Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wicked Wednesday (Antagonists who have ethics)

Okay. What’s a half-breed like me to do?

Many of my novels either star a half-breed or have half-breed supporting actors. They run into trouble they’re not looking for at every turn.

Someone commented in their review of Pitchfork Justice that I used first-person and third-person narrators in the book. That’s something I picked up from Louis L’Amour. I figured if the master could do it, the disciple was allowed to. Let me show you how Falan Wilder gets in trouble.

“Your kind don’t belong with regular folks. Git.”
“Reckon my cash is the same color as yours,” I said with my best poker face. “I’ve got another dollar. Buy you a drink. This Old Potrero ain’t bad booze.” I waved at the bar. “How ‘bout it?” I didn’t really want to tangle with the big man, but I wouldn’t back down either, not on account of my skin color, anyway.
He spit on the floor and moved closer. “Git. Or they’ll carry you out.”
I turned my back to him. Slowly. Deliberately. “Pour that whiskey, bar man,” I said. “Now.” I pushed the silver dollar at him.
He stood stock still, eyes darting from me to the big man behind me.
A click came as the big man thumbed back the hammer of his .45. I whirled to my right, snaking out my Bowie and slashing through his bicep with its 14-inch blade as I turned. My left fist smashed into his square jaw as my momentum carried me past. The .45 clattered to the floor.
The big guy fell to his knees, clutching his half-severed arm with his big left hand. “You miserable sumbitch.” He mumbled the words. “Sumbitch. You. Cut. Me!” Blood pumped down his arm to drip off his splayed fingers. 
“Feel lucky I didn’t cut your miserable throat,” I said. “Get that bound up,” I said to the ‘keep, “or he’ll bleed out.” I picked up the bar towel and wiped the Bowie’s blade clean. “Keep the extra dollar. I was just leaving.” The Winchester came natural to my hand, and I jacked a cartridge into its chamber.
It seemed an awful long way to the door, but I forced myself to walk normal, not too fast, not too slow, the rifle under my arm.
As I neared the door, the barkeep called out. “Reed Fowley’s got family,” he said. “They’ll be wanting to know who done this to their brother and son. What should they call you?”
I stopped with a hand on the door. “Same as everyone else,” I said. “They can call me Breed.”

So Wilder is in trouble. He’s seriously cut a Fowley Family member, and chances are, he figures, they’ll come riding after him. He heads for the desert. He even tries to talk sense to the Fowleys.

“Fowley!” I hollered. I was out of sight and the rocks would scatter my voice, making it hard for the Fowleys to pinpoint my position.
The horses stopped, but the riders said nothing.
“I’ll be Sean Fowley,” a solid voice with an Irish brogue said. “Ya cut me son. Ya’ll pay.”
“Your son held a Colt’s revolver at my back, Fowley. Was I Johnny Ringo, he’d be dead.”
“Ya ain’t nothing but a breed. Breed’s got no right to cut me boy.”
“Sean Fowley. Hear me. I could have cut Reed Fowley’s throat as easily as I cut his arm, but I don’t hold to killing people. I’ll go a long way to keep from having to kill a man, but I’ve got my limits.”
A whoop of laughter came from where the horses were stopped. “Hey Breed. My name’s Bud Fowley, and me and my brother Thad, well, we’re just plain gonna slit your throat . . . or maybe hang you, breed bastard, that’s all there is to it.”
“Fowleys! All of you. Hear me, and hear me good. I was just passing through your town, not even gonna spend the night, but your brainless brother took it into his head to run me out. I don’t run worth a damn.”
The third man spoke. “Breeds gotta stay with they own kind. You drunk at the cantina in Mex town, you’d live. Now you’ll die.” The words were brave, but the voice was a bit shaky.
“John Walker,” I called.
I heard a grunt.
“You know of me, Walker. The desert is my friend. Take those who pay you back to Ehrenburg. I will not kill them, but if they follow me, soon they will wish to die.”
“Shut up, Breed,” the old man said. “John Walker’s the best. Ye have no kind of edge. Ye’ll hang. I swear it.”
I slipped from the rock formation on soundless feet. They’d wait for me to answer, and that would give me enough time to get Zeeb away and into the maze of arroyos that slice up the desert of the Mojave.

Notice, now, that Sean Fowley said no one could cut his son without paying. So the whole Fowley family is out for Wilder’s blood. Fowley’s an Irish immigrant. He’s been in much the same position as Wilder, just because he’s Irish. He grew up in the Five Points area of New York City, having come to the U.S. in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine. There, he learned that others could not be allowed to hurt one of his own.

Fowley reacted by pulling Meaghan close behind him and reaching for the shillelagh he habitually carried stuffed under his belt at the small of his back. “Who’ll be asking?” he said.
Four burly men stepped into the street ahead of Fowley and Meaghan. “This is Daybreak Boys territory now, Mick, and we’ll be teaching you to stay in your own place.”
Fowley made no answer. He merely watched the four spread out and stalk toward him. He shifted his grip on the shillelagh and pushed Meaghan into a corner formed by one building protruding farther toward the street than its neighbor. “Stay here,” he said.
The shillelagh in Fowley’s hand became a living thing. It darted out and connected with the point of the nearest Daybreak Boy’s jaw. The crack of splintering bone sounded loud in the instance of silence following the blow. Then the man screamed and fell to his knees, clutching his broken face.
“Now ye’ll pay, bastard Mick,” yelled another Boy, charging Fowley with a six-inch knife held low.
Fowley grinned like a death mask. His oaken shillelagh swept through the air with an audible swish to smash into the forearm of the Boy’s knife arm. The weapon went spinning and Fowley backhanded his truncheon to the side to the Boy’s head. He crumpled like a bundle of rags topped by his silk top hat.
Now the odds were only two to one, and Fowley’s face wore a steel-hard mask of hate.
“Ye’ll not touch one of mine, bugger boys,” he growled. “Come on. Taste me shillelagh of good oak. Try to chastise this Mick.” He stared at each Daybreak Boy’s face. These men he would not forget.
They hesitated.
“Fight, or be gone,” Fowley roared.
They ran.
At the camp near Tinajas Altos, Fowley tasted the victory of that long-ago fight. He remembered rallying a gang of Roach Guards and hunting the offending Daybreak Boys down and destroying them. When someone pushed your boundaries, they must be destroyed. Fowley considered his two sons and laid plans to destroy the man called Breed.

So, we see, Sean Fowley is not a “bad” man, although he is a very hard one. While others went to work on railroad gangs and in the mines, Fowley used the skills he learned at the Shamrock pub in New York to offer feed and drink to those who did the physical work. And he taught his sons his ethic. No one touches one of ours without paying for it. At the beginning, he sees only a half-breed insolent who cut his son. That made the Breed someone who must be crushed. Before the end of the book, he learns that there is much that does not meet the eye when you look only at a man’s skin color. Something he perhaps should have been aware of from his own experience.

As always, I’ll pick a winner from among the commenters to this blog post to receive a PDF version of A Man Called Breed.


  1. I like antagonists with ethics. People are like that in real life. Our fiction characters should too. As far as the mix of first and third person points of view, it is like writing in present tense: it doesn't ruin it, but is often jarring.

  2. Chuck, your writing voice just enchants me. Your style is a lot like L'Amour's.

    I'm hooked by the excerpts from BREED. I'll have to add that one to my TBR pile. A review of PITCHFORK JUSTICE just might show up around here any day now. ;-)

  3. I like your use of multiple viewpoints. There's a certain intimacy created by plunking the reader into Falan Wilder's head and body. The third person perspective works better for Sean Fowley because the readers gets to see how skillful he is at wielding his trusted shillelagh. Thanks for the examples.

  4. Charlie,

    I like being able to know the background of Fowley. We have to be able to understand that he's not just someone out to be vengeful--he's got his reasons. As a mom, I'd probably do the same thing. LOL Diana Gabaldon writes in first person and third person, and I love her books--she does it so seamlessly. I have never been brave enough to try it. Great examples--loved your post today!

  5. I really enjoyed that Charlie.

    Choosing viewpoint is never easy. One of the most well-thumbed books in my writing library is Dean R Koontz's 'Writing Popular Fiction,' which he penned back in 1974. He goes through every genre and talks about what viewpoint suits each one.

    And another of my favourites is an old Writer's Digest 'Fiction Writer's Market' from 1981. It is full of articles by various greats. One of my favourites, which I come back to again and again is Plotting and Characterisation by Louis L'Amour. It was extracted from a couple of articles he had done before he was famous. It is brilliant, he knew how to blow life into characters.

    And so do you, sir!

  6. Masterful explanation of how to make the villain into the hero of his own story. So often, the bad guy is represented by a foul smell, dirty teeth, and nasty deeds. We aren't shown how a sweet little baby could grow up to be so vile--and we all started out as cute little babies.

  7. Actors will tell you that to make a villian truly good you must make sure that he believes that what he/she is doing is right. It give more depth to the performance and I believe that it translates well in writing also. The best villian is one who is layered. Dean Koontz did that beautifully in "The Watchers".

    Great post. This book has been on my list, just not purchased yet. Now it has moved up a few notches.

  8. Talk about a LOTTA action! Wow. Good insights about how a villain can't be all bad.

  9. Thanks, guys (and girls). We'll see if anyone makes any more comments, then I'll throw you all in a hat and draw a winner. Must mention that the book is a Black Horse Western, which means it's only available in expensive hardback (don't know about used ones). I'll send the winner a PDF copy.

  10. Writing techniques always interst me. Breed is a fascinating character. Thanks for the insight.