Friday, October 28, 2011

Characters – Surprise & Contradiction

A friend of mine recently gave me a CD that celebrates Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, with various authors (including Bradbury) reading and commenting on that wonderful book, a book that hasn’t been out of print in the last 50 or so years. As I listened to the first paragraphs where the main character, Montag, is burning books, I was drawn in by the poetry of the piece, but also by the glorious contradiction in his character. He’s a fireman, see? A fireman burning books. Now Bradbury is having a bit of fun, or maybe just showing off his brilliance. If you’re going to write a story of a dystopian world where books are burned, why not make your main character a fireman, someone we readers think of as the person we want to show up to stop a fire in progress—but in this world, firemen are the bad guys. The main character is part of the story’s problem—and has lots of room to grow and change as the story moves on.

When I think of my favorite characters from other books and TV shows, it is often contradiction that makes certain characters stand out and makes them, well, my favorites. Often in the contradiction is the surprise factor—and in that unusual aspect is what makes for a memorable character. Here are just a few of my favorite contradictory-filled characters from TV and books:

Ender, the main character from Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game is the strategic master upon which the Earth’s fate rests. And he’s just a kid (six in the opening scene).

This character spends his days working on the police force as a forensics/blood spatter expert—at night he goes looking for criminals to kill and dispose of. (Dexter from the TV series of the same name.)

He’s a drunk, half-blind U.S. Marshall with a shady military past who is a fifteen-year-old girl’s only chance of finding justice for her murdered father. (Rooster T. Cogburn from True Grit by Charles Portis)

He’s a golden lab. He can also spell and would probably beat you at Scrabble. (Einstein, the dog, from Dean Koontz’s Watchers.)

She’s a restored 1958 red and white Plymouth—and she’s alive. (The car, Christine, from Steven King’s novel of the same name.)

He loves car racing and wants to be reincarnated as a man (Enzo, also a dog, from The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein).

As an android with a positronic brain, he is capable of amazing computational thought—but more than anything he longs to understand human beings and experience human emotions. (Data, from Star Trek The Next Generation TV series.)

Here’s one of the characters from my novel, Blackheart:

Noel August is a 16-year-old girl who likes boys, pop music, dressing in pink and can talk to angels. Hopefully you can spot the contradiction (or at least unusual attribute). Yeah, it’s the pop music thing.

So who are your favorite contradictory characters? If you’re a writer, what contradictions have you given your character(s) to make them strong and memorable?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


First of all, to those of you who thought this was an obituary blog, this post has nothing to do with anyone who has died. So, my apologies.

For the rest of you – score! Once again this blog is about writing!


Actually, this particular post is about reading. Specifically, the fact that I actually read a book. I think this is my second or third book this year, which is both shocking and exciting. Shocking for the obvious reasons, and exciting because with Two Kill the Goddess out of the way I actually have time to do something besides work, say hi to my lovely wife, sleep, eat, write, and do a bit of yoga.

So what did I choose for this momentous occasion? An old book, one I've talked about before: Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.

I first read this book – when was it? Let's see… Looks like this edition was printed in March of 1990. That would be after it won that year's Hugo Award. Let's just say it was a long time ago.

Now, with some of the things I've gone back and recently reread, I have been somewhat disappointed. Case in point: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragon Lance saga. Holy crap did I geek out over those when I was a teenager. I mean, who doesn't love Raistlin? Another good example would be Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince, etc. which was a staple of my early college years. None of those really turn my crank the way they used to. I still like the stories and they do have sentimental value, but now whenever I read my Scribblerati brain turns on and I begin to critique. That was especially detrimental in the case of Dragon Lance, somewhat less so with Melanie Rawn’s work. Some of that, I think, is maturing, but a lot of it is that I now recognize that those books weren't as well-written as I thought they were. They were great stories, but they weren't as well executed as my Scribblerati brain would like.

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion has none of those problems. In fact, I'm even more in awe of this guy's writing now that I was a bajillion years ago. My book, To Kill the Goddess, with its multiple character viewpoints and sprawling world building, rivals Hyperion in complexity, but Dan Simmons takes what I've struggled with and makes it look easy. Hyperion is at once horrifying, mesmerizing, inspiring, and beautiful. And I’m jealous. ;-)

Go buy a copy while you can still find one to put on your bookshelf. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, October 14, 2011

RIP Dennis Ritchie

This probably isn't a face you're familiar with.

Unlike Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie wasn't a public figure. He was an engineer, and the programmer, and the inventor of, among other things, the C programming language, and the UNIX operating system.

For most of you reading this blog, those two things probably don't mean much. Today, we take things like computers, and the Internet, and the voice translation software I'm using to write this blog post, for granted. Today, these things are a part of our everyday lives. 40 years ago, however, it was a much different story. 40 years predates the Internet by 20 years, give or take, and the personal computer by another 10 on top of that.

40 years ago, Dennis Ritchie was inventing the things that would make much of what we have today possible.

Just to give you a little perspective, the C programming language and the UNIX operating system, while still in existence today, are more commonly known as the forerunners of much of the technology that runs today's Internet. The programming language known as Java is the direct descendent of C and today Java exists in everything from Internet Web servers to the Android phone you might hold in your hand. UNIX is just as prevalent. UNIX still runs a significant percentage of the Internet and it is the forerunner of commonplace technologies such as Mac OS X, which just might be displaying the blog post you're reading right now.

So grab yourself a beer, or a soda, or the libation of your choice, and raise a toast to Dennis Ritchie because without him this world would be a much different place.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Years ago I was having a conversation with my dad. We were sitting on his crappy couch in the little apartment he'd rented after separating from my mom. I don't remember exactly why I was there because at the time I was married, graduated, and no longer living back at home. I was probably just there to visit, and it probably wasn't too long after him setting up in the apartment.

We talked about a lot of things that day, most of which I no longer remember, but there was one thing he asked me that I'll never forget. He asked me why I didn't have any kids yet. I wasn't really prepared for the question, but I answered truthfully. I said I didn't know and that it just hadn't been a priority. He asked me, “Don't you want something to pass on in this world? Some kind of legacy that will last after you're gone?” I told him I didn't know if I'd ever have kids, but that I hoped that someday my legacy would live on in a book that people could read long after my time on this world was done.

Strange that I finished the beta draft of my first novel a day before Steve Jobs died.

I don't expect to be famous. All I want is to make a nice little ripple in this pond we live in. All I want is for some geeky picked on kid, or some tired and aspiring college student, or somebody's mom or dad to pick up my book and find a little escape from the crappy world that we live in.

If that was my legacy, I’d put that on my tombstone and die a happy man.

I can't imagine changing the world.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.