Tag Archives: Jane Yellowrock

Writing: How bad can bad boys be?

I recently read the first books in Ilona Andrews’ and Jeaniene Frost’s new urban fantasy series, and I loved both BURN FOR ME and ONCE BURNED. Both have spunky female protagonists–a must for urban fantasy. And both have love interests who are, of course, stronger and badder than anyone around–another must. On top of that, it seemed to me that both authors ramped up the “heat” index until the chemistry between heroines and heroes sizzled. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Both Vlad and Mad Rogan are sexy as sin. And both break rules to follow their own codes of honor. Which brings me to the question: how bad can bad boys be?

I signed up to read BURN FOR ME as part of Goodreads, but I’m so slow and got so far behind, I ended up reading the comments other readers made and didn’t add any of my own, because by then…what was the point? But it interested me that a few readers agreed with the book’s heroine, that Mad Rogan is a sociopath–a tempting, I’d throw myself at him, gorgeous, smart, intriguing sociopath–but still….
Since I’d read the two books close together, it made me wonder why Vlad didn’t get the same comments, but then, he’s a vampire. And everyone knows that vampires do whatever they please, so being called a sociopath is the least of their worries. Mad Rogan is a mortal with massive amounts of magic, so I’m guessing readers expect him to show more restraint. It got me thinking, and I was surprised by the heroes who have been my favorites lately. Jorg, from Prince of Thorns, is no nice guy. Mad Rogan would gladly eliminate you if you got in his way. And Vlad–well, his magic is fire. You’d probably be a crispy critter. The thing is, to me, they’re NOT sociopaths, because in their worlds, they’re probably better than anyone else who has the same powers they do. It’s all relative. They have a reason–to find and protect usually–for the things they do; whereas, the bad guys only strive to promote self-serving interests.

A true sociopath lacks empathy, but Vlad and Mad Rogan have that. They don’t follow normal social rules because they don’t live in a normal, social world. Their friends and enemies possess lots of power. The bad guys use power to do evil. The good guys use power to battle them. They risk their lives to fight villains. The conflict in the stories is usually good vs. evil. Jorg, he’s a little more ruthless than the norm, but so is his world. In Prince of Thorns, it’s hard to feel sympathy for even the ordinary citizens. They’re not very nice either. And the rulers? They tend to be violent and power-hungry. Jorg just does it better.

I’m shaking my head at myself. It’s hard to believe I went from doting over Mr. Darcy, Deerslayer, and Harry Potter to cheering for Vlad, Mad Rogan, and Jorg. But they’re all heroes, in their own ways, who defy the norm of their social worlds to see beyond it. The one rule a bad boy might get in trouble for breaking? Cheating on the heroine. I’m a fan of Faith Hunter’s, too, and when Rick cheated on Jane Yellowrock–even though, technically, he was a bit coerced–readers weren’t happy with him.

Who are your favorite heroes? And why? Are you hooked on any bad boys?

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Writing a Series

I’ve been told that, for marketing, it’s smart to write a series instead of stand-alone novels.  If people like the characters in your first novel, they’ll want more stories about them.  They’ll want to see them grow and change.  Adding a romance helps.  The protagonist and his/her romantic interest can butt heads for a book or two, get together in the third or fourth, and become a team after that, with the usual complications that come with coupledom.  I have to admit, my favorite mysteries are almost all series.  I loved Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain, even though the author finally moved on to someone else.  Elizabeth George has shamed Thomas Lynley, married him, killed his wife, and emotionally beaten him up.  Once in a while, I wonder if she still likes him.  Same with Martha Grimes and Richard Jury.  It must be hard to come up with book after book with the same characters. Maybe sometimes, you’re just irritated with them.  But look at J.D. Robb or Sue Grafton.  Series characters are done all the time, and as readers, we like going into a world we know with characters we like.

My favorite urban fantasy authors write series.  A few of them write more than one.  Maybe that’s a good thing–when you’ve had it up to here with one protagonist, you can switch to a different one.  For urban fantasy, not only do the characters grow in each successive book, with more intense relationships in more complex arrangements, but the world they inhabit becomes more detailed and real too.  With each book, I learn more about Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock and how she and her puma share the same body, but I also learn about vampires and their society, the politics of “others” who dwell in the same city, and the origins of how vampires started.  The paranormal becomes more real the more books the author writes.

When I decided to write my novellas, I kept those things in mind.  I wanted to write at least four stories for each series.  But I wanted to use more than just settings to distinguish them from one another.  I wanted a different focus for each series too.  So, I put a strong detective slant to the Babet/Prosper stories and gave them Agatha Christie-type plots.  For One Less Warlock, I wrote a locked room mystery–with witches. For A Different Undead, I wanted to write about a person who’d died and suddenly appeared on the streets again–but instead of faking his/her death, I wanted to put a magic twist on the tale.  For Magrat’s Dagger, I wanted a stolen, prized relic, like the Maltese Falcon.

I won’t bore you–I hope–with too many details for each series, but I wanted the Loralei and Death series to have more of a poignant feel, while I tried to focus more on light and quirky romance, with a smidgeon of magic, in the Emerald Hills series.  For Dante and Ally, I made an effort to incorporate more mythology into the plots, but I let the medieval castles set the tone for the Christian and Brina stories.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you sit down to write, it doesn’t hurt to have a series in mind.  And settings help define a series, yes, but most have the same tone of voice too.  Is it humorous?  Dark?  Melancholy?  Or adventurous?  And they not only have the same character or characters, they often have a similar, underlying theme or feel.  Minor characters can grow into bigger parts.  So leave yourself some wiggle room.  At the end of your book, which is a big enough feat to accomplish in and of itself, what else could happen to those same characters in that same world?  Because you might have to live with them for a while.

Overflowing

Two of my friends are serious gardeners.   Each year, they kneel before their flower beds and impose their will on them.  They dig up clumps of daylilies and break them apart, so that they don’t overcrowd.  They weed and thin plants that have spread where they’re not supposed to.  And their flowerbeds look organized and thriving.  There are spaces between Japanese irises and bee balm, between columbine and hostas.  Everything is orderly.

I’m in short supply of this kind of discipline.  My flowerbed is a testimony to survival of the fittest.  Myrtle eats daisies.  Phlox reseed themselves at will.   If a plant lives and reaches for the sun, I’m happy with it, can’t bear to yank it up and tell it that it shouldn’t be there.

The same thing’s happened to my writing lately.  If an idea comes and clamors for attention, it gets it.  I tap my computer keys and bring it to life.  But I’m a fan of series.  If I fall in love with a character–like Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson, Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock, or Sharon Ashwood’s The Dark Forgotten–I buy every book until I run out.

When I first started writing paranormal, I had no idea what would work for me.  So I dabbled in a little bit of everything.  I combined mysteries with ghosts and serial killers with vampires.  But just like my flower bed, novels and novellas began jostling into one another, all stand alones with main characters struggling to poke their heads above the crowd to survive.  It’s time to bring more order, time to thin my ideas out, to start writing sequels and let my characters grow.  And hopefully, then, they’ve thrive.

(With a few novellas tossed in here and there.  A girl can’t be too structured.)