Fellow self-pubbed author Anthony Renfro has a shiny new cover for his short story A Haunted House Tale. Check out the cover below — and also check out the story itself, because it’s free to download Friday and Saturday (May 29/30).
Fellow self-pubbed author Anthony Renfro has a shiny new cover for his short story A Haunted House Tale. Check out the cover below — and also check out the story itself, because it’s free to download Friday and Saturday (May 29/30).
Technically I was supposed to post this about twelve hours ago, but better late than never! Without further ado, I present to you the cover for Danielle Taylor’s new romance novel, Falling For You.
Julia Burns can’t remember a day in her life when she didn’t have to work. So the ad in the paper sounds perfect to her – even if she does have to marry a complete stranger.
Nicholas Steele isn’t used to being around people since the accident that left him disfigured. Having a permanent house guest isn’t his idea of fun, however, the press would have a field day if they found he and his new wife weren’t residing together.
On paper, their ‘fake’ marriage fits both their needs, giving Nicholas a wife and Julia the security she’s always dreamed of having. In reality, every moment Nicholas and Julia spend together brings them closer to falling for each other.
* * * * * *
About the author:
Today’s guest post comes to us from Tom Dale, a writer over at sainsburysebooks.co.uk, who was kind enough to offer some insights on the current state of digital self-publishing. Read on!
* * *
The digital age has changed the world. It has transformed the way we do almost everything, from the minute to the massive. There are valid arguments claiming that technology has enhanced our lives and those that say it has detracted from it. Personally I sit somewhere between these two camps, but on the whole I believe it has made life better and broadened possibilities for many people on the planet. The greatest achievement of the technological age, I would argue, is the enhancement of global interconnectedness. That may sound a little wordy but think about it for a second; in that second you thought about it millions of people communicated with millions more people.
This greater connectivity has one key benefit for authors the world over; self publishing can be done by anyone and distributed globally in an instant. Not only that but your content will sit alongside works which have had thousands of pounds thrown at them for publication, with no distinguishable difference. When Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, a tool for authors to self-publish their books to Amazon’s Kindle store, was launched alongside its famous e-reader, the Kindle, vast new possibilities were created for authors without the resources or support to get their work published. This format has been reproduced by many other eBook publishers such as Apples iBook or Barnes and Noble’s Nook publishing services.
Gordon Willoughby, Director of Kindle EU, has had to say of these platforms: “[It] enables ‘ordinary’ Kindle authors to compete on a level playing field with the giants of the literary world and we’re so excited to see it succeeding for both readers and authors.” Mr Willoughby’s words ring true in light of the thousands of success stories that have come out of eBook self publication.
Despite some controversy around Amazon’s publication service and rumours of excessive ‘delivery charges’ added onto Amazon’s fee for eBook sales, the KDP tool is an invaluable one for aspiring authors. If you are sitting on your first book – receiving rejection letters from traditional print publishers – do not be disheartened; it has been hailed as a cure for the depression of rejection from publishers. The tales of self-publishing success often tell of multiple rejections, only to receive multiple offers once a name was made on the eBook market.
There are a plethora of alternatives to Amazon’s KDP and I would suggest maximising your potential sales by exploring all these other avenues to ensure maximum reach. However, despite the controversy around the two royalty levels that Amazon offers, you should not exclude yourself from that market. Consider that people who own Kindles are unlikely to use other eBook purchasing services (although from I what I hear competitors such as Sainsburys’s eBooks are beginning to challenge this) and that just under half the e-reader market share is held by the Kindle, it would make no business sense to back out of such a vast market on principle or otherwise.
Kathryn Stockett, author of the bestselling novel The Help, who was famously rejected dozens of times before getting her work published, has been quoted telling fellow authors: “What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?” And how many did stop at 40, or 50, or 60? It takes an incredibly strong person to still believe in your work after so much rejection but it would seem that this rejection has no bearing on the merit of your work.
So, in short, this new age of self-publication bypasses the depressing, even soul-destroying, world in which the fickle choice of another affects your very existence as an author. The global connectivity that has been gifted to us by the digital age has brought with it other gifts. The ability to jump straight from author to published author in a matter of hours and to see one’s work sat on the shelves, albeit digital ones, of a global bookstore alongside the best bestsellers and the most successful storytellers work. It gifts new self-confidence to demoralised authors and a road to success to those who had never broached the barrier of the ominous publisher.
Long live digital!
