Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Moral Majority

Warning: The following post contains spoilers for my books. Please proceed  accordingly.

One of my favorite themes as a consumer of fiction is Grey and Grey Morality. This is for a few reasons. The first is that it's more life-like than the alternatives. Few people are saints, and few are total villains. Everyone has flaws, and everyone ends up hurting someone, somehow, at some point in their lives, no matter how well-intentioned they are.

I heard someone say once that they "try very hard not to cross moral lines." I'm sure this is true, and I think most good people make that effort. But in my view this is impossible -- different people have different ideas about what is moral, and most people's moral universes account for changing situations. What is unacceptable under one circumstance might be acceptable or at least regrettably necessary under others. (For instance, killing someone is generally regarded as wrong, but killing someone who is trying to kill you or your children? Much more acceptable. And so a person who would be a murderer in one circumstance is transformed by context into a victim, a blameless party, or even a hero.)

Which brings us to my second reason for enjoying Grey and Grey Morality, and making it a staple of the fiction I create: it allows me to explore the moral acceptability of different acts in different contexts. Most of the characters I write are well-intentioned people acting in the greater good as they see it. You'll find few true mustache-twirlers in my work. And yet some of them, at first glance (and sometimes at second and third glance, as well), appear to be monsters.

For instance, Ainsling Cronlord, the mother of Alex Cronlord, one of the protagonists of The Weaver Saga, is a woman who has been conducting genetic experiments on Alex since birth. For Alex's entire pre-story life, she has done so without the girl's knowledge. On its face, this is a heinous, horrific act. Surely no jury in the world would have sympathy for such a person, and would impose a lengthy jail sentence (if not the death penalty) of anyone convicted of doing what she did.

And yet, in the course of the story, we find out that Ainsling and the people she works for experiment on their children in order to protect them (and the world) against the Xorda, a race of beings who are stronger than we are, faster than we are, immune to most human weapons, and regard us as food. Oh, and they can make themselves almost irresistible to us, too, by the way. Faced with such an enemy -- one determined to kill us, and against whom conventional methods of self-defense don't work -- wouldn't Ainsling have a greater license to do things that would be unacceptable under normal circumstances?

This is not to say she's an unalloyed "good guy," either -- she's still experimenting on her own child, for goodness sake! But it becomes harder (I think) to view her in purely stereotypical terms when you understand the desperate circumstances she faces. (More about those circumstances will be revealed in Book 2 of the Saga, The Void, coming April 2012.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Hunter Gamble, the protagonist of The Legal Fiction Series, seems pretty darned heroic up front. Not only does he idolize Atticus Finch, from To Kill A Mockingbird, he tries very hard to be Atticus, building a law practice consisting of defending "arcane" clients that the rest of society reviles. Sam Pollard's murder trial is his version of the Tom Robinson rape trial -- he takes the case, and the harm to his reputation that comes with it, because he believes it's the right thing to do. At first glance, he's practically Ghandi.

But as the book goes on and the violence of the Salvation Alliance, the human supremacist group that opposes his efforts, escalates, one must (I think) ask: how good is he, really, if he's willing to put innocent lives in danger for his own views of right and wrong? Surely anyone would agree that his life is his, to do with what he wants, but what about Kirsten and Sabrina? They didn't ask for this. It's not even clear whether they're fully aware of the risks involved in taking Sam's case. And Sabrina's a teenage girl.

Granted, Kirsten almost certainly would have assumed the risks anyway, for other reasons. But still. Isn't there something a little cold or at least irresponsible about someone who will endanger innocent lives for the sake of some amorphous "greater good"? Isn't there at least an argument that Hunter's first responsibility is to his friends and family, not to a client he barely knows?

I'm not going to tell you what to think about either character (at least not yet). But for me, it's a much more enjoyable experience when a reader is forced to question his (or her) preconceived assumptions about both the "good" and "bad" guys. And that's why you can almost always count on my fiction to be grey-on-grey. That way, you can make men out of monsters, and monsters out of men.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

More sightings around the internet!

We're showing up in a few more places today.

First of all, Lindsey Clarke, author of the Dark Sanctuary series, joins the growing list of authors and bloggers raving about Atticus for the Undead. To wit:

"I found the concept really interesting, captivating, fresh and the book was an easy, enjoyable, page-turner from start to finish... If you want to read a paranormal story that is refreshingly...well....human..... then this could just
be the one for you."

The full review can be found here. And you can now borrow Atticus from the Kindle Lending Library!

John also sat down for an interview recently with On The Bird friend and fellow author Angela Scott. (By the way, folks, her debut novel, Wanted: Dead or Undead, should be ready next month.) See what he had to say!

New writing-related content coming this weekend!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This is becoming a habit...

I was recently honored to have esteemed mystery/suspense author Lannie Wright review Atticus for the Undead, and I wanted to share his thoughts with you. Here they are, in full:

"Most of the time when I read new authors, I find the work wanting. The material is either a slight twist on an old theme or in some way contrived. And frankly, when I agreed to read Atticus for the Undead, by John Abramowitz, my expectations weren't high. It wasn't because of experience, I had never heard of him. It was because I don't usually read material involving zombies, witchs, and other such classic  works.

Reluctantly, I started and quickly found myself captured by the  characters and the concept envisioned by the author. The lead character, Hunter Weldon, is a sharp, idealistic attorney fending for the rights of the undead. His team is full of color and together, they fight the good fight, even if it's for those capable of sucking your blood or brains.

I rated this book 4 stars out of 5. I would have given it five stars had it not ended too soon.

My suggestion to anyone looking for a good, entertaining read that will make you smile and provide a new look at an old storyline, try it out. You will be glad you did."

I've got to tell you, folks, combined with some of the other things people have been saying about the book recently, I could get used to this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The verdict is IN!

Yet more love for Atticus for the Undead, this time from Kriss over at Cabin Goddess.

Here's a taste of what she had to say:
"I started this Sunday evening figuring I at least could get a taste of what it was about. Wondering if I was going to be mildly interested and have to force myself to read through it ... But I had promised John so I clicked on the Kindle and settled down with my ice tea and began to read ... and read ... and squeal and tell Geoff "OHHH this is awesome", and read and fall asleep reading only to wake up to finish reading! This book was SO much fun!"

The full review is here, and Atticus for the Undead is FREE on the through Friday, May 4th!

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Importance of Multiple Viewpoints (Also Of Being Earnest)

In my Indie Writer's Pledge of Quality, I said that I would never publish anything I wrote without it being reviewed by at least three pairs of eyes besides mine. The benefit to you, gentle readers, is obvious: a greater likelihood that typos, grammatical errors, and the like will be caught, and that there will thus be fewer flaws in the book you ultimately read.

But as I've plugged away at Atticus and at The Void (Weaver #2), I've come to realize that there are some benefits for me, as well.

Reassurance: I started writing Atticus because the idea of putting a zombie on trial for eating brains tickled me so pink that I couldn't let it go. I had to put it on paper. That's what I thought as I plotted out the major points of the novel -- the main characters, their relationships, and the course the book would ultimately take.

But then I sat down to write, and something odd happened -- all that confidence went away, to be replaced by fear.

Nobody's ever done an urban fantasy legal thriller before, said my brain. Of course the idea appeals to you, you're a fantasy geek and a lawyer. For you, it's heaven. But after you write the book, you have to be able to sell it. Are you really gonna be able to do that, Johnny-boy?

(Yes, my brain really did call me "Johnny-boy". I can't explain it either.)

So I sent the first chapter around to a few people whose opinions I trust. They all, without exception, told me I was onto something. Many of them even said they liked it better than Weaver.

It was those votes of confidence that let me get past the fear and finish the book. Without them, I would never have finished it, much less published it. Which would have been a real shame, since quite a few people like it..

More perspective: Just like in life, different people have different views on the same person, action, or set of events. After a couple of WRITING SPRINTs ((c) Jane Espenson, all rights reserved), I'll almost always fork over my new material to the beta readers and ask for their input. I don't want line edits -- those are always the last thing I do. Rather, I'm looking for info on their emotional reactions to the scene, the characters, their actions, etc.

If I relied solely on one person for perspective on whether my characters were likeable or whether I was hitting the right emotional notes, I'd have taken many a wrong turn in my (brief) writing career. Me and that other person might simply have different tastes in fiction. Or they might come to a scene with a different set of experiences and assumptions than I do, or than other readers will (for example, SPOILER ALERT, a reader who had been abused as a child might have a more visceral reaction to the character of Ainsling Cronlord and be less inclined to forgive her or see her good points than one who had not.)

So I follow the old maxim: if one person says something, they might be wrong. If multiple people say something, it's time to at least think about it.

On the other hand, sometimes one person sees what others miss. For instance, when I wrote the first four chapters of The Void, I showed them to two of my beta readers, who were generally pleased. But I wasn't pleased. Something was wrong. I couldn't figure out what it was until I showed the chapters to a third beta reader, who pointed out to me that the tone was simply too comical and immature for a series as gritty as The Weaver Saga.

More potential sources of good ideas: As brilliant as I (want you all to think that I) am, I can't come up with everything by myself. I'm blessed to have a group of highly engaged and active beta readers. They care about the stories I'm telling almost as fervently as I do, and are just as (or sometimes far more) creatively brilliant than I am. So I never know when one of them might say, "John, based on this, I think you should do this next," which will lead me to smack my forehead and wonder why I didn't think of it first.

Best example I can think of to date. The opening chapter of Atticus for the Undead features the trial of a teenage girl named Sabrina on charges of witchcraft (yes, really). I originally intended that chapter to be the audience's "courting period" with Hunter, so that they could get a basic sense of his personality and motivations before I started throwing in other characters and plot points. Sabrina was not intended to appear in the novel after that chapter.

Then one of my trusty beta readers said, "John, you CAN'T make her a throwaway. I like her too much."

Well, I won't say any more so as not to spoil those who haven't read it, but at this point, I can't imagine the novel without her as a central character.

And these are just some of the 1,19831981 Reasons Why John Loves His Beta Readers.

Monday, February 6, 2012

And the hits just keep on comin'!

In the last few days, Atticus for the Undead got some new reviews from some fellow authors! I thought I would share some of the highlights with you.

"This was a fun read with characters we can all identify with and like and in this novel even the bad guys are slightly off center and humorous." Parent's Little Black Book

"When John sent me this book to review he brazenly stated, 'I'm fairly confident that if you start this one, you won't be able to stop. :)" I thought, okay, we'll see. Well, I'm happy to say he was absolutely right! ... This novel is one of the best I've read in years." (5 stars!) Lorraine Nelson

"... If you enjoy a good paranormal story or any or all of the TV series and/or movie series, True Blood, the Walking Dead and or the quirky Shaun of the dead you'll enjoy this book from the prospective [sic] of their defence lawyer. This is an engrossing book that I just had to continue reading until its conclusion." (4.5 stars!) Sheilagh Lee "S.G. Lee"

Join the team at McClain & Gamble! (Atticus for the Undead is now available on the Kindle Lending Library!)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It Takes A Village To Write A Novel

Today, I'm taking my (questionable) wit and (dubious) charm over to the blog of Stephen Ormsby, where I discuss the myth that writing is a solitary pursuit. Go see what I had to say!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who Is #TheStitchFacedMan?

*The following is a teaser for The Void, Book 2 of The Weaver Saga 

Weaver (Book 1) - Now FREE for the Nook & iPad!
The Void (Book 2) - AVAILABLE NOW! - $2.99

10:03 a.m.

            Moira parked right in front of the Cronlords' house -- there was no time for subtlety or stealth. Even as she pulled the keys from the ignition, she was already opening the door. She hopped out of the car in a smooth motion, closing the door behind her. Drawing her gun, she pointed it ahead of her and slinked toward the house, paying scant attention to James.
            The thrill of the hunt invigorated Moira, as did a sudden feeling of rightness that flooded through her. This was what she was supposed to be doing.
            "All right," she said, keeping her voice soft. It was one thing to put speed ahead of stealth, it was quite another to completely give away the battle. She let calmness wash over her mind, pushing aside her thoughts and letting her instincts and training take over. "You know how this goes, we've done it a million times before. Steady and room by room. Fan out, but we stay within one room of each other at all times. We sweep each room, confirm Ainsling's not in it, and move on to the next. Ready to go, Andy?"
            She waited for an answer, but got several seconds of silence instead. It was only when she heard James' voice that she realized her mistake.
            She turned to him, trying mightily to keep embarrassment out of her face. "Sorry, what I meant to say was -- I mean, you did counterinsurgency operations in the military, didn't you?"
            "Yes, but --"
            "It's basically the same thing."
            "I can handle myself, Moira. That's not what I'm worried about." He frowned.
            "Not now," she said, desperate to forestall what she knew he was about to say. "Unless you want your wife to die.
            James opened his mouth, but for a moment he did not speak. Conflicting emotions warred across his face. Finally, he nodded, and she turned back toward the house.
            Don't think about it. Don't think about it.
            She reached the door and put her ear to it. "I don't hear anything."
            James crept over to the window and snuck a glance through a crack in the curtains. "I don't see anything, either."
            "Well, Alex told you it would happen at ten o'clock, right?"
            James nodded.
            "Then the Xorda's here somewhere," said Moira, and then paused. "Without a warrant, I have to knock."
            James shot her a sardonic glance. "Because you've never broken an FBI rule before?"
            "Not on company time, with Graves as my boss, I haven't. As a law enforcement officer, I have to knock."
            James kicked the door hard and it flew open, slamming against the wall with a THUD. "Good thing I don't."
            That got a brief smile out of Moira before she turned and entered the house. She made her way into the living room, gun out and in front of her. The room looked exactly as it had when Moira had last been here -- a couch, a chair, and a coffee table with a picture of the Cronlord family on it.
            James murmured something, and it took Moira a moment to comprehend the words. "She hasn't changed anything."
            Moira was glad in that moment that James could not see her face, in case the pang of sympathy she felt appeared in her features. She pointed, signaling for him to take the next room over. He nodded and crept off in the direction she indicated.
            Once he'd gone, Moira examined the floor, the couch, the chair, the coffee table, the bookshelves, and even the ceiling. She searched for hairs, blood stains, or anything that might indicate a struggle.
            This room's clear.
            Moira turned to head for the next room, and found James standing in the  doorway, beckoning to her. She crept silently towards him, and he led her to the kitchen. He pointed downward -- and Moira saw splotches of red liquid forming a path across the floor. She followed the trail with her eyes, then looked up at James.
            "Let's go," she whispered.
            He nodded, and they followed the trail, moving side-by-side. She caught herself remembering the countless times she and Andy had done similar searches. Looking over at James, she saw clear evidence of his military background. His movements were graceful, and he had a cat-like agility. If she didn't look at his face, Moira could easily imagine that he was Andy, that the last month of her life had never happened, and that this was simply yet another assignment the two of them were on together.
            She shoved those thoughts from her mind, forcibly clearing it once more. The blood droplets led to a closed, windowless door in the middle of a large room. The den, judging by the big-screen TV and shelves of DVDs. Moira pointed to the door. "Where does it lead?"
            "Basement. Brace yourself."
            Moira moved to one side, making sure to stand clear of the doorway. She opened her mouth to tell James to follow suit, but he didn't need telling. He moved behind her, drawing a small sidearm that she'd found for him. She opened the door, and found herself staring at a rickety wooden staircase leading downward. The angle was such that Moira couldn't get a clear view of the room below. This situation was not helped by the fact that the only light source in sight, a bare bulb, was off.
            But Moira didn't need the light to know Ainsling had been here -- she saw the largest bloodstain yet at the top of the stairs. She pointed at it, and James nodded, his face impassive.
            Is he really that calm about it? Moira shivered. This wasn't the time to think about it. Without further hesitation, she started down the stairs.
            She winced inwardly as the wood beneath her creaked with every step she took. Her eyes instinctively shot back and forth, up and down, even though the staircase was narrow enough to make an ambush near-impossible. Finally, she reached the bottom -- and let out a quiet curse.
            The room was a maze of boxes. They were piled high all around her, in no particular order that she could discern, forming makeshift corridors in the otherwise-cavernous spaces. That meant plenty of hiding places for the Xorda, a situation which was made worse by the fact that the only thing keeping the basement from total darkness was the shaft of soft light created by the door they'd opened.
            Less than optimal. Way, way less than optimal.
            She pointed her gun left, then right, scanning the room for signs of their unseen enemy. Nothing. Then she glanced downward. No more blood drops, either.
            Even worse.
            She signaled for James to take one side of the room, and she started toward the other. Moira felt her muscles clench as she stepped out of the light shaft and into the darkness. She kept her gun out in front of her, trying to calm her nerves.
            To her right, nothing. To her left, nothing. She crept up to a wall of boxes and stood on tiptoe to peer over and behind it --
            And that was when she heard the scuffling noise.
            She whirled, pressing her back to the boxes, pointing her gun in the direction the noise had come from. James was pointing his own weapon in the same direction -- he'd obviously heard it too. The two exchanged a nervous glance.
            Moira crept toward the source of the sound, but she'd barely taken a step when there was another rustling sound -- this time from a different direction. She and James exchanged another glance, and she could see her own frustration reflected in his eyes.
            All right. Time to go on offense.
            Bending at the knees, Moira charged a stack of boxes near where she'd heard the latest noise. She put her shoulder into the box on top of the stack, bringing all of her strength to bear. She pushed the box off of the stack, and it fell out of sight. There was a loud THUD as it hit the ground. Moira looked through the new hole she'd just created in the makeshift wall, hoping to catch sight of her prey.
            The low growling noise was Moira's only warning before a black-and-grey blur flew through her peripheral vision.
            The growl turned to a roar as Moira whirled, trying to bring her gun to bear. She saw James' eyes widen as he did the same thing, but the blur was faster. It tackled him to the ground, and Moira heard a sickening crunch as it leapt off of him and toward the door. It took Moira a moment to realize that it had slammed his head against the ground.
            "James!" She rushed toward his prone body, kneeling at his side. He lay prone, his eyes closed. His glasses had fallen off of his face and lay next to him. She lifted his head in one hand. "Come on, come on, wake up --"
            Moira looked up as she was plunged into utter darkness. Letting out a vicious curse, she reached for her flashlight, pointing it at the door. The beam illuminated a pair of long, black-clad legs stalking down the stairs. She raised the flashlight, and it travelled up a broad torso. The light revealed a pale neck, and then, finally, she saw his face.
            Moira turned her head away, almost dropping the flashlight as she struggled not to gag. The Xorda's face was a patchwork quilt, hunks of flesh sewn together by stitches that crisscrossed his face in all directions. They ran across his cheeks, into his lower and upper lip, and even into his eyelids. Slowly, she forced herself to look at him.
            "W -- who are you?" she asked.
            "We don't have to fight," said the Xorda, as he continued his slow walk towards her. His voice was soft, and Moira heard no threat in his tone. "It doesn't have to come to that."
            Good God, is it trying to be soothing?
            "The drops of blood on the floor outside say otherwise," said Moira, steeling herself.
            "My quarrel is with the one who lives here, not with you."
            Moira raised the gun, pointing it at him. "Stop where you are! Don't take another step."
            "You can't hurt me," he said, never deviating from the gentle tone. "And I don't want to hurt you. As I said, my quarrel is with someone else. There's no need for you get involved." He never stopped the stroll toward Moira.
            "I'm an officer of the law. It's my job to get involved." She brandished the gun at him again. "I can't let you hurt innocent people."
            Now he stopped. "Innocent?" He actually threw his head back as he guffawed. "Ainsling Cronlord is anything but innocent."
            Moira's eyes widened. "You know her? How?"
            The Xorda laughed again. "You could say that." He started towards her again. When he was only inches away, he stopped, actually extending a hand to her. "Come," he said. "Let's be friends."
            Oh right, the pheromones.
            Moira smiled up at him. "All right." She reached out and took the offered hand. "But if I'm going to be friends with someone, I like to know their name."
            He lifted her to her feet. "You'll know everything soon enough. All I need is a moment of your trust. May I have it?" His lips turned upward in what Moira assumed he meant to be a comforting smile. She might have found it more so if it weren't for the stitches.
            Hope this works.
            She smiled up at him, looking into his bloodshot eyes as they searched her face. "Of course."
            He leaned in, bringing their faces closer together. She knew what was coming. The Change. He meant to suck her soul out and make her a Xorda, as well. Andy had tried it, too. If that experience was any indication, as soon as the Xorda's lips met hers, she'd be paralyzed. She stood still for just another moment, to be sure he wouldn't see it coming --
            And then she kicked him in the head.
            The toe of her boot connected perfectly with his temple, and the Xorda went flying backward, slamming into a stack of boxes with a loud THUD. The force of the impact sent the boxes tumbling to the ground, and he landed on top of them with a CRASH
            "That trick doesn't work on me."
            Moira knew she had only a moment. Xorda weren't exactly immune to pain, but they recovered much more quickly than humans. Raising her gun, she fired off three shots at it in quick succession.
            The Xorda rolled from side to side. The shots still struck him, but that wasn't good enough. With a Xorda, only a direct hit to the heart would induce paralysis. With a bestial roar, it launched itself at her, leaping forward and grabbing for her. Instinctively, Moira ducked, rolling under him so that he landed with his back to her.
            His legs were just centimeters from her feet....
            Stretching ever-so-slightly, she knocked him on his face with a leg sweep, then got to her feet before he could recover himself. He was up a moment later, throwing a punch that Moira caught in mid-air, followed by an unexpected second blow to the kidneys.
            Moira grunted, resisting the urge to double over. She tried to bring her gun to bear, but he grabbed her arm at the wrist, aiming it away from himself. His preternatural strength was more than a match for her own, and Moira knew she'd have to get her hand free if she wanted another shot. Thinking quickly, she kneed him in the groin.
            Feeling his grip on her arm lessen as he staggered backward, she brought the gun upward and fired. The bullet hit him in the chest, and the Xorda wobbled on his feet. His eyes closed.
            Got him. She felt a satisfied grin break out on her face.
            Which was wiped clean away as he snarled and leapt for her once more.
            This time she wasn't quite fast enough, and his body collided painfully with hers. She felt the gun drop from her hand as he propelled her backward. Pain exploded across her back as it struck a wall. She shook her head to clear it, but before she could strike again, he wrapped his hands  around her throat and squeezed.
            Moira tried to trash, but she quickly found herself spending most of her energy in the simple attempt to breathe. She heard his rasping voice in her ear as spots of red appeared before her eyes. "We will be friends. One way or the other."
            Moira knew what was coming. In seconds, he would begin to Change her. There was no preventing it. James was unconscious, and she was dangerously close to joining him. Her lungs burned from lack of air.
            No way I can fight. This is it.
            She braced herself -- but just before their lips met, Moira heard a deafening howl of pain. The pressure was gone from her throat. She coughed and gasped, desperate to return air to her lungs. The spots cleared from her vision -- and when they did, she saw that the Xorda now stood with his back to her.
            And protruding from his back was the hilt of a knife.
            "Ja -- James?" She looked past her attacker to see who had saved her -- and her mouth dropped open.
            A few feet away stood Ainsling Cronlord, her posture imperious, her piercing green eyes locked on the Xorda's face. Even when it was directed at someone else, the woman's glare sent a chill through Moira.
            "Playtime's over."

Book 2 of The Weaver Saga
May 12, 2012

Learn the identity of #TheStitchFacedMan