author C.C.Cole's blog

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Story Endings

"All That Jazz"

When I wrote the first two Gastar novellas, editors highly criticized the endings, especially for the second book of the series, “Children of Discord.”  While both stories built upon each other and have been reviewed separately as stand-alone books, the second one tends to leave the reader ready to pick up the third novella.  (Progress is going well.)

I completely respect and understand the criticisms from editors; but the creativity must come from the writer.  The story is our own, and some rules (to me, anyway) just have to be broken.  Not every chapter needs to be a single scene, dialogue can and does drive the plot in action stories, and not all endings need to be a couple kissing or a massive blowout destruction of a diabolical enemy.

Are there endings I don’t like?  Some Hitchcock films had weird endings with much unexplained, though I am a major fan.  (Why did those Birds show up?) Of course, the G.R.R.Martin mega-hit “A Song of Ice and Fire” (Game of Thrones) has sad endings in some of his books but one way or another, at least the first three, are memorable.  Many dark fantasy stories like the prototype LOTR and later Harry Potter led up to the “big battle,” and resolved the story.   Clichéd endings admittedly are not a favorite.  I don’t mind the couple getting together but give us more than a jealous ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend to get past to achieve the ending we expect.

What endings do I like?  Generally, if I like a novel, then I usually like the beginning, middle and ending.  Historical backdrops, especially involving war sometimes have tragic endings, but I appreciate that in a well written, moving story.  Over the top, insane endings are just as great.  My overall favorite endings would be tying characters together in a story like in “A Confederacy of Dunces.” 

So, new authors, there’s no real answer to a better ending to a story.  Just make it your ending.  As a reader and reviewer, the creativity is what I’m looking for, so go for it. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Dialogue and Dialect

Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" Series

Being from the Deep South, “dialect” is a term I became comfortable with a long time ago.  I didn’t meet many people from out of state until I was a teenager, but I’d hear on television accents and to me, most people on TV didn’t seem to have an accent unless the person was from another country.  Southern dialects on TV never sounded right to me; here we call it “the Delta drawl” where the words are rolled into several syllables instead of the flat, slow “drawl” that I grew up speaking. 

I appreciated the challenge of writing dialect when I read The Harry Potter series involving the character Hagrid.  While the actor Robbie Coltrane did a terrific job in translating the dialect to bring the character to life, reading the ‘ems, ‘nuffs, and ‘ye’s I admit made for the most tiring reading for an otherwise easy to read series.  Author J. K. Rowling wrote the dialect to make Hagrid stand out as a bit less intelligent, loyal, lovable part-giant guy. 

When I sat down to write my own story, I knew I am not ready to write dialect.  While I don’t think it is necessarily a skill for professional writers, I think some writers have a better feel for it than others.  I thought about trying to write my southern drawl in a conversation with a person from Ohio.  Nevermind. 

Writers, if you can write dialect to bring depth and description to your characters, I highly recommend it, even if it makes the read a little more challenging.  As a writer, I am a huge fan of dialogue in reading and writing.  People speak differently, and so should our characters.  But not one size fits all.  I know I’m not ready to write dialect, though I speak it all day.  To me, it’s just conversation. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

On the Tragic Characters

Harvey Dent "The Dark Knight"

I’ve found in creating stories, creating a character beginning at the pinnacle of achievement and having the reader witness the fall from grace adds a deep tragic drama to the tale.  From heroes becoming anti-heroes to a loving mother devolving down a dark path of destruction into criminal elements. 

What I’ve always been told about tragic characters is that they must have a capacity for greatness.  For it’s the greatness we readers experience in the story to become reeled in, as we cheer our upcoming hero or heroine taking on the challenge to achieve the great deeds.

Then, the downfall happens.  Why?  That’s part of what’s great about writing; these characters open up wide areas for authors to ponder about what would bring a good, honest character to madness or evil.  Also, it may not be that extreme, such as indifference but to me, as a fantasy writer, extremity is the point. 

Characters fall from grace the way people do, such as loss of a loved one, betrayed by a trusted friend, or temptation by greater powers.  Either way, they fall and the impact they make reverberates throughout the rest of the story.  If the character begins great enough, the fall will affect everyone in one way or another.

This can be looked at another way, of course.  Evil can be changed to good.  I don’t see this written as often, but redemption certainly has its place in my own writing, and rising from the bottom can impact the reader as equally as falling from the top. 

