Dear Bunnies…


Dear Bunnies,

We need to talk. I understand that we are in the middle of a terrible drought. In deference to that, and because I love little woodland creatures…at least those who don’t try to sting, bite, or maim me…I have conscientiously provided you with clean, fresh water every day. And I rejoice with you that my trees provide enough shade to keep at least some of the lawn green and snackable for you. I have watched you with interest and, in the way silly humans do, I’ve even given you dopey cute names. Yes, Stripey, Brindle and Scamper, I am talking to you.

But we have a problem. You know those three tomato plants I have by the garage? The ones that I also conscientiously provide with water? And check twice a day? And treat with love and affection because let’s be honest, tomato plants are among the very few plants in the universe that I don’t kill just by looking at them? Well, I couldn’t help but notice that the two tomatoes that were just starting to ripen broke out in a rash overnight. It was a funny rash that almost looked like bunny teeth had raked through them over and over and over again. Not that I’m making accusations or anything. It was merely a coincidence, I’m sure.

plus tomatoes…

Here’s the deal. This afternoon I spent thirty bucks and a solid hour under the blazing sun purchasing and putting up chicken wire and posts and landscape timbers and various oddments around those tomato plants; not to offend you, but to set up sort of a…a tomato ICU. To keep the rash away. And also to discourage any strange bunnies—not you three, of course, because you know better—that might wander in and try to steal a nibble or two.

Anyway I just wanted to let you know what I was doing, and no hard feelings or anything. As a neighborly gesture, I hope you’ll keep an eye on things and make sure that the more ignorant of your brethren know not to try and dig under the fence or touch the tomatoes. Because out of all the snackable plants in the yard, the tomatoes, and only the tomatoes, are mine.

Oh, one last little thing. If the fence receives any abuse, or if the rash comes back, you can expect landmines, claymores, and possibly a machine gun nest. It will get very…tactical. This may be Wisconsin, but I’m from Philly and I know people. People who don’t like little bunnies. People who have connections with other people who don’t like little bunnies. People who demand respect, cause if you ain’t got respect, you ain’t got nothin’. Capische?

Do you understand now?

I’m glad we had this little talk. Have a great evening.

The Landlady

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That Book


My rather large collection of books could politely be called “eclectic.” Impolitely, you might accuse their owner (me) of suffering from a multiple-personality disorder, because there’s no way that some of those suckers should exist in the same universe, let alone the same bookshelf. Fact is, I sample giddily from many different genres and a wide variety of authors. In my library you’ll find everything from high-brow literary tomes to … well, paperbacks that feature words like “heaving” and “throbbing.”

I’m not proud of that.

Though I sometimes try to organize my collection, several of the books have apparently become migratory over the years. For the life of me, I can’t explain how Jeffry Eugenides’ Middlesex ended up next to Retired Racing Greyhounds For Dummies. And just the other day, I found my lost copy of The Hunger Games hiding beneath Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

Among the stacks and shelves there are some books that I seem to gravitate back to again and again and again. Sometimes I do that because they’re brilliant, although many of them certainly are not. Sometimes, it’s because of a neat plot twist or marvelous dialogue. Sometimes, I have to admit, it’s because a book crosses my mind and I can’t believe just how awful it was … so I go back and read it again to verify that YES, it really was that awful. It’s like a perpetual state of denial. (I regularly go back to certain restaurants for the same reason.)

The point is that every so often I get a craving for that book. That specific book. And heaven help me if I can’t find it, because I will tear the place apart until I do. They’re like my comfort food for the brain. They’re like popcorn. Only made out of paper. And you don’t eat them. Okay, so it was a bad metaphor.

Anyway, I thought that it might be interesting to occasionally share a few selections from my That Book list,  along with a very brief explanation or at least a mea culpa. Mind you, the criterion for these books is that they are still in my reading rotation after at least five years. Some of them I’ve had for over twenty years.

I hope you’ll tell me about your version of the That Book list too! Seriously, don’t leave me hanging out here all alone with only my embarrassment for company! Please?

