Monday, June 17, 2019

Redeemable vs Non-redeemable Villains

© Can Stock Photo / hjalmeida
I enjoy streaming a syndicated radio talk show called, Ground Zero with Clyde Lewis. The show has interesting, offbeat topics and listening to it is a nice way to unwind at the end of a busy workday. The other night Clyde was talking about the latest Godzilla movie, and how over time the title character has evolved from an evil beast that must be destroyed to a defender of the planet. That's quite a leap indeed, and it was a fascinating discussion. (To hear a podcast please click on the link above.) 

While I don't write science fiction or horror myself, those genres do allow more leeway for using symbolism to include political undertones, as may be the case with Godzilla. That said, when writing fiction there are certain unwritten rules that we authors must follow because it's what readers expect, and high on the list is that good always triumphs over evil.

Fiction plotlines, regardless of the genre, are driven by conflict. The purpose of an antagonist is to create that conflict by interfering with the protagonist and trying to block whatever goal he or she is trying to achieve. This is why most, but not all, antagonists are also villains, and the more devious and evil the villain, the more drama and intensity to the story. In real life, however, people can and do make poor choices, but there are some who learn from their mistakes, and they make changes as to not repeat them. In fiction, these people would be redeemable characters. An example would be Josh, from my most recent Marina Martindale novel, The Letter.  Josh is a con artist working a Ponzi scheme with two unseen characters, but as he took shape I noticed he had some redeeming qualities, so I made him into a redeemable villain. And since I don't want to spoil the plot for those of you who haven't read the book, I'll sum it up by saying things aren't always as they appear.

Most of my villians, however, are unrepentant. Some, like Maggie in The Deception, remain defiant even when they're being carted off to prison. Most however, are their own undoing. They're either shot by the police, or they're killed in accidents while trying to escape. They are the unredeemable villains, the Godzillas, who have to have their comeuppance, otherwise readers won't accept it. After all, karma's a bitch, not only in fiction, but in real life as well.


Monday, June 10, 2019

Book Signing Etiquette

Whether it's a bookstore, a book fair, or other special event, book signings can be a lot of fun, and a great way to engage one-on-one with potential readers. However, we authors can sometimes let our enthusiasm get the best of us, so please consider this a reminder that we need to treat our fellow authors with respect.

The worst experience I ever had at a book signing was during a big event weekend in Tombstone, Arizona. The local bookstore had so many authors signing books that they ran out of space inside the store, so they seated me, along with another author, out on the boardwalk in front of the store. This should have been a strategic advantage, as there was more foot traffic outside the store. Unfortunately, the other author was a non-stop talker.

He talked and talked and talked about anything and everything. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. He wouldn't shut up, not even when I was trying to talk to potential readers about my books, or trying to close a sale, and yes, his incessant talking actually killed some of my sales. As if this weren't bad enough, he started babbling on and on and on about a rather controversial book he was planning to write about his religious beliefs. So, not only was I stuck with him yapping my ear off while trying to talk to my customers, he's quoting Biblical scripture, chapter and verse, in a very loud voice, in a very public place. So instead of stopping by my table, people was literally running away. 

Please understand that while I strongly believe in religious freedom, there is a time and place for religious debate, and it is never on a sidewalk in front of a secular bookstore, at a secular event, where all the other authors are signing non-religious books. So, instead of a successful weekend as I normally had at Tombstone events, I had a disaster. I hardly sold any books, all because one very self-centered author couldn't keep his stupid mouth shut.

A book signing is where authors come to connect one on one with their readers. So if there are other authors at the same venue please show some respect and some common courtesy. This means you keep your conversations with other authors brief, and try to limit those conversations to those times when there are no customers around. Most importantly, keep your mouth shut while other authors are talking to potential buyers. Nothing is more unprofessional than interfering with another author's sale.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Let's Just Say No to "Sensitivity Readers" and Other Forms of Censorship

© Can Stock Photo / alexandrum

Lately I've been hearing about a disturbing new trend, particularly in traditional publishing; using so-called, "sensitivity readers," whose job is to censor the author's work by ferreting out so-called "trigger" words in their manuscripts.

I live in the United States, and our constitution includes a wonderful thing called, The First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, including artistic expression. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as slander and libel, but those exceptions are few and far between. And while The First Amendment guarantees our right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, it was never intended to protect anyone from being offended by someone else's free speech.

What is and isn't, "offensive," is oftentimes subjective. For example, a vegan may find a scene in my novel in which two of my characters enjoy a burger together offensive. A chef, however, may read the very same scene and be inspired to create a gourmet burger for two. But because the vegan took offense, should he or she then be given the right to censor my work? 

So-called, "sensitivity readers," pose a genuine threat to a writer's ability to express him or herself freely. I'm a woman who writes romance novels, therefore I have plenty of male characters in my books, even though I've never been a man. I also write in the third person narrative. This means some of my chapters will be written from a male character's point of view. I'm simply trying to tell a good story, but to the so-called, "sensitivity expert," I could be "stereotyping" men. And because the "sensitivity expert" has determined that I'm stereotyping men, I'm no longer allowed to write anything from a male point of view because it could possibly "trigger" a reader. In other words, my right to freely express myself as an artist has now been significantly infringed upon, as "trigger" is the new politically correct word for offend. Therefore, I'm to be censored.

I guess maybe I'm just too old school. If I'm reading a book, and for some reason I find one of the characters offensive, I simply stop reading the book. I don't go off on a tangent because I was offended. I don't demand the publisher pull the book from the shelves because I was offended. And I most certainly don't go on a hate campaign against the author, or demand the book be banned, just because I was offended. As said, I'll simply toss the book aside and read something else. How's that for a concept?

"Sensitivity" is the new, politically correct word for CENSORSHIP, and censorship goes against everything I believe in and everything The First Amendment was created for. So guess what? I will continue to write the stories I wish to write, and if the "sensitivity thought police" don't like it then they can go straight to Hell. 


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

My Issue with First Person Narratives

As fiction writers, we have two ways to present our story; first or third person narratives. This time, however, I'm going to speak as a fiction reader, and not an author.

As a reader, I simply hate the first person narrative. To me, it's the narcissistic narrative. It's all, "me, me, me, I, I, I, me, me, me, I, I, I," and that gets real old, real quick. I get it. The author wants me to have a more intimate relationship with the lead character, but not only does the narcissistic tone turn me off, I also want to know what other characters, particularly the antagonists, are up to.

I love reading fiction written in the third person narrative. To many, and to many others, reading a novel is, essentially, watching a movie in my head. I want to see the bad guys cooking up their evil schemes. I want to be with them when they do their dastardly deeds. I want to experience that moment of shock and surprise when the protagonist gets caught their trap. Likewise, I want to experience the protagonist's feeling of triumph when the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is why, as a reader, I only read third person narratives. I get to see multiple points of view, and I get to see scene changes with different characters, just like they do in the movies.

I realize this is a personal take, and that other readers may like the first person narrative. To each their own. However, I personally don't care for it, which is why I always write my own stories in a third person narrative.


Monday, May 27, 2019

Why I Don't Recommend Using the F-bomb

I recall once looking at a sample chapter from a novel, and there, in the second sentence of the opening narrative, was the dreaded, F-bomb. That was it. I was done. The book may have had an intriguing title, but once I saw that expletive I was immediately turned off and had no reason to read any further.

Now I'm not saying I'm a total prude, and for some genres this kind of language may be both suitable and expected, but not for my work. I write contemporary sensual romance. In my genre there simply is no reason for profanity, and most romance authors don't use it, especially when writing in the third person. To me, profanity, especially when used in the narrative, a sign of a lazy, sloppy writer, and a rank amateur. A good storyteller doesn't need to use profanity. Plain and simple.

Some of you may be asking, "But what about the dialog?" Sure, there will times when an, "Oh my goodness gracious me," simply won't cut it. I'm also fully aware that it's the 21st century; not the 1950s. Therefore, I'll use an occasional, "damn," "hell," or similar verbiage in my dialog, but never the F-bomb, or any other vulgar synonym for human genitalia. And the keyword here is occasional, as in, infrequently. My characters are not potty mouths. Even my villains have more class than that.

Only once have I had an occasion when a stronger word may have been expected. That was when a character had just learned that her husband had been kidnapped. She's understandably upset, and her response is, "What the ---?" She's then interrupted by another character before completing her sentence. Some readers may have interpreted it as, "What the hell?" Perfectly appropriate for the circumstances. Other readers, however, may have interpreted it differently and assumed she was about to say an entirely different word. Point is, I left it up to the reader to decide.

Sure, it may be the 21st century, but there are still plenty of people out there who find profanity, particularly the F-bomb, offensive. So why risk alienating potential readers who would have otherwise loved your book?