Tom Erik Dale is a freelance journalist, writer, and lover of all things literary. He has long been an enthusiastic reader of both fiction and non-fiction, and is a keen believer in the digital reader revolution.
Unrelated media of the day:
Today we welcome fellow author Bridget Whelan to tell us about her new creative writing how-to book! Take it away, Bridget!
Following Michelle’s excellent example of shameless self-promotion, I jumped at her invitation to guest post about my new ebook BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL and how you can get hold of a free copy.
It’s about finding ideas and developing them through a programme of 30 practical writing exercises that range from magic for grown ups to humour and horror writing. It’s about playing around with language and injecting a little rhythm into prose. There are lucky dip exercises that fling strange ideas together and formulas for creating characters that will walk off the page and start throwing their weight around. There are story prompts and poetry exercises for writers who do not want to write a poem, alongside exercises that will help you to start a memoir or look more closely at the world you live in.
All the exercises in the book have been tried and tested on real students. I’ve selected the most popular ones that offer an interesting challenge and have the potential to push you in new directions. And the ones that are fun. Writing is hard work: it doesn’t have to be punishment.
I’ve developed these ideas over nine years while I’ve been teaching creative non fiction at university, fiction in adult education and worked as Writer in Residence at a community centre serving the unwaged and low waged. In that period I’ve had one novel published by a mainstream publishing house and won $US4000 in an international short story competition, but no writer knows all the answers. Every time I am in a classroom I learn something new about creative writing. Every time I pick up a pen. Or read a book that grabs my imagination.
However, fair warning, this book will not tell you how to:
Nor is it a guide to finding an agent or selling a short story. There are other books – good books – that can help with all that (except about being rich and famous, never trust a how-to book on that subject) but BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL is about creating the material that could become a prizewinning short story or the novel you’ve always wanted to write.
And for 24 hours it is free.
Download it from midnight Sunday December 1st (tonight!) to midnight Monday December 2nd (Pacific time) from your most convenient Amazon.
And come over and say hello on facebook. I’d love to see you! https://www.facebook.com/creativewritingschool
Unrelated link of the day:
The tone matrix! Make beautiful music with no musical experience whatsoever!
Today’s guest post comes to us from London McGuire, who has a fun, cannibal-themed post to keep us entertained on this dreary Wednesday!
Cannibals – they truly are what they eat. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about them is you don’t know what they are until it’s too late. You don’t know what’s truly inside until you ARE inside … literally. However, for being such sinister figures, we sure do love to watch them work.
Turn on the television and there’s a show about a cannibal. Open up a book and there’s a cannibal. And, of course, there are the movies – both new and old – all featuring humans with a hunger for other humans. There’s just no getting away from it but, lucky for you, there are some tips* to avoid becoming part of the cannibal’s carnivorous cuisine.
*DISCLAIMER: These tips are for the 10 fictional cannibals listed below. There is no guarantee that these will work with any of the real-life cannibals you likely encounter in your day-to-day routine without even knowing it – the barista at Starbucks, the mailman, perhaps, your next-door neighbors, etc.
1. Recognize Wordplay Early into the Game
Hannibal Lecter – you knew he’d show up at some point, so let’s get him out of the way in this first tip. Whether you’ve read him in the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, seen Anthony Hopkins manifest him in movies, or caught Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal in the television show Hannibal – one thing fictional man-eaters have taught us is that they love some good old-fashioned verbal repartee.
Whether it’s something subtle like:
“… I’m having an old friend for dinner.”
Or something a little more obvious:
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
If someone says they want to “have you for dinner, sometime” or they compliment you with things like “your house is simply murderous,” that’s probably a red flag. Recognize the signs! Some of these playful predators can’t help but telegraph what’s going to be on the menu.
2. Try Not to Be Such a Loner
In the Walking Dead comic series, Rick and his band of world-weary survivors had cannibals of the undead variety to deal with. Things, however, took a much darker (if that were possible) turn when they encountered Chris and the hunters in the 2009 story arc Fear the Hunters.
Fan favorite Dale lost his leg after a zombie bite, which was a real bummer. However, that failed to compare to what happened next when the cannibalistic hunters found him wandering off on his own. Rick and his superior numbers got the drop on Chris’s group, but the damage had been done and Dale was no more. The thing to remember about cannibals is that, as terrifying as they are, they are by no stretch of the imagination the majority. Strength in numbers.
