Tag Archives: Mario Acevedo

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Four – Character Development

By Jeanne C. Stein

I’m in China the rest of the month on vacation. No laptop. No cell phone. Will I survive? If I’m back next month, you’ll know I did!

Since we spent most of last class discussing rules, here are some of NYT bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver’s regarding characters:

1. They must be likeable
2. They have to do something
3. They have to speak realistically (Lesson Six for us)
4. They have to be multi-dimensional
5. They have to be sympathetic—even the villains

In Lesson Two we took a brief look at character development—deciding whose story we wanted to tell. The protagonist. Generally, she’s the first character we come up with when plotting a new book. How do we make her likeable? We give her a name, we describe her physically, we give her a job, sometimes a hobby, and populate her world with friends and family. We make her sympathetic and interesting.

We set her up in her world and then we tear it apart.

In UF, that often involves introducing paranormal characters or if our protagonist is a paranormal character, introducing a personal threat to her or her world. We give the character a problem or a goal—something that will cause conflict. Something that makes her have to do something. We set her on a quest. Same if you’re writing a thriller, a mystery, a cozy, a romance.

Before we talk about the villain, let’s mentions secondary characters. These are different from “throw away” characters—the waitress at the diner, the bag boy at the grocery store. Throw away characters appear briefly, should have only a one or two sentence description, if any at all, and never appear again. You don’t want to yank the reader out of the story with a long, detailed description of a character that is not relevant to your plot.

A secondary character, on the other hand, might be our protagonist’s sidekick or mentor. A romantic interest. A secondary character should never overshadow the main character, but rather reflect something about her. A secondary character might be the object of the conflict—our protag must save him or her from the big bad. It’s often the relationship of our protagonist to this secondary character that makes her multi-dimensional.

As for our villain(s), Deaver reminds us that even they have to be sympathetic. No, that doesn’t mean we have to make our readers like them, but it helps if we can make our readers understand them. Antagonists often have a huge stake in the outcome of their conflict with our heroine. Sometimes it’s the destruction of one world to allow another to take its place, sometimes it’s revenge for a real or imagined crime committed unknowingly by our protag or someone close to her, sometimes it’s simply to save his own skin. Something has set the villain against our protag, his motivation is as important as hers. It may not be moral or just or even reasonable, but without it, you have caricature instead of characterization.

So, how do we develop our characters quickly? And why do we want to?

Simple. The sooner we throw our protagonist into the fray, the faster we hook the reader. How do we do it? Show her in action. The scene may or may not have anything to do with the primary plot, but what she does will define her for the reader. It’s also a good way to introduce the world and secondary characters without pages of info-dump to set them up. Action is always better than words.

What else do we need to know about our characters?

In UF, for example, if they are supernatural, what are their powers? Did they come by them naturally or were their powers thrust upon them? Are they unique even among their own kind? How so? Do they have natural enemies? Does the human population know of their existence? Is the protagonist aware of her powers or does something happen to activate them?

Our villain—is he unique among his kind? Does he target our protag for a specific reason? Why is her after her? To steal her powers? To prevent her from becoming…what?

Think about your protagonist and antagonist. Think about how you want to introduce them to the reader. The antagonist may not show up in that first chapter, but your protagonist will. How do you go about making that character as interesting to the reader as possible?

Now, speaking of characters—our interview today is with Mario Acevedo. He writes the popular Felix Gomez vampire series. If you haven’t sampled a Felix Gomez novel, you need to. He has a unique spin on his UF world.

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

As a tag, I prefer Testosterone-laced Macho Supernatural-Mystery-Thriller. Barring that, Urban Fantasy is okay. Stressing the Urban part, my hero likes his neighborhood cafés and he hates being more than stumbling distance from a bar. For the Fantasy part, he thinks the ladies consider him a hot number.

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

By Urban I mean that as gritty and contemporary. Fantasy, well, I’ve got vampires, aliens, zombies, dryads, and efficient government workers.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

At the beginning? No. I tried the idea of a vampire-detective and it stuck. Like mud.

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

Given the choice, which would you rather do: work retail or fight vampires? In one you wear polyester; the other, leather and stainless steel.

* * * *

You can tell from his answers (and the titles of his books) that humor plays a big part in Mario’s books. To him, it comes effortlessly. To me, it’s daunting. Infusing humor in your story, though, is a way to add another dimension to your characters. Look for Mario’s next Felix adventure coming soon.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, have fun!! This is the first year in awhile that I haven’t. I’ll miss it. Try to join some of the online groups and attend as many of the local write-ins as you can. There is energy in a group of writers!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!! Or as they say in China: 感恩节快乐

Mario Acevedo Shares Some of His Favorite Authors

By Mario Acevedo

A recent questionnaire on Facebook asked to list fifteen authors that influenced you personally. I jotted down some names, then as I thought about it, kept revising the list. After I had posted the list I realized I had overlooked one of the authors. So I’ll start this edited list with him.

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange. The hoopla about Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation is what drew me to this novel, I was in high school at the time. I bought my copy from the rack at the local Quick Check (really, there was a time when you could buy literary novels at the convenience store). I devoured everything about the story including the Nadsat glossary. I was hooked by the narrative’s subversive, violent tone. This was not a “feel-good” read. When my best friend and I saw the movie, we followed the screenplay with the same reverence as Twilight fans tracking the exploits of Edward and Bella. We geeked out so much that we wore Clockwork Orange costumes (this was in the primordial days of fan-cons and nobody wore costumes except on Halloween). I even made a bloody eyeball cufflinks. However, Burgess was horrified by the mass-appeal of the book and the movie (the infamous gang-rape scene was based on what happened to his wife when American soldiers broke into their home), and he wrote an opera to lampoon his own creation. And I’ve seen this musical adaptation, performed in Austin, TX, with women playing the gangsters.

Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade. I ran across this book during my “What good does Christianity do?” period in my life in the aftermath of a family murder-suicide. Having grown up in a Southern Baptist fundamentalist environment, for most of my life I had been reading the Bible as the “Great Book of Wisdom,” but it never made much sense to me. Then I came across The Chalice and the Blade and Eisler’s arguments opened my eyes that the Bible was a book of fiction, mostly, and written to serve a political agenda.

Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird. I found this book on the shelf of my uncle’s home when I was on leave from the army. The story is an orphan’s wandering through Eastern Europe during World War Two. As a history buff I could easily put the hapless boy’s ordeals in context, and that’s what made it so chilling. This is only of two books that I’ve read that were so horrific I had to put them aside to process the brutality. In contrast, the violence in A Clockwork Orange struck me as theatrical and lacking in empathy for the victims.

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I learned about this book from the most unlikeliest of sources, an after-school Warner Brothers cartoon. Bugs Bunny warded off a pack of dogs by showing them the book and they ran over the Brooklyn Bridge in search of said tree. Was there such a book? There was, and I checked it out of the public library. The novel was published in 1943 to much acclaim and success. It’s the coming-of-age-story of Francine who overcomes her family’s impoverished circumstances. The book was an enlightening detour from my usual fare of military history. Though I enjoyed the story it was the first time that my internal literary critic was activated. I thought the last chapters had rushed through the girl’s life and as a reader, I felt cheated.

Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain. I’m not a Crichton fan but I have to give him his due with this book. My dad used to buy the bestsellers when they were released in mass-market paperback. My memories were of him crashing on the couch during the weekend and churning through the pages. Because of his example I didn’t spend any time with the “classics” but with John D. MacDonald, Leon Uris, Frederick Forsyth, James Clavell, Trevanian, and of course, Michael Crichton. When I read The Andromeda Strain I was twelve years old and in hindsight, not a very sophisticated reader. So it pains me when today people get so worried about what kids read and get exposed to. Even I was able to tell fact from fiction. My dad finished this book late on Saturday afternoon and so I started early Sunday morning. I was so mesmerized by the tale that I faked feeling sick so I could skip church to finish the story. When I put the book down, I was amazed that the narrative had put me in a trance, oblivious to the actual world. Such is the power of a good story.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AcevedoMario3x4Mario Acevedo writes the best-selling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series for HarperCollins. Mario’s debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, was chosen by Barnes & Noble as one of the best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade. His short fiction is included in the anthologies, You Don’t Have A Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens and Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery from Arte Publico Press, and in Exquisite Corpse and Modern Drunkard Magazine. He was a finalist in the Colorado Book Awards and the International Latino Book Awards. Mario lives and writes in Denver, CO.

Post Conference Post

By Julie Kazimer

Well it’s done. Another fabulous Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference is the books. My head swells with information, not to mention a little too much time in the hospitality suite. I met new and old friends alike. This conference had over 100 new attendees. First timers are the lifeblood for us old hats, at least for me. I love the excitement and buzz in the air as people explore new writing and craft territory.

And let me just say, there was plenty to learn. Being a total, all knowing publishing pro, I opted for the business/career track of workshops. I was not disappointed. Okay I was, only in that, I found out I am NOT a total, all knowing publishing pro.

Bestselling author and indie pub guru, Jeff Shelby led us on a few wonderful forays into e-publishing. Carnia Press editor, Jeff Seymour (a personal hero since he saved my workshop by loaning me his laptop) taught a riveting class on how to write back cover copy for indie publishing. I took advantage of this right away, and I swear my cover copy has never sounded better.

The famous Susan Spann did her stuff by teaching us some legalness when it comes to author and publisher rights. Bree Evrin taught us social media illiterates how to hashtag like the best of them. Lynda Hilburn shared secrets on how to fix that one thing…the thing writers dare not mention…rhymes with Biters Lock. Rockstar Angie Hodapp shared her expertise on vivid description. Mario Acevedo, Warren Hammond and Betsy Dorbusch crushed it with a panel on two of my favorite things, crime and noir. The agent and editor panels were, as always, fascinating. And how could I forget Karen Lin’s Book to Script workshop. I’m ready for my close up, Mr. Deville. And all the billions in royalties once I become the darling of Hollywood. (No, I am not still drunk from my extended time in the hospitality suite). There were plenty of other amazing workshops and presentations. Forgive me if I didn’t mention yours. The editors, Pat and Julie like me to keep my posts under a million words.

What else to share? The Friday night booksigning was a blast. Nina and Ron Else from Who Else Books (The Broadway Book Mall) are two fo my favorite people to see at the conference. Not only do they sell my books, and make me look good while doing it, but they are wonderful people. As I arrived at my booksigning station this year, a small package sat in front of me. Nina had given me a tiny princess who grows 600% in water. Now I should’ve read the directions more carefully, because it did say in water, not whiskey. But I love my tiny princess at the same, and Nina for giving it to me.

That same night, Writer of the Year, Linda Hull, gave an inspiring speech about persistence, pain, and the joys to be found in both publishing and in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization itself. This is a woman who spent years waiting for her big break, suffering the ups and downs of the industry, and now is quickly rising to the top. I wish her and the other Writer of the Year nominees the best, as well as all those who finaled and won the Colorado Gold contest. You are great writers who are moments away from achieving your dreams.

Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers who made this conference possible, especially Vicki Law and her cohorts, who raised over $4000 for CO Flood relief. And a huge shout out to Susie Brooks, the conference chair. Great job by all.

Here’s to hoping all of you who pitched to an agent or editor fulfill your publication dreams. And thank you to all my new writerly friends and my old ones as well for a fantastic weekend. Now quit reading this (in a few more sentences) and go write!

There was so much more to share, but I’m exhausted.

What was your favorite conference moment? And does anyone know where I left my left shoe? I can’t seem to find it. I know I had it at dinner…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming romance, The Assassin’s Heart, and the upcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.