Rss

Archives for : blog post

Headcanon Exercise #3

Tangled Up MJ

Welcome back to another installment of headcanons from The Black Parade series! In case you’re late to the party, here are Parts One and Two. A headcanon is basically something that is thought to happen off-screen in a work of fiction. In this case, we’re taking another crack at married life with Jordan and Michael. Enjoy!

Gives nose/forehead kisses: Michael. He is extremely affectionate when the two of them are alone. Jordan will give him a forehead kiss every once in a while, but he’s more prone to do it.

Gets jealous the most: Michael. If they’re out on a date, he gets a little grumpy if guys look at Jordan, but he doesn’t do anything about it other than maybe scowl at them. Jordan scolds him if she catches him doing it, so he has to be very covert about it.

Picks the other one up from the bar when they’re too drunk to drive: Neither, since Jordan’s past issues with alcohol mean that neither of them drinks much.

Takes care of on sick days: They take turns, but Michael getting sick is an entirely different animal. He’s prone to get a Man Cold, where he’s basically a giant whiny baby and Jordan patiently makes him tea and force-feeds him cold medicine on the rare occasion that it happens.

Drags the other person into the water on beach day: Michael drags Jordan in every time. She can swim, but she doesn’t like getting her hair wet. Michael always makes up for it by helping her wash her hair later and she always forgives him.

Gives unprompted massages: Michael loves giving Jordan massages. It took quite a bit of convincing since she’s so self-conscious about her scars, but it turns out Michael is quite good at them. He still gives her foot massages on nights when she can’t get to sleep too.

Drives/rides shotgun: Michael drives. It’s a male ego thing.

Brings the other lunch at work: They alternate. Michael brings her lunch when she has long shifts at work, and Jordan brings him lunch when he leaves the house late and forgets to take it with him.

Has the better parental relationship: Michael, naturally, since Jordan and Lewis were estranged for so long. That being said, he and Lewis really dislike each other and pretty much exchange one or two words whenever they’re around each other.

Tries to start roleplaying in bed: Michael’s had quite a few ideas, but nothing too outrageous—the French maid and the Naughty Nurse being the first couple he asked about. The only one Jordan ever requested was Michael dressing up as Harry Dresden, which he was all too happy to oblige.

Embarrassingly drunk dancer: Michael. Again, he almost never lets himself get there out of respect for Jordan, but of the two he’d be more likely.

Still cries watching Titanic: Neither. They both hate the movie.

Firmly believes in couples costumes: Michael. He’s super enthusiastic about Halloween and actually teams up with Lauren to pick their costume for the parties they attend each year. Jordan goes along with it as long as it’s nothing too outlandish.

Breaks the expensive gift rule at Christmas: Michael. But Jordan always counteracts it with something really thoughtful and sweet.

Makes the other eat breakfast: Jordan. Michael is a procrastinator when it comes to work, so she always makes him stop and grab a bite before heading out the door.

Remembers anniversaries: Both of them are pretty good about it. Jordan keeps track of the minor ones and Michael keeps track of the big ones: six months, a year, etc.

Brings up having kids: Since they can’t conceive, neither of them really discusses it, especially not after they adopt Allison.

Hindsight is 20/20: My Second Year in Self Publishing

Me and my novel

“What’s it like to be a self-published author?”

 

Dr. Cox headdesk

 

A little dramatic, but hey, it’s accurate. This is my second year as a self-published author, and as insane as it sounds, I’ve actually put in twice the work than I did my first year.

To keep with tradition, here’s a rough estimation of my stats from BookTrackr.com:

Copies Sold: 2232

Free Copies Sold: 13994

Reviews: 125

Money Earned Since 1st Publication Date: 2727.53

A marketed improvement from last year, no doubt. However, the same thing can be repeated as my first retrospective blog post from last year. Being a self-published author is a slog. It’s a long, arduous journey of walking across a burning desert dragging our books along behind you like Will Smith in Independence Day. And yes, you will occasionally yell at them, stop, and kick them a few times while insisting you could have been at a barbeque.

Very few authors have it made, and the ones who do will still tell you that this is an extremely difficult career path to navigate. However, having tried and failed at several thousand things, I can happily provide a few lessons that I’ve learned over the past year.

-No matter what happens, some authors will always insist that you have to “choose a side” between self-publishing and traditional publishing. You can’t escape it. People seem happiest when they can label something and identify an enemy, and so the best thing to do is straddle the fence. Neither side is “right” or “wrong.” They’re simply different entities. Your life will be infinitely easier if you don’t draw a line in the sand. If you feel strongly enough to do so, sure, go ahead, but don’t be a bully and don’t be unprofessional about it. You can burn bridges you didn’t even know were there if you do.

