Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Beautiful First Appearances of Fabulous Villains

What makes a good villain? I suppose some people like an antagonist who is just pure evil, who does hideous and despicable things and wields great power. Others prefer a villain whose motives are understandable, who might even be somewhat sympathetic, one whose fall into evil makes sense. That sort of villain typically becomes more of a tragic figure than an incarnation of wickedness.

A villain's first entrance into the story is always significant and, if done right, can make for a memorable moment. That initial glimpse creates an impression that colors the rest of the story for the reader, I believe. Think of Darth Vader striding through the smoky door of the rebel ship in the opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope. It's a bold and mysterious first appearance (made less impactful now, perhaps, that we've seen the little kid version of pre-Vader shouting "Yippeee!").

Anyway, to that end, here are some excerpts from my novels with the first appearance of the main antagonists. There is no particular deep purpose here in isolating these bits of text except for my own curiosity about how these first appearances feel, what sort of immediate impression they make. So without further ado, let's begin.



Mary of the Aether
Leonard Watt

His first appearance is the opening paragraph of the novel, though readers do not get his name until quite a bit later. I like to think it's a pretty memorable opening.

The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag. He skirted the porch, paused, turned a complete circle and fell onto his hands and knees. A hood obscured most of his face, but Mary could see the tip of a pointy chin covered in whiskers. She sat at the living room window, leaning against the sill and resting her forehead against the cold glass, transfixed by the sight. The crazy man crawled through the high, un-mowed grass, his face close to the ground, shifting back and forth like a bloodhound chasing a scent. He stopped at the driveway, lifted his head and appeared to sniff at the air. Then he scooped up a handful of gravel and sifted it through his fingers.





Mary of Shadows
Gavin

Gavin, the primary troublemaker for much of Mary of Shadows, also appears in the opening chapter, interrupting Mary's birthday party in the park with some disturbing behavior. Here is his first actual appearance:

A figure stumbled out of the line of trees, hunched over, a man clutching his face. He wandered into the park, past the swing set and monkey bars, past wide-eyed children and a pair of corgi dogs on leashes who couldn’t decide whether to bark or whimper. The man’s eyes were covered, but he stumbled right toward the picnic table, as if seeing it in his mind....a trail of blood seeped out from under the man’s right hand and ran down his cheek. He had on a pale blue, button-up dress shirt, but the tail was un-tucked, and the breast pocket was torn and hung down like a bit of rent skin.





Mary of Starlight
Ronald Holt

Some of the same evil characters recur in this third volume of the series, but about halfway through, we do meet a significant new villain in the strange Ronald Holt. Here is his first appearance in this book:

“I surely hate getting bad news. I surely do. Anybody would.”


At first, Aiden thought it was Perry who had spoken and started to brush him off again, but then he realized the voice had come from his left side. A gruff voice, low and coarse. He turned and saw a man walking along beside him, ten yards away, keeping pace as he picked his way around the trees. Aiden had seen the man before, and he had expected to see him again but not so soon, not so suddenly. The man had a long white beard, black around his mouth, unkempt at the edges. It hung down to his chest. He wore a ragged fedora hat pulled low over his eyes and a long brown trench coat.


“It’s about the magical girl, I suppose,” the man said. “All of the bad news is about her these days, isn’t it?”





Children of the Mechanism
Watcher

There isn't really a single villain in Children of the Mechanism. Well, I suppose the factory itself counts as the primary antagonist, but the cruel Watcher robots serve as the primary source of danger for the main characters. Here is their first description in the early pages of the novel:

The Watcher entered the Sleeping Room through the archway, returning from whatever strange errand it had been about, and stopped in a corner near the Refuse Hole. A boy relieving himself finished quickly and dashed away. The Watcher had a shiny, cylindrical body, fat wheels for feet, a flat, circular head with dead eyes, but it was the arms that the boys paid special attention to, long segmented arms made of polished metal rods with cloth bulbs for hands. Those were the killing hands, and they were ever poised, ready to strike.

