Who Likes Unlikable Characters?

TheSopranos

My husband and I just finished watching the entire Sopranos series. I’m probably one of the last people on Earth to see The Sopranos, I know, but after James Gandolfini passed away, I wanted to see the show that made him a star. I wanted to see his legacy. So about a year ago, hubby-pants and I fired up HBO Go and went to town. Now, he had seen most of the series (he stopped watching for whatever reason around the fourth season), and then tuned in for the finale. As you may have figured out, I was a Sopranos virgin.

Fast forward to a few days ago when the screen went black at the end of that infamous series finale, and I had a few things to say…

First of all, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Hubby-pants tried to explain the groundbreaking nature of the show: mafia-centric, from the perspective of the criminals, big-picture that includes home and family life, etc. I’ve decided to give him this defense, especially since I’ve strived to be equally as groundbreaking with my own Blood for Blood Series (partially told from the perspective of a female serial killer while exploring her psyche). However, I do have to take issue with the number of unlikable, can’t-standable characters constantly on-screen during The Sopranos.

Tony Soprano is a pig. His infidelity is repulsive. The way he speaks to his wife, his kids, his family, and his friends is disgusting. Eww.

Carmela Soprano should be a sympathetic character because Tony cheats on her and treats her like shit, but she’s not. Why? Because all Tony has to do is buy her a fur coat, a new car, or a shiny bauble and she turns a blind eye to the mistresses, the abuse, and the overall inexcusable behavior of her husband.

Meadow and A.J. Soprano are so fake. They both straddle the line between being spoiled mob prince/princess and pretending to care about the problems and injustices of the world. Both can be silenced with the perks of being a Soprano, same as their mother.

Everybody else? Sucked. Paulie, Chris, Adriana, Janice, Junior, Livia. I could go on and on. They were all horrible people. No one had actual friends. I mean, actual, REAL friendships. Going “way back”, smiling in each other’s faces, and telling old stories while inwardly wishing each other dead or wondering if the others wish you dead is NOT a relationship.

And don’t even get me started on Tony’s shrink, Dr. Melfi, and her merry little circle of friends/fellow psychiatrists. Good grief.

But…

My darling husband brought up a good point: if the characters conjure up such hatred, but viewers continue to tune in, hat’s off to the writers, right? I fell quiet when he said this. Why? Because I can’t count how many times I’ve said this in book reviews. If I hate a character it’s most likely because the writer did their job and portrayed the individual in such a light on purpose.

As a matter of fact, when I submitted the first draft of Blood in the Past to an editor, they returned the manuscript, complaining that Jillian Atford’s character was too unlikable because of her affair with a married cop. I refused to change the character because her actions were integral to the overall story, but I added things to make her tolerable. Her foster home childhood, for example, allows readers to see that Jillian never had anything of her own, that things were always taken from her, and that she felt she deserved to be happy, regardless of the situation.

In a lot of ways, I think the writers of The Sopranos did the same with their characters. Tony Soprano was very protective of his family. Janice wouldn’t stand for a man who physically abused her. Uncle Junior slowly succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Again, I can go on and on.

In the end, I stand by my internal 3-star rating of The Sopranos for other reasons, but maybe I should lay off them for being so unlikable. Thoughts?

 

Insecurities Abound!

I’ve been pretty down in the dumps, guys. A real sophomore slump. Let me explain. My prelude novella, Blood in the Past (released this time last year), did pretty well. No one really had a bad word to say about it. I was proud of myself…and then terror set in.

Last year, as I was editing and revising the full-length follow-up to Past, Blood in the Paint, I began to worry that it wouldn’t measure up, that my creative prowess had a quota and I had used up everything in my reserve to write Blood in the Past. As a result, I hit the Publish button on Blood in the Paint a few months ago with closed eyes. I dragged my feet with the paperback edition. I haven’t sent out many review copies, and I haven’t done much promotion. I’m subconsciously forcing myself, and my Blood for Blood series, to fade into oblivion. I’m making my own nightmare, of my sophomore release not measuring up, a reality. Or am I?

