Friday, May 30, 2014

I'm a Thorn in Your Side...But I'm Not Your Enemy

I think all too often we think of the antagonists of a story as the villain.

Not always true.

In fact, many times in stories, the protagonist is friends with, related to or even married to the antagonist. The antagonist is just the character making things difficult for the protagonist. These characters stand in the way of the protagonist reaching his/her goal.

In A Simple Plan by Scott Smith, protagonist Hank finds over four millions dollars on a plane. The big problem is his older brother Jacob and Jacob's friend Lou find it with him. Now while there is no real villain in this book, there are definitely antagonists. Several are minor characters who appear for the sole purpose of getting in the way of Hank keeping the money or more importantly keeping all the secrets he must keep under wraps once things start to go crazy. But the true antagonists are Jacob and Lou.

While Jacob is Hank's brother, he is more a brother to Lou. They drink and hunt and hang out a lot together since they are both habitually unemployed while Hank has a full-time job, a wife and a baby on the way. When they find the money, Lou thinks they should keep every penny and celebrate the find as does Jacob. However Hank thinks they should turn it right over. Of course, Hank agrees to keep it but he wants to be smart about it. So they all decide that Hank will keep the money until the spring and then they will split the money and all leave town.

However, it just can't be that easy.

Lou continually antagonizes Hank by trying to get the money earlier than intended. Jacob is torn between his brother and his friend often going back and forth. These two men get in Hank's way of ruining everything by acting foolish and threatening to get them all caught. They are getting in the way of what Hank- the protagonist- wants. Therefore they are the antagonists, but certainly not villains. The real villain of this book is greed.

Sometimes the antagonist is not a friend, but not the villain either.

In John Connolly's The Unquiet, Charlie Parker seeks to find out just what happened to missing psychiatrist Daniel Clay. He discovers a much deeper, darker secret but he also had to deal with a man named Merrick.

Merrick the avenger.

Merrick is on the hunt like Parker, but he looks to do one thing to wrong doers- kill. Parker meets him early on and they have more interactions none of which are friendly. They are very different, but you can clearly see that Merrick is not all bad, either. Especially considering the people he is after. So in this case, the antagonist is not what you'd call a hero by any means, but he is definitely not the villain either.

In my novel Jack Little, Will Hodge loses his jewelry store and family business to a con man but also to tough economic times. His goal at first is to keep the store running when the con man shows up and takes that dream away- a dream he was losing anyway. So this con man would be an antagonist who actually wins- until Will finds him dead with all the jewelry he took.

Will takes all the jewelry but does not re-open his store. Instead he sells the merchandise at flea markets. And then he starts to take other things from strangers and even friends. So every person he takes from is an antagonist since they would definitely go against his new goal of stealing. Yet they are all innocent and many are strangers. So in this case, they are not villains nor have any close connection to Will. Yet they do pose a threat.

So when you read the word antagonist, do not always assume that is the villain. Often times, it's more likely to be a friend.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What are you talking about? I'm NOT MAD!

Anger is something I don't care for.

Who does. Right?

However I must say, it does get things done many times. It's funny. I think nowadays many of us want to avoid ever getting angry about anything since we want to think we live happy lives which cannot ever include anger.

But come on.

In the real world, we will get angry.

The fiction world works much the same way. What would fiction be without raw emotion? And anger is very essential.

What makes you angry in real life?

For me, it could be many things. When my laptop stops working when I'm on a new story, watch out. There will be a string of obscenities followed by more obscenities and most likely small small object will be hurled across the room. Or Windows 8?

Hold up.

I'm getting angry now.

Besides the obvious laptop problem, I guess I usually get angry in the most base way- when I'm inconvenienced. It's not when things don't go my way. I can handle defeat as good as most. I have hardly ever felt anything but a tad disappointed at rejections on my stories or books. I can take a hit and come back without anger.

But let the deck covering (held on by duct tape at the moment) come off when I start to mow and yes. Chaos ensues. The last time I beat the poor cover against the mower on three separate occasions. The good news is that plastic does not feel pain (that we know of) and so I wasn't hurting anybody with my actions.

However in fiction (and unfortunately in real life), people do get hurt by other angry people. In Misery, Annie Wilkes' anger boils over into some very painful moments for poor Paul Sheldon. Hamlet was awfully angry with his mother which led to chaos. Sonny Corleone allowed his anger to blind him to the point where he got taken out. So often in fiction when anger is fired up, somebody will likely go down.

However not all anger is bad. When we see red, that is bad in the moment but often times I think we see more clearly afterward. Life is not so physically strenuous as it used to be with technology and so many of us get used to being comfortable most of the time and becoming angry seems like something we shouldn't do. But human nature does not change and so now and then, it's good to get your blood up a little if nothing else to know you're still alive.

So never be too hard on yourself for getting angry. It's going to happen. Life just has a way of getting to any of us. So let it happen, but just try not to stay that way all the time.

Besides, you never know. You might just see what's holding you back and break through it.

And obviously, it makes for great stories.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hop Hop Hop

My good friend Belinda Bekkers has included me in a blog hop and so here goes.  You can find Belinda's blog at    Hope y'all enjoy!

What am I working on?

I am currently working on a collection of short stories which I plan on releasing in the fall.  They are crime stories and there will be twelve of them total.  A few might be considered novelettes due to length, but they are definitely shorter than a novel or novella.  I have written over sixty short stories and have seven of them published but I really wanted to share these as I think they offer lots of suspense with a wide diversity of plots and characters.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As a crime fiction writer, I am always on the lookout for new types of crimes and criminals.  The mustache-twirling totally evil criminal does not work anymore and I'm not sure that it ever did work on any plausible level.  I try to construct characters that are pretty well-rounded.  I also don't go into graphic detail about violence although there are violent scenes sometimes in my stories.  I also do not enjoy police procedurals.  So I don't ten to write them.  I am a bit of a rascal at heart.  I'm much more interested in how these criminals get away with crimes since they are automatically on the defensive with the law against them.  It's much more of a challenge for them to do what they do, especially when they have fewer resources.  So I guess in a nutshell, I tend to write about bad guys and gals.

Why do I write what I do?

I have always been interested in the criminal world which many of us know nothing about.  If a guy's a career thief, how does he go about it?  What are his fears and concerns and what problems does he encounter along his way?  While some may say "Who cares?  He's just a thief" I say that any character can become interesting no matter what they do for a living.  Anyone remember Robin Hood?  Seems like he was a thief too.

I suppose in the end, I am simply drawn to it and I HAVE to do it.  If I did not write about these things, I would spend my time reading about them or maybe even trying to live them out(And the idea of jail does not sound fun to me).

How does my writing process work?

To be honest, each story can start in different ways.  Ultimately, it comes down to a first line.  I really want that first line to hook a reader.  If it wouldn't hook me, it wouldn't hook them.  So the first line is of the utmost importance. 

From there, I start following these characters along to see what happens.  I take breaks, but I always go over what I have already written when I come back to it.  This way earlier details about the story that I want to change, I can do so or if I want to reinforce them, I can do that as well.  Either way, I keep a firm grip on things.

As far as endings, I usually have a really good idea in mind about them.  Every now and then, they just sort of happen.  But either way, I go over it a few times to make sure I write it the best way I know how to blow the reader away.  And hopefully they will come back for more.

What is the current project I am working on?

I am putting the final touches on a book of short stories.  There are twelve of them.  They all deal with criminal activity and offer plenty of nail-biting suspense.  They range in length and differ a good deal in character in plot.  There are also connections between some of the characters in different stories.  I guess I like to think my whole fictional world is connected since it all comes from the same wacky source- my brain.  I hope to release this title in the fall.

So there is my blog hop.  It's been fun and I would love to do another one.  But give all the credit to Ms. Bekkers and check out her page!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Desperation = Interest

Not all protagonists are what you'd call “nice.”

Certainly many books have been written about characters who definitely delve into darker things than most of us do. Most thriller protagonists kill other people. One of the protagonists of David Baldacci's thriller Absolute Power is a thief. The protagonists of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential are certainly far from good, honest cops. Yet these books have been read by millions.

So why follow these characters?

Surely most of us don't kill or steal or sell drugs or tamper with evidence. I mean, if they would do these things, should we even care about what happens to them?

Ah, but we do.

What does this say about us?

It says we are human. Most of us don't go as far as these characters do. However we all do things we should not in the best interest for our well-being. Our actions often lead to us finding ourselves in some terrible situations. So we empathize with these characters when they are...


Desperation leads to all sorts of reactions but there is ALWAYS a reaction. The characters have no choice but to do something rash in order to save themselves or others in their lives. And well, we all can relate, even if it's not on the same scale.

How many of us have had a friend or relative who was rather comfortable outside the law?

More of us have than willing to admit, I would guess.

Have we helped them out when we maybe should not have? Yes. We remember the times we had with them before they got us into this horrible mess. We have ties to them and so we rise up to help them as we believe they would do for us. And there's nothing wrong with where our hearts are at even if the friend/relative might lead us into some trouble.

In fiction, desperation causes characters to make tough choices. Make money an illegal way or let your family starve? Sacrifice yourself or your best friend? Get revenge even though it will cost you everything?


This is the stuff that great plots are made of and it is also what reveals great characters to us. Without the three ghosts visiting him, Ebeneezer Scrooge would have remained the same old miser he is in the beginning. Without the horrible betrayal against Edmond Dantes, he would never have become the Count of Monte Cristo. If Burke Devore had not been put out of work, he would have not become the competition killing sociopath in The Ax.

All of these characters are placed in desperate situations. And they react in ways most of us would not. Most misers would write off the ghosts as just dreams or nightmares. Most people set up like Edmond would have accepted their fate and wasted away in prison. Most people put out of work deal with it and try to find another job without killing people in competition with them. But these three characters react in much more drastic ways.

If you corner any animal, the animal will fight you. There is no doubt about that. Maybe it will take abuse from an owner for a while, but keep going and it will attack and it will be savage. People are much the same way but there is one little difference.


We are very far removed from caveman times or the Vikings or even the American Wild West. No. Today most people are civilized to a point and even if they have a savagery inside them, it is usually buried deep or maybe to put it more accurately, it is very well hidden.

So most people will react if backed into a corner- eventually. However you really have to grind them up to do so these days. Most of us want to live happy lives with little conflict. I know I do. Confrontation is not my thing. I tend to walk away. I'm getting better at it since I have grown a little wiser to know that every argument won't end in deadly blows to the head. Many times, a stern stand-off ends in a hurry since one person is very willing to back off. And sometimes I can be the stern one which is something I never pictured myself being.

But still, I would have to be pushed pretty hard. I generally go with the flow. So I realize it is my job to put a character in a situation where he cannot run. Confrontation is the only choice. We have all read stories where the author seem to let their characters off the hook a bit early before we could see what the character was REALLY all about. And then there's been others where the author butchers his characters to the point where we turn away in horror.


Don't be too nice but don't be that brutal. You must be a loner if this is how you treat people.

I think the best way is right in the middle where you push the character far enough to get out of them what the author is trying to reveal. And I believe desperation is the best way to accomplish that.

So think about it. Take some time to think about how you would react in these scenarios. I'm sure you will some interesting thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment with your answers!

How would you react if:

  1. You are trapped in an elevator with your ex.
  2. Your house burns down.
  3. Your best friend enters your house with a gun and fires at you but misses.
  4. You are told that you can keep your job if you sleep with your boss.
  5. You find a barrel filled with millions of dollars in the woods and want to keep it but your friend does not.
  6. You witness your spouse robbing a convenience store.
  7. You break your leg and develop gang green. Cut if off and live or refuse and die in one piece?
  8. You find your child killing a small innocent animal.
  9. You are diagnosed with a terminal disease and given two months to live.

10)You see a ghost in your house. Do you tell?


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dangerous Impulses

You open up your laptop. You click on Internet Explorer (or maybe Firefox). You go to your homepage and then head on over to your email where you are expecting an important message.

Wait a minute.

You decided to go on over to Facebook instead to see who commented on your post.

You have fifteen comments.

Most are positive, but that one negative comment really grinds your gears. In a fit of rage, you type out an angry answer to the negative commenter.

You take a deep breath and calm down.

So now it's back over to the email.

Oh wait.

What about that cool old vinyl record you bid for on Ebay?

So you head on over to Ebay and check the status. A few minutes later, you find yourself shopping for another item on Ebay and then you look up to see an hour has now been used up without you ever having checked your email.

So you head back on over and open it up to find your very important message, but you're late in replying. You make a good reply and return to check on it later on but no luck. Your potential client is gone to someone else who acted more quickly.

Why did this happen?

Is it all the internet's fault?

Should you just get rid of Facebook and Ebay altogether?

Is the universe just not treating you fairly?


Like most of our problems in life, this is an internal problem. The problem is that you acted on impulse. Instead of checking the email to get yourself a new client and move forward in your career and make money to pay your bills, you gave up a valuable hour to see a comment on Facebook which you could have easily postponed for later.

But there's good news.

You lost one client.

There will be others and hey. Are you going to be living in the street without that client? Nah. You'll make ends meet either way. So no big deal.

However impulses can drive us to do much worse and more costly things. I believe a lot of crime stems from impulsive behavior.

Does every robber think his plan through before striking?

Obviously not.

Does every murderer come up with the perfect way to get away with his crime before firing the gun?

Definitely not.

Yet, these crimes happen whether in what appears to be a smart manner or a stupid one. I think usually it is impulse.

Just as an impulse can steer you in the direction of buying a new pair of shoes when you need to use the money to pay your phone bill and when you decide to slum off studying to go grab a drink with friends, it can also make certain people snap and go outside the law.

I once read about a man who stabbed his wife of ten years in the head with an icepick for changing the channel on TV. Now I would hope this was an impulse kill. Apparently, stress had mounted up in this man for long enough and then one day the wife turns the channel from the game to a Lifetime movie and...

Just like that.

In many stories impulses play a big role. Stephen King's Misery, Annie Wilkes rescues Paul Sheldon from certain death in a car accident only to torture him to near madness . Yet when she rescued him initially I believe she had no real plans for him just right then. You could even say her impulsive behavior was a good thing for Paul since he did get to live. But more often than not, impulsive behavior leads to destruction like in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood where Perry's impulsive reaction spells the demise of the Clutter family.

In my book Jack Little, I believe Will Hodge has never done much of anything on impulse in his entire life. However, once he sees that van parked in the rundown motel, he sure starts to. He is one character who can no longer be trusted to do right by himself and his family. To put it simply, the man becomes full of impulses and every one of them is bad. When he goes to Home Depot to get the rake, did he really intend all along to go steal the pitcher from Tim? When he picks up Ted Mills on the side of the road, does he really have any good intentions other than taking the watch or was it an impulse?

I think it's fair to say that Will lost a good bit of his mind along with the business. And who can blame him? His initial impulse to see all his merchandise to a stranger was certainly a bad one. And his impulse to take back more than what was his was as well. Surely he takes a dark journey and just remember it all started with one impulse.

Watch your own impulses my friend and stay safe.