Vectors

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I am a creature of momentum, and frankly, it makes life really difficult.  I suppose, to a degree, everyone has this problem, and I know I’m not alone in this difficulty.  It’s the reason that kids throw a tantrum when they have to change activities.  It’s why binge-watching has become how people consume television programs.  It’s why gamers will sit down and intend to play for one level or just this one quest, and then get up hours later only thanks to the demands of biology. It’s why knitters lie and say ‘just one more row’ or bookworms claim they’re only reading till the end of the chapter.  Once you’re doing something, it’s so much easier and more satisfying to just keep doing that thing pretty much forever.

Still, most people are capable of getting their butts up at the end of lunch or a break or when they finish the one task they need to complete, in order to move on to the next thing they need to attend do.  Turning off the TV and going to start dinner doesn’t feel like an impossibly difficult thing for most normal folks, and ordinarily, I’m able to manage to force myself to get into the kitchen and feed myself and my family.

It’s just my circumstances right now that are really messing with me.  My sleeping habits are not the greatest, as you’re aware by now.  Added to that, the dark peacefulness of the small hours of the night are the only quiet I really get to myself.  But this translates into not waking up before The Boy does, not that it’d be easy to do that anyway.  Kid’s up at almost 5 am daily and has been since birth.

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Photo credit: Fairy Heart ♥ on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

So, he gets up and plays in his room, often with a Nintendo DS or the Switch, but there’s Legos and robots and other things to amuse him as well.  Then my husband gets up and gets through his morning routine to get ready for work, and then… well, lately I sleep through all of that.  I’ll wake up when my alarm goes off at quarter till nine.  Now, it’s not an alarm I set to get me out of bed.  It’s an alarm I set to remind me to keep a record of something at nearly the same time every day.  It’s a business thing. And for the past month, I’ve managed to almost sleep right through it.

So the day is already off to a poor start.  Instead of getting up and being ready to leave the house with my husband like I’m supposed to, to walk with The Boy to the market and get the day’s groceries (which was working really well for a while!) we’re lucky to leave the house at all.  I’m in pajamas most weekdays, much to the amusement of a couple of delivery guys who’ve been by.

It’s a struggle that I’m trying to break free of, and my body hasn’t been helping with the back-to-back colds I’ve had in the last few weeks.  The bright side of this is, though, that if I can start writing in the morning like I have the past few days, I can bang out a pretty respectable word count by bedtime.  Which means that I’m making headway on short stories, and on a few other projects.  So there is a small glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.  I just hope I can shift my habits around a bit and get some more positive momentum going.

After all, the holidays are coming, and nothing wreaks more havoc on a routine than December.

words words words

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svenstorm on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

Okay, I’m not a fan of Hamlet (really, don’t start me on it,) but it’s got some good quotes to steal and use as post titles.

I’ve been having a lovely email conversation with a fellow writer, and we got onto the topic of motivation and actually getting that first freaking draft written.  It’s tough, I’m not going to lie, slogging through something that is mostly pretty ephemeral in my head and getting it onto the page in a way that makes sense.  I’ll get stuck, then I’ll mess around on Facebook, or play a video game, or hide in my room and read… but none of that gets a book written.  So, in order to actually make forward progress, I’ll to set myself daily goals because I am a firm believer in momentum. (I can still hear my high school physics teacher chanting momentum is a vector in my head.  It’s a weird memory to have, but was clearly an effective teaching technique.)

I try to hit my word count every day, and I’m not terribly ambitious so it’s not a huge number of words.  NaNoWriMo has a goal of writing 50,000 words in November to finish your novel, and I use that as a basic goal for my books.  That translates into 1667 words a day and I’m not in so much of a hurry, so my personal goal is 1000.  On a good day when I have an idea of where I’m going, I can get that done easily enough, and often sprint past the NaNo goal as well, but on days where I have to be on, or have too much Adulting to do, or even just am not happy with the scene and how I’m getting from A to B within it, I have difficulty dragging even a handful of words out of my brain.