When the news of Blood in the Paint’s release broke, I had an immediate spike in sales. I might have been able to capitalize on those numbers had I done some promoting. After I ordered my first shipment of Blood in the Paint paperbacks, I almost sold out of them…and I still have two events to do this week. And the reviews? The reviews have been pretty awesome. There are only nine so far (actually, as I’m writing this, a TENTH popped up!), none of which were written by me or hubby-pants, but they are all FIVE-STAR. Every single one of them. My mother-in-law, who awarded Blood in the Past with a three-star review, is raving about Paint. As is my father-in-law, who keeps asking how the next book will unfold. My niece even forgot about her “ghetto reality shows” (her words, not mine), because she’d been so caught-up in reading it. You guys don’t know my niece, but that’s probably the best compliment I could have received, short of something from Gillian Flynn herself.

So what’s the problem? Why haven’t I really written anything since April, when I went on a writing retreat, where there was nothing to do BUT write? I still feel unworthy, I still feel talentless, I still feel like everyone’s compliments are a fluke. Then I read a recent review of Blood in the Paint written by Ileandra Young. You can read the full review here, but the part I want to point out is when she mentioned a Facebook status where she posted, “Soooooooooo that feeling of inadequacy you feel while reading a fellow indie author’s novel then returning to your own WIP.” Guys, I actually remembered that status, I even Liked it because I knew the feeling. Turns out, she was talking about Blood in the Paint. Words cannot thank her enough for sharing that with her followers and blog readers and, most importantly, me. Between that and the pep talk hubby-pants gave me recently (more on that in another post, I think), I might be ready to write again. At the very least, I might be ready to begin my medico-legal research to make sure my next book, Blood in the Paper, is on the right track.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this week, which happens to be the one-year anniversary of Blood in the Past’s publication. To celebrate (and get back into promoting for the love of everything sacred and holy), Blood in the Past will be FREE on Wednesday, June 18th, and Blood in the Paint will be dropped to $1.99 today through Friday, June 20th. If you haven’t read them yet, now is the time to do so. Because, I’ve been down in the dumps and sales will make me feel better. ;-)

“Riddled With Scenes That Left Me Thinking…”

No, I’m not talking about something I’ve read. The title of this post was taken directly from fellow author/blogger Richard Leonard’s recent review of Blood in the Paint! Here’s the remainder of the excerpt:

This novel is riddled with scenes that left me thinking “How on earth will he/she get out of this situation?” East does a superb job of creating realism in a world where many OMG moments occur, leaving the reader wondering what could possibly come next. And what does come next is exciting, believable, and edge-of-your-seat thrills.

 

I want to thank Richard for his glowing review, the rest of which you can read HERE!

BLOOD IN THE PAINT May Be LIVE…But There’s Still No Rest for the Weary!

As many of you know, Blood in the Paint was released this past Monday. I regret to say I didn’t announce it with much fanfare, though. I was tired! I was tired of the revisions, the edits, the read-throughs, and the delays. But the e-book is finally available, with the paperback soon to follow, and I wish I could say I was looking forward to some down time.

Despite the following picture, I’m not…

cottages

Today I’m heading out to a cabin near Rehoboth Beach, DE to partake in a writing retreat with several ladies from the South Jersey Writers Group. If you remember the last chapter title I mentioned in the Table of Contents Teasers post, you’ll recall that the next book in the Blood for Blood Series will be entitled Blood in the Paper. (You’ll have to read Blood in the Paint to really ‘get’ the title, sorry!) So, that’s what I’ll be working on this weekend! I already drew out some mind maps for each of the main characters, a returning character from Blood in the Past, and a NEW character. I’ve listed the events of the storyline in order using Scrivener’s corkboard tool. AND–this is the most exciting part–I’ve already written the opening scene! Squeee!

I’ve never been on a writing retreat before, but I’m confident I’ll be able to put out a sizable word count. Have any of you been on a retreat like this before? Do you have any tips for me? I’d love to hear them!

And don’t forget, Blood in the Paint is available on Amazon for the Kindle and Kindle app. Download a copy today; it makes a great weekend read!

Table of Contents Teasers!

I’m one of those writers that really puts a lot of thought into titles and double meanings…even if I’m the only one who knows about them. I know what you’re thinking. Blood in the Past? Blood in the Paint? Those seem like pretty literal titles. They are and they aren’t. Blood in the Past not only refers to the blood that was shed in each of the characters’ pasts, but it also refers to their blood/familial relations. In addition, each character makes their own “blood pact” of sorts between their selves and their lost love one. Like I said, I’m sure no one picked up on those meanings, but it meant a lot to me to include them. In fact, Blood in the Past was originally a working title that I decided to keep because these additional meanings could be attributed to it.

