The Power of Friends

Do you have friends? Of course you do. Friendships make everyday life, which often ranges from routine to downright dull, more fun, manageable, and understandable. Even more than family, friends are there for you, to laugh and cry and buy you cake.

You know how some friends teach you to be a better friend? They somehow know that being a friend is a skill and they want you to be happy and friend-full. These people, extroverts probably, are experts in friend-making from preschool on. Others, the introverts, the socially awkward, and, yes, many writers, must learn how to give, how to listen, how to share, how to celebrate the successes of others, and all the things that make a person a good friend. It doesn’t matter if you’re a natural or you have to work at it. Just fulfilling that need for friends is where it’s at. One of the joys of my life is figuring this friend thing out, and the incredible friends I’ve made over the years.

‘Shane’
No sidekick = heroic but lonely

Characters in novels need friends too. They may not think they do because they are Shane-like, the solitary hero who wanders into town and makes everything right. But scratch the surface of any good protagonist and you’ll find deep relationships. Maybe they aren’t strictly in the friend category; maybe they’re co-workers, husbands or ex-wives, dead brothers or high school teammates. But no one is truly alone. And when building a character and her past it’s important to remember that while she may go on her quest alone, she brings with her all her friends, at least in her head. Because a person, and a character, is the sum of all their experiences, and their relationships, good and bad, are a key element in that. Along the way she may make new friends, mentors and guides in Quest-speak, and even enemies can become helpers and friends.

The ultimate friend in fiction is the sidekick. The second man, the understudy. Their number is legendary, from Sherlock’s Dr. Watson and Crusoe’s Friday, to Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza and Tom Sawyer’s Huck Finn. Where would Harry Potter be without Ron and Hermione, or Spenser without Hawk? How could Dorothy have gotten home from Oz without her three sidekicks?

The sidekick is a powerful figure in stories because he has so many vital roles. He contrasts with the protagonist, playing up the good qualities of the hero. The two of them can banter, discuss, and give information to the reader. The sidekick can be wilder, more carefree, rule-breaking or even criminal, moving the plot in ways that the hero in his goodness and single-mindedness can’t. But most importantly the sidekick makes the hero or heroine seem more human. The protagonist can appear bigger than life, a person without flaws, possessing superhuman strength or intelligence or both. The friend is the person who calls them on their shit, who brings them back to Earth, who reminds the reader that if the hero can have one loyal friend they are maybe, just a little, like you and me.

Even if you don’t give your hero a true sidekick try to interject a friend somewhere. It makes your character more alive, more human, more connected to their world. In PLAN X, my new thriller (written as Rory Tate) my heroine, Cody Byrne, is a cop with a little PLAN-X-ebook-finalPTSD problem she’s hiding from everyone. Everyone, that is, except her best friend. Her friend makes one small appearance in the novel but Cody thinks about her often. It was important that somebody would know her so well that she can’t keep secrets from them. Cody’s family is spread around the globe, her brother was killed in Afghanistan, and she’s both attracted to and afraid of relationships with men. So her friend’s loyalty and insight is one bright spot in her psyche. Cody ends up in London, tracking down the identity of the Shakespeare professor who’s blown up in Chapter One. There she meets her real sidekick, friend, and helper, the legal attaché at the US Embassy. But that’s halfway through the novel. Back home she needs a connection with somebody: a friend. Because we all need friends.

Friends keep it real, both in life and in fiction. Let’s be friends! Follow our blog to find out what goes on in the cryptic brains of fiction writers. The button is up on the top.

This piece first appeared on the blog Auntie M Writes.

Summer reading anyone?

So what are you reading this summer?

Got something new on your Kindle or Nook or iPad? Time to load up for vacation, trips, and lying around in the hammock. Here’s what the T-PAC crowd has written recently, plus some tantalizing new stuff coming out soon.

