Musings on Breathing Life into a Heartless Villain, by Pamela Jean Herber

 

What makes for a memorable antagonist?

I’ve been having trouble with the antagonist in my current novel-in-progress. She’s boring. I have a decent handle on how she operates in her world, and the role she plays in the story, but she feels more like a mathematical formula than a human being. What to do?… Go out in search of a villain I’m excited about who has similar traits to my antagonist.

An intriguing historical villain

In my travels through books, the Internet, and my own memory, I found a deliciously evil woman from the early 1800s who grew up in Bauzelles, France. Her name was Thérèse Humbert.

As a girl, Thérèse was betrayed by her own father. He had raised her to believe she and her family were wealthy aristocrats. When the truth came out upon her father’s death that she was not of nobility, and wouldn’t be inheriting great wealth, Thérèse was robbed of a station in society she believed she was entitled to. Without legitimate means to claim her place, she resorted to her father’s game. Fraud.

She continued to tell the tale of her family’s aristocratic standing. She was able to obtain credit based on soon-to-be received wealth, piling up huge debt buying a lifestyle that gave the appearance of wealth. Along the way, Thérèse’s husband, and her father-in-law covered her debts as best they could, perhaps to protect their own reputations. She convinced bankers to allow debts to go unpaid for long after they were due by weaving story after story of an impending inheritance and a favorable marriage by her sister.

Eventually, Thérèse was arrested, tried, and imprisoned, but not after she had wreaked havoc on the hopes, reputations, and livelihoods of numerous family members, friends, and business associates. These unsustainable ways lead Thérèse to betray her younger sister in the very way her father had betrayed her.

With only a brief sketch of Thérèse’s life, I’m hooked.

What makes Thérèse Humbert such an interesting character?

  • The fact that Thérèse’s father betrayed her makes her need for money and status believable and heartbreaking. Her actions were still unconscionable, but I sympathize with how she became capable of them.
  • She betrayed her sister in the same way she was betrayed. Wow. Just wow. This makes me worry for not just the family, but for all the descendants, and especially the sister. Will it be possible for her to break the cycle?
  • The younger sister could not have been deceived without the support of family members who knew the truth. Thérèse could not have successfully defrauded so many people without the support of her very victims: family, friends, and business associates.

In light of what I’ve found, what can I try out on my antagonist?

  • Provide a single and traumatic event that drives her need for money and status.
  • Show that her daughter is at risk of falling into the same patterns of behavior.
  • Populate the story with a network of people that support the antagonist.

The villain in the story doesn’t breathe on their own. The person the villain was before the damage, and the people in the villains’s life who have retained their compassion, they are the ones who bring the villain to life.

Five Ways National Novel Writing Month is Improving my Writing, by Pamela Jean Herber

For those of you who are not familiar with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it is an annual event scheduled for the month of November, which is hosted by nanowrimo.org. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe accept the personal challenge to write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in 30 days. This year I succeeded for the eighth time in ten attempts. Along the way I’ve learned a few things about how to work toward quantity and quality simultaneously. These are the first five that come to mind.

1. Maintain Mad Typing Skills

It’s only obvious that typing speed and accuracy will help in pounding out those 50,000 words. However, my ultimate goal is to write a story of value to myself and others. So, I maintain a skill level that renders typing to the instinctual level, where I’m not thrown out of the land of story to search for a key or fix a typo.

2. Exile the Censor

Even with mad typing skills, the words can come haltingly. This is where I tell myself that no one ever has to see anything I write. Even then, sometimes it’s uncomfortable to come face to face with my own raw thoughts and feelings. Allowing my imagination to flow freely through my fingers has taken practice. Writing as fast as possible has proved to be the most effective way for me to get over myself. The benefits are great here, not only in word count but in connecting more fully to my inner storyteller.

3. Set the Timer

Timed writings serve multiple purposes. First, by starting out with short sprints and increasing them, you can build stamina, get your brain into writing shape. Then by setting the timer to the same length for multiple sessions and then switching to another, you will develop a sense of the relationship between word count and speed. Also, by maintaining a habit of timed writings your words will gradually take on shapes that fit the time lengths.

4. Write to Constraints

This is where the fun part begins. By now you are able to write with such velocity that you can dial it back to focus on story. Start by giving yourself random prompts to write to, either to a specific time length, or simply allow the words to determine the length. This is not easy for me. I’m still strengthening my ability to take multiple elements such as character and setting and place, and insert them into the story place in my mind. But it’s getting easier. Once you’ve achieved competence at impromptu story writing, you will be on your way to writing to an outline.

