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Big, Bad S.O.B.

Some characters are too easy to write. Carl is a conversational  battle tank who threatens to roll over every scene he participates in. It’s my own fault, I suppose. Carl comes equipped with a saint’s conscience and the uncanny ability to convince people to act against their own best interests. That made for a tangled mess of angsty drama even before I handed him the high-powered plot weapon of of a Tragic Secret Past.

When I work a story from Carl’s viewpoint, he  sheds plot ideas the way a cat sheds hair. The temptation to develop those tangents can get overwhelming.  He’s personally responsible for all the Restoration stories except Controlled Descent & Flight Plan–and those books would be a hell of a lot longer but less coherent if I’d surrendered to the temptation of writing more from Carl’s POV.

It isn’t all fun & games. His personality works against building action. He will talk any problem to death from every possible angle rather than move forward.  When other characters aim a plot somewhere, he’ll automatically take the opposing position and poke holes in their ideas. People sitting around talking things to death does not make for riveting prose.

Things move best when he’s sulking in a corner, biting his tongue to keep from saying anything to influence others to act in some way he wants.  His confidence that he knows best is surpassed only by his fear that he’ll force someone into agreement with him.

According to the Writing Gurus, self-doubt makes a character more appealing and sympathetic to readers (and heaven knows best-selling series thrive on protagonists who agonize through every page)  I find it gets tedious from a writing standpoint, especially when doubt slides into depression. Which it often does.  Oh, boy, does it.

Writing a depressed POV can be an emotionally crushing chore. The only redeeming aspect is the entertainment value of pitting Carl against sympathetic people who have no tolerance for moping. Setting him in opposition to Alison and Felicity’s brisk practicality leads to humor every time, and his relationships with his brother and Justin can be just as fun.

Those connections are all that keep Carl going sometimes. I still don’t know if his story ends in laughter or tears. Guess I’ll have to keep writing, huh?


The funny side of Carl: Turning the Work 

Controlled Descent and Flight Plan both offer glimpses of his darker half.

Joining In the Round  shows a little of the price Carl pays for power. It also has the easiest fight scene I’ve ever written.

art attribution: Andrew Kwan

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Oorah! Stars for Powerhouse

Every review I get is like a stimulating  author-energy drink.  Reviews  from people who liked the stories come with an added shot of happiness I will never overdose on. Add sprinkles of honesty about what didn’t work  on top, and I get all giddy.  Giddy, I say.

Check out this happy-making review for Powerhouse from S. L. Perrine on

It has 4 stars on Amazon to appease the  <mumble-mumble-expletives-deleted> social-engineering review requirements. (if you’ve missed my many earlier rants, Amazon’s wording encourages people click 4 or 2 stars because their visibility weighting algorithms hate a middle vote.

If you prefer to avoid the site named for a South American river, you can see the same review on Goodreads with its 3 proud “I liked it” stars on full display: 

FYI: that review shows Powerhouse’s first cover. Here’s the current one:

Final note: reviewers  and writers both benefit from reader upvotes on reviews. Please give Ms. Perrine’s review an encouraging “yes this was useful/I liked this review” button-click if you can. The more useful a reviewer’s words are, the more their opinions will affect a book’s visibility to future readers.


Writing again

Review of Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is the perfect example of what I call a great cotton-candy read. Cotton candy is sweet, sticky and fun to consume, yet even while I’m enjoying it, I know it’s nothing but air and sugar that will rot my teeth. Bad cotton candy leaves me with a queasy sense of disappointment. Good cotton candy tastes so delicious I’m willing to accept a little brain rot as the price of indulgence.

This is excellent sugary fluff.

I’m picky about my steampunk. It shares some innate problematic issues with cyberpunk, another genre that inspires ambivalence in my heart. In both, style is more important than substance, science is often relegated to the status of stage dressing, and atmosphere is all. I prefer steampunk that snuggles up to paranormal or science fantasy elements. The inclusion of an obvious MacGuffin, whether it be called aether or outright magic, means I can more easily suspend my disbelief about the fun clockwork gadgetry.

Lady of Devices doesn’t do this, but I gave it a try anyway. It plays so fast and loose with basic physical science and engineering that if I’d paused for even a second during the read, I would’ve been laughing out loud at the factual inaccuracies. Ah, but I didn’t pause. The plucky heroine’s narrative voice, the capers and conspiracies, the delightfully-described action — all those things distracted me from the ridiculousness.

Other less than thrilling aspects: the story plays a bit fast and loose with cultural/historical presentation as well, with most characters falling too neatly into stereotypes for my taste, and villains with motives so simplified they approach melodrama standards. The characterization of Our Heroine’s attitude wavers between prissy and plucky at times; although she settles on the progressive side of the fence toward the end.

And there’s a love triangle. Sigh.

The romantic sub plot is a messy one, though, and neither match is made in heaven. The refusal to let that one element go the predictable direction is what made the book stick with me, and the other messy bits of this story are what really won me over. The world has a lot to offer, and nothing ended up quite where it seemed it was going all along.

That intrigued me enough to keep going with the second book, and I can say that unlike a lot of series, this one just gets better with each book so far.

View all my reviews

New Post Whimsy

The Villain in the Mirror

I’ve been thinking meta thoughts about writing. Always dangerous.

Two protagonist development themes run through many stories I like to read. That means they also crop up in stories I like to write.

1. You are not ordinary. You have a skill. A talent. A specialness. You didn’t ask for it, but you have to master it, and make it work for you.  You have to Do Big Things.


2. You are what you are. You can’t have it all. This isn’t the life you wanted, but too bad. Learn to be happy with what you have, because it’s all you get.

The journey from discovery to self-acceptance for a Reluctant Hero with a Big Destiny  doesn’t have the same feel as a Bluebird of Happiness scenario, yet superhero stories often contain both. I know my Rough Passages Tales do. “Surprise, you’ve got powers you don’t want, deal with the damaging consequences,” is the whole series premise.

Most reluctant heroines want to be ordinary. To lead normal lives. Popular plots follow someone who doesn’t want their powers, who gets nothing but trouble from them, and sees nothing but the downsides at first. Their journeys take them through events that help them realize they’re stuck with power, that accepting the power and using it properly leads to big solutions and happy endings.

Which is great, but here’s my cynical issue: being powerful is a damned sight easier to accept than being powerless. It’s nice that the hero learns to accept being a hero, but…what about a story where accepting disappointment leads to resolution?

Sure, superpowers traditionally come with weaknesses (looking at you, Kryptonite) but characters get something out of the trade-off: power of some kind. Real life doesn’t work that way. Some gifts life hands us are just plain awful. I want a story where the protagonist being rendered helpless leads to their happy ending. I haven’t seen that yet.

A digression: I’m not talking about the free rejection of power here. Noble sacrifice is a common trope in traditional fantasy and superpower tales alike. (Protagonist gives up the power they never wanted to defeat evil, lives happily ever after in obscurity until the next crisis…there are LOTS of those.) That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a final confrontation that strips the protagonist of a power they accepted. I’m talking about the heroine losing.

I’ve seen stories address the idea of individual strengths being useless in the face of oppression, but few hinge on protagonists losing personal power. There are a few (the movie Falling Down comes to mind)  but those stories usually don’t end well for the protagonist. I want a happy ending too.

Here’s why you don’t see it often. Losing power at the story climax is a villain’s arc. They provide the model the heroine learns to reject. Villains exercise their destiny freely but have to be repressed, bounded by law and punished for their defiance of  the greater good the heroine represents.

Being made helpless is a punishment for villains. Heroes triumph over them. Does it have to be that way? I don’t think so. Basically, I want the reluctant heroine to also be the villain. A story where the she loses and ends up better off. Villain redemption has been done and overdone. But villain as loser who wins?  There’s room, I hope.

Then again, as one of my characters in Powerhouse says, “No one was ever born a villain.” There’s also a truism whose source I haven’t bothered checking that goes, “We are all the heroes of our own stories.” I think it can be done.

I want to write a story with the title of this post.  I like the idea. I simply have no idea how to go about it.