The other end of it, of course, is that I seem to have trouble stretching my books out toStockSnap_XAZG2TR9PW actual novel length.  Granted, the definition of ‘novel length’ itself is pretty unsettled.  NaNoWriMo defines it as a story of 50,000 words or more.  Writer’s Digest seems to advocate for 80,000 words.  Many books in Kindle Unlimited list their word counts and I see 90,000, 100,000, even use to 140,000 on a pretty regular basis.  Makes me feel a bit self-conscious about my short books.

But, I always remind myself that it’s not the word count that’s important.  It’s the story, and if I can serve the story best by using fewer words, then so be it.  I’m not writing epic fantasy.  For one thing, it’s not my strong suit and for another, I’d never make it to the 100,000+ words that those stories tend to take.  NaNoWriMo has set a bar at 50K and that’s been pretty generally accepted, so I aim just slightly higher at 55K.  I might hit that and I might not, and then editing changes everything.

For now, I’ve got about 10K down, 45K left to go on this one.

My new plants…

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So I finished the next Spirits of Los Gatos novel last Friday!  Well, okay.  I finished the first draft of the next Los Gatos novel last Friday.  There’s a LOT left to work on, and I’m starting that this week.  The main character in this one is Sebastian, and he’s got a few things he needs to work out, and there’s plenty of areas that need smoothing out or alternately roughing up a little.  Also, Granny’s mad at me because Seb doesn’t go out for Pho at any point in this one, and clearly that’s just not cool.

But here’s the exciting part about it: I got stuck about halfway.  This seems to be a Thing for me at this point.  I mean, no matter what I’ve done to prepare, I seem to get stuck right in the middle of the story and have no idea how to write myself out of it.  So while I was wallowing in my misery just a bit, I went back to my notes.

See, I started this one by going through and working out about half a snowflake.  By this, I mean that I wrote out a sentence to describe the book, then a paragraph, then a page description of my story, and I did a few paragraphs for each of the important characters.  But… I didn’t go all the way through the whole process.  (Partly because the way his book is written makes me want to strangle him and I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading it.)

But even with all this handy guiding information about where my story was going andStockSnap_LTY3TGLE73 how the characters were going to get it there, I still couldn’t quite figure out what happened next.  Amazon, confused as I have made the ‘Zon’s algorithms, still recommends to me writing books at a pretty consistent rate. One of them was written by a woman who started to pay attention to her word count and her writing speed.  One of the things she suggested doing was noting down the beats you want to hit in each scene or chapter.  So… I started scribbling a few things for each of the next couple of chapters since beyond that I wasn’t as confident about where I was going, despite the snowflake.

And it worked.  I wrote the last half of the book in about a week, and it felt smooth, not forced!  I didn’t plot out the whole book, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, but I did manage to work out a lot of stuff ahead of when I wrote it, so I wasn’t fully pantsing my way through it either.

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Photo credit: theilr on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Now, I’m moving on to editing the book so you might be getting a preview of the work sometime over the next few weeks.  But I’m also re-reading Take Off Your Pants, and I’m thinking of the next thing I’m going to sit down and work on from scratch, and maybe going back over Brian’s next book and starting almost from scratch on it. We’ll see how it goes.  What are your thoughts?  Do you write?  are you a planner or a pantser, or in between , like me?

Forming habits

As I have mentioned before, I am frequently plagued by Anxiety Gnomes. They make it difficult to do a number of things, most notably sleep at night, but they also interfere with my writing.  To that end, I’ve been trying to practice better self-care.  The trouble with that of course, is this generation’s favorite pair of problems: with what time and money exactly?

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Someday my arms will look like that…  Maybe…

Well, the answer for me, recently, has involved a bit of an adjustment of my routine.  Instead of wandering down to my laptop at some point in the morning, I’ve been sitting down right after I get back from dropping my son off at school and setting a timer.  I’ll put on some music, close the door, and write for a half an hour or so until my timer goes off.

 

See, that’s when the sneaky part of the plan kicks in.  When the alarm goes off I have to get up and walk around a little and do some sort of exercise. I’ve been doing push-ups and yoga stretching and jumping jacks.  A few different things I’ve looked up online that don’t require any equipment.  But I pick one or two exercises and I’ll do 5 or 10 of each one every time the alarm goes off.

