Three Quotes For Three Days, Part Deux

Thanks to Val Tobin for nominating me for the “Three Quotes for Three Days” challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
Three quotes for three days.
Three nominees each day (no repetition).
Thank the person who nominated you.
Inform the nominees.

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” -Bruce Lee

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I have heard countless people say they’d love to write a book – and have this fantastic tale to tell, full of sound and fury and goblins and cross-dressing dragons and guys with guns and, trust me folks, it’s gonna be great – only they need to find the time and work out the details. Make time. You don’t need to have a whole freaking day set aside for writing. And quit thinking so much about it; just write the damned thing already. Writing is a long-distance sport and the sooner you start, the better.

I nominate

Sylva Fae

Bryan Nowak

Grant Leishman

BTW, all these folks are extremely talented people. You should go check out their works.

Apologies

I had planned on having a short horror story up for Halloween, but never found the time to finish it. As an apology, have some pictures of cute bats.

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Have a safe and Happy Halloween everyone. Remember, when summoning Satan, please be sure to really read the fine print in the contract. Trump The Devil is known for being a wily dude.

Three Quotes for Three Days

Thanks to Val Tobin for nominating me for the “Three Quotes for Three Days” challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
Three quotes for three days.
Three nominees each day (no repetition).
Thank the person who nominated you.
Inform the nominees.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” – Hunter S. Thompson

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One of the things you can always tell about a writer is when they’re obviously holding back. There are little clues and hints that the writer wants to go somewhere really nasty but, for whatever reason, can’t. Now, I’m not advocating drugs, I never really did truck with drugs, but sometimes you’ve got to give into the madness and let the insanity flow like wine when you want to really nail that scene.

I nominate

Christoph Fischer

Damyanti Biswas

Max Power

BTW, all these folks are extremely talented authors. You should go check out their works.

A Crazy Theory

It’s October 29, 2016 and it was 80 degrees today. When I first moved into my house, one of my scheduled tasks was draining the pool by Halloween because that’s when we usually got our first serious cold snap. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be in the high 70s again. Ditto Monday.

Now, some people would point at this and say, “Global Warming!” and there was a time when I would have agreed with them. But, as the incoherent Trump likes to say, Global Warming was a myth created by the Chinese because reasons. Okay, so I don’t really believe most things Trump says, but in the interest of an American election year I’d like to propose an ever crazier theory.

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys – that gang of clean-cut American youth who spun bubblegum pop like spiders spin webs and hatred – largely went off the rails in 1966 and went balls to the wall working on a new record. Rumors abound about what went on during the recording that album, everything from psychedelics to yogis to full symphony orchestras and run-of-the-mill mad genius level insanity got tossed in a bowl in California and swirled around. Out of that madness came “Pet Sounds”, which at the time was received like a bowl of tepid water – better than nothing, but not what the world was hoping for. It was an ambitious project, to be certain, but probably so far ahead of its time that most of the burnouts of the mid-sixties didn’t know what to make of it. For the record, “Pet Sounds” has gone on to be one of the most highly regarded rock albums of all time, but at the time no one knew quite what to make of it.

Now, flash forward to the early seventies. The Beach Boys popularity was waning, and the world was looking to early heavy metal and punk as the future of music. The carefree bubblegum pop of the Beach Boys wouldn’t come back into vogue for quite a while. But, during this waning phase, they released a collection of hits from 1962-1965 called “Endless Summer”.

“Pet Sounds” came out in 1966, but wasn’t covered on what the Beach Boys would consider their endless summer phase, even though “Endless Summer” was released long after “Pet Sounds”. Why would that be?

I believe it’s because of what went on to create “Pet Sounds”. During all the drugs and madness, it’s not too hard to believe Brian Wilson worked some kind of crazy sex magic with at least two women, a stuffed octopus, and the divine eye of a Tantric Yogi master. What was he trying to do? Create his endless summer and now it’s looking like he might have actually pulled it off.

Or, you know, it could just be summer holding on longer than it used to. But I prefer my theory; it’s got just enough truthiness to make it interesting. Besides, conspiracy theories are fun to create.

Do you have any favorite conspiracy theories?

Forgotten Heroes

With Doctor Strange, Wonder Woman, the Justice League, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and probably a few dozen other comic-based movies coming out, I’d like to remind everyone of a few less-well-known characters from the superhero genre. It’s easy to forget just how old some of the characters from the new movies are. Dr. Strange first debuted in 1963. Batman hails from 1939. Wonder Woman comes to us from 1941. Thor, the comic character, is from 1962. Thor, the God of Thunder, first put hammer to skull over a thousand years ago, but we’re less interested in his exploits even though it could be reasonably argued he and the rest of his pantheon are some seriously old-school superheroes.

But if you step back in time a bit further, or just dig around a bit in the 1930s and 1940s, there are some other heroes that prototyped the current flock of tights-wearing adventurers. Doc Savage first popped up in 1933. The Phantom in 1936. The Spirit first saved his city in 1940. And The Shadow fought against the sinister Shiwan Khan as far back as 1930.

The 1930s and 1940s were a golden age of smashing criminals. It was a simpler time, and the characters had less up their sleeves in terms of superpowers, but they made their mark on the underworld nonetheless. And, for the most part, they did all that smashing without the benefit of super powers. It’s also interesting to note that all of these characters have had movies that basically flopped and at least one of them, Doc Savage, may have a new movie of his own at some point in the future.

So, without further ado, let’s take a quick look at some of the forgotten heroes of the golden age.

The Shadow

Of the four of the heroes, arguably the best known is The Shadow. He’s been around in one incarnation or another for nearly a hundred years now. He’s also the only character in the list that has what could be considered a super power: the ability to cloud men’s minds through his mastery of hypnosis. The character of The Shadow started out as a narrator for a radio show (Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?). It was Walter Gibson who transformed him from a simple narrative device into the cultural phenomenon he is today.

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Real Name: Depends. In the pulps his real name was Kent Allard. For the radio dramas and the movie with Alec Baldwin, his name was Lamont Cranston. The Allard/Cranston name change probably stems from the fact that, in the pulps, Allard would sometimes impersonate Lamont Cranston when the latter was jet-setting around the world. To be fair, it got a bit on the confusing side.

Super powers: Ability to cloud men’s minds. Master hypnotist. Intelligent.

To read the early Shadow novels is to take a step back to a time when there were no flying superheroes, the criminals were mostly mob guys, and Asia was a mystical place full of magic (kind of like it is now). The Shadow is considered the prototype for many other modern heroes including the venerable Batman. Of the group, The Shadow comes the closest to being a classical anti-hero; he has little compunction about threatening Lamont Cranston to keep his big yap shut, shooting his enemies, or breaking rules to do what he feels needs to be done.

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Fun fact: The early Shadow pulps were written by Walter Gibson. To handle the demand for his stories, he wrote one book a month for years, often writing up to 10,000 words a day on a manual typewriter.

Next on the hit parade is the first character to come complete with what would be considered a standard superhero costume – tights:

The Phantom

Real Name: Kit Walker.

Superpower: Strength, intelligence, looks good in tights. Rich.

The current Phantom is the 21st in a line of Phantoms stretching all the way back to 1536 when the first Phantom dedicated his life to fighting crime. Due to the ongoing tradition of one Phantom handing the title and tights off to the next, the Phantom has developed a lore of immortality. He traditionally wears two rings, one a skull ring that he uses to mark his enemies and the other consists of four sabers that he uses to mark his friends.

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The Phantom, which was made into a semi-okay movie starring Billy Zane back in the 90s, started his life in newspaper comic strips drawn by Lee Falk. Over the sixty three years that Falk drew the character, The Phantom fought crime all over the world. He’s unique for his time in that he was depicted in purple tights and had a family.

Also known as “The ghost who walks”, “The man who cannot die”, and “The guardian of the Eastern Dark”, The Phantom lived in the Skull Cave like all the Phantoms that had come before him. Although most of the Phantoms since the 1530 have been men, the when the 17th Phantom was laid up, his twin sister donned the costume and took out a band of pirates.

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Fun fact: The Phantom is considered a transitional hero for combining the traditional elements of the pulp heroes of his day as well as having characteristics of more modern characters (like tights).

Next up is a lesser know character who might have faded completely into obscurity were it not for an ill-conceived movie in 2008.

The Spirit

Real Name: Denny Colt

Powers and Abilities: None.

Denny Colt, in the comic strips, faked his death so he could fight crime. Interestingly, the name Denny Colt is only mentioned very early on in the narrative. After that initial point, he’s never really mentioned again. Denny Colt became The Spirit and allowed his old identity to die off Now based under the tombstone of his fake grave, he strikes at the heart of corruption and injustice.

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Much like The Shadow, The Spirit’s costume consists of a suit, tie, and a basic way of covering his face. Unlike The Shadow, The Spirit is often depicted in a rumpled suit and is considerably less sure of himself than The Shadow. He has a thing for beautiful women, but is often confused and tongue tied by their presence. Created by Will Eisner as a way to capitalize on the burgeoning pulp superhero trend, The Spirit is a tough as nails character who relies on his wits and skills to fight bad guys. He reflected Eisner’s own experiences growing up in New York.

Fun Fact: Eisner considered the character of The Spirit to be incidental. He was more interested in telling the stories of New York in the 1940s and, in some of the stories, the character of The Spirit only briefly appears. The look and feel of the comic went on to contribute to the noir films of the 1940s.

Last, and certainly not least, comes one of the greats

Doc Savage

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Doc, like The Shadow, is still a fairly well-known character, even if he doesn’t have the following of any of the modern superheroes. He was created by Henry Ralston, John Nanovic, and Lester Dent to capitalize on the success of The Shadow.

Real name: Clark Savage Jr.

Powers and abilities: Rich, Extremely smart, extremely strong. Has a team that is almost, but not quite, as smart and strong as he is.

At the time they were written, the Doc Savage stories featured gadgets that seemed out of this world. He had a plane that could go nearly 200 mph. He had a way of communicating without wires. There were even hints at early forms of radar. By today’s standards, his plane would be pathetically slow and everyone has a way of communicating without wires that we keep in our pockets and play games on. But Doc’s world was the America between World War I and World War II and, at that time, those gadgets were mind-blowing.

Like the other pulp adventurers, Doc spent a lot of time in exotic locations fighting evil in all its forms. Unlike the others, Doc had a code he followed to the letter, something which would be replicated in later superheroes to some degree or another.

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Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

Fun fact: Stan Lee has called Doc Savage the forerunner to the first modern superheroes. There are also hints of a new Doc Savage movie in the works.

All these characters have something very interesting in common. Aside from the fact that were are rich and smart, they were also all human. There were no powered suits or laser eyes or hammers forged by the gods. These were just people who pushed themselves and then decided to take on crime and corruption wherever they found it. It could be argued that their stories, much like modern comic book heroes, were a form of escapism from the brutalities of the first world war or the desire to mold the world into something where regular people could affect a change in the world around them.

At any rate, if you can find their stories, they’re definitely worth a read. I found a couple of the original Shadow novels at a library sale and have come across a few of the original Doc Savage books here and there. All the characters have somewhat modern comics available as well.

Do you have any favorite pulp heroes that time has forgotten.

Writing A Character Sketch

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My son and his friends love to play games where they one-up each other on powers.

“I’m armor plated!”

“I’ve got armor piercing swords!”

“I have shields!”

“My fireballs can pierce your shields!”

Eventually they get to the inevitable “I’m a god in Mech” level and just clash. There’s lots of whooshing and kablooing and slashing. Boys will be boys, and going all kablooey is just part of growing up. They even manage to rope some of the girls in sometimes and everyone is out there changing the rules by the second. It’s fascinating to watch, but it’s kind of like watching a game of Calvinball where the players can’t touch each other because the school has all these rules.

It’s great fun for kids. Exercise, creativity, problem solving. These are all good things even if the kids do get to bend the rules. In the world of writing, rule changing can be the kiss of death. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, damn is it infuriating.

Everything is moving along nicely then a character does something that is so absolutely out of character that the fantasy world crumbles and the reader is left staring a jumble of words on a page. All the magic is gone. This usually happens when an author needs a way out of a situation and can’t think of a good one so, aha! the young girl was god all along!

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It sucks.

One of the best ways to avoid things like this in your writing is to have a pretty good idea in mind of what the characters are actually like and stick to it. Sure, characters can change, but it shouldn’t happen rapidly and it’s something the reader should be able to experience. Those changes should also be driven by the effects of the plot on the characters. In other words, characters (like real people) need a reason to change.

That’s actually one of the reasons for the Saxton books: I knew I needed him back in the series, but he was painted as a smug asshole in Henchmen and still pretty much a jerk in Arise and that wasn’t going to work for Transmute. So, I wrote a few novellas about how his desire to hunt monsters changes his world view. It was also an excellent way to expand on the mythos of the bad guys from Arise.

But I digress. Wilford Saxton was written a particular way for Henchmen and we got to see more of him in Arise. I had a mental sketch of the character and I stuck to it pretty well for those first two books. Likewise, the rest of the cast has seen subtle changes, but their basic personalities and capabilities are still intact. Eve still drinks too much and functions as a leader. Jessica is still mercurial and dangerous. Steven’s still basically a jerk with his heart in kind of the right place. Sure, there have been some changes in the characters, but they were changes driven by the results of the story.

I pulled off this bit of supernatural chicanery by keeping the characters true to themselves and I did that by generating character sketches.

At its most basic, a character sketch is a blurb about a character. You don’t need to generate sketches about all the characters in a book, but the main characters definitely need some flesh. It doesn’t take much, usually a few paragraphs and some thought to generate the skeleton of a character and throw some meat at it. Physical attributes are the first layer of this process and they’re usually the least useful in terms of creating a character. Just like in the real world, the way a character looks or dresses usually has little impact on how they act in the story.

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Wherever she is, I assure you it’s very hot.

There are notable exceptions, and I’ve used them: Eve is a seven-foot-tall, bulletproof blonde. Her height and hair color are actually important to her character and a side effect of what she is. Most of the time, though, it’s less important to develop looks because readers like to generate those on their own. Give the most basic descriptions and leave it at that.

What is import is giving a character a history and a philosophy of life. That’s what lets a character maintain stability throughout the run of the story. So, to build off the post on clowns (which I’m still tinkering with writing), let’s take a look at a possible character that was described in the story outline: the hero who dies to save a young couple.

The Hero: (dies before the story ends, but sacrifices himself to save others)

Name: Jake Roberts

Age: mid 60s

General look: weathered by the dry desert. Lean. Wears a lot of denim and gingham shirts. Regularly seen without a cowboy hat, but absolutely refuses to wear it indoors or in his truck. His truck is a dirty, if well-maintained, late 80s F150. It’s dusty, but otherwise spotless. His truck is a key indicator of his personality – keep things in shape and if they ain’t broke, don’t fix ’em.

History: Born on the same ranch he still lives on. Ranch covers a huge tract of land that’s been in his family since the 1800s. Left the ranch to join the Army, felt it was his civic duty. Served two tours in Vietnam. After being wounded and saved by a Vietnamese man, he decided he wasn’t sure who to trust: the government or the people the government sent him to kill. Traveled Asia for a while. Came home and took over the ranch after his parents started to get too old to do it on their own. Father died in car crash. Held his mother’s hand as old age took her away. To this day he quietly swears he saw his dad in the room when his mom died, but refuses to tell many people about it. It’s this fact that lets him have just enough of an open mind to contemplate the nature of the clowns.

Factoids: Usually believes the simplest solution is the best. Not prone to much talk. Likes his bourbon and cigar on the porch as he watches the sun go down. Never gets drunk. Still vehemently believes in his country even though he feels it needs to get itself together. Never curses. Used to go to church regularly, stopped after his mother died. Believes God can’t be put in any physical place. Seen as something of an odd-ball in town, but people listen to him, sort of the wise old Obi Wan Kenobi of eastern New Mexico. Think Sam Elliot in “The Big Lebowski”. Has an encyclopedic knowledge of cowboy sayings.

Certainly it’s impossible to sum up a person’s life in a few paragraphs, but a character sketch isn’t intended to do that. All we’re really trying to do is lay out the foundation for the character and give a few points that will explain why they behave the way they do. The book itself is for summing up that life, or at least a portion of it.

Do you create sketches for your characters? Got any you’re working on? Leave a comment!

Links:

Scribendi’s guide on writing character sketches

Udemyblog’s guide

Wikihow’s guide

Book Review – Dead And Damaged by S.L. Eaves

A while back, I put a post on the pluses and minuses of writing in past tense vs writing in present tense. There are people who will immediately toss a book across the room if they find it’s written in present tense, which is unfortunate because they’ll miss out on some wonderful stories like S.L. Eaves’s Dead and Damaged.

Now, it’s probably fair to say the vampire and werewolf genre has been done a lot. For those of thinking “Ah ha! Another Twilight!“, I’d like to remind you that Laurell Hamilton was doing the vampire and werewolf thing years before Stephanie Meyer unleashed Captain Sparkly on the world. And Hamilton, arguably, did it a lot better than Meyer.

In Hamilton’s world, a necromancer is a big deal, but not mind-blowing. Because in her world, things like werewolves and vampires and necromancers are regular things. That kind of world-building is neat, but what about vampires and werewolves in our world? A lot of vampire stories have dealt with the idea that vamps are part of our world, sucking blood and generally making a nuisance of themselves, but they lack a couple things that brings the reality of magical creatures to life:

  • There are usually only a few of the critters
  • No one has taken the time to figure out how to weaponize them

The second point is what sets Eaves’s story apart from most of the vampire fiction out there. In her world, vamps are quite real, but not quite common knowledge. Those in the know see them as something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’ve got the various government and intelligence agencies who are aware of vamps and aren’t quite sure how to deal with them. On the other, you’ve got people who spend their lives making weapons looking for ways to weaponize the vamps.

That’s really cool, and that’s what makes Dead and Damaged such a fascinating read. It feels real because she paints her characters as realistic beings. No one falls neatly into the good guy (or girl) or bad guy (or girl) camps. Even the antagonist of the book, a woman relatively devoid of morals, is relatable to some extent, though her actions are deplorable. Lori, the heroine of the story, is a seeker and her actions reveal a certain moral ambiguity that’s easy to understand and relate to. As always, it’s the actions of the character that allows us to say she’s pretty much in the good camp or the bad camp. Lori may not be the best person in the world – she does drink the blood of the living, after all – but she’s not bad in the same sense that Brixton or Marcus are bad. Frankly, I love that kind of thing; it makes the characters seem real and alive.

If you’re looking for a non-traditional vampire story that doesn’t bother to whitewash its protagonist as anything other than someone who wants to live and understand her place in the world, check out Dead and Damaged. It’s got action, intrigue, secrets, and all the great things that make for a good story. To be brutally honest, I loved it because it’s exactly the kind of story I’d write. Lori has her snarky moments and her serious moments. There are scary things, but it’s not a horror novel. There are governments and contractors doing sketchy things, but it’s not a traditional thriller. It’s vampires in a very realistic world, magical realism and gun fights and high-tech all rolled into a delicious sushi burrito.

Now, this is book 2 of The Endangered series, but it reads well enough on its own to qualify as a stand-alone engagement. At some point I need to go back and read book 1 to pick up more about the story before the story.

“Book Two of The Endangered Series picks up with Lori attempting to track down the source of stealth technology rogue vampires are using to hunt humans. Her pursuit leads her into the arms of a government agency with similar objectives. A temporary alliance is formed in an effort to stop the corporation responsible for putting the technology in malignant hands. Their mission goes awry, however, and leaves Lori with more enemies than friends. Her situation worsens when Marcus learns that the corporation has also been working with vampires to develop daylight suits and synthetic blood. He convinces his clan that this organization and its infinite resources will be a valuable asset in the evolution of their kind. They begin questioning Lori’s motives and Marcus takes the opportunity to capitalize on their distrust. Consequently, Lori soon finds herself on the run from her former clan and turns to Vega for help exposing the truth behind Marcus and his new deceitful allies.”

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Find Dead and Damaged on Amazon

Check out S.L. Eaves’s blog

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