author C.C.Cole's blog

Monday, April 30, 2012

On Why Ned Stark’s Die

Ned Stark in "Game of Thrones"

Like others late to the news of George R. R. Martin’s huge hit “A Song of Ice and Fire,” it took me a while to warm up to the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” and didn’t really get into it until I read all five tomes of this massive epic.  When I watched the first episode, I was happy to see Sean Bean in a starring role, happy to see dark fantasy on a cable series, and happy to see Bean play a protagonist, a nice take after the 90’s “Patriot Games.”

Then Ned lost his head.  I was not happy.  Dang it, as much as I like “The Imp” I thought the story needed a stronger protagonist instead of the young naïve Dany and Jon Snow.  Instead, we’re left with a bunch of people that hate each other almost as much as they hate the powerful Lannister family (paraphrasing Tyrion).

Reading the book didn’t help much.  I was still ticked off.  I decided not to throw my Nook, as bad as I wanted to.  Why did Martin kill off the only likable strong character?  Grr!!  So I kept reading, hoping to find a reason to forgive the writer for killing Ned.  Now it’s like I’m talking about a neighbor (meaning Martin).  In the second book, cute merciless Jaime enters closer to center stage.  His quote:  “Poor old, dead, Ned.”  Nice.  But what the Kingslayer did explain is that the noble protagonist did everything possible to get himself killed in a known corrupt merciless world.  Stark didn’t bend to the corrupt leadership of his buddy Robert, and paid the price.

So for some analysis:  Why do “Ned Stark’s” die?  If you build a world, a lead character, or a society that functions via corruption and murder, sooner or later a compelling character would stand up for what is noble and just, by the law.  When such a character does this, he/she must risk it all, ruin, imprisonment, or death.  The result of that action sets of the chain of events that carry the plot.

I think of characters like Ned Stark as “levers” to a story.  The writer pulls the lever, and the rest turns a corner, such as a war starting, a city falling (as when Shevata killed without a death order in the Gastar novellas), or a chain of character “accidental” deaths occur (gangster stories). 

Many methods effectively move a plot in fiction.  The “lever” is one of many, and when I think about it that way, I can almost forgive Martin for the death of Ned Stark.  However, the epic is still outstanding.  Good for him.  Bad for Ned.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On the True Crimes

Elizabeth Short "The Black Dahlia"                      

Some of the earlier crime fiction I remember reading were the “Flowers in the Attic” series by V.C. Andrews (huge 1980s hit, seems forgotten today) and “The Cradle Will Fall” by Mary Higgins Clark.  Along with Stephen King, “everyone” read these books.

I had always believed that truth is stranger than fiction.  Part of it is because of maturity; I see stranger things than I read about.  With this realization, I gravitated away from “The Silence of the Lambs” (yes, blasphemy) in favor of who these fictional or “fact-based” monsters really are historically.  What were their names?  What were the actual crimes?  Were they brought to justice?  How? Were they executed? 

Also I like to take a look at the crimes themselves.  Who was killed?  How many?  Young women, men, children, or elderly?  Robberies?  Crimes of passion?  What happened in the “famous murder cases?”

So I’m one of the audiences that made Bill Kurtis a dollar or two.  I also funded more than several books before I found the non-Wiki sources on the Internet to track down my true crime curiosity.   When it comes to these disturbing true cases, I don’t use my buzzsaw reading metaphor though it would apply.  I’d rather say, I read the cases “attentively.”  Soft adverbs cannot soften the hit to a reader unaccustomed to reading this type of material.

I memorized the TruCrime website in a couple of months.  Some of the cases may be well-written rubbish I have no idea.  But I can say several of them sent me to the bathroom with acute nausea.  Fiction crime doesn’t do that, at least not to that extent.  Some of the cases disturbed my sleep, while others enraged me.  A few of them explained Grimm Fairy tales.  Monsters do exist.   They walk this world all over in the past, present, and will in the future.  The big names mad muderers are Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, and Jack the Ripper, amongst others.  The big names of victims are Adam Walsh, JonBenet Ramsey, and Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”), amongst others.  The unnamed of each are equally horrific.

