Have you wearied of the door-to-door religious solicitors who insist that you really need to learn about the Latter Day Saints, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Seventh-Day Adventists, or what have you? You find them annoying, do you? Well, that’s perfectly understandable, especially if you’re comfortable with your faith and don’t feel a need to change it. But please don’t think too unkindly of them, Gentle Reader. Most will go away on request, and besides, in some cases their religion requires missionary service of them as a condition of acceptance.
The religious evangelists tend to be extremely courteous. They’re not nearly as bad as the phone solicitors who – no matter how many times you scream at them – will keep calling you, certain that just one more importuning will break your resistance and open your wallet to their clutching fingers. Being an indie writer, I get a lot of those from “promoters” who claim they can make one of my books into an international best-seller. Funny how they all have Indian accents.
Email pests are innumerable and, apparently, indefeasible. No matter how I set up the rules, I can’t persuade my email service to block the bulk of them. They’ve gotten through every web I’ve woven, and I have no doubt that it will be so forever. It seems there’s just too much money to be made that way.
Then there’s the old-fashioned U.S. Mail pitch. It could be for replacement windows, or hearing aids, or laser hair removal, or you name it. I get a lot of those, too, but then, everyone does. All you need is a postal address. The USPS is happy to have their business, so don’t expect any help from that direction.
If it seems like everyone wants your attention (and some of your money), well, perhaps that’s just the way of the world. No one promised that cheap, convenient interconnectivity would have no downside. It would be the first thing in the history of the universe that didn’t have one. Deploy what countermeasures you can, and strive to cope.
And be glad you’re not a writer. There are no countermeasures available for what ails us. You see, we have to listen to endless whining from our characters.
I should have known. It’s not as if I hadn’t been warned. Robert A. Heinlein was eloquent about it:
“Richard, do you enjoy writing?”
“No one enjoys writing.”
“I wondered. Then I must tell you that I didn’t quite tell you the truth when I said that I had married you for your money.”
“And I didn’t quite believe you. We’re even.”
“Yes, dear. I really can afford to keep you as a pet. Oh, I can’t buy you yachts. But we can live in reasonable comfort here in Golden Rule-not the cheapest place in the Solar System. You won’t have to write.”
I stopped to kiss her, thoroughly and carefully. “I’m glad I married you. But I will indeed have to write.”
“But you don’t enjoy it and we don’t need the money. Truly we don’t!”
“Thank you, my love. But I did not explain to you the other insidious aspect of writing. There is no way to stop. Writers go on writing long after it becomes financially unnecessary… because it hurts less to write than it does not to write.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t either, when I took that first fatal step-a short story, it was, and I honestly thought I could quit anytime. Never mind, dear. In another ten years you will understand. Just pay no attention to me when I whimper. Doesn’t mean anything- just the monkey on my back.”
“Richard? Would psychoanalysis help?”
“Can’t risk it. I once knew a writer who tried that route. Cured him of writing all right. But did not cure him of the need to write. The last I saw of him he was crouching in a comer, trembling. That was his good phase. But the mere sight of a word processor would throw him into a fit.”
It’s a sickness – and it’s maintained, extended, and amplified by the imaginary creatures that people our tales.
No character ever feels he’s received his due. Every one of them has ambitions. Every one of them thinks he could be a star, if only that damnable scribbler who invented him would buckle down and give him the treatment he deserves. From serial protagonist to spear shaker, every one of them wants more.
Worst is when readers write to tell you that they feel the same.
Why is this on my mind, you ask? Well, just yesterday, “Perfessor Squirrel” over at Ace’s place was kind enough to trumpet the release of Doors. I was pleased, as any promotion will help with sales, and my novels need more help than most. But he included a question that’s eternal among both writers and readers:
Upon seeing that, the yammering from the hordes in my subconscious went from tolerable to deafening. They realized their pleas were being echoed from outside. It was an event to capitalize on, and they did not waste their opportunity.
You see, I kill a lot of characters. So far, of my Marquee Characters and their Supporting Cast, I’ve knocked off:
- Louis Redmond,
- Ben Holloway,
- Father Heinrich Schliemann,
- Helen Davenport,
- Adam Zlugy,
- Jussi Iverson,
- Jana Tyrell,
- Tim Beaufort,
- Sal Acunzo,
- Evan Conklin,
- Paul Larsen,
- Jock Tarrant,
- Tracy Tarrant,
- Armand Morelon,
- Teresza Morelon,
- Helen Leverrier,
- Andrew MacLachlan,
- Rachel MacLachlan,
- Gregor of Serebal,
- Laella of Anam,
- Paidot of Urel (a.k.a. “the Lawyer”),
- Bogdan of Urel,
Those are just the ones I can remember at this hour. That’s a fair amount of death. (Yes, some of them make appearances in books written after the ones in which they meet their fates, but I’ve done my best to keep the timelines consistent.) And in every case mentioned above, the protests have been deafening.
No character ever wants to die. They all think themselves fit for immortality. It’s not my problem alone. Ask Lee Child. Ask Brad Thor. Ask Clive Cussler. Ask Jeffrey Deaver and Janet Evanovich. (You could ask Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but they’re dead.)
The only way to silence their screams is to kill them off…and sometimes even that won’t do it. Especially if they’ve won the hearts of enough readers.
Yes, it hurts. A writer invests himself in his characters. He must; there’s no other way to breathe life into them. Invariably, they acquire a little of his soul. No writer wants to finish off a character who has a piece of him inside.
But it’s got to be done.
The problem has insinuated itself into my leisure reading. When I go shopping for reading matter, I try to stay away from the “one protagonist” writers. That’s not a knock against their skills; some of them are very good. But I have enough trouble keeping my own characters at bay; I have no desire to fall in love with someone else’s Big Guy and feel compelled to follow all his adventures from birth to remainder table. For he is as doomed as the rest of us. The more attached I get to him, the worse his demise will affect me.
Consider this a not-terribly subtle plea for tales confined to a single volume. Or perhaps a trilogy or tetralogy. I really don’t need to have your hero blathering at me along with my own batch. The next multi-volume “high” fantasy that comes along, I intend to pass by in silence. I’m afraid Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin have done me in. But Glen Cook, now…could we have a wee bit more about Dorothea “The Lady” Senjak and Else Tage? Pretty please?