Pius Rules for Writers

I was recently asked what rules, as I reader, I wish writers would follow. I came up with a few.

Rule #1: Don’t preach at me. Tell the damn story…

I think this is self explanatory. Heck, even Star Trek IV, which is straight up “save the whales,” did a fairly good job of this. It was mostly a character driven comedy: let’s take all of our characters as fish and through them so far out of the water they’re in a different planet, and watch the fun start. Even the whales that must be saved for the sake of all of Earth are little more than MacGuffin devices, there for the story to happen.

But 2012? Or The Day After Tomorrow? Or Avatar? Kill me now.

Serious, I went out of my way to make A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller about the history of a Church, complete with philosophy, and it somehow still managed to be less preachy than any of these “climate change” films.

Rule #2: Don’t make up your own history, claim that you’ve done your research, and then NOT share your research.

You are not Dan Brown. I don’t tolerate it FROM Dan Brown, and I will waterboard the next schmuck who does that. Anyone want to test that threat? I’m a freaking historian. I know when you’re lying, you morons!!!!!

No, seriously, there was a novel that spent most of the time dealing with a question of “Did Pontius Pilot fake the resurrection???? Gasp!”  The answer was no. But at the end of a book where I wanted to feed it through a paper shredder because of how crappy the history was, his conclusion? “I did my homework. But I won’t tell you what I made up, so do your own homework.”

NO. That is NOT how this works, you douche bag. At least give us a list of authors where you got your BS history, because the only thing I saw in that novel that was even remotely historically accurate was that there was a Roman Empire, and a Pontius Pilate.

Heck, I took my own works cited page for my own novel into an entire post on my own blog, not to mention making it a five page author note at the back of the book. It’s not hard, people. Really, it’s not.

Rule #3: If you have an action sequence, HAVE an action sequence.

I don’t need a blow-by-blow fight, but I need something. If your concept of a “fight” is “they fell to the roof and struggled with each other until they fell off,” I will hurt you. Jack Higgins did that, and after that, I knew his Sean Dillion series was doomed. I was writing like that when I was 16, for God’s sake. And I think I did it better then. I do it much better now. It was just lazy.

In fact, how about details, hmm? A page that is nothing but dialogue — and most of that a few words a sentence — is boring and hard to track. At least give me a sense of what they’re doing. Give me dialogue tags. Pretend that we might want to know who’s saying what to whom.

Granted, I tend to go overboard in the other direction, what what do I know?

Rule #4: If you have a chapter, it has to be more than a paragraph long.

If you only have snippets from a mad serial killer, we might forgive you if this is done for a handful of chapters. If it’s your entire novel, you should be beaten to death with the hard copy…. I’m looking at you, James Patterson, your books are twice as long as they need to be because the chapter number is half a page, you put a little text under it, and do it again for the next chapter. STOP. IT.

Rule #5: Vampires only sparkle IF THEY’RE ON FIRE.

I shouldn’t need to explain this by now. And if I have to … here, read my books. You’re welcome.

Rule #6: Fantasy authors, please, for the love of God, if you’re going to have a system of magic set in a modern environment, please explain where magic comes from.

Ahem: Dear Madam Rowling, where do wizards get their powers FROM? Why do they actually need wands? Why can some spells not require any wands?  A paragraph over your 7 novels would have been fine to explain any of this. I’m certain that no one would have minded if you stole a few lines of dialogue from Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire.

Rule #7: Stop giving me stupid villains. Just stop. Please.

Rule #7b: Stop giving me insipid heroes. Just … don’t.

Rule #7c: In fact, Stephen King, just stop writing entirely.

Rule #8: While we’re at it, SOMEONE HAVE AN ORIGINAL IDEA.

I don’t care if you’ve been a bestseller for 20 years, stop pumping out books like they’re an obligation. I’m looking at you King … Higgins … Patterson … Pat Cornwell … I mean, please, Nora Roberts does consistently better and original ideas than you twits, and she’s a ROMANCE NOVELIST.  Gah!

Rule #9: Stop with the utterly dark nonsense.

I’m tired of the same dystopian universes, the same miserable outlooks on humanity, and the same anti-heroes. Snake Plisskin only works once. Twice if you make him into a Metal Gear character. After that I’M BORED. You can give me an anti-hero if he’s well-developed, likable, smart. You can stop giving me the same depressing, dark, amoral character who actually HAS no character development.  Even my book Codename: Winterborn, which has been compared to Escape from New York, went out of its way to describe how society works, how people live, how there’s an economy. I never want to see another Escape from New York or Terminator universe unless they’re in the Escape from New York or the Terminator universe.

Rule #10: Stop, stop STOP making professional soldiers into sociopathic Redshirt canon fodder while the plucky hero WITH ZERO COMBAT EXPERIENCE gets out alive.

Thank you.

Signal Boost: Drown the Cat: The Rebel Author’s Guide to Writing Beyond the Rules

Amazon: Drown The Cat: The Rebel Author’s Guide To Writing Beyond The Rules

Drown the Cat is a complete guide for the fiction writer who wants to develop an individual voice and understand the reasons underlying the so-called rules of writing. Although a few rules really are necessary, the vast majority are either dogma or passing fads. Worse, so much advice like “show don’t tell” and “open with action” is often poorly explained and entirely misunderstood, causing writers no end of problems.

Drawing on fifteen years of writing, critiquing, editing and mentoring experience, Dario Ciriello explodes writing myths, shreds conventional wisdom, and dissects the often misleading advice and diktats shouted at writers by books and blogs, agents and publishers. Drown the Cat gives authors the necessary tools and insights to retake control of their story and make it unique.

Whether your interest lies in novels or screenwriting, Drown the Cat shows you how to tell your story in your voice and place it before your audience, eschewing formulas and cookie-cutter fiction to remain true to your own, exceptional vision while adhering to the few rules that actually matter. Because writing isn’t about prose wonks and industry insiders: it’s about the reader, and most of all it’s about telling a story. Your story.

Drown The Cat hits the points that every new writer should learn in their journey, most importantly encouraging writers to be themselves. It’s very easy to read, and well organized and formatted. There are some standard writing points in there, but this encourages you to stretch your mind more than follow everyone else in the field. You can read some of Dario’s thoughts over on the Hugo-nominated Castalia House blog.

If you don’t know who Dario Ciriello is, it’s a shame. He is one of the best editors in science fiction and fantasy, and very few have heard of him. If you can hire him, do it, you won’t regret it. He’s edited Doug Sharp’s Channel Zilch, which is one of the most unique and innovative science fiction works of our time, as well as Bonnie Randall’s Divinity and the Python, of which is a great work of horror/romance fiction every writer could and should read as a study in how to write characters readers connect with. He’s got his own fiction as well, of which I equally hail. Bottom line is, if you want to improve your fiction fast as a new writer, you should listen to his writing advice.

“Manly men with brains,” masculinity and writing

In a writing context, what exactly defines being “manly”? Really, I’m starting to wonder. It’s a word that’s been tossed around a lot lately: there is talk about emasculating women in SFWA; a writer’s group I’m a part of lamented the death of the “manly male” characters like Dirk Pitt in popular novels. Even a review of one of my novels — A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller — referred to it as “a book for manly men with brains.” Huh? Really? Interesting Though on the other hand, I’ve been praised for my female characters, both in private and in public. So … I wonder what goes on here.

Both were alien concepts to me, namely because I never considered either while I wrote it, the characters weren’t “strong women” or “manly men,” the characters just … were. They’re characters. I write up their biographies — which, for me, is basically winding up the toys — and letting them wander wherever they want to go. But then again, let’s face it, how many writers evaluate their own stuff like their readers? William Shakespeare would probably fail a course on his own plays, considering what people have seen in his own work that he, in all honesty, probably hadn’t seen himself when he wrote it.

But I’m certain that the easy definition of manliness also includes a willingness to draw a line, hold it, and be willing to defend it, and fight back.  Few men have ever been pushed around and been considered “manly.”  Then again, the ultimate Man, Jesus, did instruct us to go the extra mile when someone’s walking all over us, but a “manly male” could take that and make it into “You want to shanghai me into carrying your stuff for a mile? I’ll do it for two. Hah, you wuss.”

And … what do you do with men on an emotional level? What feelings does one express? How does one express them? That sort of thing.

Since I mentioned the Bard, Shakespeare has also had some thoughts on manliness, particularly in MacBeth. After MacDuff is informed that his family has been slaughtered, he is told to take it like a man; MacDuff replies that he must also “feel it as a man.” So, I guess a man actually can be “in touch with his feelings” – feelings of loss, of love, of filial devotion, as well as rage and homicidal intent.

Manly? Or too much leather?

Even in the Facebook conversation that started this post mourned for a manly character who fights, gets laid, saves the girl, smokes, drinks, but is also educated….
Educated? Huh. Really? Does that mean James Bond, perfect psychopath, count? Spider Robinson once noted Robert Mitchum as a perfect example of manliness, but I never saw the man as more than a moving block of wood. Neither of them are the sort of man you find in Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride.
Looking at all of the “manly” characters I can think of, the best I can come up with is being vaguely detached. At least the ability to be detached. Looking at men who are manly without being He-Man exaggerated, what is there? Bond, Montoya, Batman, Tony Stark, all exude “I don’t give a f—,” either about the opinions of others, or perhaps the law. Captain America, Thor, Superman, all stand for something, defying what others think or feel. They are in touch with their own feelings – honor, patriotism, ethics.
This has the correct level of self-possessed spirit that says “Yes, I can act independently if abandoned.” Sure, a manly fellow can fit in with society, any Band of Brothers sentiment relies on a variety of emotional connections, but he is not attached at the hip to society write large.
But all things in balance, please. Even “sociopaths” who kill in the military can feel the loss of a friend, feel sad over the loss of a civilian, et al. They love who they love, and if you mess with them or theirs … well, let’s just say that they don’t love you. James Bond shows an unnatural level of detachment, caring about … nothing, really. At the end of the day, attempts to give James Bond depth fail because he only cares about his job – not any woman he sleeps with, and his sense of patriotism only seems to go only as deep as it is his day job to defend the country. If one day, someone ever writes a book where Bond’s failure leads to mass casualties, I suspect his biggest response will be to shrug and treat it like an unsuccessful chess match.
So, does being a man entail sociopathy? Heck, one of the Superversive Roundtable discussions brought up that “male” and “sociopath” weren’t all that far off.
Well, let’s break that down a bit. In John Ringo’s Under a Graveyard Sky, two men say that they’re sociopaths because killing doesn’t bother them, and they don’t see the enemy as people. I don’t find that too strange, since if I’m being shot at, I’d see the threat, not a person. Little definitions like this lead some people to say that a sociopath is defined as someone who merely scares the psychologist. And now that sociopaths come in flavors (high/low-functioning, genetic, situational), sure, maybe being a man does involve that on some level, the same way that Autism Spectrum Disorder has been expanded to cover people who were once merely a-holes.

Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbach, is frequently described as a “high-functioning sociopath,” but is not usually considered manly because he borders on being a thinking machine. Yet Martin Freeman’s Watson, in the first episode, shoots a serial killer with no remorse, and it didn’t faze him one little bit. Psychology has gotten to the point where many would see Watson as a sociopath, so let’s not get too carried away with that label.

Heck, Kevin Anderson, the hero of my co-authored novel Codename: Winterborn, has a lot of similar characteristics to all of these “manly” qualities mentioned: rage, love, filial devotion, will stand up for what he believes in, up to and including killing people, will let no one push him around unless he wants to be pushed around … and one review (who gave it 5-stars) slapped a label on Kevin as a simple psycho.

Is he crazed and damaged in Codename: Winterborn?  Oh, you betcha.  But just calling him a psycho because he has no problem killing people might simplify things just a little too much. Heck, he had no problem killing people before the book started.

And let’s face it, the term “sociopath” is so overused, it’s become meaningless.

At the end of the day, for a literary character to be manly, yes, he can have feelings – in fact, he must – but he must also have the right ones, and in the proper degree, otherwise, he becomes a caricature.

A Pius Superversive Novel? #PulpRev

Yesterday, I did an article on whether or not A Pius Man fell under Pulp novels. I think the answer is a strong “Maybe!”Let’s look at the definition for Superversive and see if I can do better this time.