-Amazon is always going to do whatever it wants to do. We as authors don’t have control over it because we don’t own it, and we certainly shouldn’t feel entitled to certain kinds of treatment or making calls that aren’t ours to make. There are other platforms from which to sell books, and if Amazon makes you unhappy, pursue them, or switch to traditional publishing. You can waste a lifetime complaining on forums about how you dislike their policies and it will change nothing.

-If your work permits it, joining other authors in a boxed set can help get you into the hands of readers that you might not have had access to otherwise. As long as you are treated professionally and aren’t operating at a loss, give it a shot. I’ve been in two of them so far, and it’s done wonders for my discoverability. There is no perfect boxed set, though, and sometimes they promise you goals that are unrealistic or unattainable, but it’s still a rewarding experience and fantastic exposure. Plus, meeting other authors and collaborating with them is almost always a great idea.

-If you’re into fandom-related activities like comic/anime cons, try reaching out to the organizers. All they can do is say no, and that’s the worst case scenario. You might be able to stumble across an opportunity to promote your work and discover a new audience as well as meeting like-minded people for a few days of fun.

-The permafree model is still a good way to go if you are 100% new at publishing and have no following. It opens up doors and gets you the most basic level of readers, the freebie seekers. However, the next step that you’re looking for is people who are mildly interested in your work. This tier is very desirable because unlike the freebie seekers, they will shell out cash for your work, but you have to be very patient as some of them can lash out if they dislike your book and it can take a long time for you to gather reviews. If you reach this tier within your second year of publication, make sure that your work is as high quality as you can make it and make sure that you have multiple works. The permafree model really only works if you have a series, not a standalone or two-book series.

-If you find yourself starting to consistently spend money on editing, marketing, promotions, and other expenses, keep track of them for the sake of your taxes. Unfortunately, royalties are not taxed in the US with Amazon, so when Tax Day comes, you owe the government a fat check and if you’re a low income earner like me, it evaporates your refund. Seriously. I got $77 back from the IRS this April. It’s that awful.

-If you’re writing a series, particularly in science fiction or fantasy, write yourself little notes of characters, plot threads, or premises that could be good spin offs in the future. I wrote a four book series because I feel that this is the length of Jordan’s journey as a character, but the supporting cast does have the potential to be explored as well. Don’t get too focused on just one thing. Most successful authors have a couple of novellas, short stories or short story collections, or anthologies that help line their pockets after they’ve created their own fanbase. Always keep a backlog of ideas for future works in case you conclude one series. Keeping momentum is extremely important.

-The key to staying afloat is consistency. One book a year is the standard, and that’s for traditional publishing. For self-published authors, especially debut authors, it’s actually 1-3 books a year for maximum saturation and exposure. A lot of people hate the long waits between books (seriously, I am so impatient for the release of Peace Talks that I cannot stop writing Dresden Files fanfics) and if you have multiple works drop per year, you can accumulate more readers in a fraction of the time.

-Stay connected to your fans however you can. Social media is taxing, but I’ve had a lot of new readers reach out through Twitter and Facebook to say they enjoyed my work. Say thank you every single time. Doesn’t matter if it’s just a short little post. Do it. Thank every last reader you get and make sure you leave a good impression with them, because while social media marketing and online promotion are powerful, Word of Mouth is still the best way to get readers. It’s the hardest to accomplish, but by far the most successful way to increase your readers. Be gracious and accept fair criticism when it’s given.

-If you have the budget, try creative outlets like having commissions done of your characters or alternative book covers. Fans respond to pictures way faster than text posts, in my experience, and new images from the series are far more likely to get shared than anything else.

-If you start getting negative reviews, only skim them for relevant issues. If it’s just a rant about how much you suck, don’t even read it. Keep on scrolling and don’t get angry. We’ve had too many authors get in needless dust ups with reviewers this year. Don’t respond. Ever. Unless you’re Brock Baker, you are not allowed to mock your critics. You’re an author. Write well and write often and that’s all you can do, no matter how much it bothers you to get nasty reviews. (And yes, one and two star reviews are ALWAYS going to bother you, bestselling author or not.)