3. Get to Work on Your Cardio
It might seem like poor counsel to make yourself healthier (or more wholesome) when dealing with cannibals, but then how else would you be able to outrun Fat Bastard? Ah, yes, Fat Bastard – the comical antagonist from Austin Powers the Spy Who Shagged Me. He was fat, he was obnoxious and, oh yeah, he craved the taste of baby flesh. Yeah, when it comes to fight or flight, sometimes flight is your best bet … so get to work on your cardio!
4. Identify the Exits Before You Enter
Even the humblest lodge can seem like a twisted, endless maze when you’re being pursued by a cannibal. It’s funny how the mind can really play tricks on you when overwhelmed with thoughts of being devoured bite by bite. This was proven time and time again throughout the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise which featured an entire family of cannibals – the Sawyers.
Of course, one of the more notable Sawyers that managed to outshine the notorious Leatherface was Chop Top. Ol’ Chop Top Sawyer was especially scary because of his otherwise personable mannerism. A Vietnam vet who took a few too many to the head, his actions and attitude resembled that of a flower power hippy … that ate people.
Whether it’s Chop Top, Leatherface, or any other childishly-named nightmare creature “inviting” you in, get a feel for the exits if you can.
5. Try to Be Wary of the Help
Sweeney Todd gave new meaning to “taking a little off the top” when he went on a murderous rampage with a straight razor and a wise idea – turning the bodies into meat pies. Granted, not every barber with a straight razor is out to get you (probably) but, when faced with a service that puts you in a compromising position, such as a shave, it’s prudent to remember that it’s 2013 and you can buy decent razors almost anywhere. No need to tempt fate.
6. Leave a Note Before You Leave
It’s usually wise to leave a note if you plan on going somewhere – especially if that somewhere happens to be a rural town in the Welsh countryside. The members of the hit TV series Torchwood learned this lesson the hard way when they were investigating mysterious disappearances in the country village of Brynblaidd in the infamous Countrycide episode of Season 1. The Torchwood team soon discovered the source of the Brynblaidd disappearances – the cannibalistic villagers.
Stranded in the middle of nowhere, they were cut off from outside communication and absolutely NO ONE knew where they were. Luckily, as they often do, the team managed to come out of the ordeal intact … physically.
7. Don’t Overlook or Underestimate the Quiet Ones
Silent but deadly is one way you could have described Sin City‘s iconic human-monster “Kevin.” Looking to make a clean break from the “nice guy” image he built in the Lord of the Rings films, Elijah Wood decided his next big role would be the silent cannibal of the 2005 Sin City film. What made Kevin particularly memorable was the complete lack of anything obviously resembling a human soul. Whenever you DID see his eyes past the obscuring glare of his glasses, the gaze was vacant, and whenever he fought, his moves were agile like an animal and lacking any mechanisms or mannerisms resembling humanity.
What really sold the creep factor on this cannibal, though, was when he finally got his comeuppance at the hands of equally creepy vigilante, Marv. Even with half his body eaten by a wolf and his head slowly hacked away with a saw, Kevin never ONCE utters a sound and smiles serenely the whole time.
8. Don’t Waste Time Appealing to Their Humanity
The only thing more dangerous than just any old cannibal is a cannibal who actually thinks they’re right with God and, frighteningly enough, most of them have reached this point. How do you think they go on living with themselves? It’s probably cheating, but we’re going to list off another cannibal from Sin City – Patrick Henry Roark.
Not only did he keep silent about Kevin’s actions, he willfully joined in on the feasts. The really messed up part about it, though, is that they both, especially Patrick, believed they were inheriting the sinful souls of all the prostitutes they cannibalized. They believed they were delivering them to salvation. Try reasoning with that? You can’t. When faced with a cannibal, indicting them on their actions may not be the best use of your time – they are fully aware of what they’re doing.
9. Be Careful Who You Tell Regarding Cannibals
While we mentioned, earlier, that cannibals do not make up the majority of humanity (and hooray for that), that doesn’t mean they don’t stick together. Probably the largest group of fictional cannibals around is the Soylent Corporation. They not only regulated cannibalism, but made it mainstream.
You often hear about people mysteriously disappearing when they stand against the corporations. In the case of the Soylent Corporation, however, they aren’t going to simply “make you go away.” That would be wasteful.
10. Never Ever Leave the House Again
Among their litany of devious qualities, cannibals also carry another quality – their ability to blend with the rest of us. Many of the cannibals we’ve listed demonstrate this quality, but probably one of the more iconic ones is Patrick Bateman. Now, forget what you know about American Psycho and forget EVERYTHING you’ve seen of the Nolan Batman films.