“One minute until work,” the Watcher said. “One minute.”




Dreams in the Void
Lord-General Durehen Tallek

His first appearance happens in the first chapter, even though his real purpose is not made clear to the protagonist until a few chapters later. But here is that first appearance:

Six men passed, and then one appeared, riding alone, who seemed greater than the others. He wore the same sort of armor, polished to a mirror shine, but massive silver wings curled out on either side of his helm above the cheek plates, and he had a double visor, the first raised all the way up, the second lifted halfway, revealing a set of dark eyes beneath a heavy brow. A man and not an empty suit. His long cloak was fringed in gold cloth, and he had drawn it around himself, clutching a fold of it in his gloved left hand.


Garden of Dust and Thorns
Magesh

The first real appearance of Magesh happens after the protagonist is captured and brought into a courtyard with some of her people. After waiting for a while in anxious silence, Magesh appears:

After some time, there arose a strange jingling sound from outside the courtyard, as if many chains were being shaken. She heard soldiers chanting that same word, the one that sounded like death, but in hushed voices. Finally, a pair of soldiers entered the courtyard, bearing a padded bench stolen from someone’s house. They set it in the open space at the center of the courtyard, then took up positions on either side of it. 


A man entered, markedly different from the others. He had no hood, only a long gray cape fringed in silver brocade. On his head was a kind of crown made of woven strips of leather, alternating red and black. His face, unlike the others, was uncovered, a hard face, features chiseled out of stone, framed by short curls of graying hair. He crossed the courtyard in four long strides, as the prisoners along the walls murmured and groaned, turned in one swift motion and sat down on the bench. He had a small curved sword sheathed at his side, but he drew it now and laid the blade across his thigh. 


“Bring him,” he said, after a moment. Dark eyes beneath bushy eyebrows, a sharp nose, flaring nostrils, thin lips, deep creases at the corners of his mouth and along his forehead.




Vale of Ghosts
Vyshe

Now, this situation is somewhat unique in that the true villain of this whole fantasy series doesn't appear until fairly late in the first book. Prior to that moment, the protagonist has no idea what she's dealing with. In fact, when he first appears, she mistakes him for a statue:

And sitting on the bench was some bent-backed old statue, gray and mottled skin like polished marble. Someone had draped it in a filthy robe that was falling apart. It was the figure of a man with well-defined muscles, its face hidden in its hands.

But then it reveals itself to be a living thing:

Suddenly, the statue moved. First, it shuddered, as if waking. Then it sat up. She saw an angular face, delicately carved. The lips parted to reveal rows of pale teeth, and the eyelids opened to reveal hollow spaces where eyes should have been. But when the statue turned toward them, she realized the hollow spaces were not empty. Tiny specks of light flashed deep inside, pinprick lights like distant stars.

And, of course, from that point on, things get markedly worse for all involved.


There are many more--General Mattock from Shadows of Tockland. Devourers from the Mary of the Aether series. Sindaya from Garden of Dust and Thorns. The Master from Children of the Mechanism--along with a few that I can't name because they are revealed during major plot twists.

So what do you think? What makes a memorable antagonist? What makes a memorable first appearance for a story's villain?



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Favorite Characters

I love a good character. Actually, I love writing a good character as much as reading about one. Now, what makes a character "good" is highly subjective, and in particular what I enjoy about writing a certain character may not translate into what readers enjoy, or don't enjoy, about the same. In general, what makes me enjoy writing a particular character usually has to do with a combination of a quirky personality and clear (to me, the author) motives. To that end, here are some of the characters that I've most enjoyed writing over the years.


Cakey the Clown (aka Gavril Tugurlan) 

This will come as no surprise to those who have read the novel, I suppose. In the end, Cakey stands out quite a bit for his weird antics and strange behavior. The particular iteration of Cakey that appears in my novel Shadows of Tockland is a genuine weirdo, driven by a mysterious childhood, some Roma prophecies with apocalyptic leanings, and a significant amount of psychological trauma and guilt. All of this combines to create a character who is fearless, overly confident, occasionally threatening and dangerous, hard for other characters to like, but also quite talented (at juggling knives and other useful things).




Kristen Grossman 

Now, here's a character that some readers just do not like at all, but she is one my favorites. In the Mary of the Aether series, Kristen is the protagonist's "best" friend, and by "best" I mean "sort of a nuisance and sometimes a bully and too often present." She is sarcastic, and sometimes it is not clear if the sarcasm comes from genuine meanness and hostility or if she's trying, in a lame way, to be funny. Readers that see her as just a bully who is constantly insulting everyone tend not to like her. As the author, of course, I understand that a lot of this comes from fear and pain, and by the second novel, Mary of Shadows, it should become clear to readers that she has a profound sense of abandonment tied to her father. Though that doesn't excuse her behavior, as the author, I always knew that there was, under the crust of sarcasm and annoyance, a tender-hearted soul who yearned to do something awesome in life. At the same time, the sarcasm was fun to write, I must admit.




Kuo 

If you've read Children of the Mechanism, you know that it is a dark and relentlessly bleak novel about child slaves living and working in a vast factory, lorded over my cruel robots called Watchers. Because of their strange childhoods, all of the characters exhibit unhealthy emotional development, reacting to things in unnatural ways, but none of the major characters is stranger than the one called Kuo. Now, as an author, I am fully aware that Kuo is most likely suffering from some kind of genuine mental illness, probably schizophrenia, among other things. However, along the way he has some major revelations about his world that set in motion all of the events driving the plot. His compulsion, his shifting view of the character called "Rel" (part-real and part-hallucination), and ultimately his drive to fulfill his purpose make him, for me, a compelling character.




Vyshe 

I can't say too much about this character because he is the antagonist in an unfinished fantasy series of mine called The Archaust Saga. The first volume, The Vale of Ghosts, is available, but I've done little to promote it. Mostly, I am waiting until the second volume is closer to completion. I'm about two thirds of the way through that one. Anyway, let me be frank, Vyshe is a despicable creature who does terrible things. I don't like him as a person, but his motives are weird, and his skill-set is unusual, and his personality makes him a real oddball. He is up to all sorts of shenanigans in the second volume. He creeps me out, and he is gross and vile, but as a villain, I am truly enjoying writing about him. Not to say I won't be relieved if and when he gets defeated. But I won't say much more about him at this time.



Anyway, I've enjoyed far more of my characters than this, but these few are among my favorites. Getting into the headspace of a character as you write about him or her is part of the fun of creating novels, but the author's experience of a character is often quite different from a reader's experience of the same. For my readers out there, which of my characters, if any, have you enjoyed? Are your feelings about the ones in this list different than mine? Let me know.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Joy of Chapter Titles

Although it may seem like a minor aspect of writing a novel, I really enjoy creating chapter titles. I think a good chapter title has a profound effect on the reader. Ideally, it should give some ominous inkling of what it to come without revealing too much. Done right, the reader reaches the end of a chapter, turns the page, sees the title of the next chapter and says, "Uh oh."

For example, in my novel Shadows of Tockland, one of the main characters, an oddball circus performer by the name of Cakey, keeps talking about some terrible impending event called the "ever-night." He is vague about the particulars, but he is convinced this event is coming and that it will be catastrophic. And then, all of a sudden, readers turn a page, and there is the chapter title: Ever-night. *cue ominous music*



In Children of the Mechanism, the characters keep descending deeper and deeper into a massive factory, encountering stranger and more terrible things as they go. Then, all of a sudden, readers turn the page and see the next chapter title: The Bottom of the World. They've reached the bottom. What awful thing will they find there?



It might be something subtle. In my Young Adult novel Mary of Shadows, there is a chapter early on called The Worst Person in the World. My hope is that when readers see it, the title piques their interest--The worst person in the world? Who could that be?--and makes them want to keep reading to find out.