-If possible, submit guest blogs/articles to writing sites and other subjects you’re interested in. This year, I had a big success with my article about Natasha Romanoff and feminism on Black Girl Nerds, and while it didn’t immediately reflect in sales, it got me a lot of buzz and some new followers on Twitter from my key demographic of readers. Social media is NOT about selling books; it’s about connecting with other people. Eventually, some of them might give your work a try, and that’s the important thing. Be genuinely interested in something and be entertaining and intelligent, and often, they’ll come to you.

If anything, my second year in self-publishing has taught me that the best thing you can do is expand your mind and understand that there isn’t one path to growing your readership. There are hundreds, and while you may not instantly rocket to success on your first or second try, you can slowly start to push that boulder closer to the top of the hill. And, if you’re lucky, you have a couple good people helping you push, or you can give advice to the people on the hill next to you doing the same thing.

Here’s to another year and another climb up that hill. Thanks to everyone who has stuck by me and enjoyed my work. I look forward to bringing you more of it soon.

Kyoko

The Holy Dark Turns A Month Old!

The_Holy_Dark_3_final_Front

Oh, look at my darling. She’s grown up so fast. *wipes eyes*

In celebration of the third novel in The Black Parade series being out a whole month, I thought we’d do something fun. Here are some trivia and facts about the book, from story ideas to headcanons to deleted scenes. Enjoy!

  • Myra Bennett’s physical appearance is styled after Angela Bassett
  • The original word count was over 180,000 words
  • It was the first novel that caused me to miss my “one book a year” deadline, due to the fact that I couldn’t type fast enough to finish it on New Years’ Eve
  • The other Seers whom Jordan talks to in the Skype chat were originally going to have major parts in the story, but it was ultimately rewritten because it took too much time away from the main cast (Jordan, Michael, Gabriel, Belial)
  • There were plans to expand Myra’s backstory a bit more, but it was also rewritten due to the page length already being out of control
  • The Holy Dark takes place in October 2012, over the course of a week before the time skip in the final chapter and epilogue
  • The wedding scene was added in the final draft of the story after discussing what would make the fans truly happy with my sister-in-law, who was about to get married right around the time I started the final draft of the novel
  • I have a bunch of headcanons about Jordan and Michael’s wedding that I might turn into short stories or bonus chapters in the future
  • Zora was originally going to have a cameo in this book via a memory Jordan had as a dream when she was doped up on Belial’s blood, but it wasn’t relevant enough to the story
  • Though she is never directly described in the novel, Zora is short, middle Eastern, and looks a lot like Parminder Nagra (Neela Rasgotra from ER)
  • There was going to be a joke that Belial allegedly knows 314 different sex positions, but it didn’t fit into any dialogue spots, so it was left out
  • One of the earliest ideas for the plot was Jordan hunting for Belial cross-country after he betrayed her and released the Leviathan, but it didn’t have enough action
  • When the epilogue takes place, Allison has been with Jordan and Michael for about a year and a half, since it took them a while to get the adoption set up thanks to Jordan’s stint with the law
  • Beelzebub’s cameo in Hell is intentionally left open-ended for future works
  • Mammon is the only archdemon who does not appear in any of the four books in the series, including this one
  • Andrew Bethsaida’s backstory was also intended to show up here, but was ultimately decided not to be relevant enough for inclusion
  • There was also going to be a scene where Jordan finally visits Terrell’s grave, but the epilogue needed to be more than just narration, so it skipped ahead to life with Jordan, Michael, and Allison
  • Allison is eventually going to become a part time demon hunter in college, and it may later become a short story, novella, or YA novel. Same for Juliana Freitas, Belial’s daughter, whom Jordan saved in She Who Fights Monsters, and she was briefly mentioned as coming to America in the epilogue
  • The various descriptions of the circles of Hell were composed from Dante’s Inferno and some of the scenery seen in the movie Constantine (2005), along with my own ideas mixed in
  • An early, early draft of The Holy Dark had Moloch interrogating Jordan and she ultimately amuses him so much that he doesn’t kill her, but it was decided against because she is already in Belial’s favor and it would be too much to have two of the five archdemons like her
  • Neither Lucifer nor God have appeared in any of the books, though they are mentioned directly interacting with characters off-screen. This is because there are so many depictions of both that I didn’t want to even try to make my own, and because I felt it would be pretentious to make it seem like Jordan is important to warrant attention from either party face-to-face. However, my personal headcanon is that God and Lucifer don’t “look” like one particular entity; instead, they shapeshift into whatever form with have an effect on the person they are speaking to. For instance, in Hell Lucifer took the form of Jordan when he spoke to Belial because he knew it would unnerve him and he wanted Belial to kill her.
  • Ace was inspired by Ace the Bathound from the Batman comics and takes his backstory from the iteration in Batman Beyond. The only difference is his personality and breed. (Shameless, I know.)
  • Though it’s implied through his actions, Belial never once says that he loves Jordan
  • I didn’t cry when I wrote Gabriel’s death scene, but I did get choked up when I wrote the scene after they return from Hell and Jordan tells him stories about her childhood. I still to this day cannot really explain why that gets to me more than his death.
  • As I’ve mentioned in an interview before, the famous forehead kiss between Gabriel and Jordan came from something my favorite cousin Mikey did once a few years ago and I remember feeling so unbelievably safe and happy from that one gesture
  • Gabriel is never described as such, but I occasionally hear his lines read in a British accent. It makes more sense when you consider that he looks a bit like Jude Law in my head.
  • Michael’s very out-of-character suggestion of a threesome came about because I realized how much teasing Belial had done and wanted to show that Michael doesn’t always have a stick up his ass and has a good sense of humor, even when annoyed
  • The demon mercenary Balrog is quite shamelessly modeled after Crowley from Supernatural
  • The reference to Supernatural that Lauren makes early in the book (comparing Jordan to Dean Winchester) is largely because I’m a dork, but also because not one single urban fantasy TV show, book, or movie that I have ever come across has ever mentioned Supernatural
  • There was a scene I really wanted to write with Lauren and Belial meeting face to face, and it was intended to make Jordan so angry that she attacked him out in the open, blowing her cover. It was reworked once the plot was decided, but I admit I still want to see how Lauren would react to Belial if she knew who he really was.
  • This is the only novel of the three where Catalina Amador, Jordan’s mother, does not directly appear
  • I’ve been trying for almost a month, but I cannot think of one single young redheaded actor who could play Avriel if The Holy Dark (or She Who Fights Monsters, since he was in that first) became a movie
  • For a while, the title of this book was going to be either Back to Black or Once Burned
  • It is currently around the same word count as The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (176k words)