So, writers go out and write something awesome.  I think tragic characters bring an element of humanity to stories, to remind us of what is important to us and how fragile life can really be.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On a Glance into the Beautiful Past

"Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle" by the Countess of Carnavaron
"Downton Abbey"

With the rest of the world, I became enamored with the hit series “Downton Abbey.”  As soon as I watched one episode, I caught up on the stream, never missed a follow up, and gave the DVDs to the three seasons to my Mom, who loved it.  I think many of us find the lives of the rich intriguing, and in this kind of series, the way they interact with their employees of lower socioeconomic backgrounds puts the human element into a life many of us would consider a dream otherwise.

So, as soon as I finished watching the episodes and I wasn’t surprised by the end of the third season (forget it, I’m not spoiling it) I reached into amazon to find books about any actual families this series was based upon, since most fiction of this sort is fact based.  (I understand my British virtual friends may know this story, so if I’ve made errors, please feel free to chime in).

I downloaded “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of the Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon.”  I have no way of knowing if the series is really based on this family, but it made for some interesting reading.  For starts, her husband, the Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter opened the tomb of King Tutankhamun.  The Lady Almina was the daughter of a member of the Rothschild family and heir to a massive fortune.  From the point of reference of an American raised in rural poverty, the lives of these people is really a dream.

The book focuses on the life of Lady Almina from the time of her marriage to the Earl to the time of the Earl’s early death following an inset bite just after the fantastic archaeological find in Egypt.  Their heyday was during the Edwardian period of the early 1900s with much glamour and publicity about her wardrobe during her wedding and social events.   The couple traveled frequently and collected incredible pieces of art to decorate their substantial home.  Americans would call this behavior conspicuous consumption, but I suspect this was expected of the upper class during this time.

Lady Almina, along with other ladies of nobility is given credit for opening hospitals for the wounded during WWI.  Another family member insisted on joining the military during the Great War, and after a series of events found himself at Gallipoli and played a role for a cease-fire.  Following the death of the Earl, Lady Almina remarried and her life afterward is not discussed in the book.

While characters from “Downton Abbey” didn’t jump out of this book as I read it, I did enjoy the look into the past, a time that is difficult for me to imagine with people who are born into enormous wealth and privilege make a career out of assuming the roles they were born into.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On the Rise and Fall of a Great American City

While on my cyber-holiday, I took in some non-fiction reading.  This book about Detroit caught my eye, so I downloaded it.  I read a favorable review about it from an online journal, saying the story is an honest point of view from a writer from Detroit, who is a former NYT journalist.

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff begins with his life in California and his decision to drop out of a job out of state to be with his wife while his daughter is being born.  Following the experience, he realizes the importance of family, so he moves back to his original home on the outskirts of Detroit.  He gets a job at a local newspaper, makes the usual contacts as expected for a veteran journalist, and reestablishes his relationship with his mother and brothers.  He lost his sister many years earlier in part to her involvement in drugs.

What I liked about this book was how well LeDuff created this history of the Motor City; not just the automobile industry as we all know, but the start of the credit industry that allowed average Americans to purchase cars, refrigerators, and other home appliances.  He describes in excellent detail how Detroit created the American middle class in many ways outside of the job creation.

He also did well in crashing the clichés about the factory jobs, which had begun to decline in the mid-20th century.  Yes, the jobs were there, but some of the youth of his era weren’t very interested in the physically labor-intensive work that their grandfathers did.  I found this understandable; when I was younger I couldn’t think of a worse place to live as my hometown and there was some kind of dream lurking ahead to a better life. 

LeDuff did describe the complex issues of race relations in the former great city.  Nobody is spared of responsibility, and to me, when reflecting back to his words, it’s really a combination of many problems happening at once over at least forty years created Detroit as it is now.  The city had seen its share of riots and violence, but at the same time many people try to stick together the best they can.  He gave tragic stories of a lost fireman and an unclaimed corpse found in the ice.

The story LeDuff tells of Detroit is a tragedy, but with an uplifting message that people are still there.  People like you, neighbors, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and grandparents. The city’s emptiness is a reminder of its greatness at one time.  As the media roll out bad after bad story about Detroit, what I like to keep in mind is that people are still there.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On the Ultimate Bargain


During my cyberspace break, I dove into a few books that some read in high school or college, but I missed them for one reason or another.  So, for an old story so widely read that inspires to many stories today, I downloaded “Faust.”

