Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

Today I wanted to talk about something that is becoming much more common in fiction these days, and that’s the twist villain. If you’re unfamiliar, a twist villain is when one character in a story seems to be the villain, but later on it’s revealed that another character, usually a character we thought was a good guy, is actually the villain. This twist villain is supposed to be a surprise, something you didn’t see coming while reading the story. Hence the name “twist villain.” The problem is, the twist villain is becoming such a common trope these days. In the past couple years, we’ve seen it in Disney films like Zootopia and Frozen; popular novels like Gone Girl and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; a couple of recent superhero films; and more than I can possibly name in this blog post. And when so many works of fiction are using the twist villain, we become used to not only seeing the trope but also the signs that a twist villain is going to be used (and trust me, there are signs), and then when we see the twist villain, we’re not very surprised. Heck, sometimes we even predict who the villain is well before it’s revealed.

Why is this trope becoming so popular? Simple: people want a good story. Good stories produce good memories and good profits. As standard stories of good vs. evil have been done to death, creators need to think of new stories and story elements to keep consumers interested in their work. One way to do that is a third-act twist, which when done right can really enhance a story. And a twist villain can be a very good third-act twist, if you’re careful with it.

Sadly, I find that a lot of creators aren’t careful with their twist villains, making the twist ineffective when it happens. Which is sad, because I love the idea of a twist villain. Heck, it’s one I might use in the future, if I haven’t used it already. A good twist villain can make your mind reel, make you look back trough a story to see if there were any clues and make you marvel at the genius of the creators for setting up that twist so well.

A bad twist villain, on the other hand, just leaves you feeling neutral at best (my reaction during Zootopia) and disappointed at worst (my reaction looking back on Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed). Which is why I’ve come up with a few tips for writing an effective twist villain. With any luck, these tips will help other authors (and myself) avoid making a bad twist villain.

1. Does your story really need a twist villain? Any time you want to include something in a story, ask yourself if it’s really needed. I swear, so many stories just add in elements that aren’t needed (*cough* lots of stuff from BvS *cough*). Ask yourself if your story can stand on its own without any of the extra elements. If it doesn’t, DON’T FORCE IT IN! Especially with twist villains.

2. If you’re going to leave clues behind, don’t make them obvious. You can have a twist villain without leaving a trail (Hans from Frozen, for example), but with twist villains, creators often like to leave little hints of who the real villain is. I think this is narcissism on our part; we like to show how clever we are. But that leads to us leaving some rather obvious clues, which our readers/viewers will pick up on and deduce the twist long before the twist occurs. Take Scooby-Doo 2: it was so obvious that the reporter was the villain! Why else would they include a reporter with poor ethical practices unless she was at least in league with the villains?

3. Have a good herring villain. A herring villain is just that: a herring to keep us off the real villain. In Frozen, the herring villain was the Duke of Weselton. He had obvious malicious goals, is willing to kill Elsa, and he was over-the-top, which felt right for a villain in this movie. Imagine our surprise when we find out he’s not the true villain, but Hans, who had no trail leading to him and was such a nice guy up till that reveal! A good herring villain will often lead to a great twist villain reveal.

Compare that to Zootopia or Wonder Woman: the former doesn’t give us a herring villain, which causes us to consider each character and eventually land on Ms. Bellwether, who has said some interesting things and has actually benefited from these events. The latter gives us a herring villain, but it’s a comic book movie, and the General doesn’t do a thing to make us think he’s a famous DC villain we’re very sure will make an appearance.

In short, have a herring villain, and make sure they’re set up in a way where people will actually consider them as the main villain, so the twist will actually be effective. To do that, be aware of what sort of story you’re writing. Often the story will have certain requirements for villains (motive, opportunity, etc), so make it seem like the herring villain has those. You’ll find your herring villain much more effective.

4. Do the reveal earlier than the third act. A lot of twist villains reveal themselves in the third act. Nothing wrong with this, but it’d also work if the reveal was done earlier. For example, Hydra was revealed as the villain in Captain America: Winter Soldier in the second act, and that was a really interesting twist, as we hadn’t expected it. If they’d done it later in the story, we might have actually figured it out by then, or there wouldn’t be enough time for exposition mixed with a great climax. So consider doing the reveal elsewhere.

