1. The Death Of The Masculine Hero.
Quite a lot of the science fiction and fantasy currently emerging from conventional publishers strikes me as androphobic. That is, the writers – nearly all women – are either unwilling or unable to write a believably masculine protagonist. Neither will their protagonists be at all feminine: she’ll be a “tough chick” of the sort currently in vogue, who will display contempt for both conventional masculine and conventional feminine tastes, pastimes, and attitudes. If there’s a male co-protagonist, he’ll either be markedly subordinate to her or will factor into the plot principally as a love interest.
I have no problems with female-centered stories. I’ve written a few myself. But when a writer establishes a pattern of avoiding masculine – not merely “male” – protagonists, I start to wonder if there might be a disability involved...if not something worse.
“Worse” would be a dislike of masculinity that demands its subordination under all circumstances. It seems to me that there’s a lot of that in contemporary genre fiction coming from Pub World these days. That says some unfortunate things about that industry and its prospects for the years to come. When your market is confined to women, you’d better remain appealing to double-X tastes...and there are no guarantees about that sort of thing.
Ironically, successful male writers in the speculative genres display equal facility at crafting both masculine and feminine protagonists, and no reluctance to craft stories around either sort. That, too, says something unfortunate...but I’ll leave the inference thereof to you.
2. Series Writing.
The series protagonist has become a dominant feature of contemporary fiction. When done well, a series protagonist can give a series of novels a sense of growth and thematic continuity; when done poorly, it can make the product banal or worse. There’s also a side effect on the writer of locking himself into a series character: he can deaden his ability to innovate characterologically, and sometimes with regard to plot as well.
If you really like writing series of novels that feature a common protagonist, one way to avert the negative effects while positioning yourself to reap the benefits is to write two or more series concurrently...each with a distinct protagonist, of course. Several writers I’ve recently encountered have adopted that tactic, and to my eyes it’s served them well.
There is a downside, of course: the writer must learn to “keep it all straight.” Events in one of his fictional realms must not bleed over into the others. Characters and settings must be forbidden to cross over. This implies that the temptation to go for a “grand unified” scheme of the sort that successfully seduced Isaac Asimov in his final novels must be resisted. Nothing else is as likely to draw “Oh, come ons” or jeers of disapproval.
So far, the writers I’ve seen attempt this have done reasonably well by it...but that “grand unified” temptation is lurking in the shadows along each of their paths. We shall see.
3. Undying Characters.
While we’re on the subject of series characters, I must include that I’m afflicted by one that I tried (Lord knows I tried) to kill off. Conclusively. Never to rise again. I even wrote about his soul detaching from his body and flying toward God’s arms. It was, of course, Louis Redmond of Chosen One and On Broken Wings.
Louis is by far my most popular character. Yet I created him with a very specific end in mind, and when I say “end” I mean end. His death in On Broken Wings was foreordained by the role for which I created him. But he refuses to stay decently buried, mainly because readers who’ve loved him keep telling me how angry they are at me about my murdering him and demanding that I bring him back for a few dozen encores.
So the novel in progress, working title Polymath, will include a role for Louis. However, Louis won’t be the protagonist; he’ll be a critical Supporting Cast character who (I hope) will help to tie Polymath properly into the developing “Onteora Canon” while simultaneously placating the screaming hordes of readers protesting his death.
I’m between two weeks and a month from finishing this thing. I’ve already contacted my favorite cover artist, and she’s locked, loaded, and peering over the trench lip. Watch this space.
4. Another Popular Character Whose Return Has Been Demanded...
...isn’t coming back just yet...but soon!
Among readers of my dreck, just after Louis Redmond in popularity stands presidential candidate Stephen Graham Sumner, lineal descendant of the great William Graham Sumner, ardent Constitutionalist, and generally good guy. The demands for more about Sumner, his quest for the presidency, and his tenure in office – of course he’s going to win – have been almost as strident as those clamoring for the return of Louis.
Yes, there have been a few scattered stories about President Sumner. I could write a few more, release them as a modest collection, and hope that his admirers would let me off the hook, but that feels like a cop-out. He deserves to be the protagonist of a novel of his own, or at least co-protagonist to a figure of comparable stature. The latter approach is what I have in mind: currently contemplated title Statesman. I expect that will be the next effort after Polymath is off my desk.
No, don’t hold your breath while you wait. It takes me a year, on average, to turn out a novel. But there will be one, so hang in there. Momentous events will soon come from – and upon – the world-shakers from the Shire-like realm of Onteora County, New York. Will the nation survive? Will the forces of Transnationalist Progressivism and Moral Relativism finally meet their match? Will wrongs be righted, villains reap their just deserts, and Christine D’Alessandro finally find a sweetie who isn’t doomed to an early death? And what about Naomi?