of Justified's Boyd Crowder, for instance.  The guy is intelligent, witty, urbane . . . and best of all . . . ruthless.  But there is the classic of all urbane and witty villains;  Sherlock Holmes' arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty.  Every bit the equal to Holmes in every department . . . with the added pleasure of not being bothered by the normal conventions of society's mores. (Oh, how could we ever forget Hannibal Lecter?  Read one novel featuring him, or watch one of the movies, and his face and . . . especially his voice . . . is indelibly imprinted into your memory never to be forgotten)

So I make my case.  The villain may be the MOST important character of all.

A friend of mine, Richard Godwin, knows one or two things about the bad guy. (Richard is a writer, a journalist, a Renaissance Man of classic dimensions, and an all around good egg.  If you haven't read his novels . . . you should.   They are excellent.  Click on his name and you will get a quick review of his offerings.)  So I asked him to jot down a few lines and share some of his thoughts with us.  He graciously agreed to my request and supplied a rather interesting take on classic (Shakespeare) and his own version of a baddy from one of his books.  Read on.  You will find it interesting and provocative.

Richard Godwin.

To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, A fish doesn’t know it’s in water. The meaning of that may be deduced in his terms or the necessity of creating an anti-environment. What does   that mean? Fiction defines reality to create drama. A protagonist is meaningless if he operates in a moral vacuum, he needs antithesis. The Hegelian trinity thesis, synthesis, antithesis is at work here.
The antagonist is as vital to the protagonist as his own morality, in many ways he could be said to define his morality. A case in point is Othello. Othello and Iago operate as if they were part of the same psyche. Othello is the Shakespearian hero, flawed, as they all are. And here is an interesting issue: Shakespeare’s heroes all have a major flaw, which has been compared to the crack in a vase widening as events unfold. Iago is the voice inside Othello’s head, placing doubt, subverting him, the vice that suggests and then convinces you your wife is being unfaithful and you need to do something. And she is innocent. But you listen to your doubt, because it is the strongest voice inside you because you need it, because deep down it is what you resonate you. Or as Iago puts it as he calculates in soliloquy how to ensnare the Moor Othello:
“Cassio's a proper man: let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery--How, how? Let's see:--
After some time, to abuse Othello's ear
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are.
I have't. It is engender'd. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light”
And as he plays on Othello’s need for the seal of reputation:
“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”

If I speak of my own villains, among the numerous, Karl Black in Apostle Rising springs to mind, or the notorious villain in Mr Glamour.
Black hates the police, he detests their stupidity in the novel, as he says to Castle and his fellow officer:
“‘How can I help you?’ Black said, the voice steady and unemotional.
Castle stood up.
‘A body’s been found in Bushy Park near where the original killings took place,’ he said.
‘The original killings - you make it sound like Genesis.’
His lips moved after he had finished speaking, as if a smirk was starting to crawl across his face, then it seemed to erase itself.
Stone could feel her hard professional persona kicking in.
‘We’re investigating a serious homicide, Mr Black,’ she said.
‘And you are?’
‘Inspector Jacki Stone.’
‘Nice to see a woman on the job. Of course I know you Mr Castle, I know you all too well, with your feeble accusations, all evidence of course, evidence of your complete inability to solve a crime. Sick of hassling motorists? Got something juicy to sink those whisky sodden teeth of yours into? Now, let me see. Police thinking. We interviewed Karl Black before, why don’t we do it again? And we wonder why there are so many criminals on the streets. Can’t do it yourself? Get a woman to do it.’
Stone started to move forward and Castle put a hand on her shoulder.
‘I’m not rising to that,’ he said, ‘and besides, we can always do this down at the police station.’
‘You find my surroundings too intimidating, do you? Not enough of a whiff of corruption? Perhaps you need to go out and shoot an innocent man. Perhaps a traveller on a train with no guilt whatsoever, so that you can boost your flagging career, but then again, it always was flagging, wasn’t it, Chief Inspector Castle?’
‘You haven’t changed, Mr Black.’
‘I have nothing to change, unlike you. It’s a pity you’re not like the chess piece you’re named after, you’re more of a pawn.’
Out of the corner of his eye Castle could see a look pass across Stone’s face. He’d seen it before when she was about to deck a fellow officer for sexism.
He got in between her and Black, knowing his game and ignoring his comment.
‘We’re here on police business.’
‘Another misnomer, for what do you police? The streets aren’t safe and you’re patently not interested in apprehending criminals, especially when most of them walk your corridors, so what should you be called?’
‘Now just a minute, Mr Black-’.
‘It’s OK, Inspector Stone.’
‘She spoke. How novel.’
‘A murder has been committed. It bears a striking resemblance to the first of the killings which I interviewed you about,’ Castle said.
‘Which you mis-interviewed me about. You know, I’m getting pretty tired of your time-wasting. You never linked me to those killings and the best you can do now is reel me in.
You’re a sorry pair. Need a drink Frank? I can see the whisky hanging off your lips. And as for you, Inspector Stone, your femininity cries out for a little male attention. You look like someone who’s all on her own. What’s the matter, hubby run off with someone else?’
‘I look forward to interviewing you Mr Black,’ she said.
‘I look forward to showing you up for the cretin you are. A double failure: as a woman and as a police officer. The name inspector should not be uttered in the same breath as a mediocre inadequate such as yourself.’”

