Just a few quick things: I'll be giving away a book a week on Goodreads for the next few months, so check the widget below to enter, I'll update it regularly.
The audio books of the Fourth Element series are currently being recorded by Tantor Media, so excited for that. I expect them to be available sometime around June, and will post the release date as I soon as I know it.
And for fans of Darius and Nazafareen, I'm already planning the next several books in that series, picking up just where we left them! Aiming for an early fall release on Book #1, more info on that to come shortly.
I've almost finished writing The Thirteenth Gate. The cover is in revisions and I hope to share it very soon. This one continues the story of The Daemoniac, with added magical elements (and daevas!). I'll be posting some teaser chapters in April.
Okay, that's it for now. Happy spring! Kat
Brought to you by Buzz & Roar Publishing/Eomix Galaxy Books, this is the sequel to the super-fun ILLUSION, which is on sale for just 0.99 cents!
Summary: Daith has discovered some incredible things about herself: she is smart, charming, and has psionic powers that allow her to sense emotions, melt physical objects, even heal or injure with a thought. The problem is, she doesn't have any memory of who she used to be.
Regardless, Daith made a choice between leaving the ship to learn who she is or staying aboard to help the crew’s mission. But someone from her past knows the truth about her, and if he finds her, that truth could shatter her decision–and leave everyone vulnerable to her powers.
Where to get the book:
Buzz & Roar Publishing: http://www.buzzandroarpublishing.com/our-books.html
IDENTITY on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M0864DQ
ILLUSION on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B014GA68AA
Trailer on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R-0fTOB51U
IDENTITY continues the story of Daith Tocc as she slowly starts putting together the pieces of her past aboard the starship Horizon. Blessed (or cursed) with potent psychic powers inherited from her father, Daith has been used as an unwitting puppet by the ambitious and ruthless Aleet Army Commander, Trey. But she turns out to be stronger and more resilient than anyone expected, setting up a final, explosive confrontation that kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.
Multiple points of view keep the pace moving quickly, and one of the things I enjoyed most is that all of the characters, major and minor, are nuanced and believable. Personal motivations drive the larger plot, which revolves around themes of memory and loss, vengeance and redemption. Daith is a sympathetic heroine, struggling to do what seems right even as her amnesia prevents her from seeing the truth. The supporting cast of villains and antiheroes are all colorful and distinct, as is the impressive world-building. There were plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing, and characters I started off hating turned out to have sympathetic secrets that had me revising my opinions by the end.
I highly recommend this series for fans of space opera, adventures and sci-fi/fantasy, and eagerly await the next installment!
You can find out more about Christa and her books online:
Will we be living in some version of Josh Bellin's vividly imagined political satire-slash-sci-fi thriller in the next, say, twenty to thirty years? I hope not, but this author (of the wonderful duology SURVIVAL COLONY NINE and SCAVENGER OF SOULS) has all the chops to turn such a dystopian scenario, where the world is firmly under the thumb of greedy, soulless corporate overlords, into a page-turning space opera that is pure pleasure from start to finish.
Chapters alternate between past and present, slowly revealing the story of star-crossed love at the heart of the book. Sophie is the young, idealistic leader of the oppressed Downworlders (the 99 percent), while Cam Newell is a privileged son of the Upworlders (think 1 percenters). He's a decent sort though, and falls hard for Sophie's powerful oratory and sheer magnetism, leading him to question all the master-race propaganda he's been silver spoon-fed his whole life.
Cam and Sophie end up on massive ships headed into deep space with the aim of colonizing a new planet since ours has been stripped clean by the corporate locusts. A saboteur kicks the present-day plot into motion, stranding them on a hostile planet with very nasty native life forms (a Bellin specialty) and bringing simmering tensions to a boil.
The opening sequence, in which Cam wakes up after a lengthy hypersleep to find himself trapped in a damaged pod, is heart-pounding and cinematic, and Bellin excels at both these suspenseful action scenes and the quieter moments (mainly in flashback) where we get to dig deeper into the backstory and key characters, including Cam's two best friends, Adrian and Griff. As always, it's the relationships that drive the plot, even when it's as high-octane as this one, and the tale of Cam and Sophie – basically two kids from different sides of the tracks trying to find their way together – will not be easily forgotten.
FREEFALL is an allegory of the times, but Bellin keeps his story fresh and even light-hearted in places, with corporate jargon taken to its final black-comedy extreme (corponation names include SubCon, Frackia, ConGlo, MicroNasia and Can-Do Amortization!).
The upshot? If I had to live in such a screwed-up future, I'd want it to be Joshua David Bellin's.
You can check out his website for more info on the other books!
BLOG TOUR & LAUNCH PARTY for SCAVENGER OF SOULS by Joshua David Bellin, Plus a Sweet Giveaway (signed copy + bookmarks + t-shirt)!
