Where are all the lovable bad guys and gals?

I’ve been looking around for The Abomination to continue my series of posts heckling my first attempt at a novel, but I misplaced the manuscript while cleaning this summer. Like most objects of extreme evil/stupidity, it’s bound to turn up. However, I did find a detailed critique from the one person who actually read the first draft of my second novel attempt. One of the points of what was wrong with it was “Where are all the lovable bad guys and gals?”

This story had very few side characters. Good, bad — zilch. The few it had only existed as long as they were in the main character’s line of sight. Out of sight was out of the novel.

Aside from creating a few logical flaws (a large ship should have a skeleton crew at the very least, not just the only two people in the world opposed to mass genocide), it got boring. The whole thing became about the main conflict between the main protagonists and antagonists — dramatic, to be sure, but overbearing without side characters to provide well-timed distractions.

Side characters are a great source of conflict. In a perfect (or halfway decent) novel, no one gets along perfectly. Real people don’t, either. There are love triangles all over the place. Not all are the traditional sort:

Fighting over affections. With any blend of genders, you can have two people in love with the same person. Whether they started out as friends or enemies, everything from personal hygiene to physical prowess becomes a competition.

Fighting over attention. Not all triangles involve love. Maybe you have two candidates for a promotion and both want to impress their supervisor. Maybe the sorcerer from Over the Mountains needs a Chosen One and he’s holding tryouts.

Fighting over Object of Power. Everyone and their second cousin twice removed was after the One Ring — no shortage of conflict there. And how many people wanted to get the four stones in The Fifth Element? A lot. Or maybe the Object of Power is a floppy disc or a cell phone.

Fighting over property. Take your pick from large and small scale: land, livestock, jewelry, keys, pens, staplers, seats in the cafeteria… As a bit of a possessive freak, I can assure you that even touching something someone has claimed can begin a duel to the death.

Fighting over nothing. Ever disagree with someone just to spite them? They might be right, but damned if you’ll admit it! Your characters can be that way, too. Maybe that guy slept with your hero’s sister’s gardener and now the hero hates that guy no matter what he does. Or he just doesn’t like people who smell like chicken and have beards.

A well-placed diversion from the main plot gives depth to all your characters — readers see them in a less critical situation — and a breath to your readers. It might even add tension to the main conflict. If your character’s embezzlement scheme is about to be discovered, she really doesn’t want to argue about all the pens she borrowed and never gave back to that guy in the office who will not let her leave until all his pens have been returned.

Just make sure you’ve set it up throughout the story and have her dump all her stolen pens into a safety deposit box or something. Then it will make sense.

Recommended Reads: Blood in the Paint

blood-in-the-paint-coverI know it’s long overdue, but my review of Jordanna East’s second book is finally here! I wanted my hands on this ever since I finished Blood in the Past, and it did not disappoint.

In the first book, we watched Lyla Kyle go from a semi-normal (albeit eerie) woman to a revenge-crazed psychopath. Now we have the joy of watching her commit one murder after the other — and we’re secretly dancing with glee every time she doesn’t get caught. As the body count rises to a number Sweeney Todd would commend, a sick feeling sets in. Oh yeah, we’ve been rooting for the bad guy. Someone needs to get in there and stop her.

How about Officer Brighthouse? He’s smart, plucky and looking to prove himself. His boyish charm brings in some much needed levity at just the right times to keep the drama and anxiety from feeling overbearing. And his problems with his wife keep him from feeling like just another paperback detective. He has more going on than just his pursuit of a beautiful murderess. And if we’ve learned anything from the last book, bad things are on the way if someone’s marriage is in a rocky place.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of this thriller is the tension between Jillian and Lyla. If you read the last book, you know their relationship could go up in flames at any second. For new readers, don’t worry. You’ll catch up right away.

This would not be a Jordanna East novel without some punches to the gut — and Ms. East does not pull her punches. It’s one delightfully maddening twist after another, and you won’t want to put it down.

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Note: In the original post, the cover of Blood in the Paint did not feature the Switzy Thoughts Recommended Reads stamp. Once I was able to access Photoshop, that was quickly updated.

Reader-response time on The Thieves of Traska excerpt!

As I mentioned earlier this week, I wrote a brief scene in The Thieves of Traska that has me conflicted. While writing it, I didn’t go into too much detail because the action and violence wasn’t the focus. But that little editor voice we all have in our heads won’t let me proceed until I figure out whether it reads like it should, or like the writer downed too much coffee too late in the day and just blazed through before bed. And it also shouldn’t read like I’m putting Claire through the wringer just to win some sympathy points.

That’s where you all come in! Please read through the scene and leave a comment!

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A shadow moved through the light seeping through the cracks around the door, and before Claire could reach for it, the door swung open. With his arms crossed, the muscles built by years of hard labor bulging ominously, Reed filled the doorway. His lips were pressed together in a thin line, his face almost as red as his hair.

A lump formed in her throat. Had she really hoped he wouldn’t already know what she’d done? Stupid. Reed always knew what she was up to.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Cold fear trickled down her spine. She almost wished she was back in the windowless cell. “I came home.” She winced inwardly; she sounded weak even in her own ears.

“You think I’d let a lying thief sleep under my roof?” He crossed the distance between them in three strides and took her by the shoulders, shaking her. “Do you?” She shook her head mutely. She knew where she’d be sleeping tonight. “Filth like you belongs in a gutter.”

She closed her eyes when he drew his hand back. She felt each stinging blow, felt the blood on her face, and eventually the cold ground under her cheek. One eye cracked open, searching for Reed’s blurred outline in the darkness. He was there, one hand around her ankle as he dragged her to a nearby tree. Without a word, he propped her up against it and tied her hands on the other side of the trunk. It was always the same whenever he caught her stealing; he’d make her return whatever it was, then she spent the night tied to this tree. In the morning, she’d go back to work in the fields.

She rested her head against the tree, clarity slowly returning. “Reed,” she croaked. “What happened with Garrison?” Silence stretched on so long, she thought he’d already gone inside. Then she heard his voice right in her ear.

“I told you he was arrested.” He paused. “Did you see him while you were in jail?” She nodded weakly, wincing at the bark grating her face. “I would have thought they’d hanged him already.”

“Tomorrow,” she said. “The jailor said he’d hang tomorrow morning.”

“Good. There’s a rope for every mangy thief in the world. I’m glad he’s found his. And if you ever try stealing anything ever again, I’ll put the rope around your neck myself.”

She heard quiet footsteps and sighed in relief that he was leaving. Darkness was starting to drag her under, and she welcomed it. Rest called to her, and not even the pained cries and sounds of fighting nearby would keep her from it.

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The Thieves of Traska Giveaway Winners!

The giveaway has ended, and I’m happy to announce that Hannah Jones is the winner of the prize package! And since the giveaway only got 89 entries, that means there is a second-place winner. That is Meagan Corrado! She is going to get three customized Molskine journals, featuring some of the characters from The Thieves of Traska.

Thank you to everyone who entered! For those of you who didn’t win, don’t worry. I’m already planning the next giveaway and assembling the prizes.

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone who participated and to all my readers!

Another Thieves of Traska Excerpt (and a giveaway update!)

Have you entered my giveaway yet? If not, don’t panic! There’s still plenty of time. For those of you who have entered, I have two things to say to you. 1) I’m blown away by the amount of entries already. Truth be told, I expected maybe 25 total by the deadline, but it’s more than double that. Thank you so much! 2) Please don’t be a party pooper and click that you commented on the giveaway post when you really didn’t. I and the rest of the world can see who actually commented and whose pants are on fire.

On to the excerpt! Some of you had a chance to read the previous excerpt long before I posted it, so here’s something new to the second draft!

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Claire chewed her lip. She was in enough trouble as it was; did she really want to dig herself a deeper hole by breaking out of jail? When Garrison started coughing again, she revised her question: Did she want to let him die even if Reed wasn’t responsible?

“What do I need to do?”

In hushed tones, he instructed her to pull two thin strips of wood from the walls and break them into short, sturdy lengths. Her hands shook the entire time. She slid her hands back through the bars and inserted her makeshift picks into the lock on the other side. Garrison kept quiet while she worked, allowing her to focus.

She held her breath, making slight adjustments with every sound at her fingertips. Her arms ached as she worked, growing heavier as the candle burned lower and lower. Sweat gathered at her scalp. She pressed her face against the bars, thankful for the cool metal. The refreshing chill it sent down her spine crept into her fingers, revitalizing their deftness.

A satisfying click and the lock gave.

“Sounds like a job well done,” Garrison said cheerfully.

“Not quite,” she whispered back. She withdrew the picks and pushed on the door gently, a thrill of excitement going through her as it opened. Pulling it shut again, she put as much misery in her voice as she could muster and called out to the guards. “Do you have any more water in there?”

Some grumbling came from the next room before the door swung open again. It remained open, as it had before, the sudden light painful to her eyes. When the familiar outline appeared in the doorway, she looked past it to the other guard. At least there were only two.

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The Thieves of Traska Giveaway!

Alright folks, the time has come to enter my first ever giveaway! What’s the occasion, you ask? Well, The Thieves of Traska has left the initial drafting phase and is now being edited/rewritten into a second draft. I started writing it seven months ago, making this the fastest first draft I’ve ever turned out.

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway, so click the link to enter!

Need a refresher on the fabulous prizes one lucky person is going to win? You’ll get five one of a kind hand-painted bookmarks, a leather-bound notebook, one brass wax seal, one stick of sealing wax, and one canvas tote bag!

The entry period starts today and ends on April 19. I will announce the winner the following Monday! Once a winner has been selected, I will need a valid shipping address. Not a U.S. resident? Not a problem! Wherever you are in the world, I will ship it.

Good luck everyone! And remember, there are two entry options you can complete once each day the giveaway is live. I look forward to seeing who the winner is!

The Thieves of Traska Giveaway Prizes!

As I promised last week, I’m ready to unveil the prizes for my first ever giveaway!

giveaway prizes1The full list of prizes includes a few things not shown above:

  • Five handmade bookmarks (with surprise illustrations on the opposite sides!)
  • One leather-bound notebook with unlined parchment paper pages
  • One brass wax seal (with letter of the winner’s choice)
  • One stick of sealing wax (color is winner’s choice)
  • One Thieves of Traska canvas tote bag

Pretty snazzy, right? The wax sticks and the seals shown are my own, simply there for illustrative purposes. Once I have a winner, I will email the person to get their choice of wax color and letter seal.

As for the surprise parts of this, I couldn’t resist. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve already seen the fronts of those bookmarks. But what’s on the backs? And what does the bag look like? My dear reader, you will just have to wait for a winner.

I tried to come up with somewhat practical prizes (things that can be used over a period of time, not just occupy space and look pretty). The giveaway itself will go live two weeks from today. Stay tuned!