Serpents Underfoot is live on Amazon with its new cover.
Serpents Underfoot is out with its awesome new cover! 1106 Design did a great job, and they were a pleasure to work with. If you are ever in the market for a book cover, check them out. They will shortly be redoing the cover for Montagnard as well.
Resonant characters propel this consistently gripping terrorist tale. All of the characters are well developed, producing genuine shock when certain individuals die. The author writes in an unadorned prose that keeps the plot moving at a steady beat … the finale is … exhilarating.
Serpents Underfoot is the first book in the JD Cordell action thriller series! Full of Navy Seal action, the book will enthrall fans of action thrillers … The book has it all—authentic detail, breathless action, vividly drawn settings, and an exhilarating plot.
The Prairies Book Review
Check out all my books on my Amazon Author’s Page.
There are several to choose from, all with great reviews.
One thought behind Serpents Underfoot and Montagnard …
Over the past years, it became “fashionable” to bash US service members serving worldwide while making saints out of the other side. Nowhere was this more apparent than during the war in Vietnam, when we had Hanoi Jane posing for pictures with North Vietnamese artillery units and passing a POW’s hopeful message home on to the commander of the Hanoi Hilton prison, a place where so many American servicemen (including John McCain) were imprisoned and tortured. That was a national disgrace!
And it is not always intentional. The Vietnam War film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in my opinion, tried to give a truthful picture of the Vietnam War. However, we can rarely escape inserting our own views into what we create. While most who viewed this film praised it for its neutrality and fairness, and accurate portrayal of the war, many Vietnam Veterans I have spoken with, are still left with a bad taste in their mouths when watching this film because, at least in their view, it still portrays the American servicemen in a somewhat undeserved negative light.
Yes. Bad things happen in war. We all (well, at least those who bother to learn a little history) remember the My Lai Massacre. Unfortunately, war can bring out the worst in people as well as the best. But I would venture to say that at least 95 percent of American servicemembers serve their county honorably. That fact seems to get lost.
It was my intention, starting with Serpents Underfoot and continued in Montagnard, to write stories that would portray American servicemembers in a positive light because that is what the vast majority of them deserve. Being an old veteran myself, it still upsets me to hear some schmuck bad-mouth the very same people who fought for that schmuck’s right to bad-mouth them. And, far more often than not, the bad-mouthing is undeserved. Anyway, that was my goal. Readers will notice, I included all branches of service in Serpents Underfoot and several of them in Montagnard. There are even references to the British SAS, SBS, and the Israeli Defense Force. These are those who fight to preserve freedom around the globe.
I am happy when readers pick up on this …
And several of them have. There are comments in reviews like …
This story gives insight into the bravery of men like these who risk their lives to save others. (Montagnard)
You will find an astounding emotional impact as you walk beside men like JD and his K9 partner, Ajax, risking their lives to protect other people. (Montagnard)
A good job of describing the real Vietnam war and the inhuman crimes committed, not by US servicemembers but by the Vietcong and North Vietnam army. (Serpents Underfoot)
That is why a review like this one from DeeDee means so much to me!
Great story; very well written. Loved all the characters. This book, like your last one, had me from the beginning. JD is amazing and is an Isshin-ryu expert to boot. This book has it all. It makes you proud to be an American, has believable love stories and great action throughout. Loved it.
Feel free to check out some of my other blog posts by clicking here, and please, check out my books on my Amazon Author’s Page! They do get great reviews!
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I am hard at work on the third installment in the JD Cordell Action series, called Reciprocity, which will take on human trafficking. And in this story, some of the action occurs in the Philippine Islands. While still in the development stages, JD Cordell will travel to the Philippines, where he and a few associates will mete out some well-deserved justice to a gangland cartel trafficking girls between Asia, Mexico, and the US. But enough of that, I don’t want to give too much away.
My new Filipino fan base …
The interesting thing is that I just received a 5-Star review for Montagnard from a writer, blogger, and editor, based, you guessed it … in the Philippines. I think that is pretty cool!
Herzie Santos, a.k.a. SheySaints, has a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and has worked for Coca Cola Bottlers, Goldprint Publishing House, AXA Financial, and Sutherland Global Services. Her professional experiences in several different work industries have provided her with a great deal of expertise, including professional writing skills. She has written and published poems, short stories, book and movie reviews, essays, and several articles. She’s also a content writer, book reviewer, proofreader, and fiction writer.
Here are a few comments from her review …
I miss stories like this. It gives me this unexplainable nostalgic feeling. I rarely read anything like this anymore and I’m glad I stumbled upon this great book.
It was a well-written action-packed thriller … I highly recommend this book to readers who love heroic military and dog stories.
It makes me smile! I may not yet be a renowned author, but I am definitely international. Montagnard has been read and/or reviewed in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, India, and now … the Philippines!
Click the button below to order your copy of this award-wing action-thriller.
“You feel as if you are one of the action-thriller characters …”
Authors love 5-Star reviews, and I am no exception. Montagnard recently received a very nice 5-star review from a lady named Vicki Goforth. Thank you, Vickie, for taking the time to leave a thoughtful review. I am so glad you enjoyed the book!
Timely Information With Explosive Action
I also received a very thoughtful 4-star review from another author named Schuyler T Wallace. While all reviews matter, getting a 4 or 5-star review from a fellow author means a great deal to me. It is like being accepted or validated by your professional peers.
Here are a few of Schuyler’s comments that stuck out to me.
I really liked this book. D.C. Gilbert is a talented writer with a lot to say, and he says it well.
It’s not a new plot but done in Gilbert’s refreshing manner that’s heavy on local detail, essential to the story.
The author uses appropriate dialogue that is timely and closely mirrors the life and times he is writing about.
Schuyler T Wallace, Author of Tin Lizard Tales
Also from this author …
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According to Ret. U.S.M.C. MSgt. Arcenio J Advincula, the Flesheater is the ultimate combat fighting knife, a masterful blend of design and craftsmanship that is a cut above, straight, and to the point. Jim Hammond, a world-class custom knifemaker, worked with AJ Advincula to develop this unique bladed weapon.
I first encountered the Flesheater after attending an Isshin-ryu Karate Seminar given by Sensei Advincula in Raleigh, NC, a few years ago. I have attended several seminars given by Sensei Advincula over the years, and like Sensei Sherman Harrill, he is the real deal.
At the seminar, I met Richard Rosenthal. an Isshin-ryu Karate practitioner like myself, who also trained in Sensei Advincula’s Mano Y Lago Escrima. I began attending Sensei Rosenthal’s escrima classes and thoroughly enjoyed its practicality and compatibility with Isshin-ryu Karate.
The origins of the Flesheater
The Flesheater originated when Master Chief Petty Officer Don Griffiths, who spearheaded the design development research for the SEALTAC™ Series with USN Special Warfare (SEAL) personnel in 1981, asked his martial arts instructor, “What would you look for in a fighting knife, not a combat knife, but a pure fighting knife?”
During a later visit to the shop where the first two prototypes were being developed, Don accidentally experiencing the edge of the first prototype. Griffiths proclaimed, “That knife’s a real flesh-eater!” The name stuck.
The Flesheater design is based primarily upon Largo-Mano Escrima and Isshin-Ryu Karate. Advincula is a first-generation student of the founder of Isshin-Ryu Karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku. He began studying escrima and knife fighting in 1946 at age 8 with two Filipino Scouts and close combat instructors, Pete Rado and Tony Navarro.
The Flesheater’s role in Montagnard.
In Montagnard, Carlos Vivas, a US Navy SEAL and teammate of the main character, JD Cordell, is a skilled practitioner of escrima. In the fictional story, Vivas’ father served with AJ Advincula in the US Marines as a drill instructor and trained in Mano Y Lago Escrima. Carlos, who left Puerto Rico to enlist in the US Navy, carries on the tradition.
As the friendship between Carlos and JD grows, Carlos presents JD with a Jim Hammond-made Flesheater at JD’s retirement party. The knife appears throughout the story and plays a key role in the climatic ending.
For more information about the Flesheater’s design, characteristics, and versatility, click the link or image above to visit Jim Hammond’s website.
My Flesheater – a reliable and valuable companion!
I have to admit, I did have a new custom leather sheath made. I ordered my Flesheater from Columbia River Knife and Tool and found the thermoplastic sheath they included quite impractical for my purposes.
Also, CRKT no longer carries these knives. You have to order them directly from Jim Hammond now. I suspect it is because there are designed specifically for combat and are probably not something the typical outdoor person might carry. It is also not very practical for cleaning your fingernails.
Be sure to check out my books by clicking here! They do get great reviews!
I have had a long-held interest in the martial arts. One Christmas, I received a book called Best Karate, written by Mas Oyama, when I was 13 or 14 years old. I spent hours in my bedroom trying to learn from the book.
When I began attending the Charles H McCann Technical School in North Adams, Massachusetts, I was invited by a friend to a Uechi-ryu Karate (a very traditional Okinawan system) class in nearby Adams and started attending. But once I discovered cars and girls, that pretty much ended that … as well as my interest in scouting.
When I was stationed in Korea (12/81 to 12/82), I studied Tae Kwon Do with the battalion instructor. He was excellent. I earned a red belt, which, in that system, was the equivalent of a brown belt in the ranking system used by many styles. When I got back to the U.S., I started competing in tournaments and did okay. However, I discovered these Isshin-ryu guys who had a wicked reverse punch. They would slide up your extended kicking leg and nail you with it. I decided I needed to see what they were doing and so sought out an Isshin-ryu dojo.
Years later, I was running my own dojo and hosting tournaments. But I was very disappointed in the way things were evolving. I was never that wild about sport karate. I just did that to keep students. I saw limited techniques being used in sport karate; it was more like a game of tag. The rules seemed to violate the karate “maxims” I was trying to adhere to.
For example, in Okinawan Karate, all kicks are targeted below the waist. Step into the ring, and now all kicks must be above the waist. That seemed odd!
And kata, especially with the advent of musical kata, quickly devolved into breakdancing with some kicks thrown in.
Note: Let me just say that full-contact karate and MMA fighters of today are great athletes and some damn tough individuals. They are very good at what they do and deserve respect. It is just not “karate” as I had come to understand it.
The problem was that I do read a great deal, and I had read a lot of history about Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate, and the early pioneers of Tang Hand, which later become known as Empty Hand … or Karate. I was simply not seeing the Karate I’d read so much about. Either the stories were all lies, or there was nobody around who could do that stuff anymore. I was actually ready to throw in the towel. Then I met Sensei Sherman Harrill.
Sensei Harrill was from a cross-roads in the cornfields called Carson, Iowa (near Council Bluffs). He was an ex-Marine who trained with the Isshin-ryu system’s founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku, while stationed in Okinawa in the late 50s. And he was the real deal.
Everything I had ever seen paled when stacked up against what he did. No matter who you were, how big, how strong, or what you knew … he would effortlessly show you the error of your ways. Organizations, rank, who you knew did not matter. It was what you could demonstrate on the mat that counted.
So, I started over. I traveled all around the country to seminars for years to train with this guy. It was a humbling and memorable moment when I asked him how I could become his student. He laughed and replied. “well, most folks just ask.” So, I asked. And he replied, “Darren, I have seen the changes you are making in your Karate and how you train … so welcome aboard.”
That was the beginning of the journey of a lifetime.
The origins of JD’s Nguyen-ryu
Nguyen-ryu is an indigenous martial art found in Vietnam. Mai’s father, Ang, was a village elder, and in the book Serpents Underfoot, a well-respected practitioner of this art. Ang taught this art to both his daughter, Mai, and the son of his old Montagnard friend, Dish. Dish and Mai both taught the art to Curtis Cordell, Mai’s American husband, and JD’s father.
Curtis tried to teach Nguyen-ryu to his son, but that old father-son thing interfered. Eventually, Curtis took his son to a dojo run by a friend of his. That Sensei taught a very traditional version of Isshin-ryu. JD did learn a great deal of Nguyen-ryu from his mother, which blended well with the Isshin-ryu.
It has been my experience that most “real” martial arts have more in common than differences. That is because when you get past all the marketing hype, it is body mechanics that determine what works … and the human body only moves powerfully so many ways.
My exposure to Nguyen-ryu
Enter Charlie Taylor, a good friend, a Vietnam veteran, and a damn good martial artist. He just showed up at my dojo one day and started helping out.
Charlie had served several tours in Vietnam as a medic on Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols in the region of Vietnam my books focus on. He was a quiet guy, but when the mood struck, he had some fantastic stories to tell about his experiences in Vietnam. I am sure he embellished them a bit to make them more fun to listen too, but there was something in the stories and his eyes when he told them that led you to understand that there was an element of truth to each one.
Charlie was also a highly-skilled martial artist, and there was nothing “superfluous” in what he did. I remember spending time training what was essentially a “silent sentry removal” technique with him and being shocked and a bit disturbed at the ease with which it worked. I still remember asking him, rhetorically,
“And, you’ve used this before.”
He just looked at me kind of funny and replied, “On a few occasions.”
While he knew a few of the kata, Charlie didn’t practice Isshin -ryu. In fact, many of our workouts consisted of me teaching him more Isshin-ryu kata. He practiced what he called Nguyen-ryu. Charlie claimed he’d learned it from his grandfather, who’d married a Vietnamese girl while stationed in Japan after WWII. This girl’s father was a skilled practitioner of the style, and after a suitable period of denials, consented to teach it to his daughter’s round-eyed husband.
I know it sounds like a movie plot. And maybe it is. I can neither prove nor disprove Charlie’s claims. However, I can definitely vouch for his abilities. Charlie could be damn scary when he was “in the zone,” much like my former instructor, Sensei Harrill. Those who have trained with Sensei Harrill will understand what I am referring to. We called it “shark eyes.”
Charlie did have an honorary 5th-degree black belt in Isshin-ryu Karate signed by Harold Long. However, he always claimed it was not worth the paper it was written on. It seems Charlie had impressed Harold Long with his abilities while training for a period at Long’s school in Knoxville, Tennessee, but, as mentioned earlier, had only learned a few of the kata. He held no official rank in Nguyen-ryu, so he always wore a white belt.
I will say that the kid’s classes loved it when Charlie regaled them with stories of his early training days. He always referred to them as “Papaw Days.”
Unfortunately, Charlie passed away a few years ago from a combination of medical conditions, several of which I am sure originated with his tours of duty in Vietnam. Some of the threads in Serpents Underfoot and Montagnard are based on past discussions with Charlie. And I think Charlie may be resurrected from the dead for a character in the next book in the series titled Reciprocity. I think he would like that.
Martial Arts scenes in the two books …
I have seen a large man knocked unconscious with a punch to the shoulder. I do not know too many people who could do that. Sensei Harrill certainly could. And, his “fence post punch” was something to behold. You did not want to get hit with it.
On more than one occasion, MMA fighters or cage fighters from the casinos in Council Bluff would make their way to his dojo after hearing about this karate guy who had a reputation for being a badass. Every one of them left with a new appreciation for karate … well, at least Sherman Harrill’s version.
The technique JD uses to take out the drug smuggler on the trail from Laos into Vietnam is simply one of my variations on Charlie Taylor’s sentry removal technique.
Putting it all together
I like to think my stories are written to entertain, but there is so much more to them, at least for me. They are ways to remember, record, and share the people I have known, places I have been, things I have seen, and the stories I have heard, as well as the possibilities those things can combine to create.
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I have often wondered about the value, for authors, of Kindle Unlimited.
Clearly it is great for readers!
I mean, having access to read almost everything in the Kindle store for one monthly subscription fee, if you are an avid reader, is a great deal.
Does Kindle Unlimited truly benefit authors?
The response from authors I have heard or read is pretty much split down the middle. About half of the writers love it, saying KU is the source for much of their revenue. The other half claims it is too limiting, and they prefer to have access to other eBook distribution channels.
And I still am undecided because it does lock your ebook into Amazon for your 90-day period of KU enrollment, which renews automatically. However, at the end of any 90 days, you can opt-out. I have not opted-out yet because I haven’t really explored other venues to sell the ebook through.
However, I have discovered that Kindle Unlimited (KU) has allowed me to reach readers in countries I never expected. And, that is pretty darn cool!
I was going over my KDP reports, and I noticed the KU readers from the UK, Australia, and India have read Montagnard. The UK, I expected. I have friends there, and after all, we are two countries separated by a common language. Even Australia was not a huge surprise, I mean, they speak English too .. well, sort of! 🙂
I was surprised and delighted to see people in India were reading Montagnard. That really made my day. I certainly hope they enjoyed it, and I appreciate it very much! I haven’t yet gotten any reviews from India that I am aware of, but perhaps that will come over time.
However, I did recently receive a review from a Goodreads reader who had this to say!
Needless to say, this lady’s review made my day!
If you enjoyed this post, I hope you will take a few minutes and check out some of the other posts on my blog by clickinghere!
And by all means, if you enjoy a thrilling, fast-paced, award-winning action & adventure thriller, check out my newest novel, Montagnard. As you can see, it is getting rave reviews!
I still remember driving to work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and hearing Phil Williams, a local radio celebrity talking about a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers. I remember thinking … what a horrible accident … those poor people in the plane.
I was thinking a small private plane had accidentally hit one of the towers …
But Phil kept talking, and I could not believe what I was hearing. Then I remember thinking, it must be some kind of a practical joke! But it would have been a horrible joke. I just could not fathom what was happening.
Then, when I got to work and entered the Student Center, I saw that crowds were gathered, staring at the many TV monitors located throughout the lobby area. I saw the second jet hit a tower. It was a day that changed my life forever. It was an attack on Freedom … and the American way of life.
Americans are certainly not perfect, but the ideals America was founded on are …
America is not just a country. It is an idea, and it is an idea that is worth fighting for … the Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These are more than just cool-sounding words from the Declaration of Independence. These are the core values that are then enshrined and protected by the U.S. Constitution.
It saddens me how many Americans today have no understanding of, or appreciation for, the gift our Founding Father left to us. Far too many spend their time caught up in perceived petty grievances and playing the victim card and miss out on the fantastic opportunities that only this country provides.
September 11, 2001
That day created a patriotic fervor that was shared by many across this great country. In me, it has not lessened since. It reminded me, like nothing else ever had, of the oath I took on July 17, 1979.
I, Darren C Gilbert, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
I just went back and rechecked … that oath has no expiration date.
The United States of America has been a force for good for most of its 244 years. While mistakes have been made, no other county sacrificed so much for the betterment of mankind around the globe. Any errors that have been made are due to the imperfect nature of Americans being human, and that is something we should all be able to forgive.
I will end my post with two of my favorite quotes by William Wallace from the movie Braveheart.
Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
We all end up dead, it’s just a question of how and why.
William Wallace, Braveheart
God Bless The USA!
I hope you will take a few minutes and check out some of my other blog posts by clickinghere!
And, if you like reading an award-winning action & adventure thriller, check out my newest novel, Montagnard. It also got a great review from Kirkus Reviews!
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
That is the short version attributed to Edmund Burke. It is actually derived from a longer work titled Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770).
Defining Good and Evil …
As old fashioned as it might seem, I do believe in good and evil. And I strongly agree with Edmund Burke that for evil to triumph, all that is needed is for good men to sit by and do nothing.
And I certainly understand that the world we live in is not always so black and white. No, I am not racist; I am merely using an analogy that far predates the politically charged various versions of racism we must try to sort through today.
There is a great deal of gray in the world. However, social order and civilization are dependent on defining what lawful and unlawful behavior is. And, some actions are almost unanimously deemed as reprehensible (or evil). These, even in today’s upside-down world, would typically include stealing, murder, rape, slavery, human trafficking, genocide, etc.
Complete pacifism only leads to one of two possible places …
What are those two places? Simply stated, they are slavery or extinction.
You might argue that it is a bit extreme. I argue it is not. History is chock-full of examples supporting this concept, going back thousands of years. And, those who fail to study history are far too often doomed to repeat it.
I have thirty-five plus years of martial arts training. I served in the U.S. military and graduated from the best private bodyguard training school in the United States. I understand what really evil people can do, and refusing to stand up to them typically does not stop them.
I am reminded of a dinner party I was at many years ago. One of the guests was a local radio station disc jockey, and I soon discovered, an avowed pacifist. He asked me how I could justify owning guns and also teaching people how to beat up other people. I simply answered that I do not teach people how to hurt other people. I teach people how to stop people from hurting them or people they care about.
He scoffed at that. So I gave him a scenario (we had just recently had our first home invasion in Anderson County in the news, where an elderly couple was tied to chairs, brutally beaten, and robbed). I asked him if he were home at night with his wife and three young children, and violent people invaded his home with the intent to harm his family, would he just step out of the way because he “did not believe in violence,” or would he try to protect his family?
He thought about that for a minute, then answered that he would have to try to protect them. I then told him that the only real difference between him and me was that I would have much a better chance of succeeding. His final comment was something like, “Wow, you’ve cut me to the quick on that. I have to think about that.”
Sometimes, good people must do bad things to stop evil people!
Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think…of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts: it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
It is in this quote that we can see the defense for my comment above. The difference for me is in the character of the person and the reason for the act. Yes, good people can sometimes be called on to do bad things to protect those they care about. But they do it out of necessity, not for fun, personal gain, or on a whim. And therefore, they are willing to stand before God and be judged for their deeds.
This is the reference JD makes near the end of Montagnard. It is also how, in real life, a Navy SEAL like Chris Kyle or Rob O’Neil, or any soldier, sailor, airmen, or marine, would be able to justify to themselves what they do and sleep at night.
Evil does exist in this world. Often, it cannot be reasoned with, appeased, or avoided. Sometimes, it must be faced down. There have been a few instances in my life where I made the choice to stand against evil. I do not regret those decisions and I do not believe God will hold them against me when my time comes.
My stories, at their core, are about facing down that evil.
The third installment in the JD Cordell Action Series I am calling Reciprocity, will delve into the dark world of human trafficking, which I think any sound-minded individual would consider an evil blight on humanity.
If you enjoyed this little philosophical meandering, please take a few minutes and check out some of my other blog posts by clickinghere!
And, if you like reading an award-winning action & adventure thriller, check out my award-winning novel, Montagnard.
Many readers who have reviewed Montagnard have made comments about the story’s characters. Here are a few examples.
The action is incredible, the characters are amazing, the storyline is astonishing. It all feels so real, the men, the action, the times, the war.
The story has believable characters (including strong women and a dog that I loved). It draws the reader into the story, a story that covers five decades. The Bangkok bar, Obsession, is a hoot.
Lee Boyland, Award Winning Author
My husband , who is not really a reader finished this book in three days. That being said decided I needed to see why he thought this was such a good read. After I started this book I understood. Characters are so real you become concerned about them. Loved this book.
Gilbert’s enjoyable sequel offers some rousing subplots … But this novel concentrates on fewer characters, such as the returning players Curtis, Mai, and Ajax.
… a thrilling novel … elevated by intriguing characters … an exotic location … danger around any corner.
My editor, Beth, commented on the story’s characters several times.
“Really laughed a few times … when Pallie ‘is trying to wrap his head around the current situation’ in the club. Humor is authentic and genuine, not trying or forced. Truly funny. These are guys you want to hang out with.”
“Genuine movie potential. Love the secondary characters. Mai, Ellerson, the driver Hung, Hana, Hoa, Jum Y, Poh … like and care about each one of them. Peripheral layers to cast and story. Very well done.”
One of my beta readers also commented early in the editing process that my writing style is very “character-driven.”
So, what is the point of all this?
I lurk in several writers groups. I say “lurk” because I tend to listen-in more than I post. You can learn a great deal as a writer listening to comments and questions of other writers. One surprisingly common thread is, how to create better characters.
Here is my big character “secret!”
Are you ready?
You, as the author, have to love your characters … that’s it.
If your characters are simply “names” filling a spot in the story, you are not doing your characters justice. You have to actually see your characters as real people with real feelings, interests, faults, personalities, etc. I love each and every one of my characters (yes, even the evil bad guys. I love them because they are so easy to hate).
I have seen people posting that this is somehow hard for them to do. I have to admit that I really don’t get that. These are characters in a story you are writing. If you don’t love your characters, why are you even writing the story?
Here is what I do …
Sometimes I base a character on a person I know. I may even ask that person if he or she wants to be a character in my book and get their input on how they see themselves in that character’s role.
Pallie is one example of that. Pallie is based on a good friend, Joe, who worked as a bus driver in New York City until he suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Since he could no longer drive the living, he took a job chauffeuring the dead … a hearse. He said, “the dead really didn’t mind.”
Now, that’s Pallie to a T!
Joe is a boisterous, friendly, Sicilian man who is a great friend and would be at your side if needed, just like Pallie. When writing Pallie’s part in Montagnard, all I ever had to do is say, “What would Joe do here? Or, what would Joe say here?” How could you, as an author, not love that character.
One more example is Mai. Mai is a composite of several strong women that have left an indelible impression in my life. She personifies what I respected most in each of those women. How could I, as a writer, not love her character.
This same idea can be found in every character in my stories, even with the secondary characters, although perhaps to a slightly lesser degree.
And what about the Main Character?
JD Cordell is also a composite character. He is the result of combining the character traits I respect most in several men I have come to admire in my life, with some of the qualities I am proud are a part of my character. I guess I could also say that JD Cordell is my alter-ego … if I were Bruce Wayne, JD would be by Batman.
Now, a word about character …
To me, my stories are about character.
First, I guess I need to explain my understanding of character. To me, our character is what defines us at our core. To put it plainly, it is who we are when the “shit hits the fan,” and when no one is looking.
I also believe that too many people mistake learned behavioral tools as character traits. These tools are things like politeness, rapport, charm, or dressing nicely. To me, these are not character traits at all. They are simply tools people can turn on and off as needed.
Even Jeffery Dahmer could dress nicely, be charming, smile, and act politely when it suited his purpose. But I doubt too many of us would argue Dahmer was a man of good character.
Character traits are who we are at our core. They cannot be turned on or off at will. It would take a genuinely traumatic or life-altering event to change a character trait after we are set in our ways (about age 8).
Why does this matter?
It matters because, when you are developing your characters, they need to have consistency. Character does matter. And, sometimes people with good character are forced to do bad things for the right reason, to protect those they love or care about.
JD makes a reference to this near the end of Montagnard, when he says, “I am not a Bible thumper, but I know what I believe. I’m a sailor, and I’ve done a lot of things for which many people would be quick to condemn me. The things I’ve done … well, let’s say I am willing to stand before God and account for them.”
Here is one more example. Many readers have questioned why I did not have Mai kill the villain in the story. After all, I did kind of set it up to look like she might do just that. However, Mai killing the villain in the act of vengeance or retribution would be out of character. While Mai is undoubtedly capable of defending herself or her family (see Serpents Underfoot), she would not hunt someone down to exact vengeance. She would stand for justice and the rule of law.
This has become quite a long post, so I will stop here. I will just sum it up by saying that creating characters that people can identify with, respect, loath, or “hang out with” is a crucial aspect of writing a good story.
My next “Just Stories” post will tackle my thoughts on the theme of “Good vs. Evil,” which is also clearly a big part of both Serpents Underfoot and Montagnard.
If you would like to read Montagnard, now is the time to buy. For a limited time only, the Kindle version is only .99 on Amazon.com.