Thursday, October 1, 2015

Letting Your Characters Be a Jerk- Guest Blog for Vienna Sky by Josh Sinason

          Some time ago I followed a conversation on social media from a well-known writer bemoaning the idea that women are often written as flawless by male writers.  It’s hard to disagree really, most writers are writing from their point of view and there are entire genres based around the idea that “the right girl” can fix all a guy’s problems, more recently referred to as the “pixie dream girl.”  It’s seen a lot even in the more progressive writers like Chabon and Hornby and it’s something I didn’t even realize I was doing sometimes too.  
So with that in mind I looked at my characters as a whole in Vienna Sky, I was writing and started examining them for flaws on the outset.  What are their flaws, and more importantly why are these flaws getting in the way of what they want?  This came to a head in section of Vienna Sky, long after our main character undergoes his transformation and is given his “gift” (treading lightly for spoilers but *spoiler* it’s not much of a gift) I wrote a long complicated section giving him an out on being a jerk and then I looked back at it and realized it was pretty terrible.  It was terrible because, whether on instinct or not, I set up my guy to do something terrible.  He made mistakes and things blew up in his face.  Letting him get out of things would be like Spider-man catching the burglar before he gets to Uncle Ben.

No, I needed my guy to be a jerk and be a jerk to the people he cared about most so I scraped that entire terrible part of the story and put what would become one of my strongest parts of the story and one that ended up driving a lot of the drama later on.  Ultimately, sometimes it’s not about killing your darlings, but more about letting your darlings kill themselves.  

So fast forward to a new project I’m currently working on, a spy story with a female lead, and about a third of the way in it’s just not working.  I look back and realize, I haven’t really given her a flaw yet.  She wasn’t perfect by any means but there was nothing there to make her look like she could bleed.  It’s as simple as going in and making her say something embarrassing to regrettable, or even having her fall on her face.  Once they have a flaw to latch on to it can become a thread that you can pull on for three or four chapters and just like that, you have a full-fledged character who might be a little bit of a jerk but hopefully a loveable one.

Vienna Sky
Josh Sinason

Genre:  Spy-Fy, YA, Thriller.   

Publisher: Eternal Press

Date of Publication: September 1

eBook ISBN: 9781629293127
Print ISBN: 9781629293134

Number of pages: 180

Word Count: 75,000

Cover Artist: Dawné Dominique

Book Description:

When the world pushes you to your limits, sometimes your limits push back.

Archie thought making it out of New Jersey was a long shot. That was before an Eastern European mobster wanted to crack open his head to get the secrets inside, put there by a dead spy he barely knew.

The secrets buried in his head will take Archie across the world and into the arms of Rebecca, the girl recruited as the spy’s last asset. She has her own secrets and her own demons buried in her head. Together they learn what they are capable of in a life and death battle for love and justice.

Available at Eternal Press

Excerpt 2

  Again, I ignored my gut telling me to go see her right away. I sat there and watched from a distance.  It was standard procedure when confronting an asset that’s been left unattended anyway.  Still, I was looking forward to getting this paranoid streak out of my head with the rest of Agent Stephen Locke when this was all over.
            The First National Bank of Vienna was an old brick art deco building covered in sleek new tinted glass windows.  The bricks were worn and bleached from too many winters, but the glass was brand new and freshly cleaned twice a week top to bottom.  There was a front gate with a wrought iron angel sculpture with massive wings and a guard that was a solid 230lbs and knew how to handle himself.  The place wasn’t kidding about security.  Even the window washers had background checks on top of background checks.  It was a hard building to get into, but not impossible.  I picked up patterns: where maintenance trucks were parked, when the guards switched spots.  I saw gaps in their system. They weren’t huge but they were enough for someone quick and small to get through.
Aside from the MI6 guy at the table behind me with the Sig 229 under his arm tailing someone on a completely different case, there was not a single spy to be found.  I surveyed the building on three sides over the hour and didn’t see anything suspicious.  I guess it was time to meet my asset.  Although, in all the surveying and spy hunting, I never really thought of just how I was going to get into the building.
            The easiest way would be a zip-line from the building next door but I couldn’t think of any way to get one on such short notice, so I needed another way in.  I didn’t have Locke’s CIA resources, so I had to use what I had on me, what even Locke didn’t have: the face of a child.  Although, I really wanted to try that zip-line thing, Locke remembers the training course at Langley; it seemed fun to me.
               “Excuse me, sir,” I said in German, as I did my best to act shy with my hands in my pockets and my head down low.  “Mr. Raines, my father, was just dying for a pastry.  I’m to bring it to him post haste.”
            “He didn’t clear it with me.  You’ll have to wait here while I call him.”
            “Well, um.”  I was backing away slowly.  I’d have to go back late at night. Maybe I can tail him and drug him or memorize the shift schedule and make sure to get them right at the switch and sneak in.  It’d take a few days, but maybe I could get that zip-line and maybe some surveillance equipment. I just needed a burn phone and—
            There she was walking out with her bagged lunch to enjoy her lunch hour.  The sunlight hit her hair just right for me to see an auburn gleam from her highlights.  It was like she was actually wearing a halo.  Her bright green eyes lit up like one of those bronze statutes.
            “Actually, never mind. Dad shouldn’t be eating the sugar anyway.”  I handed him the bag and quickly dashed across the street, holding my empty cup of coffee the entire time and the spring in my step so I wouldn’t look like I was running after her.
            Locke had long since got used to tailing people.  The weirdness and uneasy feeling he had the first few times was a distant memory to him.  To me, following a girl who I never laid eyes on before that day but had dreams about every night for the last week, was awkward.  I mean, being turned down for the high school dance in front of the entire class awkward. Just like then, you power through and focus on what you want. After a few minutes, all the awkwardness melts away and you’re in genuine spy mode.  It was weird, but in that moment, tailing a girl I knew but never met because of someone whose mind was downloaded into mine, I felt like a real spy.  
            I followed a good half a block behind, sometimes farther, sometimes closer.  The trick to a good tail is to not follow the book on what makes a good tail.  Even someone untrained can tell when someone behind is walking just a little too deliberately.  So, being awkward gave me an advantage.  I had a lot of training at Park Slope High.
            I tailed her a few blocks until we got to the Athena statue outside the parliament building where she sat and unpacked her lunch.  I kept my distance, still holding my empty coffee cup, pretending to take a sip every now and then.     
            The coast was clear; we were relatively alone.  All I had to do was approach her and tell her she was in trouble, we could go the embassy and get a flight back to New York.  I felt a little guilty about pulling her out of Vienna but—
            “No way,” I said as I dropped my coffee cup.  “Not now.”  It was on the clear other side of the parliament gardens, but I could see it.  The way he stood there, the way he held his jacket tight so no one could see his gun. It was clear.  This guy was here to start something.  I started thinking about ways to get over there and disarm him without taking my eyes off Rebecca.  I was about to move around the other side, drawing him back toward the maintenance entrance.  Right then, I wondered if the gun in my backpack was loaded.

About the Author:

Josh Sinason is a freelance writer working in the Northern Illinois area. His work has appeared as part of Chicago DIY Film Magazine.  His past work includes all ages short story romances, A Linger in the Echo and Monaco Dawn. 

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