Tag: Derrick Ferguson

This Week’s Reading

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This is a monstrous (50+ hours of audio listening) and quite informative overview of the good and bad of the history of the United States. In reaching the end of the book, I was struck how George W Bush comes across as a much better president than I remember. It highlights his decisive leadership in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of New York and ends before his fiscally irresponsible 700 billion dollar bailouts of the banks.

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I’ve got a story (The Burial Mound) in this one that includes Native American gunfighter Lone Crow, the wild-haired and quick-tempered Six-Gun Susannah Johnson, and pistolero extraordinaire (how’s that for mixing languages?) Isidro Acevedo.

Of the other stories there was one that struck me as though it might feel right at home in the pages of Weird Tales (the old one). Killing of Black Bill by Joshua Gage is about jackalope fighting and has a suitably dark ending.

Chapter 5 of Dillon and the Prophecy of Fire by Derrick Ferguson:

This chapter includes a glass eye that serves as currency between our intrepid adventurer Dillon and a Cleaner who is disposing of numerous corpses for him. It also includes a mystical gemstone that possesses the beautiful Professor Ursula Van Houghton. Plenty of weirdness going on in this chapter.

 

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The Explorers Guild–This Week’s Reading Roundup

Here’s a roundup of this week’s reading–and by this week I mean things I finished reading this week. I have been working on The Explorer’s Guild for a number of weeks now. It’s a 700 plus page tome purported to have been written by Kevin Costner and Jon Baird (at least if you go by the cover), however by reading the acknowledgments it appears that Costner was more of an enthusiastic cheerleader and supporter of the project, who lent his name so it could see print.

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This book is a curious conglomeration of comic panels, illustration, and text, as you might be able to deduce from the images below. This is a book that deserves to be read in print form (rather than electronic) because the pages have artfully been printed to appear to be aged, and it’s a marvelous presentation.

The text, recounting a search for the legendary City of Shamballa, is written in the language and style of the late Victorian era, so it may be a bit dense for the average reader, and the story takes place as WW1 is developing. At first, not a whole lot of the plot elements are cohesive, but gradually they come together and the story become coherent. That is, until the end, when another curve is thrown at the reader and left unexplained.

This made the finish a bit unsatisfactory, but given how the authors (and I include the illustrator in this) managed to bring together the other oddball elements (which include such far-out concepts as a person who has become as large as an island and is put in a great tank so that the water may support his weight, and an underground river peopled by lost remnants of the outer world) I have faith they will be able to bring this element together as well–if the promised second volume is forthcoming.

However, the Explorer’s Guild was published in 2015 and Amazon shows no signs of a forthcoming second volume. Hopefully this first volume did well enough to warrant the second in the eyes of the publisher.

On a secondary note, this book is not necessarily suitable for children. Partially adopting a practice common to journals and historical accounts of the time period, blasphemies within the book are dashed out (sort of).

In actual journals where, for example, a Civil War veteran might be recounting the words verbatim of an individual but, not wishing to themselves repeat the blasphemy in print, they would put the first letter of the blasphemy and leave the rest a long dash.

The Explorer’s Guild does the same except the author will sometimes omit only the central vowel, so it’s quite clear exactly what the blasphemy is. This reminds me of the current Top 40 Radio practice of just barely snipping out the vowel of a swear word and playing it the song on the air. Often, it’s hardly noticeable that the word has in the least been edited.

This makes me believe that the author of The Explorer’s Guild was using this device for affectation rather than efficacy.

This week’s OTHER READING includes:

Assault on Coppereye, which is the Fourth Chapter of Dillon and the Prophecy of Fire, where the reader discovers Dillon’s home under assault. I’m enjoying every word of this story and the chapter was all too brief.

Máscara contra Murciélago, a short story from the fertile mind of Joshua Reynolds which finds former luchador (a Mexican wrestler) tracking through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, after a strange event which is called The Haze, with a prisoner he plans to collect a bounty on. The problem is they are being pursued by giant bat-like creatures and his prisoner is a good man. I admit I was hoping for a different ending, but I still liked the story very much.

Writing Unrepentant Characters

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From the Iliad to the western dime novels, there is a long history of anti-heroes or protagonists that behave with only their self interest in mind and lack virtue, morality, or other heroic values. To the writer, telling a story about such characters provides particular challenges. If a character has no redeeming qualities the reader may not care at all what happens to the protagonist and quit reading. I’ve discarded many books and short stories, because I didn’t care about the protagonist enough to continue.

So what works? What can bring a reader to the table when your main character is a thoroughly unrepentant character of the lowest morals?

1. Cheat Around the Edges: Though your character lacks many moral principles, he does have at least one good quality or admirable goal. An example of this sort of character is James Bond, who has little in the way of morals or principles (or is willing to compromise them to accomplish his goals), yet he doesn’t hesitate to lay his life on the line to protect England from villainous organizations of all stripes and hues. This helps us buy into Bond and care what happens to him, even as he uses and discards strings of women with little regard to what happens to them after he gets the information he wants. Also, Fleming does a good job of showing Bond’s inner turmoil, which the movies rarely reflect, and also of showing the physical and mental toll that his job takes.

2. Evil vs. Less Evil: The protagonist, though not motivated by the welfare of others, is acting against a greater evil than he, so in effect he becomes the ‘good guy’ of the piece by contrast. An example of this is Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone.

3. Selective Story Telling: Your character is a ruthless mercenary who has slaughtered many innocents, but you choose only to tell the stories where he has been wronged by someone else and is seeking redress, or where for some reason he decides that it is in his interest to help another. Conan is a good example of this sort of character. On close examination of his character he has no moral qualms about killing and plundering, but those incidents are glossed over somewhat and the Robert E Howard stories tend to incorporate the first two elements of Cheating Around the Edges and Evil vs. Less Evil. This way, we can relate to Conan, even though the reality is that he might knife us in a dark alley if he thought we might have a few coins in our pocket.

4. Machinations and Train Wrecks: In part five of Through the Groaning Earth,  The Jewels of Sagra Yoth, I tell the story of Willen, who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever except for unrestrained ambition. He’s a two-bit loser thief and murderer out to make a name for himself. To my surprise, I’ve had comments from readers that this is one of their favorite sections from the book. Why does this section work, when there is utterly no reason to like Willen or care what happens to him? Here’s my theory:

a) The character has a clearly defined goal

b) The character struggles mightily to gain that goal

c)The character uses every bit of his limited brain power to orchestrate his theft, and so we are interested in the machinations and his underhanded efforts.

d)The story isn’t long. The readers don’t have to spend an entire novel following an utterly despicable character before they see his miserable fate. 

e)The reader wants to watch the train wreck.

I think this last bit cannot be underestimated. Not only do readers deserve to see the character reap the whirlwind of his poor choices, but the writer has a duty to show that bad decisions have bad consequences. Willen struggles mightily to steal the Jewels of Sagra Yoth and then, in the end, all his evil actions come back to haunt him, and he realizes that maybe he’s not quite as smart as he thought.

For another example of thoroughly unrepentant and irredeemable characters look to Derrick Ferguson’s Diamondback stories (shortly to again be available for contributors to his Patreon account). These stories don’t so much use the devices of Cheating around the Edges or Evil vs. Less Evil, or even Selective Story Telling, but rely on the Machinations and Train Wreck principles. The reader is enthralled by all the machinations, double dealings, and back-stabbings, and wants to see the ensuing train wreck. Honestly, I didn’t care so much if the deadly killer Diamondback lived or died, but I did want to see how everything played out, and that kept me reading until the very last word.

5. Pair the irredeemable character with someone the reader can care about. This is a technique I use in Dead Blonde Walking, where the protagonist is a mostly heartless assassin with only a couple of identifiably good qualities (and there is some uncertainty there). By herself, Monica Killingsworth (who appears in quite a number of my books and various short story collections) is something of an emotional cipher and it often takes interaction with another character, usually one the reader can emotionally invest his or herself, to compare and contrast, and give further interest to the story.

 

Reading Round Up & Crossover Universes

This week’s reading includes the following:

  1. John Dickson Carr’s Doorway to Doom

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This one I found a few years back at the local library on the shelf of books they were shuffling off into oblivion by selling for a buck or two. The one I picked up had no cover sleeve and looks precisely like the book on the right of this photograph–except mine has the added character of being a bit more battered.

This is another one of those books that looked intriguing and I gambled a couple of dollars on it. It’s a collection of detective tales–usually of the locked door variety where no one can possibly have gotten in our out (or so it appears)–and also includes a number of radio scripts.

John Dickson Carr has a wonderful grasp of evocative language and though one or two of the stories fell flat for me, I found myself imminently entertained by the rest. All of these stories have weird elements. Often times these weird elements are explained away by the end of the story, but in some cases they are not!

I found I enjoyed the radio scripts just much as the short stories.

2. The Solomon Curse by Clive Cussler

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Treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo discover underwater temples that have been swallowed up by the ocean on the coasts of the Solomon Islands and at the same time they got tangled in a coup attempt to overthrow the local government.

Bonus Weird Plot Element: Cannibalistic Giants!

3.  Dillon and the Prophecy of Fire (Chapters 1-3) by Derrick Ferguson

This story is currently only available via Patreon , where patrons of the arts can choose to give financial support to creators of their choice. For $1 a month you get a chapter of Dillon and the Prophecy of Fire.

Here we find Dillon hosting tech-whiz Wyatt Hyatt, professional thief Reynard Hansen, and the lovely Professor Ursula at his secret home, even while sinister forces marshall against him.

As usual, Ferguson assembles a colorful cast of characters in a highly entertaining story.

Bonus Crossover Content in Chapter Three: Wyatt Hyatt uses the Clip Pad computer device that he developed, which is first mentioned in Dire Planet, and Dillon wears a Gantlet Brothers: Black Intelligence tour t-shirt. Both of these crossovers were a complete surprise to me.

 

What I’m Reading: The Curse of the Necronomicon

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Aside from its obvious connection to Lovecraftion Mythos (the heroine of the tale, Elisa Hill, hunts down the mythical Necronomicon) this book also presents some tidbits for those who enjoy cross-over universes.

Around page 20 Elisa Hill requests Demerara rum from a stewardess because the situation she finds herself in is similar to the situation that an associate of hers might find himself in, and Demerara is a favorite drink of his. Though not specified, those familiar with Dillon as written by author Derrick Ferguson, will know that Demerara is his preferred drink.

Also, in another nod to Derrick Ferguson, the character of Diamondback is directly mentioned. Diamondback is a more obscure character of Ferguson’s–a modern day gunslinger for hire, who wreaks havoc wherever he goes. As of this writing none of Diamondback’s adventures are currently in print, so tracking them down might be a very difficult task.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure Fiction