Now, this one comes from qualities mentioned by Corey in his post on Superversive SF. We cobbled it together from a podcast we all did a while back where we compiles the list.

Aspiring/Inspiring- These mean that the characters aspire to something greater than themselves, and inspire others to seek greatness, and not remain where they are. This also refers to characters who theoretically aspire for uplifting things that aren’t necessarily a part of the moral sphere, such as beauty. “Betterment” and “wonder” both fall here.

Oooh, so many choices with this one. I wonder if I should even go into it.

Granted, this isn’t as big or as epic as they’re shooting for. Most of my characters are just trying to live their lives, do their jobs, and go home. Sure, they’re cops, or even spies, so their “Day to Day” is probably thrilling to us. Scott Murphy, the Mossad spy, doesn’t want to be noticeable or noticed.

But there is one thing that they all want in this particular case. There is one, overriding and overpowering desire that all of my heroes are interesting in: the truth. You could say that the truth in this case will also lead to justice, so that’s two virtues, but the lines blur here. You could also say that, as the writer, my goals are truth and justice.

As I’ve mentioned, the plot revolves around the history of Pope Pius XII and his actions during World War II. Those who have already read Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist already know this answer.

So, if Truth and Justice are something to aspire to, check.

Virtuous- This means that there is a right and wrong in the world. This does not mean there can’t be moral complexity and ambiguity – in fact, when done well this can be incredibly powerful – but even then there needs to be an understanding that there’s a difference between right and wrong. The characters themselves don’t necessarily need to be virtuous, but the concept of virtue must exist in the framework of the story.

Considering that I’m tackling the whole “Hitler’s Pope” discussion? You can be darn certain that there will be a right and a wrong, and moral complexity. There won’t be much in the way of ambiguity … though at certain points along The Pius Trilogy, there are some interrogation methods that are definitely in a moral gray area. Heh heh heh.

So, check.

Heroic- Closely entwined with the second category, the Heroic category means that there is a standard of heroism. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a hero (for a brilliant superversive story that features a protagonist who isn’t a hero, see John C. Wright’s “Pale Realms of Shade”), it means that the protagonist has a code of ethics under which they work, a code of ethics that marks them as something more than a villain. To go back to “Pale Realms of Shade”, the protagonist, Flint, might be a Grade A jerk and even a murderer, but he’s different from the demons he’s fighting against; in fact, he has to be for the story to work, because the temptation to become demonic is central to the story. While having truly villainous villains is something of a lost art nowadays and can certainly help flesh out this category, it is not strictly necessary for an Agnes Trunchbull to exist – but a standard for heroism is an absolute must.

If I recall correctly, Agnes Trunchbull is the antagonist of Matilda, by Roald Dahl, so was such a two-dimensional evil, it was nearly jarring.

However, to work backwards, yeah, I’ve got a bad guy. In fact, he’s such a bad guy, the reason that The Pius Trilogy is three books is due to the villain having so many backup plans, he just wouldn’t stay down. I did everything but drop a house on him. But villainous enough? Well, how about a plan to take down the Catholic church, as many religions as possible, and aiming to be a mass murderer by the time his plan is over? I hope that’s evil enough for everyone.

As for heroes …. well, I did have someone once compare my team here to the Justice League. Though Avengers is hotter right now.

Decisive – This means that the characters are active; their actions matter. They are not bereft of agency, at the whim of fate, or purely reactive to the things going on around them. These characters make decisions that affect the plot, and their decisions have to mean something. Books that ultimately preach the meaninglessness of life and the futility of struggling to change it don’t fit this section.

Check. This part is easy. I even make certain to note at several points over the course of the trilogy that none of these folks are locked into the story. They can ditch at any time.

Non-Subversive- This is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. These are works that do not attempt to subvert the paradigms of healthy culture, and don’t mock and criticize needlessly. While many great superversive works contain certain subversive aspects – even Lewis’s Narnia series and Tolkien’s Middle Earth books aren’t free of this, nor should they be – the work as a whole should be predicated on building up society rather than bringing it down.

Also easy…. I was expecting more work for this one. Western Civilization is built on the back of Judeo-Christian …. everything. Even the contributions of Greece and Rome were preserved largely by the religious, up to and including Irish monks. A Pius Man basically supports everything built by that history. And if you don’t believe me when I say “everything” …. you’d be surprised what I can cram into a book.