Thanks to everyone who already bought a copy, to those who have helped support me on social media, and to anyone who just read all those nerdy trivia facts. I am eternally grateful. Here’s to another month of great sales!

Kyoko

The Holy Dark Excerpt

The_Holy_Dark_3_final_Front

We are but a few short weeks away from the final installment to The Black Parade series! If you aren’t caught up, here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 and half of Chapter 2. Below is the conclusion to Chapter 2. Enjoy!

Continue Reading >>

The Holy Dark Goodreads Giveaway

The_Holy_Dark_3_final_Front

Enter to win a free signed paperback copy of The Holy Dark. Deadline is April 24, 2015. Don’t miss your chance!

The Holy Dark Release Date

The_Holy_Dark_3_final_Front

April 24, 2015. Mark your calendars, my darlings. The Holy Dark is comin’ atcha.

Join the Facebook launch party for a chance to win a free copy and other prizes, or enter to win a paperback copy on Goodreads. Pre-order will be available soon, so stay tuned!

Additionally, Advanced Reader Copies are available by emailing me at theblackparadeseries@gmail.com. Keep in mind: do not ask for a copy unless you fully intend to leave a review. If you do not review it after receiving a copy, you will not receive ARCs from my other books in the future.

See you soon, adventurous readers!

Things Bad Movies Taught Me About Writing

Pictured: Tom Cruise, the most miscast book character since That Chick from Divergent.

Pictured: Tom Cruise, the most miscast book character since That Chick from Divergent.

(Author’s Note: This is actually a rare re-post of a blog I wrote back in 2013 shortly after sitting through the exhausting, disappointing Jack Reacher. It is two years old, but since I also just sat through the absolutely abysmal Chappie, I felt it necessary and relevant to post this blog. Please enjoy.)

So I just watched Jack Reacher last night because my parents claimed it was alright.

It was not.

And that is an understatement.

However, it’s not like this is the first time I’ve seen a hair-tearingly stupid movie. I have also subjected myself to A Good Day to Die Hard and RIPD this year. Yes, yes, I should have known better, but when you’re wrong, you’re dead wrong. Still, every horrible experience I’ve had sitting in a theater has taught me something.