5. Try a variation on the trope. The twist villain, like most tropes, has a standard formula: something happens, one character seems like the villain, but another character is revealed at the third act to be the villain and why. Oh, and it’s usually not the protagonist.

Variations on common tropes have proven to be very effective in storytelling, so try something a little different with the twist villain, like these examples below:

  • It’s a villain, but which one? In Doctor Who series 8, we’re introduced to a character named Missy, who seems likely to be a villain, but we’re not sure what her deal is if she is. In the second-to-last episode, she explains that Missy is short for Mistress, making her a female regeneration of the Master, a well-known DW villain. A lot of minds were blown that day, believe me. The idea is you can introduce a seemingly new character into a long-running story, and then link them back to a previously-established character. Trust me, it works.
  • Everyone’s the villain! Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express ends with every suspect actually having some sort of hand in the murder. It made the novel a sensation back in the day, because it was a seemingly impossible idea, but it worked. So try something impossible and make it possible: everyone’s a villain, no ones’ the villain, or even two very good suspects with alibis both committed the murder. It could work.
  • The hero? American Horror Story: Hotel is my favorite season of the series, and this twist is one reason why. The protagonist, a police detective, is on the hunt for a serial killer, only to find out in the second half of the season that he’s the killer! Trust me, I did not see that coming until the reveal episode, and only by a few minutes! So making a hero or a character who nobody thinks of as a possible villain the villain can work very well.

And these are just some examples of variations that have worked in the past.

Twist villains are a trope that won’t go away anytime soon, but as long as we have them, we should write them as well as we write any other type of character or trope. Because if we’re not going to give people our best, then what are we actually giving them?

What are your thoughts on twist villains? What are some good tips for writing them well?

I actually almost missed this milestone. I was going to bed Saturday evening, and I was like, “Wait a minute, that’s Monday! Note to self: write a blog post in the morning after cleaning the bathroom.” And now that the bathroom is squeaky clean (as well as the kitchen, which also needed a touch up), I’m taking the time to talk about this milestone and ask myself, “Has it really been four years? Blimey, it feels longer.”

So if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, here goes: about five years ago, during my sophomore year of college, I started putting together a collection of short stories. I was still editing Reborn City at the time, and I wanted to have something to work on while the editing process of that took its time, as well as something to release and test the waters of self-publishing. A short story collection felt like a good idea. So I wrote five scary stories in about a couple of months, edited them and had other writers/horror fans look at them, and designed a cover. On July 17th, 2013, I published The Quiet Game: Five Tales to Chill Your Bones on Amazon and Smashwords, later putting them on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

The five stories in the book are: Addict, about a man dealing with trying to kick his sex addiction; I’m Going to be the Next James Bond, about a bunch of kids who go to an abandoned hospital to hunt for ghosts; In the Lady Ogre’s Den, about an autistic child’s stay in a hospital; The Quiet Game, about a Catholic school that finds itself cut off from the world and deaf all of a sudden; and Samson Weiss’s Curse, about a senator being stalked by a spirit known as a dybbuk.

This has been by far my most commercially successful book, not only because it’s been out the longest, but because it’s a very quick read, and costs less than my other books do, e-book and paperback. People who might not necessarily want a long read see this little collection of short stories, and that it’s received positive reviews, and they’re like, “Okay, let’s check it out.” For the most part, people love it. So for someone still growing an audience, that’s a pretty good achievement.

Speaking of reviews, this is also my most reviewed work. I think that the reasons for that are the same ones for why this has been my most commercial work to date. And as I said previously, it’s had some pretty good reviews, with a score of 4.1 on Amazon based on 14 reviews. Here’s what people have been saying about the book:

5 wonderfully crafted tales! I purchased this as an eBook originally and put off reading it for quite a while, I really wish I hadn’t waited. Sometimes when one purchases a collection of short stories you expect some of them to be less entertaining or of lower quality than the others, but none of these disappoint. Well worth the money, especially considering after you read each story the author gives you creative insight into what inspired him to write each tale, which is really wonderful.

–Jeff D.

This is not my genre, but since I know the author [:-)], I read the stories. Each one was very unique and created its own atmosphere and mood. My favorite story was the Quiet Game but I found the ending a little confusing since I didn’t really know the literary reference at the end; what I loved was the world created in the story and the message it conveyed. I look forward to the author’s improving his craft, and I will certainly read more.