Sometimes readers tell me my books are scary.  Hmm.  Yes, the idea of a teen assassin fighting demon overpopulation with anything from skillets to magic swords and daggers doesn’t make for a cuddly romance.  But the translation of fantasized evil into real evil is a concept that is difficult to comprehend, and even more difficult to accept.  If I had my way, the true evil in this world be confined to the words of dark fantasy writers.

On The Generous Gangster Genre


With my recent review of the longtime ace bestseller “Wiseguy,” I’ve been thinking about how long I’ve been a fan of gangster stories.  “The Godfather” entered large audiences when I was too young to understand except that Michael had the last word and everyone died if he said so.  Years later, I did grow to appreciate the films (the first two, anyway). 

“Goodfellas” marked the catapult from my casual entertainment by soap opera level gangsters into the Scorsese film nut that I am today.  Since then I gobble up Scorsese films like I do rocky road ice cream.  My brother has scolded me several times over my gangster film obsession, saying that they “glamorize” the gangster.  OK, point made, but in the long run, when does it work out favorably for the gangster?  Better question:  What is it about gangster stories that make them so popular?  What do they bring to the table of entertainment, fact-based or fiction?

Humor:  For starters, many gangster stories have colorful characters that bring an element of humor to an otherwise violent world we see as fantasy (and would be a horrible reality).  How many times have I heard “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”  One of my favorites was “Casino” when Nik said, “I’ll leave you wherever I find you.”

Intrigue:  Gangsters generally find a nine to five job boring and stupid, so they steal, sell drugs, bootleg liquor, etc. with bribery, lying, and use of thinking on their feet to evade punishment from their own crew as much as, if not more from law enforcement.

Romance:  In most gangster stories I know of (not an expert here) these guys are usually married, often with mistresses.  There’s marital fighting, problems with girlfriends, and when it comes to wives of the other crew members, let’s not go there (The Valachi Papers).

Action:  With gangsters, one can count on action, and with action, one can count on violence.  I know some that can’t stomach these stories, and I can’t handle them all myself.  While I can read/watch some violence, I still need to purchase sausage and have a good feeling of knowing what I’m buying. 

Resolution:  Most gangster stories have solid endings.  Either they live or die, or the former is usually not in comfort.  All good things come to an end, and so are true of the dangerous lives of gangsters.

While I’m a magnet for big-name writers/directors of organized crime stories, I still like to see what new authors come up with.  On my recent reading marathon I uncovered a couple of interesting stories.  New authors, if gangsters are your thing, go for it, and tweet us about it.  The badfellas have a huge following and I doubt will be living “literally” with the fishes anytime soon.

Review of “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” by Ayelet Waldman

As in the film “The Other Woman” the book it’s based on, “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” is about a young woman who marries a man through an adulterous affair, thus becoming a “home wrecker.”  However, life after wedded bliss doesn’t end; greater tragedy after home wrecking truly leads to a pair of wrecked homes following the death of her infant child.  The power of loss transcends and permeates everyone:  the lead character, who cannot function in her personal life along with the direct and indirect strain brought upon her new husband, her stepson, her husband’s ex-wife, and the woman’s parents. 

What I liked about the book is the imperfection of the characters.  The lead character wasn’t someone to be entirely sympathetic with, as none of us are perfect.  Also, the tragic events occurred amongst people with no idea about poverty and the troubles of making ends meet for the next meal; showing that designer scarves do not cover pain any more than a hand-me down sweater.  Also, step parenting is awkward and tough to those who see it as a responsibility.  Many step kids in this world are brought up to feel like they deserve nothing, including love.

While I understand the criticisms of this book, I found it compelling and heartbreaking.  It touches on a number of disturbing realities of life:  loss of a child, broken marriage, fighting ex-spouses, difficult step parenting, and failing second marriages.  The positive note at the end leaves the reader with a sobering but overall good feeling that bad things happen and love leads to recovery.  Four Stars!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review of “Bloody Murder” by Kate Kulig

“Bloody Murder” by Kate Kurlig is about a young woman living in New Orleans who owns a bookstore by the name of the title.  Following an attempt on her life, things get more and more complicated as she finds the assistance of a handsome investigator and her family background moves to the foreground.  All around, it’s got romance, suspense, action, and a wonderfully written New Orleans backdrop, the best I’ve seen in a while.  Great job, four stars!