In no particular order:

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In Soviet Russia, book writes author! Seriously, Solzhenitsyn spent years incarcerated in a Soviet prison camp, and it shines through in this stark ‘day in the life’ account.  I must have read it a hundred times and I still feel a sense of suspense as to whether Ivan will somehow manage to get on the sick list.

Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

Granny Weatherwax is possibly the greatest character in the history of characters, and Nanny Ogg can be Robin to my Batman any old day. The Time Of The Thing With The Bulls is side-splittingly funny. Honestly, pretty much all of Pratchett’s Discworld novels (those published prior to 2009) are destined to remain on my That Book list.

Debt Of Honor Tom Clancy

In my experience, books written by Tom Clancy must breed with each other. Seems like you can’t hit a garage sale or thrift shop without finding several Clancy books lurking on the shelves and looking furtive. I also have to say that Clancy’s series around character Jack Ryan used to be pretty good, until he ran out of ideas or started using a ghostwriter or something. Then they sucked.Out of all of them, I give this one the nod because it has a good balance with a fairly credible story and a nice ensemble cast of characters.

All Quiet On The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

A tale of young German soldiers in the trenches of World War I, this book is even less uplifting than Ivan Denisovich, which just should not be possible. But it’s an insightful and unflinching masterpiece of writing. If it didn’t hit a required reading list for you in High School, and even if it did, I do sincerely recommend it.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

As a rule, I don’t like anything hinting of Chick-Lit. I just can’t relate to the genre at all. But I like Bridget Jones a lot! I love the self-deprecation of the writing and the great dialogue. (Although sometimes I get lost in the British-ness of it all.) Bridget’s meticulously kept daily log of lost/gained weight, cigarettes smoked, and alcohol units consumed just cracks me up.

A Good Day to Die (Star Trek: I.K.S. Gorkon, Book 1) – Keith R.A. Decandido

Yes, this is one I ought to be ashamed of.

It’s a Star Trek book.

Actually, it’s a book about Klingons.

Klingons with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Captain Klag throws his head back and laughs heartily. Doctor B’Oraq tugs on her braid which happens to be adorned with a pin of her family crest. Commander Kurak grasps her right wrist with her left hand when she’s irritated … which is always. Lieutenant Leskit’s Cardassian neck-bone necklace rattles when he moves. These things happen EVERY SINGLE TIME one of these characters appears in any scene in any book of the I.K.S. Gorkon series. It’s a wonder there’s room for a plot. But doggone it, I do love that Klingon perspective and for some reason, I just … keep re-reading this series.

How about you? What’s on your That Book list?

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Top Twenty? Holy Cow!!!

It’s been a pretty cool day here, and while it isn’t in my nature to pat myself on the back … I’m doing it anyway.

The screen shot is a capture of today’s Product Details for my eBook  SERVANT TO THE WOLF. Click on the picture if you can’t read it, but it basically says that at this moment, the book is ranked #20 in Kindle’s Children’s Historical Fiction-Ancient Civilizations section.

For added entertainment value, there’s a little artistic license on my part with a smiley face. And…okay, now you know that I keep a Firefly theme on my Firefox browser. That just makes me extra cool, right? Can’t go wrong with Nathan Fillion!

Anyway, it isn’t every day in the life of an author that you see one of your books on any sort of top twenty list at Amazon, (unless you’re J.K. Rowling) so I’m putting it here for posterity’s sake.  Also because I think it’s frickin’ awesome. (Although being 61,710 seller overall seems like a pretty sad number, it’s not so bad when you think about just how many hundreds of thousands of books are there.)

If you haven’t read SERVANT TO THE WOLF, I sure hope you give it a try! There are lots of links to download sites on its page. And if you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Post Script: I just went back and looked again. Dropped to #22. Fame is so fleeting!

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Somewhere In The Middle

Nope, somewhere in the middle is not a commentary on my political views, my social status, or even where I like to sit in a movie theater. Somewhere in the middle represents my philosophy on storytelling.

I was raised, and I’ll bet you were too, on the sorts of tales that began with “Once upon a time.” We always had a nice run up to the plot in those days, right? There’s this princess, beautiful of course, born in a castle in a fair land, and her parents loved her, and they were all happy—even the servants and serfs and vassals and…and the gosh-darn vermin were happy! But the queen apparently dropped dead of gangrene from an injury sustained in a loom malfunction, or from inbreeding, who knows? And the king got lonely and married some vindictive cow with a touch of the eldritch who doesn’t like kids, and NOW we’re going to find out what the actual story is all about.

(Note: If it’s a movie version, the story begins when the narrator finally shuts up. Unless the narrator is Morgan Freeman, in which case screw the story and let the man talk! I’d listen to Morgan Freeman narrating a shopping list.)

With all respect to the old traditions, it’s just not my thing. If I’m going to put my readers through an elaborate set-up, I make very sure I have a good reason for it. Otherwise, I’d rather start things off like this:

“That’s going to leave a mark.”

First line of my short story (novel-in-progress) Choreography.

The gun felt reassuring in my hand.

First line of the first chapter of my novella, The Bluff.

I tossed my duffle bag into the trunk, slammed it shut with more force than necessary, then turned.

First line of the short-short story, Volition.

His breath was stale. She would never forget that.

First line of my current novel-in-progress.


See what I did there? Four different stories, of varying lengths, with diverse points of view and completely different plots, but I drop kicked you straight into the middle, didn’t I? You don’t know these characters. You don’t know their names, their ages, their backgrounds, and with one exception you don’t even know their genders. These things don’t actually matter at this juncture. What you do know is that something is going on.

What’s going to leave a mark? Why does that person need the reassurance of a firearm? Someone tossing duffle bags and slamming trunks with more force than necessary is clearly a person with something on her (or his) mind…and wouldn’t you like to know what that something is? And hey, he of the stale breath is certainly making a memorable impression on her. Why?

If I’ve done my job right, I sprinkled a little itching powder across those introductory sentences. I’ve generated a question or two in your mind. And the only way you’ll be able to scratch that itch is to read the next sentence.

If I’d started with a vast meandering lead-up to the problem at hand, you still might read the story, but it’s also possible that you’ll wander off to play Angry Birds or check email or trim that pesky toenail that keeps snagging your sock or something. Instead, I’ve generated a sense of immediacy by dropping you in the middle instead of easing you through a beginning. Think of it as the difference between the beach and the ocean. You can stand on the beach forever and not even get wet, but if you get dropped smack into the water, I bet you’re going to start swimming.

At least, I would.

Oh, but in the interest of complete honesty, I have made one notable exception to the middle rule. I’ll talk about that another day.

Throwing out a question for the writers and readers out there: How do you like to start off a story?

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Writers On Writing – Three Favorites

There are a lot of good books out there by writers, for writers. None of them, let’s be honest, will turn you (or me, or the crazy cat lady down the street…oh wait, that is me) into the next Big Name Author. When push comes to shove, it still comes down to you and the dreaded blank page.

But the thing about reading advice by authors is that they also know what it’s like to sit down to the dreaded blank page, and they have a track record of having wrestled it into submission.

This interests me.

In any case, I’m going to share three books (and a bonus book) that I’ve found myself going back to time and again. I would love it if you, in turn, would share your gems with me! Mind you, these are books that I consider inspirational as well as instructive. You won’t find Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style here…but hopefully you’ve got that one on your bookshelf already. Right?

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

Two things right off the bat. Number one: I don’t read King’s fiction. In fact, I don’t like the horror genre. Never have, never will, prefer to sleep at night thank you very much. Number two: If you never read any other author-to-author advice book in your entire life, read this one. You can even skip the memoir-y parts if you want and skip to the section that explains the nuts and bolts of the craft. But READ that section. Several times. Use a highlighter pen if you have one. In fact, post-high school, this is the only book I have ever used a highlighter pen on, and I would do it again. King is chock-full of terrific, pragmatic and accessible advice. You need this guy.