Now, with all of that said, I believe I have just created my own personal favorite chapter title. I can't give any context for it because I'm not done writing the novel. This new story has a little bit of the vibe of Children of the Mechanism, if not quite so bleak and oppressive. But I think maybe the title will be interesting all by itself. Behold:

The Sweet Embrace of a Thousand Monsters

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another Novel Comes Pouring Out

So I haven't updated the blog in a while, and I wish to rectify that immediately and tout de suite. What am I working on these days, you might ask? Well, I am two chapters into a new novel with the working title Teth of the City. Some of you will be excited (and others disturbed) to hear that it has a similar flavor and feeling to Children of the Mechanism. It is not set in the same world (I don't think; we'll see), and it's not about child labor, but it does have that same dirty, dystopian, claustrophobic feeling.

Imagine a vast, grungy metropolis with massive metal walls and buildings (something like Blade Runner's version of Los Angeles without the flying cars, billboards, neon lights or crowds of people). A haze hangs over everything, turned to luminous fire by the rising and setting sun. In the midst of this sprawling city, there is a vast wall, and set into this wall are thousands of small balconies. Our protagonist, Teth, lives and works on one of these balconies, eking out a living while trying to hide from his tragic past. His life begins to unravel when a new courier shows up one day to make his daily delivery of provisions. Her name is Cera, and she seems to know him. Alarmingly, she remembers his past, and she claims to have secret information about things that happened to him long ago, things he has tried very hard to forget.

So there you go. Without giving away too much, that is the gist of Teth of the City. I really, really like the setting, and the story will have some truly creepy and beautiful moments, I do believe. It has a nice dream-like quality to it, in my opinion. If you liked Children of the Mechanism or even Shadows of Tockland, I think this one will be right up your alley. It's pouring out of my brain pretty fast, so it should be completed and published in a couple of months.

 Cover Art by Wisconsinart | Dreamstime.com

Cover Art © Wisconsinart | Dreamstime.com


Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Most Compelling Words in the History of Time

Let's play the Opening Paragraph game, folks. It's very simple. I post the opening paragraphs to my various novels, and you decide which one is most compelling and which opening paragraph most makes you want to read the rest of the novel. Sound fun? No? Oh, well, let's play anyway.

Children of the Mechanism 

First came the screaming, the sound of some monstrous thing crying out from the darkness. Then came the babbling, a boy wordlessly pleading for help, and one sound melted into the other. Bik fled from it, fighting his way out of the dream, but the noise chased him, turning at the end into the blare of the morning alarm. Finally, he opened his eyes in the dim, red light and heard it echoing off the metal walls, a singular note, high and harsh.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y01PF9Q


The Vale of Ghosts

Ann heard screams through the window, though the shutters had been pulled and latched and a pillow shoved into the space behind it. A tortured scream, the scratchy warbling howl of a monster. She was crouched in the dirt beneath the windowsill, jabbing a crooked stick into the ground between her feet and trying to appear like she wasn’t listening, like she hadn’t a care in the world. A ladybug landed on her knee, and she offered it the end of the stick. It climbed onto the stick, and she held it up into the air until it flew away.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Z85FBQA


Shadows of Tockland

David spotted him first, the old man with the scabs on his head lurching out of his seat on the front row, clapping his big, gnarled hands as he shuffled toward the stage. Bubbles the Clown was the current performer, a petite woman in a loose, silvery costume. She had a bamboo pole balanced on her open palm, a large ceramic plate spinning on top of it. The tent was filled to overflowing, but the attention of most people was drawn upward to the wobbling plate. Consequently, the old man got all the way to the stage without anyone hindering him. He gave one last clap, did a little stutter step on his bare feet, and lunged at Bubbles, snagging one of her billowing pant legs.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O4QXK9Y


Garden of Dust and Thorns 

The shapes of men materialized out of the dust clouds, bodies wreathed in loose cloth of black and gray. Hoods and veils hid their faces, but they moved with purpose, marching in ranks. Though the distance was great, Adhi saw the glint of polished blades, of long silver spears and curved scimitars, catching the heavy rays of the lowering sun as it sank below the ridge in the west. She counted over three dozen men, but there were more of them behind the wall of dust. She saw a hint of movement, as of dozens more, gathering in the open land between the dunes.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ME4SJBW
 

Dreams in the Void

A man in a tattered leather jerkin and pale blue doublet writhed in the shadowy space between the rocks, clawing at his clothes. Jeren spotted him from the cliff’s edge as he braced himself against a skeletal tree. The highway ran a twisting course through a steep ravine, winding its way toward the snow-capped peaks in the west. Tumbled rocks lined the road here and there, piled up in some places to create makeshift walls, safe places to camp when the harsh winds howled down from the mountains. It was in one of these places that the man lay, kicking at the rocks and thrashing. 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B011W96XIU



Mary of the Aether

The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag. He skirted the porch, paused, turned a complete circle and fell onto his hands and knees. A hood obscured most of his face, but Mary could see the tip of a pointy chin covered in whiskers. She sat at the living room window, leaning against the sill and resting her forehead against the cold glass, transfixed by the sight. The crazy man crawled through the high, un-mowed grass, his face close to the ground, shifting back and forth like a bloodhound chasing a scent. He stopped at the driveway, lifted his head and appeared to sniff at the air. Then he scooped up a handful of gravel and sifted it through his fingers.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008LM2DA4


Okay, folks, that's a whole passel of opening paragraphs just for you. Which one, based on the paragraph alone, makes you want to read the rest of the book?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Suddenly, Mechanisms!

So if I'm being entirely honest, I'm pretty terrible at self promotion. Lots of writers do a better job at getting their names out there. I see them using book promotions, blog tours, forum posts, paid ads, newsletters, press releases and all manner of interesting tools and online devices to drive sales. I've dabbled in a little bit of all of those without any real sense of whether or not they've helped.

Instead, what tends to happen to me is that all of a sudden one of my books will make a bunch of sales for no particular reason, and then it will taper off. Lately, this has been Children of the Mechanism. For some reason, it has done particular well on the Kindle Unlimited program this past month.

Not sure how to account for that. I haven't really promoted it much, except to mention the new paperback edition I just put out.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y01PF9Q

So there you go. I suppose if you want to read the book of mine that is getting the most attention lately, this is the one. Ultimately, it is one of my darkest novels, but it has a unique structure and some fairly interesting little characters. Also, lots of weird names like Bik, Hen, Ekir, Kuo, Lus, Tag, Rel.

Just watch out for the Watchers and the Refuse Hole. That's not good times right there, friends. And be sure to feed the Grong while you're at it.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Latest Developments


Various and sundry interesting things are happening in the world of Jeffrey Aaron Miller novels, so let me dive right in. First of all, some of my books are getting new covers and new editions.

Garden of Dust and Thorns is now available as both a Kindle book and in a lovely trade paperback edition. Along with the paperback edition, there is a new cover. Compare and contrast the two, if you will. Which one do you like better?

Old Cover
New Cover

Then there's the new cover for Children of the Mechanism. First, I should explain the recent changes to that book. I got the rights to Children of the Mechanism back from the original publisher. This has given me the opportunity to do some revisions to the story. Nothing major but there were a couple of things I really wanted to change. At the same time, I lost the rights to the original cover art, so I won't reproduce it here. Instead, I cobbled together a new cover, and here it is.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y01PF9Q

Of course, I already mentioned Dreams in the Void in my previous blog post, so you can scroll down and check that out if you want. In the meantime, I recently published a new novel, which is available for Kindle and in trade paperback. Here it is:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Z85FBQA

It's the first book in an epic new fantasy series, and I'm already hard at work on book two. More on that one later, so keep checking back, friends. Oh, and feel free to click on any of the covers above to get to the right page for purchase. Thanks!