I have a confession to make — I like characters that are flawed. I like them bitter and acerbic, and as capable of evil as they are of goodness. I particularly like those who are a little…unhinged. Not so much crazy-dangerous as crazy-reckless.
In the Immortal Empire series, I created Xandra Vardan who I think is a delightfully twisted character. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, so I’ll say only that Xandy is a monster — even amongst the werewolves and vampires that populate her world. She’s a good-hearted person (for the most part). She’s loyal to those she loves and would do anything to protect them. She’s also snarky, petty and sometimes a raving bitch. And sometimes, she’d like to eat your liver — maybe open a vein. It would be entirely too easy for Xandra to kill, and she’s pretty certain she’d like it. In most stories she’d probably be the villain. In Long Live the Queen (and the first two books in the series, God Save the Queen, The Queen is Dead), she’s the hero.
I don’t think I’m alone in this preference for slightly mad characters. There’s a reason why Faith was so popular with Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. She was predictable only in her unpredictability — a wild card. I loved it when Willow went dark, or when Spike and Dru came out to play.
A common mistake amongst authors — new and experienced — is to make our main character(s) so ‘good’ that they lack depth. That depth tends to then go into secondary characters who end up stealing every scene they’re in because they’re much more interesting and complex than the hero. In other cases, it simply doesn’t make sense for the protagonist to be that twisted. Buffy was a little of both. She didn’t have the luxury of being mad. Buffy had to be responsible and strong and righteous. That doesn’t mean she was always good, however. After all, she seem to have a thing for emotionally unstable men… One of my favorite episodes, though, is the one that had you wondering if Buffy really was a vampire slayer, or a poor delusional girl in a mental hospital. Either way, she’s screwed.
The bottom line is that characters need a balance of unpredictability to go with that predictable behavior. Everyone has a code by which they live, but we’re all capable of horrendous things. However, in a protagonist, that balance needs to be really clear — your narrator needs to be at least a little bit reliable. The most fascinating characters are good people capable of terrible things.
Or not so great people capable of great things. A great example of a recent character who made being twisted work is Captain Jack Sparrow. Not the most heroic of men, but when it comes right down to it, he can usually be depended on to do the right thing — or something that will lead to the right thing.
Xandra tries to be a good person, but sometimes she falls short. She’s not really that nice — she’s selfish and petulant, and sometimes she’s a raving bitch. There were times when I worried for her sanity, and those were the times I loved her most. The monster in her wants blood and violence and maybe a little song and dance to go with it. In the movie Con Air Steve Buscemi’s character Garland Gray is an absolute nutcase — a psychopathic killer who once wore a victim’s head as a hat. He’s twisted. He’s also the most compelling character in the whole movie, and when he walks away in the end, you’re rooting for him even though you know he’s a monster. In fact, if you want a great example of twisted characters, watch ‘Sons of Anarchy’ — almost every one on that show is exactly the sort of character capable of both good and evil. I think Xandra would feel right at home.
In LONG LIVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) Xandra comes up against a character even more twisted than herself. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Ally was incredibly fun to write. She was also heart-breaking. The more whacked I tried to make her, the more attached I became. My favorite characters in the series are the ones that are monsters and accept it — maybe even like it. At the very least, they make no excuses.
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN is out now! Look for it online and in stores everywhere. If you’re new to this series, check out the first book GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS).
Album artwork for Opheliac by Emilie Autumn. Image from emilieautumn.com
I don’t know about other authors, but for me the process of writing a book has always included music. Music provides so much inspiration for me, can really help in capturing the tone or feel of a scene – or an entire book! There are songs that have come to be so associated with one of my stories that I can’t listen to them without thinking of the characters the lyrics have come to represent.
I came into my teens in the 80s – I do not feel that old! – the decade of the music video. I remember seeing ‘Thriller’ for the first time, and staring slack-jawed at the TV as this amazing story played out in front of me. Aha’s ‘Take On Me’ is still one of my all-time favorite videos. The merging of music and story took hold of me and refused to let go.
The first book I ever wrote (I was 12 so be kind!) was about a rock band. OK, it was about Duran Duran, but I changed the names. Over 300 pages of angst and music – I even wrote lyrics, which were awful. To this day, if a song grabs my attention I’m going to think of a story to go along with it – my own little music video playing inside my head. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nine Inch Nails, Bon Jovi or Alice Cooper, if it catches my attention, I’m going to find the plot and play it out in my head.
So, it shouldn’t surprise you that the Immortal Empire has a soundtrack behind it. As I plotted and planned, and then began to write, I actually embarked upon a quest to find the the perfect music. I wanted something that was modern, but would make me think of the Victorian Era as well. Then, I discovered Emilie Autumn and I knew I’d found my soundtrack. Not just my soundtrack, but a target audience. At this point I wasn’t certain my weird little book would be of interest to anyone, but then I visited Emilie’s fan boards and realized that there were people out there who would like this sort of book.
I could ramble on and on about music and how it inspires me, and how I’m making a jacket to wear to Emilie’s next concert in New York with all the glee of a 14 year-old dying her bangs to match John Taylor’s, but I think I’ll share some of my playlists with you instead. Here are just a few songs (in no particular order) that I listened to while writing these books. Will they make you think of various scenes or characters in the Immortal Empire? Oh, I’m not going to list songs from LONG LIVE THE QUEEN – I don’t want to give anything away! Read the rest of this entry »
THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS) releases officially today and if you thought GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) was good, wait until you read this next installment of The Immortal Empire series. If you’re new to these, get ready for a modern day London unlike our own in so many fun and mysterious ways. But you might be wondering how it got that way. To fill in the gaps, Kate Locke has written up an alternate timeline of notable events in the world of the Immortal Empire. So get ready. Get set. This is not your average history lesson, boys and girls.
February 5 2010 – Vex MacLaughlin spies a grown Xandra Vardan for the first time at a society function. Sources claim to have overheard Churchill telling the Scottish wolf to stay away from his ‘dear girl.’
March 27 1937 – The corpse of Human League activist and German painter Adolf Hitler was found in his home almost completely drained of blood. The killer was never found.
April 4 1968 – Popular British TV show ‘Coronation Street’ introduces it’s first Half-blood character, Nancy. The daughter of a working class couple who had no idea that both of them carried the plague from long-dead ancestors. Nancy’s look was based on model Jean Shrimpton, and her iconic violet hair was said to be inspired by an Andy Warhol painting of Marilyn Monroe.
April 16 2012 – Sid Vicious released his Frank Sinatra tribute album and dedicated it to his wife Nancy.
May 24 1819 – Her Ensanguined Majesty Queen Victoria was born. Her parents knew she was a vampire the moment she bit her nurse.
June 3 2001 – Bertie, Prince of Wales is named one of the world’s ‘sexiest men’ by People Magazine. His mother, Queen Victoria is not amused. Werewolf Alpha Vex MacLaughlin is also mentioned. He was decidedly amused.
June 3 1990 – Courtesan Juliet Claire is attacked and bitten by a were while pregnant with the Duke of Vardan’s eldest daughter.
July 13 1971 – A pink-haired half-blood named Locke was mistakenly admitted to Bedlam Asylum for the Insane when she began to rant about the voices in her head. The poor soul wasn’t mad, she was just an author. Though, some would say the two are synonymous.
August 21, 1765 – The Duke of Clarence born the first goblin of the Royal Family. His mother, a strong woman by all accounts, fainted at the sight of him.
September 17 1982 – Miranda Windsor crowned the first aristocrat Miss America. She was also Miss Congeniality.
September 30st 1972 - American toy company Mattel introduces it’s ‘Vampire Barbie’. A half-blood Skipper and Werewolf Ken follow.
October 12 1905 – Exotic dancer Mata Hari becomes mistress to Bertie, the Prince of Wales.
November 8 1847 – Birthday of Bram Stoker, who would be exiled from the UK because of his scandalous depiction of vampires in his novel Dracula.
December 18 1990 — Alexandra Vardan born. Long may she reign.
Want to know more? Kate Locke elaborates in this article on RT Book Reviews.
- - January 25th, 2013
Xandra is back next month in the next installment of the Immortal Empire series! THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS) will knock your spats off when a new threat to kingdom and crown rises up and Xandra and her family find themselves again at the heart of the matter.
The first chapter can be found here, but if you haven’t read GOD SAVE THE QUEEN (US | UK | AUS) yet, HOLD UP! There are some major spoilers ahead. So do yourself a favor and start with GOD SAVE THE QUEEN – a unique blend of urban fantasy and Victorian flare. Check out some of the great praise these novels have received.
Praise for the Immortal Empire series:
“Locke has developed an intricate and darkly political world that has various races on edge and on the verge of confrontation. Packed with knife-edged danger, treachery and murder, nothing is simple, as Xandra quickly learns. Although it certainly helps to have read the first book in Locke’s Immortal Empire series, readers can pick up the story from here. If you like your steampunk gritty and challenging, this is the series for you!” – RT Reviews on THE QUEEN IS DEAD
“Readers will be intrigued by the author’s original take on the origins of vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures and their interactions with “normal” humans. Rapid-paced action and an original interpretation of goblins (they are not J.K. Rowling’s cranky, clever, gold-centric goblins) add much to differentiate Locke’s fantasy from the rest of the pack.” – Library Journal on GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
“This is truly a book to sink your teeth into.” – SF REVU on GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
- - December 13th, 2012
The long-awaited day is almost here! In a few short hours, The Hobbit will be hitting the silver screen. To mark the occasion, we decided to ask several of our Orbit authors with recent and upcoming books what Tolkien’s The Hobbit has meant to them. We hope you’ll also share your own story in the comments below, and if any of you are going to the movie in costume, we’d love to see pictures!
I was introduced to The Hobbit and to Lord of the Rings in high school by the same friend who got me into Dungeons and Dragons (gee, think there was a connection?). While I had been a Star Trek and Star Wars fan for a while, and had read a few sci-fi novels, I had never read anything with the scope of The Hobbit and LOTR. I was totally hooked, and I credit it with giving me another nudge toward growing up to write epic fantasy.
