Who Likes Unlikable Characters?

TheSopranos

My husband and I just finished watching the entire Sopranos series. I’m probably one of the last people on Earth to see The Sopranos, I know, but after James Gandolfini passed away, I wanted to see the show that made him a star. I wanted to see his legacy. So about a year ago, hubby-pants and I fired up HBO Go and went to town. Now, he had seen most of the series (he stopped watching for whatever reason around the fourth season), and then tuned in for the finale. As you may have figured out, I was a Sopranos virgin.

Fast forward to a few days ago when the screen went black at the end of that infamous series finale, and I had a few things to say…

First of all, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Hubby-pants tried to explain the groundbreaking nature of the show: mafia-centric, from the perspective of the criminals, big-picture that includes home and family life, etc. I’ve decided to give him this defense, especially since I’ve strived to be equally as groundbreaking with my own Blood for Blood Series (partially told from the perspective of a female serial killer while exploring her psyche). However, I do have to take issue with the number of unlikable, can’t-standable characters constantly on-screen during The Sopranos.

Tony Soprano is a pig. His infidelity is repulsive. The way he speaks to his wife, his kids, his family, and his friends is disgusting. Eww.

Carmela Soprano should be a sympathetic character because Tony cheats on her and treats her like shit, but she’s not. Why? Because all Tony has to do is buy her a fur coat, a new car, or a shiny bauble and she turns a blind eye to the mistresses, the abuse, and the overall inexcusable behavior of her husband.

Meadow and A.J. Soprano are so fake. They both straddle the line between being spoiled mob prince/princess and pretending to care about the problems and injustices of the world. Both can be silenced with the perks of being a Soprano, same as their mother.

Everybody else? Sucked. Paulie, Chris, Adriana, Janice, Junior, Livia. I could go on and on. They were all horrible people. No one had actual friends. I mean, actual, REAL friendships. Going “way back”, smiling in each other’s faces, and telling old stories while inwardly wishing each other dead or wondering if the others wish you dead is NOT a relationship.

And don’t even get me started on Tony’s shrink, Dr. Melfi, and her merry little circle of friends/fellow psychiatrists. Good grief.

But…

My darling husband brought up a good point: if the characters conjure up such hatred, but viewers continue to tune in, hat’s off to the writers, right? I fell quiet when he said this. Why? Because I can’t count how many times I’ve said this in book reviews. If I hate a character it’s most likely because the writer did their job and portrayed the individual in such a light on purpose.

As a matter of fact, when I submitted the first draft of Blood in the Past to an editor, they returned the manuscript, complaining that Jillian Atford’s character was too unlikable because of her affair with a married cop. I refused to change the character because her actions were integral to the overall story, but I added things to make her tolerable. Her foster home childhood, for example, allows readers to see that Jillian never had anything of her own, that things were always taken from her, and that she felt she deserved to be happy, regardless of the situation.

In a lot of ways, I think the writers of The Sopranos did the same with their characters. Tony Soprano was very protective of his family. Janice wouldn’t stand for a man who physically abused her. Uncle Junior slowly succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Again, I can go on and on.

In the end, I stand by my internal 3-star rating of The Sopranos for other reasons, but maybe I should lay off them for being so unlikable. Thoughts?

 

Table of Contents Teasers!

I’m one of those writers that really puts a lot of thought into titles and double meanings…even if I’m the only one who knows about them. I know what you’re thinking. Blood in the Past? Blood in the Paint? Those seem like pretty literal titles. They are and they aren’t. Blood in the Past not only refers to the blood that was shed in each of the characters’ pasts, but it also refers to their blood/familial relations. In addition, each character makes their own “blood pact” of sorts between their selves and their lost love one. Like I said, I’m sure no one picked up on those meanings, but it meant a lot to me to include them. In fact, Blood in the Past was originally a working title that I decided to keep because these additional meanings could be attributed to it.

Similarly, Blood in the Paint not only refers to Lyla’s method of adding a syringe-full of her victims’ blood to the red paint she uses, but it also refers to a portrait she mentions having done of her father. Again, a blood relation connection.

Now that you know how kooky I am with titles, you won’t be surprised to learn I’m the same way with chapter titles. After I write the entire manuscript and go through it a few times, I read it again and highlight certain phrases that I might like to use as the chapter titles, making sure that each phrase has a meaning all its own–in relation to the chapter–when it’s out of context. Here are some examples, consider them teasers:

  • Chapter 2: Lie There and Die. Lyla feels that’s all her victim can do, but really she kills that way because that’s all her mom had been able to do.
  • Chapter 4: Blood for Blood. Lyla justifies her trophies, and the meaning of the series title is explained.
  • Chapter 8: Chasing After the Ghost. Brighthouse feels like he’s chasing the ghost of his father’s approval, but in reality he’s chasing the ghost of a very silent killer.
  • Chapter 12: Drifting and Bobbing. The phrase refers to a bundle of balloons, but also to Lyla’s control, and how she’s struggling to maintain it.
  • Chapter 16: The Anchor in His Stomach. Brighthouse feels a weight in his stomach over the unsolved murders, and wishes for his father’s instincts. But the anchor is a symbol of stability and strength and Brighthouse just needs to believe in himself.
  • Chapter 18: An Impromptu Centerpiece. In the text, it refers to the flowers CJ has given Lyla, but CJ is himself an ‘impromptu centerpiece,’ caught between Lyla and Brighthouse.
  • Chapter 21: Cleaner of Body But Not of Mind. Jillian washes her hands, but Lyla is focused on scrubbing something else in a different room.
  • Chapter 31: Collateral Damage. Lyla loathes collateral damage, but the reader knows her mother was collateral damage–as is every one of Lyla’s victims thereafter, having not directly wronged Lyla and only playing a role in her twisted sense of justice.
  • Chapter 35: A Sliver of Light. In the darkness, armed with only a slender flashlight, some light is finally shed on the truth of Lyla’s past.
  • Chapter 36: A Dangling Key. Brighthouse and his partner see not only a key on Lyla’s anklet, but a possible key to solving their case.
  • Chapter 44: Past All of It. Lyla is looking past tangible things, but also looking past her present and toward her future.
  • Chapter 47: Unknown. Refers to an incessant caller to Brighthouse’s cell phone, but an identity possibly unknown to the reader is about to be revealed.
  • Chapter 52: Traces of Blood. Doesn’t just refer to blood the life-substance, but blood relations are discovered.
  • Chapter 55: A Tree with Many Branches. Brighthouse’s captain uses this phrase as a metaphor for their case, but it’s actually a metaphor for the series’ entire storyline and how each of the characters are connected.
  • Chapter 58: Sever Ties. Much more than ties are severed; that’s all I can say!
  • Chapter 59: Her Final Moments. Lyla is thinking of her mother’s final moments, but she should be worried more about her own.
  • Chapter 60: Blood in the Paper. Refers to a bloody newspaper, but–SURPRISE–it’s also the title of the next book in the series!

What Would be YOUR Last Meal on Death Row?

Earlier this week, I came across an article on Buzzfeed listing the last meals of twelve infamous, and not so infamous, death row inmates. With pictures! The macabre side of me that writes psychological thrillers found it utterly fascinating. I also thought it interesting that so many of the prisoners chose fried chicken, but I digress.

John Wayne Gacy, “The Killer Clown”, had managed three KFC restaurants in his lifetime (you know, when he wasn’t being a homicidal perve) and he asked for a bucket of KFC original recipe chicken AND a dozen fried shrimp to go with his strawberries and shoestring French fries (I guess he didn’t care for KFC’s potato wedges…). Timothy McVeigh, the homegrown terrorist responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, just wanted a big-ass bowl of ice cream. My kind of guy, except for the blowing-up-a-building-full-of-innocent-people part. Victor Figuer, on the other hand, chose a single olive, with the pit still intact. Why? He’d hoped it would grow into an olive tree from within his body and use him as a symbol of peace. Alrighty then, Vic. Unfortunately, he’s more famous for kidnapping and murder and being the last federal inmate executed in the United States than he is for his extension of olive branches or Zen-like desire for world peace.

Reading about the different inmates and their last desires made me wonder what my own last meal would be, if I was as ruthless as the characters in my writing. I think I would ask for a rib eye steak cooked medium-rare. (I know, the chef’s recommendation for that cut is medium, but it would be my last meal. Gimme a break, guys.) To go with my steak, I would go ‘all Timothy McVeigh’ to satisfy my sweet tooth one last time. I’m thinking a whole spread, comparable to the dessert bar at my wedding. I’d want layer cake and eclairs, truffles and tiramisu, soft iced sugar cookies and Cadbury crème eggs, and…seriously I could keep going, but I won’t.

