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….
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The Love at First Bite series. 

Who hates religion in fiction?

I’m always wary about reviews that talk about how a book is “too religious.” Not even that it’s religious message fic (which sucks) but that the character has religion, or is religious at all.Sometimes I think there are people out there who are hurt at the mere mention of religion in a novel.

And I’m not talking about religious themes, or concepts, or overtones, but religion itself. What moron thinks like that? This is basic, dirt-stupid cultural anthropology. We’re somehow going to have a world completely and utterly devoid of religion? What evangelical atheist paradise is this?

I mean, heck, a world devoid of all Judeo-Christian mythos will still have pagans. Just look at L Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin books if you don’t believe me.

But to discount religion or religious characters, there goes half of David Weber, most of Larry Correia and at least two entire series by John Ringo. Hell, there goes Terry Goodkind and his made-up nuns in The Sword of Truth. There even goes William Lehman’s books. There goes Ann Margaret Lewis, Karina Fabian, Richard Paolinelli, John C. Wright….

How about Chronicles of Narnia? Is that going into the wood-chipper too? I’m sure that Tolkein barely gets a pass, because his books were supposed to be a “pre-Christian” mythos, but he himself is Catholic.

But, heck, even the new Wonder Woman film made Ares sound like the Judeo-Christian Satan. I guess that goes down the crapper.

“I don’t like religion in my stories” … yeah, good luck with finding something completely and utterly devoid of faith. I wonder if people like this were offended by Captain America’s line that “There’s only one God, and he doesn’t dress like [Loki or Thor].” Because, you know, that was a line written by an atheist. Even Joss Whedon respects the religion of character more than some people.

But I do try to get my head around this concept or having no religion. Are we now in a position where everyone is supposed to have one, monotonal thought process of Atheism? This is, of course, excluding the idea that Atheism itself is a religion. If you don’t believe me, go out and meet the anti-theist branch sometime (THE IDEA OF GOD IS EVIL AND SO ARE THEIR FOLLOWERS), instead of the more libertarian branch (“I don’t believe, and I don’t care if you do. Next”).

I’m sorry, but I’m generally open to all ideas and all thought processes. I read Eric Flint, atheist Communist. I read John Ringo, Recovering semi-Catholic. David Weber and Timothy Zahn, who are both ministers, if I recall correctly. John and Jagi Wright. Richard Paolinelli, who believes in God, and it’s in his books. Larry the Mormon Correia.

Seriously, in order to pull something like that, I can only conclude one would have to be some sort of anti-religious SJW-zealot who hates religion in general. They’re the only ones closed-minded enough to be offended by a character who might even have a religion.

I mean, good God, congratulations, there goes Dracula, by Bram Stoker. That had the Eucharist! They’re Catholics involved! OMG! I can only conclude that this is particularly painful to read.

Even Die Hard has religious Catholics. The McClanes! It’s directly referenced in movies 1-3. Congratulations, that’s enough to be hated by this sort of person.

And anyone who hates Die Hard simply and absolutely HAS NO SOUL.

I’m sorry, wrapping my brain around a secular universe makes my brain hurt. This is in defiance of all basic cultural anthropology. Despite statements made by random philosophers, there has not now, nor has there ever been, in the history of the world, a society that is purely secular or atheistic. The closest we get in America are Deists among the founding fathers, but  that list also includes Reverends, so that’s an interesting conversation. The first person who cites Thomas Jefferson will have to justify every contradictory statement Jefferson ever made, and citing the Creator in the first line of the Declaration of Independence.

But religion is a thing. It is a part of any society. Ancient Greeks made being an atheist a capital crime — if you didn’t pray to Athena in Athens, you obviously didn’t have the interests of the city at heart, and you had to go.

Now, granted, sure, I’ve had some people make books that are religious message fiction. That, of course, can be problematic. Because message fiction is message fiction, no matter the message. The problem isn’t necessarily the message — Hell, I like the “save the whales” film, Star Trek IV, but that’s because it was funny — but the execution of story, plot and characters …. usually, that there is little to none of any of the above. But one cannot lump that in with Narnia, or Rachel Griffin or anything by John C Wright has written. To do so is BS.