Gail Z. Martin, author of ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS)
I have to admit a shameful secret — I was a late bloomer as far as Tolkien is concerned. While I knew of his work, I’d never read any of it until I was 25. I was introduced to the incredible world of Middle Earth by my then-boyfriend (whom I later had the good sense to marry), Steve. My older sister is a fantasy and science-fiction fan. Without her I don’t think I would have developed a love for either genre. She has in her possession, an illustrated, hard cover, gorgeous edition of The Hobbit that I … liberated from her library for a brief time. Steve couldn’t believe I’d never read it, so it then became a ‘thing’. Every night one of us would read The Hobbit to the other. Mostly he read to me, because he would comment on things characters did, make up voices, and basically make the entire experience wonderful because of his love for the story.
Now, 25 wasn’t yesterday, but there are things about The Hobbit that linger for me. As a small-town (I’m talking mud puddle small) girl, I instantly related to Bilbo. In fact, I’m pretty certain my maternal grandmother was a hobbit. Poor Bilbo was so outside his comfort zone, but he found so much courage inside himself. Who wouldn’t love such a character? Of course finding ‘the’ ring was a big moment in literary history, but I remember the trolls more than the ring. I remember loving the character Beorn, even though I can never remember his name. And despite having a deep-seated crush on Richard Armitage, I think I’d love Thorin no matter who played him, because his character was just so… great. Of course, who can forget meeting Gollum for the first time? In the end, The Hobbit is — literally and figuratively — all about the little guy taking on seemingly insurmountable problems to triumph at the end. But there’s a cost. There’s always a cost. I think what I took away from The Hobbit are two lessons I try to remember in my own writing — 1: It’s the journey, not the destination, and 2: Bittersweet endings are sometimes better than happy ones. Oh, and I guess there was a third as well, though it doesn’t apply to writing – second breakfast is the most important meal of the day. :-) Thank you, Mr. Tolkien.
Kate Locke, author of THE QUEEN IS DEAD (US | UK | AUS)
I can’t recall how or why I first picked up the Hobbit – I suspect one of my brothers left it lying around. I can recall how it inspired my son into reading voraciously, something he still does even now he’s a teen. It was the first proper book he’d ever read on his own, and it was that and the new and unexplored vistas that utterly captivated him.
For years afterwards, every book report that he could get away with was on the Hobbit. Every book he read was compared to it, and most often found wanting. He reads, I sometimes think, to try to rediscover that sudden realisation that the world is a different place, that things and people are strange. He reads because he wants to fall for a world, a story, the same way he did with Middle Earth. It was his first literary love.
As legacies go, I think that’s the best one to hope for – Bilbo and his friends inspired my son to read.
Francis Knight, author of FADE TO BLACK (US | UK | AUS)
The Hobbit is, more or less, the distillation of the purest, deepest of wish of the child (or of any adult who still has a spark of curiosity smoldering away in them, for that matter): the wish that one day, while you’re bumbling through your silly little routine, adventure will walk right up your front path, knock upon your door, and refuse to be turned away.
When I first read the Hobbit, I yearned so much for the leafy, cool shadows of Middle Earth that one summer, in an attempt to recreate that world, I carried a hefty bag of wax myrtle seeds to my grandmother’s house – for she had a much bigger yard than ours – and planted them all over her property, as well as the piney properties of the people on either side of her. Wax myrtles, as it turns out, can be wildly invasive, so within several years the damn things were popping up everywhere; but by then, unfortunately, I was a bit too old to enjoy them properly. I still hope that some child may come along, rest in their shade, and feel, for an instant, a bit more hobbity than before.
Robert Jackson Bennett, author of AMERICAN ELSEWHERE (US | UK | AUS)
In a word, what The Hobbit means to me is Fantasy, with a capital F, for the same reason that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy means Science Fiction in Bullingtonese—my parents had book-on-tape versions of those two novels when I was a kid, and long before I even understood most of what was going on in the stories, I adored the broad strokes and general cadence of the narratives. The Hobbit was actually a radio play version produced by the Mind’s Eye in the late seventies, and to this day I can’t talk about the book without imitating some of the silly voices that imprinted the text on my young brain.
When I was older and read the book on my own I was delighted to discover all the content which had been abridged from the radio play, but my progression to The Lord of the Rings was not met with the same enthusiasm—I found it a colder, less-engaging read. Although with age I’ve grown to appreciate a lot about the trilogy, its epic, fate-of-the-world action and dully black-and-white ethics can’t hold a light of Earendil to The Hobbit’s comparatively small-scale adventures and petty moral dilemmas, at least for this particular Sackville scribe. Like many of my peers, I owe a great debt to Tolkien; he still has a lot to teach, both by his strengths and his failings, and The Hobbit is the text of his that keeps pulling me back, even after all this time, and always with a smile on my face.
Jesse Bullington, author of THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD (US | UK | AUS), available now