Oh, how I loved this book. The sequel to the terrific Survival Colony Nine, it picks up pretty much where we left all the finely drawn characters from book one: the wry protagonist, Querry Genn, his mother Aleka, various other adults, and the children and teens they're trying to keep alive in the parched wasteland of a future dystopia. And we get a new character: the enigmatic, trash-talking, ass-kicking Mercy of the cover, who it's pretty hard not to fall in love with.
Of course, there are plenty of secrets and surprises and twists, with the mystery of who the amnesiac Querry really is central to the story. Bellin is a sly plotter (you kind of know what's coming, except it turns out you don't), but his deepest gifts lie in creating memorable, all-too-human characters you can't help but care about, and finding the moments of haunting beauty in this bleak world he's created. The prose soars without ever feeling overheated, and there's a sense of optimism and resiliency even in the darkest moments that elevates it to the feel of a sci-fi classic. He's also a wonderfully visual writer, with an ear for dialogue and crisp, concise description that keeps the pacing hurtling along without sacrificing a strong sense of place. And the end…well, it's great when that's your favorite part, yes? It's what we carry with us, and Bellin's is exactly how I hoped this story would go.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC; fans of the first book will be well-satisfied with the deft handling of all the dangling plot threads, and will hopefully demand a third installment. Without any spoilers, I'll just say there's definitely room for one!
About the book:
Querry Genn is running out of time. He may have saved his survival colony and defeated a nest of the monstrous Skaldi, but that doesn’t mean he has any more answers to who he is. And Querry’s mother, Aleka, isn’t talking. Instead, she’s leading the colony through a wasteland of unfamiliar territory. When they reach Aleka’s destination, everything Querry believed about his past is challenged.
In the middle of a burned-out desert, an entire compound of humans has survived with plenty of food and equipment. But the colonists find no welcome there, especially from Mercy, the granddaughter of the compound’s leader. Mercy is as tough a fighter as Querry has ever seen—and a girl as impetuous as he is careful. But the more Querry learns about Mercy and her colony, the more he uncovers the gruesome secrets that haunt Mercy’s past—and his own.
With threats mounting from the Skaldi and the other humans, Querry must grapple with the past and fight to save the future. In the thrilling conclusion to the story that began with Survival Colony 9, Joshua David Bellin narrates a tale of sacrifice, courage against overwhelming odds, and the fateful choices that define us for a lifetime.
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: August 23, 2016
For order links, visit http://joshuadavidbellin.com/my-books/
Available in hardcover and e-book
Praise for Survival Colony 9:
Tantalizing mysteries abound among the human and inhuman inhabitants of the bleak landscape, and the post-apocalyptic plot is satisfyingly full of twists.--Booklist
Joshua David Bellin brings serious game in a post-apocalyptic thriller that collides breathless action with devious world building and genuine heart. A terrific novel!—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and V-Wars
Set in a gritty post-apocalyptic world, Survival Colony 9 is both an adventure and an exploration of what it means to be human.—Margaret Peterson Haddix, New York Times bestselling author of the Missing Series
And now for the giveaway, plus my interview with Josh and an excerpt from the book...
What makes you unique as a writer?
JDB: One of the great things about writing (or any creative field) is that each writer is unique. Yes, every writer borrows plot elements and character traits and so forth from the other things we’ve read, but unless you’re self-consciously copying another writer, which is not a good thing to do, each writer puts words and ideas together in a way no one else can. In my case, that means I lean toward literary language even when I’m writing popular fiction, which some readers love and other readers don’t. Which is another great thing about writing: every reader is unique too, and each reader will gravitate toward the writers who most speak to him or her.
How has your writing career changed since you started?
First of all, let me just say how weird it is to think of this thing I’m doing as a career! When I first started writing, it was purely because I wanted to (or needed to)—I had these stories in me that I had to put on paper. But then I discovered all the things that go along with publishing: marketing one’s books, and appearing at conferences, and planning the next book, and all that. None of these are bad things, but they do require a different kind of thinking than the pure act of writing. So I’d say that right now I’m in Phase 2 of my writing career, where I’m trying to balance the writing with all the other stuff. Hopefully, Phase 3 will be the part where everything’s in balance and I can let it all unfold naturally. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
What are your writing goals for the next year?
My third novel, Freefall, which is a stand-alone YA action/romance set in deep space, is due to come out in 2017. Then I’ll have some choices to make. I’ve started a YA historical horror novel called Polar, and I’ve also started a new YA science fiction novel called Deep-Six. I haven’t yet decided which one to pursue. But fortunately for me, I’ve got a sabbatical from my teaching position in Spring 2017, so I’ll have a solid four months to write!
What character would you most like to be stuck in an elevator with?
If we’re talking about my own characters—well, they’ve been stuck in my head so long, I’m not sure I’d want to be stuck in an actual place with them! Mercy would be funny at first, but eventually I’d start to worry about her killing me just for kicks. And Querry is so much like me, we’d constantly be anticipating what the other person was going to say before he said it.
So I guess I’ll go with Aleka. If she’d been born into our world instead of hers, I think she’d have been a teacher, and I enjoy talking to teachers.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I mostly hear from readers when I attend signings and other events, especially in schools. They say the most amazing things, and I don’t only mean things that give me an ego boost. Recently, some students asked me why I killed off one of their favorite characters. That was a great question, because it gave us a chance to discuss the choices authors make for artistic reasons, even if those choices are tough for ethical or emotional reasons. And many of the young people I talk to are aspiring writers, so I love having conversations with them about craft. I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to writers when I was young, and it makes me feel as if I’m doing something really valuable when I get the chance to talk to young writers now!
About the author:
Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, with the sequel, Scavenger of Souls, set to release on August 23, 2016. A third YA science fiction novel, the deep-space adventure/romance Freefall, will appear in 2017.
Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.
To find out more about Josh and his books, visit him at the following:
And now for an excerpt from SCAVENGER OF SOULS!
Scavenger of Souls
© 2016 by Joshua David Bellin
Aleka looked out over the land and frowned.
She stood at the crest of a low hill, squinting in the sunlight, the lines deepening around her mouth. I tried to read her expression, but as usual I failed.
This was Aleka, after all. Her close-cropped, graying blond hair framed a face she could turn into a mask at a moment’s notice. I’d been studying that face for the better part of a week, and I still had no idea what was going on behind her deep gray eyes.
Aleka. My mother. And as much a mystery to me as my own past.
After a long minute she spoke the name of her second-in-command. “Soon.”
Soon, a big guy with what might have been called a pot belly in a different time, came up beside her.
Aleka surveyed the unforgiving landscape, the lazy glint of river the only sign of movement in the waste. “How long?”
“A week. Maybe two if we’re extra careful.” He searched her face, but he must have come up empty too. “Why?”
She didn’t answer. The others had edged closer, listening. Any conversation that hinted at our dwindling supply of canned goods got their attention.
But after another long look over the barren land, she turned and strode back down the hill, refusing to meet any of our eyes. Everyone watched her go in silence, until she disappeared behind a clump of rock that stood at the base of the hill.
“Well, that was enlightening,” Wali said.
There were sixteen of us, the last survivors of Survival Colony 9. Five grown-ups counting Aleka, Soon, our camp healer Tyris, our craftswoman Nekane, and the old woman whose name no one knew, a wraith with wild white hair and a threadbare shift the same drab gray-brown as our uniforms. For the past week we’d been carrying her on a homemade stretcher, while she gripped her late husband’s collection container, a scuffed, bottle-green jar overflowing with scraps of hair and fingernails. She was amazingly heavy for a woman who’d dwindled to skin and bones.
The rest of us were teens and younger. Wali, with his shaggy hair and bronzed muscles, the oldest at seventeen. Nessa, the only teenage girl left in our colony since the death of Wali’s girlfriend Korah. Then there was Adem, a tall skinny awkward guy who communicated mostly with gulps and blushes. And the little ones, seven of them total, from ragged five-year-old Keely to knowing Zataias at age ten, with straggly-haired Bea in the middle.
And that left only me. Querry Genn. Fifteen years old last week, and thanks to an accident seven months ago, with no memory of the first fourteen.
Only my mother held the secret to who I was. But she wasn’t talking.
She hadn’t said a word to me the whole week. That entire time, we’d been creeping across a desert landscape of stripped stone and yawning crevices, the scars our ancestors had cut into the face of the land. For six of those seven days we’d been carrying the old woman. Aleka had driven us at a pace unusual even for her, with only short rests at the brutal height of day and long marches deep into the night. What she was hurrying for was another thing she wouldn’t talk to me about.
When we’d left our camp by the river, the old woman had babbled on about mountains somewhere to the north, licking her lips while she talked as if she could taste the snow-fresh air. She’d described green grass as high as our knees, wind rippling across it so it seemed to shimmer like something she called satin. She’d told us about yellow flowers and purple ones, trickling water so clear you could see brightly colored fish darting among the submerged stones. Clouds, she said, blanketed the mountain peaks, cool and white and soft, unlike the oppressive brown clouds that smothered the sun but almost never rained in the world we knew. At first I refused to believe her, told myself that half of what she said had to be exaggerated or misremembered or just plain crazy. But like everyone else, I’d fallen in love with the picture she painted. None of the rest of us had seen mountains, not even Tyris, who’d been two or three years old when the wars started. After a lifetime in the desert, the prospect of mountains rearing up out of nowhere, white and purple and capped with gold from the sun, was irresistible.
By now, though, it seemed even the old woman had forgotten where we were headed. She’d lapsed into silence, except for the times she stroked her collection jar, mumbling to it. She slept most of the time, sometimes beating her hands against her chest and mouthing words no one could make out. But even when her eyes opened, her glassy expression showed no awareness of anyone or anything around her.
We set her stretcher down in the best shade we could find and stood there, waiting for Aleka to return. Nessa held the old woman’s gnarled hand and sang softly, something the old woman had sung to her when she was a kid. I tried to organize a game with the little ones, but they just flopped in the dirt, limbs flung everywhere in postures of dramatic protest. I’d learned the hard way that you couldn’t get all seven of them to do anything at once, but occasionally, if you got one of them doing something that looked interesting enough, the others couldn’t stand to be left out.
Today, though, it wasn’t going to happen. A fossil hunt usually got them going, but this time even Keely wouldn’t bite when I told him an old, rotting buffalo skull was a T. rex.
“I don’t want to play that game, Querry,” he managed weakly, before putting his head down and closing his eyes. “It’s boring.”
Without warning, Aleka stalked back to the group. To my complete surprise, she took my arm and pulled me away from the others. I stumbled to keep up with her long strides. When we reached the rock where she’d hidden herself before, she stopped, so suddenly she just about spun me around.
“Querry,” she said. “We need to talk.”
“We’ve needed to talk all week,” I said under my breath.
She heard me. She always did. “That will have to wait. This is priority.”
“Something else always is, isn’t it?”
We faced off for a moment.
“I’m asking you to be patient,” she said. “And to believe I’m working on this.”
“Fine.” I wished for once I could meet her on even ground, but she had a good six inches on me, not to mention at least thirty years. “Let me know when you’ve got it all worked out.”
If I thought I’d get a reaction from that, I was wrong. Her face went into lockdown, and I was pretty sure the conversation was over. But then she asked, “What is it you want, Querry?”
“Answers,” I said. “The truth.”
“Answers aren’t always true,” she said. “And the truth isn’t always the answer you want.”
“Whatever that means.”
She glared at me, but kept her voice in check.
“It means what it means,” she said. “For one, it means that Soon’s estimate is wildly optimistic. I’ve checked our stores, and we have only a few days of food left. If we’re even stingier than usual. Which is a risk, since there’s nothing here to supplement our supplies.”
“Why would Soon. . . .”
She ignored me. “And it means the old woman is failing. Earlier today she asked me if she could talk to Laman.”
“I wish I were.”
I stared at her, not knowing what to say. Laman Genn had led Survival Colony 9 for twenty-five years. But like so many of his followers, he’d died a little over a week ago, just before we set out on our journey.
Died. Been killed. I tried not to think about it, but I remembered the nest, the bloody wound in his side, the creature that had torn him open.
The ones we’d been fleeing all our lives. Monsters with the ability to consume and mimic human hosts. It was hard to believe anyone could forget them. Even though we’d destroyed their nest, I kept expecting them to reappear, like a second nightmare that catches you when you think you’re awake and drags you back under.
“Any more good news?” I said, trying to smile.
She didn’t return the offering. “The children are failing too,” she said. “Keely and Beatrice especially. If we run out of solid food. . . . We forget how fragile they are. And how many of the little ones simply don’t make it.”
I turned to look at the kids, lying on the ground like so many dusty garlands. “What can we do?”
She didn’t say anything for a long time, and her gaze left mine, drifting to the desert beyond. I thought she wasn’t going to answer when her voice came again, as far away as her eyes.
“I know this area,” she said. “Or at least, I did. None of the others has been here—Laman seems to have avoided it assiduously. But I was here, once upon a time. So long ago the details are fuzzy. Either that or it’s . . . changed.”
I glanced around us, as if I expected to see something I hadn’t noticed before. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
Her shoulders inched in the slightest of shrugs. “I didn’t want to give anyone false hope. They were excited enough about the mountains. And I wasn’t sure I could find it again. I’m still not sure.”
“What is it?”
She waved vaguely toward the northwest. “A sanctuary, or as much of one as we’re likely to find in this world. Not mountains, but a canyon. Shaded, protected from the worst damage of the wars. The river gains strength as it flows through, nourishing what grows on its banks. If we could only reach it, there might be a chance for the most vulnerable members of the colony.”
I studied her face, as still and remote as the surface of the moon. This time, though, I thought I caught something there.
“If this place is so great,” I said carefully, “why did Laman stay away from it?”
Her eyes snapped to mine, and for the briefest second I imagined I saw a glimmer of fear.
It's August of 1888, just three weeks before Jack the Ripper will begin his grisly spree in the London slum of Whitechapel, and another serial murderer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. With taunting messages in backwards Latin left at the crime scenes and even more inexplicable clues like the fingerprints that appear to have been burned into one victim's throat, his handiwork bears all the hallmarks of a demonic possession.
But consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell is convinced her quarry is a man of flesh and blood. Encouraged by her uncle, Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry hopes to make her reputation by solving the bizarre case before the man the press has dubbed Mr. Hyde strikes again.
From the squalor of the Five Points to the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin and the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, Harry and her best friend, John Weston, follow the trail of a remorseless killer, uncovering a few embarrassing secrets of New York's richest High Society families along the way. Are the murders a case of black magic—or simple blackmail? And will the trail lead them closer to home than they ever imagined?
Buy for a special pre-release price of $0.99 on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble or Kobo
Every character has one—and it's your job to figure out what it is. I'm talking about The Ghost. The person or event lurking in the past that still haunts them in profound ways, whether they realize it or not. Nazafareen of The Midnight Sea is dogged by a literal restless spirit: Her sister Ashraf, who was possessed by an Undead wight and killed when Nazafareen was only twelve. The Ghost leads straight to her Lie: That revenge is her only purpose in life, and she will never know true love and happiness.
Screenwriters also call the Ghost the "wound." It is the emotional scar the protagonist must face and overcome in order to achieve their story goals. As Nazafareen gets to know and trust her bonded daeva, Darius, the Lie comes under increasing strain, leading her finally to make a choice between him and the cause of vengeance she's sworn to serve.
So as you plot, always ask yourself: what plot twists will force my main character closer to the final confrontation with their Ghost and/or Lie? How I put their feet to the fire?
I tend to work with two outlines. The first lays out the external events of the plot, and the second maps the emotional arc of the characters. Ideally, these should be intertwined and running side by side.
Here is a chunk of Nazafareen's emotional arc from my notes (minor spoiler alert if you haven't read the book yet):
1) Obsession with killing Druj and avenging her sister. To do that, she has to be loyal to the system. 2) Forbidden attraction to Darius. She quashes it because she still believes that being a Water Dog is the most important thing. 3) Discovery that the daevas are not inherently evil. It's a lie that they are cursed. The infirmities are part of the bonding process. Now she is doubting everything. 4) Darius confirms this with his refusal to free himself. Realization that she must choose sides. 5) Point of no return. She throws her fate in with Darius. 6) No longer cares for herself. Will do anything to set him free…
Basically, Nazafareen goes from whole-heartedly embracing her Lie to realizing that what she thought she wanted and what she really needed were complete opposites.
Personally, I think every character deserves a Ghost, not only the protagonist. It helps you figure out what drives them above all else—and how their own Ghosts relate to the MC's Ghost. If you want some extra friction, this is a good place to go looking for it.
For example, Darius's is the cruel mistress he was enslaved to as a child and who took pleasure from causing him pain. This causes him to distrust others and push Nazafareen away, and to doubt his own goodness. Even as she comes to understand that he doesn't deserve his slavery, Darius continues to cling to his Lie.
Ghosts are critical for writing three-dimensional villains too. Ilyas's is the fact that he's a bastard and inherited his mother's barbarian looks. His Ghost gives him an intense need to prove himself and his loyalty to the empire. Because of this, he cannot accept that he loves a daeva, and his actions spin out control from there. But they all start with his Ghost.
K.M. Weiland has a great list of questions you can ask to nail down the nitty-gritty details of all this:
1. Why does your character believe the Lie?
2. Is there a notable event in his past that has traumatized him?
3. If not, will there be a notable event in the First Act that will traumatize him?
4. Why does the character nourish the Lie?
5. How will he benefit from the Truth?
6. How “big” is your character’s ghost? If you made it bigger, would you end up with a stronger arc?
7. Where will you reveal your character’s ghost? All at once early on? Or piece by piece throughout the story, with big reveal toward the end?
8. Does your story need the ghost to be revealed? Would it work better if you never revealed it?
Whatever you decide, the most important thing is to steadily ramp up the pressure on all your characters. There's a good reason Charles Dickens saved the worst, scariest Ghost for last in A Christmas Carol…
Next week I'll talk a little about how to start your story (as compared to where to start your story). Until then, happy reading and writing!
I have a confession to make—one that some of you might share. My favorite characters are usually the awful ones. The ones who do terrible things without a shred of remorse. The ones that I'm dying to see get their comeuppance, but not before they push our beloved protagonist to the very edge and nearly destroy everything in the story we care about. Yes, I'm talking about the villains.
Think the viscerally creepy Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. The icily elegant Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Elizabeth Wein's SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden in Code Name Verity, who we only meet second-hand but is terrifying nonetheless.
Villains can make or break a book. When they're boring or one-dimensional or clichéd, there's no tension and the plot deflates with that sad wheezing noise balloons make when you stick with them with a hatpin. But when they're done right, meaning that they are an actual character and not simply a clunky device to test the hero, they help keep the stakes of the story high and the reader turning pages late into the night.
In The Midnight Sea, King Artaxeros II is the obvious villain, but he's also a bit abstract—you don't meet him until more than halfway through, and then only briefly. So I needed another antagonist. One who you really get to know. One who has some admirable traits but, as the pressures of the plot slowly pile up, becomes something much darker. Without giving away too many spoilers, I'll just say that I spent as much or more time thinking about him as about my main characters, Nazafareen and Darius. If you're going to have a colossal betrayal, the reader had better care about everyone involved or it just won't have much emotional impact.
So here are a few tips on writing unforgettable villains.
First off, all this is very subjective. What gives me cold sweats might make you laugh yourself silly. So you might start by think about which villains in film, TV, books, wherever, have resonated the most and why. Is it the prosthetic hook? The creepy Malkovich-esque voice? The mask of sanity they wear with their family when they're not committing grisly deeds? Once you know what disturbs you in the deepest, most primal part of your monkey brain, channel that quality in your own bad guy.
Okay, this one I cannot emphasize enough: give the villain motivation that readers can relate to, even if it's totally twisted. So they're power-hungry. Why? Is it because they have a secret crush on someone they want to impress? Or maybe they're compensating for a horrible childhood, or their dog needs an expensive operation, or their ideas of right and wrong are simply skewed beyond repair? I like to think that even the worst villain has something they care about. Balthazar, a necromancer who gets a starring turn in the second book of my series, is madly in love with his wicked queen. Yes, he does terrible things. But everything he does, he does for her.
Rachel Aaron has an awesome blog post on character development where she breaks it down into the deceptively simple formula below. The key is to understand that what a character wants and why they want it are two separate things and as a writer, you need to be very clear on both.
What do you want? (Goal)
Why do you want it? (Motivation)
What's stopping you? (Conflict)
If you have trouble, you can also try flipping the story and imagining it from the villain's point of view. You might be surprised at what you discover. Setting aside hockey-masked killers and comic book arch-bad guys, a good villain could potentially be the protagonist if he or she weren't quite so extreme.
In my first book, the sci-fi thriller Some Fine Day, one of the most despicable characters is a military doctor who's deliberately infected innocent people with a super-nasty Level Four virus. But as she calmly explains to the main character, the project is simply a response to their enemies engineering a similar plague. From her point of view, it's a matter of self-defense.
Effective villains often embody an exaggerated version of the same things your hero is conflicted about. That's very much the case in The Midnight Sea, where both Nazafareen and her antagonist face a similar choice but react in opposite ways. This is where we dig down deep and see what our characters are made of. Often, it is the villain's inability to change and grow and face the truth (external or internal) that proves to be their undoing.
So now that you’ve got a fantastic, fully fleshed out villain that rivals Moriarty or Lecter, what's the best way to get them across to the reader? Well, if the story is third person, you can give your villain their own POV. Jack Torrance in The Shining is one of my all-time favorites because we get to watch him slide slowly into madness over the course of several hundred pages. But the scariest part comes just before he's lost it completely. We know he's probably going to do some very bad things, but there's still an unpredictable quality to him. In our hearts, we still vainly hope that his love for his wife and kid will somehow triumph over the evil ghosts running the Overlook Hotel, which makes it SO much worse when Jack finally, irretrievably snaps.
As King says, “This inhuman place makes human monsters.” And those are always the scariest kind.
Anyway, thanks for reading! For tons more on villains, I highly recommend Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction by Jessica Morrell.
Next week we will definitely do Ghosts and how key they are to plot and character development. Happy reading and writing!
This may seem incredibly obvious (the beginning, duh), but it can actually be a lot trickier than you might expect. I came to grasp this when I recently had to throw out 20k words of a manuscript because it just wasn’t working. I agonized for a while over why this was the case, and made repeated, increasingly desperate attempts to salvage it, but I knew in my guts that I had some major problems. See, I had this idea that I would use alternating chapters, switching from present to past, to tell the love story of Darius and Nazafareen in The Midnight Sea. It would start in the middle of some swash-buckling action and then go back and explain how they got there.
Yes, it is entirely possible to pull this off—but I wasn’t. I had a big, complicated fantasy world and there was just too much backstory necessary to understand it. Slamming the brakes on the action every other chapter to talk about stuff that had already happened is extremely risky. Readers can get angry and frustrated and bored, which is not what we’re looking for. So I hemmed and hawed and tinkered and rearranged and sought writing advice from the internet and finally, the answer dawned. There was only one way out of this mess.
Just start the damn story from the real beginning, where it needed to start.
And voila, the words started to flow and all was right in the world again. I went back to the point where Nazafareen first joined the Water Dogs, and let the reader discover what daevas were and how the empire worked and what the Undead Druj were at the same time she did, through her eyes. The voice in my gut knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had made the right decision. Gone was all the clunky exposition and the whiplashing through time. I was telling the story in the order it needed to be told, and I still found a way to open with a bang (by showing the source of Nazafareen’s Ghost, which we’ll get into next week).
So if we’re in agreement that good, engaging stories need to find their true beginning, how do you figure out what it is? I was able to salvage some scenes from that first draft, but I still wasted time that I wish I hadn’t. So here are a few basic rules to get off on the right foot, none of which I can take credit for, but they’re very sensible.
Open at a moment of change for your main character. This is probably the most important, and universally accepted as a golden rule of story-telling. To clarify, it does not have to be the event that kicks the main plot into motion. That does need to come early on, say by the end of the first third of the book, but it actually tends to work better if the reader is already invested in the characters. But within the first few pages (or the first chapter, if you prefer more leisurely reveals), something needs to happen that will change the protagonist’s life for better or worse. It can be small. It can foreshadow the larger events to come. But it needs to hook into the main plot, and it needs to be interesting. Think Harry getting the letter from Hogwarts, or Katniss waking up on the day of the Reaping.
Easy on the exposition. Yes, you’ve spent months or even years figuring out every little detail of your setting and characters, but the reader does not need to know all of it right away. Unloading paragraphs of backstory at the beginning is what’s known as an infodump, and it makes people’s eyes glaze over. Do not do this. Backstory, by the way, is pretty much anything that brings the forward action to a grinding halt. Basically, Lucy, it’s all the splaining we authors must do to bring outsiders into our world, and it’s very important, but it also has to be viewed through the lens of less is more. Parcel out this kind of information (who Susie used to date, why the Klingons and the Romulans hate each other so much) on a need to know basis, as in, if the reader doesn’t have this particular fact at his or her disposal, they will have absolutely no idea what is going on. But if you can get away with waiting until later, do so. It’s the anticipation of answering all those questions that keeps us turning pages in the first place.
Imagine how the end will fit with the beginning. It’s okay if you’re a pantser and make it up as you go along. But I bet you still have some idea of where your story will wind up. This is where you can unpack the emotional arc of the protagonist a bit. What are they afraid of? How do they lie to themselves? How will they grow and change by the end? Does the opening reflect this evolution? Or maybe it’s a tragedy and they are unable to change? Is there a hint of this weakness at the start? In The Midnight Sea, the opening scene sets up Nazafareen as a somewhat damaged character who witnessed the death of her sister when they were both quite young. Besides being scary (monsters!) and suspenseful, it foreshadows her future internal conflict and gives the reader basic info about her character and the world she lives in, but little more. Think of it as a teaser—an emotional moment that can be understood without a huge amount of context, and that leaves the reader intensely curious about what happens next.
Break the rules, do whatever you want, but listen to your gut and be true to your characters, action and setting.
K.M. Weiland, who has one of my favorite writing blogs (as well as an excellent book on story structure), quotes Barnes & Noble editorial director Liz Scheier, who gives us this gem:
“A professor of mine once posed it to me this way, thumping the podium for emphasis: “It’s not ‘World War II began’! It’s ‘Hitler. Invaded. Poland.’”
Anyway, I hope this was helpful! I’ll definitely do a post on how to start your story in the next few weeks, which is a different, although related topic (and fun because we get to talk favorite first lines). See you next week for a chat about Ghosts, and happy reading and writing!
Hi, so glad you stopped by! If you haven't played before, this bi-annual event was inspired as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes!
At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize: one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!
Go to the New Adult Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are TWO contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the TEAM RED, but there are also blue and purple teams for a chance to win a whole different set of books!
***THE SCAVENGER HUNT***
Directions: At the bottom of this post (after the exclusive bonus material), you’ll notice that I’ve listed my lucky book number. Collect all the lucky book numbers of all the authors on Team Red, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. The Hunt begins at Noon Eastern Time on Thursday, April 28th and runs through Sunday, May 1st. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by May 1 at noon Eastern Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
LET THE HUNT BEGIN!
***MEET TIA LOUISE, AUTHOR OF ONE TO TAKE***
Hi, there! I’m Author Tia Louise, and thanks for stopping by!
I’ve got an EXCLUSIVE, never before released EXCERPT from my latest book One to Take for you, AND I’m giving away a BONUS $10 Amazon Gift Card for stopping by here!!!
Keep reading for how to WIN…
ONE TO TAKE
By Tia Louise
(Stuart & Mariska)
Stuart Knight is a wounded Marine turned Sexy Cowboy. Mariska Heron is the gypsy girl who stole his heart. Now they’re fighting for their Happily Ever After…
Life is never simple.
Even perfect couples face storms.
The question is whether our love is strong enough to survive.
I believe it is.
She told me to leave.
If I leave, I take her with me.
A STAND-ALONE CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE in the “One to Hold” universe. Prepare for strong language, panty-melting sexy times, and heart-squeezing angst. Readers 18 and older only, please.
★ HOW TO WIN the $10 Amazon Gift Card:
#1-Read the following EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT…
#2-COMMENT on this post and let me know what you think!
BONUS: Hop over and LIKE the Exclusive One to Take page on my website (link)!
Dedicated Web Page: http://authortialouise.com/one-to-take
One to Take
© TLM Productions LLC, 2016
Chapter 7: Names
When he reaches the center he does a shallow dive to the other side, going under and getting his hair wet. I turn and unfasten the bandeau top of my bikini. I toss the sheer cover-up on the grass along with it and walk out into the warm pool. It’s as relaxing as a hot tub, and the tiny bubbles rising in the water make me buoyant. When Stuart’s head resurfaces, I push off the bottom and glide straight into his arms.
He grins and kisses my lips, trying to push them open. I kiss him briefly and look up at the bright blue sky overhead.
“Do you want a boy or a girl?”
He only growls against my neck, and I unhook my legs, swimming out a bit from him. “Tell me!” Moving to the side, I circle him in the water. “I bet I know. You want a boy to start. A big brother for all the other kids.”
“How many are we having?”
“I was thinking a half dozen?” That gets me a laugh, but I keep going. “Or an even dozen? How many do we need to work a farm?”
“We’re having a farm now, too?”
“Or the ranch, I should say.”
He cuts through the water to catch me, pulling my back against his chest and kissing the side of my head.
“We’re going back to Princeton in a few weeks. We don’t have to change our plans because of this.”
“I didn’t know we’d made definite plans. We’ve only talked about what we can do.”
His fingers thread in mine at my waist, holding me against his torso. “You’ve already enrolled at Princeton, and we have the condo and Walter…”
“I do like Walter.” Leaning my head back, I search for a cloud in the largely clear sky. “I thought you liked it here, though. This is where your heart is.”
“My heart is with you.”
We drift for a few moments in silence. My dream is to have Stuart and a family. I don’t care where I have them. Stuart loves this place, but now he doesn’t want to stay. We’ll have to talk about this more.
Pushing his arms out, I turn so they’re wrapped around my back. “Since you want a boy first, what will we name him? Junior?”
“Are there any boy names on your side of the family you like?”
My lips curl as I try to remember any male names Yaya might have mentioned. “I can only remember one… Manfred.”
“Whoa. That’s a tough one.”
“We could call him Fred for short.”
Our eyes lock, and we both burst into laughter. I push off from the bottom again, wrapping my arms around his neck, my insides humming with joy. “Maybe we should stick to your side of the family for boy names.”
“I have an uncle Hector.”
“Like the Trojan hero?”
He shrugs. “He lived in southern Illinois.”
I lean away, floating on my back. “I’m sure he was a die-hard military man.”
“Probably.” His voice changes as he moves through the water to me. “Nice view.”
With my head on his shoulder, my breasts float to the surface. His large palms rise out of the water to cover them, stirring the heat simmering in my pelvis.
“Mmm,” I sigh. “So we have Hector and… What’s your favorite girl name?”
“Mariska.” His lips are at my ear, and I feel my insides clench in response to how he says it, low and hungry. His hands slide down my breasts, thumbs circling my nipples.
My eyes flutter closed. “Besides that.”
“Renee.” His hands are on my hips, drawing them down through the water so I feel his erection at my lower back.
“Yes,” I whisper as his palm slides up my inner thigh just before two thick fingers plunge deep inside me.
“Then Renee it is.”
I’m riding his hand, eyes closed, when I reach around to grasp his cock. Names are forgotten as I position our hips to allow him to plunge deep inside me, stretching me. “So big,” I whisper…
* * *
Mmmmm, that definitely made me want to run out and grab a copy! In fact, I might have to buy 8 copies and hand them out to all my friends (ahem).
Okay, thanks for playing! And don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card from Tia!
***CONTINUE THE HUNT***
To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, Donna AnnMarie Smith!
* * *
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What Readers are saying about One to Take…
" ONE TO TAKE is packed with humor, heartbreak, suspense, and a whole lot of sexy. Five Stars all day long!" -Ilsa Madden-Mills, Wall Street Journal Best-selling Author
"FIVE STARS: Another must read from Tia Louise!" -Kaylee Ryan, USA Today bestselling author
“FIVE STARS: The emotions, the feels, the very core of this book was electric! I couldn't put it down!” –Author Groupies
About the Author:
Tia Louise is the Award-Winning, International Bestselling author of the ONE TO HOLD series.
From “Readers’ Choice” nominations, to USA Today “Happily Ever After” nods, to winning the 2015 “Favorite Erotica Author” and the 2014 “Lady Boner Award” (LOL!), nothing makes her happier than communicating with fans and weaving new tales into the Alexander-Knight world of stories.
A former journalist, Louise lives in the center of the USA with her lovely family and one grumpy cat. There, she dreams up stories she hopes are engaging, hot, and sexy, and that cause readers to rethink common public locations...
Connect with Tia:
Instagram & Twitter: @AuthorTLouise
Amazon Author Page: http://smarturl.it/TLMAA
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IDENTITY is a conspiracy-filled space opera that concludes the story of Daith Tocc, a woman with incredible powers being manipulated by the man who stole her memories.
Here's the summary:
Daith Tocc has discovered some incredible things about herself: she is smart, charming, and has psionic powers that allow her to sense emotions, melt physical objects, even heal or injure with a thought. The problem is, she doesn't have any memory of who she used to be.
Regardless, Daith has made a decision about how to move forward with her life. But someone from her past knows the truth about her---a truth that could shatter her decision---and unleash the hidden depths of her powers on the Eomix Galaxy.
I just finished the first book, ILLUSION, and it was a really fun read with stellar world-building. IDENTITY is being released this fall from Buzz & Roar Publishing. (www.buzzandroarpublishing.com)
ILLUSION is available now on Amazon (ebook or paperback), and and you can visit Christa online here: