Learning to Disengage

Learning to Disengage

A Cyberstalking Story

It’s been an interesting year so far (in the sense of the supposed Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”). As I’ve said in a previous post, my family was affected by the Manchester Arena bombing, which led me to withdraw from most of my writing-relating activities to focus on the process of grieving. But I’d actually withdrawn from social media before the bombing, and that’s because of a Series of Unfortunate Events, as I’ve come to think of it (sadly, not the the Lemony Snicket book).

I’m not going to get into the details of what happened, but I’ll sum it up by saying that I became the target of a stalker who initially contacted me online, then by “snail mail.” The contact began with a discussion of my writing, then devolved into personal questions about me, then became threatening (and disgusting). I found the Series of Unfortunate Events initially bizarre, then upsetting and finally quite frightening. Logging into my social media accounts, reading my email and eventually opening my post became a trial and a source of dread.

The stalking has stopped, and the stalker (I think) has realized the error of his ways and offered an apology for his behavior. Although scary, this has been (as with all things), an educational experience for me, and I’ve come up with the following learning points:

  1. Don’t take the stalking personally. We live in a culture that still blames the victim, and I’d internalized this more than I realized. I thought I’d done something to cause the stalking: over-shared, over-engaged, whatever. Talking with both my husband and others who have experienced cyberstalking reminded me that I engage with thousands of people who treat me kindly and respect my boundaries, but only one person who didn’t. The problem was not me; it was him.blame-the-victim
  2. Don’t suffer in silence. I made this mistake for a long time. I thought the stalker would go away if I ignored him (he didn’t; the behavior escalated). So I didn’t reach out to anyone in my support network: my family, friends, other authors, about what was going on. In fact, I only “admitted” it when my husband opened (and read) a letter from the stalker. His horror and fury when I showed him the comments and emails I’d received gave me much-needed validation and made me realize that ignoring the behavior and hoping the stalker would go away was not the answer.
  3. Don’t give in. Several people advised me to simply withdraw, particularly from social media. If I wasn’t online, if I didn’t read my emails, then I wouldn’t be upset by what the stalker was posting and sending me. I followed this advice for a while, particularly while I lined up the cavalry (see next point), but then I rallied. Social media is the primary way I promote my books, get feedback on my writing and engage with my readers. Why should I let him drive me away? And I am so glad that I didn’t. When I came back to Facebook (which I hadn’t been on for three months), I found the most lovely engagement from a reader waiting for me. That kind of engagement is why I publish, and one nutter should not be able to take that away from me.
  4. Use the privacy tools available. Most online platforms have features that allow the user to block content or other users. Blocking the user initially worked for me, but then the stalker set up new accounts by which to contact me. I kept blocking each account and complaining to the service provider and over time, Gmail and Facebook got wise to his tricks. I’m not clear if they did this by way of blocking an IP address (which I understand is the most effective way), or some other method, but they eventually shut him down. (Twitter was not involved in my cyberstalking and I understand they may be the worst at blocking abusive users.)
  5. Escalate if you need to. I didn’t end up bringing a criminal complaint against my stalker, but I did get advice from the fraud squad of my local police force, who assured me that they take cyberstalking extremely seriously, it is a crime, and they would assist me if I decided to bring a complaint. Because I was successful in getting the online platforms to shut the stalker down, and a very sharply worded letter from a lawyer-friend stopped the postal contact and elicited a pretty abject apology, I decided not to go down this route, but I felt much better knowing it was available to me.
  6. Lift yourself back up. The thing that bothered me the most about the Series of Unfortunate Events was that it sucked all the delight out of an avenue of engagement that I’d formerly enjoyed. I got lucky in that, on my return, there was that fabulous engagement from a reader waiting for me, which made me feel my effort had been worthwhile. But even if that hadn’t been the case, I have a bunch of techniques for lifting myself back up that I could have employed which I’ve talked about here.

So that’s my stalking story, which has a happy ending in that I’m back online and feeling positive again. Also, perhaps bizarrely, these months have been extremely productive in a writing sense: over 200,000 words in a Regency romance I can’t publish, but I’ve had a great deal of fun writing and which was really cathartic during the worst of the stalking and the aftermath of the bombing.

I wouldn’t wish my particular “interesting times” on anyone. Cyberstalking is no fun, even if you’re someone who doesn’t give a shit what other people think of you (and I’m not). But it doesn’t have to grind you down, drive you away, or make you a victim. Illegitimi non carborundum!