BP_FC_low_resBLACK PULP, co-edited and contributed to by Gary Phillips, is out now.  It’s an anthology of original stories featuring black characters in leading roles in retro stories running the genre gamut.  Black Pulp is rip-roaring fun offering exciting tales of derring-do from larger-than-life heroes and heroines; aviators in sky battles, lords of the jungle, criminal masterminds, pirates battling slavers and the walking dead, gadget-wielding soldiers-of-fortune saving the world to mysterious mystics.  Available in ebook and print-on-demand, and here’s a riveting review on Los Angeles Review of Books

“Literature for the masses kindled the imagination and used our reading skills so that we could regale ourselves in the cold chambers of alienation and poverty. We could become Doc Savage or The Shadow, Conan the Barbarian or the brooding King Kull and make a difference in a world definitely gone wrong.”–Walter Mosley from his introduction.

 

Redemption, by Kate Flora

Kate Flora’s Redemption takes us to Portland, Maine, but not to the postcard Maine, or to the action-packed world of police procedurals where handsome big city detectives eat, sleep (with sexy broads,) drink, get beat up (occasionally, and with little bruising), and solve complicated high powered crimes that save the world from catastrophe. No, Kate Flora’s detective, Joe Burgess, is a regular guy. He wishes he could take more showers and get more sleep. He argues with his girlfriend and she moves out. He’s not always happy with his fellow police. And the murder he’s trying to solve in REDEMPION is that of an alcoholic Vietnam vet who has PTSD and supports himself by collecting bottles in the streets of Portland. Flora takes us inside Joe’s world and shows us the underside of Vacationland. It’s not pretty. But it’s real, and Joe is real. Justice ain’t easy. Reading REDEMPTION, I wanted to believe that Joe Burgess wasn’t fictional. Because if I’m ever in trouble, he’s the guy I’d want on my side. In the meantime, I’ll take more books about him from Kate Flora. — Amazon reviewer

Louise’s Gamble, by Sarah R. Shaber

“Shaber brews a delightful mix of feminine wiles (long before women’s liberation) and real-life history that will keep readers turning the pages.”–Publishers Weekly
“Shaber plunges readers into the life of a widow, a working woman in the middle of the war-time shortages and secrets.The suspense and details of life in 1942 all add up to a fascinating story.”-Lesa’s Book Reviews
“This is the second in a series set in Washington, DC during WWII.  Shaber has created a wonderful cast of characters, and the descriptions of 1940s life, including shopping, dining at the Mayflower Hotel, working at the OSS, and living at a boarding house make for a wonderfully entertaining read.”–Historical Novel Society

Angel Among Us, by Katy Munger

Munger follows Angel of Darkness (2012) with another installment in the adventures of Kevin Fahey, the Dead Detective, who continues his postmortem roaming in a small Delaware town, seeking redemption for his past misdeeds. His latest effort involves the disappearance of Arcelia Gallagher. The beloved, pregnant preschool teacher’s distraught husband doesn’t know that his wife has a violent past. The illegal-immigrant community in the town may know why she is missing, but its members are too afraid to speak up. The police investigation keeps officers returning to the local Catholic church and to Delmonte House, a recently restored mansion. The search will keep readers in suspense as officers look for Arcelia, and Fahey stalks the mansion’s halls. Will the police locate Arcelia and will she be alive? Readers who enjoy Mary Stanton’s Beaufort & Company novels will like this series as well, but it will also appeal to procedural fans who can accept the paranormal angle. –Barbara Bibel, BOOKLIST

BROKEN-SHIELD-HI-RESBroken Shield, by J.D. Rhoades

Chief Deputy Tim Buckthorn and his beloved hometown of Pine Lake thought they’d seen the last of FBI agent Tony Wolf. But when evidence of a kidnapping literally falls from the sky, Wolf returns to assist in the search for an abducted young girl. Buckthorn, Wolf, and brilliant FBI prodigy Leila Dushane race against the clock to piece the clues together. When the evil they find follows them home, Pine Lake once again suffers terrible tragedy at the hands of violent and lawless men. Tim Buckthorn, who’s lived his life as a sworn officer of the law, will have to cross every line he ever knew on a quest to protect the people and the place he loves.