Review of “Purchased Power” by Dennis Sheehan

“Purchased Power” is about a successful yacht builder whose life falls apart due to a failed marriage, and when he embarks on a journey to get away from it all, he finds himself embedded in Hong Kong international business, international spies, and the international underworld held together by one thing:  large sums of money.  A young woman brings him new love and new problems that he’s able to sail literally through with the help of some competent friends.  On the larger scale, entire countries are held hostage by power held over them by the movement of finances in the right direction, with few unscathed.   This is an entertaining read, full of action, romance, and enough of the international issues to keep the reader interested with unanswered questions relevant to the world we live in today.  Congratulations, Five Stars!

Review of “The Other Side of Suffering: The Father of JonBenet Ramsey Tells the Story of His Journey from Grief to Grace” by John Ramsey

Like most of the country, I remember the JonBenet Ramsey case and followed the media circus and saw the tabloids at the grocery counter.  I didn’t know what to think until I saw an interview with John and Patsy with Bill Kurtis, and years later read the case in detail on a true crime site.   Obviously the case is unsolved, none of us were there, so all we as the audience have is opinion.  I don’t believe the Ramseys killed their daughter.

What I liked about Mr. Ramsey’s book is what he what he brought to the surface about the tragedy.  Many of us find inner peace in faith, which is understandable in his case.  But he pointed out what he learned about in his own life and success; the most important things cannot be bought.  No house, no car, no boat, no airplane can replace the ones you love. 

Mr. Ramsey makes it clear what was the worst for he and his wife in the whole ordeal of the murder of his beautiful JonBenet; it was losing their daughter.  If nothing else can be taken from this book, to me, that’s the most prominent message he’s giving to readers.  I highly recommend this to anyone that’s ever experienced loss.  Five Stars!

Review of “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi

“Wiseguy” tells the story of the life of career criminal Henry Hill, well known in the film “Goodfellas,” which is based upon this book.   As with many books that go to films, the inner details add depth to Hill’s story and give the reader a better feel for the disturbing and violent life he lead. With the romanticism of film removed, the facts are told mostly from Henry and his wife at the time, Karen.  What I liked most about “Wiseguy” is the true events, rather than the detailed idealistic fiction of alternative stories about organized crime.  I don’t believe the book is to make the reader sympathetic with Hill; instead it’s telling the story of his unconventional life that’s quite a miracle he survived on hindsight.  For fans of crime books, and for fans of “Goodfellas” don’t let the film do all the talking.  This book is excellent and well worth the time.  Five stars!

Review of “Acapella Blues” by Robert Bucchianeri

“Acapella Blues” by Robert Bucchianeri is about a musician having a down turn on his life personally while estranged from his wife and with his career.  Events change when he witnesses violent events next door, which pull him into the complex, dangerous, and tragic world of the Eastern European underworld.  Motivated by a beautiful young Romanian girl with her young son, he gains self-realization of the losses in his own life.   Some of the quotes in this novel reflect the bare honesty of a man’s emotions that I found gratifying to read.  Congratulations, four stars!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Southern Literature

"Steel Magnolias"

As a follow up to my article on “The Mainstream Genre” another popular subgenre is ”Southern Literature.”  I’ve seen many agents and publishers request written works of the Deep South.  As a Mississippian, I get asked when I’m going to write a story with a Mississippi setting.  Hmm…I think.

To clear the humid Deep Southern air early, when I mention the Deep South, the interest and history is hardly exclusive to this region; to me all parts of the world have something to contribute to a story.

Mississippi has a collection of renowned writers, but if I did an actual tally, I doubt my home state would be disproportionate to others.  But we have William Faulkner, Beth Henley, Eudora Welty, amongst others, and last, but not least, John Grisham.

