Sunday, May 29, 2016

Every Story Needs a Weirdo

I can't help myself. In just about every novel I've ever written there is at least one character who is a flat-out weirdo. Sometimes they are just quirky, other times they are psychologically damaged, and a few of these people are totally insane. It's not something I set out to do. It's just something that happens. I try to make interesting characters, and since I tend to be a little weird myself, it bleeds over.

So let's look at a few examples of my weird characters. If you've read these books, I'd be curious to know which of them you liked the best.

Shadows of Tockland

All of the characters in this story are weird or damaged in some way, but nobody matches Cakey the Clown, AKA Gavril Tugurlan. He performs a knife juggling act in The Klown Kroo, a traveling circus. That's not what makes him weird. What makes him weird is that he never takes off his clown makeup, I mean never, and he occasionally utters prophetic pronouncements about an impending apocalyptic event called the ever-night. He believes in destiny to a fault, and he's quick to violence. At the same time, he can be extremely loyal.

As he tells our anxious protagonist, "Mark my words, the ever-night is coming, and when it does, you'll be glad you've got some wild nutters at your side." And, boy oh boy, does that turn out to be true.

Children of the Mechanism

The characters in this book are all enslaved children, so they have stunted developments and strange ways of talking. However, the weirdest of these poor kids is an unfortunate guy by the name of Kuo. In this case, Kuo is most likely suffering from an actual mental illness, some form of schizophrenia, so his behavior is more sad than amusing. He keeps seeing an old friend of his, another slave named Rel, who might or might not actually exist. Poor suffering Kuo unwittingly does some really awful things to some innocent people, but later on, the same mental confusion actually compels him to heroism. In a way, he turns out to be the most important character in the story.

Teth of the City

This book isn't published yet, but just you wait until you meet Kide. He's a short, smart, gifted guy with a huge, hideous beard, and an impressive gut. He's someone our characters turn to when they need access to hidden files in a computer database. But Kide is a hoarder, with an apartment stacked to the ceiling with "stuff," and he's sarcastic and self-amused. Plus, he loves to call people buddy and pal and dearest. A nice combination of traits, yes?

Mary of the Aether

There are a few rather strange people in this book series. Kristen Grossman, for example, who is sarcastic, occasionally insulting, sometimes insufferable. In the second book, Mary of Shadows, we learn that this might be the result of some family turmoil she has experienced. However, the weirdest character is a fellow named Richard "Mullet" Williams. He's sweaty and awkward, and when readers first meet him, he is in the school bathroom, pretending to have diarrhea so the school nurse will send him home. The nickname comes from the long sheet of glorious, greasy hair that spills down his back. He also almost gets everyone killed, so that's a problem.

Anyway, those are just a few examples. Yes, I do enjoy creating weird characters, and I create them often. Some are only mildly strange, like timid Elonny from The Vale of Ghosts or Innpan from Garden of Dust and Thorns, others are dangerous nutjobs, like Cakey. I enjoy writing them. I hope people enjoy reading about them.

You can learn more about these various books right HERE, people, HERE! Click it! CLICK IT NOW!

Thanks :)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Alarming Readers with Chapter Titles

I've said before that I'm unusually fond of chapter titles. They provide the author with a great opportunity to entice, or possibly alarm, readers, so that they want to continue reading. A good chapter title gives a vague but distinct notion about what is to come, maybe hinting at danger, maybe presenting a riddle to be solved along the way. With each novel I write, there is usually one particular chapter title that really stands out. Let me share some examples and explain what I mean.

Teth of the City

Chapter Title: The Sweet Embrace of a Thousand Monsters

This book doesn't have cover art yet. In fact, I'm not even done with revisions, but I like this chapter title. It refers to a crack that a character makes earlier in the story, which is meant as an exaggeration of the possible dangers they are about to face. But suddenly, readers turn the page and see the chapter title! *cue creepy music*

The Vale of Ghosts
The Archaust Saga Book One

Chapter Title: Morning Breaks All Things

At a certain point in the story, the characters have put together a somewhat ill-planned strategy for dealing with the difficult situation that is troubling them (am I being vague enough?). Anyway, it's late at night, and they are enacting this plan. Suddenly, readers turn the page and come to this chapter title. It does not bode well. It hints that things might not go the way the characters intend. It whispers at potential soul-shattering catastrophe.

Army of the Inner Eye
The Archaust Saga Book Two

Chapter Title: The Unprotected Heart

In the previous novel (mildest spoiler alert), a powerful being tells our protagonist that he can protect her body, but he cannot protect her heart. It is clear in the context of the story that this is a reference to possible grief and anguish from the hero's friends and family being put in mortal danger. Well, along comes book number two, and suddenly one of the early chapters bears this title, hinting that perhaps the warning from the previous book will suddenly become a terrible reality. *cue anxious hand-wringing*

Garden of Dust and Thorns

Chapter Title: Everything Dies

Here's a fun little fantasy novel I wrote once upon a time, where two great supernatural beings wage war over the last green garden in a world turned to dust. It features a brutal war between soldiers and a forest full of animals. Good times. Anyway, at a certain point in the story, the two sides are coming together to draw up battle lines, promising a vicious fight. There's no telling how it will turn out, but things don't look good. Readers turn the page and see the next chapter title. Hearts sink.

See, that's why I love a good chapter title. Oh, the little mind games you can play with a good chapter title. Tweaking expectations, building tension, casting doubt. It's a lot of fun. Of course, every chapter title can't be a gem, but when you can make them crackle, it's a nice feeling.

(by the way, click the book covers for links to the various books)

Friday, May 6, 2016

What Am I Trying to Say?

When I write a novel, I am, first and foremost, just trying to tell a compelling story, with interesting characters, thrilling events, and a memorable setting. Sometimes, there is also a bit of cathartic saturation, where I am wallowing in a particular mood or emotion. However, there is almost always a singular thematic idea that I am chasing as well.

With each of my novels, I can simplify that thematic idea down to its most basic essence. Here are a few examples:

The Vale of Ghosts

Annella Fenn, the main character, addresses the singular theme in this way:

Isn’t it strange how everything can fall apart in one day? In one moment?” Ann said, musing into the growing darkness. “One dumb act made in ignorance is all it takes to ruin your life forever. It shouldn’t be that way. There should be some way to go back and undo choices made, especially choices made unwittingly. Don’t you think?”

Army of the Inner Eye

The sequel to The Vale of Ghosts offers a natural thematic progression from the first book, which Annella also summarizes with this statement:

“Every time I try to fix a situation I make a big old mess.”

So it's easy to make a big old mess and incredibly hard to fix it. And that is what this book series explores, chiefly, and that is how it goes sometimes in life, folks.

Shadows of Tockland

A strange, violent novel about a clown troupe traveling across a post-apocalyptic America. Shadows of Tockland tells the story of a young man named David Morr who runs away from home to join up with the clowns. As he meets the performers, he finds that each one is strange in his or her own way. However, what they all have in common is an obsession with performing, despite the perils and tragedies they encounter on the road. 

Bubbles the Clown, as she is called, sums it up nicely in this bit of conversation with David:

“I like to perform. Better to say I need to perform. It feels good when you get applause. It’s good when you get recognition. It feels right when you’re on the stage, and you can feel it all coming together. You know what I mean?” 

He shrugged. 

“No, I guess you don’t get it yet,” she said. “But you will. There’s something in performing that we all need, and it makes the awful stuff seem worthwhile. Even Gooty sticks around, and he’s got the least reason to be here. All of us need something that we only get from doing this. That includes you. There’s some reason you wanted to join up. What was it? Your old man?” 

David nodded. “Mostly. Had to get out of Mountainburg.” 

“So we’ve all got our reasons,” she said. “And that’s why, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll keep right on letting Telly be the boss, even when his decisions get you in trouble. Because you need to be here, you need to be on the road, you need to be onstage despite the risks and the pain.”

Children of the Mechanism

A truly dark tale about child slaves living and working in a massive factory, watched over by cruel robots. When a glitch in the computer system causes some of the doors to open, a few brave children leave their rooms and begin to wander the corridors. And really, that's kind of the point right there. When a door opens, you have to have the courage to go through it. As Ekir says:

"Open doors are the best thing in the whole world. An open door means you can leave something bad and maybe find something good."

Despite this, only a handful of slaves are willing to risk the uncertainty of the open door, choosing to remain in the misery they are familiar with rather than trust themselves to fate.

Anyway, that's just a few of my books, but you get the idea. Maybe we'll examine some others at a later date. Chasing a singular theme, an idea, a cathartic saturation in a particular mood or emotion, those are the kinds of things I'm doing when I write a novel.

At the moment, I'm working on a new science fiction novel called Teth of the City. It's what you might call dystopian, and it has a similar feel to Children of the Mechanism, though it's not nearly as dark. In the end, Teth of the City is about learning to care again, learning to give a crap after years spent nursing old wounds. I think it might just be powerful stuff, but we shall see. More on that one later, folks.

(By the way, click on any of the book covers in this blog entry to go to the appropriate Amazon page for the book)