If your protagonist has three dimensions and you deny the same to your antagonist you will create a series of moral platitudes. Drama exists in the spark, the realisation that the writer has articulated something you have felt in those moments that have disturbed you, it lives in the fiction between things, events, attitudes, positions and windows. Good drama should leave you trying to define your own morality. It has historically disturbed our conceits, from the Metaphysical Poets onwards, and it ought to subvert our complacencies.


Richard Godwin is the author of critically acclaimed novels Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour and One Lost Summer, Noir City and Confessions Of A Hit Man. He is also a published poet and a produced playwright. His stories have been published in over 34 anthologies, among them his anthology of stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man.    
Richard Godwin was born in London and obtained a BA and MA in English and American Literature from King's College London, where he also lectured. You can find out more about him at his website , where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.     

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The return of an Old Friend

Well . . . I'm back.

Back to writing a blog about writing, movies, and other 'stuff' that peeks my interest.

But I gotta tell ya, it's been a major, major, major struggle of late.  The writing thing. From writing a novel or short story to even making a comment on Facebook.  If you're an artist in any medium (and writing IS an artform) you'll understand immediately what's been going on in my head.

One word:  Depression.  Well . . . . maybe two words:  Depression and Anger.

Nope.  Not the kind that makes you give up on life and forces your to curl up in bed and snivel for the next three months in some crying jag called "Woe is Me!" melodrama.  Not the kind that makes you lock all the doors and pull all the shades down and make yourself into a reclusive hermit.  That kind of hermit which refuses to shave, wash his teeth, or change his clothes for the next four of five months. Not the kind that gets the neighbors worried some kind of environmental disaster has just occurred next to them.

Yeah, I know.  I may be mental, but I haven't gone over the deep end.  Not yet, at least.

And the source of my anger and depression, you ask?  Of course!  My writing.

Invariably a writer compares his artform to the artform of others.   It's usually not planned.  Many times you don't want to do it.  Intellectually you realize that it's probably not healthy, mentally, to dip into those cold waters of delusion.  But . . . eventually . . . you do.  (by the way, I think this is true for any artist.  Acting, painting, dancing . . . you name it.  Any artform that is subjective in nature)

And when you fall into that trap . . . voila!  Rabid fits of depression and anger.

You ask yourself;  "Why is that guy getting published and I'm not!?" or,  "How come THAT miserable hack found an agent and I've been sloughed off like a used newspaper?"  better still, "Jesus H. O'Rielly!  That hack job is the BEST you can do?  And you're published?!"

And the worst remark of all.  An agent says, "Yeah.  I think you ought to be published."

And that's it.  That's all you hear from the guy.  A comment made with as much enthusiasm as a fish monger makes about a shriveled piece of of squid.

Well me bucko . . . as the rat faced home room teacher used to tell me . . . "Buck up, you whiny faced little wuss.  It's time to move on!"

If you're gonna be an artist, you're gonna fall into this pit multiple times.  So you might as well accept it, and at the same time, come up with ways to combat it. (Hint:  the answer is People.  You've got to be around people.  Strangers . . . friends . . . enemies . . . it doesn't the hell matter.  What matters is the interaction you must process with mentally when other people force themselves into your bubble of discontent.  I guarantee you, you can't stay depressed indefinitely in a situation like this.)

Get over the depression and anger and something odd happens.  The writing urge comes back.  You may still be the untalented hack you always were . . . and afraid to consciously admit, by the way.  But at least the urge is back.  And you feel better with its return.

Trust me.  I've fallen head first into that pit far too many times to count on my eight fingers and two thumbs.

Check out the two new editions available now.  One is a steampunk--fantasy---high adventure blending for a story that might make you think of an ersatz Jason Bourne AND Harry Potter combo.