–Gefilte63

Imagine if you will a young Stephen King penning dark scenarios inspired by his youth, and what you get is this anthology. Through this collection of short stories, Rami Ungar brings us into the world of dark urges, childhood traumas, ghosts, phantoms, and dark psychological thrillers. An inspired creation, and definitely a good intro to this indie author’s world!

–Matt Williams, author of “The Cronian Incident”

I especially like that last one calling me a young Stephen King. Always love being compared to him.

If any of this makes you want to read The Quiet Game or check out more reviews, I’ll include the links for the book below. An if you do end up reading the book, please make sure to leave a review. Positive or negative, I love feedback, and it helps me out in the long run.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I may have a new review out tonight, so keep an eye out for that. Until then, have a good one.

The Quiet Game: Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & Noble, iBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

I wanted to get at least one more blog post out before I go off to Boston (spoiler alert: the trip is imminent), and because I didn’t have time to watch and review a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while, I thought I’d do another post about romance in fiction. Why? Because my last post on the subject did very well, well enough that a writing blog associated with Columbia College in Chicago listed that post in a Valentine’s Day-themed article last year (that’s staying power!), and because I’ve had some thoughts since then about the subject. And those thoughts revolve around this simple idea: for a romance story to be truly successful and compelling, there has to be a conflict of some sort. Let me explain:

A couple of months back, I tried watching this anime I discovered on Hulu. The idea for the series sounded interesting, it was a fantasy series with a big romance element, and it was loosely based on a popular fairy tale. I decided to try it (I’d found anime and manga I loved on less than that), and settled down to watch a few episodes. It had a good first episode…but then the problems set in. One of the major ones was that after the first episode, when it’s pretty obvious that the two leads are attracted to each other, there’s nothing really to make the romance aspect exciting. They just settle into this rhythm that says, “Oh yeah, eventually they’ll get together.” Nothing that came up really served as a threat to their relationship, and because the story’s main focus was the romance aspect, I kind of lost interest.

Thus this post. Every good fiction story has some sort of conflict, something for the protagonist(s) to overcome and aid them while they grow as people. These conflicts can be outer and/or inner conflicts. In Harry Potter, it’s Harry’s battle to stop Lord Voldemort and protect his friends. In Stephen King’s It, there’s a shapeshifting evil clown and the desire to hang onto childhood wonder while also accepting the inevitability of growing up. In When Marnie was There, it’s Anna accepting that she’s the one isolating herself, and that if she only comes out to people, they will accept her. In romance, it’s often the main couple realizing and struggling with their feelings for one another while something tries to keep them apart.

Every good story has a good central conflict.

I’ve read a few romance-heavy novels (not many, but some), as well as watched a few TV shows and taken in several anime and manga with strong romance storylines. What always makes them good or memorable to me is the journey for these characters to fall in love with each other and get together, and all that can potentially tear them apart. Without them, like in the anime mentioned above, the story quickly becomes boring. In The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel, the two main characters start out in a relationship, but they nearly lose it when a new suitor tries to sweep the female of the pair off her feet (the outer conflict), as well as the couple’s vastly different cultures/childhoods and their communication issues (the inner conflict). Part of what made that novel so exciting was watching those issues affect their relationship, feeling the mistrust, heartbreak, and anger this couple went through. It was thrilling, because you really felt for these characters and wanted to see them together in the end. And getting to that end and overcoming their issues in the process was what made the novel as a whole good.

Arata the Legend: great example of how a story can have a compelling romance without that being the main subject of the story.

But this post so far focuses on stories that are mainly romantic. What about stories where romance is secondary? Same concept applies. You see this a lot in manga and anime. Take Arata the Legend by Yuu Watase (highly recommend, by the way), for example. The story revolves around a teenager named Arata who ends up in an alternate universe, where he becomes a messiah figure in the process. Arata ends up traveling around the universe with a band of magical warriors to gather magic items and save both worlds, while also dealing with his own fears and insecurities. These are the main outer and inner conflicts of the story. However, a sub-conflict in the story revolves around a love triangle between Arata and two girls who travel with him, a warrior girl and a healer. Both are attracted to Arata, Arata’s attracted to one of them, and because of various misunderstandings and past experiences, they’re unable to be honest with one another with their feelings, genuinely thinking that one might be better with the other or that one doesn’t like the other. This subplot is a major ongoing part of the story, and one of the reasons I always look forward to new volumes coming out (waiting on #25 since August last year).

