Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Character Interview:

Our search for interesting characters continues with Vayen, the protagonist from Jean Davis’s science fiction / space opera “Trust”.

Here’s a teaser from the book:

At long last, the war that has torn the worlds of the Narvan apart, is over. Anastassia Kazan has brought about the end to the fighting between Vayen Ta’set’s homeworld of Artor and their rival, Jal. When she offers Vayen a job on her team of bodyguards, he leaps at the opportunity. He’ll do anything to keep Artor on the path to recovery.

Protecting the paranoid and mercurial woman who’s deals and threats are keeping everyone in line is a tough and thankless task. One drunken night with Anastassia makes Vayen seriously doubt why he got the job and if he should keep it. But no one else on the team is willing to earn Anastassia’s disfavor by calling her out on her reckless choices. Reckless will get her killed and send the Narvan back into chaos.

Not everyone is happy with Anastassia’s changes on his homeworld and beyond. She’s also on less than friendly terms with her deadly ex-partner. Then Vayen discovers that Anastassia is only middle management. The Council she works for has ambitious plans for the Narvan’s military forces.

How much is Vayen willing to sacrifice to keep the Narvan at peace?

Tell us a little about yourself:

My name is Vayen Ta’set. I grew up on Artor, but when I was a kid my homeworld went to war with Jal, a neighboring planet in our system. My parents served together, but were killed when I was twelve. My older brother sort of raised me after that, but he was a soldier too, and gone most of the time. Social services kept an eye on me, but I was too busy with training to be just like Chesser to notice the empty house much. Then the war took him too. Just when it was my turn to do something worthwhile, the damned thing ended, robbing me without the future I'd trained for. Thankfully Anastassia showed up with the job offer of my dreams. Or maybe nightmares. It was life-changing for sure.

Who came first, you or the author?
Without the author, I wouldn’t exist, so I guess she did? However, we’ve known each other a very long time, well over thirty years. I had a different name then and my story was short and simple. We grew a lot together. I developed a personality. She’ll probably tell you it’s a difficult one. I also seem to have a drinking problem. I blame her. She made my life a living hell, and I’m pretty sure she was grinning manically through some of those dark moments. Bearing that in mind, I don’t regret all the revisions of my character that I put her through.  
She still holds a big grudge over my first major temper tantrum when I demanded to be the POV character instead of Anastassia. I made her rewrite the entire novel. Again. I’m not above making her life hell too.
What’s your greatest strength?   And of course, we want to know the opposite, your greatest weakness.
Strength...well, I would say it’s that I’m a talented multitasker. I never stop thinking, always doing two or twelve things at once. If you ask Anastassia, she’d call it my weakness. Apparently I need to relax more and be in the moment or something? I don’t know. There’s so much to do, so many opportunities out there, and only so much time before my body demands a few hours of sleep.

My greatest weakness? Anastassia.  She’s my boss, my partner, and I’d do pretty much anything to keep her alive so my homeworld remains at peace.  Sure there are contracts for her head and her ex-partner is out to kill her, but some days it seems like she goes out of her way to make my job hard. To top things off, the High Council is supposed to be on our side, but they’re not at all above using her well-being against me to get their way.

Tell us something about your background that may or may not be revealed in the book?
I can cook, not that I do it often, but it does come in handy on occasion. My mother taught me when I was a kid, before she and my father went off to serve in the war. You should have seen Anastassia’s face the first time I made her dinner. It’s one of the few fond memories I focus on when she’s trying my near nonexistent patience.

Are you the type of person who always seeks out the company of others?
Not at all. People are usually either after me for favors or laying down threats, assuming they don’t skip right to trying to kill me. Working alongside Anastassia has a put a hefty price on my head.

My favorite place is my office at Cragtek, where I can work, uninterrupted for hours or all day if I’m fortunate. (By the way, fortune and I are not on the best of terms.)  I mean, I do work with people, hundreds of them. Well, technically, they work for me, but I do that through my link, so remotely, unless they need some motivation by intimidation. Then I’m all for a brief personal appearance.   
What do you do to relax after a day’s work?
Drink. Though it’s more to try to forget what I had to do at work that day, than to relax. Unless you count passing out relaxing. And you might. I won’t judge.

