David B. Coe: Characters and Character Relationships


200CoeJacksonSpell Blind, the first book in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, has been out for a week now, and it seems to be doing pretty well. If you have read the book, regardless of whether you liked it or not, please do feel free to review it on Amazon.com. The more reviews a book gets the more attention Amazon gives it. Of course, if you feel compelled to give it a five-star review, you should feel free to do that, too . . .

In my first post about the book, as I chronicled the twisted history of the novel and my reworking of it, I mentioned that in the face of my frustration with the book and the rejections it received, it was my love of the characters kept me going and made me determined to see it in print. Today, I’d like to focus on those characters and how they relate to the larger story I am trying to tell in this series.

I want to start by saying that I don’t use characters allegorically. I tried this once and the result was that the symbolic characters came across as flat, boring, and completely unrealistic. Lesson learned. But that said, I often find, after the fact, that the characters I have built around my protagonists come to represent various aspects of their lives, their emotions, and the conflicts they face. Similarly, I have found in my own life that certain relationships with friends and family often resonate with particular memories of stages in my life. So it is with the hero of Spell Blind, Justis Fearsson, and the people surrounding him.

Jay Fearsson is a weremyste, a sorcerer whose power and sanity are subject to the pull of the moon. On the night of the full moon and the nights immediately before and after, Jay’s power is enhanced, but his hold on reality is diminished, so that his control over the magic he wields is tenuous at best when he can least afford for it to be so. For three nights out of each month, he is insane, subject to delusions, hallucinations, and other psychoses. And, not surprisingly, over the course of a lifetime these phasings of the moon take a cumulative toll on his mental well-being. He will wind up crazy, just like his father, who is also a weremyste.

SpellBlind250Jay knows this is happening, of course. His struggles with the effects of the phasings have cost him his job on the Phoenix police force. He dreads the coming of each phasing, knowing how he’ll suffer, and knowing as well that he has chosen this fate for himself. That’s right. He chooses to suffer through the phasings, and to doom himself to eventual insanity. There are drugs he could take to blunt the effects of the phasings. But these blockers, as they’re called, would also rob him of his magic. There is no middle ground. If he wants to wield magic, he has to suffer through the phasings. If he wants to avoid the phasings, he has to give up magic. And he has decided his spellcraft is so central to who he is and what he does, that he will not give it up.

This choice and its implications lie at the heart of all the Fearsson novels. So naturally it also colors all of Jay’s relationships. He takes care of his father, and each time they’re together Jay is reminded of where his life is headed. He sees in his father the man he will become: addled, lonely, dependent on the care of others, a shell of the man Jay remembers from his childhood.

During this first book, Jay begins a romance with Billie Castle, a reporter he meets during the investigation that lies at the core of my plot. She’s smart and funny and beautiful, and it doesn’t take Jay long to start imagining a future with her. But he is not ready to tell her that he’s a weremyste, and he skirts the issue of his dismissal from the police department. Hijinks ensue . . . In Billie, Jay sees the life he might have were he to use blockers and live as a “normal” person, without magic. He’s drawn to that life, just as he’s repelled by the future represented by his father.

But then there are two other key characters who complicate this simple duality that we see in Billie and Jay’s father. Deandra “Kona” Shaw, Jay’s old partner on the force is still a detective in the Homicide division, and she calls on Jay when she encounters murders she suspects were committed with magic. That’s how Jay is drawn back into the investigation of the Blind Angel Killings, a series of grisly murders he and Kona worked on when he was a cop. The killer has struck again, and his latest victim is the daughter of Arizona’s most powerful politician. So Jay is working the case once more, and because the Blind Angel victims have all been killed with magic, Jay knows that he needs his spellcraft more than ever right now. Kona is a constant reminder to him of the good his magic can do, of the importance of remaining an active runecrafter, despite the cost to himself.

And finally there is Namid’skemu, the ghost of a Zuni shaman who is now a runemyste, a spirit guide who trains Jay in his use of magic. Namid tells Jay that with practice and the mastering of magical power a weremyste might mitigate the worst effects of the phasings. There will always be a cost to wielding magic, but Jay’s descent need not be as steep as his father’s was. In Namid, Jay sees the possibility of redemption, of a path — albeit through a needle’s eye — that might allow him to have the life he imagines with Billie while still working with Kona on those cases that demand magic.

As I said earlier, these characters are not meant to be symbolic. I have tried to make them as rich and real as possible, and much of what I’ve come to realize about their significance to Jay occurred to me after the fact, once the book was written. But the relationships among these characters have always been crucial elements of the novel and series. They were what kept me working when I had every reason in the world to jettison the project, and they are what I love most about the books and stories I’ve written in this world.

What about you? Do you have characters surrounding your protagonist who represent more than might be apparent to a casual reader? Are their certain relationships among your characters that are especially important to you?


David B. Coe is the award-winning author of more than fifteen fantasy novels. His newest series, a contemporary urban fantasy called The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, debuts with the January 2015 release from Baen Books of Spell Blind. The second book, His Father’s Eyes, will be out in the summer of 2015. Writing as D.B. Jackson, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach (also coming in the summer of 2015). He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.