What about my characters? Lyla, Jillian, and Brighthouse from my Blood for Blood Series? When I was done drooling over the thought of my own diabetes-inducing last meal, I started to wonder what their last meals would be. In Blood in the Past it’s mentioned that Lyla took kickboxing and Tae-bo with her mother. I imagined them going out for some light, refreshing sushi afterward and I immediately knew that’s what Lyla would ask for, since everything she does circles back to the loss of her mother. (I’m sure she’d also want a six-pack of ice-cold beer to go with it, but that’s probably not allowed.) Jillian would either refuse a meal entirely or opt to order the favorite meal of her lost love, Calvin Kyle: a Philly cheese steak from Ishkabibbles on South Street. (I imagine she’d also ask for an adult beverage, probably wine.) Brighthouse…hmm. I honestly can’t imagine Brighthouse being in a situation where he has to choose a last meal, but I think he’d be one of the fried chicken people. 🙂

What about you? What about your characters? Share your thoughts below in the comments section!

 

The Lifeblood of the Supporting Cast

Throughout the month of April I boasted posted about the main characters in Blood in the Past, Jillian, Brighthouse, and Lyla. But what’s a story without its supporting cast? What’s Lord of the Rings without Meriadoc and Pippin? Not that Blood in the Past is on the scale of Lord of the Rings, but still. Take a look at my supporting cast:

  • Mel. Jillian Atford’s roommate. Short black hair in a funky, angular cut across her eyes. Dark eye makeup. Tough attitude. But really she’s from a small town in Ohio. And when she and Jillian are victimized, Mel’s vulnerability is apparent. Jillian and Mel were never really close, other than living in close quarters, but after the incident a budding friendship forms. And since Jillian has no one else, she turns to Mel when she has to.
  • Susannah. Lyla’s mother. Beautiful nordic features. Long, golden hair. She’s sick of her husband’s infidelity, but she deals with it. Until she doesn’t.
  • LeeAnn. Lyla’s aunt on her father’s side. LeeAnn is an Associate Medical Examiner. Petite, pale, dry demeanor. The opposite of her charming, charismatic brother. And very suspicious of Lyla. But there’s nothing she can do about it. Her boss is retiring and refuses to hear any of her theories. So she waits. (Blood in the Paint, anyone?)
  • CJ. Lyla’s friend at UPENN hospital. They shared classes as undergrads and after she became a resident physician, he took a position in the pharmacy department. He longs for her in a way Lyla can’t ignore, but does.

There are a few other characters, but they don’t stick around very long, if you know what I mean. One day down the line I plan on writing individual short stories for these sub-characters. They will only be available to those on my mailing list. That’s just one of the perks to signing up, so make sure you add your email address soon! (Don’t worry, I won’t bombard you with crap. You’ll probably receive half a dozen emails a year at most.)

And now for my BIG announcement!

The date of my COVER REVEAL for Blood in the Past is almost upon us!

Check in on MAY 8th, 2013 to get the first peek! (And if anyone would like to help spread the word, please contact me. I’ll be scheduling interviews and guest posts throughout the month of May.)

Lyla Kyle & Me

Yesterday, I posted the final installment in a series of character profiles from my upcoming novella, Blood in the Past. This week’s focus is on my main character, Lyla Kyle. I didn’t tell you squat about her, did I? Hmm. Well, I guess I can tell you that her story begins with her discovering her mother’s dead body. Something within in her snaps. She blames her father, thinking his careless indiscretions finally took their toll on her mother. Suddenly, Lyla’s no longer daddy’s little girl. Uh oh.

Now, I like to think as authors we all give our characters snippets of our own personalities. I’m not saying I’m a revengeful, temptress/serial killer, but there are a few similarities.

  • I gave her olive skin and dark hair, in my likeness. Although, I regretfully admit that Lyla is taller and skinnier than me. Oh well.
  • Lyla started out in science, then turned to art. Specifically, she was Pre-Med, then a surgical resident. After her mother died, she quit her last year of residency and turned to painting and sculpture, something that filled the void of her loss. She eventually does some…interesting things with that art, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Myself, I started as a Design Major, then switched to a Biology Major. Now I find myself reverting back to my creative side.
  • Lyla is more of a loner, just like me. That doesn’t mean people don’t still gravitate toward her. Especially her male friend, CJ. (I might do a profile post of all the supporting characters, so you’ll learn about him later).
  • In the full-length novel, Blood in the Paint (coming later this year), the reality of not having either parent in her life really hits home for Lyla. Both of my parents are deceased, so my own feelings really shine through there.
  • Lyla holds SERIOUS grudges. So do I. But, thankfully, I’m not a psychopath. 🙂

Now it’s time to enjoy some Lyla-ness, on the house!

Lyla bent each leg and thoroughly dried the soles of her sneakers on her pants legs. Without squeaking wet shoes, she tiptoed through the kitchen, down to the basement, pausing to grab a candle from the emergency kit at the top of the stairs. The circuit breakers in the old house were notorious for their fickle nature, so she switched off the main breaker in the fuse box, drowning the house in complete darkness. Lyla paused in the spot where she’d overheard her aunt’s suspicions only days ago. With her ear toward the ceiling and the house above, she strained to hear any indication of her father’s stirring over the din of rain pelting against the house. She heard nothing, so she removed the hypodermic needle from her over-sized bag, almost sticking herself as she fumbled for it blindly. “Here I come, Daddy,” she said in a sing-song whisper, creeping back up the stairs.

Why Lyla Kyle? A Character Focus

On Thursdays and Fridays this month, I’ll be posting about the characters in my upcoming novella, Blood in the Past. Hopefully this will lead up to the cover reveal and the end-of-May-release, but I’m not a fortune-teller. Here’s hoping…

This particular pic of Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn't be a more perfect Lyla.

This particular pic of Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn’t be a more perfect Lyla.

This week’s character is Lyla Kyle. She is my main-MAIN character. My antagonist/protagonist (depending on who the reader decides to root for). Lyla’s is the third story told in Blood in the Past. How did I choose her name? Honestly, Season 2 of Dexter was fresh in my mind and the antagonist of that season was named Lila (I just found out it was spelled differently from my character a second ago when I checked IMDB). I loved that name. So I started writing a character profile. I decided she would be psychologically damaged by something that happened with her parents. Infidelity with grave consequences. As a result, she would start seducing married men and killing them. The name “Delilah” came to mind. Biblically: a betrayer. Definition: seductive and wily temptress. PERFECT, right? But “Delilah” was a little too perfect. So I shortened the name to Lyla. And threw in that “y” for fun. I don’t have any fun anecdotes for her last name. Lyla Kyle just came to me and rolled of the tongue nicely.

Last week we learned about Jason Brighthouse Jr. The week before that we had a peek at Jillian Atford. Where does Lyla Kyle fit in? EVERYWHERE. She’s tied to the BOTH of them! How? I can’t tell you that. Sorry. All I can say is consequences, consequences, consequences. You guys are really gonna wanna read Blood in the Past. It’ll answer all these burning questions you have!

 

Jason Brighthouse & Me

Yesterday I posted the second in a series of character profiles from my upcoming novella, Blood in the Past. This week’s focus is on Jason Brighthouse Jr, a grief-stricken young man and soon-to-be-cop trying to fill his father’s shoes. I like to think as authors we all give our characters snippets of our own personalities. I’m not saying I’m an over-ambitious cop, but there are a few similarities.

  • Brighthouse lost his father and almost couldn’t put the pieces of his life back together. The situations between his loss and my own are different, of course, but I’m sure the grief is pretty similar.
  • In his youth, Brighthouse makes rash decisions. Don’t worry, he outgrows this in the full-length novel, Blood in the Paint, and I’ve already outgrown it. Well, we’ve sort of outgrown it…
  • Sometimes his rash decisions are just a product of his good instincts. When Hubby-pants and I watch TV and movies and I say right off the bat that I don’t like a character, 9 times out of 10, that character is the bad guy. We joke that in an end-of-the-world situation, I’m allowed to shoot anyone I don’t like. We’ll save ourselves a lot of trouble that way. For the most part, Brighthouse doesn’t go around shooting people without evidence later in the series. But nobody said anything about arresting them…
  • Brighthouse overcomes a great moment of weakness, the ramifications of which he’ll deal with for the rest of his life, in secret. Again, different situations, same emotions.

Ready for a smidgen of Brighthouse-ness? Here ya go:

He turned to leave, but a sharp thwack startled him, followed by the scattering of broken glass. Jason knew the source without turning around; next to the wedding picture his mother stared at stood another framed photo of a recent family camping trip. In the photo his father tended to a roaring, red fire. Jason turned to find the picture gone from the mantle, as he expected. He shifted his gaze to his mother. The image had overwhelmed her. He understood. Even the mere memory of the photo stirred emotions within him, as he was unwilling to associate his father with any kind of fire anymore. Despite empathizing with his mother, he resisted the urge to support her and left, trekking upstairs and harping on the last conversation he and his father had.