The Politics of Rage

The Politics of Rage

(Image used under Creative Commons Licence.)

I’ve been offline for a while. My family was affected by the Manchester Arena bombing, and it’s taken me a while to emerge from the pall that cast over our lives. I’m not ready to talk about that yet, and I’m not up to writing a political post. But I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation and rage, really since the UK vote to leave the European Union. Some of that thinking has coalesced into this post, which is actually about fictional worldbuilding.

For me, worldbuilding starts with geography. I draw maps, name places, and then work my way into the economics and politics of those locales. Settings are characters in themselves for me. I want them to have a life and vibrancy of their own. I also want them to feel realistic, whether it’s the fae Court of the Oak King in Burning Bones or a distant planet colonized by cyborgs in The Stars Avail. Realism starts with historical precedents, which makes me a student of history by necessity.

I don’t know how other students of history will view Brexit and the recent US Presidential Election, but my, perhaps simplistic, read of them is that both were driven by rage. Particularly after Brexit, I spent a lot of time listening to people who voted to leave the EU explain their vote. Some of this was on the mainstream media, but a lot of it was just speaking with business associates, neighbors and folks down the pub. With rare exception, “leavers” admitted that they didn’t really understand what leaving the EU would mean, on a national, or personal, level. The PM resigning, the pound plummeting, the loss of EU funding for agricultural and industrial interests – they hadn’t understood any of it. They’d voted to leave because they were angry. The phrase I heard most often was that they’d “had enough.” Had enough of what? I asked. I got a wide variety of answers – immigrants, austerity, government corruption. But very little had to do with the UK’s membership in the EU. What the leavers were really saying (and what I think the American people have said in electing Donald Trump), is that they have “had enough” of the loss of prosperity and stability that they considered their birthright as Britons and Americans.

This was more than nostalgia for the “American Dream.” It was more than fear of “the Other.” It was fury at deprivation and loss.

I didn’t understand that fury (and neither did the pollsters). Not until I spent some time listening to the “leavers.” Sitting across from the fellow in the pub, watching his face turn purple as he talked about having to wait for two months for a doctor’s appointment because “those immigrants” are monopolizing the NHS’s resources, I began to understand. Watching the YouTube footage of a man frothing at the mouth as he confronts a woman in a burka, telling her to “go home,” even after she explains she was born in the UK, brought the point home a little more. This is not rational. This rage defies analysis. I have to feel it, before I can appreciate why these groups of people acted against their own self-interest.

I have always known that the oppressed will revolt eventually. The sheep look up. What I didn’t understand is that oppression is a matter of degree. The relatively well-off can still feel oppressed if they are deprived of those things to which they feel entitled. That sense of oppression, of loss, of helpless anger, drives people to do things that are not logical. They’re not even intuitive. They make no sense, because they’re driven by pure emotion. The emotions of despair and loss and rage.

I still feel very uncomfortable listening the to the angry “Leaver” down the pub, or watching that YouTube video. But turning my eyes aside is the wrong reaction. In order to appreciate this emotion – and how it might feed into my worldbuilding – I have to let myself feel it. It’s not comfortable. It’s not safe. But it is the sign of our times. The politics of rage.

Elemental Magic

Elemental Magic

Escapism and The Pain Season

I’m delighted to have fellow lawyer and author of hot urban fantasy, Libby Doyle, as a guest on my blog today. She’s here to talk about the inspiration behind the second book in her Covalent series.

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Readers often ask me how I come up with my ideas. I tell them it is a mysterious alchemy. The way the light bounces off a skyscraper when I’m on my way to work in the morning makes me think how the sight would emotionally affect my characters. The sight of an impossibly beautiful couple makes me imagine their love story, or perhaps its tragic end.

I love escapism. I want my books to entertain. Life is hard and often boring, so I’ve written a few ripsnorters. I want to take people for a ride, light up their imaginations.

The science fiction/fantasy aspect of my stories is meant to be cool and fun. I have no pretense beyond that. But within that framework, my stories do what stories have always done. They draw you into the minds and emotions of characters and communicate something real by virtue of it.