Who’s your best friend and what influence have they had on your life?
Since going to work for Anastassia, my free time is mostly relegated to spending time with my follow bodyguards. Since the relationship between Jey and I tends more toward trading insults and threats, I spend my off shifts with Merkief, a fellow Artorian. His family wasn’t impacted by the Jalvian war like mine and he had a pretty normal life before coming to work with us. He’s quick with a joke and does his best to keep the peace between Jey and I. He makes an amicable drinking partner when the day requires it. Most of them do.  
We don’t talk a lot, but it’s nice to have someone around who knows home and our way of doing things. He gets me. Sometimes too much. Like when he guessed where to find me and gave Anastassia the info to hunt me down. Not at all cool. But he has also saved my ass a time or two, so I let that go. 

I guess I’d have to say that he does get me to relax now and then. Commiserating about our job and talking about home has a way of doing that. He’s also made working with Jey somewhat tolerable.

What has been the most romantic thing you’ve ever done or instigated?
I don’t know if I’d call it romantic. Maybe. But after that dinner I mentioned earlier, the one that about made Anastassia choke on her wine when she realized what I was doing, I gave her a gift. Not my ‘Gift’. It wasn’t like I was proposing a joining. I made it quite clear that wasn’t my intention.  It was just that she’d been quite supportive of me when I’d been in a very unpleasant situation with the High Council, and I wanted to do something nice to repay her.

She’d lost the neckband, the joining gift my brother had given her years before, to a pair of thugs. I’d seen how much she’d mourned losing the one reminder of the future they might have had together. So I used my own one time use chit to make a second one, an exact duplicate, for her. Let’s just say there may have been tears involved, but she hates acknowledging emotions like that so if you want more details, you'll have to read the book.

An excerpt from the story:
“Could you kill someone if I asked you to?” asked Anastassia Kazan as she thrummed her fingers on the plain hotel room table between us.
The woman who sat across from me was harder than the one I’d last seen at my brother’s memorial service eight years before. The green eyes and braid were the same, but she now wore a full-length armored coat and no few weapons, if I judged the lumps beneath it correctly.
“You mean, if they attacked you?”
When she’d contacted me out of the blue to interview for a bodyguard position, I’d jumped at the opportunity. She’d had a hand in ending the war that had plagued my homeworld and I owed her a for that. All of Artor did. However, her question sounded more like she was looking for someone eager to commit murder at her whim.
“If anyone attacks me, yes of course, but also if I give the order. Without questions,” she said.
My gut reaction was to say no, but having read the brief she’d sent with the invitation, I realized that anyone who had managed to work her way into the position of advisor to the entire Narvan System under some confidential organization, had likely made quite a few enemies and questionable arrangements along the way.
This wasn’t the sedate head of security job I’d managed to work myself into. Working for Anastassia was going to have legal risks and moral compromises.
She sat back, opening the top latch of her black armored coat to reveal the neckline of a plain grey shirt beneath. There was no sign of the neckband she’d once worn. Her intent gaze seemed to note my every movement down to the length of each breath.
When the war with Jal had ended, my military future ended with it. Too many experienced people stood between me and making a decent living in that arena. I’d taken the best job I could get, but the pay was minimal and the opportunity for advancement slim.
My brother had trusted her, and undoubtedly, he’d followed similar compromising orders issued during the war. I wouldn’t have been any different had that opportunity still been open to me. Besides, the compensation offer she’d proposed had enough zeros to make me ignore my gut.
“Yes, I can do that,” I said, forcing myself to mean it.
“Then I suppose you’re hired.” She sighed and looked a fraction more relaxed. “You’ll start immediately.”
“But I-”
“Don’t worry about your current job. I’ll take care of favorably closing out your employment record.”
I leaned forward, realizing that if I didn’t speak up now, she’d roll right over me. Anastassia was clearly used to being in command.
“I have a home and someone waiting for me. I traveled halfway around Artor for this meeting, but I can’t just drop everything right this instant.”
She held up a hand. “We’ll deal with all that. First though, I need to make a connection with you.”
I nodded, opening my mind to hers so we could create a natural connection for telepathic communication. The light-skinned face of a Jalvian man with long, white hair and a determined gleam in his eyes popped into my head.
“If you see this man, kill him,” she said.
Killing a Jalvian without question wasn’t much of a compromise. I’d been waiting for an opportunity to do that for years.
“Second order of business...” Anastassia reached into one of the many pockets of her coat, this one at her hip. She produced a gun and slid it across the table. “Once Kess finds out you work for me, he’ll want to kill you too.”
Great. From bodyguard to target all in a matter of minutes. 