Huh. That was surprisingly easy. I expected another nightmare like with Pulp. I’ll take it.

Illegitimi non carborundum

So, I guess if you’re into Superversive books, A Pius Man might just be your cup of tea.

And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

Pius #PulpRevolution? Or Superversive?

I’ve been looking at the Pulp Revolution lately, as well as hanging out here, with the Superversive crowd. Recently, I have been pondering if A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller fits into either of these movements. Mostly because 1) I have no idea, and 2) it might help me understand these movements better if I see what can and can’t match up.Well, as Pulp is mentioned first, I should probably see if I check any boxes. Yes, I HAVE READ APPENDIX N. I’ve even reviewed it. It was awesome. It was also sprawling, and if I used that as the basis for a definition, I’m going to have to do a bullet point for each chapter, since each chapter has a point to it.

I had to go in Castalia’s archives, and found the post … not by Jeffro. In fact, it even cites another blog by Misha Burnett.

Huh. Okay. I guess what I’m going to have to do is go down and break this down as I read along. Basically, I’m going to write the post as I read the blog, like I do with Fisking posts that are so painful, I can only read through it by breaking it apart.

So what I’ll do is break down the Burnett post, and then use the add-ons by Castalia.

With my luck, I’ll make no one happy.

Action: The focus of the storytelling is on what happens. We know who people are by what they do. This does not mean that every scene has to involve a knife fight on the top of a speeding train. Ordinary every day actions can also inform—Raymond Chandler could describe a couple’s relationship by showing us the man lighting the woman’s cigarette. We don’t want the writer to tells us that a scientist is an unconventional genius, we want to see him tearing a rival’s paper to shreds and throwing the pieces out the window when asked to critique it.

Huh. I thought this was called “show don’t tell.” It’s basic story telling. I don’t see how that’s particularly pulpy. I make sure to do that as often as possible.

As for the knife fight on top of a moving train…. [Makes a note to include that in the next book]

Anyway, I do have an action sequence every once in a while. I open with an assassination, then a bombing, and I wait thirty pages before I have a fight scene with a commando priest, who has another fight a few pages later involving throwing scalpels, then there’s running gun battle with the RPGs…

So I have a little action. Here and there.

Impact: These actions have consequences. While a character’s actions do inform us of that character’s personality, significant actions should never be only character studies. They have lasting real world consequences. You don’t go into a pulp story with an expectation of a happy ending. Pulp heroes are fallible heroes, and when they fail, bad things happen. Neither, though, is worse coming to worst a forgone conclusion. Up until the very end a pulp character has the power to change his or her fate. They can always do something.

MAUHAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAAHAHAAHAHAHA

Oh, trust me, these actions are going to have consequences. Over the course of the Trilogy, when they fail, train wreck to follow.  Sometimes when they succeed, a train wreck will follow.

Moral Peril: Consequences are more than just material. In Pulp stories there is not simply the risk that that the hero may fail to defeat the villain, there is also the greater risk that the hero may become the villain. A hero should have a code to follow, and lines that he or she is resolved not to cross. That line should be close enough that the temptation to cross is real—maybe not constantly, but from time to time. There is almost always a really good reason to break one’s moral code, particularly to protect a loved one in danger.

I was actually about to say that A Pius Man[/easyazon_link] fails this part of the test. I figured there was no one and nothing in the entire book that really threatened the heroes. There may have been the temptation just to get out of the cross fire, but that was it.

Then I realized that I quite literally looked past the white elephant in my story. It’s basically the primary subplot, and I didn’t even consider it.

Romance: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. Not always romance in the modern sense of a relationship involving physical attraction, but a relationship that obligates the pulp hero to take risks on behalf of another. An old military buddy, a long lost friend, even a client who paid in advance. The consequences, both physical and moral, effect more than just the hero, and those affected should be given a human face. When the hero is working to thwart a villain’s plan we want to see the potential victims not in the abstract, but in the concrete. “Saving Humanity” is a vague, bumper sticker kind of motivation, saving the fair maiden with the sparkling eyes and plucky wit, or the ragged waif with a mewling kitten is much more satisfying.