Heck, even my novel, A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller (The Pius Trilogy) (Volume 1) has religious characters in it … a Jew, a Muslim, a half-dozen Catholics. Which one gets hated upon the most? Technically, the story itself isn’t religious, as it centers on a historical element. But there are priests and Popes, and rosaries, and the historical MacGuffin is around the Pope of World War II. I’m certain that’s enough to get those who hate religion to sniff and wave, “move along. Go find your own kind. To the back of the bus with you.”

As Jeffro Johnson pointed out in his Appendix N, religion in fiction goes all the way back into the Pulps, where Christianity can rout the fae, God can be a player. Heck, look at Superversive SF, which is also welcoming to God.

And then there’s SuperversiveSF, the blog. God, faith, and religion are all over the place. You can’t escape it.

And this is why I think that Superversive SF and Jeffro’s Pulp Revolution are probably the future of science fiction and fantasy. There are no gate keeping here. There’s no snobbish, anti-religious bias that I’ve seen. I don’t even think there’s an anti-left bias, as long as one avoids going full SJW, but I could be mistaken.

It’s nice that, among the SVSF / Pulp folk, there’s an open, accepting atmosphere where even a freak like me can feel welcome.

Illegitimi non carborundum

And, if you’ve done that….

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A Pius Man, Chapter 3: A Pious Visitor

Yup. Here we go again. I’ve done Chapter 1 and was chapter 2, and now we continue with your look at the new edition of chapter 3 for A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller.By now, you’re probably well aware of my yanking this from the shelves when I signed with Silver Empire Publishing.

But right now, it’s back.

And if you’re new here, and have no idea what A Pius Man is … It ate up ten years of my life, and the best use I have ever gotten out of my Masters in History outside of writing biographies of older vampires.

But here you go, here’s the next chapter. When you’re hooked, order it.

Today’s chapter introduces a man from down the street — or from across the Med, if you’ll pardon the expression. The Pope has got a tour planned to go to Egypt, and they need to coordinate security.

Enter, Hashim Abasi.

For the record, no, this will not have a critique of Pope Francis and his security measures — or lack thereof–for his trip to Egypt. Not intentionally. Remember, the first draft is from 2004. I hadn’t even heard of Pope Francis until he was elected Pope.