Take one look at Patrick Bateman and tell me you think he’s a cannibal. That’s the real horror behind these “unique” individuals – they know how to blend. That’s why, if all else fails, maybe the best piece of advice on this list is to simply never leave the house. You just can’t tell.
Besides, you can buy pretty much everything you need online from groceries to cars. Who needs to socialize? Who needs to date? Some of us like being single and uneaten …
London McGuire is a freelance writer and blogger for WeLoveTVMore.com. In addition to the horror and thriller genres, she enjoys writing about sports, great food and anything related to television or movies. Follow her on Twitter @londonmcguire.
First, a big thank you to Michelle Proulx for letting me write a guest blog in honor of the July 31st debut of my second book, Legends of Windemere: Prodigy of Rainbow Tower. I think that covers the shameless self-promotion part of the program. Wait. Feel free to buy and read Legends of Windemere: Beginning of a Hero, so you’re ready for the sequel. There. That should do it.
So, you want to write a sequel. It’s a common malady for fiction authors. You love your characters and you have subplots that need more time to run their course. You have a new villain that you want to use. That infomercial at 3AM gave you the best idea for another story with the same characters. There’s also the chance that you had a series planned all along and this is the natural progression of your career. In the end, the sequel is there and you’re ready to write it.
My story is that my books are based on a college Dungeons & Dragons game. I knew from the beginning that a series would have to happen. Each semester had a different quest as the heroes moved through the dice rolls. Then I realized I had to put some work in and altered a lot before I sat down to write. The big difference is that characters don’t evolve too much over the course of a single adventure in a game. In fact, many players have their characters stay the same in terms of mentality and emotions. I had to shake things up and put growth into the story, which is why I take sequels very seriously. You need all of your main characters to change in every book even if it’s minor. For example, one character might go through a life-changing event while another learns a new skill. Both are growth, but one is definitely heavier than the other.
I would say one of the most difficult parts of writing a sequel (and I’m writing the 5th book of the series here) is balance of characters. Specifically, your old characters versus your new characters. You have your original heroes that you need to keep some focus on and retain what they had in the first book. You must also put them in situations that test their strength and develop them beyond their original forms. This takes a lot of work because you don’t want to go too far or spend all of your time on it. Yes, these are the characters you started with and they have seniority, but they also have fans and reputations that your new characters are setting out the gain.
The balance with new characters is that you need to highlight them without overshadowing your old characters. They need to merge into the preexisting group, but not so flawlessly that it’s unbelievable. Think about how you make new friends and try to work off that. You might even want to go with a new character that the old ones have trouble getting along with. I introduce a very powerful spellcaster named Nyx in my new book. She is temperamental, rude, and difficult to get along with at first. It makes for an interesting story because she butts heads with the main hero of the first book, Luke Callindor. This gave me the opportunity to delve into the tolerance and friendship making ability of these two characters. In the end, I create a very tight and clear dynamic between them.
Here are some simple tips about writing a sequel:
Those are the big points about writing a sequel. If this inspired you to write a sequel or plan a series then I’ve done my job. Again, have fun and enjoy yourself!
You can check out Charles Yallowitz’s debut novel, Beginning of a Hero, by clicking here.
And you can check out the sequel (release date: July 31, 2013), Prodigy of Rainbow Tower, by clicking here.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of our epic guest post marathon! To wrap up this insightful month, we have Bridget Whelan discussing creative writing, and why taking a class on the subject isn’t the end of the world.
Can Creative Writing Be Taught?
Musicians take lessons and artists go to art school, but people frown if you mention casually that you’ve enrolled in a creative writing course. It’s almost as if writing is like charisma – you either have it or you don’t.
The great writers of the past didn’t go back into the classroom before they penned their masterpiece, non-writing friends mutter darkly, but it seems to me that courses are another way of doing something writers have always done: learn their craft, experiment while they learn, and share the results with others who understand the challenge, before sending it out to the wider world.
Yeats set up The Rhymers’ Club in the last decade of the 19th century, long before he became a celebrated playwright and poet. He and his friends met at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese just off Fleet Street in central London and, like writing groups today, they (self) published two anthologies.
While art comes from within, you can learn literary techniques that will help you to be the writer you want to be. Against-the-clock writing exercises might seem very contrived, but the poet Ted Hughes believed that they help writers to overcome their inhibitions:
“The compulsion towards haste overthrows the ordinary precautions … Barriers break down, prisoners come out of their cells.”
But I have to admit not always. Ten minutes can seem like an awfully long time when it’s the wrong exercise, you’re in the wrong mood, or you’re saddled with the wrong tutor (It happens). Mind you, even that experience is an important lesson for writers. We are too ready to beat ourselves up if a passage of writing refuses to sing. What we need to do is accept and move on. Work through it. Write.
And that is exactly what you have to do in class.
There is another benefit to attending a course. Until a publishing house is breaking down the door, desperate for a completed manuscript, we have to make our own goals and deadlines, and classroom assignments are one way of doing that.
I teach in Brighton and London, and believe passionately that creative writing is the most vocational subject on the timetable. It always helps to be able to use words effectively – especially when faced with the most intimidating blank page you are ever likely to see: Why do you want this job?
This autumn, creative writing is being offered as an A Level class for the first time. I’m delighted that being creative is officially recognised as a good thing in schools. However, I know that one size does not fit all, and taught courses are not right for everyone.
There is only one certain way to learn the craft of creative writing, and it applies to 16 year olds, post grad students, and retired factory workers with a story to tell and no desire to go back into the classroom:
Write as much you can and read as much as you can.
And keep on keeping on.
Bridget has run workshops in art galleries and museums, at community centres, and in adult education institutes. Three years after graduating from Goldsmiths College MA programme in Creative and Life Writing, she returned as a lecturer in non fiction writing. Bridget has also been writer in residence at a centre for the unemployed and low waged.
You can find her blog at http://bridgetwhelan.com/. She publishes a writing exercise every Monday, and on Safari Friday she highlights websites that are useful to writers and readers.
You can follow her on twitter at @agoodconfession, and she would love you to come over and be friends on facebook.
Unrelated media of the day:
I recently discovered this song whilst wandering the interwebs. It’s Japanese, and very odd — full of vampires and very intense guys rocking out on guitars and whatnot. After watching this with my brother, we had to go look up the lyrics, because we wanted to figure out what the connection between the video and the actual song were — turns out, the video is an extremely accurate representation of the lyrics (as in, the song really is about vampires and epic battles and whatnot). Who knew? Anyway, listen and enjoy, and I’ve included the translated lyrics below for your entertainment.
In the gloomy darkness,
The black storm roars.
My only wish
After the battle of destiny
Is to see you.
Why are you devoted
To my loathsome blood,
Is this thought a sin?
Now I will fight
So that the days when we rusted
Can shine again.
With these fangs.
Each one of us
Is burdened with the permanent past.
As we repeatedly seek repentance.
Enduring the unhealable scars.
But still, without hesitating,
We can change our fate.
Tell me, my girl
Is there any hope in tears?
Let me revive
The stole days of love
With my hands.
Dream of that much.
We will keep walking,
Towards the thoughts of our hearts.
I lie in despair.
Tear the shield apart,
And send the light forth!
Open your eyes, rusty hearts
Only you were there.
You taught me about the love that was beginning.
If I devote my life to it,
I will be the one to save you.
Now I will fight
So that the days when we rusted
Can shine again.
Even if I don’t have the you of those days,
I can still love forever.
If someday you decide to
Take back that smile,
It would be a sin.
If this body is corrupted,
Believe in love.
Shouting, rusty hearts.
The Point of No Return
As writers, many times we think of ourselves as authors when we become published, whether self-published or via traditional publishing. I have read of indie authors expressing the desire of being recognized by traditional publishers by obtaining a contract. Traditional publishing is still a goal or dream for some indie authors. I guess it is a personal issue, and how an author feels “fulfilled in the craft.” To each their own – everyone must follow their own journey. However, there is another area that seems to be of less concern to some writers/authors, and this is what I want to write about in this post: At what point does an author/writer cross the point of no return to become an entrepreneur/business owner?
I thought about it many times (as I am in the journey), and I think that the answer is different for everyone. It is more of a process, one that requires growth, acceptance (from yourself), and a mind shift. It takes the writer from a position of “I write because I love to write” or “I want to be published”, to a mind frame that sounds more like this – “I am in the business of writing; it is what I love to do, and how I make a living (or plan to)” or “I am an author; I write stories and this is my business …”
We all start as writers. Many cross to become authors (defined traditionally), but many of us neglect or do not cross into the entrepreneurial/business side of the deal. We do not see ourselves as business owners, and we prefer to stick to “the writing side,” forgetting to nourish the other side of our craft. I have heard many times that no matter if you self-publish or publish traditionally, you are still responsible for promoting and marketing your novels/books. No matter how you enter the publishing world, it stops where you are – the responsibility is ultimately yours. Granted, you have tons of help via the traditional way; however, you are the “entity” behind and in front of your work, and it is up to you to take it to the next level.
