Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guest Post: Extraordinary Heroes Found in Ordinary Places by Bill Blais

Extraordinary Heroes Found in Ordinary Places

Guest Post By: Author Bill Blais

First, my deep thanks to Annabell for taking a chance on my story and on me with this guest post. It is much appreciated.

It may sound weird, but I started writing the Kelly & Umber series because I was tired of reading about strong, sexy, smart, bold protagonists who always won. I wanted failures.

Well, okay, not failures exactly, but people who might actually exist, who fell down, who made real mistakes with real consequences. People who have to buy groceries.

It's not that super heroes aren't fun sometimes*, but they tend not to have to do the dishes or pay bills or mow the lawn, and -- perhaps most importantly and oddly -- they tend not to have any family. This is more important to me now with a wife and child of my own, but it has always bothered me about popular fiction, undermining my engagement with many of these heroes and heroines.
I began to notice that in today's fiction, particularly genre fiction, very few protagonists have siblings, fewer still have parents, and almost none are married or have children.

Why is that? Are mothers, for example, incapable of strength? Sexuality? Intelligence? Confidence?

Please. Every mother is all these things and more.**

So why aren’t they in the stories?

I think this is because it's messier. Situations are so much easier to write through when the main character doesn't have to worry about the web of obligations and needs and fears and hopes that being part of a family produces.

A heroine can shoot off to an exotic locale at a moment's notice when there are no children to worry about, no parents to care for, no husband to bother with. It's easy to gloss over the day-to-day details and stick with the action (and there are plenty of great examples of this), but I am more drawn to the ways in which normal people rise to challenges, and the normal people I know have to clean the litter box and take sick kids to the doctor and so on.

Now, a person who does these things and still kicks some demon butt? That's my kind of hero.

But writing that kind of hero was a constant exercise in resistance. Though Kelly's character and story came to me quite quickly, I found myself time and again wondering if my choices to avoid the trends of the genre were more stubborn obstinacy than grounded in her story.

The most obvious example of this, without giving away too much, was dealing with potential love interests for Kelly. She is a married woman very much in love with her husband and her kids. This, by itself, flies in the face of nearly every book in the field and greatly complicates, at best, one of the major draws of reading the story.

Instead of the traditional love triangle*** with the brooding lovers competing for the lady's favors, I had tied Kelly down to one man from the outset, and one with a severe illness, making any other relationships for her rather questionable, at the very best. So where would the passion or mystery be?

Now, I said 'tied down' above, but Kelly's love for her husband is clear and open, not based on pity or obligation, and he returns it in kind. Thus, the 'limitation' I had put upon myself was actually an opportunity. I hoped to show a married couple who was genuinely in love, as much now as when they had first met, contrary to what I saw as popular depictions of married life.

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The implication is that happy families are inherently uninteresting, and here I was, explicitly incorporating a happy family -- and, if Tolstoy was correct, boredom -- to my story. I have always resisted this perception, however, and now I had a chance to prove it (or try to, at least).

But would readers care?

This question haunted me as I worked through my revisions. I really enjoyed who Kelly was and who she was becoming, but she wasn't like any of the heroines in the genre that I'd seen or read about. Had I gone too far? I liked her, but would anyone else want to read about a woman with such mundane problems as PTA meetings and a kid with a broken arm, even with the addition of demons?

It was the classic new author dilemma, I think: Do I write what I think people want to read, or do I write the story I want to read? The standard response is to write the story you want to write, but that seems to straddle both sides of the question without really answering it.

I'll be honest, I hope someday to make a living writing stories, so I am keenly aware of my potential audience. Was I shooting myself in the foot, then, by taking such a departure from the genre?

In the end, and supported in great part by my wife, I remembered why I had started writing No Good Deed, and, perhaps more importantly, why I started writing in the first place: I wanted to write stories that I would enjoy.

I can't make people like my books any more than a painter can force people to appreciate her art, and I believe a novel created by formula has the same appeal as a color by numbers picture. I like people and stories who make hard choices, and I can only do my best to be honest to the stories as I discover them.

* Seriously, who doesn't want to kick butt and win the guy or girl?

** When my wife was 10 months pregnant she could still kick my butt. No question.

*** There's an odd thought: Is there such a thing as a 'traditional' love triangle?

About the Author: Bill Blais is a writer, web developer and perennial part-time college instructor. His novels includeWitness (winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Fantasy) and the first two books in the Kelly & Umber series(No Good Deed and Hell Hath No Fury).

Bill graduated from Skidmore College before earning an MA in Medieval Studies from University College London. He lives in Maine with his wife and daughter.

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