Anyway, there will be more to come on A Pius Man: A Holy Thriller. You have been warned.
Chapter III:
A Pious Visitor
Hashim Abasi was tall and powerfully built, his broad shoulders accentuated by the fit of his sandy, tan jacket. At thirty-five, he had enjoyed a moderate professional success—given where he lived and what he did, being alive counted as success. He occasionally wondered how long that success would last since he couldn’t leave his job if he tried. Everyone in political circles liked him, mainly because he was one of the few not trying to stab anyone in the back.
He ran a hand over his bald scalp, wondering what had become of his liaison with the chief of Vatican security. He was tempted to slide his reading glasses onto his sharp, angular nose and start flipping through papers on Figlia’s desk. Premature presbyopia annoyed him no end: others only needed reading glasses after forty or forty-five. He was just lucky in his ancestors that his good distance vision had saved his life more than once.
Abasi pinched his sinuses, fighting off the coming headache. He crossed his legs, hoping to become even slightly comfortable in the office chair.
If I ran the office, I would have chairs that made people uncomfortable on purpose. But who knows—the head of the papal detail may be a man chosen because of his virtue, and not because of his security qualities.
Agent Abasi, my apologies, sir, I had a little car accident on the way here,” someone said in English as he dashed into the office. Abasi didn’t even stand, merely glanced at the head of papal security as he rushed through the door.
Figlia’s cheeks were flushed, as if he had run the entire way. Abasi looked over Figlia’s suit, and wondered just how much Figlia dressed in basic black because he blended in, and how much it was affected by being on a SWAT team for so long.
Nothing serious, I hope,” Abasi replied in clear, crisp Cambridge English. It was a voice at odds with his body – most people didn’t expect a voice that educated to come out of a man with physique like a body builder. Then again, Abasi usually tried to stick to gutter vocabulary when he was on the job, it helped with the image.
Figlia smiled, glad that they had English in common—the wonders of the “new Latin,” as the resentful Vaticanos called it. Although that is a good question—were they referring to English as a universal language, or the 2003 Latin dictionary, which had entries for “motorcycle” and “hot dog”?
I will certainly need a new window,” Figlia told him, “but no one was killed … not by my car, anyway.”
Abasi nodded solemnly. He cocked his head and furrowed his brows, his dark copper eyes catching the light. “I hope that was not an explosion I heard not long ago.”
It was.”
Abasi started, and turned towards the source of the new voice.
Special Agent Wilhelmina Goldberg slid into a chair not far from the corner of Figlia’s desk. “Unfortunately,” she continued, “the body of his car needs work because it was body-slammed by a corpse.”
Abasi looked from one to the other. “Is this a terrorist incident?”
Figlia shrugged. “Unknown. This only just blew up in our faces. My people are looking at it now.”
If I can do anything, do not hesitate to call on me, please.” He smiled. “After all, I have plenty of experience with explosives.”
Goldberg cocked her head, looking at him sideways. “Excuse me for asking, but why are you concerned? I mean, outside of the Pope’s safety during his visit to Egypt, why would you care? Even a lot of Catholics I know wouldn’t mind if this Pope bought it … he’s even more militant than the last two.”
Abasi raised a brow. “Indeed? May I ask who you are?”
Special Agent Goldberg, U.S. Secret Service.”
Abasi arched his eyebrows. “Really?” He angled himself towards her. He ran a hand over his bald scalp, and scratched at the back of his neck. “Well, Agent Goldberg, there is something American Catholics don’t have to worry about—retribution should the Pope get killed. You may remember the uproar your president caused when he talked of a crusade against terrorism? For my people, the Crusades are as recent as fifty years ago. Everyone acts as though they’ve been personally traumatized by them, and that a new crusade could happen again at any moment.” He held up a hand to hold off her protests. “The idea is absurd, but that’s what they believe—if a Muslim should kill Pope Pius XIII’, my people believe the West will start their invasion in Morocco and go east.” Abasi looked to Figlia, then back to Goldberg. “Now, everyone in this room knows that, if a crusade should start, it will have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with killing religious psychopaths.
His massive shoulders went up and down in a shrug. “In short, I am here because Egypt does not wish to be wiped out in the crossfire between tribes.” Abasi shifted again, failing to get comfortable.
Goldberg blinked. “Funny, coming from a government that had a new Nazi party only a few years ago.”
Abasi merely smiled. “Regimes change – in the Middle East more often than most. The Muslim Brotherhood alienated many, which is why they’re gone now. The current government wants to change our national image. Allowing the Pope to visit is one part of that.”
Figlia blinked. “And how do you manage?”
Abasi laughed. “Commander Figlia, do you know the key to surviving as a policeman in Egypt? When the Sunnis are in power, all of the criminals are ‘shi’a.’ When the shi’a are in power, all of the criminals are Sunni. It is all a matter of how you fill out the paperwork.” He looked to Goldberg. “And you, Special Agent, what are you doing so far from home? Sightseeing, perhaps?”
She shook her head. “I’m here as a security consultant.”
And they allow this in your country?”
She shrugged. “Yup. Besides, I’m too short to take a bullet for anyone except one of the seven dwarves, so I’m in tactics, strategy, advance work, etc.”
Indeed. So we are all here to keep Kutjok safe.”
Goldberg looked from Abasi to Figlia, and blinked. Figlia said, “Abasi means His Holiness. His name before he became Pope was Joshua Kutjok.”
Goldberg nodded. “Ah, sorry, it didn’t process for a moment. Then again, there’s been so much fuss made in the U.S. over ‘Pius XIII’ ever since he took the name, oy!” She closed her eyes and thought for a moment. “The news coverage, depending on who you believe, the last pope to take the name either did nothing about the Holocaust; said nothing about the Holocaust; or was actively responsible for the Holocaust.”
Abasi said, “True. Before then, I did not know that every historian who specialized in Catholic history was a reject from the seminary, an ex-priest who married an ex-nun, or ‘Catholics’ who, mysteriously, support none of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Wilhelmina Goldberg sighed. “I wonder if CNN could get the same results from a historian who didn’t have an axe to grind.”
Figlia shrugged, and tried to move away from the third rail of a topic. “As for his birth name, people might not recall where Pius was from if he did not make noises about it every day.”
Goldberg nodded. All of the historians were just as enraged that, not only had Joshua Kutjok picked the name Pius, but the Sudanese Archbishop had given two reasons for picking the name: “Like my predecessor, I, too, have a mission to save lives from a mechanism of death, which seeks to ‘purify’ a country through murder. Like Pope Pius XII, I will put all of my energies toward ending the murder and slavery in Sudan –North and South – as he did to save the Jews of Europe during the dark years of the Nazi infestation. To commemorate this mission, I will start the proceedings to canonize Pope Pius XII.”
Like most of his predecessors, Pius XIII was on a mission from God.
I have to tell you,” Goldberg told Figlia, trying to get comfortable in the chair, “I think the only people he hasn’t pissed off yet are at Fox News.”
At that, even Abasi had to laugh. “This is true. I remember when few people talked about the decades of genocide, over two million murdered before anyone had heard of Darfur.”
Goldberg arched a brow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone say Darfur like he had a personal grudge. Then again, if I saw a genocide go on for decades, but no one paid attention, I guess I’d be pissed too.
That’s part of the problem,” Figlia said, leaning back in his chair. “The bulk of the direct attacks on the Pope are leveled by the Northern Sudanese government, which has labeled the entire Catholic Church as one unnatural entity. As an Archbishop in the Sudan, when it was one country, the Pope’s own parishioners dragged him off to Uganda because it was safer. I believe tranquilizers were involved. Heh. He is not one to take anything lying down.”
Even Abasi laughed at this. “You are not kidding.” He said to Goldberg, “I recall Kutjok’s first desire being to canonize ‘anti-Semitic’ Popes, Pius IX and XI–one had sheltered and supported Jews, and the other had condemned fascists and communists in the same week. It was announced by a new Secretary of State, a Vietnamese priest who spent years jailed by the People’s Republic of China … that was well-done.” Abasi smiled, obviously appreciative of the political chess involved.
Goldberg rolled her eyes. “That’s nothing. You should have been in Washington when they talked about making a patron saint of spies out of Dr. Thomas Dooley…”
Abasi gave her a blank look; he had missed that one, apparently.
He was a full-time doctor and a sometime spy for the U.S. government in Vietnam,” Goldberg answered.
Ah,” Abasi said flatly. “So that would explain why China and North Korea have the uncomfortable idea that Kutjok has them on his short list of things to do.”
Goldberg gave a short laugh. “I still like that the press release where they announced that one of the Rothschilds would run the Vatican Bank.”
Abasi laughed. “This is true. Though it was still not as brilliantly handled as the elections process.”
Goldberg blinked. “What was all that about? I’m not entirely certain what went on there. Elected priests? I don’t remember the last time a Rabbi took a poll.”
Giovanni Figlia frowned. If this was going to be a conversation about politics no matter what he did, he would at least jump in and hope to cut it short. “Catholic critics wanted elected bishops, and the Pope gave them what they wanted. Mostly in countries with a long history of democracy, and on the condition that the elected were ordained priests, and that Rome had final ratification. The candidates had gone on a tour of parishes under the guise of guest speakers. Not even the parishioners had known there was a campaign. Since the critics hadn’t gone to church since 1965, they never knew the elections happened until after. The 45% of Catholics who regularly go to church were the ones who voted. By the time the critics had heard of the elections, they were over, leaving them without an argument—there were elections, but they failed to show up, and so failed to get the outcome they wanted.” Goldberg stretched her neck to one side. “Anyway, we figure a lot of people want to kill him. So, I’m just here to walk around and point out ways to improve the system already in place. A normal security audit, only more on a theoretical level rather than personally testing the system.”
Hashim Abasi cocked his head. “This should be interesting. May I join your audit? If you, Commander Figlia, decide to initiate any of her suggestions, I would already know the details from the same presentation.”
Figlia shrugged. “I see no reason not to. Agent Goldberg?”
She shrugged. “I’ll ask my boss, but I can’t see why not.”
Abasi said, “Then you will not get any permission; I would fail a background check, because my English is so good.” Abasi’s smile broadened into a full grin, as though he was straining not to laugh. “My name, essentially, translates into ‘stern crusher of evil.’ ” He shrugged. “The hopes of a parent. My father sent me abroad in order to learn the language of the enemy, so I could better kill them. While I was abroad, he was killed while tinkering with a mail-order C4 vest. While I have locked away more terrorists than some Mossad officers, I can’t imagine passing a background check by any U.S. federal agency.”
Goldberg’s eyes glittered. “Ah. In that case, we’d better not tell them.” She looked to Figlia. “I suppose you can coordinate with Agent Abasi after, or even during, my audit, incorporating my advice as we go … depending, of course, on when or how you want to squeeze it in around your homicide investigation. I mean, you worked so hard to win the case, I’m guessing you want to work it yourself.”
Figlia laughed. “I’m certain the autopsy reports will take long enough for me to fit the audit in, between forensics reports.”
Abasi’s eyes flickered from one to the other. “You fought for the investigation? Why?”
Figlia leaned back in the seat. “I started out in what you may call the… Special Tactics team of the police force. After working abroad, I came back, and took the detective’s test, working homicide before coming here. Think of it as a mental game to keep the mind sharp. The Secret Service rotates the members on Presidential duty after a few years, to avoid its becoming routine, yes? This is my version. A little murder to break up the boredom.”
Abasi smiled. Figlia was a man whose posture said cop.
*
Sean, the mercenary, had changed out of his jogging suit only a few minutes after Giovanni Figlia had begun his conversation with Hashim Abasi. Already, he was about to begin the job he was brought here to do.
For several weeks, he had been training men and women into what he saw as a well-equipped fighting force, even if no one else noticed.
He double-checked his box of weapons to make sure that everything was there. It didn’t look like much, but he could make an entire army out of what he had there.
He had been doing just that.
He hitched his gear up and started out into the Borgia Gardens. When he had first been assigned that spot, he had found it amusing.
Sean whipped out his tactical baton and opened it with a flick of his wrist.
Now it’s time to make the Borgias look like amateurs, he thought with a manic smile on his face as he stepped out to see his trainees; the priests and nuns of the Vatican.
If people thought that the Templars were fun to deal with, he thought, just wait until the conspiracy theorists get a hold of what I’m doing. They’ll go insane.
*
The standard trend for Popes went one of two ways: nobles or peasants. In an age where nobles were disappearing, the noble was usually replaced with the academic. It had worked well in the case of Karol Wojtyla, and Joseph Ratzinger – John Paul II and his successor – who were both academics.
Then there was Joshua Kutjok, the latest Pope. He was both an academic and a peasant. He had been educated by the Church, but had also lived in some of the worst places on the planet earth.
And now he was the most powerful religious leader on the planet. He didn’t mind being “the most powerful religious leader on the planet,” but he did mind being called that to his face. It usually got in the way of getting things done.
Pope Pius XIII was a tall, athletic, dark-skinned man. He was a very solid six feet tall and two hundred and thirty-five pounds, his hair salt-and-pepper gray, his eyes dark brown. He had a shoulder span as wide as the seminary bed he kept in his papal offices. His size made him intimidating, but his build made everyone exceedingly curious about how he moved over marble floors without sound.
That wouldn’t have been so crazy-making had anyone had an idea about exactly when he slept: it couldn’t have been more than five hours a night. Pius XIII was either awake or at prayer at any time of the day, according to everyone who saw him at such hours, moving soundlessly through the hallways at three in the morning toward his office, or moving down to the office of papal security.
Even though the offices of papal security were in a completely different building, he wanted the Commandatore on hand—no one was quite sure if he was just being prudent after the repeated attempts on his predecessor, or if this was a habit carried over from his former diocese. It was rumored back during the last papal conclave that he had once beaten a man who had threatened a parishioner. The rumors were never verified.
A priest walked into il Papa’s office in a building next to the colonnade. He was a man with short, gray hair, a strong Roman nose, and brown eyes that twinkled with the anarchy so common among the residents of the Mediterranean, descended from the Roman mobs that ran the city into the ground over a thousand years.
The priest said, “We’ve got a problem, your Holiness.”
Pius XIII looked up at him. “Oh?”
We’ve got two murders on our hands. Gianni took them from the local cops.”
Why? Don’t we keep him busy enough?”
The body fell on his car.”
The Pope nodded. “Most unfortunate. Someone we know?”
David Gerrity and Giacomo Clementi. Clementi landed on Gianni’s.”
The Pope’s lips twitched with annoyance. “Blast! I had such hopes for both of them. Any word on Figlia’s investigation?”
Not yet, it’s only just started. He’s busy with the Secret Service and Egyptian police. Thankfully, my best man was at the scene to meet Clementi. Obviously, something happened.”
Obviously,” the Pope said, unhappy. He stared hard at the Bishop. “XO, this has happened twice already: I can’t let this interfere with what we’re doing together, it’s too important to me, to our people—I’d say to our survival, but it’s too melodramatic. Pius XII must be canonized, no matter the cost, capisce?”
The other man nodded. “Yes, Your Holiness. I guarantee we will not fail. I’m certain.”
Pacelli thought he could not fail, and look what happened. We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of defeat this time. See to it, XO. Remember, any means necessary.”
And, if you’ve done that….
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Pius Writing

Over the years on my own personal blog, I’ve talked a lot about how A Pius Man came about, and I’ve muttered about some of my research on it. I’ve talked about writing the characters, and their biographies, and their progress from being a biography to being a real person I play with in my head.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my thought process behind the evolution of the novel.

You see, once upon a time, I considered writing a murder mystery in the Vatican. I made the head of security an Irish redhead who had family with the IRA. I was going to murder a bishop or a Cardinal or something like that. I had a Hispanic Pope named Hector (I don’t recall the Papal name), and a few other loose elements kicking around. I may have had a whole page of notes.

Obviously, when I started on A Pius Man, that project went the way of the dodo.

However, one thing that stuck was it was going to be a mystery. I wanted everyone to be under suspicion. I wanted everyone to look dark and sinister, and let the reader decide who to trust, and when they could be trusted. I wanted to cheat, like Agatha Christie, and make even the investigators look like they could be in on the plot.

I wanted it look, at first glance, like every other knock off of that idiot that shall not be named.

Not that anyone would know who that is.

**COUGH** **COUGH**

 

Basically, I wanted it to look like X. Because, hey, if it looks like X, X is a proven formula. X is harmless. X is status quo.

A Pius Man is at once both subversive and superversive. Superversive in content, but I totally intend to subvert the status quo of X stories.

Obviously, as the first 4-5 chapters are released, you’re going to have to tell me how much I managed to make A Pius Man look like the stories we’ve all come to know and loathe, before the story kicks into high gear and becomes a knock-down drag-out thriller.

And of course, it spiraled. Mostly because character son of a bitch just wouldn’t die.

Again, what I intend may not be what you see, but then again, I’m the idiot who thought that Honor at Stake was a light, fluffy throwaway book before it was nominated for the Dragon Award. So I’m not the best judge of character.

But you are. Tell me what you think when you read 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 Love at First Bite series. 
    

A Romantic Distinction

I propose a distinction between two varieties of romance in fiction: Girly romances and manly romances.

A girly romance is a romance where the man, or woman, is willing to give up everything in order to be with the one they love.

A manly romance is a romance where the man, or woman, is forced to give up, or risk, their happiness with the one they love in order to achieve a greater good.

Girly romances don’t necessarily have to be bad (See: “Wall-E”), and manly romances don’t necessarily have to be good (I can’t think of any bad examples off the top of my head, but I’m not a fan of the romance genre generally). But I think the distinction is at least an interesting one.

To see the quintessential examples of both, “Titanic” is THE girly romance, and “Casablanca” is THE manly romance. They’re both considered classics (though I can’t stand “Titanic”, but hey, it’s popular), and both of them fit the categories perfectly: Rick gives up Ilsa in order to aid the war effort, even though it hurts them both, and in “Titanic” Jack is willing to give up even his life in order to save Rose, and Rose apparently happy to give up her posh upper class status in order to be with Jack.

If “Casablanca” were a girly romance, Rick would have run off with Ilsa and Lazlo would have been sad but happy that Ilsa was happy, and they would flee Casablanca together.

If “Titanic” were a manly romance, Jack would be forced to leave Rose behind in order to – let’s say – find and release lifeboats to save the other passengers, and Rose would recognize that she had responsibilities to her family and society that made a relationship with Jack irresponsible and reckless anyway. Both would be sad but would part ways in the knowledge that they were doing the difficult but moral thing. Interestingly, in this version of “Titanic” it actually might make more sense for Jack to live.

Just food for thought.

The Iconic Hero and the Superversive

I make no bones about the fact that I prefer Sean Connery when I’m talking about James Bond movies. It’s not merely that his take on the character is consistently entertaining, but that it’s consistent period from film to film. This is a man who knows who and what he is, does not apologize for it, and has no issues with what he does; he lives for the mission, and believes in the mission. It’s nothing like Danial Craig’s Bond at all. Robin D.
Laws identifies this as “The Iconic Hero”, and explained in this 2012 post why this is a valid characterization choice:

While a dramatic hero follows a character arc in which he is changed by his experience of the world (examples: Orpheus, King Lear, Ben Braddock), an iconic hero undertakes tasks (often serially) and changes the world, restoring order to it, by remaining true to his essential self.

Prevailing creative writing wisdom favors the changeable dramatic character over his serially unchanging iconic counterpart, but examples of the latter remain enduring tentpoles of popular culture. It’s the clear, simple, elemental iconic heroes who keep getting reinvented every generation. Each such classic character spoke to the era of its invention, while also evoking an eternal quality granting it a continuing resonance. We are going to create a new set of heroes who speak to the contemporary world while evoking the inescapable power of the iconic model.

An iconic hero re-imposes order on the world by reasserting his essential selfhood. The nature of his radical individuality can be summed up with a statement of his iconic ethos. It is the ethos that grants higher meaning to the hero’s actions, and a clue to his creator’s intentions. An iconic hero’s ethos motivates and empowers him.

The first paragraph in particular is the mission of a Superversive hero: to restore order to the world. What he does is how he makes that happen, that assertion Laws speaks of, is where the variation lies. In the quoted post, Laws goes over several iconic characters and shows how you can summarize their stories in a sentence by identifying their ethos and how they assert it to restore order to their world time and again. What he doesn’t identify, but nonetheless shows, is that this summary also serves as the basis for every story outline you’ll need in writing stories about those characters that are true and faithful additions to their literary corpus that the readers will accept.

There’s something else that this post, and the concept in it, reveals: how the Enemy subverts the culture. They do resort to making Iconic Heroes into Dynamic Characters, putting them through “arcs” that denigrate their ethos and thereby degrade the characters into agents of subversion to further the Enemy’s agenda. (One need only look at what goes on at Marvel and D.C. Comics to see this in action.)

While stories that have characters changed by the experiences of the narrative are necessary and valuable, this is not a universal requirement. Just look at what’s been done with the Arthurian Mythos to see (a) that it’s not necessary and (b) it’s often done to subvert, degrade, and destroy a targeted culture- and therefore, not to be trusted anymore.

Consider an Iconic Hero when you’re next sitting down to create something, especially if you’re looking to do so as part of a series–writing, gaming, etc.–because you may find it better suited to your objectives than you might think.

SFWA, or STFU? WTF?

It’s not a new concept that the wonderful world of writers, like every other organization, has fights. And back stabbing, back biting, and other backwards thoughts, ideas and concepts. Then there’s the SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America.  If you haven’t been brought in on this round of inside baseball, the SFWA has started appealing to one small, particular demographic, namely the psychotic political left. You know the ones I’m talking about, because there are no leftist moderates anymore — just turn on the news, and watch for five minutes before the next riot happens. In story form, one story that meets these standards includes a world where the universe is filled with subservient men, the women rule everything, and there is peace throughout the world … a story that has every woman I’ve told it to laughing themselves sick.

Apparently, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for good fiction to meet SFWA standards.

This is a bit of business that has some old-school (and new) SF writers pissed. Names include Harlan Ellison and Harry Turtledove, among other.  And Harlan is no conservative. The chronicles of the SFWA’s downward spiral does make you wonder exactly how far down this rabbit hole goes.  Though I’m not brave enough to go spelunking into that particular asylum.

However, I noted something in the above articles, that the SFWA got pissed off over “a book with women in chainmail on the cover.”  Well, one, if it’s fantasy, what else are women going to wear? It’s either chainmail, leather armor, or platemail (the latter heavy enough to tip someone over like a turtle on their back, so I don’t recommend it for anyone).

Then, something occurred to me.  Could this hissy fit have been over Chicks in Chainmail? For those of you who don’t know this classic comedy series, it’s laugh out loud funny stories in fantasy universes, like the Suburban fantasy anthology Witch Way to the Mall, Strip Mauled, and Fangs for the Mammaries.

The two series have something in common.  Two somethings, in fact.

1) They’re all edited by Esther Friesner.

2) They’re published by Baen books…Sound familiar?

Does anyone else have a bad feeling about this?

And if you don’t want to go by the version in gifs, the pure text version of what’s been happening is even LESS reassuring.

Now, there are a few problems with everything the SFWA has been pulling.  Using feminism as authority structure creates pedantic drivel in favor of a false narrative of multiculturalism (ie: we’re going to shove this down your throat, and you will like it, because. Just because). They want writers to effectively write stories about “womyn,” gays, transgenders, african-Americans, native Americans, gays, Asian peoples they have no idea about “but hey taoism sounds cool and namaste, yo.”

You can view this a few ways.  The rabbit hole, making a “women only” race course, putting a Stalin-ish leash on their editors to make certain they’re publishing the “right” things, or redefining “literature” as whatever supports the current tint.  No matter what you call it, it’s not good for writing, storytelling, or the genre. If you wanted to say they’re trying to destroy the genre, well, you wouldn’t be the first.

Though you can also see it as people like Baen and Castalia house are busy taking over the universe of science fiction, and we just can’t have that. Castalia House, after all, has the eeevvviiillll Vox Day …. who SFWA kicked out of their little clubhouse for being politically incorrect. And publishes John C Wright — Catholics aren’t good for business, I’m sure. (Says the snarky Catholic)

Baen, for those of you who might not know, is filled with interesting people.  Many of them are conservative, but also Libertarian, and at least one card-carrying Communist, Eric Flint (he pulled out his card at a DragonCon one year).  Unfair, but balanced might be a way to put it.  Each person will bring their own politics and philosophies to bear in their own novels, but usually not in a way that would piss me off. I’ve read Flint, and he’s quite interesting. They also have John Ringo, David Weber, and Timothy Zahn, who are conservative-ish, if not outright conservatives.  And then there’s Tom Kratman.

These two are making TONS of money.  Metric tons. They are everywhere, and always publishing.

So, a libertarian press making money? And making money with something like Chicks in Chain Mail?

If Jason is right, then this SFWA brough-ha-ha is really a purge in response to Baen.  After all, with nimrods this ideologically pure, Baen is downright heretical.  So we have the “conservative” juggernaut of Baen versus an ever-more left-leaning SFWA… If Jason’s idea is true, then the SFWA has a problem.  By catering to smaller and smaller elements of their own preconceptions, they’re just throwing good money after bad. Like all of those horrid anti-war propaganda films from 2001 on, I’m sure it makes the producers and writers feel good, but who’s going to see it? For every five films like Syriana, they still couldn’t match the profit of 300, Iron Man, or Captain America.

As some of you may know, I escaped from a PhD program. Academia is rife with the sort of PC crap the SFWA is doing, but I haven’t noticed it in too many POPULAR books or movies. Sure, Hollywood cranks out this drek endlessly, but who watches it? 300 was a January release, and it made so much money, they started a sequel immediately (it only took forever to write and produce). So, certainly, people are teaching this stuff in the halls of academia, but when it comes to where the metal hits the road — where people spend their money — John Wick, DC, Marvel, and their ilk outperforms that sort of drek every single time. If The Dark Knight Rises had a feminist message beyond “Anne Hathaway looks good in leather,” I missed it (I actually thought the message was “Occupy Wall Street = Bad”). There is even a Kickstarter dedicated towards making these politically correct nightmares in print. “Women destroying science fiction,” is the actual title of one such stupid project.

This, of course, is a stupid idea for a book series, anthology, novel, what have you, if only because of actual SF written by women.  Let’s look at JD Robb, aka Nora Roberts — her In Death series is a fun science fiction murder mystery series set in the 2060s. How about Julie Cochran, coauthor to John Ringo? Or Jane Lindskold. Is Tamora Pierce or Naomi Novik hurting for cash because they’re women? I have yet to dodge JK Rowling because she’s a woman. Laurell K Hamilton was a okay writer for about 8 books, then it became smut, but at least it wasn’t feminista drivel.

Isn’t it nice to see that writers can be as petty as everyone else? Then again, I became a writer because I don’t like dealing with people as a rule.

My takeaway from all this? Write good books, and no one will care what gender you are. Honest.

I, for one, won’t even NOTICE what gender you are (You can’t imagine how long it took me to sort authors by gender, you really can’t).  If you write bad books, no one will read them, and the SFWA will just keep burning its cash, and its credibility — assuming that they have any left.