Blog Archive

View My Stats
Wednesday, November 4, 2015

GUEST POST: Writing A Good Villain by Gerrard Cowan

Fantasy novels need proper villains. Or do they? What is a villain these days, and does every story need one central, unifying enemy?

Villains in science fiction and fantasy come in many shapes and sizes, but one thing is certain: these days, they are rarely black and white characters. It’s pretty unusual now to find a totally evil warlord or dark wizard or whatever pitted against a band of merry good guys, at least among the big names in the genre.

The enemy in today’s fantasy books tends to fall into one of three broad categories: an interesting, perhaps conflicted, representative of dark forces; a misguided person, who sees his or her actions as part of a greater good; or a terrible, irreconcilable evil, but one who is just one dark force among many greyer elements.

The first category is perhaps the most common, and refers to those villains who know they are villains, want to be villains, are cool with being villains, and yet have been built into interesting and well-rounded characters. They don’t simply sit in a dark tower, chewing over their machinations. I think the Falconer in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard sequence is a case in point. He’s not the most likeable wizard ever created, but he has great depth.

The second category covers those who come to evildoing along a kind of crooked path: they see their actions as part of a greater good, at least initially. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader might slot into this group.

Finally, there are the irredeemable, straight-up bad guys, who nevertheless form just one thread in an intricate tapestry of badness. The Others in A Song of Ice and Fire are always hovering in the background, threatening general destruction on Westeros, yet there are so many other brilliantly twisted and dark characters in the foreground that it’s difficult to know who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’.

These categories are pretty broad-brush, and I’m sure I’m missing out on other excellent examples, but that’s not really the point. What matters is this: it just isn’t enough to have a simplistic Big Bad. People want their villains to have broad personalities and varied motivations, because that’s what it’s like in the real world.

This makes the process of creating villains that much more challenging. You want them to be interesting, with maybe a bit of light mixed in with the dark. In fact, you have to take exactly the same approach you adopt when forming your ‘good’ characters. People should be able to imagine them existing in the real world (within reason). You might want to base aspects of them on people you’ve met – erm, on second thoughts, that might not be such a good idea. But they need to feel real.

Besides, this makes things more fun for the writer. If all the reader expected was a two-dimensional, scenery-chewing, dark-hearted villain, you could more or less use the same one in every novel. But your enemy is unique to your book, allowing you an infinite range of possibilities. OK, it’s harder work to flesh them out, but it’s so much more satisfying when you’re done.

In many ways, creating a solid villain is much easier than the opposite task: creating a believable hero or heroine. It’s very easy to end up with a simpering, angelic central character, who in no way behaves like a real person. In fact, it can be more difficult to inject a little badness into a good character than to do the opposite. Again, though, it’s an enjoyable process.

I think what really matters is tension. There should be tension within all your characters, but there should also be a fundamental tension at the heart of the novel, which drives the narrative. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a tension between ‘good’ characters and ‘bad’ characters: it could be between a society in decline and one on the rise, or a world of rules and a world of magic, etc. At any rate, today’s fantasy readers want – and expect – their characters to have depth.

Official Author Website
Order The Machinery HERE
Read chapter one of The Machinery HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Gerrard Cowan is a writer and editor from Derry, in the North West of Ireland. His debut fantasy novel, The Machinery, is out now from HarperVoyager UK. It is the first in a trilogy.

His first known work was a collection of poems on monsters, written for Halloween when he was eight; it is sadly lost to civilisation. He can be found at his website, on FaceBook and is @GerrardCowan on Twitter. Gerrard lives in South East London with his wife Sarah and their two children.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Interview with C. T. Phipps (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finding a publisher, how you ended up with Ragnarok Publications, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

CTP: Oh, I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first (terrible) book when I was six-years-old and I’ve been inspired to try to do it ever since. I didn’t make a serious attempt until I was done with college and I made quite a few mistakes on my way to finding a publisher. If I were to give any recommendations to fledgling authors, it’s to seek out other authors for their advice and attend seminars.

Don’t try to do this on your own but learn from the voices of experiences. I owe a lot to finding very helpful friends amongst already-published authors who helped me refine my craft before they introduced me to Permuted Press, Ragnarok Publications, and Jim Bernheimer (owner of Amber Cove Publishing and writer of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain).

Q] “The Rules Of Supervillainy” is a straightforward comedic urban fantasy book, while “Esoterrorism”, is a much darker urban fantasy-thriller hybrid. Can you tell us how & why there was such drastic shift between books?

CTP: I think the difference between the books is a good illustration of the nature of the writing process and how it can be more than you expect it to be. When I set down to write Esoterrorism after several other attempts at writing the Great American Fantasy Novel TM, I had the idea it would be my big epic work. It was the one I was focused on making it my “signature” piece.

While doing so, I became mentally drained and decided to write something just for fun. You know, just to clear my brain so I could work on Esoterrorism some more. The Rules of Supervillainy was the result, being, essentially, a love-letter to everything I loved about superhero comics and a sort of madcap comedic romp.

It was written before the Avengers movie which makes someone’s early comment on the manuscript (It’s like superheroes written by Joss Whedon) all the more funny. It was just pure entertainment and nothing I really expected to be a big success. Still, every time I shared it with someone, people loved it and told me I should publish it so I decided to give it a try alongside Esoterrorism.

Much to my surprise, I found out it was every bit as popular, if not more so, than Esoterrorism now I have two very different but awesome groups of fans. It’s given me encouragement to follow my instincts and write whatever genres I feel inspired to try my hand at. Next year, I’m going to be releasing my dark fantasy novel, Wraith Knight, for example, which is going to be entirely different from both.

Q] Esoterrorism is the first volume in the Red Room series. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

CTP: The sequel to Esoterrorism, Eldritch Ops, is done and already set for publication in 2016. It follows series protagonist, Derek Hawthorne, as he (badly) adjusts to being one of the House’s Committee. It’s a bit like being a board member of the Illuminati and he’s less than pleased by the moral compromises and ruthless decisions he has to make. Given an opportunity to do some fieldwork after discovering his ex-partner is still alive (albeit as a vampire), he leaps at the opportunity to determine if there's a conspiracy within the world's most powerful conspiracy.

Derek has to determine whether it’s possible to reform the House as a force for good or whether the organization has become so obsessed with power that the only option is to try and tear it down. I have a lot of fun examining the politics and world-building of my setting as well as Derek’s past as an operative. We also get some good developments on fan favorites Shannon, Lucy, and Penny.

I have the third volume of the book, Operation: Otherworld, in manuscript form and that will be the focus for all of the major events in the series to come to a head. After that? Who knows. It may be a trilogy or it may turn into an ongoing series. I’m still undecided.

Q] You also have a sort of comedic superhero book out called The Rules Of Supervillainy. What was the inception for this story and what was it about this idea that you HAD to write it?

CTP: I like to think of The Rules of Supervillainy as part of an emerging genre called "capepunk." Capepunk books are those prose superhero books which attempt to seriously examine the underpinnings of superhero worlds both silly and serious. Because book series tend to be finite creator-owned content, they can have serious changes and developments which comic books don't have as serialized corporate-owned IP.

The first capepunk book was, IMHO, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman and it’s gone on to inspire many other similar works. I, myself, was inspired by works like Marion G. Harmon's Wearing the Cape, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer, and Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes.

What actually inspired The Rules of Supervillainy and the Supervillainy Saga as a whole was my thinking about the mechanics of a comic book world from the person on the ground. One thing I loved about the early seasons of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer is they took an irreverant post-modern look at what it would be like to live in a world where every horror movie was true. Being an ardent lover of comic books and superheroes, I had the idea of sticking a character who was as familiar with superhero tropes and comic book geekery as the average fan into a world where he was one.

Gary was born and raised in a world where men can fly, women can punch through walls, and a guy stalking the streets in a black cape is "normal." Analyzing what sort of place that it is and how this came to be seemed like it would be really fun to right. I also decided to make him a (reluctant) supervillain rather than a superhero since we'd seen everymen become heroes in the Marvel movie franchise. I was interested in seeing how the reverse would be true, basically Scarface meets Spiderman. Gary is a little nicer than Tony Montana, though.

Wittier too.

Q] In the preface for The Rules Of Supervillainy, you very clearly wonder about the world of superheroes and as to why anyone would want to be a villain? Yet you then explore how Gary Karkofsky decides to become one? What made you choose Gary to explore this dichotomy?

CTP: To go with my earlier Spiderman example, Peter Parker's initial reaction to being bitten by a radioactive spider wasn't to fight crime. No, his initial reaction in the comics was to decide to use his newfound powers to get rich. It took the death of his Uncle Ben to become devoted to the principles of "with great power comes great responsibility."

For me, I'm cynical enough to believe the majority of people in the world would be interested in using their abilities for self-interest before anything resembling the Batman's heroic resolve to rid the world of crime. I love crime fiction and over-the-top stories of colorful gangsters so it was interesting to see if I could combine those to do a "supervillain" origin story the same way so many superhero movies are hero origins.

The thing is, I play with the concept a bit as while Gary is evil enough to be a wannabe bank-robber and thief, he's not quite bad enough to be a monster like so many of his world's villains. More Catwoman than Joker.

Q] What are your plans for Gary and rest of the cast of TROSV? Can you tell us about the The Games Of Supervillainy and the series beyond?

CTP: Well, I'm pleased to say The Rules of Supervillainy audio book is coming out this month and The Games of Supervillainy is coming out early this November. I have plans for two books a year at present. The Supervillainy Saga books are extremely easy to write since I’ve got my entire childhood and seventy years of comics to draw from.

As for The Games of Supervillainy’s plot, it picks up immediately after the events of Rules, dealing with the fact Falconcrest City has become overrun with zombies and an evil cult. Gary’s wife, Mandy, has since gone on to become a superhero in her own right and the tensions between the couple will be a focus of the book as they try to figure out if a marriage can survive being on opposite sides of the superhero/villain divide.

Further books will get into showing the world going through a transition as the setting’s people try to figure out just what sort of world they want to live in. Do they want idealistic superheroes like Ultragod (the setting’s resident Superman) or something more vicious and brutal (like the Extreme). Gary as the outsider to all of this will serve as a wildcard and we get to see him develop fully into his role as a supervillain in a world which is well and truly sick of them.

We’re also going to get some fun character development from Cindy (a.k.a Red Riding Hood), Gabrielle (a.k.a Ultragoddess), and Diabloman—people who have been effected by Gary’s good-natured antiheroism. Some will get better and some will get worse. Some will even fall in love.

Q] You have used this quote by R. Chandler in one of your articles: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.” Please tell us what about it struck you and how did you utilize it in your writing (if any?)

CTP: I think, for me, Raymond Chandler's quote encapsulates something I love about my writing, which is the fact my (anti)heroes journey into gritty and dark worlds not of their own making. Gary, Derek, and my upcoming Wraith Knight hero Jacob are all flawed protagonists with qualities that would make them villains in other series. However, at the end of the day, we're walking through their shoes and we understand where they're coming from. The world around them is also far more corrupt and entrenched in its troubles than anything they bring to it.

For me, I like to write about heroes who don't necessarily have the ability to slay the dragon and rescue the Princess. In Esoterrorism, the House is a ruthless and corrupt institution which is still (arguably) a necessary evil to protect society from the supernatural. In The Rules of Supervillainy, we have genuine superheroes but they seem to be overwhelmed by the endless numbers of bad guys who just keep popping up. In Wraith Knight, we have a world which is full of all the corrupt institutions of real-life Medieval history AND supernatural evils akin to orcs and Ringwraiths.

My heroes are never cowardly but they're sometimes self-serving and rarely have the answers to solving problems. They muddle their way through the complex social and moral ills of their setting as best they can. What they do which separates them from the rest of us is they meet it head on and that makes them heroes, whether they're bad or good.

Q] When you start out writing, do you have an overall plan for the book? How much of the plot do you plan out? Or to quote George R.R. Martin, “are you a Gardener or an Architect” when it comes to your writing?

CTP: It depends, really, on the work. I am definitely a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants author when I write Gary and that results in quite a few rewrites as I have to herd the cats my main characters turn out to be. Wraith Knight is a very structured sort of story and I know exactly where each little piece goes. Esoterrorism is more of a mixture of the two, conversations being freeform and the general story being carefully plotted out.

In general, I like to think that I am more of a Gamemaster (to reference Dungeons and Dragons). I create the set up for my characters and then I imagine how they would react to it. When you have characters that are really well-developed in your mind, I believe they tend to take the initiative with plotting and interaction.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

CTP: If I had to thank any particular author for setting me on my present path, it would definitely be Jim Butcher for the fact The Dresden Files were the first books which made me think, "I could do this." I just loved the blender of sticking together snark, a hodge-podge of mythology, 1st person narration, oddball characters, and humor with a very serious world. Esoterrorism also owes a bit to Charles Stross as he created a semi-serious take on spies with The Laundry Files which included more than a few "take that" shots at James Bond-style superspies. I wrote Esoterrorism as a counterpoint to TLF as a result, saying, essentially, "What's wrong with James Bond-style superspies?"

In terms of local influences, I would like to, again, give a shout-out to Tim Marquitz (Demon Squad, The Blood War Trilogy), Jim Bernheimer (Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain), Rob J. Hayes (The Ties That Bind trilogy), Kenny Soward (GnomeSaga), and Seth Skorkowsky (Tales of the Black Raven, Valducan). These authors have not only been influences in me and good friends but I enjoy they’re work too.

Q] I believe you have a fantasy series coming out later this year or early next year as well. Can you talk to us about it and what will be your elevator pitch for it?

CTP: Wraith Knight follows Jacob Riverson, an epic hero of the past, who wakes up two-hundred-years later after his death and discovers he’s a Wraith Knight. A sort of legendary monster created by the King Below to be generals to his armies of monsters and created from the enslaved souls of heroes. The King Below is dead, albeit not exactly gone either, and his armies are scattered.

The heroes who defeated him have since used their defeat of the King Below to justify building an empire which is attempting to instill the values they hold into all of the formerly enslaved followers of the King Below as well as other “heathens.” Jacob gets roped into assisting a rebel against their reign, Regina Whitetremor, despite the fact it’s not exactly a straight contest between good and evil. It also may be a road to hell as the King Below’s ghost encourages him to take up the mantle of Dark Lord.

Maybe fantasy peoples need a Devil to blame everything on.

Q] Amidst all your writing, you also actively review books, movies and more on your blog page. How do you find the time to do all of it? Which recent reads have caught your eye that you would like to spotlight for our readers?

CTP: I find a lot of reviewers make the mistake of trying to take on too much at a time. It's understandable if your blog or review site is your life but if it's a hobby, it's important to pace yourself. One of the more interesting criticisms I received was someone mentioning I didn't do very many reviews of stuff I didn't like and that caused them to question my integrity. My response was, "Well, I tend to review stuff I like since I don't really want to waste my time writing about stuff I think stinks."

If I had to recommend some recent reads, aside from those authors I thanked above, then I could be here all day. I would, however, like to recommend Devan Sagliani and Shana Festa if you like horror and zombies. If you love dark fantasy, like I do, then check out Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch. If you want a fun urban fantasy romp then I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest you check out Craig Schaefer. I won’t lie to you, I also go to Fantasy Book Critic to get a lot of reviews about stuff I want to check out too.


Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

CTP: Read what you love, write what you love, and make no apologies.

FBC's Must Reads

FBC's Critically Underrated Reads


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE