I can honestly say that with all of the nonsense and assorted lunacy since the Hugo finalists were announced, I do believe this is the first time somebody has actually read and reviewed the book! (I’m talking about post-Hugo, because I got all the normal reviews, and hundreds of fan reviews when it came out). Overall it is a pretty fair review, and he didn’t like some of it, but I’ve got to give mad props for somebody actually reading the book and posting an honest review! 😀
Normally an author isn’t supposed to respond to individual reviews, but I’m just happy to have a Post-Hugo review where somebody read more than just the back cover before saying what a racist, sexist, homophobic, fount of evil hatemongery I am. That’s a pretty fair and honest review there, but as I was reading it, I found that I kept disagreeing, not on his taste, because every individual has one and taste can’t really be wrong, but rather his interpretation of what I was trying to do, so I thought this might make an interesting blog posts about the decisions a writer makes when writing a novel.
One point of order before continuing, I’ve never told people not to write message fic. I said they needed to put entertainment first, and then message second, so that’s not exactly a gotcha there. Since even his intro admits that it was a very entertaining page turner that repeatedly made him laugh out loud. Yup. Entertainment first, message second. And I’ve also warned that message fiction might turn off readers, which in this particular case is a perfect example, because my/Francis’ politics offended this particular reviewer.
So if you’re going to do it, know the risk. I knew that was going to happen to somebody when I had beloved icon FDR being the control freak, concentration camp loving, antagonist that he was in real life. Flip this coin, and writers should also not be shocked when their preaching about the evils of capitalism/Christianity/binary gender, turns off other readers.
As for what Roosevelt sounded like, nope, he really was that much of a douchebag. Before I write a historical character I try to read a bunch of their speeches, and if possible, some of their personal correspondence. There is plenty to choose from with FDR. The major from Hogan’s Heroes? Hardly. In reality he was more like Danny DeVito’s version of the Penguin.
He didn’t think that subplot with the politics was necessary, but on the contrary, nuts and bolts, story outline purposes SPOILER I needed to be able to show the Pathfinder’s methods to set up the finale, I needed to break away from main PoV characters to show what was going on in the rest of the world, and it was the continuation of the conspiracy in book 2. (I’m an outliner, so I think these things through from the beginning. Need to show X? Then how?)
One brief mention of the gold standard?And that coming from a Shanghai crime lord who didn’t trust paper money? Well, in actual history, that is about when that really happened, and it was controversial, and people didn’t trust it. Especially people who have reason not to trust authority, like say, crime bosses or members of a subversive secret society.
Plus, alternate history? If you are writing historical fiction, alternate or otherwise, you’re going to shove your book full of little flavor things like that, and the opinion on whatever the topic is really should match that of the PoV narrator for the scene. I’ve also got characters with opinions on contemporary sports, music, fashion, firearms, laws, cars, industry, technology, and magical samurai power armor.
As for men of the 1930s acting like men of the 1930s, instead of what an enlightened feminist of today would supposedly do… Duh. 🙂 Here’s some writing advice, your characters are people, and people do things for reasons, and sometimes their reasoning is sound, and sometimes it is emotionally flawed. Let’s break this down into the psychology of the PoV character. SPOILER: Sullivan had feelings for Hammer. He was embarking on a suicide mission. The last woman he loved died horribly doing exactly this sort of thing, and he’s spent the last year suffering from depression because of it. He cared about Faye, knew she was a freaking powerhouse killing machine, and also thought she was dead. So he knew that Hammer’s skills would be useful, and he kicked himself logically for not taking her, but at the same time he just couldn’t do it. This isn’t a 2014 gender studies class about equality, this is the thought process of a broken down warrior with a strong personal code of chivalry tired of losing people he cares about.
Yet, that strategic decision also allowed me as the author to do more with a character who I introduced in book 1, who I loved, who I wanted to do a lot more with. And the fact that Lady Origami was a vital part of Southunder’s crew, who was going no matter what because the Captain needed her and knew she was the best at what she did (because Southunder is a more experienced leader and could make a more logical decision in this case than Sullivan was capable of).
