March 2019 Archives

My Author's Brand

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One thing I should try and make clear to you, the reader, is what my author's brand is about.

First and foremost, I want to entertain you. I will happily give up everything else in order to entertain. If you don't come away from the book with a sense of "That was fun!" and wanting to read the next book, I've failed. I am trying to entertain you, and if I don't do that, you shouldn't give me any more of your money. Since I want you to buy more of my books and tell your friends I'm an entertaining writer, I'm going to try to entertain you. I don't try to have flippant smart-asses tossing off one-liners every three words, but I do try to slide a few in.

Second, I want the characters to think. I want you to come away from the book thinking that everyone did what they did for rational reasons or at least motivations real people have. Nobody in my books is evil because it says so on their character card. The antagonists are pursuing their own best interests as best they see them. Sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Similarly, I try really hard to avoid violations of the Evil Overlord's Principles. If it were possible to game the antagonist with a cheap shot, someone would already have done it. I want you to have the feeling that it took some real thought to plot this story - that all the characters all thought and worked for their chosen ends, and that the resolution reflects this.

Third, I want the ending to be something good that the characters have earned. I'm not going to promise that they all live to get there, but all that work and risk should earn them a better place than they started from according to what they value. I'm also not going to promise it's the place they thought they were going in the first place. But if the work and risk wasn't going to earn them a better place, why should they bother? Even if it's just saving other people from a disaster, the characters should get something out of it. The ones who survive and persevere, anyway.

Fourth and finally, I'd like to think that I maybe gave you a little bit of a different way to think about things. I'm not looking to preach at you like a tenured professor, I just want to illustrate that there are different ways of looking at the same issue. I don't think I'm going to change your mind. But maybe - just maybe - I can induce you to have a thoughtful conversation with someone who doesn't agree with you. There's far too little of that these days.

didn't have long to wait. Cindy had always looked unnaturally young, for as long as I'd known her anyway - like a young doctor fresh out of residency, if not a first year med school student, when Cindy had been a practicing doctor for at least thirty years, and now I knew why. She exited her office; I hit record on the cell phone peeking out of my pocket and walked around the corner, "Good afternoon, Cindy. I've got some questions you're going to answer."

She went white as a sheet, and looked around for the stairs, then started back towards her office, but I got between her and the office door. "Now is that any way to react to seeing an old friend, especially the husband of a woman you 'helped'?"

"I can't tell you anything! I don't know anything!"

"Oh, I think you know quite a lot. Here you are looking like you could be seventeen, not fifty-seven. I think you're right in the middle of what happened to Diane, and one phone call from me - or me not coming back - will be all that it takes to have the police crawling over you and your practice like flies on a fresh piece of shit."

"I don't know anything!"

"Oh, you know plenty and I can prove it. Like what the cult does, and where to find the bigger fish in it. Otherwise, you'd have been useless to them and they would have made you do the same thing they made Diane do - leave her old life completely behind. So the question becomes 'are you going to tell me now, willingly, or are you going to tell the police tomorrow morning?"

"I can't tell you anything! They'll kill me!"

"Oh, I agree they'll kill you if you become a liability to them. Like if there's an official investigation and the police start investigating all of your patients and former patients. But if you tell me now, the cult doesn't have anything to connect me to you. It wasn't pretty, what happened to Diane. I don't know how to describe it, or the agony she must have gone through. But I know it hit every cell in her body, all of those nerve endings firing pain into her brain. Maybe the whole thing even scared her to death, literally. The autopsy hasn't come back yet."

I stopped for a beat, and looked right in her panicked eyes, "Hell of a thing to do to a friend. So I won't have a qualm in the world if it happens to you. And these people you're recruiting for, you know they'll do it, too." Yes, it was a bluff. I'd slept through whatever happened to Diane. But Cindy didn't know that.

Cindy's eyes were wild with fear. She knew this cult would do whatever happened to Diane. "You have a choice, Cindy. Tell me now, and tell me the truth. This is the only chance you'll get. If the information goes to the police, you know what will happen - don't you? You're about as innocent as the guards herding the prisoners into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and all I need to do is tell the police what I know you know - or make certain they find out, and I've already done that. Your only hope is if I get what I want, in which case the police won't find out from me." I had her backed against the stairwell door by now. "What's it going to be, Cindy? I'm going to count to five, then walk away and let the police deal with you. One."

Cindy was not the stuff of heroes. She crumpled. "Steldan. Jennifer Steldan. Sometimes she goes by 'Isis'. She's the person I send the new prospects to."

"And where can I find this Jennifer Steldan?" She gave me a phone number and an address.
"Are you sure, Cindy? Anything else you haven't told me? Anyone else I need to know about? This is your one and only chance with me. If anything happens, it will be the police you deal with next."

"Be careful, Mark. Jennifer and Osiris, they can do things. Things I can't explain."

"Osiris?"

"Our priest. He performs our rituals."

What the elves had called the leader, and they thought he was a sorcerer. So yeah, I expect he could do 'things'. But since I had no experience with 'magic' I had no idea what they might be. "This Osiris - do you know his name or how to find him? What does he look like?"

"That's the thing, Mark. I've never seen him looking the same twice. He's been white, black, Asian, maybe American Indian, maybe Hispanic. Tall, skinny, athletic, fat. Always a big guy, but he looks different almost every ritual - and I only see him at the rituals."

"How long have you been with these people?"

"Forty-six years. I'm almost eighty. Are you sure you wouldn't want to be a part of that? You'll be young and healthy forever!"

"I doubt that. It seems obvious to me that your leaders have ways of dealing with those they aren't happy with. And the look in Diane's eyes when she told me what she could - I'd rather be dipped in honey and staked out on an anthill, thank you very much." And true to my word, I turned and walked away, leaving her there to wonder if what she'd told me would get back to the cult leaders.

 



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