“A blistering follow-up to BREAKING COVER. The prose is fast and smart, the pace frantic and the characters driven, dangerous and yet full of heart. BROKEN SHIELD reaffirms JD Rhoades’ position as the king of redneck noir.” -Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox crime thriller series

Deus ex Machina, by Sparkle Hayter

Two short stories. In Deus ex Machina, a starving writer splurges on a cab ride after missing the last Metro, and ends up on an unexpected journey. In Diary of Sue Peaner, things get a little too real for a reality show contestant.

Open Season on Lawyers, by Taffy Cannon

“Somebody was killing the sleazy lawyers of Los Angeles. In the beginning, hardly anyone even noticed,” begins Taffy Cannon’s (Guns and Roses) sharply clever Open Season on Lawyers. LAPD homicide detective Joanna Davis pursues a murderer whose vengeance takes strange parallels to the lawyers’ perceived crimes (a lawyer who defended a caterer against charges of food poisoning later dies of it, for example); readers just might be torn between wanting her to catch him and wanting him to get away. — Publishers Weekly. This classic from Taffy Cannon is now available for Kindle.

        Coming soon!

plan x mockup 12Rory Tate (also known as Lise McClendon) has a new thriller coming out in early June. PLAN X tells the intriguing story of police officer Cody Byrne, charged with finding the next-of-kin for a professor of Shakespeare injured in a lab explosion. What should be a simple task leads to ancient manuscripts that may or may not be truly Shakespearean and secrets someone is trying very hard to keep.
PLAN X is both thrilling and sophisticated. In a serpentine story that races from small-town Montana to the vaulted halls of Windsor Castle, nothing is as it seems, including the works of the great Shakespeare himself. Former military and current police officer Cody Byrne is unforgettable–a heroine you want to root for. I love this book! –New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author J. Carson Black

A thrilling police procedural as (Iraqi war veteran turned) police officer Cody Byrne investigates the death of a Montana professor who may have been hiding one of the biggest secrets in academia—or perpetuating one of the biggest frauds—one that could scandalize the royal family of Great Britain. An entertaining read!     –Robin Burcell, award-winning author of THE BLACK LIST

Rereading your favorite novel, love or leave it?

They say that every time you read a book it’s a different book, because you are different. If you read a book when you’re twelve you bring one set of experiences, opinions, and influences to that reading. Read it again at twenty-one, it’s a new book because you’ve survived to your majority, studied, read, and maybe even written something yourself. So if you keep reading that book, at thirty, forty, fifty, does it keep changing for you?

I submit that it is possible to read a book too many times. Unless you are dissecting it for the purpose of figuring out its structure you can bore yourself. There are so many books in the world! Read a new one! Only my most favorite novels hold up time after time, offering up nuggets of humor and wisdom again. My favorite novel is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen precisely because there is so much left out of it. I read it first at seventeen. I reread it looking for more, sure there is something I missed. Most novels, even ones that I absolutely adored, stories that make me gasp and cry, leave it all on the page. Because, frankly, that’s where it’s at, writing-wise.

I’ve been thinking about reader reactions, and rereading, since reading this piece in the Guardian. Authors are generally voracious readers and sometimes reread novels out of necessity (nothing else in the house) or to study the way an admired author got the job done. Poetry, of course, and classics like Shakespeare, Doestoevsky, and Jane Austen are definite rereads. The classics hold up because they are dense and enjoyable and fulfill a reader’s need for philosophy of living, human emotion, or just plain excitement.