Why the Deep South?  Is it our accents?  I doubt it for reading.  Our food?  Yea, my favorite.  Not.  I meet people on the way for home cookin’ restaurants:  peas, cornbread, and turnip greens!  After I’m scolded for snobbery after rejecting an invite, I give a gentle reminder that I lived off peas, cornbread, and turnip greens.  So no, Southern food doesn’t inspire me to write (totally excluding New Orleans food…my favorite!).   For those that like that food, chow down!

What about the social settings of the Deep South?  It’s easy to imagine antebellum mansions and lean-tos.  Many remaining mansions are in Natchez, Mississippi, with others scattered about.  As for lean-tos, I’ve seen more in densely populated cities in other states.  Mississippi does have a middle class consisting of all people, and I did only not have a Mammy, I lived in a house with no electricity, limited food, and limited plumbing for six months.  I need no lecturing about poverty in the Deep South.  People today tell me to my face they believe I grew up in a house like Tara in “Gone With the Wind.”  Sigh.

Of course, the Deep South holds a lot of history, and a lot of it is controversial, and makes for creative backdrops for stories.  Ania Ahlborn took the ball and ran with it with her horror-hit “Seed” using Southern living the way it really is and omitting the near-ubiquitous clichés.  Like any other historic setting, the Deep South history can be used to spin a story to surprise the reader by taking a bend off of a known cliché.  Or, as I’ve written before, clichés can be used to strengthen the story, depending on how they are used.

Writers, if you are a Deep South expert, and Southern writing is your thing, go for it.  I do enjoy Southern Literature, as long as I don’t have to eat turnip greens.   Will I ever write a story with a Southern setting?  We’ll see.

Friday, April 13, 2012

On Neutral Characters

"Fantastic Four:  Rise of the Silver Surfer"
"Dune" character Princess Irulan

When developing characters to create stories, to me the most difficult to create is the character that doesn’t play either side of good or evil, the neutral character.  In order to define such a character, one must define neutrality.

What is neutral in our everyday lives?  One answer:  Weather.  It gives us warmth, sunshine, rain, and horrific deadly storms.  And it’s not personal.  In people, who is neutral that we see everyday?  Pretty much everyone we don’t know personally that doesn’t have an evil agenda.  That could be any bank teller, a person pumping gasoline minding his/her own business, or someone in line during a lunch break.  It’s not personal.

In character development, I’ll admit a main neutral character would be a challenge to write.  It can be done, and in the few times I’ve seen it, usually there’s some “good or evil tendencies” (in gamer-language).  However, in supporting characters, neutral characters add an element of intrigue, especially when the reader is unsure of what side he/she is on, or may have a separate agenda.  Example:  Varys the eunuch in “A Song of Ice and Fire” (Game of Thrones). 

Most often I’ve seen neutral characters used in epics are narrators, famously in “Dune” Paul’s wife-to-be Princess Irulan.  First person points of view are long time favorites of mine and narration from a neutral character is another favorite.  Many readers, like me, like to feel like they’re being told a story, which as authors, we hope to be doing, so neutral characters can be very effective in this way.

My knee-jerk favorite neutral character is the Silver Surfer of the old “Fantastic Four” comic series and recent films.  (My brother collected comic books).  While one can argue the planet-eating Galactus (what a great evil character, move over, Death Star!) exploited the Surfer, his actions resulted in a massive death and destruction.  The Silver Surfer enters the story as a neutral important supporting character, and shows good tendencies as the story develops.

New authors go forth, as always and create awesome characters.  Good, neutral, or evil, surprise us.  I never lose faith in what new authors can create.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On the Mainstream Genre

When I took the time to carefully read and review the super-hyped super-novel “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen I took the time to watch some of his interviews on YouTube.  I didn’t take offense when he characterized “vanity writing” as “genre writing.”  He’s entitled to his opinion, and considering the hype given his own book; he’s hardly short on vanity himself.  But to be fair, his opinion was asked, it was (is) valued, and he gave it. 