If there are any of you out there not in tune of the “Faustian deal,” this is the story of a doctor who gives up his integrity to Mephistopheles, a servant of the devil, to achieve his desired goals and in the end, loses all happiness and hope.  In other words, Faust sold his soul to the devil, and the devil always collects, and the deal is never worth the cost.

I don’t get into theological discussions on my blog, but I do ask myself sometimes, “Have I made a deal with the Devil to do this?”  Usually it involves the purchase of a house or car.  The backslapping from a lender is cold comfort to know debt is in the future for decades. 

How else does “Faust” affect our daily lives?  Faust was a human and wanted to succeed.  We new authors want that as well.  So who is our Mephistopheles?  I don’t think I’ve sold my writing soul, but I sure fell for some horrific expensive unhelpful services in the self-publishing industry.  Since I don’t believe in blaming my bad decisions on others, I’ve served as my own Mephistopheles.

I do think writers should maintain their integrity in their craft, like any chosen field.  But temptation is always out there for an easier way to reach our goals.  Is it worth it?  I’ve leaned getting noticed in this industry isn’t easy, and short cuts haven’t worked for me.  The next time Mephistopheles promises me I can sell a million books in three months, I’ll kindly ask him to exit my presence. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

On the Talented Patricia Highsmith

"The Talented Mr. Ripley"

With my typical see-film-read-novel pattern, several months ago I downloaded “The Talented Mr. Ripley” after seeing the film on an encore channel.  I remember when it came out in theaters, but I heard it was boring, so I missed it, without really thinking about it.  In recent days with improved and less expensive home technology, time becomes scarce and movie going is reserved for the “big effects” like a comic book film or new 3-D.  All others for me go to the small screen, so sometimes it’s years before I see new movies.

When I finally stayed up one night and watched “The Talented Mr. Ripley” I didn’t disagree that the movie could have been better.  That translated immediately to me, as a reader, that the novel is probably great.  So I downloaded it immediately and read it in the next three days.  Referencing back to my article on book eating, I swallowed this one whole.

As a brief summary, a young man named Tom Ripley is hired by a wealthy man to travel to Italy in the 1950s to convince his playboy son named Dickie to come back to the United States to live.  Tom realizes Dickie’s life is everything he wants in his own life and takes steps to remove obstacles from between himself and Dickie, and later, assuming Dickie’s identity after his murder.

While the film was a noble effort in paralleling the novel, in reading this well written book, what shines is what cannot be easily translated into film.  The more delicate concepts slip between the lines, and I’m not meaning Tom Ripley’s sexual preference, though it is downplayed in the novel.  The reader gets to know Tom from his point of view, so the experience is his shyness, his awkwardness, the intelligence, and the overall introvert Tom Ripley is.  The novel goes into detail not only his plans and actions which leads him from one ill deed into another, but it also shows the side of Tom that’s a part of all of us; how we feel awkward at parties (at least I do), we think we’re boring, and overall how much importance a young person places the social part of living.

In reading about this novel, some say Patricia Highsmith was ahead of her time.   I can say her writing of this novel was excellent and it is five stars.  Do not let the film fool you on this one; I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

On the New Author Redux

After spending the past several months out of cyberspace, I’ve returned to the blogosphere, back to writing, something I love to do.  What made me stop for a while?  I don’t have a simple answer.  Sometimes the switch needs to be turned off for a while, so I did.  Demands of our lives always take time, and my third novel is in the works. 

So, upon returning, I began thinking about how I started blogging:  about being a new author.  When I look back at my past articles, wow, was I green then!  Just as green an author as I am now. 

But, I’ve learned a lot on my journey so far.  Since the 2009 publishing of my first novella, “Act of Redemption,” many more avenues exist for new authors.  The ebook revolution remains in full bloom, and choices for ebook publications can be done with minimal expense.  Also, paperbacks still have their place in publishing; some readers still prefer actual paper books, so if the budget allows, it’s available.  One thing that hasn’t changed is the variability of these services.  Do your homework and compare your prices.  Self-publishing companies are still out there that will clean out your bank account faster than a shopping spree at Macy’s.

