Failure: what drives the beta hero

Lately, I’ve found myself writing a lot about characters who are failures.

At this stage of my life, I’m now older than a whole lot of people. I have the leisure to look around at peoples’ lives, particularly the “failure” kinds. You know, the people who get on social media and weep that their book only sold four copies, so it’s a failure and they’re taking it down. And then they leave the group when people tell them to try harder.

Failure is such a nebulous thing. In school, you get a big fat F and have to repeat a class or rewrite a paper. That sucks. It’s like being slapped in the face. But all it means is that you didn’t meet a certain standard set by the teacher or the school. Kids don’t have this perspective. Failure is the END OF EVERYTHING OMG.

But once you become an adult, what is failure, really? When you go bankrupt? You’re still alive–you can start over. When your project doesn’t sell? When people say nasty things about you? What is the failure point? Those are all setbacks, not the END. The END is when you’re dead.

Success can feel like failure when it eats you alive and rockets you to an all new tax bracket. Talk to lottery winners about this.

So, in my pondering failures and what it means to fail, I sat down and wrote a superhero trilogy with a beta hero.

Beta males are fascinating to me, especially in a team dynamic. It’s the sidekick, the guy who is content to let somebody else lead. He usually has his own interests and ideas, but he keeps them to himself. He’s easy-going, and plays off the driven personality of the alpha male.

But what happens when the beta hero is forced to become the leader?

You guessed it: failure. Lots and lots of failure as he has to learn to make decisions. Sometimes he makes bad decisions because he’s not good at this leadership thing. This creates friction with his friends, and especially the previous alpha male, who can see the outcome of all these mistakes miles away and is gnashing his teeth at his friend’s perceived stupidity.

This is fun to play with in a superhero setting, because everyone on the team has some kind of power. They could all be leaders, and they all have ever-present stakes as they fight the resident supervillain. In a setting like this, forcing the beta male into an alpha role is even more devastating. He could get all his friends killed with one bad choice … and he carries this knowledge as a terrible burden.

So, I present to you Guardian’s Awakening, first book in the After Atlantis trilogy.

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Tane is the beta in his team of superheroes–the muscle who lets his team do the thinking. He and his friends defend their small town on the Atlantean Isles from the experimental robots of a neighboring mad scientist, earning enough bounty to live on.

When Tane discovers a mysterious gem that threatens to take over his mind, he accidentally drags his friends into becoming the crew of the mysterious Mercury Island. In addition, the island accepts Tane as its Guardian, making him the leader of the group. This sparks a cascade of conflicts between himself and the previous leader, Sebastian, who doubts and questions Tane at every turn. To make matters worse, they discover that a girl lies in stasis deep within the island–and she is the most powerful super of all.

Now Tane is in deeper and deeper trouble as the girl’s powers awaken, attracting the attention of supervillains and monsters alike. But she is the key to making Mercury Island fly again.

Tane has only begun to grow into his Guardian role, but his enemies–and allies–may kill him first.

Available here on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited


This book is a little heavier on the “Fantasy” end of superhero fantasy, but don’t worry. The next book will be heavier on the “superhero” end.

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Writing is hard (or why my brain is fried)

I’ve been working hard on the third Malevolent book, Malicious. I’ve almost finished this revision cycle, and the book is awesome. But man, it didn’t start out that way.

I wrote Malcontent and Malicious when I was pregnant with our youngest. She’s seventeen months old now, and I’m just now finishing revisions on Malicious.

Malcontent was easy to write. I knew the conflicts and the villain. But I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with Malicious. The villain changed, the conflict changed, my hero and heroine’s relationship changed. The first draft was me flailing around going, “What am I even writing?”

When I got to the end, the lights came on. I spent the whole book brainstorming my villain. Only when they defeated him did it finally click. Then I had to go back and rewrite swaths of the book to make the villain fit my new understanding. (And a book came out last year that did almost my exact same ending twist. :facepalm:)

So, after pass after pass after pass, the book is finally approaching readability. I’m confident that my editor won’t curl up in the fetal position now.

It’s so weird to finally be finished with this trilogy. I didn’t realize what a huge project it would be when I started out. “Hey, it’s only three books. No problem!”

News flash: writing books is hard. Especially if you want other human beings to read them.

So now I’m in that downtime between projects, unsure what to do with myself. This is compounded by summer vacation setting in. The kids don’t know what to do with themselves. I’m thinking we should sign up for the library’s summer reading program this year. Last year, when it started, the kids book section was empty. I couldn’t figure out why all the books were gone. Surprise! The summer reading program had kicked off. The books were all back a few weeks later.

I’m working through my own TBR pile. Amazing how stuff just accumulates in your Kindle–out of sight, out of mind. Right now I’m reading a shlocky, clunky space opera–but hey, it’s light. I’m also playing some Minecraft mod packs. Amazing how many story ideas you can get from those. Right now I’m learning Thaumcraft, a kind of crazy alchemy pack.

I’m going to read through my Spacetime series, correct the commas and make the dialogue funnier. Then I’ve got to write that fifth book, which is an epic boss fight that wrecks the worlds. I think I need to binge on superhero movies for this one.

Figuring out that Spacetime has more in common with superheroes than with real urban fantasy has been such a relief. Urban fantasy usually features a tough protagonist in an urban setting tracking down fairy tale monsters.

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Harry Dresden by theglyph

Superhero fantasy involves people with super powers fighting each other. While there can be monsters, they’re more the “victims of science” kinds of monsters. Genetically-engineered mutants, robots, that kind of thing. Superheroes also get away with having aliens. Urban fantasy? Not so much, unless it’s a Men in Black kind of thing.

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From Final Fantasy XV, which kind of blends superhero and UF, depending which game you’re playing

I also want to write more cozy dragon mysteries. They’re like curling up with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa. I’ve got a second one nearly finished. I want to write a third one where my little dragon sleuth is hired by a cat, who thinks her mistress has been murdered but can’t prove it. Because this whole series is one long wishful thinking about talking to animals.

So that’s my long ramble about the various projects I’m working on. How about you? Got any projects simmering away?