In the Covalent Series, I’ve created a race of ancient beings who use their great power to keep the elemental forces of Creation and Destruction in Balance. In my fictional world, were it not for these aliens, the elemental forces would expand and transform into each other in an endless cycle. Everything would be destroyed. The Covalent bring stability to the cosmos. They sit at the still center of everything that exists.

So, imagine an immortal Covalent warrior, exiled to Earth because of the sins of his father, Lucifer, who rebelled against the rulers of their realm. Now, imagine this warrior meets an extraordinary human, an FBI agent, strong, smart and fearless, and falls madly in love with her. Not a real life situation, to put it mildly, but their passion teases out interactions that are all too human. Can love succeed when the lovers are not only from different cultures, but different dimensions? Does Barakiel, my heroic warrior, have the right to place the woman he loves in danger, which he does simply by loving her? He has enemies, you see.

Here’s an excerpt from The Pain Season:

Alexandra O’Gara sat on the couch flipping the pages of a magazine, too nervous to focus on reading. Normally, she liked it when Rainer asked her to wait for him at his place. Compared to her crappy little apartment, the ultra-modern space was an oasis of serenity, its sleek lines warmed by the rich wood of the furniture, the colorful rugs and the bright, abstract paintings. She had started a fire in the massive concrete fireplace despite the warmth of the night. She gazed into the flames.

Her phone buzzed. It was Rainer, talking rapidly, panic in his voice. When the call was over, she put the phone in her lap and stared at the floor.

What the hell?

Rainer’s tone led her to believe she should do as he said. Explanation or no, he wasn’t joking.

So much for my instincts. He must be involved in some criminal enterprise.

She suppressed tears as she pulled her service pistol from her bag. A 9mm Sig Sauer. Rainer had said there would be five assailants. She sent a prayer of thanks out to her FBI partner, Mel, who had insisted she get the Sig that took extra-capacity magazines.

Two twenty-round clips. That should do me.

Zan readied her firearm then ran to the front door. Before she opened it, she heard a vehicle drive into the compound. She looked through the peephole. A box truck.

I’ll never make it to my car. Should I call the police? Do I want to do that to Rainer? Have to explain this to my boss? I can slip out the back.

She remembered what Rainer had said about a defensive position. She decided on the weapons room. Its double doors were sturdy and it had an exit to the back balcony. She ran up the stairs. Once inside the room, she grabbed a pike off the wall and slid it through the handles to prevent the doors from opening. She waited. If they seemed like they could bust through, she would exit to the balcony, jump to the ground and hightail it to her car.

All I can do is hope they don’t leave someone outside to cut off my escape.

Zan opened the south-side window. She heard faint voices, doors slamming, the truck pulling away. She also heard sounds like rabid dogs would make if they were as big as grizzlies. Zan had not been afraid before, operating in some state of unreality, but the sounds brought fear screaming to her mind.

What the hell is that?

She ran to peer through the crack between the weapons room doors. She saw them crash through the front. Five huge, scaly, slobbering monsters with double-sided axes in their hands pushed the heavy wooden doors aside like they were paper.

The Monster

***

The Pain Season is available now at Amazon: goo.gl/O3MEfT, iBooks: goo.gl/JQIOHL, Barnes & Noble: goo.gl/sSNpSb, & Kobo: goo.gl/AHm51x.

Although not a cliffhanger, The Pain Season is not a stand-alone novel. The story begins in The Passion Season and will continue in The Vengeance Season coming in 2017. 

Libby Doyle is an attorney and former journalist who took a walk around the corporate world and didn’t like it. She escapes the mundane by writing extravagant yarns, filled with sex and violence. She loves absurd humor, travel, punk rock, and her husband. You can discover more about Libby’s world at http://www.libbydoyle.com.

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Hidden Misogyny in “Sicario”

Hidden Misogyny in “Sicario”

Or, Give Me Ripley Over Macer Any Day

(Warning: spoilers for Sicario and Training Day.)

I finally got to Dennis Villeneuve’s Sicario in my Netflix queue last week. I’d heard good things about it and I like the lead actors, so I was excited to watch it. The first half of the movie didn’t disappoint. What a taut thriller! I was quite literally on the edge of my seat during the highway confrontation. I wholly sympathized with Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer character. She’s cool and competent in the face of the film’s opening horrors, but not as hardened by the war on drugs as Benicio del Toro’s chilly veteran, Alejandro Gillick. She wants payback for what she’s seen, but not at any cost. When she sees Gillick and the CIA bad-guy setting up an assassination rather than a prosecution, she tries to stop it by going over their heads to her supervisor. That the film gives her idealism short-shrift is understandable. If there’s a moral message to the film it’s that America is losing the war on drugs not because of what we’re doing, but because of what we’re not willing to do.