When I think of “mainstream” books, I think of books that I’d see in a friends’ home, an example would be a married journalist and accountant I know.  As nice people, they see to their lovely kids, pay their bills, and value their friends and family.  Music-wise, they are not into rock and roll (yes, difficult for me), favoring Diana Krall instead (OK, classy).  In films, they awaited to see “The Da Vinci Code” (I confess to that as well), and in their book shelves are neatly arranged hardcopies of John Grisham (please note the state I’m from), Agatha Christie, amongst other well known names, easily recognizable by any front of a bookstore or by turning on any ebook. 

“Mainstream” books to me are the books that appeal to the masses, consisting mostly of high-profile biographies, political and legal thrillers, and murder mysteries.  Not every bestseller is mainstream (“Harry Potter” had its share of enemies) but many bestsellers are mainstream. 

To me it’s easier to define what’s not mainstream:  My genere, Dark Fantasy is not mainstream.  As popular as “Game of Thrones” is, 95% of the people I come in contact with have never heard of George R. R. Martin’s Bestselling series.  While popular, I don’t believe “The Hunger Games” is mainstream.  Science Fiction?  No.  Erotica?  No, obviously. 

What has potential to be mainstream besides what I already mentioned?  Non-fiction, personal stories about fighting disease, relationships, children, pets, and military experiences.  Other topics are out there, and sure, there’s overlap sometimes.

Is there an advantage to mainstream writing for the new author?  I think so.   The appeal is to a broader audience, which makes sense that a wide net would reach a large audience of variable ages.  Downside?  Many media carry mainstream material, from “NCIS” to films like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” to books of the latter title to other high-profile true crime books. 

New authors, if you’re writing a mainstream piece of fiction, such as a political/legal thriller, or certainly a “whodunit” go for it, and if a traditional publisher picks it up, I’ll be happy to say Hi to your life-sized picture on a bookstore window.  If not, tweet us about it, and I’ll check it out.  Regardless, these stories are popular for a reason:  people like these stories.  As writers, we want to define what we are, and if we write popular work, there’s no harm in that. 

C L Raven's Se7en Challenge!

From "Children of Discord:"

  She lay unresponsive.
  Stephen waved a hand in front of her.  No response.  "She's in a trance.  What now?"
  Peter, still holding Emeria, asked her, "What was my mother's last dream? What did she see?"
  Emeria wiped the tears from her face.  "Brimmer, or whoever he was, told me she said something about a couple of teenage children at war with each other, then saw all of us fade away.  In the cell he said they might be child warriors of the past."
  "Did you see anyone else in the cell besides Brimmer?"  Asked Peter.
   Emeria shook her head.  "Someone fired an arrow and hit his hand before he could kill me with the sword.  It wasn't one of the guards?"
   Stephen shook his head.  "Nobody could have taken a shot like you describe."

Review of “Shades of Gray” by Andy Holloman

“Shades of Gray” is the story about a single parent honest man who finds himself short on money at a time of dire need for his sick daughter and resorting to measures he wouldn’t normally do.  His “normal” life turns upside down into the world of the drug trade, the characters of not all good, not all evil, and characters close by with the same qualities.  The story unfolds until the last page, keeping the reader well engaged without boring slowdowns.  Probably the best quality of the book is the ending because the realistic part of the illegal drug industry is not a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  Great work, Five Stars!

Review of “Six Pack of Blood” by Betty Dravis and Barbara Watkins

“Six-Pack of Blood” is a collection of short stories with a variety of horror elements that I found entertaining as well as horrifying.  Fortunately, I didn’t drop my kindle!  These are great stories for anyone that either likes the horror genre, or for a takeaway change that won’t keep you up at night (for very long, anyway).  Each story is distinct, well-written, and all-around fun!  Horror and non-horror fans, give it a try!  Five stars!

Friday, April 6, 2012

On My Firefly and Steampunk Stagnation

"Wild Wild West"

Like I did before with my “Dark Fantasy Confession” article, again I found myself at a stop sign in my literary journey.  After over a year of gleefully reading, writing, tweeting, social networking, blogging, I’ve come to the rude realization that I’m woefully clueless when it comes to “Steampunk.” 