The other is the hard print version of a Turner Hahn and Frank Morales novel that's been out for some time in ebook format.  If you like a good mystery, or a set of mysteries in one novel, I think you like this one.

Next week we'll bring fourth something different to talk about.  And yes, Martha.  I WILL be back next week.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Bad Guy

Been gone a while, I know.  Computer problems. Amazing, really.  An old fart like me remembers when there weren't computers in the house or at every turn of the hand.  Seemed like I lived a perfectly happy life back then.  But now, with computers as intinsic in our lives as a good roll of toilet paper is, to be denied access to the computer you have all your stuff stored on . . . well  . . . it almost makes you homicidal.

But the technology is fixed.  And the world continues to, more or less, revolve at its normal pace.

Today we begin a little adventure into the Badlands.  I've asked a few friends of mine to put down on paper their thoughts on why it's important to create a believable bad guy.  I suspect a bad guy (or woman . . . let's not get picky here) may be more important for the reader to accept that the good guy.  Making both the hero and the villain human . . . with strengths as well as with weaknesses . . . translates into a more interesting story.

Let's face it . . . there are a lot of us who actually root for the villain (depending on the qualities of the villany, of course).  A good bad guy kinda demands grudging respect from the reader.

So, first up in the batting box to discuss the concept is Allan Leverone.  He knows a thing or two about writing bad guys.  Read . . . make a comment . . . let's get a conversation started.

Writing a strong antagonist
By Allan Leverone

To be compelling, fiction requires conflict.

Everybody knows that. It’s so obvious that it’s kind of a cliché, and in genre fiction, conflict is even more essential because it almost always fuels the story. Without conflict, you would be left with endless description, pointless dialogue, and lots of frustrated readers.

In setting up that conflict, most writers intuitively understand that they’re going to need a strong protagonist. Genre readers are unlikely to accept three hundred fifty pages of story involving a wishy-washy dude who can’t decide what to have for dinner or how to respond to the asshole who just pulled a knife on him.

That’s not to say the protagonist has to be perfect; in fact, just the opposite is true. The hero of the story has to have some faults or she risks becoming a joke, a caricature of a human being. Nobody’s perfect, as I endlessly demonstrate to my wife, and a hero who is will not ring true to any reader paying attention.

Once that happens, as an author you’re done. You’ve lost the reader, probably for good.

I think most writers get that. Where some trip up, though, whether because they don’t believe it’s as important,  or simply don’t take the time required to do it, is in constructing an antagonist that is real and believable as well.

A strong bad guy. A frightening and believable one.

In my opinion, the most critical aspect of hooking the reader, of making her want to keep turning the pages when it’s midnight and she has to get up at six a.m. for work but can’t turn off the lights yet because she just simply has to know what’s going to happen, is the believability of the antagonist.

Who the hell is this jerk causing so much trouble and heartache for Our Hero? What makes him tick? Why is he such a bad, bad guy?

When I think of cardboard antagonists, I invariably picture those evil megalomaniacs who populate so many spy and superhero movies. You know them, those super-rich assholes who crave destruction for seemingly no reason other than that they’re just Really Bad People.

That doesn’t work for me, either as a moviegoer, as a reader, or as an author. Cartoon-character bad guys serve to limit the believability of the story, often to the point where as a reader I’m not able to suspend disbelief enough to fully immerse myself in it.

Don’t get me wrong. I can accept the most outlandish premise, and I believe most readers can as well. I’ve written novels and novellas involving time traveling outlaws, resurrected dead people, all kinds of criminals, and assorted and sundry riff-raff and backstabbers. Many of them are the kind of people who only exist in our nightmares, and yet they’re believable (I hope) because they act on motivations that are understandable, if repellent.

Milo Cain, the antagonist in my brand-new dark thriller, MR.MIDNIGHT, is as repugnant a human being as you will find in modern fiction (at least, that was my goal in writing him). But I challenge you to read the book without coming away with, if nothing else, an understanding of why he is the way he is, and how he got there. If I did my job properly, you might also find that deep down inside, you have a twinge of sympathy for him, even though you don’t like yourself for it.

To me, that’s often the difference between a so-so read and a great read – the quality of the antagonist. Is he someone I can understand as well as root against? If so, in my opinion the author has done her job. She’s given me well-rounded characters and thus a story I can lose myself in. She’s already gone a long way toward winning me over as a reader.

So don’t skimp. Take the time to populate your story with characters that will fuel conflict in a way the reader finds believable and credible. You’ll reap the rewards of that extra effort down the line, both in terms of sales and positive reviews.

That’s my theory, anyway.