Respect your audience’s time. Specifically, I am referring to pacing a story. Jack Reacher had abysmal pacing. For instance, the first five or six minutes of the film has absolutely no dialogue. I have seen movies where this is effective and sets the mood. In this particular film, it felt pretentious and exhausting. It didn’t enhance the evil nature of the bad guy and it didn’t make the character we were introduced to seem intelligent or quirky. It was just boring and unnecessary. Pacing means that the events of your story glide into each other, whether it’s a romantic scene followed by a violent scene, a violent scene followed by a humorous exchange, an action scene followed by a quiet denouement, or any combination of different sequences. If at any point during your movie, a non-idiotic audience member checks his/her watch, something is deeply wrong. This is not to say that everything should be fast and hectic—that was one of the main pitfalls Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole—but you have to spend time on things that matter and omit things that aren’t relevant to them.

Write good characters and we can pretty much sit through anything. Think about ten of your favorite films off the top of your head. How many of them have premises that are absurd if explained out loud? I know plenty of mine do. However, if you write enjoyable or relatable characters, your audience won’t care that the plot is silly. Perfect example: Clive Owen’s hysterical action flick Shoot ‘Em Up. About 99% of what happened in that movie was physically impossible and utterly ridiculous. Why did I love it? Commitment, man. Clive Owen nailed every single one-liner with his perfect deadpan expression and I adored his character—carrot chewing, cynicism, and all. What’s the reverse of this effect? A great plot with horrible characters. We’ve all seen it before. Hell, I can rattle off examples with ease: My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Push, Jumper, The Last Stand, and RIPD. In my personal opinion, those movies had plots that sounded interesting that were executed horribly. Some of them failed for several reasons, but the common element is unlikable characters. Jack Reacher had this problem as well. There were exactly two types of characters: morons and douchebags. Some were a combination of both. Terrible writing will strangle a great concept in its crib and you’ll be left there weeping. Many writers advise to build a novel, script, or short story from the character outward. I agree completely. We have to like the guy or gal we’re riding piggyback with or nothing will pan out.

Commit. I have an entire laundry list of awful movies that I love with full awareness that they are awful. I am able to freely admit this because 90% of the bad films I enjoy committed to their premise or their characters. For instance, my number one guiltiest pleasure of all time is Hudson Hawk. No, no, don’t close your browser yet! Let me explain. I love Hudson Hawk, if only because everyone—and I mean, everyone—in that silly mess of a film committed to that incomprehensible, ludicrous script of theirs. They just nailed it. No one half-assed any of their scenes and so the movie turned into the beautiful butterfly of horribleness as a result. To me, nothing is worse than being mediocre or half-hearted. I’ve read plenty of books in time and the ones that frustrate me the most are the ones that don’t commit to an idea.

I try not to name examples, but the main offender on my list is ‘City of Bones’. Great concept, great conflict, great world building, but one truly half-assed main character. I just couldn’t get into it even though I liked Jace and Simon and the other Shadow Hunters just fine. Clary was a loaf of Wal-Mart brand bread to me—bland, dry, and forgettable. This is not to say the books are bad. Not in the least. I actually think the writing is quite good and I recommend them with no remorse, but that series is something I can never get into because I feel like the author didn’t commit to making Clary a distinct protagonist. I believe this is possibly the most important part of the writing process—setting the main character apart from her supporting cast and from characters outside of the novel itself. I am the first person to slam the ‘Twilight’ novels, but at least Bella Swan was her own person. True, she was a perfectly repugnant person, but she was still an individual and no one can really replicate her. (Though E.L. James tried her damnedest.)

Weak villains will kill your story. Not physically weak villains, mind you. Villains who aren’t threatening are also something that makes me want to kick puppies. Jack Reacher was definitely guilty of this. Mr. Potato Head—sorry, Jai Courtney—was kind of intimidating if only for being a cold-blooded sniper, but his “boss” was the least scary villain I’ve seen in ages. Oh, gee, he has one blind eye and no fingers! Bring me my brown pants! Building up a good villain is one of the most important parts to a story because otherwise, your protagonist—no matter how charming and funny and cool—will have no dragon to slay. Winning an unwinnable war is what makes someone a hero, whether that war is literal or not. Creating a slimy, obsequious villain is essential to draw a line in the sand and make the stakes as real as they can ever get. Want an example of what happens when you don’t do that? The Happening. ‘Nuff said.

Kyoko

Cover Reveal: The Holy Dark

You’ve been patient and now it’s finally here.

Cover design by Gunjan Kumar and Chris Cold.

Cover design by Gunjan Kumar and Chris Cold.

