Paper Souls

My stories are about characters.  I’m unlikely to wow you with my amazingly complex plots.  I’m not going to bowl you over with my astounding command of language.  And aside from a general theme of “Don’t be a jerk”, you probably aren’t going to walk away from an A. Lee Martinez novel with a profound new insight into the workings of the universe.

But hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, you find characters you can empathize with.  Or at least enjoyed spending some time with.

It’s an uphill battle sometimes.  Space squids and raccoon gods are the stuff of ridiculous fantasy.  I’ll admit that.  And we, as humans, do empathize best with human characters.  My stories tend to be outlandish and absurd, and it’s easy to mistake them as lampoons, spoofs, or just a silly little bit of fun.

I’ll admit that more and more I find sit harder to take such assessment with a quiet smile.  It’s never easy to have one’s work dismissed as fluffy cotton candy.  Especially since I feel like my work has more weight than that.  I think, as character studies, you could do a lot worse than my stable of redneck vampire, soldier ogres, and cosmic eating monsters.  I’d put my characters up against any other writer’s anyday, and I think they’re a likable, well-rounded bunch.

Perhaps that’s what bothers me the most.  I care about these folks.  I care about them as people.  I care about their struggles, their happiness, their pain, their mistakes.  And I think my protagonists have weight, regardless of whatever weird thing they might be.  I can certainly live with folks disagreeing, but I sometimes wonder if it’s because I’ve failed as a writer or if it’s simply just too much to expect.  I’m not calling myself a visionary (nor do I believe in such grandiose titles), but I am the guy who writes about weird creatures and expects them to be taken seriously.

I’m probably wrong to think so.  Or maybe I’m not as good a writer as I hope.

My goal in every story is to create characters that are relatable.  Emperor Mollusk might be an eight pound squid from Neptune, but he’s also a guy just trying to make his way in this world.  Mack Megaton might be an indestructible robot, but he’s also a being on the quest for purpose we all undertake.  And Quetzalcoatl might be a down-on-his-luck god, but he’s also trying to turn that luck around while struggling with his own past failings.  The Witch with the Unspoken Name faces questions of love, family, and insurmountable limitations.  And Vom the Hungering is all about the desire to contain our own baser desires and bad habits.  His desires and habits just happen to involve eating everything.

Funnily enough, the struggles these characters go are usually handled with grace and wit.  I tend not to write sad sacks who sit around complaining about their lot in life.  Even Monster, who is by far my most unpleasant and unhappy character, doesn’t spend a lot of time bemoaning his fate.  Too bad because he’s the guy who could really use some self-examination.  But Monster’s too busy living his life to bother with that.

And, really, that’s what I write about.  Life.  Living.  And looking at my books, they might have exploding universes, monster gods, and robot fights, but they are, at their heart, stories about getting by and the small triumphs and tragedies that shape ourselves.  Yes, I’m suggesting that, despite it all, my stories are subtle explorations of the human condition through the eyes of weird creatures, aliens, and undead.  Many will no doubt disagree, but you can’t please everyone.

I’d like to think out there though is someone who found something worthwhile in the struggles of an ex-supervillain from Neptune or the quiet optimism of a kobold housekeeper.  Maybe they won’t be remembered forever as great literary characters, but that doesn’t mean they’re empty souls.  I know they matter to someone.  Even if that someone is only me.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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