9 comments to David B. Coe: Characters and Character Relationships

  • Spell Blind is next up on my TBR pile! I love this post about how you see your secondary characters affecting your main characters. I thought a lot about this when I started writing, but so much has changed in the plot that I need to go back and re-examine some of those earlier assumptions and plans.

  • sagablessed

    Two so far. One is a girl protagonist ‘adopted’. While no biological relation, as he rapidly grows older, she becomes his hope of a child and continuance, for his wife died too quickly to trade years. (Yeah, that one, LOL). The other is amn he bonded with: a right flaming queen. As protagonist becomes more introverted and scared, Clay is protagonist’s way of living outloud and without fear. (I keep saying protagonist because I haven’t found the name that ‘clicks’ with the character)
    tbh, I never thought of this until you posted this, but yeah, I can see how such relationships round out not only the character, but the story. Your article brought this to conscious attention, and now I will look developing this aspect more fully, both for current and future WIPs.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for a closer look at the characters in your new book!, especially for those of us who haven’t got to read it yet! I feel a little bit envious of your protagonist getting *four* important character relationships to explore in these stories. The book that I’m working on (still revising) has 3 primary POV characters, which means that they don’t each get enough story in this first book to delve deeply into their relationships with multiple other characters as much as would be nice. Though, thinking about it, Lailah is sort of crazy enough that it sort of forces meaning into multiple other characters around her. The dynamic with her brother actually snuck up on me, because in a lot of ways he’s everything she wants to be *except* that he’s not happy about it the way she imagines she would be happy were she in his place. He kind of turned into a secret awesome character as a result.

    Also, this latest slog of revisions was largely set off by beta readers basically having no opinion of another character’s, Jhohann’s, primary interactor. Jhohann is a newly enlisted guardsman and his Captain is (in my mind at least) very important as a friend, and guide, and even sometimes as a conscience when Jhohann’s take on things starts to get too skewed. But, somehow in the earlier drafts I managed to have all of that in my head and very little of it on paper. I *hope* I can make it better this go around, as his Captain is probably my favorite character in the whole story and I’d like readers to be at least a little pleased with him.

    Lovely to hear another post on character! Character relationships are *so* important in so many stories but I know I for one don’t yet have as much a hang of them as I’d like.

  • Razziecat

    David, this is a fascinating post. It has me looking more closely at the relationships of my characters, especially now that I’m slowly piecing together the beginnings of something new that is very character dependent. In my space opera stories, one major character has a close friend/ subordinate (commander/lieutenant relationship) who functions as the MC’s conscience; whenever the commander makes a big mistake, his lieutenant/friend is there to pick up the pieces, tell him he’s being an ass, and needle him into doing the right thing. The other major male character also has a close relationship with a subordinate, who acts as his lifeline to sanity, steps in when the MC can’t function, and keeps him from going too far in his pursuit of vengeance. All of my secondary characters also have backstories and fully-fleshed out personalities; in some ways, they represent what the MC’s could have been if they hadn’t run into all the terrible things I throw at them 😉

    P.S. I will be reading Spell Blind very soon – looking forward to it. 😀

  • Sisi, thanks so much. As I mentioned in the post, a lot of what I figured out about the characters and their relationships came to me after the fact. I think if I had tried to structure all of this ahead of time and build the book around it, it would have ruined my story. So not having it all figured out right now is probably okay! Best of luck with your project.

    Donald, those relationships sound very cool. And I’m glad to know that the article made you think about this stuff in a different way! Thanks.

    Hep, thank you for the kind comment. It can be harder with multi-POV stories to work out these relationships in the detail I talk about here. I should probably also admit that I have written all three contracted Fearsson books, and so at this point I have VERY firm sense of the characters and their relationships. I’ve had lots of time to play with them all!

    Razz, those characters sound fascinating, and having the secondary characters worked out in such detail as to backstory and the rest is crucial to making these interactions work. Great comment, thanks. And I hope you enjoy SPELL BLIND.

  • David, your story about the writing of this series, and how you stayed with it, continues to amaze me. Spell Blind is at the top of my TBR pile. I’m looking forward to a good read. In the stories I’ve written so far, the good-guy MCs are composites of people I know fairly well. It may be because of my familiarity with them, that I tend to play with the bad-guy MCs and secondary characters more. Thank you for this post.

  • Thanks so much, Vyton. I have found that when I model my characters after people I know, it stifles my creativity just a bit. My characters don’t grow and develop as freely, perhaps because on some level I’m thinking “Well, that’s not like so-and-so who is the basis of the character. If I can presume to make a suggestion, I would tell you to make your “good guys” the same way you do your villains — whole cloth, without any basis in people you know. It might allow you to play with them more. Best of luck!

  • After writing my comment, I was thinking that I have not written any MCs ever that weren’t based for the most part of someone I knew. Suggestions are always welcome, particularly from an experienced writer such as yourself. I have been too comfortable. Thank you, David.

  • Alex Pendergrass

    Great post David. I’m not very far into Spell Blind yet. It came out a day into my final semester. (Clearly your publisher forgot to consult with me!) But I have really admired the secondary characters and their interactions with our PoV. I think in many ways a main character is only as as strong as the characters around them.