A Writer’s Crosses

     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:

  1. Louis Redmond,
  2. Ben Holloway,
  3. Father Heinrich Schliemann,
  4. Helen Davenport,
  5. Adam Zlugy,
  6. Jussi Iverson,
  7. Jana Tyrell,
  8. Tim Beaufort,
  9. Sal Acunzo,
  10. Evan Conklin,
  11. Paul Larsen,
  12. Jock Tarrant,
  13. Tracy Tarrant,
  14. Armand Morelon,
  15. Teresza Morelon,
  16. Helen Leverrier,
  17. Andrew MacLachlan,
  18. Rachel MacLachlan,
  19. Gregor of Serebal,
  20. Laella of Anam,
  21. Paidot of Urel (a.k.a. “the Lawyer”),
  22. Bogdan of Urel,
  23. Fountain.

     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?


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    • SteveF on October 30, 2023 at 7:03 AM

    phone solicitors who – no matter how many times you scream at them – will keep calling you

    You’re doing it wrong. They expect to be screamed at. They’re trained for it.
    What you want to do is creep them out until they hang up on you. “No, I’m not interested in vinyl siding but you’ve got a really sexy voice. Just keep talking.” Didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman on the line. Back in the long-ago days when I answered my phone, I counted it as a loss if I couldn’t get them to hang up, and I counted a double win if a manager called back a minute later. “We’re just doing our job here and don’t appreciate being harassed.” They got it with both barrels. A couple threatened to report me to the police. Nope, sorry, cupcake. You called me. Aggravated harassment and similar charges won’t get you anywhere.
    I think that in all of the times I did that, only one teleslime caught on to what I was doing. He chuckled, said, “You have a nice day, sir,” and hung up. Kudos to him.

    1. “Trained to be screamed at,” eh? I suppose that should go into the “Things I should have known” file.

      Way back when, in the years of Kazaa, the barons of the music industry sought to limit the sharing of MP3s by making “ruined copies” of the most popular ones and distributing them as widely as possible. The technique was to permit about thirty seconds of the file to be played intact, and then to insert this extremely loud, utterly horrible noise into it. That noise was so awful that it’s almost beyond description. It combined the worst characteristics of a screaming infant, fingernails on a blackboard, and a raucous iron bell being played through a vibrato filter. I remember thinking that it had to be the most severe deterrent they could invent.

      That’s what I’d really like to play for the phone solicitors…but sadly — and as you’d probably expect — I deleted all the MP3s that contained it.

    • June J on October 30, 2023 at 8:55 AM

    Re: killing off characters.   Some of those authors you listed have kept characters going long after their expiration date, and their continued existence makes the books less appealing.  One of my favorite authors released a new book this year, I waited weeks for it at my local library.  Two chapters into it I closed the book and returned it to the library.  
    When  your books have a great character killed off,  there is always another character who is in the story to rise up and keep the reader interested. And that is why I keep buying them.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, dear. One of my burdens, the killing of characters, is partially offset by another, a large fund of character ideas. There are so many ways to make a character interesting that I can’t imagine how any writer could run out. Yet that’s one of the problems most often complained-of among indie writers. Yet another aspect of this vocation that I can’t fathom.

    • Daniel K Day on October 30, 2023 at 10:16 AM

    Postal advertising is useful as fire-starter. I wad them into “sticks” throughout the year and keep them in sacks for the cold season.

    • Amy on October 30, 2023 at 12:20 PM

    I think what hurts most is seeing a character die unexpectedly, like Paul Larsen and the Tarrants in Doors, Evan Conklin in Antiquities, and (especially) Fountain in In Vino.  If a character passes on peacefully of old age, like Jana Tyrell in Love in the Time of Cinema, it’s not so much of a problem.  Laella’s noble sacrifice in The Warm Lands is kind of midway between those two cases; her death was unexpected, but it was necessary to resolve the climax of the novel.
    That’s what prompted my comparison to George R.R. Martin in my notes for Doors; three characters got killed off unexpectedly in the course of one book. Martin, of course, is noted for killing off characters left and right as suits him, and it’s rumored his delay in completing The Winds of Winter is partly because he has to work around the fact that he expected to use a character that he forgot that he killed off earlier.

      • SteveF on October 30, 2023 at 1:49 PM

      like Paul Larsen and the Tarrants in Doors

      Gah! Give a spoiler warning next time. I just started reading Doors, three chapters in.

      On that topic, though, Mr P, did you post the first chapter here sometime? Mail it to me? Either that or I had the strongest case ever of deja vu.

      1. Yes, I did post it here as a “teaser,” Steve.

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