How To Write With The Skill Of A Master And The Genius Of A Child – Marshall J. Cook

This is definitely a lesser known book, especially in coSue Wentz: The Bluff…mparison to the aforementioned one, but it’s a good one. Marsh Cook spent many a long year as a writing professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and he’s published everything from magazine articles to murder mysteries. (Not to mention, Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract : The Complete Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses, and Proposals for Agents and Editors co-written by Marshall Cook and Blythe Camenson. There are times when I cling to that book like a drowning man clings to a friendly passing dolphin.)

Anyway, Marsh (I can call him Marsh, he signed my copy that way) writes with a very clear style; teaching and encouraging but never condescending. With equal parts common sense and good-natured humor, he gives a writer new things to consider and several ways to think outside the box. If you’re really stuck, there are even a few optional writing assignments and exercises to play with

Granted, there are a lot of writing books out there that cover much the same territory as this one, but out of them all, this is the one that has a permanent place on my book shelf and gets put through its paces on a regular basis.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Ann Lamott

For sheer inspiration and earthy fun, not to mention a terrifically well-crafted read, I go back to Ann Lamott time and time again. She makes me thoughtful, she makes me laugh, she is unflinchingly honest about the trials and tribulations of the craft, but she knows (like I know) that writers write. It’s what we do, and even when we hate it, we love it. Her humor is earthy and down to earth. Not too many books have one chapter called “Broccoli,” and another called, “Shitty First Drafts,” but they are both well worth reading. The best thing about Bird By Bird? When I put it down, I am inspired not just by Lamott’s advice, but also by her writing style. She is a writer who truly charges my batteries and makes me want to throw aside my self-doubts and serial-procrastination habits and just get on with conquering that dreaded blank page. Heck, it’s probably not so dread-worthy after all.

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Click To Buy From Smashwords!

 One chance meeting. A pact made. Two lives irrevocably changed.

And they didn’t even know each others’ names.

Sometimes a passing encounter with a stranger sticks in the mind forever. But what happens when, long after they’ve gone their separate ways, the actions of one completely disrupts the life of the other?

Cassidy Creek Bridge. April in Wisconsin.


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Review Day: Connie Hullander’s Snowstorm!

Not long ago, I stumbled across new author Connie Hullander’s website, read her short story, If Something Happens To Him, and was quite honestly blown away. On the strength of those two thousand or so words, I waited impatiently for her new book, Snowstorm, to be released. I didn’t even care that it was geared for young adult readers. A really good writer can transcend the boundaries of genres and markets, and I thought Connie might just fit that bill.

She does.

Click on image to order.

On the first page of Snowstorm, we meet our teenaged protagonist, Carly Blackstone, as she’s being processed into a mental hospital as its newest patient. She’s scared, she’s angry, she’s on the combative edge of defensive and she’s only there because some jaded judge railroaded her for no better reason than a drunk and disorderly charge. Granted, it’s a pretty impressive drunk and disorderly charge involving a trashed bar, nudity and an apron, but that doesn’t make her nuts, does it?

Well, no, it doesn’t. And yes, it does. And maybe just a little bit of everything in between.

What I love most about Connie Hullander as an author is that she has a very intuitive and pragmatic perception of the human condition. She gets what makes people tick, and she also gets what happens to that tick when someone is—for lack of a better metaphor—dropped from a significant height, or dunked in the deep end, or simply over-wound until the spring snaps. Connie understands that there is no black and white when it comes to the human spirit, but rather that every person exists in a kaleidoscope of grays. For Carly and the other kids in the facility, those kaleidoscopes are ever-changing, ever spinning, sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly.

Because life is both beautiful and ugly.

Click on image to visit Connie's Blog!