I also get a glass of water before I sit back down

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and inevitably fall down some internet rabbit hole.  (I spent 45 minutes the other day ‘driving’ on California freeways via Google Earth to figure something out for the next Los Gatos book.).

 

I don’t know if this new plan is going to make a huge amount of difference in my overall health, but I do feel better in general.  I’m actually sleeping at night— well, more often anyway— and my eyes are feeling less horrible.  And I’m actually being way more productive, even with the little ten minute breaks!

Next issue I’m targeting?  The pain in my shoulder that seems to stem from spending so much time typing.  Not really sure how I’ll get around that one.

The State of Your Author

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This is basically everyone I know this spring.

So it’s been a rough spring for just about everyone I know.  Illnesses and deaths and housing issues, and in one case scholarship/paying for school scare.  I’m not going to whine about what’s going on in my family, but suffice it to say it’s sticking to the season’s theme.

On top of the unplanned difficulties, our family is working toward finally moving to Tokyo to rejoin my husband, which as you can imagine is fraught with bureaucracy from not merely one but two countries.  Woohoo!

StockSnap_LTY3TGLE73Anyway, my point in all this is to explain why I’m not telling you about the next book to look forward to.  Yet.  I know I’ve said that Brian finally cooperated and I got to finish his next book, but… well, it’s now wallowing pretty heavily in the editing process.  And I can’t find a decent title to save my life.  It’s been painful, and I’ve subjected my family and friends to moaning complaints about it repeatedly for months now.  They love it when I start complaining about demons and hard-boiled detectives and what have you.  I may be driving them to drink…

But there is hope!  The next Los Gatos novel is working out much better.  Sebastian is a bit thorny, and while I’m still writing the ending of it and it has to go through edits, but it feels much closer to ready.  So I’ve made an executive decision to swap the releases, and you’re going to get a new Los Gatos book at the end of May or beginning of June, depending on how fast editing goes.  And I’ve got a few ideas bubbling away for later on down the line going on over there in the Bay Area.

Brian… well, Brian will reappear when he’s ready.  He’s clearly got a few things to work through still, and I think it will be worth it, but patience seems to be key with that guy.

So there you are.  The state of your author.

Druid problems

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Photo credit: OFTO via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Though Colin McCool does try several times to point out that he is not, in fact, a druid.  It’s a title that has been bestowed upon him both by his author and by the supernatural community in Austin, Texas in Junkyard Druid.

I asked on Facebook if folks would like me to occasionally review the books I read, and so here is the first installment— unless you count my mention of Dead Man in my little rant last week…  That post was more about the rant than the book, though, so I don’t count it.  So!  Here are my thoughts on this one.

It starts out with a flashback.  No, that’s not right.  It actually starts out with an author’s note, which was both interesting to me as a person, and kinda annoying to me as a reader.  I like the information presented and it did actually get me curious about some things, I personally think that it should have been put at the end after the story had concluded.  It was more background on the author’s process for developing the character than anything else and ended up (for me) being slightly distracting while I read.  That said once I started the story itself, it starts with a ‘two years ago’ sort of chapter, in which you follow Colin in the moments just before Very Bad And Traumatizing Things Happen.  We then get to follow him into therapy, which I thought was brilliant.

I mean think about this for a moment.  Urban Fantasy as a broad genre tends to contain mostly normal(ish) folks saving the world.  Being put in that sort of situation is bound to mess a person up, even if they’ve been Top Demon Vampire Hunter of the Year three years running.  When all your peers are also badass demon vampire hunters, suddenly being the only one who can be the hero can’t be good for the psyche, and Colin is nowhere near that sort of top-tier hunter at the start of this book.  And when things go wrong, I mean the guy’s cursed hard, and when he comes out the other end of the fight even his teacher has PTSD from the experience.

 

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Colin tells you all about how I dye my hat.  It’s fun!  And… well…  

 

Anyway.  It takes a few chapters for the book to catch up to “now” and it’s all really great character building stuff.  We get to keep up with the back-then storyline with top-of-chapter journal entries, which is actually kind of nifty.  Once we join Colin in ‘now’ he’s living in the titular junkyard and using his skills and training as a menial laborer in lieu of rent.  His mentor lives in a broken down van out back, often drunk and high.  Colin has sworn off basically anything to do with paranormals, although he can’t avoid them altogether it seems.  He has, apparently, three friends: a half-paranormal woman, another hunter, and the owner of his favorite cafe-slash leader of the local vampire coven.  It’s his first day of college.

Antics, as they say, ensue.  Without giving much away he gets dragged very reluctantly back into the many troubles of the paranormal community.  And here, I have to say, is where my trouble started.  I’m really tired of the powerful-hero-manipulated-by-well-everyone-honestly thing.  It’s almost always combined with the never-able-to-breathe-let-alone-think trope, which we’ve already covered here.

Fortunately, Colin gets ample time to breathe (and sleep!  And go to the gym to fight someone and blow off some angry energy!)  AND he (seems to…) end the book with more friends and allies than he starts with, which makes me very happy.  The manipulation really bugs me, though, so if I get to the second book, it probably won’t be for a little while.

On the whole, I rather liked Junkyard Druid.  Colin is a pretty charming, likable, messed up guy who is both broken and clueless in completely understandable ways.  His hunter friend is pretty badass in her own right, and— as much as I loathe saying it— gets sidelined and demoted by her C.O. in a completely believable way, which says something about the state of badass women in a testosterone-heavy hero-organization org chart.  The vampire barista was amusing and the fairy queen was in my opinion entirely loathsome.  I feel that overall the characters were worth reading and I was glad to spend some time with them.  I’d give this book four out of five rutabagas.

Trust me.  That’s pretty good in this house.

Conflicting advice

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I am a hero.  Therefore I have no friends and everything’s gone to shit. 

 

One of the pieces of writing advice I come across all the time, when I’m reading up on my craft, is that when you (the writer) are stuck, think of the worst thing that can happen to your character and then write that.

*Blink*

Okay, so I can see where that little gem of wisdom is coming from.  Everyone wants to write a compelling book, and one of the best ways to keep that sort of excitement up is to beat your hero down.  Nobody is going to read a story about someone for whom everything goes perfectly right all the time.  Still, that sort of unrelenting negativity is too much for me.  I can’t stay interested in a story where the main character is being thwarted on literally every page.  I read fiction to get away from real life, not immerse myself in a different version of it.

Take Dead Man by Domino Finn.  I believe I mentioned this one before, but it left an impression.  I rather liked the main character, Cisco.  He was clever, curious, and determined to figure out why the heck happened to end with him missing years of his own life to wake up in a dumpster being shot at.  Then, once he puts it all together in a way that makes some kind of sense, he is out for revenge.

I really liked this guy.  I sympathized and rooted for him the whole way through, but it took me longer to read this book than it probably should have for its length.  One of the first things he does, you see, is look up an old friend of his.  A voodoo priestess he used to

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Fire = exciting conflict, right?

hang out with.  She could maybe point him in the right direction, he hopes, only to find her freshly murdered corpse locked in a shed.  Which is then set on fire from the outside.  Then when he escapes the shed, he runs smack into a monster spider creature and has to fight that, in his old friend’s house.  Which then catches fire, because of course, it does.

 

The only upside here is that he can’t actually be framed for the murder and put on the Most Wanted list because he is officially dead.  The story goes on to put him in contact with his once best friend (a cop) who is maybe trustworthy, find out that everyone he once knew and trusted is either dead or terrified of him, and there are several different shady underground groups who want him dead for real.  And some powerful demon gods and what have you are involved and it goes on like that.  He can’t relax long enough to sleep, let alone eat or heal until the book wraps up with a promise for sequels.

It was a good book, I don’t want you to get the impression it wasn’t.  Well written, and I genuinely felt for Cisco.  He has more than enough reason to get very, very angry at whoever did this to him— I won’t spoil it, but it goes way past just taking a few years of his life away in a horrifying manner, but that alone would be enough I’d say.  Mr. Finn did a great job of thinking up some really awful stuff for Cisco to deal with, and it’s all good stuff.  Well, it’s really bad stuff, but you know what I mean.

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I can’t take it anymore.  Even my CAT won’t speak to me now that I’m the hero in this book!           Photo credit: Sander van der Wel via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

 

But it’s too much stuff.  I can’t take a breath between horrible revelations or bad guys getting the drop on him.  He ends the book alone, with very nearly everyone on the planet gunning for him. It’s the urban fantasy version of the old country song joke.  Read it backward and he gets his stuff back, his friends back, his girl back, his job…  There’s definitely a place for that sort of book in the world, and if you’re into it, I can definitely recommend Dead Man.  I haven’t read the sequel (yet.  I might pick it up later,) but I’m sure it’s another exhausting, action-filled romp through the magical underbelly of Miami.  (There’s a pretty hilarious part where he decides he somewhat desperately needs a shower and a shave, so he breaks into what he thinks is the empty Versace mansion, only to find out that while he was ‘away’ it was turned into a hotel.  Whoops!)

Me?  I prefer my world-saving heroes to have at least enough time to take a nap in relative safety, and a few allies to watch their back.  Otherwise, I get exhausted reading about the constant stream of fighting— the neverending barrage of battles both physical and emotional that the hero has to fight through to come out the other side of the book alive.  I don’t say intact because I really don’t think they are if they’re entirely alone int he world.  What sort of ally is only an ally when things look good for the hero?  Not much of one, that’s for sure. 

Even classic loner Batman always knows that he has Alfred keeping an eye on things back in the ol’ Batcave, after all.  (Yeah, yeah, we can have the geek fight about Superman and Wonder Woman and team-ups in a different post.)

Critical

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Yeah.  This is the obvious reference to go here.  Photo credit: Camera John via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

I had so many ‘critical’ jokes ready to go until I sat down and started typing.  Ah well.

I’m a writer (you may have noticed) which means that I sit down at my keyboard every day— ok, most days— and somehow manage to a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand words out of my fingers and into Scrivener.  I can promise you that they’re mostly total garbage, and you should be really glad that you don’t get to see them.  I’ve posted a few things up that I’ve said are ‘totally raw’ and unedited and whatnot, but that’s me lying to myself as much as anything.  I start editing a piece almost before I finish writing it.  I nearly always go back at the end of my day and reread everything I put down, and by the time I walk away things are often very different than they were.

That said, and I’m sure that you’ve had this experience yourself if you’re over ten years old, I get too familiar with my own work and can’t see the flaws as clearly as someone coming to it fresh.  Or, just as often, I can see nothing but flaws and feel like everything is total garbage and I’m a failure as a writer and also I’m a terrible human being and…  well you get the idea.

So that’s where editors and beta readers and so forth come in.  But even before I sent my work to those people, I want it to be in the best shape I can get it, and that’s where the critiques of other writers come in so freaking handy.

StockSnap_8NX6EPAWCBThe thing is, though, that a lot of people have no idea how to give a good critique, and I am ashamed to say that I am one of them.  I remember a creative writing class I took in college where we were all required to pass around copies of our story and listen to the whole class dig in.  It was brutal and most of what was said was unhelpful at best and mean at worst, and the woman leading the class seemed satisfied by every thoughtless word of it. Frankly, it turned me off of writing at all for years.  It wasn’t until I was idly chatting about an idea I had and my husband encouraged me to write a few paragraphs about it that I started in again.

But criticism is important, and a good critique can be absolutely vital to making a decent story good or a good story great.  “I like this bit, very moody.   “That character’s a real witch!!” “Why would she do that, it makes no sense.”  “I had to read this a few times to really understand what you meant.  Maybe cut it into two sentences and describe the place better.”  These are among the sort of things I need to know to make my work as good as it can be, and while I don’t always agree (I’ve had critiques that were almost entirely about my style rather than anything else,) I often find a lot of guidance in a good critique.

The other side of the coin, of course, is in order to receive, one must be willing to give.  Which means I need to work on my own critiquing skills.  I need to polish up my “I” phrases (“I think this needs to be two paragraphs.” “I hate that guy!” “I want to reach through my screen and throttle you for this story….”)  and I need to remember how to not simply fall into the prose and just let the story swirl around me like I am so prone to doing, because it’s difficult to help someone when you’re just floating along on the current.

