The Courtesan’s Avenger by Kate M. Colby: Themes in a Series

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I would like to welcome author Kate M. Colby to my blog.  In this post, she discusses the issue of themes in a series of novels. Kate is an excellent writer, one I am proud to know. I respect her abilities and writing, and I have used her previous novel The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) in two of my college English literature classes.  So, welcome Kate please as she discusses Themes in a Series:

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 What makes a good book series? Most readers would say a captivating world, strong characters, and an overarching mission or journey. I absolutely agree … but I think there’s something missing there. Theme.

While books can (and should) offer escape and entertainment, they have the ability to do so much more than that. Fiction allows authors the opportunity to explore topics that matter to them on neutral ground, to expose and evaluate unsavory aspects of society, to celebrate all that makes up this wonderful and crazy human experience. As someone who blended sociology and English in university, this is exactly what I try to do in my fiction.

The world of my Desertera series is a steampunk wasteland. It’s about as far from reality as I could run. But the themes within the world really hit home with me, and have with several of my readers, too. My first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, is a revenge tale. When Aya, my protagonist, was a young girl, the king had her father executed for treason. Therefore, at first opportunity, Aya joins a plot to avenge her father’s death and trap the king into a crime, thus bringing about his execution.

If I’ve done my job as a writer, the readers should be on Aya’s side. They should seethe with anger and root for her to succeed in orchestrating the king’s execution. They should identify with Aya’s quest for self-redemption, love, and the reclaiming of her sexuality. They should be appalled at the social injustices in the world, the stratification of class and wealth, and the hypocritical palace politics – all things that can be found in reality.

When I set out to write the sequel, The Courtesan’s Avenger, I wanted to tackle a lot of these same themes. Class struggle remains a central issue, along with love and sexuality, friendship, and self-discovery. However, I knew I had a responsibility to address the other side of revenge: justice.

I had to face the ugly truth of the morality I had exalted. As much as I respect Aya and her mission, revenge isn’t healthy. Even if it is “justified,” it can turn a good person evil, blind them to their own wrongdoings, and pose troubling moral questions for a society. After all, if Aya can (essentially) murder and (definitely) commit crimes to avenge her father, what’s to stop the other citizens from doing the same to address their own grievances?

Enter Dellwyn and The Courtesan’s Avenger. When one of Dellwyn’s fellow courtesans is murdered, she doesn’t desire revenge or any sort of payback. She wants justice. Her whole goal in finding the killer is to submit them to the authorities and the judgment of law. She doesn’t take justice into her own hands, doesn’t commit any crimes, and even condemns Aya’s actions from the first novel. Dellwyn has seen how Aya’s quest for revenge created rifts in their world, and she refuses to do the same.

This is all a longwinded way of saying that theme, just as much as characters and setting and plot, is a central part of writing a book series. As an author, you have the opportunity to highlight the wrongs and praise the good you see in society. You can help readers gain empathy for the corrupt, question their sense of right and wrong, or just consider an issue they’d never thought about before.

Readers, you have the greatest blessing of all. You get to pick and choose what to take with you. Every book, no matter how thematically driven, leaves a piece of itself with us. Pride and Prejudice encourages us not to judge others too harshly and be open to love, The Girl on the Train reminds us to take responsibility for our actions, and The Picture of Dorian Gray condemns vanity, self-indulgence, and moral duplicity. At least, that’s what I get from those three – your interpretations could be entirely different! You can take the author’s message at face value, mine for deeper meaning, discover something the author didn’t know was there, or ignore it all completely. That’s the beauty of theme.

So, fellow writers, have the courage to experiment and make theme a central part of your series. It’s not just for stand-alone literary fiction novels. And, fellow readers, examine everything the author presents and take whatever it is you need. Every possible meaning lurks between those pages, and you can have whichever one you like.

Happy reading!

Author bio:

Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. Her first series, Desertera, consists of steampunk fantasy novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

 

Book links:

The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) – http://books2read.com/the-cogsmiths-daughter

The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2) – http://books2read.com/the-courtesans-avenger

Social links:

Website – http://www.katemcolby.com

Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/katemcolby

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/authorkatemcolby

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/katemcolby    

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Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!

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This month is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek! Congratulations to extraordinary longevity and influence for a television show that ran 3 seasons beginning in September of 1966.  What had been seen initially as only an action-adventure space opera, the influence and importance of this series would grow slowly.

The series was scheduled to be canceled after only two seasons, but an onslaught of mail and calls from fans convinced the television executives to renew it for one more season, but it still was finished after a partial 3rd season. This run of circumstances ordinarily would have been the end of most shows, but something was happening.