As you can see, a story with a romance but no challenge to that romance is more often than not less exciting than a romance with challenges to it. The exceptions, in my experience at least, would be stories where the romance is a minor element in comparison to other issues in the story (the anime Code Geass definitely comes to mind in that aspect. Also highly recommend that one), but if that’s the case, then the romance probably isn’t a big part of why you’re into this story, right?

But when a story’s romance is a major aspect of why people would want to check the story out, having a conflict would definitely make it a more interesting aspect of the story. Otherwise, all you’ve got is an anime where you’re just watching and waiting for these two obviously-attracted-to-each-other people to take that first step and kiss each other and that’s about it.

I found out about this novel on Facebook, which was billed as a Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos-meets-YA sort of story, and wondered how that would work. When the opportunity came, I downloaded it onto my Kindle and started reading. And my, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Awoken follows Andromeda “Andi” Slate, an average teenager who isn’t to thrilled about living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire but deals with it with the help of her good friends. One night, she has a dream about seeing a giant tentacled monster and being rescued by a handsome youth. The next day, she and her friends get their hands on an infamous book of eldritch magic known as the Necronomicon, and do some reading from it. Within a day, a new teacher arrives at Andi’s school, as well as a strange new student who looks like the handsome youth she dreamed about. What happens next will not only change her life, but will decide the fate of the universe.

So if the handsome youth bit didn’t clue you in at all, yeah, there’s a pretty big romance aspect to this story, bigger than what I’m used to reading (especially in a Lovecraft-themed story). However, it’s a romance story between a human girl and a Great Old One (basically an ancient demon-god, if you don’t speak Lovecraft), one trying to balance the desire for the end of the world with his newborn desire for a human girl! I’ve never seen that before!* Romance isn’t something you normally associate with the Great Old Ones, who are notorious for seeing humans only as snacks (when they see them at all). It’s so weird, it kept me interested even though I don’t usually go for romance! Definitely one of the good points of the story.

So what were the other good points? Well, I liked Andi for the most part. Besides one or two problems, she was a very likable character, even when in the middle of an annoying teenage mood. The story was also very well-written, with very few typos and a distinct voice for Andi that kept me wanting to keep reading. I also liked how Elinsen made the works of Lovecraft accessible for her audience, who probably wouldn’t be big fans of Lovecraft and his Victorian-era speech patterns, though she manages to slip some of those words in, like cliquant and voltaic. Despite a few changes here and there, the Cthulhu Mythos is pretty much intact and treated with reverence, and the usual tropes that Lovecraft fans enjoy are there: cults, ancient beings, the idea that certain truths cause madness, Azathoth threatening to wake up, etc. The author also manages to slip in references to HP Lovecraft and his works (Portsmouth is secretly Innsmouth, Andi fears water, a reference to a racist writer from Rhode Island, Cthulhu’s relationships with the opposite godly sex, a cat, etc.), as well as references to Stephen King and even one reference to Supernatural that made me laugh out loud.

However, I did have some problems with the story. A major one was the male lead Riley (name based on a famous underwater city), and his relationship with Andi. Look, I know that in romance the asshole with a secret heart of gold is a popular trope (I’ve seen it in a few manga), but Riley is super-unlikable. And yeah, he’s secretly a terrible god who sees most humans as ants, but I can’t help but hate him as a protagonist. And his relationship with Andi is so abusive for a good chunk of the book. It’s supposed to come off that he’s protective of her, but doing things like commanding Andi to do things and intimidating her with his mood shifts just scream abusive creeper. What’s even worse is that Andi, once she falls for the guy, can’t extricate herself from him. It’s like an unhealthy obsession, to the point where she’d rather die or go completely mad rather than live without him (and that’s not teenage histrionics, she really feels that way at one point). It’s almost like she’s the ultimate worshipper for a Great Old One, and I just want to tell her that even taking out the god part, her relationship isn’t normal or healthy! How crazy is that?

I also wanted more from the main antagonist. We only see what she does in the name of her apocalypse, but I could’ve used more from her. Who was she really? Why did she do what she did? How did she become a worshipper of the Great Old Ones? I would have loved to see that explored a bit more in the story, and sadly we didn’t get that.