 

StockSnap_3BWN7KIF4TSo now I’m going to go back and work on the first chapter of one of my next books. I’ve had some excellent feedback.  I’m not sure that I’ll put the whole book through this process, but I’ll definitely put up more of it, to help me ensure a good read for all of you.

Block

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I’ve been struggling since I got back from vacation.  It’s not only the normal post-vacation slump, although there is a fair amount of that, but it’s a nearly pathological reluctance to write.  More than writers block, I have struggled to get these blog posts out, to post on Facebook, even to answer emails.  I’ve danced around any actual writerly effort for weeks now.

Part of it, I suppose, is the waiting.  I have a novel out to my Faithful Beta Readers right now so I’m sort of waiting on that.  (With a little effort I hope to have you lovely folks not one but TWO new books to tickle your fancy by Halloween.) Part of it is that I’m unhappy with how one of my characters is behaving.  He’s being whiny and obnoxious and I have to go back and rethink a fair amount of work which is both daunting and demoralizing.  Part of it is…  I don’t really know.

Which of course ends up making me feel guilty about it all, which isn’t helping me claw my way out of this.

I am working, though.  Slowly.  And doing some other things.  There’s a Goodreads contest open right now until the 29th, for example.  If you haven’t read it, and you’d like a paperback copy, go on over there and check it out.  I’ve found some online resources that have been coming in handy.  (I really enjoy Visuwords.  If you need a thesaurus.)  I am reading a lot, again, which honestly bodes well.  Whenever I take time off from reading my brain starts going a bit flat.  Even if they are popcorn books, I find that I can take away interesting ideas (stem cell therapy for werewolf sense damage? Neat!) and even in a trash romance I can learn new words and interesting turns of phrase (supernal is a great word.)

So I’m doing something beyond just sitting around not producing a great deal of writing.   I think Michael is finally starting to get a solid handle on his new life, poor old demon.  And though you haven’t met them yet, I think both Brain and Kai are starting to get themselves into some sort of decent shape.  It’s taken a while though, and Kai is still giving me backtalk about it.

What can I say, my characters speak to me, and when they don’t feel like working it makes my job even tougher.  But then, they’ve been on vacation too, I suppose.

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Playing with Expectations

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Ah, the peacefulness of the forest versus the oppression of the shadowy darkness.  And fog, for good measure.  Because what’s a growing sense of dread without a little fog for dramatic effect?

I am amazingly lucky.  Both of my parents are very intelligent, well spoken, widely read people who I can rely on to do anything from help me solve insurance problems or think of the next silly game to play with my son.  My father particularly had been helpful with my novels.  He’s an excellent Beta reader not only because he’ll read my stories and tell me that it’s good, but because he’ll also tell me what he didn’t like at all, then he’ll give me a long string of notes challenging my plot, my characters, and on at least one occasion my grasp of history.  (I was totally, completely wrong about something, and ended up spending a few days reading about this place.  It’s fascinating.)

I bring this up because we’ve been butting heads a bit over one of my upcoming books.  Specifically, one of the new characters in the book.  He feels that the character should be powerful and strong— a fighter of sorts— right out of the gate.  He feels that in making this character, er…  a bit wishy-washy at the beginning of the story, and then not making the character kind of a superhero, that I undermine the whole thing.

The thing of it is, though, there’s no reason for my character to be strong, confident, or powerful (in a combat sort of way, at least.)  It’s a pre-conception based on the mythology that I based some of my world building on.  Michael is a demon, so he must be evil, right?  Well… no.  He’s powerful, even for a demon, and that’s one reason he’s so sought after in the first book.  But he doesn’t adhere strictly to any of the norms of demonic society.  He never did, which is how he ended up in this situation in the first place, and that contradiction is part of what makes the character interesting to me.

So I disagree with my father’s arguments on this one.  Just because my character comes from a place known for great warriors, doesn’t mean that this individual is one.  Nor does it mean that they must be confident or wise or any other specific trait that mythology would assign them.

I mean, the most interesting elf in Rivendell was a brunette, right?