I think more new authors are feeling more comfortable in their Indie status; with some gathering readers and having reasonable sales.  Especially for fiction, the “Indie” brand to me doesn’t have the “slush pile” shadow to it as much as it did once.  New authors have options for exposure not just through social networking; mass time-restrained giveaway programs are now available, such as KDP.

What about traditional publishing?  As an Indie writer, I admit I haven’t checked that route in a while.  From what I’ve gleamed from my virtual colleagues is that agents, query letters, editors, and all the goodies from before are all there, probably why it’s called “traditional.”  I have heard more and more agents will only accept complete, edited, perfected, publish-ready work.  Therefore, the cost of the editing would go to the author if that is the case.  It did for a friend of mine.

So I was a new author.  I’m still a new author.  I write my stories, have them edited and published by the means of my choosing.  On this fabulous journey there is something to learn every day.  I highly recommend it.

On the Superhero High

"The Avengers"

Like so many others, I grew up reading comic books.  Since my older brother seemed to be the only one of the three of us with a dollar or two (Hey, I washed dishes, doesn’t that count at least half as much as mowing the yard?).  So I read his leftovers, which were mostly Marvel characters Spider-Man (my favorite), Thor, Hulk, and Fantastic 4.   Sometimes I’d see an occasional Superman comic book, and my Batman and Wonder Woman exposure were from the corny but fun TV series.

The first comic book film I remember going blockbuster was “Superman” with Christoper Reeve.  While the man of steel is not my first choice superhero (blasphemy, I know), I liked Reeve and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor gave an outstanding performance.  The follow up Burton Batman was OK, and then my interest in the follow-ups in these franchises dwindled along with many others.  Irritated, I waited for a Marvel film. 

Years later enter Spider-Man, by Sam Raimi, a favorite director.  (“Army of Darkness” is a work of cheap, outstanding funny art).  I liked the actors, the follow up film, and even the third film wasn’t so bad for a third film in a comic book franchise.  Then it was remade, too early to me, but it’s watchable.  I endured a couple of bad “Hulk” films, and found the “Thor” film to be OK.  The “Fantastic Four” franchise was a disappointment.  For an “oldie” comic book story, it had strength, but it wasn’t used in the films, exception being the Silver Surfer character.  I did like “Iron Man.”

The “Batman Begins” film also discouraged me from the box office due to the previous franchise, but “The Dark Knight” served not only to me as a great film stand-alone, but an inspiration for writing dark stories.  The Nolan Batman films I suspect will remain a gold standard a long time for comic book films.

But comic book fans don’t want “OK” or “watchable.”   They want what “The Dark Knight” gave them; something reaching out beyond what they already know about these complex characters with supernormal powers (or prowess, in Batman).  It’s obviously different for the audience when the fans have an expectation to get what they want, but they want more, but how much more is truly part of the art of filmmaking. I’ve read on many blogs and agree often about Hollywood’s repetition of making bad comic book films.  But amongst the bad films, when they hit a good one, it’s a home run and reminds us why we like to watch the super good guys beat up the super bad guys.  Growing up reading comic books, I know I have my own feel for the story.  When the film is done well, I can feel it from the screen.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Closing the Window


After another long day in the classroom, Sarah went home to take a short afternoon nap.  Teaching elementary school seemed to be in her blood, as it was the chosen profession of her mother and grandparents.  As she stared at the ceiling fan moving slowly, she reflected back on her thirty-five years of life and didn’t have complaints.  Though she had no children of her own, she had a loving husband, a great job, a comfortable home, and her mother lived nearby.

Then the telephone rang.  The blast from the past was a cousin from her father’s side of the family.  She hadn’t spoken to him in almost twenty-five years.  Before he said it, she knew what was coming:  Her father was dying.

She thanked her cousin politely for the news and sat on the bed.  What to do now?  She’d seen her father maybe three times since the end of her parents’ horrific marriage, and the night he held the loaded gun to her and her sisters still burned in her mind.  Her friend at school saw it happen through her window. Did he feel sorry now?  Could this be a chance for redemption and closure?

Sarah got dressed and went to her father’s room in the hospital.  He was a mere shadow of what he was in the past, with wasting of chronic disease changing him into almost a skeleton.  After exchanging hellos but refraining from hugs, she visited, listening to what he had to say to her. 

