Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Writer Wednesday - With Featured Writer Jennifer Estep!

Welcome to our first Writer Wednesday, a comment chat that will last as long as we all care to stick around. Joining us today and tomorrow is the fabulous Jennifer Estep, author of Karma Girl (multi-part review), Hot Mama and Jinx. Each title links to my review of each novel, with all the usual links. Be warned, Jennifer is the victim of a cyber-attack, so don't visit her site at the moment.

Anyway, Jennifer's upcoming novel, Spider's Bite, is an urban fantasy featuring Gin, an assassin. Such a character fits right in with our first featured topic:


Unsavory Protagonists and Assorted Bad Guys

We'll let Jennifer begin with a short excerpt from Spider's Bite.


“You’re coming with me,” he said.

With his free hand, Caine reached inside his jacket pocket and drew out a pair of silver-stone handcuffs. He tossed them on the balcony between us. The metal clinked to a stop at my booted feet. “Put those on.”

“Handcuffs. Kinky. But I prefer to have a bit more freedom during sex. Don’t you?”

Caine jerked as though I’d yanked the gun out of his hands and shot him. His eyes flicked down my body, going to my breasts and thighs, before coming back to my face. Yeah, he was thinking about it. All the distraction I needed.

“There’s no need to bother with those because you aren’t taking me in, detective.”

“Where are you going to go?” Caine asked. “You’re trapped.”

I smiled. “Me? Trapped? Never.”

I turned, leapt up onto the balcony wall, and launched myself over the side into the darkness below.

Here are a few ground rules. Please limit any excerpts to 300 words. Yes, I know that isn't a lot, but that's 300 words, plus any introductory material you may write. So the result can be a very long comment. Even Jennifer's excerpt is way below that. We need to keep each excerpt short to keep the comments page from getting miles long (wishful thinking here, I know). Just include enough to give everyone an idea of just why the character is so bad. Tantalize us with your best stuff. Don't overwhelm us. I'll try to lead by example with the first comment.

UPDATE! Also, please offer a bit of commentary on one of the excerpts that is posted before yours. Make your commentary and your own excerpts separate posts. This will help when the comment thread starts getting long.

Keep any critiques constructive. I probably didn't have to say this because this is such a nice crowd, but it can't hurt.

And that's it! Jump right in with your excerpts and commentary. This should be fun!

27 comments:

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks for your contribution, Jennifer, and thanks for agreeing to participate. I can tell Gin always has something unexpected to say in sticky situations.

Since she's an assassin, was it difficult to make her a likable protagonist, in spite of what she does? I think that's what the writers here are interested in; how to make an unsavory protagonist likable despite their badness.

Tia Nevitt said...

Here is an excerpt from my novel, STARCASTER. I like to call STARCASTER a blend of Jane Austen and James Bond. In this expert, Tory and her colleague, Julian, are in the power of a corrupt policeman.

***

"You're not making much sense, Detective Meyer. If she had kidnapped Estelle Layfett, then why did she help retrieve her?"

Meyer didn't seem to have a response. Instead, he came up to me and began to paw at my neckline. Although I shrank away from him, I did not dare resist.

"Really, sir!" Julian yelled, leaping to his feet. "I must object!"

"Ah-hah!" Meyer drew my aluminum chain from around my neck, dragging it painfully over my ears. The Gold Corps chit dangled from it. He read it eagerly.

"I know what it says," Julian said, "'Property of Gold Corps, HMRIS. Bearer entitled to issue in the amount of ten pounds.' It also has my initials on the back." He shrugged. "We give such chits to contacts who have been useful to us."

Meyer turned back to Crain and brandished his paper. "The fact of the matter is that if I were to read the rest of this description and compare it to this woman's person, I have no doubt that she would match it perfectly. I even have her silhouette."

"Then why talk to me about it? Why not simply take her away and do so?"

I was horrified with the idea, and stared at Julian, aghast. His eyes remained locked on Meyer's. Meyer had no immediate answer. He glanced at the door, as if to insure that it remained closed.

"I know what you want," Julian said. He pointed at Meyer. "You want a bribe."

***

Meyer was one of those spur-of-the-moment bad guys. He's not quite a villain because he does help Tory in the end, but in a way that is totally self-serving.

A. Grey said...

Just a comment to let you know that I'll be leaving an excerpt and more in-depth comment later. I have horses screaming for breakfast and threatening the barn's integrity...

A. Grey said...

Here is an excerpt from the second book (tentatively called 'Twisting Fates') in a series I'm working on. It's epic fantasy. Here, we witness an argument between Raven, a Lliiuar (dark elf) and his darq'ae'vas companion, who resembles a feathered, winged horse.

***

Managing to recover himself, Raven slammed his shields up, silencing the stream of mind pictures and muting the infuriating wails of the damned baby. CloudStrike was unperturbed and postured stiffly, his ears pinned flat, entire crest erect, lips peeled up in a snarl, wings dropped and extended.
“Shut that thing up!” Ravenshadow hissed. “Shut it up or I will!”
Cloudstrike extended his circle, putting himself even further out of reach and swung around to face Raven squarely. He gauged furrows in the ground with one forefoot. Reluctantly, Ravenshadow lowered his shields enough for CloudStrike to communicate. Calming marginally, the darq’ae’vas sent out a very plain vision of Raven taking the baby and tending to it.
“No!” The Lliiuar snapped. “Absolutely not!”
CloudStrike pointed out, in his silent manner, that he didn’t have hands with which to care for the small creature.
“You should have thought of that before you dragged that little scrap of mewling meat along with you!” Raven stood rigidly, arms crossed, masked face pointedly turned away from both CloudStrike and his baggage.
The darq’ae’vas changed tactics immediately, suggesting that Ravenshadow provide the baby with some food, which would likely help quiet it.
“You found it, you feed it.” Raven shrugged.
CloudStrike mentioned that the baby was going to keep screaming until something happened, and since CloudStrike wasn’t going to leave it behind, the noise was going to get pretty annoying.
“It won’t if I smite the Goddess damned thing!” The Lliiuar snarled over his shoulder.
CloudStrike whistled loudly through his nostrils, head high. It was a baby! A harmless male baby! And he was anything but Goddess damned! The darq’ae’vas couldn’t understand why Raven was so frightened of something so insignificant to the Lliiuar.
“I’m not afraid, I’m repulsed!” Ravenshadow clarified brusquely. “And I’m disgusted.”

***

Raven is a former assassin, a very complexed character who has suffered immensely over his lifetime, partly at the hands of his mother. He is insurmountably apathetic towards everyone around him, and yet, for one reason or another, by force of circumstance or his own perverse interest, he manages to stay alongside the other main characters, even as he maintains his indifferent and abrasive nature.

Tia Nevitt said...

Hmm, Raven is indeed, an unsavory protagonist. I think some slight humanizing touches would strengthen the piece. Maybe a nagging voice of conscience, which he must forever squelch.

Tia Nevitt said...

I updated the post with a new rule.

Kristin B said...

Tia: I like to think of characters like Meyer as kind of neutral. They're not going out of their way to harm the protagonist or anyone else, but they're not gonna help unless it's in their best interest, either.

I find such characters intriguing because you have to work hard and figure out motivations very carefully to get them to do anything at all for the protagonist.

Also, in the meantime, they can behave like jerks and act in a somewhat threatening manner, and it heightens both conflict and suspense.

Tia Nevitt said...

Actually, for quite a while, Meyer is taking bribes from the enemy. But he has to at least fake being a reputable police officer, so he can only do this for so long without risking his neck. Which he is not going to do for anyone.

A. Grey said...

Tia: It was, I must say, difficult to find an excerpt that gave any indication of a deeper nature than utter malice where Raven was concerned. He does carry around numerous ghosts related to his upbringing, which occasionally influence how he behaves, but while the reader might get that information, his fellow characters don't, so even if they benefit from something he does, they don't understand why he bothered to do it.

jenniferestep said...

Hi, Tia! Thanks for having me back on the blog.

Oh, yes. Gin can always crack wise -- especially when she's in trouble. Which is quite frequently. ;-)

It was a bit of a challenge to make Gin likable. I mean, she does kill people for money -- there's just no getting around that. But Gin has her own code, her own set of rules -- she doesn't kill kids or animals, and she doesn't frame people for the murders she commits. She might be bad, but there are some limits to her badness, so to speak.

Plus, I tried to give Gin a good reason for being an assassin to start with -- her family was murdered when she was 13 and she basically became an assassin to survive.

I've always thought assassin characters, especially those in fantasy books, are really fascinating -- especially in regards to the questions they raise. Is it wrong to kill people for money? Do some people deserve to die? Would you hire an assassin if someone hurt somebody you loved? And so on and so forth ...

And I think it's really interesting to look at the excerpts people have posted here to see what passages/scenes they think show off their characters' "badness." It seems like it's slightly different for everyone ...

Tia Nevitt said...

Ooh, Kristin--that scene is quite different from the original!

Jennifer, it probably has something to do with our own backgrounds! Not that I've ever encountered a corrupt cop.

My main foe in Starcaster - Yuro - is terribly evil from Tory's point of view, but in his own point of view he's a patriot, and he does the things he does for the betterment of his country.

Maybe I'll post his justification for breaking Tory's nose when I get home tonight.

A. Grey said...

I was just reading through the posts again, and I find it funny that I would much rather (if actually faced with them in real life) deal with unsavory characters of the sort my own Raven belongs to, rather then the sort that Meyer, Caine and Grigory represent. I'm a very physical person, and somehow, I find it easier to confront a physically violent person than one who wants to play on emotional/mental weaknesses, or exploits situations to their own benefit. Not that Raven doensn't do all of the above at times, but he is primarily physically agressive. Meyer, Caine and Grigory all make my skin crawl, in a good way.

Kristin B said...

Tia: That was part of the Great Grigory Revision, made after reading your revision notes! They really helped me introduce Grigory into the story in a more organic way. =)

A. Grey: I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to encounter any of them, but you bring up a good point. I'm not a very physical person, but I also have trouble seeing through lies. If I had to choose, I think I'd go up against Meyer, and try to figure out what he wants and pretend to give it to him.

The Decreed said...

In the draft of my third novel I have several slimy characters, and one more physically aggressive. I must say, the slimy ones creep me out a lot more than the physical one.

As for unsavory protagonists, it's amazing who can be a good guy if you set up appropriate rules as Jennifer did.

jenniferestep said...

Great discussion, guys! :-)

I particularly like the debate about physical bad guys versus emotional/mental bad guys. I wouldn't want to confront either one of them myself!

I know this isn't fantasy-related, but it kind of makes me think of Die Hard. You had Alan Rickman being the emotional/mental/manipulative bad guy and then his much more physical henchman (whose name escapes me right now).

Does anyone do a bad guy better than Alan Rickman? I loved him as the bad guy in Robin Hood too, where he got to be both the physical and emotional bad guy. ;-)

I think it's important to have all kinds of villains in your work, especially if you're writing a series. Folks don't want to read about your hero confronting the same kind of person over and over again.

I know with Gin, she confronts a variety of unsavory characters in the books. In Spider's Bite, someone frames her for murder, which is fairly ironic for an assassin. In Book 2, Web of Lies, she's up against a more greedy, physical character. And so on and so forth ...

I also wanted to ask folks who some of their favorite bad guys are. And I've got dibs on Alan Rickman. ;-)

A. Grey said...

Alright, I'll bite on the bad guys outside the realm of writing. I claim Prince Nuada as played by Luke Goss. Now that's a bad guy I can get behind!

I'll nab Riddick, played by VIn Diesel, too, and while I'm at it, Leon, played by Jean Reno, and Stansfield played by Gary Oldman.

jenniferestep said...

I just watched The Professional with Jean Reno a few weeks ago. Natalie Portman was kind of disturbing in that movie. But yeah, Leon is a great "bad" guy.

In fantasy books, I recently read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I really enjoyed it, and the heroes are sort of "bad" guys -- thieves who steal from wealthy nobles.

A. Grey said...

I'm going to have to check out The Lies of Locke Lamora. I've heard oodles of goog things about it...

Tia Nevitt said...

Rutger Hauer did a great bad guy in Blade Runner and others. That scene of him at the end of Blade Runner, where is last words were "Time to die." is just chilling. I think he's on par with Rickman. They both make great good guys, too, probably because they have such great acting ability.

To bring up a bad guy in a classic, I think Henry Crawford is Jane Austen's best villain. He is delicious scum because he genuinely loves Fanny. However, his depraved nature rules him.

Raven said...

I really wanted Henry to end up with Fanny.

Tia Nevitt said...

I did too! When I first read it, I was on the edge of my seat during the final chapters. I was thinking, please let her have reformed Henry! Don't let her marry her first cousin!

It was really the only JA novel that disappointed me.

superwench83 said...

My thoughts as I browse the comments:

I well remember that scene in Starcaster! I was infuriated, as I recall.

Kristin B. - I totally agree; creating sympathy for the villain is a most effective technique. I think it's more menacing to see the humanity behind a person and realize that a human being is capable of such inhumanity. I liked your excerpt.

Alan Rickman...what a brilliant actor. (FYI, he did a great job as a hero in the movie Sense and Sensibility.) He's a great adversary in the Harry Potter movies, too. Not the main antagonist, but a thorn in Harry's side nonetheless. And again, Snape is quite a sympathetic character--much moreso in the books, I think.

Speaking of great unsavory characters, I'm about fifty pages from the end of Outlander. Wow, is that book suited to this conversation! Even Jamie has his moments of unsavoriness. (But Jamie I can forgive almost anything.)

superwench83 said...

I'll post my excerpt soon. I can't seem to find the one I'm looking for.

superwench83 said...

Ah, here it is. From HEX, a historical fantasy set in Pennsylvania, involving German mythology. (Warning: Not final draft)

***

Johann sat beside the Lorelei. She said nothing. He frowned. That was unusual. Usually, she had a question, a command, a pithy retort, but today, she sat unmoving, pale eyes dully watching the river.

She took the news about the missing death certificate rather well. That troubled him also.

“I know that the dead can’t catch illness, but you, my lady, look unwell.”

“You were right last night,” she said. “The stories. True, they are.” Slowly, she turned her head and smiled widely, her teeth flashing white in the brilliant sun. Her eyes were still as dull as they had been a moment before. They were the eyes of the dead. Johann grabbed a fistful of earth and snow in his shock. For the first time ever, he wanted to run from her screaming.

Instead, he smiled brightly. “Of course I was. I’m always right.”

She ignored him. “That’s why I have to do this. After what was done to me? All the things I’ve suffered? You understand, I know. The Perchta killed your father, after all.”

He laughed. “She says she doesn’t ‘get’ anyone.”

“Lying whore.” She also laughed. “Oh, Johann, this is why you will not fail me again.” And then her smile was gone. She threw him into the rushing river, so cold, so cold, so cold! Johann gasped, but he got no air, only water, icy water, so cold it was damn near frozen, down in his lungs, stinging his eyes, bubbling into his nose.

The Lorelei pulled him out of the water by his throat. “You’re wasting my time, mortal. I need that fabric finished. Say it will be done in two days. Say it! And make it happen.”

***

Tia Nevitt said...

I'm glad I could infuriate you!

So wow--Lorelei is undead, and she's enlisted the help--reluctant, it seems--of Johann?

I find myself intrigued about the death certificate. Was it concerning her own death?

superwench83 said...

Oh, I forgot to change that. I had originally used death certificates as a major plot point and later changed it to birth certificates. I haven't altered the document to reflect that yet. It completely slipped my mind to change it for this excerpt.

But yes, in a way, the Lorelei's death and the birth certificates are linked.

Merc said...

Aww, I meant to join in but got swamped and forgot... just wanted to say I had fun reading the excerpt and definitely look forward to the next Wed post. :D