Sarcastic demon-slayer extraordinaire Jordan Amador has been locked in a year-long struggle to hunt down the thirty silver coins paid to Judas Iscariot. The mere touch of these coins is enough to kill any angel.

Jordan’s demonic opposition grows more desperate with each coin found, so they call on the ultimate reinforcement: Moloch, the Archdemon of War. Moloch puts out a contract on Jordan as well as her estranged husband, the Archangel Michael. Now Jordan and Michael will have to find a way to work together to survive against impossible odds and stop Moloch’s plan, or else he’ll wage a war that will wipe out the human race.

The Holy Dark will hit shelves April 24, 2015. You can get in paperback right now, pre-order it on the Kindle, add it to your Goodreads To Be Read shelf, like my Facebook page, or sign up with the mailing list to find out more about the series. While you wait, there are two excerpts available to read. Please spread the word!

Kyoko

Things Justified Taught Me About Writing

fx-s-justified-renewed-for-fourth-season

If you’re not watching Justified, you need to reevaluate your life goals. It is by far one of the best, most consistently good shows on television, and after six awesome seasons (including the one starting this week), it’s finally saying goodbye. For that reason, I’m pouring one out to my long-legged, drawling, whip-smart, deathly sarcastic, eternally troubled badass modern cowboy, Marshal Raylan Givens.

First, a brief introduction: Justified tells the tale of Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), a Kentucky-born U.S. marshal who is a living, breathing modern cowboy. He was chasing down criminals in Florida before he faced off with a crime boss in a crowded restaurant. The crime boss pulled his gun and Raylan shot him in full view of the public, prompting a huge investigation that got him into so much trouble he was reassigned to his hometown. Harlan County, the area where his new jurisdiction covers, is absolutely teeming with all kinds of criminals from prostitution rings to drug dealers. Raylan is put under the supervision of Art Mullen (Nick Searchy), and works alongside fellow Marshals Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitt), whom he has friction with at first but they soon get along.

Meanwhile, things start to get heated when Boyd Crowder (Walt Goggins) blows up a church and makes trouble for his former brother’s wife, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) when he finds out she killed him with a shotgun in his own home. Raylan and Boyd grew up together as teenagers, so Raylan is assigned to get him under control, kill him, or bring him in. Raylan’s life also gets even more tangled up as he crosses paths with his former wife Winona (Natalie Zea), a court stenographer, who remarried but they both still show signs of being attracted to each other.

Sound juicy enough for ya? Well, let’s dive in. Spoilers ahead, as always.

Sharp dialogue can be the most effective way to get your work noticed. Justified has a lot of unique things going for it, but what I’ve always considered to be this show’s most valuable asset is the dialogue. The stuff that comes out of these characters’ mouths is nothing short of genius. When Raylan, Art, Rachel, and Tim get in a room together, you don’t need violent criminals to have a good time. These four engage in the most intensely awesome snarkfests you will see in your natural born life. The relationships they’ve built over the years make for some of the best scenes you have the privilege of watching, especially Art and Raylan, who are equally exasperated with each other but still see the value of one another. If you need the highlights, check out the Crowning Moment of Funny page on Tvtropes.

It’s more than just humor, though. Justified has made a name for itself by carving out beautifully intricate characters through words alone. Boyd Crowder would be just like any other drug dealing crime boss if it weren’t for that legendary silver tongue and trademark drawl. He’s constantly cool under pressure and unlike 80% of the criminal underbelly of Harlan county, he uses his brain to get out of scrapes more than he uses a gun.

Similarly, Raylan’s biggest asset is that he just flat out pays attention and listens to the things around him. That is why he’s such an unbelievable marshal who nearly always gets his man. He knows how to manipulate bad guys and how to either talk them down or trick them into giving him the info he needs.

This is tricky for writers. Every author, and aspiring author, has strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are awesome at dialogue. Others are awesome at descriptions, diction, spinning whimsical plots, or creating imaginative worlds. Stick to what you’re good at, but also remember that great dialogue from your characters can set them apart, whether it’s humorous or poignant or terrifying or heartwarming. It also adds extra layers to their personality if they have a particular speech pattern or a quirk, like how in my series Belial insists on calling Jordan “my pet” just to work her nerve, and gives these grand overblown Hannibal Lecter-esque speeches just because he likes the sound of his own voice. Make the words coming out of their mouths matter and make them work for you, not against you.