But the second half of the movie repulsed me. Not because of Macer’s complicity in the assassination of the Mexican drug lords, or the way her own agency and the CIA turn on her. She’s a whistleblower, and a woman. I wholly believed the “old boys” closing ranks on her. What disgusted me was the way the film portrayed her as increasingly incompetent. The woman who sent her queasy (male) partner outside for air while she unflinchingly showed her superiors around the Chandler house of horrors is reduced over and over. First she has to be rescued from her hook-up turned hitman. Then she has her gun shot out of her hands in the tunnel incursion and is reduced to watching her partner’s “six.” She ends the movie in trembling paralysis, unable to stop Gillick even after he’s destroyed her career and threatened her life. What happened to the competent kidnap-response team commander?

If the point in eroding Macer’s competence this way was to show what happens to American soldiers in guerrilla warfare, then I just don’t buy it. With the exception of the seduction-turned-assassination attempt, her male partner is exposed to pretty much the same circumstances, and he doesn’t fall apart. Is the hidden point that women can’t hack it in war? Or that a woman’s sexuality makes her incapable of being an effective soldier? What is the film saying in having the (male) character that Macer looks to for guidance and approval being the one who destroys her career? Is it telling that the moment Macer quite literally lets her hair down, dresses and behaves like a woman, she’s attacked and nearly killed before Gillick rescues her?

The final scenes of the movie reduce Macer beyond incompetence, to the point of childishness. Gillick makes this abundantly clear when he threatens her and then tells her she looks like his lost daughter when she’s frightened. She’s tiny, barefoot and weaponless as she confronts him. Teary and helpless as he forces her into complicity with the CIA’s very dark political agenda. In one of the film’s most beautiful lines, Gillick tells her to run away to a small town where the rule of law still exists because she’s not a wolf, “and this is a land of wolves now.” Gorgeous language, but what does it say? Women are lambs? Women must be relegated to small-town America where they can be protected? The language may be beautiful but the message is not.

Would Macer’s character have been so reduced if she was a man? Maybe, but comparing Sicario to another thriller that had a similar message, I think not. That movie is Training Day, and although the message is the same, the treatment of the point-of-view rookie character is very different. Ethan Hawke’s character Jake Hoyt suffers a similar erosion of his high moral stance: taking drugs and participating (even if unwillingly) in the murder of a drug dealer. But Hoyt isn’t reduced to trembling inaction. He outwits Denzel Washington’s corrupt veteran and leaves him to a much-deserved fate. That’s a sharp contrast to Macer, outmaneuvered and left stranded Juliette-like on her apartment balcony while the titular hitman (who has now stolen everything from her, including her movie) turns his back on her and walks away.

I’m not asking for every female action hero to be Ellen Ripley. And I don’t mind morally murky films. I’m fine with an ending that shows we’re not winning whatever war we’re fighting: we’re just creating more and more victims. What I mind is making the female action hero one of them.

Pulling Aside the Curtain

Pulling Aside the Curtain

The ultimate reveal of the villain is incredibly important in any conflict-based narrative. It’s the pay-off for the reader. They’ve followed all the clues, stuck to the right path despite the red-herrings the author has thrown in their way, and now they get the prize: to find out “who done it” and why. Pulling aside the curtain is usually the climax of a narrative and what readers will long remember if it engages and entertains them.

It’s that moment, the ultimate reveal, that I’m struggling with at present. The feedback I’ve had on Snowburn tells me the ultimate reveal of the villain, Kison Tyng, was satisfying to readers. When I pulled back the curtain, I revealed not the all-powerful monster that the protagonists had envisioned, but rather a struggling, dying man motivated by the desire to protect his family. He put the protagonists through the conflicts of the story for a reason, and his reason was sympathetic. Readers really engaged with that.

The beta and editorial feedback I’ve had on Throwing Fire tells me the opposite. The reveal is not satisfying. The why of the antagonist’s actions doesn’t click with readers. Maybe that’s because Tyng’s actions in Snowburn were motivated by love, and the villain in Throwing Fire is motivated by hate and the desire for revenge. Is love a more satisfying motive than hate or revenge? I wouldn’t have thought so, but that’s something I’m chewing over.

I’ve been re-watching True Detective (Season One, of course) over the last few weeks (because nothing is better for you when you’re in a writing funk than getting involved in an extensive narrative of dissipation, dissolution and psychosis – hmm). I think the reveal of the killer in Form and Void (episode eight) is incredibly effective. In the previous episodes, there have been hints at the killer’s motive, but the viewer has never seen him and never known the whole story. In episode eight, the show’s writers pull back the curtain and give us the killer’s point of view. We see what’s made him: the incest, poverty and twisted religion. It’s a surprisingly nuanced point of view. The killer is a damaged man-child seeking transcendence. He’s a monster, but one the viewer (and certainly the nihilist detective Rust Cohle) can relate to. He’s seeking, on a larger and more deranged scale, the same things we all seek: acceptance, connection (even if violent), and the ultimate reward of faith.

I’ve been contrasting this in my mind with the last two books of the Harry Potter series, which are also an exploration of a killer’s psychology. Voldemort is perhaps a less nuanced character than True Detective’s killer. Both seek an off-beat form of immortality, but Voldemort’s ultimate motivation is fear, where the True Detective killer’s is desire. Voldemort seeks power on the earthly plane to defeat death, while the True Detective killer seeks elevation above it (or below it, since he talks about the “infernal plane” rather than heaven). Coming back to what’s a more satisfying motive, love or hate, if Voldemort’s motive is hate and the True Detective killer’s is love, love is the more interesting and engaging motivation to me.

So maybe the key to rewriting the end of Throwing Fire is not the action or resolution, but the villain’s motivation. If I can find something the villain loves, and make that the reason behind the villain’s actions, that might make the moment I finally pull back the curtain satisfying for readers.

Following the Ripples

I’m delighted to welcome fellow sci-fi author L J Cohen to my blog!

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Nearly a year ago, E J wrote about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: writing realistic injuries. In the linked post, she chronicles the pain and healing time of a deep cut to her hand as a way to use her misfortune to create better fiction when her characters get injured.

I share E J’s frustration with superhero characters who don’t get injured or who heal without consequence when they do.

In creating everyman characters who are thrust into situations where they get hurt, fatigued and stressed, I need to think through every way those factors would effect their lives. It’s not enough to describe the pain – I have to follow the ripples.

Choosing to injure your character is like every other choice in a novel. It has to exist for a reason. Preferably more than one reason. Does the injury deepen characterization? Drive the plot? Limit your character’s abilities? Force your character to problem solve more fully? Change the way others relate to them?

If the only reason the character is injured is to engender sympathy, then the injury is a thin device and adds little to the overall narrative. One of the dangers of incorporating injury and disability in a story is falling into the cliché of the ‘noble victim.’ Equally problematic is when the character is injured or disabled simply to motivate the actions of the non-injured protagonist. Both choices remove agency from the character and render that person into a plot-device.

But injury and disability can be written well. One of my favorite depictions of physical disability in speculative fiction is the Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold. The protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, was exposed to a poison in utero that prevented normal growth of his bones. He is considered a mutant by many in the rigid conservative society in which he was born for his deformities and has fragile bones. His frailty forces him to compete in a vicious political landscape using his wits and his will. He is both brilliant and insufferable; a wonderful, fully realized character.

A second pitfall in writing injuries is when the injuries serve the needs of an immediate plot point but have no follow through or consequence in the story as a whole. This is something common to thrillers where the hero gets shot only to be patched up by a sympathetic side character and then saves the day when any mere mortal would be writhing on the floor waiting for emergency services. Getting injured hurts. Even if no vital organs are damaged, the shock post gunshot or stabbing or burn can easily take down the strongest, most fit individual.

Shock is a protective reaction by the body and is part of a complex series of reflexes that take place without conscious thought. Typical shock reactions include: decreased blood pressure, rapid, weak pulse, lowered core temperature, rapid, shallow breathing, nausea or vomiting, dilated pupils, and loss of consciousness.

It’s far more likely that your injured character will go into shock than run into the lair of the bad guys, rescue the damsel, and ride into the sunset. And shock, if untreated, can actually be fatal.

I love the phrase E J used in the quote above: Follow the ripples. The moment of injury is the stone in the pond. What it changes is the ripples.

One of my protagonists in Ithaka Rising – book 2 of Halcyone Space – is dealing with the aftermath of a head injury he sustains in book 1. His impairments are disabling. He experiences nausea and vomiting, crippling headaches, vertigo, and is unable to focus on his computer screen or read. His experience of his injury and the choices he makes as a result of not improving drives the entire plot of the story. He believes only a neural implant device will help him, but his young age is a contra-indication. So he finds a black market source for one. There are consequences to his actions, ripples that effect him, his family, and the political landscape.

Another problem in writing injuries is when the author gets the physiologic details wrong. Absent magical healing or hugely advanced tech (and even those need to have limits and consequences), injuries take time to heal. Even the mildest of tendon strains can take several weeks to fully heal. Broken bones can take six–twelve weeks or more depending on the severity of the fracture and the overall health and age of the person. Deep cuts and penetrating wounds are a huge infection risk, as are burns. Infections can be fatal, even in a technologically enhanced world.

I had a 25 year career as a physical therapist before I became a writer. My specialty area was orthopedics and chronic pain management. When my characters get hurt, they are well and truly hurt. This year, I started a weekly twitter chat to help writers be more realistic in depictions of injuries and healing. I’m always happy to take questions. Look for #InjuryWrite or mention me on twitter @lisajanicecohen.

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Thank you so much to L J for stopping by my blog today! She’s generously agreed to give-away an ebook of the winner’s chosing from her titles in honour of her new release, Dreadnought and Shuttle. Check it out on Amazon, Google Books, Kobo, B&N, and iBooks.

final-kindle-cover-small

When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict
between the young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness
as a hostage expires.

Anyone who comments on this post from 13th June 2016 to 20th June 2016 will be entered into the drawing and I’ll post the winner in the comments and email them as well.

Finally, here’s a little bit more about my wonderful guest: L J Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, L J now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. L J is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

 

Tied Up With A Bow

Tied Up With A Bow

I find great pleasure in “rediscovering” books I read years ago. I rarely get rid of books I’ve enjoyed and keep many boxes of books in my attic. This weekend, while putting away luggage from a recent trip, I dug through one of those boxes and “rediscovered” several paperbacks I haven’t read in decades.

One of them was a historical romance (I’m not going to name it because I’m going to tank on it). I remember enjoying the atypical heroine and the realistic depictions of life on the American frontier. So it was with relish that I cracked it open, and I enjoyed it just as much as I remembered.

Until I reached the end.

When I closed the book, I felt unsatisfied, and a little disgruntled. The ending was a let-down. It was a typical HEA (“happily ever after”) ending, but it fell flat. There was no emotional punch. I’d shed some tears in the middle of the book, as the heroine realizes her own self-worth, but nothing towards the end. Why?

I re-read the ending several times, trying to figure out what went wrong. What was missing? I was invested in the main characters. I wanted them to have their HEA. Why wasn’t I satisfied when they got it?

Part of the problem, I’ve decided, is that, in the final scenes, the characters act in ways contrary to their characterization throughout the novel. The heroine, who has been extremely steadfast, runs away from an emotional confrontation. The hero, who has spent the entire novel doing the “right thing,” commits a small betrayal to test his feelings for the heroine. I appreciate that love makes people do crazy things, but these actions were not consistent with the characters developed through the previous 200+ pages. That left a sour taste in my mouth.

But the bigger problem was that the ending was too pat. It wasn’t just happy-happy for the heroine and hero, every conflict was resolved. Even minor subplots were tied up with a bow. Maybe I’ve gotten used to modern series where each book contains some unresolved threads that carry on into the next book, but I found such a pat resolution unconvincing and unsatisfying. Life doesn’t work that way. I understand the difference between reality and literature, but where the novel has worked hard to build a realistic and convincing world, to have everything resolved so neatly, so tightly, undermined that realism. It broke my willing suspension of disbelief.

Literary trends change over time. This book was published nearly twenty years ago; it was never intended to be part of a series. So maybe the author was following convention and fulfilling reader expectation with such a tightly-tied ending. But reading it two decades later, I find it flawed. Keeping the lessons I’ve learned from this book in mind as I re-write Throwing Fire, I need to stay true to my characters, but I also need to stay true to the realism of the world I’ve built, and not try to tie everything up too neatly in a bow.