Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Improbables by Jonathan Charles Bruce
Hello, all you delightful readers of this fine electronic information disseminator! I am Jonathan Charles Bruce and I am here to talk a little bit about my process for creating the antagonist for my book Improbables. It’s also a touch on the vague side, simply to spare anyone interested from having something spoiled. I mean, that’d be cruel, right? It’d be like telling you that [REDACTED] dies in chapter twelve. How utterly awful!
With writing a story with a human heroine thrust into the world of the paranormal, it was really important to write a villain that is threatening to everyone involved. This could have been easily accomplished by simply making the villain a member of the supernatural community—an angry vampire, werewolf, something like that. But such a solution can very easily undermine the agency of everyone involved.
What I mean by that is when a threat is sufficiently overpowering for a squishy human, it falls to the supernatural paramours to step in and become a sort of meat-shield. Unable to appropriately defend herself, my heroine would be relegated to a trophy to be won by whoever ends up slaying the big bad. In other words, she is damseled, taking a character ideally meant to have depth and consigning her to being a prize.
While this happens to be a major criticism across all genres, it also has the unintended effect of undermining the quality of the character doing the rescuing. Forced into a situation where our supernatural love interests are the only credible defense against the antagonist, they rush to the rescue because the peril was built specifically for them to handle. Which, in a way, it totally is—the thing is written, after all—but nothing feels like being painted narratively into a corner quite like feeling that your hero could turn to the audience and say, “Well, looks like I’ve got no other choice.”
Swoon, am I right?
So the challenge, then, was to write the antagonist in a way that created a plausible threat for both the titular improbables and humanity in roughly equal measure. This way my protagonist, Abigail, wouldn’t routinely be shoved into a closet every time the baddie reared its head. At the same time, the improbables would also be caught unprepared, meaning that their presence doesn’t actually guarantee protection for their human cohort—or even their own.
Don’t get too attached to anyone, is what I’m saying.
Ah, just kidding.
Or am I?
Anyway, I think that it’s this shared vulnerability that helps to make my antagonist as threatening as it is. But on top of the drive to simply make it a physical match for the cast, I also wanted to make sure that it worked as an effective antithesis for Abigail. I tried to establish an interesting intersection between the two, each working as the others’ potential for good or evil. This is perhaps most obvious in the thematic connection between the two.
Identity and visibility end up being key components of the novel. While their starting points are quite different, Abigail and the villain’s struggle with how they come to grips with how they fit into the world are meant to work as oppositional arcs. I hope that by doing this, the stakes are made that much higher and their confrontations more visceral.
Well, that, and she totally nails the thing with a car door. That probably helps.
Jonathan Charles Bruce
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Date of Publication: February 22, 2016
Number of pages: 334
Word Count: 107,360
Cover Artist: Ashley Ruggirello
Abigail Wren’s new life fresh out of college is dull, even with her (almost) dream job at the local newspaper. The only real excitement she can get is found between the pages of an endless stream of paranormal romance novels she can’t help but love.
Then, on a snowy night in December, Abigail catches a glimpse of what could only be described as a werewolf. Enamored with the possibility, her investigation leads her to discover a paranormal population—improbables—harmoniously living in the midst of humanity. Between making eyes at a perpetually grumpy werewolf and hanging out with a vampire with a lust for life (and liquor), Abigail’s life takes a shaky step out of the ordinary and into the fantastic.
Just outside of the sleepy town of Whitewater, however, a force of rage is building. Born of hate and delusion, a living cataclysm threatens to devour everyone in its path—human or improbable.
Excerpt from Chapter Three:
The trip back to the office was short and uneventful. Parking her car was also characteristically nondescript. On her way to the front doors, Abigail realized that the entire car ride had been on autopilot. Along with that realization came the panic associated with losing a chunk of one’s precious life to monotony. And along with that came a sudden worry that she might have flattened a child without realizing it.
No. Surely that would have been memorable—right?
Right in the middle of a panicked mental recap of the events from picking up her book to arriving in the parking lot, she slammed face-first into a surprisingly warm wall of a person. She rebounded, only now taking in the red-and-black flannel shirt she had plowed into. Her hands shot out in an attempt to keep balance. A moment later, she felt someone’s hands on her forearms.
“Easy there,” came a gruff voice. Pulling herself out of her daze, Abigail looked up at the person she had run into, who was now also, kindly enough, keeping her upright. He was scruffy, a mop of brown hair bleeding into a full (if short) beard worried with the occasional silver strands. His eyes were an intense green, which, coupled with the red in his shirt, gave his appearance an unintentionally festive look. He was pale, but that was nothing out of the ordinary, considering Abigail had forgotten what the sun looked like in the weeks she’d been calling the Pacific Northwest home.
