Devil’s Own Luck: He Who Fights with Monsters

Pocketwatch Blog Hop It looks like the Pocketwatch Character Spotlight Blog Hop might just become a monthly thing. (Hint, hint, guys!) So we’re back again.

Previously, I had a whole diatribe about villains and how my evil overlord conquered everything (including me) to become a hero. This time, I’m taking off my scholarly hat, cracking my knuckles, and digging into something visceral.

I’m mainly a fantasy writer at heart, but some years ago, I was taken by an idea for an alternate-Earth espionage thriller. Shortly thereafter, I was completely consumed by its protagonist, and the Devil’s Own Luck trilogy was born.

Last time around, one of the other members of Pocketwatch who is also a crit partner of mine, mentioned she’d love to see an interview with the main character of Devil’s Own Luck, Agent Gray. Something that got under his skin.

That got me thinking. I knew what could get to Gray, but I had no idea who’d have the gall to approach him like that.

Then, all at once, it came to me. There was only one person I could think of who could go toe-to-toe with him, and would have the brass balls to do a vicious cold read.

And then this little vignette was born.


He Who Fights with Monsters

The room was barren, a stark wasteland. Not white, not anymore. The filth was much a part of it as the drywall, too encrusted after years of grease and corruption to ever hope to be clean again.

And there, at the very heart and balanced on a rickety chair, sat the Agent Gray. Hunched over, eyes fixed on the gaps in the hardwood floor. Fleas disturbed the thick layer of dust between the slats, unseen save their movement.

That splintered and jagged edge of the seat cut into his thighs, but like a good agent, he showed no signs of his discomfort. Exhaustion, yes. But not discomfort.

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The Piety of Others

Rise of a Warlord: Lord General Nikodemus

This is part of the PocketWatch Character Spotlight Blog Hop! Take a look at the others characters and their writers spotlighted at the bottom of this post.

I have always loved villains.

More often than not, I had found the antagonist more of an engaging character than the protagonist, especially in fantasy. They were the great ruling despots, said to have so much charm or force that an entire kingdom bowed to their whims.

They were painted in broad and vivid strokes, meant to be the impassable obstacle for the hero to overcome. In that, they were untouchable, and that air of mystery and power made them fascinating.

But I always wanted to know how they got there.

What was their rise to power like? What drove them? How did they see the turn of events, their reign? No one ever thinks of themselves as a villain—we are all the heroes of our own stories.

I wanted to see their side. What the hero’s journey looked like through the eyes of their adversary.

But, unfortunately, books usually left me unsatisfied in one of two ways.

The first, of course, has been long parodied and for good reason. Our Evil Overlord is kept more or less shrouded in uncertainty, right up until the very end. Then, either any motivation is skimmed over, or if something is given, it’s so rushed that it hardly feels genuine. What would start out as a terrifying and interesting idea would be boiled down to one-dimensional sludge by the finale.

I blamed this on the fact that we were, of course, following the protagonist. Their counterpart’s role was reserved for moving the plot and providing a challenge. Any further characterization was often left to the wayside, or hurriedly tacked on.

But at least there had been a glimmer of something greater there, even if it didn’t come to fruition.

Worse yet were the times where I was given a closer view of the villain… only to have them fall flat. Those times when a Tyrant King was said to be charismatic or brilliant, but then failed to be any of those things when they were on the page.

I was always left wondering how in heaven’s name they’d not been murdered in their sleep at the beginning, much less lasted long enough to become the Big Bad. (Terry Goodkind, I’m looking at you. I still don’t know why anyone followed Darken Rahl and he wasn’t just drowned in a river or something early on.)

So, in my frustration, I began stewing on an idea. What if an epic fantasy was mainly concerned with the villain’s motivations and reasons? Instead of just seeing the fruits of their labor, the already-won kingdom and army, what if the plot was focused on their rise to power?

And so the first seeds of The Piety of Others and its main character, the Lord General Nikodemus, sprouted in my mind.

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