About the author:

Jean Davis lives in West Michigan with her musical husband, two nerdy kids, and two attention-craving terriers. When not ruining fictional lives from the comfort of her writing chair, she can be found devouring books and sushi, enjoying the offerings of local breweries, weeding her flower garden, or picking up hundreds of sticks while attempting to avoid the abundant snake population who also shares her yard. 

Links to her sites

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

He's So Annoying!

It seems like we’re frequently discussing character traits.  Yes, the time and place or location of a story can be critical. And in some situations, they can be an important part of the story.  For example, “Jaws” would not have the same impact if it took place in a small town on Lake Michigan.  “Die Hard” wouldn’t happened in a four story brownstone apartment building.  Imagine “Lonesome Dove” moving north along I-75 from Kentucky to Michigan today. 

But it’s the characters that really move the story along. While it’s important to give your protagonist traits that people will expect, relate to and possibly admire, as a writer you have to extend the same effort to your antagonist and your other characters as well.  Some bad guys can have their own levels of panache and charm. Consider Hans Gruber from “Die Hard” flawlessly played by Alan Rickman. His portrayal of the character shows flashes of brilliance with his appreciation of a world class education, finely tailored suits and his ability to mastermind the heist.

There are times when you want a character to be annoying. It’s true. Every once in a while, you long to create a player that no one will like, who has no redeeming qualities, who is a caveman in these modern time. This is the kind of guy who everyone will cheer if he gets gunned down.  Because he’s so annoying. 

It’s not uncommon for a writer to take certain traits from people they know, or come across in the course of their day.  Lately there have been a few people who unknowingly are providing me with insights and examples of just that type of obnoxious person.  Eventually I’ll weave a few of these together to create a new character.  And if it’s appropriate, I won’t hesitate to bump them off.  

Because that’s part of writing.

So be forewarned if you’re in the presence of an author. You might just be providing them with the incentive to bump you off in print! Along those lines, I developed “The Author’s Warning” a few years ago. Here it is.

·        You are in the presence of an author. Anything you say or do may end up in a published story or novel.

·        These interactions may be altered to fit the character and ultimately may not be flattering to you.

·        Your physical appearance, wardrobe, behavior and demeanor may be adjusted. Any body art, piercings, hair extensions and surgical enhancements may be exaggerated or eliminated. 

·        All characters created are the result of the author’s imagination. Any similarities to any person living or dead is strictly coincidental. Yes, really.

·        You will not receive compensation or acknowledgment for your contributions to the story.

Here’s a glimpse at an annoying character from “Why 319?”   In these scenes, the squad of detectives are discussing the best methods to begin investigating the three homicides they believe are the work of a serial killer.  

“We need to determine the common denominator,” Megan said. “There’s got to be something that all three of our victims shared. We just need to look at them closely and let them tell us what that is.”

Barksdale made a derisive snorting noise beside her. “Just how do we do that, McDonald? Call the psychic hotline? Break out the Ouija board?”

“We look at the evidence,” she said with a sneer.

“We look at the evidence,” Barksdale mimicked, waving his hands like a cheap carnival magician.

“Knock it off,” I said. “Megan’s right. We have to go through every bit of information we can find on the victims. That means reviewing the files, repeating every single interview. We have to take the investigation a step further. If the locals talked to three coworkers, we need to talk to six. If they interviewed one neighbor, we interview five.”

Barksdale turned his scowl to me. “So how are we going to do that before this pervert strikes again? We got other cases going.”


There was a lot of head shaking then Barksdale said something that had been obvious to all of us.

“This sure isn’t a bunch of beauty queens. I wonder if this guy’s got a thing about homely girls.”

Megan and Laura looked ready to slap him. Tess was too new to know if he was joking or not. Barksdale wasn’t politically correct, but he’d nailed it. This was what all three women had in common. They weren’t gorgeous, or famous or worth millions. They were just three plain women, similar in age, all with variations of brown hair. Was that the connection?

Here are some links where you can find "Why 319?"


Music this week comes from Jesse Cook.