Star Trek was in many ways a response to the turmoil of the 1960s, but it was also a vision that transcended that particularly chaotic era. Gene Roddenberry, the creator, of the series, imbued it with a sense of optimism and humanism that suggested it was possible for humanity to confront and overcome its enormous problems. It was the first series to create a multi-cultural, indeed multi-planetary, crew.  In many of its episodes it dealt with issues that were then, and still are, current and facing humanity; among these themes: racism, war, and the spread of weapons in various cultures.

After a short period of dormancy, Star Trek went into syndication and soon would spin off 5 other series, and a 6th is coming out soon. Additionally, many feature movies have been made, including the most recent from this year Star Trek Beyond.

I am a proud Trekkie, especially favoring the original series. The humanism and optimism of the show has resonated with me, and I find the writing especially to be at the top level of television science-fiction shows, right along with The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. I hope that the messages of  this show continue to inspire people for many years to come.

“Live Long and Prosper!”

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Writing Quotations

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“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

                                                                     Ernest Hemingway

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“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

                                                                    Stephen King

 

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And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

                                                                   William Shakespeare

                                   A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 5. Scene 1)

Quotations on Hope

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“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”

                                                                  John Lennon

 

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“Hold fast to dreams,

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird,

That cannot fly.”

                                                                   Langston Hughes

 

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“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

                                                                    Anne Frank

Sam’s Secret Love of Art

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How often do people hide the truest parts of themselves from the world?

Samuel Sadlowski, a  retired homicide detective of the Bethberg, PA Police Force, is one of the three central characters in my horror novel Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. In many ways he projects a carefully cultivated image of a guy who doesn’t care about his appearance or what others think of him. He dresses in beat up old clothes, eats very fatty foods, and is overweight. He also has a reputation, also carefully developed, as being a tough guy—after having served in active combat as a Marine in the Vietnam War and a police officer, the people in the area know that he is able to handle himself in physical confrontations.

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This self-created image is what he uses to hide his deep sorrow about his son’s suicide, and it serves to keep others at a very long distance, except for a very few people.  Included among those to whom he shows his true feelings and identity are the other two men of the Investigative Paranormal Society.

While he shows one image to the outside world, one part of himself that few know of in his little city is that he is a lover of art. He has no desire to share his appreciation of art with anyone other than his friends.  He loves to travel to the museums in New York City and Philadelphia. He has a small collection of original paintings of mainly little known artists from the area and an array of prints of famous artists.

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He once confided to Roosevelt and Jeremy, the other two members of the IPS, that he almost decided to be an Art History major and go to college instead of enlisting in the Marines, but he was too afraid of what his father would have said. He told them that he was more afraid of his father’s disapproval than of the war.  But now, he spends much of his free time reading and looking at paintings and sculptures.

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Sam’s favorite art, like Roosevelt is the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movement.  But very few people in Bethberg know this side of Sam. And his favorite museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a short two hour drive from Bethberg, PA.

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Quotations on Imagination

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“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”

                                                                Albert Einstein

 

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“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”

                                                                Jonathan Swift

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“The lunatic, the lover and the poet,

Are of imagination all compact. . .

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them into shapes, and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

              William Shakespeare

                    A Midsummer Night’s Dream

                      (Act 5. Scene 1. lines 7-17)

 

R.I.P. Elie Wiesel

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Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate, and author of Night, his memoir of being a prisoner in the Holocaust, died this weekend.  Mr. Wiesel, besides being an extraordinary writer, whose work brought the experience of the evil of the Holocaust to the forefront of many readers, was also one of the most powerful moral voices of our time.

I read Mr. Wiesel’s book Night as a teenager, and I was deeply struck by the power and the messages it contains.  I made a connection with the horror of the Holocaust and the hope of humanity through this text.  I will keep the discussion of my personal impact of this book short, because it is so deep and so complex that I could write forever on it.  But, it was another lesson that we are all connected and must remember this joint humanity–always.

Mr. Wiesel argued powerfully that it is not enough to simply not do evil, but that it is the moral responsibility of people to oppose it wherever it exists. He said, “Whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation, we must always take sides.” and “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs. (From his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.)

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President Obama, in speaking of him, said of Mr. Wiesel, “Elie Wiesel was one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world.”

We should honor his work and commitment to justice, and we should remember, especially in our turbulent times, often filled with hatred and bigotry, that we are morally compelled to oppose injustice and bigotry.

Rest In Peace, Elie Wiesel.  The world will miss you.