Huh. I’m getting the feeling that this is going to be far, far too easy. Then again, I did grow up with Die Hard as my Christmas movie, so maybe I was wired for the Pulpy people.

But, yes, suffice it to say, there is romance. I’ve even done a post or two on this over time. But I’ve got someone there fore love. I’ve got several people who go there because of their jobs, but the reasons they stay … is spoilery in nature.

Mystery: I am using the word here not in the genre sense of a plot concerned with discovering the identity of a criminal, but in the broader sense of the unknown. There are many potential unknowns—the setting, the true identities of other characters, the events that led up to the current crises. Something is going on and neither the protagonists nor the reader should be quite sure what. Things are never quite what they seem which, of course, also serves to increase the tension. A pulp hero is playing a very dangerous game for high stakes, and no one knows all of the rules…

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA.  Wow, have I got this one covered six ways from Sunday.  The long version is over in this blog. I didn’t even know that this was going to be here when I wrote that one. Heh.

Let’s see what else is mentioned …. “More traditional boy-girl romances.” Okay, check. I don’t even have a gay character, to my knowledge (there is a character who I haven’t “asked” yet, so I don’t know. She could just be apathetic).

“More action-oriented fiction.” Check.

“No real distinction between sci-fi and fantasy – those genres should blend more. Into a new genre…pulp” …. well, I understand what JD Cowan meant with I blurred genre lines. Sadly, this has limited SFF qualities here.

But yeah, it looks like I’ve hit a lot of these boxes. Yes. I might even be considered pulpy by nature! Yes!

…. Sigh.

Anyway, so I talked to the guy who WROTE the article. I hang out with him as part of the Superversive Crowd. Jeffro, in the comments, disagreed with him vehemently.

So I then did something I never do, and I dug through the comments….

Apparently, Pulp really does boil down to “I know it when I see it.

I was then referred to a post by a fellow named Nathan, I believe he’s a Nathan Housley of the Puppy of the Month Book Club.

According to THAT post, we can keep action, romance, moral peril isn’t needed, but it can stay…. And “Impact” includes “consequences,” all actions are final. No take backs.  Okay. Still qualifies.

detective pulps “heart interest and human emotion are the special requirements. Stories should be strongly melodramatic, the characters should be very real and appealing, and situations should deal with the poignant phases of crime.” (2) To accomplish this, pulp writers avoided the Cloud Strife ciphers used today as reader surrogates.  Instead, they took likable characters with personality and ratcheted up the stakes, creating tension that built an unease and concern in the reader

Likable characters with personality.

Heh. Yeah. You could say my characters have personality.

Okay. Reading down… mystery can stay, good.

Then there’s story structure…

Sigh. Someone else will have to tell me if I’ve done enough with that. I don’t outline, I don’t really use structure. I have–“Attack! What did this encounter tell us? Move forward. More action. Repeat.” So, it’s a structure.

So, Nathan’s bullet points are

  • Action — Check
  • Romance — Check
  • Moral peril — Check
  • Consequence — Check with smoking bullet holes.
  • Emotion — God, I hope so.
  • Mortal peril — This is an understatement.
  • Exploration of the unknown: We got that. It’s in archives, but we’ve got that.
  • Love for the unknown: [Coin Toss]. Read Sean AP Ryan, get back to me.
  • Story structure: Check. I hope.

Okay. I guess it passes the Pulp Test.

I think I’ll do Superversive in the next post. This was a long one.

Illegitimi non carborundum
So, I guess if you’re into Pulp, [easyazon_link asin="1547196939" locale="US" new_window="default" nofollow="default" tag="superversivesf-20" add_to_cart="default" cloaking="default" localization="default" popups="default"]A Pius Man might just be your cup of tea. Just click here, and you can order it.

 


And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Mind of the Maker

When I first started discussing the plot, I mentioned a few times that the reader should trust no one while reading A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller.

Obviously, there are some reactions that go somewhere along the lines of “What the hell….?  What do you mean we shouldn’t trust anyone?  Who’s the main character?”

Well…

Christopher Reich once noted that, in a thriller, the reader should always be prepared for anyone to “get it in the neck” at any possible moment, from any possible angle—including behind you.

I started writing in 1998, before there was a television show called 24, where the only one you trust is Jack Bauer. Back then, there was an author named Jeffery Deaver, whose writing style led you to trust everyone… and then stabs you in the back so firmly, the knife blade jams there. Sometimes the killer that Deaver shows you isn’t the killer you have to be wary of; usually the shadowy looking figure who lurks in the background and mysteriously disappears turns out to be something different from what you expect (a victim, a cop, an ally that no one knew they had).

It’s actually a tradition that goes back to murder mysteries. Agatha Christie has had as murderer: the detective, the narrator, the sidekick, a corpse, and everyone; in And Then There Were None, I don’t even think she really had a main character. There are “police procedurals” where the murderer is someone who was never introduced in the novel, and the last page is filing a warrant for his arrest.

I didn’t intend to go to either extreme when I first started—and I don’t think the “trust no one” paranoia lasts TOO long. Obviously, there will be people readers can trust during the book… eventually. By page 50 or so, every reader will probably make a decision on who to focus on as “the hero(ine).” And every reader will decide when and who in the story they think is the hero.

It’s easy to look at Papal Security Commander Giovanni Figlia and decide that he’s a great lead: he’s got a wife, two children, a long, established career. And then to look at the “security consultant” Sean Ryan and decide that this guy’s nuts: a mercenary who talks about the people he kills with no sign of remorse, puts body counts on his resume, and seems to like what he does far too much. What one does with a Pope that’s to the right of Attila the Hun probably depends on one’s political leanings.

Funny enough, when I started writing the novel, I simply wanted it clear that trusting someone implicitly was not a good idea. The more characters who slipped their way into the book, the more paranoid it started to seem. Writing Sean Ryan from the point of view of someone who knew nothing about him made him look like a future mass murderer. Seeing a priest with SEAL-level training seems sinister. The more they showed to the reader, the more each of them looked like they could be great suspect material.

In the first draft, the whole book spiraled out of control due to that.

Yes, you read that right, my characters nearly took the book away from me.

There are some authors who have described writing as either schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. If an author does the job well, the characters you read should feel real to you. In some cases, that’s because the author has so well fleshed out the character, the character is alive, and can often make moves that surprise the author.

Author Dorothy Lee Sayers wrote an entire book on the subject, using insight as a writer to look at creating worlds from the viewpoint of God—if you ever thought that writers were megalomaniacs, well…in their own little worlds, they are god.

I can only hope that any actual deity finds life far less frustrating than trying to tame characters.

In the original draft, when it was one book and not a trilogy, I had started with a plan of: dead body → conspiracy → stopping conspirators. Simple, straightforward, and very basic.

Enter characters who don’t know their place.

My villain had a very well thought out plan. In fact, it was so well thought out, nearly everything the protagonists did only served as speed bumps. Unlike some villains I had used in previous manuscripts, this guy would simply not be a good little psychopath and stay down. I did everything but drop a house on this guy—and in one manuscript, I imploded a building with him in it—but he kept finding ways around it. I considered having someone kill him up close and personal, but every fight I came up with ended in a draw.

So, I let the story play out so I could see what it took to stop this guy…. 200,000 words later, I found out.

The story became: dead body → conspiracy → stopping conspirators’ gunmen → fallout → conspiracy contingency plan A → stop that plan → fallout → contingency plan continues with slight modification → help, we’re going to die → let’s go down fighting → fallout.

So, because of one highly obnoxious character, instead of having a simple novel that was completely contained in Rome, A Pius Man  becomes a world-spanning trilogy that all starts because one man found something he shouldn’t have, and ends with a recreation of Thermopylae, with claymore mines.

The next time you see a line noting the paranoia in the book, you can at least understand where it comes from. It comes from the same place as an antagonist who just won’t die no matter how hard I try to ram a stake through his heart. It comes from fairly strong characters who are, in some cases, slightly more crazy than the author.

So, does it look fun enough yet? Just click here, and you can get it on Amazon.

And, if you’ve done that….

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

Building Character: Scott “Mossad” Murphy

By the time this blog posts, I should be on the road once more, on my way to LibertyCon. But since we’re still a little under a week out from the release of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (The Pius Trilogy) (Volume 1), I thought it would be a good idea to bring this up.The idea of Scott “Mossad” Murphy started in 2002, when my father and I were at a family party — they were boring people, and we didn’t know anyone, and I come by my antisocial qualities honestly. We were having a discussion on a few different topics, and came up with two concepts. The first were the Kraft brothers, best known as showing up in the Love at First Bite series. They were “Merle” “Dalf” and “Tal” Kraft.

The other was Scott Murphy.

Scott, you see, was born of a news item that had waves of Evangelical Christians flooding into Israel, post-9/11. But what if someone else had decided to come to Israel, not for political reasons, but for revenge? He wanted to hunt terrorists. To hurt terrorists. And Israel, as far as he could tell, did that 24/7. If the jihadist scum could have Jon “Taliban” Walker, he could be Scott “Mossad” Murphy.

When I wrote A Pius Man originally, in 2004, Scott seemed to be a perfect fit for the role. He’d already guest starred in another book series — one I haven’t published yet, sorry, I’ve been busy — and I had a good grasp on his character.

Obviously, over time, I had to shift things. The image above, for example, of Scott’s Mossad file, has him being born in 1982. This would put him in his 30s. I’m thinking that’s a little old, considering what happens over the course of the novels. Thus, one of the things I had to change about Scott was his age. Also, please consider that things that were high-tech at the time could now be gotten as an app on the iPhone.

So, while I was updating things, might as well reboot him a little in the drafts. His origin, as time went on, went from seeing 9/11 happen while he was in college and wanting payback, to having grown up with a plan to hunt these f**kers down and killing them. He became a little darker as time went on — then again, so did I.

To quote Isaac Asimov, beware the wrath of a patient man.

Murphy is very patient.

It helps that I essentially wrote a short biography for Scott, like I have for all of my other characters. The character becomes alive in my head, and all I need to do is drop him into a situation and let him play.

Though it wasn’t until I started writing short stories for Scott that I realized how much of a stiff he really was. But, then again, I don’t know too many party animals who essentially dedicate their lives to revenge, and decide that the best method is to become a weaponized accountant when they grow up.

Yes, weaponized accountant. And I mean stealing money from terrorists, not necessarily the Ben Affleck film, The Accountant (which is, much to my own surprise, a really good movie, you should check it out.

Of course, after I wrote the program for Scott — his bio — dropping him into the situation just went sideways. He didn’t fit in anywhere in Israel, even his own office, he usually kills or arrests most of the people he spent weeks or months with. At that attrition rate, it’s hard to keep a long term friendship going. And he’s a goy in the middle of Mossad … who’s dating him? Who’s socializing with him?

Yes, when you’re a spy, you can have plenty of friends, as long as you don’t talk about work. But what do you do when you’re entire life revolves around methods and operations, dates and locations? There isn’t a lot to talk about that isn’t already classified.

And then I started considering how much the character of Scott Murphy fit with the end product in the novel.  Despite all of the new things I discovered about his character, and the more his past has developed in front of me, the puzzle pieces of his life still fit together.

I’ve worked on this so long I actually made this for MySpace. Think about that.Of course, parts of this were me working backwards from the end result. The Scott Murphy of my novel is smart enough to never need a gun, avoid every firefight, and plan in such a way that his plans are the weapon. So why shouldn’t he have skipped a year or two of school?

And if you’re a workaholic, who had finished college courses in high school, college is not that difficult with a full courseload during every possible session. And being a workaholic is a good survival trait—the harder he works, the faster he could get out into the real world. Why? Because Scott had never been described as “attractive” in any physical sense, so he’s isolated by looks, by youth, and by intellect (I know something about two out of three of them); the real world had more options for him than school. The faster he went through school and started reality, the better.

So, making him younger fit in with the character. He was able to join Mossad after 9-11 to become the first member of the Goyim Brigade, and still stay in his twenties by the time A Pius Man happens.

By the time of A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller, Scott Murphy will have been a spy for years. He is isolated from the outside world by being a spy. He’s isolated from the Mossad community by being a goy. His work will be his life.

And then, one day he gets called to Rome … And then the fun starts.

And, if you’ve done that….
The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series.