In my narrow hemisphere of medieval dark fantasy, I’ve heard the term used several times, but never really got a grip on what it meant.  So, like a proper net-surfer, I went to the most popular unreliable source:  Wikipedia.  The information was well summarized, understandable, and still left me clueless.  Hmm…

Somewhere I came upon a fun video of a musician who wrote a song with a video about his girlfriend who didn’t like the series “Firefly.”  I love this video (shown below) and am a huge fan of the film “Serenity.”  In the video he mentions “Steampunk lingerie.”  I get it that’s it hot, but I didn’t get any hotness beyond any other lingerie in an attractive woman to a guy.  What am I missing?  Am I stupid?  Then a terrible feeling overwhelmed me.

I didn’t like Firefly either.  “Doh!” as Homer says.

OK, before I get a unfollowed faster than the google server than deliver, let me clarify:  I love Whedon’s work.  I love “Serenity.”  I love Sci-Fi/Fantasy.  But I’m not into Westerns.   Uh, Oh. 

I’m not into Steampunk.

How embarrassing!  As a lifetime nerd, I’m quite comfortable in my nerdi-verse, and to not embrace something popular amongst others that may be in the current “coolness” nerd classification, I got a problem with narrow-mindedness.  I stand by my nerdom with huge glasses, awkwardness, past schoolmates like in “Big Bang Theory,” so why am I not into Steampunk?  I like Star Wars, LOTR, GoT, and would play an Xbox if I had one but know better.  Historically, what’s wrong with the 1800’s?  Wild West uncool?  No.  I grew up watching “Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and High Chaparral.”  But with my film obsession, do I watch Westerns?  No.  So does the “Western-ish” backdrop of “Firefly” make a difference?  Yes. 

I think all of us have preferences like any audiences.  Though my general preference is medieval dark fantasy, I’m not ready to close my mind to Steampunk yet.  With my recent review of “Carpathia” by Scott Whitmore, I’m keeping a look out for what’s out there.  One day I may get it.  And when I do, the “Firefly” DVD’s will show up in a box at my front door.

Review of “Carpathia” by Scott Whitmore

“Carpathia” by Scott Whitmore is story of an 1800’s American making a journey to Romania, which evolves, quickly into intrigue and action with werewolves, vampires, and paranormal activity.  I’ve never read anything like it.  The characters are interesting, well developed, and the action picks up and moves at a pace with enough surprises to keep the reader’s attention with minimal confusion.  For readers that like manly heroes, beautiful women, vampires, werewolves, steampunk backdrop with the added interesting element of dirigibles in the air!  Though audience-specific, I recommend “Carpathia” for a fun read and if you’re like me, a late-comer to the steampunk culture.  Four stars!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Anti-Creativity

"Ferris Buellier's Day Off"

After a week like I’ve had in the workplace where in place of my usual duties I’ve had to sit through endless hours of meetings with a group of people, watching each other through the week as our minds become more fatigued, we care less about what we say, less about when we interrupt, and more when the day is over.  When all is said and done, since I don’t spend every day with these people, overall, it was not a bad takeaway from routine.  The people I spent time with this week were very pleasant.  Therefore, I feel blessed for that, as I’ve heard horror stories.

I’ve written before about creative shutdown.  But this type of environment gives way to something more severe:  Anti-creativity.  Meaning, not only can I not think of anything creative, I’m 100% certain that anything I do will be better written on a bathroom wall somewhere.  Why is it when we have to sit under close direction and structure like grades school classes my brain feels numb at the end of the day?  I do understand this may not be the case for everyone, so anyone stimulated by all-week meetings, my hat’s off to you.

With honesty, I believe some types of work, especially when not routine, tend to occupy the mind more and be physically tiring even when we are not moving around much.  Afterward, I cranked out a few emails in record time back in my office.  It’s normal that our bodies get used to routine, and spend less energy with routine work. 

Days like this make it difficult to create good fiction, but it also makes us appreciate the days we do even more. I’d like to see these days as they are, as part of my life, and hopefully a small part.  Every once in a while we swerve off the creative path but our instincts will guide us back.