Carly, who is not just our heroine but also our narrator, is an absolute gem. She’s smart, she has a scathing wit and her view of the world is perfectly appropriate for her age and experience. That’s important to me: that Carly is never more wise or insightful than she should be. Other YA authors should take note. Sure, Carly is tough and smart, but she’s heartbreakingly vulnerable too. She has no super powers and no fairy godmother. All she has is a gritty perseverance and the personality flaw of too often getting in her own way. From my perspective as a mom, I went through the book wanting to give Carly a big hug, but also wanting to give her space, because there was always such a fine line between what she needed and what she seemed able to accept. I can’t compliment a character more than to say that she was real enough to leave me not just emotionally engaged, but conflicted on her behalf.

Maybe that’s the key word here. Connie Hullander keeps it REAL. In every way. Her settings are appropriate, her dialogue is nicely tuned, every character’s motivations are logically laid out, and even her second-tier characters are so on target that I swear I’ve seen them walking the halls at the local high school. In fact, she is so adept in the way she weaves layer upon layer and creating depth throughout the story, that the very few scenes that might have blipped on my “whoops, that’s over-the-top” radar were both believable and absolutely justified.

The only real question mark I had in my mind when I agreed to review Snowstorm was how an author who is comfortable and competent in a short story format would do with novel length. That question was certainly answered. Snowstorm started out as a page turner, never lost momentum and ended in a way that left me completely satisfied.

Snowstorm, in short, is a book that should please readers of all ages, and it’s crafted so well that I could easily see it being used in a classroom alongside of the known classic coming of age novels. As for Connie Hullander, I hope we’ll be seeing much more of her work in the future.

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Possession is 9/10’s Of My Protagonist

The Author At Work

Last night, as I was dawdling along and trying for the zillionth time to tie up or trim off a pesky dangling plot thread, one of my characters popped up and engaged my brain in a very interesting debate about heaven, hell, life, death, love, loyalty, need, want and morality. By the time I came up for air, my Paranormal-Lite story had arguably reached a point where the Lite might not apply anymore. And I suddenly had five pages of pretty amazing dialogue that–even if it doesn’t make it past the final edit–is going to change my perception of this character forever. Fortunately in a good way. It doesn’t always work out like that.

The thing is, this particular character has always been a fairly sharp individual – very pragmatic and common-sensical – but in the three or four years I’ve known her, she never once gave me an indication of this sort of uber-deep thinking capacity. And now she, like several other characters in my authorial stable, has proven that she’s a heck of a lot smarter than I am.

I’ve always had an inferiority complex, mind you, but it’s a little ridiculous when even the people I make up in my head, can run intellectual circles around me.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one this has ever happened to.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about characters who are more talented than I am. That’s easy. If I want talent, well, let my protagonist sit down to play relevant bits of Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 in E-flat major for Two Pianos, K. 365. And lo, there is talent. I don’t have to play it. (I never got past “Ponies At Play” when I took lessons with Mrs. Stolis when I was like, seven.) It’s sufficient that you know it was played and played well. Want a different kind of talent? Just slide a Super Bowl championship ring on Mr. Protagonist’s finger. Or wealth? Give Ms. Protag a Limo and driver named Raoul. No problemo! How about something a little less measurable like courage? Badabing, a few seconds at the keyboard and my protag just took one for the President and double-tapped the bad guy to boot.

I’m not necessarily talking about planned intellect either. I mean, when it comes to really smart characters, the writer can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk all over the page. The evil mastermind has to be a mastermind in more than just job description. But you can plan for that. You can research other evil masterminds, and do up outlines or storyboards or 3×5 cards, and have Roget’s Thesaurus and My Big Book O’ Thermonuclear Dynamics on standby for on the fly research.

Nope, I’m talking about the ambush. I’m talking about the character who’s puttering along in a nicely crafted little story arc and suddenly stops, turns around slowly and says in a slightly menacing (or at least condescending) tone, “You think you know who I am. You don’t know Jack.” Or Jill. Whoever. And they jump the tracks, kick over the house of cards, and take you on the mental metaphor of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with stuff that you could not in a million years have come up with on your own.

Except that you did.


It’s like getting kicked in the head and becoming a temporary savant. Or like crashing a Mensa cocktail party. Again, it’s all in a good way, but it’s a little bizarre when your brain gets hijacked and your only apparent value is being able to take dictation. It’s slightly … creepifying.

I’m going to throw this out there for all the writers who meander in, and I’d really love to hear about your experiences. Heaven forbid I find out I’m on my own, because I really can’t afford a Pshrink on my salary.

Has this ever happened to you? Do your characters ever give you more than you ever asked for? Are they brighter than you? Do they let you know it? Do they make you wonder where the heck they came from?

Do we need to start a support group?

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Getting the Jump on Short Stories

I’m no literati, nor do I play one on TV. (For the uninformed, literati isn’t a type of vampire, although maybe it should be!) But when I look at the ongoing shift in publishing from print ‘n paper to eBook, there seems to be more and more of an inevitability about it. This is good in some ways and maybe not so good in others. The debate is ongoing.

Having said that, I’m going to hit on a literary form today that I think might receive a real boost from the advent of eBooks, Kindles, Nooks and all that downloadable jazz. I’m talking about the short story.

Short stories, at least those written for a readership older than the age of 5, have always struck me as something of an elite (but not in a bad way!) form. You find them in literary magazines or The New Yorker or rather austere looking anthologies. They’re connected with names like Raymond Carver and Larry Woiwode. They’re not traditionally geared toward a mass market. Or at least, they haven’t been. There wasn’t much point, when all’s said and done. Not enough money in it, to be blunt.

But today, with technology that negates a lot of the traditional printing costs that made shorts a non-starter, can allow you to carry a library of 3,500 books that weigh less than ten ounces total and can fit into your purse…well, publishers have options, writers have options, and most importantly, readers have options.

Enter Jen Wylie and a story called Jump.

Jen might have come up with the best tag line for a book I’ve ever seen:

If you were told to jump off of a bridge, would you?

When I ran across that little gem, I knew I was going to read the story. In fact, Jump has the distinction of being the first e-book I ever purchased. It’s not going to be the last. But make no mistake, it is a short story. (Published by Echelon Press Shorts, in conjunction with Echelon Explorations) Jump clocks in at a lean, mean 3,288 words. And yes, it’s certainly affordable, even by eBook standards, which are pretty darned affordable already.

What it also offers, is a style that’s very accessible to the every-reader. It starts smack in the middle of the action, has an engaging spunky heroine with a nice way with internal dialogue, and it keeps you guessing as the story progresses. It also contains some very useful information, such as: if you think you might be accosted at knife point on a bridge in the middle of the night, a mini-skirt is probably not appropriate attire. Food for thought there, definitely!

I asked Jen what her thoughts were about short stories in general. “I love shorts,” she says. “With writing and editing and kids, I rarely have time to sit down and read a full novel. Shorts let me get a story in when I have a moment! Even in the past I always loved them and was a big fan of the Sword and Sorceress Anthologies.

Jen brings up a good point and a simple truth. A lot of people seriously don’t have the time to sit down and churn through a full length novel. In fact, in a lot of ways—ways I don’t necessarily approve of, mind you—we’ve become a society that embraces brevity. We text. We tweet. We LOL at each other. Our attention spans are, perhaps, getting a little shorter then they ought to be.

That might not be great news for society, but it does make me believe that short stories, and even novellas, are well positioned to fill an ever widening niche among reading consumers. Jen seems to think so. Jump is (as of this writing) at number one on the bestseller list at OmniLit. And while she has her first full length novel coming out in May of this year, it will be preceded by more shorts scheduled for March. I’m looking forward to them!

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Good Character: Perfection – AKA: The Big Yawn

Anyone who’s played around in the world of fan-fiction knows who Mary Sue is. Mary Sue is perfect. She’s beautiful…most likely with at least one physical feature that either lends itself to poetic cliché (hair that doth shimmers like a raven’s wing) or is honestly a physiological impossibility for Homo-sapiens.  (Violet or gold eyes anyone? How about one of each?) She probably comes from some sort of dreadful background–maybe an orphan, much abused, raised in poverty–yet overcomes it all without breaking a nail or suffering from PTSD and saves the world without breaking a sweat. Men want her, women want to be her, children and small animals adore her. Unicorns will flock to her and roll over at her feet for tummy rubs even if they’re breaking into the pages from an entirely different genre. She’ll probably have a flowing name of many-vowels like Aulienniayaia. She will not be named Gert.

When I was immersed in Pern Fic, I knew of one Mary Sue who had rose petals strewn in her path. Actual rose petals. By peasants. With much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And why? Because she was moving across town, metaphorically speaking. (And she rode a dragon that wasn’t so much a gold color as … apricot. I don’t personally believe that anyone who rides an apricot dragon is rose-petal strewing material, but I digress.)


But the point is the perfection. The noble, handsome guy who wears artfully torn shirts practically out of habit just so his chiseled physique has a chance to gleam, and who will face down his foes unflinching. The ethereally beautiful woman who can balance the entire universe with a single word uttered from glistening ruby red lips. You know who I mean. You can probably name a few. You might even have written a few. I know I have.

These are not the sort of people I would willingly hang out with. I have enough of an inferiority complex already, thank you very much. I can’t relate to them. And I would submit to you, gentle authors, that if your readers cannot relate to your main characters, you’re missing out on something important. You’re missing out on the connection that makes your character real. Likable. Someone who isn’t just going to get cheers because she/he is the heroine/hero but because the audience has invested a feeling of…well, of empathy. Maybe even of friendship.

Many years ago, when I wrote Pern fan-fiction, I was asked to come up with a Weyrleader (a head honcho for the uninitiated) and, like the newbie I was, I created B’yard. You can probably guess. B’yard (we’ll call him Bay) was stereotypical hero-material: tall, handsome, black hair, (yeah, yeah, raven‘s wing, shut up) built to centerfold specifications, ice-blue eyes, noble out the wazoo, great in a knife-fight and oh yeah, he could dance too. And scars. He had an impressive array of scars. (I know, right? I’m so ashamed.)

It didn’t take me long to realize that as a main character, Bay was not going to be a success. You can’t write much about a guy who does everything right, who gets to be leader by being the best, and who leads his people with wisdom and fairness. He’s not a hero anymore. He’s a freakin’ hall monitor.

So I started to mess him up. By the time Bay’s character arc had ended, we learned that he had the political astuteness of an eight-week old Labrador puppy. He was so locked into “doing the right thing” that he was the most easily manipulated character I’ve ever written. His career ambitions totally wrecked his love life. He was clueless when dealing with anyone under the age of 7, including his own son. His habit of dramatically showing off his scars became something of a joke with the dragonriders-in-training. And his penmanship was frankly crap. He had to hire a secretary for all his correspondence. I could have written about him forever. I definitely learned a lot from him.

These days, when a new character starts tapping at the door of my subconscious and I invite him in for a chat over tea and crumpets, I immediately start looking to see what makes him tick. What are his good points? What are his flaws? What makes him stupid? What makes him smart? What makes him human? What redeeming qualities does he have? Does he have enough baggage to complete a journey? Are we going to have to pick some up on the way?

In my upcoming Young Adult historical novel, Servant To The Wolf, I have two main characters who seem to have nothing in common. Marcus is young, highly-educated, something of an intellectual and a complete snob. He can recite poetry. Lupus is older, slow-spoken, intensely private and content to lead a simple life as a blacksmith. He might know a dirty limerick or two, I never asked him.  Problem: Marcus is a slave and Lupus is his new owner.

Honestly, once those two characters introduced themselves to me, it would have been pretty impossible not to write about them. Not because they’re perfect or stereotypical hero material, but because they aren’t. And that makes them interesting.  At least I sure hope it does!

So, for the writers out there, what are your experiences with character perfection or character flaws?  I’d love to hear your input!

Categories: Writing Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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