He was cute. In a ruggedly handsome way. Like a grizzled lumberjack.
Perhaps cute was not the word for it.
Abigail giggled, suddenly overtaken with the silliness of what just happened. “Thank you,” she said, certain she was coming across like an idiot. “You can let go now.” She smiled. The man obliged, returning a tight-lipped smile that seemed to err on the side of suffering-the-eccentric.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to…” he began before clearing his throat, “exist where you wanted to exist at the same time.” He looked every bit as awkward as she felt, which made her own discomfort slightly less overbearing.
She swallowed sheepishly. “It happens.” She suddenly felt the need to clarify what she meant, so she gestured back and forth between the two of them. “Existing at the same time and all.” She realized that the gesture didn’t seem to quite work in the situation, so she let her hand fall at her side as she averted her gaze.
“Try as we might!” he said with an exaggerated shrug. They exchanged unconvincing laughs before silence filled the void, mutated into a pause, then sat long enough to be uncomfortable. While the quiet was maliciously evolving, Abigail couldn’t help but trace her eyes up the man’s exposed and muscular forearms. When she caught what she was doing, she wondered where her unintentional partner’s eyes were glued—no doubt, here was another person in Whitewater who would take any opportunity to drink in the sight of the newest and blackest resident.
Instead, she was a little shocked—and pleased—to see he was staring at the ground. He was legitimately embarrassed for slamming into her. In the city, if someone ran into you it was either a pickpocketing or just a nonstandard and jostly hello. In her hometown, it had been met with an impertinent huff and followed by a subpar apology. Here… well, if this was the first, being bumped into was hardly the worst way to get to know someone.
Hey, mountain man Joe, why don’t we walk into each other in front of a coffee shop some time? she thought. This Whitewater-only pickup line seemed dopey enough to be charming enough to work—and she couldn’t help snickering at the thought.
“What’s so funny?” he asked. She looked up at his eyes which had made a momentary migration to her face.
The smile from her laughter remained unbroken, but grew a touch larger. “Nothing, just, uh…” She gestured to her temple. “I’m hilarious up here, trust me.”
He tilted his head back, enough to give her a full look at what she assumed was post-embarrassment face-saving stoniness. He nodded. “Sorry again.” And with that, he brushed aside her, carrying some intense body heat with him, and walked away. She looked over her shoulder at the man, watching him for a few seconds. Something registered as odd, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Regardless of what it was that presently pricked at her brain, she shook it off. She had spent weeks feeling exasperated when people felt they were privileged enough to stare at her like a lab specimen; she wasn’t too keen on forcing that behavior on someone else.
No matter how green his stupid sexy eyes were.
She turned around to the glass doors and jolted at the sight of Lacy Renault, the woman in charge of business coverage. A tiny woman in her fifties with short-cropped silver hair, she watched Abigail come in with icy blue eyes and a gotcha-smile. She wore an immaculately tailored red business suit, giving her the appearance of a circa 2008 female presidential candidate.
Abigail stepped into the vestibule, grateful for the limited respite it provided from the elements. “Were you watching that the whole time?” she asked, trying not to look too confused by Lacy’s grin. The expression was becoming a bit too knowing for her tastes.
“You running into Collins?” She asked. She opened her eyes widely, teasingly, and nodded. “Oh, my, yes!”
Abigail shrugged. “Something I should know?”
Lacy gave an embellished frown. “No, no. Just, uh…” She trailed off in the way people do when overstressing a manufactured difficulty with words. “Glad to see you’re taking in the sights.”
Well, this conversation immediately failed the Bechdel Test, Abigail thought icily.
About the Author:
Jonathan Bruce began writing what amounted to terrible Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction when he was four… provided that you accept that “forcing other people to write what he said” is the same thing as “writing”. Although the original manuscripts are lost (or perhaps destroyed), we can rest assured that his prose has improved significantly since then. After high school, he began writing and directing plays which gradually improved depending on whom you ask. He discovered his love of a good fight scene after writing a Dracula knock-off which took a 19th century classic and made it less about Victorian yearning and 300% more about stabbing things in the jugular.
He has a Master’s Degree in History, thanks largely to his thesis focusing on MUSIC, a Milwaukee-based school desegregation campaign during the 1960’s. He also enjoys discussing/making fun of pop culture of the 20th century and reading books of a non-historical nature. In his off moments, you can catch him writing for fun or making inane movies about nothing in particular.