Similarly, Blood in the Paint not only refers to Lyla’s method of adding a syringe-full of her victims’ blood to the red paint she uses, but it also refers to a portrait she mentions having done of her father. Again, a blood relation connection.

Now that you know how kooky I am with titles, you won’t be surprised to learn I’m the same way with chapter titles. After I write the entire manuscript and go through it a few times, I read it again and highlight certain phrases that I might like to use as the chapter titles, making sure that each phrase has a meaning all its own–in relation to the chapter–when it’s out of context. Here are some examples, consider them teasers:

  • Chapter 2: Lie There and Die. Lyla feels that’s all her victim can do, but really she kills that way because that’s all her mom had been able to do.
  • Chapter 4: Blood for Blood. Lyla justifies her trophies, and the meaning of the series title is explained.
  • Chapter 8: Chasing After the Ghost. Brighthouse feels like he’s chasing the ghost of his father’s approval, but in reality he’s chasing the ghost of a very silent killer.
  • Chapter 12: Drifting and Bobbing. The phrase refers to a bundle of balloons, but also to Lyla’s control, and how she’s struggling to maintain it.
  • Chapter 16: The Anchor in His Stomach. Brighthouse feels a weight in his stomach over the unsolved murders, and wishes for his father’s instincts. But the anchor is a symbol of stability and strength and Brighthouse just needs to believe in himself.
  • Chapter 18: An Impromptu Centerpiece. In the text, it refers to the flowers CJ has given Lyla, but CJ is himself an ‘impromptu centerpiece,’ caught between Lyla and Brighthouse.
  • Chapter 21: Cleaner of Body But Not of Mind. Jillian washes her hands, but Lyla is focused on scrubbing something else in a different room.
  • Chapter 31: Collateral Damage. Lyla loathes collateral damage, but the reader knows her mother was collateral damage–as is every one of Lyla’s victims thereafter, having not directly wronged Lyla and only playing a role in her twisted sense of justice.
  • Chapter 35: A Sliver of Light. In the darkness, armed with only a slender flashlight, some light is finally shed on the truth of Lyla’s past.
  • Chapter 36: A Dangling Key. Brighthouse and his partner see not only a key on Lyla’s anklet, but a possible key to solving their case.
  • Chapter 44: Past All of It. Lyla is looking past tangible things, but also looking past her present and toward her future.
  • Chapter 47: Unknown. Refers to an incessant caller to Brighthouse’s cell phone, but an identity possibly unknown to the reader is about to be revealed.
  • Chapter 52: Traces of Blood. Doesn’t just refer to blood the life-substance, but blood relations are discovered.
  • Chapter 55: A Tree with Many Branches. Brighthouse’s captain uses this phrase as a metaphor for their case, but it’s actually a metaphor for the series’ entire storyline and how each of the characters are connected.
  • Chapter 58: Sever Ties. Much more than ties are severed; that’s all I can say!
  • Chapter 59: Her Final Moments. Lyla is thinking of her mother’s final moments, but she should be worried more about her own.
  • Chapter 60: Blood in the Paper. Refers to a bloody newspaper, but–SURPRISE–it’s also the title of the next book in the series!

What Would be YOUR Last Meal on Death Row?

Earlier this week, I came across an article on Buzzfeed listing the last meals of twelve infamous, and not so infamous, death row inmates. With pictures! The macabre side of me that writes psychological thrillers found it utterly fascinating. I also thought it interesting that so many of the prisoners chose fried chicken, but I digress.

John Wayne Gacy, “The Killer Clown”, had managed three KFC restaurants in his lifetime (you know, when he wasn’t being a homicidal perve) and he asked for a bucket of KFC original recipe chicken AND a dozen fried shrimp to go with his strawberries and shoestring French fries (I guess he didn’t care for KFC’s potato wedges…). Timothy McVeigh, the homegrown terrorist responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, just wanted a big-ass bowl of ice cream. My kind of guy, except for the blowing-up-a-building-full-of-innocent-people part. Victor Figuer, on the other hand, chose a single olive, with the pit still intact. Why? He’d hoped it would grow into an olive tree from within his body and use him as a symbol of peace. Alrighty then, Vic. Unfortunately, he’s more famous for kidnapping and murder and being the last federal inmate executed in the United States than he is for his extension of olive branches or Zen-like desire for world peace.

Reading about the different inmates and their last desires made me wonder what my own last meal would be, if I was as ruthless as the characters in my writing. I think I would ask for a rib eye steak cooked medium-rare. (I know, the chef’s recommendation for that cut is medium, but it would be my last meal. Gimme a break, guys.) To go with my steak, I would go ‘all Timothy McVeigh’ to satisfy my sweet tooth one last time. I’m thinking a whole spread, comparable to the dessert bar at my wedding. I’d want layer cake and eclairs, truffles and tiramisu, soft iced sugar cookies and Cadbury crème eggs, and…seriously I could keep going, but I won’t.

What about my characters? Lyla, Jillian, and Brighthouse from my Blood for Blood Series? When I was done drooling over the thought of my own diabetes-inducing last meal, I started to wonder what their last meals would be. In Blood in the Past it’s mentioned that Lyla took kickboxing and Tae-bo with her mother. I imagined them going out for some light, refreshing sushi afterward and I immediately knew that’s what Lyla would ask for, since everything she does circles back to the loss of her mother. (I’m sure she’d also want a six-pack of ice-cold beer to go with it, but that’s probably not allowed.) Jillian would either refuse a meal entirely or opt to order the favorite meal of her lost love, Calvin Kyle: a Philly cheese steak from Ishkabibbles on South Street. (I imagine she’d also ask for an adult beverage, probably wine.) Brighthouse…hmm. I honestly can’t imagine Brighthouse being in a situation where he has to choose a last meal, but I think he’d be one of the fried chicken people. :-)

What about you? What about your characters? Share your thoughts below in the comments section!

 

Do Readers Know the Difference Between Thrillers and Mysteries?

Last week I posted about the four types of serial killers and how I knew my stuff and people should just step off. Well, I wasn’t quite that harsh about it, but you get the idea. Not to harp on one terrible…let’s say interesting…beta reader experience, but that post reminded me of something else that person had trouble with. Besides questioning the motivations of my main character and the catalyst to her becoming a serial killer, the person also didn’t understand why there were sections of Blood in the Paint told from my killer’s point of view, why her full name was routinely used, and why the reader knew so much about her. She kept referring to Blood in the Paint as a ‘mystery.’

And that’s where she messed up. I don’t write mysteries. I don’t write whodunits. I write thrillers. When I set out to write this series years ago, my main inspiration was to pen something that colored the killer in a sympathetic light by writing from their POV.  I mentioned in my other post that this particular beta reader hadn’t read Blood in the Past prior to volunteering to be a beta. Perhaps that was part of the problem. But I have never billed my books as mysteries and I even shy away from describing them as suspense. So I have to wonder: is all my careful genre specificity wasted because readers think ‘mystery’ and ‘thriller’ are synonyms?

jodie

According to Jodie Renner, author of Writing a Killer Thriller, readers were always more familiar with mysteries than with thrillers. She goes on to point out that some bookstores have a ‘Mystery’ section, but not a ‘Thriller’ section, which leads to both genres being shelved in the same space. In the rest of her guest post for DP Lyle’s Writers Forensic Blog, she talks about the two main differences between mysteries and thrillers.

First, in a mystery, neither the reader nor the protagonist knows who the killer is. The whole idea is to figure out “whodunit,” then apprehend the bad guy. In a thriller, the reader often knows who the villain is early on, and sometimes the hero does too. The object is for the hero to outwit and stop the killer before he kills others, including the hero, or endangers the world. Also, in mysteries, the protagonist is not usually in danger, whereas in thrillers, the protagonist is almost always directly threatened, fighting for his life as he matches wits with a clever, determined, amoral villain.

The other main difference between mysteries and thrillers is in the delivery—how they are told. Mysteries are usually more cerebral, for readers who enjoy solving puzzles, whereas thrillers are more heart-pounding, adrenaline-raising, appealing to the emotions and a yearning for excitement, a desire to vicariously confront danger and defeat nasty villains. A mystery, especially a “cozy” one, can unfold in a leisurely fashion, but thrillers need to be much more fast-paced and suspenseful.

Given these points, Blood in the Past and Blood in the Paint are most definitely thrillers. Even though one of the main characters becomes a cop and investigates the series of suspicious deaths, the reader knows who the killer is the entire time. (It’s in the blurb for frick’s sake!) In addition, reviewers have said that the pacing of Blood in the Past is downright page-turning. But I’m not one to brag…

Enough about me and my books. My question is: are readers aware of these differences or do they suffer from the same confusion as my beta reader? And if they do, what is the likelihood that they’ll leave less than favorable reviews as a result?