Role Models? My Characters? Not so much.

It sat there, staring at me. It was…a challenge, etched within a lousy review of my book. “And what is it with that Lola girl?” it said in letters made bigger and bolder by my irritated brain.  “She’s not a role model at all.

And I thought….a role model? My characters? Why do you want them to be role models? They’re characters in a STORY.

I stayed disgruntled for maybe an hour, my feathers ruffled completely. But then I remembered something. Something important.

That Lola girl? The battered, beaten, downtrodden third narrator of my zombie series? She was never meant to be a role model. Like at all. Because that Lola girl? She’s actually a cautionary tale.

See, Lola came about because I had this vision of a girl surviving the zombie apocalypse not because of her own wits, or even her own dumb luck, but simply because someone else made the choice for her. A mean someone. A someone who hurt people, but tried to protect his sister, his baby. His punching bag. I pictured a girl, small and skinny, from a poverty-stricken background, who doesn’t know how to take care of herself at all.  Who has no idea that people can be kind, that some can be trusted. Who winds up on the wrong side of good vs. evil after zombies have decimated our entire country, and who doesn’t even realize it.

I pictured a girl whose self-esteem has been so shattered by years and years of systemic abuse, she has no idea there’s better people out there. Nicer people. Non-violent people. And when she meets them, she has no idea how to be around them.

Becoming Lola is the last thing I’d ever want to do. I faced a scary dude once, a boy who I think would have hit me if I’d let him come to my house on a particular summer day, and it still haunts me. The what-if of it all. What if I’d let him come? What if I’d let him hit me? What if that became my life?

And seriously, haven’t we all been in bad relationships? Where we think it’s the best we’re going to get, the best we deserve? Where we look in the mirror and see something ugly staring back at us? Something we never wanted to become?

It happens, and it’s life, and I wrote Lola to reflect that side of things. She is not a role model, at least not in the first book of the series.

Writing Lola was hard. It’s hard to write someone you don’t admire, not even a little bit. For whom redemption seems, at times, impossible. But look at the world around us. It’s full of good people, sure, but it’s also full of sad ones. Beaten ones. Downtrodden ones. Real ones.

I feel like our responsibility as writers is to not shy away from characters such as Lola, to tell their stories, even if they’re hard to tell.  I don’t want to spend my time writing only happy tales with happy characters who always triumph.

That’s not how life is.  Some of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the past year have extremely flawed characters.  Miriam Black in Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Mockingbird is a disaster of a human being. She steals to survive, lives in seedy hotels and on the street, and when push comes to shove, she runs away…at first. Cat in Cassandra Rose Clare’s The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is selfish and self-centered. She uses people to get what she wants in life.

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These women aren’t role models…but they are great, strong, dynamic characters.

So no. Of course Lola is not a role model. It’s not my job to write role models. It’s my job to write stories with characters that reflect reality, not a perfect world with perfect people. 

The Science of Magic

Can magic exist without science?

I love that my first post here with the beautiful Spellbound Scribes is part of the magical-theme.  I love that, when I thought about it, I realized don’t do magic very well at all. This is forcing me to take a look at what I do write, and how it relates…because man, when you write paranormal, horror, or sci-fi, no matter what: magic is everywhere.

For me as a writer, magic will always be science-based. Although I love to read about magic that is not (George R.R. Martin is and always will be my hero for his portrayal of Arya and the changing faces at the guild, because the idea of changing my own face to something completely different has always appealed to me), I prefer to think about why something would happen, and how to make it reality-based.  That means that, though I love to read about characters like Pennywise the Clown, I prefer to write someone like the Swamp Thing…because, you know, with a little bit of toxic sludge, or even some Gamma rays, anything can happen.

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Just look at what toxic sludge can do! Swamp thing! (Photo credit: examiner.com)

Right?

Right.

For me, this meant deciding the zombies created in my first book came from a virus.  This isn’t a new or original way to handle zombies by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the way in which I could take a supernatural creature and ground it in reality. It also gave me a way to establish some rules: zombies don’t live forever, at least not in my world. The virus eventually leaches so much from the body, the body can’t go on. It gives my characters hope for a zombie-free future…and there’s nothing more fun to do when writing than to give your characters hope, and then to shatter it…again, and again, and again.

Keeping my magic based in science also meant writing a novel about a modern-day Frankenstein instead of about a ghost. It meant researching chemicals which could be used to conduct electricity throughout a human body if that body was powered by a central battery instead of a heart.   It meant reading about decay, and how a body would fall apart without constant maintenance and upkeep, assuming that body ran on chemicals instead of food and blood.

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Mmmm…I spent a lot of time researching chemicals with THIS for a label

But I do have to face facts: nobody’s coming back to life strictly based on science. There has to be magic at play, even for me, writing sci-fi. There’s a bit of a giant step to take from using plausible chemicals, to having a walking, talking corpse.

And it’s in that blend where I am happiest.  A little bit of science, a lot of supernatural giant steps – it helps me create worlds that I find interesting, and that I am terrified to actually inhabit.

And if you think about it: when Thomas Edison first invented the light bulb, didn’t people think it was magic? Didn’t electricity seem like magic, back when Benjamin Franklin first flew that kite with that key?

And don’t we all need a little more excitement – a little more magic – in our lives sometimes? I know I do.