The dark shadow of the past loomed over the room.  He spoke only of himself, of the travels he did after the separation from her mother, the places he had seen while never paying support to help raise them.   One unfamiliar name after another he mentioned, without asking how her sister or mother were doing.  All Sarah had done was sit and listen to the words of a formerly violent, selfish man.  After a couple of hours, she gave him a restrained goodbye and told him she’d be back the next day.

She never went back. After another telephone call weeks later from her cousin, she found out he was about to pass away.  Sarah stopped by, looked down at him, and he said nothing.  She told him she needed to check on her mother and left.

That night, she received the call that her father died.  After years of swearing to never attend his memorial service, she changed her mind.  Seeing him in the casket at peace made her glad he wasn’t suffering.  Despite the person he was, he did not interfere with her adult life.  While remaining unapologetic about his life, he gave her something with his death.  He closed the window.  It felt good to breathe again.

Friday, July 5, 2013

On the Power of Devastation

"The Perfect Storm"
Red Wedding "Game of Thrones"

While I like a good laugh as much as anyone else, sometimes stories stick with me that hit me emotionally like a sledgehammer.  I do have films that are completely off limits like “Brian’s Song” (the original version, haven’t seen the remake), “Old Yeller” (the prototype) and “Where the Red Fern Grows” (no way I’m watching that).    I did watch the recent film “War Horse” and I admit it was excellent, and though it had a happy ending, I didn’t have a dry eye for at least a day.

Whether the events are fact based or fantasy, why do the ill fates of the good draw us into the story?  Many reasons:  One, for true events, I tend to see it as respect for the people lost.  In fantasy/fiction, we want to see revenge.  A few stories can be all-downers with no revenge or reconciliation and still be worthy, but for me, that is a small number. 

Sadness in stories does bring us a slice of real life.  I’ve never known anyone that’s never lost a loved one.  The feeling of loss grips a reader like nothing else can, and the pain lingers, hence so does the story.  But great pain often brings out great strength, so loss can be an essential tool that is often used to develop characters (example: Harry Potter).

To flip the coin and be fair, comedy to me is more challenging to write, and when I see interviews with famous comedians, they often comment on how difficult comedy is.  A puppy can be run over by a truck and make us sad, but the same puppy running away with a guy’s shorts is another story altogether with potential laughter with clever writing.

Readers, when writers devastate us, they are punching us in the stomach for a reason.  We are reeled in by appreciating the lost characters, and our ongoing zeal for some kind of fitting ending.  Some endings are more gratifying than others, but so is life.

On Returning to Robert


King Robert Baratheon "Game of Thrones"

As I’m making my way back into the Dark Fantasy blogosphere, digesting and comparing the third season of the “Game of Thrones” series, to the books, I decided to return to George R. R. Martin’s weighty tomes to revisit the short-lived but important central character, King Robert Baratheon. Though I had my own criticisms of the burdensome fourth and fifth books of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” like other Martin fans I’d like to see it completed.

When I first saw the series and later read the books, I was as put out as everyone else by the death of Ned Stark.  And like everyone else, I have the same favorite characters, like Tyrion, Daenerys, and Arya.  But as I look again, I ask myself, what about Robert?  The corrupt food, alcohol, sex, hunter, fat man presenting himself, as King at first to me was a turnoff.  But looking back, what happened to Robert?  He became King after the battle of the Trident, after being considered the most suitable due to his wartime effectiveness and Targaryen ancestry (though he despises the descendants).  After killing the last platinum blonde heir to the Iron Throne, his popularity with the people carried him all the way to the top, where he expected to find vengeance and happiness.

But looking back, what started this mayhem?  The cornerstone of the story, Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark, whose perceived abduction by the Prince Rhaegar Targaryen is potential unrequited love, and her early death denied tough guy Robert the love of his life.  After watching floppy sexual scenes, blundering through Martin’s endless food descriptions, or taking in the over the top excellent battle scene of “Blackwater” in both film and the books, the core of the story is the true love denied to Robert Baratheon, a man who believes as King he should be denied nothing, which leads to his doom ultimately.

Still people approach me and ask what “Game of Thrones” is about.  To we Martin fans, I find it difficult to answer without a conversation.  But to the new reader or viewer, I’d say if any character can tell the story, it would be the dialogue of Robert Baratheon.  He didn’t last long in the series, but his legacy certainly does.