Redemption: Even in fiction it’s tough

Redemption

Webster makes it sound so easy….

Redeemable. That’s a big word in fiction writing. When you create a character, sometimes you don’t want them redeemable. You want a villain so evil people stand up and cheer at their fate, a la Dolores Umbridge. (Sorry, I wanted that woman to die more than I wanted Voldemort dead!) Sometimes you want people to understand why they are the way they are, to perhaps feel a twinge of understanding. Sometimes you want the character to be puzzling, so readers can’t quite decide if they’re completely evil or not.

All of this, of course, presupposes you have A Plan.

blueprint

See how nicely it all comes together when you have a plan?

But life–and writing–being what they are, sometimes things just happen. Like an editor buying what you assumed would be a standalone book, and then, when it’s too late to change anything, asking for a spinoff. And realizing that only one secondary character truly stood out enough to be the main character in said spinoff. And that character just happens to be…well, darn near irredeemable. As in one of Those. Yes, she’s a b*tch.

Bitch-pups

Dogs are for the most part nicer than people anyway, right?

And I don’t mean this kind, loving, loveable, and generally sweet. No, this female, unlike the one above, hasn’t got a nurturing bone in her body. But at the time I’m young, still a newbie, and foolish. I think I can do anything. I mean, how hard can it be to turn somebody around, right? I’m the writer, in that world I created I’m God, I invented her, didn’t I? Besides, the heroine of the first book, who was absolutely heroine material, had been friends with her once. So there had to be something good about her, didn’t there? I only had to find it. So, I set myself to the task. And how did it go? Kind of like this:

 

Frustration

Whose idea WAS this, anyway???

It wasn’t long before I was pacing the floor, yelling at myself for being an idiot. Why on earth–or any of the worlds I was writing about–had I ever thought I could save this woman? What had possessed me to choose her as a heroine? How on earth was I going to make this woman in the least heroic, let alone loveable?

I finally realized there was only one way to do this. I had to go back to the bones. I had to tear this woman down and try to rebuild her into something heroic. And I had to do it so thoroughly that readers would believe that it was possible for this woman to achieve that redemption. Had I realized what I was letting myself in for, I probably would have rethought it. But as I said, I was young and foolish and probably a bit cocky thanks to landing on the fast track my first published year and having sold a ridiculous number of books quickly. Ha. That’ll learn me, as my uncle used to say.

So I began. And for a long time my life felt like this:

construction - roofing

Wait, where does that stick go again?

And nearly 600 manuscript pages later, it was done. Whether I succeeded is not really up to me. Whatever I think, it is the reader who ultimately decides. Although I will happily accept the assessment of reviewer extraordinaire I mentioned in the last post, Melinda Helfer, who gave SKYPIRATE that rarest of accolades, one that has since been retired–an actual 5-star review in RT Magazine. The book also won a Reviewer’s Choice award, a Reader’s Voice award, and along with its predecessor, LORD OF THE STORM, was on the RT top 200 of all time list. So I guess maybe I did succeed. But I swear I will never try that again. Next b*tch I write stays one.

Heroes, on the other hand…..

 

LORD OF THE STORM and SKYPIRATE, re-released and available now in both e-book and print! Links on the book page, here: http://justinedavis.com/booklist.html

 

 

 

Frustration: Tanya Little https://www.flickr.com/people/50965643@N06 via Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

 

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The true story behind an award winner

contract

The holy grail, back in the day…..

Last post I told the story of revisiting a world I created two decades ago, to write a new, long-awaited story set in that same world. Now I’d like to tell you about how it all began. You see, there I was, a newbie writer (yes, I had several books already sold and a couple published, but I still felt like a newbie. Heck, to this day I feel like a newbie!) with a signed contract in hand, deadlines, obligations, and the promise of payment to in turn pay for things like food and shelter. I was working a full-time job that often morphed into more than full time–you don’t walk out in the middle of a hostage situation with shots fired–so my time was very tight. And yet….

An idea struck. Actually, more like an entire story, full-grown and feathered. (I blame the release of Star Wars at a very impressionable stage of my life) Scenes fully formed, characters I knew inside out, strange places, odd words that were unfamiliar yet clear (no glossary required, something that will turn me off many books), it was all battering at me. This had never happened to me before. I promised it I would get to it, as soon as I could. I placated it, begged it to leave me alone until I finished this contract. It would not. This story was nothing my current publisher would or could publish. It was pure self-indulgence, I told myself. It would be a book without a market. But it haunted me, day and night, until finally, when I had a vacation coming from the day job (which was really the night job, but that’s another story) I decided to use it to get this thing off my back. I warned my husband, closed the office door, and began.

It started like this:

Fire_close_up_texture

Wow, this is hot! In more ways than one….

But before long it was going like this, like taking dictation, and my fingers could barely keep up with my brain:

fire-speed

Where is this coming from???

It turned into a frenzied white-heat of writing, a string of twenty hour days that lasted…..three weeks. Yep, three weeks. And that is something I waited a very long time to publicly admit. As award-winning author Cindy Dees recently observed on Facebook, “Decades ago, authors were thought to be hacks if they turned out more than one novel a year. That was also before the advent of computers and the Internet which greatly streamlined the writing process.” But I’ve found a lot of that mindset lingers even after the ability to quickly create, edit, and communicate. And so I was hesitant to admit how quickly this book came.

What did it take to convince me it was safe? This:

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Okay, maybe it is safe to admit.

And that’s not even all of the honors LORD OF THE STORM accumulated. I don’t live and die for awards, but I won’t deny the satisfaction and gratification of receiving them. It is a tremendous honor, whether they come from fellow writers or readers, although I tend to think continuing to buy and talk about my books is the best award any reader can give me. And in this case, after the book received all these accolades and awards, I finally felt brave enough to admit how quickly it had been written, and that it was published virtually unchanged from my final manuscript. I probably wouldn’t worry about it that much today. Having sixty-plus books/novellas under your belt gives you a bit of confidence, I guess. But at the time, it was a Big Deal.

And I can’t talk about LORD OF THE STORM without acknowledging the godmother of the book, the late, much-missed Melinda Helfer, RT Magazine reviewer extraordinaire. Melinda read this book in manuscript form, and insisted it would be huge. It was Melinda who hooked me up with Hilary Ross, an editor from NAL/Penguin who happened to be looking for just such a story as this. The rest, as they say….

And so that is the story behind the book that will be re-issued this June by Bell Bridge Books, in both print (and they do gorgeous print books!) and e-book. But the tale doesn’t end there. (I’m a writer, of course it doesn’t…) Stay tuned for the next chapter, about the second book I never planned on, and how many times I kicked myself for even thinking a certain character was redeemable enough to be a heroine.

Of Storytellers and Mastodon Bones

Caroline Bonarde Ucci via Wiki Commons

I’ve always admired Russell Crowe as an actor. (I don’t do celebrity gossip, don’t care if he’s a jerk, I’m talking talent here.)

When he received a 2002 Screen Actor’s Guild Award, he had this to say:
“You know, I’m a storyteller. We are storytellers. And ours is an ancient tradition, contemporized by the cinema and the capturing of light. And we should all be very proud of our place in society. On any given night, millions of people across the world buy a ticket for adventures that only we as storytellers can provide. We release burdens, we galvanize emotions, we make people laugh, we make people talk over breakfast. This is a great job and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story. God bless narrative. God bless originality.”

I’m with him. He’s speaking, obviously, of films, but it applies to books just as much. Perhaps, in some ways, even more. Or at least, differently. Because we tell the story in a way that requires the participation of the reader. They must activate their own mind and imagination to process the words we present into the story being told. You can’t read and do anything else, except maybe—and dangerously–eat. (Well, I can read and knit, but that’s another story.) At least, not with any amount of concentration.

There’s an old tale about the origin of storytelling. When primitive men returned from the mastodon hunt, and gathered around the fire, someone would tell the tale of the hunt. In great, exciting, bloody detail, he would relate exactly what happened. Was he the first storyteller? No. The first storyteller was the guy who stood up next and told the tale of the one that got away and the hunt that might have been. The one who first used his imagination to build events that didn’t really happen, but seemed as if they could have. The one who created, in his listener’s minds, broader horizons, more amazing creatures, and more heroic hunters.

There’s been some resistance, indicated by lack of success or expansion of the idea, to enhanced e-books. And a lot of speculation about why. My theory is that it’s because they are two different processes. If you want a visual experience, you watch TV or a movie. If you want to read a story, you want to read a story. You want to visualize those characters in your mind in your own way, not that of a casting agency. (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? Seriously??) You want to picture the surroundings in your own way, perhaps furnishing it with things that are in your own experience, imagining that that painting of a landscape on the wall of a character’s home is very like the one on your own wall. The connections in reading occur on many levels, perhaps simply because we are one human being telling a story to another. We may not have a lot in common, but the connection is made for that simple reason—we are all human beings, and we share the joy and the pain that that brings.

Do you find this true? Are you sometimes in the mood only to watch, and sometimes find only reading will do? And if you’re a Lee Child/Jack Reacher fan, who would YOU have cast? (I have my choice, and I promise he would have been a much better fit!)