Jilly: Villainous Heroes

Have you ever waited impatiently for a book or series starring a character that you’d previously loathed?

I’ve read a couple of villain-turned hero stories and even blogged about one of them here a few years ago (Grace Burrowes’ 2014 historical The Traitor, starring the baddie from her previous book, The Captive), but I’ve never done the foot-tapping, finger-drumming, calendar-watching book launch thing for a very bad guy before.

It’s Ilona Andrews’ fault. I’ve squeed about their writing here before, once or twice 😉 , but their newest trick leaves me open-mouthed and thinking hard.

According to their blog (link here), the project started in 2015 as an April Fool. They put up a spoof cover and tongue-firmly-in-cheek blurb for a romance starring Hugh d’Ambray, the hard-as-nails enforcer for Roland, the grand antagonist of the bestselling Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. It began as a joke that prompted a deluge of requests that spawned an idea that became a book, and what looks like a whole new series, Iron and Magic.

I’d think it was another April Fool, except they’ve posted footage from the cover shoot, run a title contest, and best of all the blog post I linked to above contains a further link to a long excerpt. It’s really, really good and I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. Judging by the comments (more than 1,400 at the time of writing), I’m not alone.

I’ve read the excerpt a few times now, because I’m fascinated to understand how the authors have managed to establish empathy for such a dark character. It would be easier to understand if the character’s bad deeds were in the past, or somewhat diluted as backstory, or happened to a character we don’t care deeply about, but in Hugh’s case his murdering, torturing and various atrocities have been committed across multiple books, right in front of our eyes, against our heroine Kate Daniels and her community. He should be unforgiveable.

So how have they done it?

Spoilers below, so read the excerpt first if that’s your thing.

Continue reading

Michille: Recycled Novel in a Year

Start-Strong-Start-Simple-1Today (yesterday to readers of this post), I was noodling around looking for ideas for this blog post. I stumbled on a blog post from two years ago based on a series from one of my favorite blogs: Writers Write. Back in 2016, they were running a series called Write Your Novel in a Year (Anthony Ehlers is the blogger of this series, the link is for the 1st post – this is the last). He had a new post every week and at this time in 2015, they were up to week 14. Continue reading

Michaeline: Good Villains, Writing Craft and Mute

Love padlocks on a bridge in Berlin. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD: Watch Mute on Netflix first if you are especially sensitive.

I just finished watching Mute, a near-future thriller that came out on Netflix this month. I found it a riveting story, full of nuances and great writing craft.

The villains are particularly worthy of study. In our writing class at McDaniels, Jennifer Crusie told us how important it is that the antagonist be as interesting and exciting as the protagonist – if not more so. (And here is a blog post from Argh Ink about it.) She also taught us that the villain is the hero of his or her own story, and that we should really like our villains.

If we create a villain that is devoid of all good things, we create a cardboard character with no real life. And on the flip side, our heroes should have flaws. It makes them more believable, and it allows us to pity them, or empathize with them.

In Mute, two of the very many bad guys are bantering army doctors who fix up (or take apart) people for an underworld businessman. Director and co-writer Duncan Jones said he had the duo (Paul Rudd as Cactus Bill and Justin Theroux as Duck) watch the movie MASH for inspiration (Geek Tyrant interview). These two guys are “the smartest guys in the room” and have the kind of great chemistry you need to pull off great banter. These guys are definitely the heroes of their own stories.

But the characters are selfish, and they have terrible flaws. Cactus Bill is Continue reading

Elizabeth: It’s All About the Words

In recent weeks I’ve been powering my way through the piles of books I’ve accumulated that have been languishing in my library, waiting to be read.  I have writing to do and stories to tell, but I’m also trying to follow the advice that writers need to “read widely.”  Also, my towering TBR piles (yes, there are multiple piles) have become ungainly.  It’s either get reading or build a fort out of them or something.

Some of the books, like the Daisy Dalrymple mystery stories by Carola Dunn, were definite winners that left me wondering why I hadn’t read them sooner.  Others (that will remain nameless), often freebies that I found on Amazon or via sites like Goodreads, had me wondering how they got published and whether there were editors involved (I’m guessing no for that last question in at least a few cases).

While a strong plot/story-line is critical if a book is going to work for me, word choice and word usage can really tip the scales. Continue reading

Jilly: The Case for the Oxford Comma

Do you care about the Oxford comma?

A few days ago my husband and I found ourselves in a discussion about punctuation with the lawyer who prepared our wills. She explained the need for clarity in legal drafting, and highlighted the danger that a misplaced punctuation mark could completely change the effect of a clause. I don’t know what made me think of it, but in a moment of word-geekery I checked the draft will in front of me and noticed that the list of our potential executors (Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane) was written without a comma after the penultimate name.

I asked, and was told that this is the approved punctuation for a list of items or names: apparently the legal manual of style in England does not favor the Oxford comma. The discovery surprised me. If the lack of a serial comma can make nonsense of a simple sentence like “Susan organized a party and invited her parents, the Queen of England and Richard Branson,” (clearly Her Majesty and Sir Richard are not Susan’s parents), then surely, I thought, it would have the potential to cause confusion in some contracts.

I was curious, so when I got home, I spent some quality time on the interwebs and was tickled to find that the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently issued a ruling that hinged on this very point, Continue reading

Michille: John Grisham’s Do’s & Don’ts

By BJTJ1 - July 15 at the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project’s Second Annual Awards Luncheon., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40699787I read the New York Times every day. Well, not the whole thing, but I scan the home page and find enough articles that catch my interest to keep me on the site for a while. I’m not sure how I missed this gem from May 2017. John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Popular Fiction. Some we’ve all heard/read before. Some are new to me. Even with the list, JG gives the caveat, “All suggestions can be ignored when necessary. I do it all the time.” Many writers do. But for those of us who aren’t multi-best-selling authors, it’s good to review every now and then.

Numbers 2 and 3 were new for me. Number 5 is a no-brainer. And Number 4 is very common and often ignored. Regardless, here they are: Continue reading

Jilly: Cold Start Case Study

This week the Ladies have been discussing cold starts, sharing their tips and tricks for finding their way into a scene or story when inspiration is nowhere to be found. As you’d expect, their recommendations are as different as their personalities and writing processes.

Michaeline talked yesterday about the excitement of bashing two or three different ideas together to generate story sparks, and then using her own memories and experiences as kindling for those sparks.

That sounds like fun, but I’m not usually looking for story starters. When I commit to a character, I like to spend lots of time in their world. I’m like the worst kind of nosy neighbor: I want to know everything about everyone in the whole community. For Alexis’s epic I have at least five major areas to explore and a tentative series end date of some time in 2020.

I’m not a detailed planner like Nancy. I know roughly where I’m headed and who will join me on the journey, but until I start to write I don’t know the details. I have to cold start the beginning of each book, and I usually hit more icy patches as I’m writing.

I find that my writing troubles usually stem from my characters. If the story goes cold, it’s because I haven’t challenged them, or I don’t know them well enough to figure out how they’d react, and why.

Momentum helps me. If I spend quality time with my characters on a regular basis, they’re top of my mind and I learn a little more about them every day. If I take a break from them, I lose that proximity and have to spend time getting to know them all over again. Just like real people—if you don’t see someone for a month, or a year, it takes a while to get back into the swing of the relationship.

Right now, I’m the poster child for cold starts. Since my mum died in mid-January I’ve had neither the time nor the inclination to write. Add in some family downtime over Christmas and New Year, and I reckon it must be two months since I really got to grips with Alexis. I want to get back to work, but my story brain is feeling sluggish and unresponsive.

I decided to try Continue reading