As you can see from the article authors have a diverse list of favorites that are often very personal. Reading is like that. Have you ever given someone a book (that they didn’t request, written by someone they’ve never read) and wondered why they never read it? You loved it so they should too. But like jewelry and perfume, novels are an individual taste. Often as readers we don’t know exactly why some stories resonate, holding us captive and nestling deep in our subconscious, while famous novels loved by millions leave us cold. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as you’re reading for pleasure (unless you are in a Nazi book club. If so, my condolences.) Pick a novel, new or old, fresh to you or as familiar and comforting as an old sweater, and read it. Enjoying reading is one of the most basic, simple pleasures of life.

Reader reactions fascinate me. As a writer you can only write the book you can write, and hope that it appeals to someone (or many someones.) In the age of online reviews anyone who reads a book can offer his or her opinion of it to the world, uncensored and often poorly spelled. It’s sort of like fan mail. One of my novels now has nearly 40 reviews on Amazon (a consequence of a giveaway campaign last summer) and as much as I hate the bad reviews and cherish the good ones I find the whole thing amusing. How can one reader write: “something for everyone, intrique, romance, murder and all tied up neatly together,” and another have the opposite reaction: “too much nonsense in it. It took me forever to read as I was very bored with parts”? Well, because one might be fifteen, the other seventy. One might be used to reading romance novels, another might be into ‘Twilight.’ You never know. I couldn’t have written this book when I was twenty (Blackbird Fly, by the way, written when I was 50ish. I couldn’t have written any novel at 20 but I loved my journalism classes.)

I bring to the table my own experiences, just as the reader does. I love that I can hear what they think. It makes writing a lot less lonely.

Happy new electronic year!

Got a new Nook or Kindle? Lots of folks are jumping on the e-book bandwagon and as authors we are all thrilled to get more folks reading fiction, whether ours or somebody else’s. Several of us here at Thalia Press Authors Co-op have free or specially priced e-books right now. Go forth and load up those e-readers!

Gary Phillips is offering up up a free holiday story for everyone — The Kwanzaa Initiative at FourStory.

Sparkle Hayter has the first book in her very funny Robin Hudson series,  available in many formats for free at Smashwords.com

Katy Munger is offering many of her mysteries for free for Amazon Prime members. Her Casey Jones mysteries are a kick-ass ride. Check them out!

Rory Tate (that’s Lise McClendon) is also offering up her new thriller Jump Cut for free to Amazon Prime members who can borrow books for Kindle.

And don’t forget DEAD OF WINTER, the short story anthology for your Kindle and Nook. Chilling stories from bestselling mystery writers for only $4.99.

Subscribe to the blog to find out about future promotions and free e-books.

Chilling Crime for Winter

The theme is winter, and the Thalia Press Authors Co-op rises to the occasion, digging deep into their devious imaginations with short stories of cold, ice, mystery, and of course unexplained homicide.

Eight established crime authors and eight chilling stories to send shivers down your spine: The anthology, Dead of Winter, edited by Katy Munger and Lise McClendon, will release next week as an e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Enjoy this collection of intriguing, surprise-filled stories full of buried secrets, back-stabbing and revenge —  all set against the wintry backdrop of the cruelest season. Continue reading “Chilling Crime for Winter”

The Importance of Boots on the Ground

First let it be said that I love research. Maybe too much. When I was writing my historical mysteries I had to finally set aside all the fascinating books and just *write.* Because you don’t want your research to be show-y and all “this is what I know.” It should flow naturally from the story. But a couple weeks ago I found out — in the nick of time — that sometimes all that book and internet research, even your memories of a place you’ve been, aren’t enough. You need boots on the ground.

My new thriller, Jump Cut, comes out next week — officially. I spent a couple days in Seattle shooting video and stills for a book trailer that I cobbled together last week. (Also just in the nick of time! Wouldn’t want to be planning ahead.) While my son (a great photographer, thanks, Nick!) and I drove around the city, getting shots of Seattle iconic sights like the monorail, the Space Needle, the ferries, etc., I noticed something. I had a couple details wrong. And they were, like, really important! In the big climactic scene. Continue reading “The Importance of Boots on the Ground”