 

Know the durability of your villains. One of the things that I’ve always loved about Justified is that they always pick a season-long villain to antagonize the marshals. This is a brilliant tactic because it allows us to get the full scope of someone without allowing them to drag along forever like Percy from Nikita or Abbadon from Supernatural. We get to see what kind of threat the villains present, why they need to be stopped, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what their hubris is if they have one (which they typically do because they are human.)

My personal favorite villain thus far has been Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) because for me, she’s the most layered and three-dimensional villain of the show. Mags actually had good sides to her, even though we find out she’s incredibly ruthless and scary. Hell, Mags was so amazing the role won Martindale an Emmy, and for good reason. She was expertly used and executed, and by far the best female character in the show’s entire run.

Conversely, Justified is a bit guilty of overusing their villains too. Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies), Mags’ wretched son, is still alive and kicking when he wore out his welcome by the end of season two. He’s a despicable coward, but yet he’s somehow managed to hold on to his life despite Raylan having every single reason to wipe that slime off the face of the earth. Thankfully, though, Dickie was downgraded to a minor character in the recent seasons, so while his presence still induces headaches, it’s tolerable.

Managing your villains properly is a hard trick to master as an author. You can’t look at it on a case-by-case basis. You have to unfurl your villain like a scroll and consider both the short and long term effects of their presence in the narrative. If you make their presence too short, then readers question why they were there in the first place. If you make their presence too long, then readers can get fatigued with them. I can freely admit one of the biggest struggles in writing the upcoming Black Parade novel The Holy Dark is that I had a villain who just wouldn’t fall into the category of major or minor character. It took me forever to figure it out because there were so many possibilities. It’s important to remember that nothing bogs a story down faster than a boring impervious villain who lasts longer than they should. You have to know when to fold ‘em.

 

Make your characters earn their keep. Alright, I’m going to get a little salty for this lesson—I f*@king hate Ava Crowder. I won’t launch into my 3,000 word essay about why, but if you’re curious enough, watch the following video (skip ahead to 12:35). I’m sure people would debate with me why she’s supposedly a good character, but the number one reason I can’t stand Ava is because she isn’t an independent character who pulls her own weight. Almost everything in this show just conveniently gets Ava out of a fix rather than her getting herself out of her own problems.

For instance, her introduction is killing Boyd’s brother with a shotgun after years of abuse. Look, fine, I understand that because domestic violence is pretty much the worst, but he was an unarmed man sitting at a dinner table eating and she shot him. In damn near any other case, Ava’s ass would have gone to jail, but no, she doesn’t. She gets off scot-free, which irritated me when I began the show, but I let it slide with the hope that she would give me a definitive reason why she was taking up time on my TV screen. She then enters a borderline creepy relationship with Boyd, which again annoyed me but whatever she clearly had bad taste in men to begin with, but what tears it is that Ava is basically just coasting off of Boyd’s reputation. She’s his lackey, except she gets to sleep with him and pretend that she’s his lieutenant. They keep up this disgustingly long pretense of being in love and wanting to buy a home and get married until finally the season four finale has Ava being apprehended in possession of a dead body and she’s sent to jail. Finally, Ava will prove she’s worth a damn, right?

lana-kane nope

Ava gets in jail and immediately gets help from Boyd, even though it later backfires. Then she gets mad that he can’t find a way to help her, so she breaks up with him and starts to learn the pecking order in the prison. It turns out they have a drug ring inside the prison and the guards are in on it in exchange for sex. The girls play along, but Ava—who is such a hypocrite because she ran a whorehouse herself before getting in jail—is too good to trade sex for status and rebuffs a guard. She tries to make a deal with the local nurse to get the product in and out of the jailhouse, but the guard she rejected frames her for attacking him. She is later saved by someone Boyd hired to watch over her. Then, Ava decides to take out the head of the drug ring so she can be the queen bee and it turns out it’s some elderly woman. And they get in a fight. And the elderly woman kicks Ava’s ass for a while before she finally stabs her to death. The woman’s followers suspect Ava and she’s all but tied her own noose because half the prison now wants her dead.

And then the entire season-long subplot is rendered pointless because Raylan gets her out of jail so she can tattle on Boyd to finally send him up the river. That’s right. After an entire season of her skating by on pure dumb luck, she is Deus Ex Machina’d out of trouble. Yep.

There is little worse than making someone a main character and then letting them constantly get away with everything with few relevant consequences. People are flawed, yes, but bailing a character out over and over again is the quickest way to make your readers dislike them. Not everyone needs to be a badass, but they all need to earn their keep and solve as many problems as they create. This is part of what authors mean when they say “kill your darlings.” It refers to more than getting rid of pieces of your work that you like but isn’t relevant to the overall story. It means push your characters off that pedestal they are on and force them to be worth your readers’ time. You can’t babysit them. Make them matter.

Don’t forget to just plain have fun. I am about to introduce the most brilliant moment ever put to television thanks to Justified. If you take nothing else away from this blog post, then you must do me the one favor of indulging me while I set up the best scene in the entire series, and in any series if you ask me.

In our fifth season, we’re introduced to Dewey Crowe’s family—a bunch of horrible, ignorant, slimy, back-stabbing guttersnipes who come up from Florida after they find out Dewey has come into some money thanks to suing the marshal service (long story.) They pressure and bully Dewey into sharing the wealth, and in doing so, cross Raylan and the marshals’ paths as they try to get a foothold on the crime syndicate in Harlan county. The Crowes are led by Darryl Crowe (Michael Rappaport), and consist of his sister Wendy (Alicia Witt) and his unbelievably stupid brother Danny (A.J Buckley).

Danny has been an incredible thorn in the side of everyone he meets for just being stupid as a bucket of shrimp, a coward, and a bully all in one. He bullies Wendy’s son, Kendal, in front of one of their dangerous allies Jean Baptiste (Edi Gathegi), who challenges him to either leave the kid alone or face off with him. Danny shoots him in the back and then threatens to kill Kendal if he tells anyone, and then tries to kill Kendal after he accidentally lets Danny’s beloved pit bull run off and get hit by a car.

At the end of the season, Raylan finally tracks Danny down to try and get him to lead him to Darryl. Danny decides to have a showdown with sharpshooter Raylan by setting up the 21-foot rule, a legend where a person with a knife is good enough to take someone with a gun within 21 steps of each other.

The result is the most glorious thing ever created ever. Please enjoy.

Reportedly, this scene was so amazing that Timothy Olyphant himself simply could not stop laughing in between takes because it is by far the most satisfying villain death ever made. When this happened live, my mother and I both jumped straight up off the couch and gave it a standing ovation for over a minute. You just have to have fun when opportunities like this present themselves. Justified went for it and they knocked it straight out of the park. True, you do need a bit more context to fully appreciate why the aforementioned scene is perfection, but nothing beats just having fun in your work.

No matter what the genre, it’s important to have fun with your writing. You have to love it. You have to put yourself inside it and make your readers turn those pages, the way that Justified is so good it practically demands me to watch it. Be audacious. Be bold. Do risky things or edgy things and make the pay off so great that people are excited to share it with each other. Even if you’re not Stephen King, you have the ability to gain readership by making your work an experience they cannot get elsewhere.

I’m super nervous about how Justified will end—after all, this is FX we’re talking about and they don’t pull their punches—but I’m so glad for the ride. It truly has been a show that no one can touch. It has its own voice and style and I will miss it sorely after it’s gone. If you’re curious, tune in Tuesdays at 10 o’clock pm EST. See you, cowboy.

New Year’s Resolutions 2015

2014-12-26-2015-graphic-610x330

For the record, I almost never make New Year’s Resolutions. I think it’s a bit of a tired practice and pretty much are only done by people who don’t intend to see them through in the first place. However, I was delighted to see that I actually managed to reach the goals I set for myself last year, which were the following:

  1. Make a name for myself as a self published author.
  2. Get my cat Tyger back from my brother’s place (he was staying there after I had to move again.) He’s adorable and evil, just look at him:

    Pictured: the demon of famine and pestilence.

    Pictured: the demon of famine and pestilence.

  3. Read more than five novels.
  4. Finish the last novel in the Black Parade series.

So I feel kind of confident about making some new goals for 2015 (and praying to God or Satan or Cthulhu that I catch a frickin’ break in the employment department finally) so here they are:

  1. Reread and write reviews for The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  2. Finish writing and publish my upcoming YA high fantasy novel
  3. Publish The Holy Dark as well as a box set for The Black Parade series
  4. Sell 500 paid copies of my books
  5. Try to get to 500 Facebook likes
  6. Read at least ten novels

See? Sounds kind of doable. Nothing unreasonable up there. Fingers crossed for me, my darlings!

Happy New Year to you all! I hope things are going well for you so far and I look forward to spending even more time with you in 2015. Stay tuned for upcoming release dates for The Holy Dark. Don’t forget you can still read excerpts for the book at the end of She Who Fights Monsters or on my blog.