5. Transition from Time Chunks to Story Chunks

Here we are at number five, where the previous four come together. I like to think of this as the place where I inhabit the time-word count-story continuum. Now, instead of focusing on timed writings, write to story chunks. These can be scenes, chapters, whatever. The chunks might be loosely defined or highly specified. They might come directly from the outline to your novel. The timer isn’t off limits here, but may not be necessary.

Use these five practices to remove obstacles to putting words on the page, and to tune your imagination to your inner storyteller. Then go out, or stay in, and write the best shitty first draft of a novel you can.

My journey into eBook self-publishing

by Pamela Jean Herber

When I began my quest to self-publish short stories as eBooks I thought my wants were straightforward and reasonable. Well, they may be that. However, putting those wants into practice has lead me on a journey of shifting terrain, populated with obstacles.

In this post I’ll pass along some interesting finds along the way. I’ll ease up on the grumbling. I hope this will help others on their paths through the eBook, eReader, self-publishing landscape. I also hope to garner some wisdom from those of you in the know.

First, I will assume that writers are readers. Second, I will assume that the vast majority of readers these days are writers. Third, most of us are at least considering self-publishing. Fourth, the eBook reader market is exploding.

Onward.

The criteria I hope to meet

  • Publish independent of the big ebook sellers, which tie purchases to particular devices (iBooks↔iPhone, Amazon.com↔Kindle, Barnes & Noble↔Nook, etc.). The big sellers have given us tools to publish to the world quickly and easily. And they’ve made the purchasing and reading process dead simple. I don’t suggest boycotting these outfits in favor of selling independently. I suggest complementing them with smaller, more personal means of distribution.
  • Provide a streamlined, ad-light purchasing experience for readers, which handles the payment processing and eBook downloading for me.
  • Connect to eBook libraries that facilitate public, private and selected sharing of highlighting and comments of eBook passages. As a writer I welcome specific feedback. Even from trolls. They show me where I’ve hit a nerve. Mostly, I’d like to have the option of sending out reader copies in eBook form. Or even drafts of a WIP to a selected audience.

Methods that meet some of the criteria, most of the time

Email

Take that ePub you own the rights to, attach it to an email and then send a free copy out to your 300 closest friends. When a recipient clicks on the attachment from their device there’s a high probability they will be given a choice of ereaders to open it with. Although, I have to say, nothing is certain in the evolving eBook world. Of course, this method only applies to free samples and previously purchased items.

Smashwords: eBook distributor

Upload a word document to Smashwords and they will convert it to multiple eBook formats. Then they’ll distribute it to a long list of sellers including Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Sony. Smashwords also has its own store where purchased eBooks can be downloaded in multiple formats (ePub: most ereaders, mobi: Kindle, pdf, and more). The store isn’t as slick as most, but it’s functional. They also provide customers with detailed instructions on how to download and open eBooks for a variety of devices. Note: Smashwords doesn’t allow the eBooks it generates to be sold independent of their distribution network.

Of course, Smashwords isn’t the only eBook distributor out there. They are one of a few that don’t offer print services. They also don’t require money up front.

Check out these ShadowSpinners on Smashwords: Elizabeth Engstrom, Eric Witchey and Christina Lay.

Gumroad: digital media store

Gumroad is designed specifically for selling digital media, which includes eBooks, music, images and videos. Upload your eBook, set a price (free is an option) and save. Copy the URL of the eBook’s purchase page, and then create a link to it on your blog or website. Or insert it into an email. Easy. The customer clicks on the link, is presented with the option to purchase the book, and then the payment is processed through Gumroad. Let me know how it works out for you. Also, let us know about experiences with other digital media stores.

Readmill: eBook Reader & Community App for iPhone & iPad

I like Readmill because it provides a means to share highlights and comments with other people reading the same book. Pretty cool. I also like that I can upload a book and set it to private. It also allows for syncing with Kindle comments. The drawback? Readmill is only available for the iPhone and iPad. I hope that changes.

Aldiko: Popular eBook reader app for Android

Aldiko is popular with the Android crowd, but that’s all I know. Would like to hear from those of you with direct experience, especially as it relates to public and private sharing of books and comments. Also, how easy or difficult is it to add books to the library?

What am I left with?

Currently, I’m taking Gumroad for a test drive with a short story of mine. If you’re interested in checking out the Gumroad customer experience, download Ghost Story, by Pamela Jean Herber for free (or an amount of your choosing). I would love to know how smooth or clunky the process goes for you.