Ultimately though, Awoken is a different take on the Cthulhu Mythos, and I enjoyed myself despite the issues I had with the story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the novel a 3.2. If there was a sequel, I’d consider reading it (though four years after publication and no updates from the author on her social media since October 2013, I’d say that’s not going to happen). If this sounds like your sort of thing, take a dip into the madness and see for yourself.

Now if you need me, I’ll be playing Hide n Seek Across the Dimensions with Nyarlathotep. Hail Cthulhu, and I’ll see you around.

*Please be aware, I haven’t read all of Lovecraft’s bibliography, so if this does happen somewhere in his stories, I haven’t gotten to it yet. So don’t spoil it for me, okay?

There’s been a battle raging among horror fans and horror writers for years. A fierce battle with all the monsters, deaths, and mysterious disappearances that one can expect from such a group. This battle is played out in bookstores and on bestseller lists, in interviews with magazines and television hosts, and even on message boards (because this is the age of the Internet, so why not?). The debate is: which is better, horror stories where the supernatural is the cause, or where humans are the cause?

Surprise to say, this is an actual debate among fans of horror. What makes for a scarier story, one where the horror is caused by something supernatural, or when it is caused by a human like you or me?* Or perhaps some combination of the two? Each side has their own pros and cons, and depending on which you prefer, can have a huge influence on what you tend to read and, if you’re a creator, what you put out in the world. Authors themselves tend to deal in both kinds, but if you observe an author long enough, you start to notice their preferences. HP Lovecraft and Anne Rice seem to go more for horror, while Jack Ketchum likes human horror. His Royal Scariness Stephen King has a lot of supernatural forces in his work, but there’s definitely a partiality towards human-based horror. One needs only read Misery to see that. Even in his more supernatural stories, there are usually human characters who are only to happy to cause pain and death, whether of their own volition (Carrie’s mother and Chris Hargensen in Carrie) or under the influence of a much more powerful force (Henry Bowers and Tom Rogan in It).

A great example of supernatural horror.

So is there a better source for horror? Let’s take a look, starting with supernatural-based horror. Honestly, this one’s easy to explain the appeal: whether it’s been called Satan, Lilith, dark faeries, demons, yokai, or a hundred other names, humanity has been scared of some possible other out in the universe. Something greater than human beings, possibly very malevolent, and ultimately difficult to understand. The only way to survive is to run, placate the monster, or find some way to fight back, and the last one often comes at a high death toll. There’s also greater room for imagination with supernatural stories. You can take forces right out of mythology, use them as they’re typically portrayed, or change up their mythologies. Sometimes you even come up with original creatures, like Stephen King’s Langoliers or the entity formerly known as It. There’s a lot of freedom and potential in supernatural based horror.

On the other hand, there’s a chance that you can fall into a trap of relying too much on a mythical creature’s established mythology. And if you try to create something original, you find it’s extremely difficult to do so. Not only that, but with something non-human, there’s the risk that, unlike a human villain, the reader will have difficulty connecting with them. Some readers really enjoy connecting with villains, which in this instance makes Cthulhu a bad villain choice.

My own human-based horror.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, is a lot more personal, and very true to life. Despite our lofty ideals of goodness and perfection, one needs only look at the news to know that humanity is capable of dark thoughts and acts.  Human-based horror taps into that, delving deep into what humanity is capable of without a supernatural cause or encouragement, as well as how characters and we the audience react to it. It’s a powerful, visceral way to tell a story, and is often quite effective at scaring us with not only the acts of the characters, but at what we ourselves are capable of.

And that unfortunately is also the con of human-based horror. No one likes to be exposed to their darkness or flaws, and this form of horror gets deep into those. Which for some readers can be more disturbing than they would like. Hell, for some writers it’s more disturbing than they would like, sending them to parts of their imaginations they would rather leave alone. And exposure to this sort of horror can not only leave readers scared, but depressed. I’ve written before about how the escape into imaginary horrors can be therapeutic, and sometimes people prefer an escape that doesn’t remind them of the reality they’re escaping. Or as someone from one of my writer’s groups put it, “If I wanted human horror, I’d put on CNN.”

So which is better? Well, I say neither. Like I’ve just shown, both have their pros and cons, as well as their supporters and detractors. Personally, I (and most of the members of one of my writers’ groups) prefer supernatural horror, but we all agree that the occasional jaunt into human-based horror and vice versa are great. Hell, one of my novels, Snake, is human-based horror, and it’s one of my favorite stories.  So in the end, whichever you prefer to read or write, make sure to every now and then dip into the other so as to better appreciate both once you dip out again. And if you write, whatever you write, remember to keep practicing both types, so that someday you can write it well.

What’s your take on this debate? Which is your favorite?

*Still debatable if I count as human, though.

From the get-go, when Universal announced it wanted to create a cinematic universe based around their classic monsters, many people thought it was intriguing…but there was a lot of room to go wrong. These monsters have been done to death, and bringing them back is difficult to say the least. So this first outing for the new Dark Universe had to be very good if it was going to convince moviegoers that this was worth their money.

Unfortunately, I don’t think The Mummy is a good opening feat. For one thing, it takes way too many cues from the Brendan Fraser film that came out when I was a kid, especially during the early third of the film. In fact, 2017’s Mummy feels like a poor copy of that film at times. It’s especially bad with the characters: none of them are very well-developed, while Fraser’s Mummy‘s characters were so developed they felt like people you actually know. The worst is Jennifer Halsey (for some reason leading archaeological digs but isn’t written as a doctor), played by Annabelle Willis, who’s only purpose is to drop exposition and be screaming arm-candy for Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton. Speaking of which, Morton is no Rick O’Connell: while the latter is rough but well-meaning, Morton’s character is inconsistent, going from kind of nice guy to scumbag. Personally, I didn’t like him.

There’s also issues with the story. Like I said, the film feels like a copy of Fraser’s film at times, right down to the slightly more skewed slant towards action-adventure rather than horror. I really wish some of these monster films based on classic characters would stay more focused on horror, rather than trying to take cues from Indiana Jones. And like action-adventure films, there are a number of things that don’t make sense, including a major plot hole when the villain Princess Ahmanet’s backstory is revealed (anyone who knows anything about infant mortality rates during that time period will figure it out quickly). In addition, the humor is also used inconsistently, spliced oddly in during tense points. It’s funny at the time, but it feels odd later on.

But there were some good things about this film. Sofia Boutella as the Princess Ahmanet is both alluring and terrifying. She’s very good at coming across as a confident villainess, and the make-up on her makes her look powerful, sexy, and terrifying all at the same time. The film also tends to pick up in terms of terror and storytelling as it gets along, leading to a very good, if slightly predictable, final battle. Except for maybe the mummies/zombies that Ahmanet summons to help her (because of course she does, this is a contemporary mummy film), the effects are actually very good. And while the references to the Dark Universe have been criticized by some as shoehorned in, I thought they were inserted in very well. Heck, there’s even a surprise character who I could see getting their own film someday.

All in all, The Mummy isn’t a good first outing for the Dark Universe franchise. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 2.5 out of 5. If you’re going to see it, watch it not expecting much. Honestly, I think if they tried for a traditional or even a psychological horror film rather than what they made, the result would’ve been much better. However, if this film does well enough to warrant further films in the franchise, I think Universal will learn from the mistakes of this film to make any further ones better. One would hope, anyway.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to finish my birthday with some slightly better films and TV. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I believe every writer  I’ve ever read is a teacher of sorts to me. It’s rare though that any of my flesh-and-blood teachers are already writers. Not only is today’s interview both one of my teachers and a writer, but I’ve read his most recent book Late One Night, and I enjoyed it greatly. And in honor of Late One Night coming out in paperback this coming August, I figured now would be a good time to bring him on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome one of the greatest professors in Ohio State’s English Department (mostly because he survived teaching a class with me in it) and the author of several books, Lee Martin!

RU: Welcome to the show, Lee. Great to have you here. Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

LM: It seems like I always wrote. As an only child of older parents who lived in a rural setting, I didn’t have many playmates around. I fell in love with make-believe instead. I loved living inside stories, so I suppose it was only natural that I start to tell a few of my own. Then at a certain age I decided to get serious about it, so I went to the University of Arkansas for my MFA, where I found out how much I didn’t know about the craft, but where my real apprenticeship as a writer began—an apprenticeship that continues to this day. There’s always something new to learn and to practice.

RU: I really enjoyed reading Late One Night. Can you tell us what inspired it and your writing process for it?

LM: Late One Night is based on a tragic news event from my home area in Illinois. A tragic house trailer fire on a cold winter night. I started playing the “what-if?” game. What if the husband/father of that family was living outside the home at the time of the fire? What if the fire was suspicious? What if the small town gossip started to swirl around what this man might have done? What if this all happened while he was fighting for custody of his children and trying to prove his innocence. As with most of my books, I started with that premise and then wrote a little each day, pushing the story along. I try to make myself curious, and then I try to satisfy that curiosity while not quite fully satisfying it until the very end of the book. That’s where readers of this novel find out what really happened, late one night.

RU: Your main character Ronnie Black is at times sad and sympathetic, and at other times you just hate him. Did you intend for him to be that way when you wrote him, or did he just turn out that way?

LM: I like to take characters who are put upon by life’s circumstances and their own ill-considered choices. Characters are interesting to me only if they have a balance of rough edges and redeeming qualities. An all good character isn’t interesting. Neither is an all evil one. I write realistic fiction that’s character-based, and the truth is we’re all made up of contradictory qualities. Those contradictions are what make us interesting.

RU: Who is your favorite character in Late  One Night, and why?

LM: I really didn’t have a favorite character. They all appealed to me because they were all human. They all felt great joys and sorrows, and they made mistakes, and they tried to do the right thing, but sometimes their own selfish interests got in the way. Missy Wade badly wanted children. Ronnie Black loved his own even though he was often a man of temper and poor judgment. Captain missed his own mother and yet had a big heart that led him to love indiscriminately and to even idolize Ronnie. Captain’s father, Shooter, wanted to protect his son. Brandi Tate wanted love and a family. All these characters, and others, were precious to me because of their imperfections.

RU: Are you working on anything right now?

LM: I have a couple of novel manuscripts that I’m working on, plus smaller things like short stories and essays. I have a craft book, Telling Stories, coming out in October.

RU: I may have to read that craft book. Speaking of which, can you tell us about your other books?

LM: I suppose my best known book is The Bright Forever, which was fortunate enough to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2006. It’s the story of the abduction of a young girl in a small Midwestern town in 1972. I suppose some would call it a literary suspense novel. My novel, Break the Skin, would fall into that same category. I like to take true-crime stories from my native southeastern Illinois and let my imagination turn them into novels.  I’ve also published three memoirs, From Our House, Turning Bones, and Such a Life. They deal with family and particularly with the farming accident that cost my father both of his hands and the way that accident came to settle in our family. My other novels are Quakertown and River of Heaven. I also have a story collection, The Least You Need to Know, and another one, The Mutual UFO Network, will be published in 2018.

RU: Note to self, put The Bright Forever on my reading list. Sounds like my sort of story. Now you have a number of students who have continued writing and publishing after college and have kept in contact with you (including yours truly), and have kept in contact. What’s it like seeing that happen?

LM: It’s always gratifying to see students do well. It makes me feel that I may have had a small part in that success.

RU: Do you think the role of literature in society is changing, especially as we become more reliant on technology and our attention spans seem to shorten?

LM: I think there will always be not only room for, but a necessity for, narrative.  The forms of that narrative may change, but the importance of it in our culture won’t. We understand ourselves, others, and the world around us via stories. Such has always been the case, and I don’t see that changing.

RU: If you could give advice to any writer, no matter background, genre or level of experience, what would you say?

LM: Don’t be in a hurry. Study and practice your craft without thought of publishing. Fall in love with the process and the journey will take you where you’re meant to go. Read the way a writer must—with an eye toward how something is made.

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only take three books with you, which would you take?

LM: Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and (I’d cheat and sneak in a fourth) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

RU: You’re a university professor! You know the consequences for cheating! Anyway, thanks for joining us today, Lee. We wish you luck with the paperback edition of Late One Night.

If you would like to learn more about Lee Martin and his works, you can check out his website, Facebook, and Twitter. Or you can enroll yourself as an English major in Ohio State’s undergraduate or graduate program and work with him directly by taking classes with him (though that option has both pros and cons).

And if you’re an author who would like to be interviewed, check out my Interviews page and leave a comment. Who knows? Perhaps we can work some magic.

That’s all for now. Have a great day, my Followers of Fear.