How do you know when, or if, you have crossed the point of no return? It is a matter of how you see yourself and your craft. For the purpose of this post, let’s call the writer who has not crossed to the entrepreneurial side Author, and the other, Author Entrepreneur (Author-E). Both, Author and Author-E have passion, purpose, and love what they do. Both love to write and they have fun doing it. They love to socialize and interact with readers, whether in person or via social media. Both may have built a platform, and may have published one or more novels/books. The number of books is not important here. You can have an Author with many novels published and an Author-E with one or two novels published so far; however, Author-E probably has more books in the making, as Author-E sees and focuses on the business part.
For Author-E, consistency is important. Author might not have developed that part yet. Author-E tries to achieve consistency by building a brand (across the websites/blogs/book covers …). Author might be struggling with building a platform or blog, and does not quite have figured out the branding part yet, or is just in the process of doing it. Author-E has created a persona and transferred it into a business structure by taking the steps of legalizing this brand, and growing/developing a physical image of it (logos, business cards, business ID registration, business entity …). For Author-E, mostly every step he/she takes is oriented to business growth, promotion, and marketing. For Author, this area is still new, in the development stage, or simply not one of his/her goals. Author-E continues to work on it every single day knowing that this will take time and tons of effort, and recognizes it as a lifestyle, since the business persona that he/she has created is real. Steady growth is more important to Author-E than quantity or buzz, since success is tied to not only profits, but also lifestyle. Author may want to see profits fast and becomes discouraged if the sales don’t happen, while Author-E knows that many times it will take working “for free” before he/she sees any profits, and is less likely to become discouraged because he/she is aware of the journey. Author may want to achieve the same balance, but he/she still needs to find a balance between these components, as well as decide how to put the pieces together, implement, and even consider if he/she wants to step up to the process.
Author and Author-E may start the same in the writing/publishing journey, but eventually the road will split and each must decide on following their own path (what is right for you). This is why it is so important to gauge your own process, and discover “the persona” throughout the journey, because at one point, you may reach the point of no return.
Maria Antonia Diaz is the author of Moonlit Valley and The Dinorah Chronicles – Ramblings of the Spirit, Book 1 in the trilogy. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and artist. She is the founder of The Owl, Book & Candle. She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Eddie, and six felines. She describes herself as a student of this Universe, and a Master of none.
Unrelated media of the day:
The following delightful examples of Engrish came from here: http://imgur.com/a/CuH8k
Today we have guest poster Beth Madden from The Doll Thermometer here with us. We both had a lot of fun with this post — she told me to give her a bunch of random nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs, and then she crafted a scene out of the words I supplied. See the result below:
Reclaiming Right with a Handsome Face on the Side
And now, a randomly generated scene for Michelle …
Nouns: poodle, pizza, starship, hot chocolate, bridge, scimitar, magic
Adjectives: fluffy, crazy, awesome, gargantuan, translucent
Verbs: cavort, sprawl, collapse
‘What I wouldn’t give for a bite of pizza.’ Rin’s wistful sigh joined the hum of the swirling wind at the cliff’s edge. Her sinewy body sprawled beneath a gargantuan shrub, she eyed the bridge spanning the strait below.
‘And maybe a hot chocolate chaser,’ Miki joined in Rin’s longing for simple fare. Or any fare, for that matter. The chill in the mist biting on her sun-accustomed skin, Miki was squashed in the shell of a collapsed tree, sheathed scimitar hugged close to her chest.
‘Soon, we can afford both,’ Rin promised. Despite the frequent traffic below – the steel suspension bridge was the only crossing between the mainland and the agricultural island adjacent, and was often thick with fluffy sheep, ten abreast – Rin had been assured her quarry would catch anyone’s eye. And Rin wasn’t just anyone. She was hired power. And she was hungry. Nothing could hone her eyes to a finer edge.
Miki was grateful Rin had asked her along, but had questioned the decision, knowing her abilities wouldn’t be required on this mission.
‘I won’t steal from you,’ she’d said, keen for the offered coins but reluctant to sink lower than she’d already managed. It was a stringent society they’d been forced to join, here.
‘It’s not stealing. You never know when you’ll need a sword master in your pocket.
‘There,’ Rin now breathed. Miki edged from her shelter. Keeping low, she wriggled forward on her belly to have a look, following the point of Rin’s fingers.
‘It’s only an old woman!’ she exclaimed, tasting dirt as Rin shoved her face into the ground.
‘Keep it down.’
Spitting, Miki peered over the cliff again. The woman approached the mainland, and Miki saw her furs were thick, adorned with jewels that glittered like far-distant stars in the translucent sunlight. But her finery was not as conspicuous as the pale purple poodle, fluffier than any sheep Miki had yet seen, trotting at her heels.
‘Lilac fluffball in tow,’ Rin muttered, satisfied she’d found her target.
‘Who is it?’ Miki asked as the poodle cavorted about the woman’s feet. Miki had no use for such creatures, but it certainly was endearing. Nothing like the stately, snobby lapdogs that stalked about town gardens with their equally snobby owners.
‘I don’t know. The deputy mayor’s mother? An old gang lord’s mistress?’
‘You didn’t ask?’
Miki suddenly tasted worse than dirt. She scraped her tongue across the roof of her mouth in distaste. However she abhorred the upper-class that demeaned them, picking off a potential innocent at a distance was hardly fair.
‘This goes against every code I follow,’ Miki grumbled. ‘The warrior’s code, my moral code… what have we become? We have to get off this moon.’
Rin said nothing. Hot magic gathered in her fist; Miki felt as though she lay alongside a pleasant campfire. Though she appreciated the warmth, she fought the urge to pinch her friend and break her focus.
‘Rin…’ she murmured disparagingly. But her stomach ached too badly to protest more.
What was that about not wanting to sink any lower? Miki thought dismally as she began to sweat, the air temperature jumping alarmingly. Rin cocked her weapon, fingers deadly double-barrels and blazing.
‘Almost there,’ she breathed, the epitome of concentration. Miki closed her eyes against guilt, hiding in the hum of the wind and the build up of power in Rin’s well-aimed fingertips.
The hum was suddenly a lot louder. And where had the pale sunlight gone? Miki blinked open her eyes. The entire cliff was cast in shadow, and the air thrummed. Below, the poodle gave a yip and tore from its lead, racing back towards the island. Rin’s target turned about, puffing as she tried to catch her frightened pet.
‘Damn that crazy dog,’ Rin swore, and fired twice in quick succession. The blasts rattled Miki’s eardrums, but a far more pressing concern had just landed at their backs.
‘Rin,’ she whispered, making her furious friend look. Rin stopped cursing straightaway.
A massive starship had taken over the cliff’s edge.
They’d not seen any starships since – well, since the one that had marooned them.
Before the pair could truly accept the awesome sight, a door was sailing open, and a gangway streamed to the stones like a silver glacier. Moments later, a shadowed figure appeared at its head. It strode languidly towards them, its smile revealed to be charming as his features appeared with light and proximity.
Fear dissipating, Miki grinned, sheathing her rapidly-drawn scimitar.
Even had she dinner waiting, she would keep it hanging on for such a handsome face.
‘Do you girls need a lift?’
‘That’d be great,’ Rin recovered before Miki, his words more glorious than any they could have hoped to hear.
‘Where are you headed?’
‘Anywhere, so long as it’s away from here.
‘Still want to lecture me on morality?’ Rin whispered as they brushed over the young man’s questions. No, they didn’t need to fetch anything. They could leave immediately. No one would miss them, and they had nothing to miss.
‘I’ll get right on that,’ Miki murmured back. If their lost sense of right and wrong had given them the chance to escape this thankless moon and reclaim their souls – not to mention this gorgeous being to look at and an upcoming meal in the galley, if they were lucky – Miki considered that a win.
Unrelated media of the day:
In honour of my one year blogging anniversary, I present to you the ultimate milestone-achievement song:
Any else tear up when they hear this song? God. Every time.
When it comes to fictional protagonists, how bad is too bad? I’m not talking about villains here, but main characters. Heroes, or more accurately, anti-heroes.
A few of these dubious dudes come readily to mind: Victor Frankenstein, Steerpike from Mervyn Peake’s first two Gormenghast books, Hannibal Lecter (specifically in Thomas Harris’s book Hannibal), Dexter Morgan, and Herbert West (both H.P. Lovecraft’s original and my version).
What about female evil protagonists, you ask? Well, aside from Medea, I can think of only two — the horrible little girl in The Bad Seed by William March, and another one called Willie who is the main character of Daughter of Darkness by J.R. Lowell, a book I found quite fascinating when I was young and less discriminating. Both of these girls are totally evil.
While this is by no means a complete list, it provides scope for analysis.
Some might argue that Steerpike is not a protagonist, but I believe he is, at least of the first book, Titus Groan. It ends with Titus still as an infant. The opening chapters present Mr. Flay, Swelter (who is undoubtedly a villain) and young Steerpike. It’s natural for the reader to identify with him as he escapes from the chaotic kitchen and its grotesque chef and is hustled through endless corridors by Flay. His harrowing climb over the rooftops and fortuitous meeting with Fuchsia in her secret attic make him seem quite heroic. Throughout the book, Steerpike is the doer of deeds and primary plot mover, which is why I consider him a (if not the) protagonist. He begins as a rebel against the mindless, stultifying traditions of Gormenghast, but once he inveigles himself into a position of influence in the gargantuan edifice, he quickly shows himself to be evil.
Hannibal Lecter appears in four books by Thomas Harris. In Red Dragon, he’s a shadowy figure, emerging more prominently in The Silence of the Lambs, where he plays a complex villain opposite Clarice Starling, who is definitely the protagonist. In Hannibal, Harris squashes Starling into something unrecognizable and turns Lecter into the main character.
Why would a writer want to write a book around someone who is evil? First, to explain how the person got that way. Second, to bring about their well-deserved destruction (in which case a “good” protagonist needs to take over); or, third, to bring about their redemption.
Childhood abuse or trauma is often invoked to explain these characters’ murderous deeds. Sometimes this element is introduced after the fact, when the writer has become invested in the evildoer and needs to explain or legitimize his atrocities. In the third Hannibal Lecter book, Harris creates a grotesque backstory for him, fleshing it out further in the “prequel,” Hannibal Rising. Something similar precipitates Dexter Morgan into his career as a serial vigilante, and by the third book, we find out that he harbours a Dark Passenger.
Steerpike’s precipitating event is the fire he starts in the library of Gormenghast. His intention is to create an opportunity for heroism, but it results in death and madness. A subsequent, unintended fire, which breaks out during an act of murder, scars him for life and turns him into a grotesque, unmistakable villain.
H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West has no precipitating event; he is initially amoral rather than evil, driven by cold rationalism and scientific zeal, like Victor Frankenstein and many another mad scientist. By killing a travelling salesman to create a really fresh specimen for his reanimating process, he becomes a murderer.
Justified or not, the evil protagonist must be redeemed or destroyed. Change or die, as the business gurus say. A writer can, by adding attractive characters and interesting plot elements, turn the evildoer into a series or even a franchise, as with Dexter Morgan, Hannibal Lecter and the Re-Animator movies.
If the anti-hero is irredeemable, the plot revolves around his ultimate destruction, in which case another character emerges as the protagonist. This is what happens to Steerpike in Gormenghast, the second book of Peake’s trilogy. Something like that should happen to Hannibal the Cannibal, in my opinion, but he’s not my character. The things he does in Hannibal are just too repulsive to make him worthy of redemption, no matter what happened to him in childhood. It will be interesting to see what Harris and Hollywood do with him.
I’m not a fan of the Dexter books or TV series; in fact, I was annoyed to discover this character, because by then I had morphed my version of Herbert West into Francis Dexter. Yes, it’s a surname rather than given name, but I thought, “Great, now everyone will think I’m plagiarizing Jeff Lindsay.” In any case, it seems that Dexter Morgan undergoes the beginnings of redemption as the series goes on.
So what about Herbert West? In H.P. Lovecraft’s story, his imperfectly reanimated monsters gang up and rip him to shreds. In my trilogy, he is psychologically shredded and undergoes a transformation. Into what? Read the series and find out. Mwahahaha!
Conclusion: as soon as a character becomes interesting, he or she is worth keeping alive, no matter what evils they have perpetrated. But it’s crucial for the writer to maintain a balance between evil and innocence. Characters who are 100% evil are just as uninteresting as those who are 100% good, because they are inevitably one-dimensional and limited. Pits, flaws and irregularities attract attention. A reader wondering whether a character with a record of evil deeds is going to be redeemed, or whether a pure-hearted one can be broken or turned has a reason to keep reading.
Unrelated media of the day: