Writing: being a hero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

I just finished the final polish for my new Babet & Prosper novella. This story features Babet’s father, Gazaar. He was a warrior angel before Lucifer and his band of rebels were thrown into the pit. Then, someone needed to keep guard over them, and he volunteered. In time, more angels dropped from the heavenly ranks, some turning to evil, and the pits filled with more demons. Gazaar got promoted to gatekeeper to make sure everyone stayed where they were supposed to be. Now, I ask you. Who’d want that job? But when Babet asks her father why he took it, he shrugs and says, “Someone has to do it.”

That’s the way most urban fantasy heroes are. They take on a conflict out of a sense of duty or responsibility. When I’d run, they stay and face the foe. They have the strength or knowledge or skills to, hopefully, survive and defeat the bad guys. Most of the protagonists take on a challenge to protect other people. They aren’t looking for power, but it’s often a by-product of the struggles they undergo.

Defeating villains makes a hero dig deep and changes him. A long, long time ago, I attended a mystery conference where Mary Higgins Clark was the keynote speaker. She explained the elements needed to write a woman in jeopardy story. It’s been too long ago to remember subtle points, but the main ingredients were: a good woman is living an ordinary life; a bad guy is bent on a journey of destruction; the two collide; the woman has to struggle to survive; and she’s forever changed by coming into contact with evil. Even though she didn’t choose her journey, she chose to do everything in her power to survive it.

Stakes have to be high, and body count isn’t enough. The reader has to care about the victims, or a body sprinkled here, and another one there, just feels like a plot ploy. I’ve read books and watched movies where every time the pace slows a bit, I know another person’s going to bite the dust. Sometimes, it works–if I learn something from the death or there’s a ticking clock or the victim was sympathetic. Sometimes, it doesn’t–when I feel like the writer didn’t know what else to do so killed someone. The deaths have to provide some kind of emotional impact.

Not all heroes face fierce enemies. When I wrote the short, romance novellas for The Emerald Hills collection, the heroes’ goals often involved chasing dreams. The hero in the romance I wrote for my agent was chasing a dream, too. I can relate to that. But achieving a story’s goal can never be an easy undertaking. Things go wrong. Nothing’s as simple as it could be. The goal has to be earned. The stakes have to be high, or the book’s tension is low.

In Demon Heart, a demon escapes one of Gazaar’s pits when he’s off-duty. Babet hopes the demon stays far, far away from River City, but Prosper and his fellow detective, Hatchet, hope it comes to them. As Prosper says, “Who else can deal with him like we can?” Babet is every bit as much of a hero as Prosper. She’s just a reluctant one, and when the demon comes, she doesn’t back down from the fight.

May your heroes have plenty of conflicts and survive them all. (I like happy endings). And happy writing!


Writing: my New Year Wishes

This post is not about real goals.  It’s about the unachievable that I strive to achieve.  It’s my fantasy wish list.

Someday, I want to plot as well as Agatha Christie did.  I want to be as clever with red herrings and mislead readers as easily as she did.  I want to write a twist as unpredictable (at least, for me) as the one in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

I want language to flow from my fingers to the keyboard to the printed page that’s as lyrical and evocative and smooth and lush as Elizabeth George’s or Nancy Pickard’s.  I want the depth and layers of their writing, and still achieve the poetic essence that flows in Sharyn McCrumb, Sarah Addison Allen, and Alice Hoffman’s stories.  I want readers to finish a page of mine and marvel in the beauty of words.

I want to trigger visceral reactions strong enough to make readers bite their fingernails and squirm in their seats, like Stephen King.

I want the imagination and creativity, the originality of Neil Gaimann.  I want readers to lick their lips, amazed, at the directions my stories go.  I want the sense of intelligence that permeates Robert Reed’s or Theodore Sturgeon’s stories.

I want the sheer knowledge base of skill and craft that Les Edgerton flings out casually when I sit on panels with him.  The man reads five novels a week.  Studies writing.  Teaches writing.  And is never shy about voicing an opinion.  His blog is worth reading.  http://www.lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

I want to marry fantasy with action and myths as well as Patricia Briggs, Faith Hunter, or Ilona Andrews does.

And if pressed, I’d be happy to have a career like Nora Roberts’s.  She can use romance as a foundation to explore the fantastic, like in Midnight Bayou, or to thrill with crime, as J.D. Robb, or to play with mysteries (Three Fates) or love stories (too many to list:).

I respect each and every one of these writers when I delve inside their pages, and I come away determined to write better.  This is not the typical list of famous writers to emulate.  I don’t need to be the next Shakespeare or Flannery O’Connor.  I admire literary genius, but I have humbler ambitions.

Who are your writing idols?  Who inspires you?  If a fairy waved a magic wand, and you could steal any writing talent you chose, whose would it be?

Good luck achieving your dreams in the coming year:)

P.S.  This is my 100th post, and I never thought I’d achieve that….