Plus, I needed Akane in the picture because I was already planning the 1950s Grimnoir trilogy, and she is Joe Sullivan’s mom. 🙂 Oh yes, I’m a freaking chess master. The stuff that someone sees as superfluous because Francis is getting involved in politics? That’s because in Spellbound when Raymond Chandler talked about Francis running for president, I decided that was too awesome not to do. Because then guess who is the First Lady. (I totally love my job)
An older man “regulated” Lady Origami’s sexuality? Ha! Wait… So a man born in the 1870s, who literally freed this woman from slavery, and who thinks of this woman as a daughter, warns a man she’s in love with not to mistreat her, and that’s “regulating her sexuality”? Obviously this PIRATE CAPTAIN skipped Mandatory Sensitivity Training. Hell, on that note, Lance also threatens to kill Francis in an earlier book if he mistreats Faye. Threatening to kill the suitors of the ladies we care about, should any harm come to said ladies, is still how we do it out here in flyover country.
Old fashioned? Perhaps, but it wasn’t exactly old then. I have teenage daughters. For some strange reason the idea of Southunder being protective of Akane doesn’t strike me as odd. I don’t find protecting those we love sexist in 2014, I’m damn sure he wouldn’t in 1933.
Why didn’t all the good guys have healing kanji? Well, that was specifically addressed in the book, and there was a big scene about it in book 2. The Grimnoir weren’t nearly as good at it as the Imperium. It was very dangerous and the process could easily kill the subject. It nearly killed Sullivan, who is a freaking tank. (if we were playing D&D he rolled triple sixes on his Constitution at character creation) There was a scene about this in Spellbound where Jane yelled at Sullivan for doing dangerous experiments (which he was driven to do because of guilt about what happened to Delilah). And after that here were two other Grimnoir hard core enough to go for it.
From a purely practical, nuts and bolts, behind the scenes writing perspective, I’m an action writer. I’m widely considered one of the best action scene writers in the business, even by people who hate my guts. Why did I introduce magical healing? Because it enables my characters to survive violent fight scenes and bounce back in time for another fight scene to keep the readers glued to the pages, when in real life they’d get into the first fight scene, and then recuperate for the rest of the novel. Why doesn’t everybody have magical healing? Because as the Incredibles taught us, if everybody is special, then no one is.
On super man syndrome… I wrote a book about super heroes. Heck, I managed to get a straight up Superman reference into book 3, a Batman in book 1, book 2 had my homage to King Kong (it takes place in ’33 same year as the movie), and there is a novella coming out that is my salute to Godzilla (set in 1954 same year as the movie).
Seriously though, this is a fine line, and if you’re going to write action, and you’re not going to kill off every single character, then as a writer you’re going to have to cheat. All action stuff cheats to some measure, having been an actual instructor on how to shoot people, trust me, every single action hero on every movie and TV show would be totally deaf by now from all the gun fights and explosions if they were even sort of realistic.
As for characters having just enough magic to survive, that’s a challenge with anything that has a magic system, but I can’t take this too seriously, since I’m still getting angry emails about various characters who did die. 🙂 The key to getting away with this, which I apparently have with the vast majority of readers, is to establish the rules earlier of what the magic can do, then when the problem arises that needs to be solved, have them solve it within the rules you’ve set. Where you get into trouble is when you break your own rules.
SPOILER: Jake vs. Madi in Hard Magic is a good example. Madi’s magic was stronger. Jake used his smarter and won. Also, I subverted this trope on purpose with Faye. I got a negative review years ago for Hard Magic about how they didn’t like how Faye’s power seemed to grow to meet the challenges of the books. SPOILER: when in reality, Faye’s power didn’t climb to meet the challenges, her power climbed as people died around her and she absorbed their power, because she was the Spellbound. Which was kind of the point of the whole series.
As for the creepily joyful use of violence, I don’t write for pussies. For the people who say violence never solved anything, all of recorded history would like to disagree with you. As for the character being sad violence didn’t happen, you may not have caught this over 3 books of run on sentences and jittery rapid fire observations, but Faye is a little crazy. Not to mention a giant plot point of the series is that she’s cursed with a vampiric super spell that wants her to murder everybody.
A love or dislike of violence (or any other topic) should reflect the morals of the particular character in question and how they are wired. Keeping in mind that I’m writing about a group of violent people in a violent time, Faye will kill a person as casually as she’d wring a chicken’s neck for dinner. Sullivan actually avoids conflict where possible, but when conflict is the best answer he comes down on them like the hammer of god. Francis avoids fighting. Heinrich will avoid fighting then come back later and slit your throat while you are asleep. Hell, villain turned sorta hero Toru’s character arc was about him refining his personal warrior’s code into something that he was morally comfortable with.
Real life is the same way. There are plenty of stupid stereotypes out there about how people are supposed to react to violence, but having spent years working with certified bad asses, some love it, some hate it, some are flippant about it, some turn into basket cases, and some do it as casually as you’d make a sandwich. There’s this idea that people who’ve Been There Done That don’t like to talk about it… Maybe to you, but some of them you can’t get to shut up about it.
An illustration. I used to work with a bunch of SF guys. Most of them were combat vets with lots of deployments and lots of training. One day they were arguing about bullets, which is a typical thing for gun nuts to fight about. One guy didn’t like 5.56. Another guy did. It got heated. They started telling stories about people they’d shot and their reactions. And these aren’t posers, because this is an industry where they all know each other and their bonafides. Finally the pro-5.56 guy pulled out his phone and showed us pictures of some of the people he’d shot to demonstrate what the wounds looked like.
Now to be fair, this guy wasn’t a psycho. He was a professional. He didn’t get off on this. Part of his job was documenting events. Something that would be horrific to one person is what this guy did for a living, and he was extremely good at it. Him talking about killing would be like a baker talking about cakes.
Another illustration. Two of my best friends were in different units, but had the same MOS (job). They both went to Afghanistan. They both did some extremely dangerous stuff. Both got shot at and attempts were made to blow them up, but only one of them ended up in a position where he could actually shoot back. Both of them were at my place, eating tacos, and telling stories after they got home, the one who didn’t get to shoot anybody was pissed off about it, and the one who did, rubbed it in the other one’s face. Why? Because it would be like being on the football team, going to practice every day, but sitting on the bench and not ever getting to play in the game.
These are just a few of the people I know in real life, so why, pray tell, would it be so extremely far fetched to have a character intimately acquainted with violence be sad they didn’t get the chance to hurt somebody they thought deserved it?
As for harming the other? That may seem alien to some, but to those that keep us all safe, that’s just life.
Everybody is different, and just like real life, every character is different. Different series, but that’s one reason I introduced Trip into Monster Hunter, because that group needed a moral compass.
In this series one of the main recurring villains is Imperial Japan, and because of some very strong leadership (the Chairman) it is even more violent than the real life version. Unit 731? I didn’t make them up. In fact, I toned them down a notch. On the world stage the 1930s were the era when mankind looked up from the chaos of the Great War, and said, hell, I bet we could mechanize and kill people on an industrial scale!
So yes, there is violence, and to some people it is extremely casual. Complaining about that would be like watching The Wire and not liking how the drug dealers of the Baltimore projects are portrayed as being casually violent… Except having lived in North Birmingham, either the Baltimore projects are super refined and civilized in comparison, or the writers actually took it down a notch. My money is on taking it down a notch (Why am I currently watching the Wire? Because Idris Elba is my favorite actor is why).
As a writer, you’ve got an adjustment knob for how violent you want to make your story. Feel free to turn it up and down depending on the target audience. You can also make adjustments for sex, profanity, realism, or anything else that might be offensive. The important thing is that you tune it to your target audience, and my target audience laughs through Tarantino movies.
One note about the quote, where the reviewer thought that I was trying to imply some weird sociological thing where if everybody was like Sullivan, the world would be a better place, here is the actual quote.
But down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it and certainly without saying it….I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would never spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing he is that in all things.
He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as a man of his age talks—that is, with rude with, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham. And a contempt for pettiness.
The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure….If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
Unlike most of the chapter bump historical quotes in this series, this one was not fabricated. Raymond Chandler, one of the greatest authors of all time, wrote this explaining what made his genre, that of the hard boiled hero, so appealing.
Grimnoir is a my love song to Chandler, Hammet, and L’amour. I read this quote a long time ago, and when I created Jake Sullivan, it was because I wanted to write THAT MAN.
But yes, the world would be a far better place if there was more Jake Sullivans in it.
But,here is the other quote from the same book that I in no way altered, and this quote was for the other main character, Sally Faye Vierra:
Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908
And that’s Faye in a nutshell.
Basically, you make your characters what they are, and you stay true to them, then they become real to your fans, and that’s what counts.
So there you go, a look behind the scenes into an author’s thought process.