I’ve also uploaded the story to Readmill, where I’m a newbie. Don’t know if it’s possible to share an uploaded book. Anybody Readmill savvy?

My hope is that tools and communities supporting the above criteria will grow in popularity and sophistication. What has your experience been in this realm? What am I missing? What works? What doesn’t? Is the DRM-free eBook community growing or dying out? What should I try next?

Magic Carpet

by Pamela Jean Herber

My muse came to me this morning. She looked out over the landscape of my novel. Through her eyes I saw a fantasy land where the primary settings of my story were large in proportion to the rest of the land. The hills and valleys rolled. The rivers flowed. Birds flew in playful swoops and chirped mirthful songs. I also saw deep dark wells of mystery, where spiders and weasels and bats and snakes lived, their eyes glowing. She allowed me to admire what I had created, what it was that I was bringing to life.

I felt myself pull back from the vision. It wasn’t real enough. I wanted my characters and the place to feel as real as this life I’m living now. My muse smiled at that thought. She then knelt down. She grasped a piece of the landscape in one hand and a piece in the other. She ripped the terrain loose from its holding. What tore free was a magic carpet of sorts. It pulsed in the air, a rollercoaster of motion. The fringed ends fluttered. Gold embroidery glinted beneath dust and grime. My muse shook the carpet violently. All sorts of chunks of things dusted up and fell away, disappearing into the blur below. I saw people falling and screaming, and goats bleating. Chairs and dining room tables and sofas and kitchen sinks flew helter-skelter.

She gave the carpet a few more hefty shakes. As the detritus fell away, the carpet began to show its true nature, all of its splendor, and began to take hold of itself. It no longer needed my muse to clean it up. It no longer needed my muse to tell it where to be or to flop it around.

I reached to take it back.

My muse sensed this and let go of the corners it had grasped so tightly. The carpet sped off into the distance.

I was furious. My novel needed armor to protect it. I would go after it. Find it. Build that armor. But I didn’t know how to go where it had gone.

My muse offered a hand to me. I hesitated before taking it. We flew across many landscapes until we reached a world, out in space, in its own orbit. She motioned toward it. She didn’t say a word to me but I understood. This was the magic carpet we had woven. It was whole. It was alive. It was perfect.

Where Things Fall Apart

by Pamela Jean Herber

Come along with me. Not to the safe place you’ve found. Not to the Laws of Physics. Not to the benevolent God who ensures every event in your life supports his divine plan. Not to the spiritual program that promises to work if you work it. Not to the place that is your own personal theory of everything.

Step away with me to the shadowy places the safe houses block from the light. Places where the x-axis and y-axis are independent from each other at the same time everything is connected. Or the place where neither is true. Allow me to introduce you to a world of contradictions. A place where the truths we depended on yesterday have fallen by the wayside, replaced by new truths, or simply chaos.

Join me in the realm of story.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m only taking you places that are imaginary. Places that do not exist. Places you can enter into and exit from at your personal discretion.

First, imagine you are a storyteller. What if one day you discover all the stories you’ve ever told and all the stories you will tell in the future are manifested in the physical world? How will that knowledge change how you feel about yourself as a person? Who have you harmed? Who have you helped? Would you search those people out? Would your storytelling come to an abrupt halt? Would you be afraid to utter another word because of the potential damage you might incur? Or would you go the other way? Would you attempt to undo the damage you’d inflicted? Would you refrain from the ripping of limbs in fight scenes? Would you never write another murder? Or even a peaceful death?

Here’s another scenario: What if a young boy is one of the few humans of the next evolution of man? What if he has evolved beyond the understanding of his family and the entrenched culture of his community? What if he is seen as an aberration as opposed to a hope for the human species? Will he and those like him be aggressively reprogrammed to fit in? Will humans vanish from the universe as a result? Will his innate drive to survive overcome his conditioning? Will he be forced to rebel against the people he loves in order to save them?

On second thought, you should be afraid. These places I’m asking you to go challenge the very solidity of those safe structures we hold onto so dearly. In the first example above, I challenge the idea that what has worked in the past will work in the future. In the second, I challenge that generational departures from accepted behavior are aberrations.

Be very afraid. You may become less trusting of the foundations you are standing on. On the other hand, your faith in them may be reinforced. You may become more confident in when to rely on them and when to search out more information. My hope is that by exploring the places where things fall apart with you we both will expand our safe places and shrink the shadows and remember that context is everything.