David B. Coe: Creating a Nemesis For Our Protagonist


David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonMy friend Mary Robinette Kowal has hosted me on her website several times for a feature she calls “My Favorite Bit.” This is a chance for authors to win over potential readers by writing about their absolute favorite part of their new work — a character they love, a plot twist that makes them all warm and fuzzy inside . . . You get the idea. I’ve written several of these for Mary in the past; I didn’t want to trouble her for yet another spot on her blog this summer, but I thought I would borrow her idea (with attribution, obviously) for today’s post.

His Father’s Eyes, the second book in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, has been out now for a bit over two weeks. If you have purchased a copy, thank you. If you have not, please do. It’s a really good book. Seriously, I love this book, and I think you’ll enjoy it too. And if you’ve already read it, please consider posting a review of it over at Amazon. Reviews help — good, bad, or indifferent, they help.

As I said, I love this book. What do I love about it? Well, in part, it’s simply a matter of what it represents to me. As some of you may remember, the first book in the series, Spell Blind, had a pretty tortured history. I sold it once, only to have the publisher that bought it go out of business. And when we tried to sell it again, we couldn’t. I came to realize that the book was fundamentally flawed, and so I tore it down, rebuilt it, then rebuilt it again, and one more time. Eventually, of course, we did sell it, along with its sequels to Baen Books, and the rest you know.

But the thing is, I poured so much creative energy and emotion into writing and fixing that first book, I wasn’t entirely certain what to do with the subsequent volumes, and a part of me wondered if I could write another Fearsson novel. When I not only managed to write this second novel, but to write something that I love even more than that first book (about which I’m quite passionate), I was really thrilled. So, I suppose you could say that my favorite part of this book is its very existence.

His Father's Eyes, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Alan Pollock)That’s a little lame, though. So let me be a bit more specific. One of the things that the first book did not do — because it wasn’t necessary to the plot — was to set up a nemesis for Jay Fearsson who would outlast the narrative of this particular novel. I mean someone like Leo Pellisier in Faith’s Jane Yellowrock novels, or Sephira Pryce in the Thieftaker Chronicles, or the rival powers in C.E. Murphy’s Negotiator series: a character who represents both danger and opportunity for the protagonist, someone who challenges my hero, who threatens him, but who also relates to his darker side.

As I say, there was no room in the first book for such a character. But in the second there is. His name is Jacinto Amaya, and he is a crime lord and runecrafter who hires Jay to look into a mystery that lies at the heart of all that happens in this second novel. He is ruthless and charming, calculating and brilliant. He lives his life both within the law and outside of it. Jay is genuinely afraid of him; when he was a cop, he wanted to put the guy behind bars. But he also finds him to be a valuable ally and a generous, though dangerous friend.

Their interactions have been tremendous fun to write, in part because Jacinto is every bit the conjurer Jay is. They spar constantly, though Jay understands that if he truly manages to tick the guy off, Amaya could say a single word to one of his henchmen and Jay would never be heard from again. The point is, the tension between them adds a key element to Jay’s world. Jacinto can do things for him that no one else can. He has resources that lie outside the law and that are funded by his vast criminal empire. And, since he is a runecrafter, he can help Jay with magical opponents as well. But Jacinto expects certain considerations in return for his help, and Jay is not always comfortable with the things Amaya expects him to do. For Jay, befriending the man is a bit like adopting a rattlesnake as a pet. Whatever comfort he can draw from their friendship, is more than offset by the perils that come with it.

The duality of their relationship made Jay’s world much more interesting for me as a writer, and, I hope, for my readers as well. Sometimes we need to challenge our protagonists with secondary characters who complicate their lives, even if they do so under the guise of friendship.

Have you given your protagonists similarly challenging characters with whom to interact? If not, do you think that doing so might help you with your WIP? Think about it.


David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, which was released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, came out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two 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.



6 comments to David B. Coe: Creating a Nemesis For Our Protagonist

  • […] The 2015 Summer-of-Two-Releases Virtual Tour resumes today, after a brief hiatus, with a post at the Magical Words blog site. The post is about creating a long-term nemesis for our protagonist and what that can to infuse energy into our stories. I use His Father’s Eyes, the second volume in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, as a case study for this. I hope you find it helpful. You can find the post here. […]

  • […] The 2015 Summer-of-Two-Releases Virtual Tour resumes today, after a brief hiatus, with a post at the Magical Words blog site. The post is about creating a long-term nemesis for our protagonist and what that can to infuse energy into our stories. I use His Father’s Eyes, the second volume in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, as a case study for this. I hope you find it helpful. You can find the post here. […]

  • Hmm. I don’t have a character like that for my current project. It doesn’t quite fit. But for other ones… that could really work. In fact, I think that might help one of the other backburner projects I’m currently stuck on. Thanks, David! 😀

    Do you ever find characters who could be in that position, of the frenemy/dangerous ally/cheerful nemesis, who you redeem / turn into a true ally or friend of the main character by the end of a story arc? And do you think it’s a weaker move to have that change happen? Or does it just depend on the story?

  • Razziecat

    I quite liked Jacinto, David, specifically because he’s not 100 percent evil; there’s a line even he won’t cross, but that doesn’t make him easier for Jay to like or to work with. This kind of antagonist fascinates me. They’re much more fun to write than the purely evil villain. I like to give my antagonists at least one motivation that readers can sympathize with; I think it makes the story more interesting and gives it a twist 😉

  • Thanks, Laura. Glad you like the idea. The fact is, these characters can become something more, depending on where the plotting takes them, and depending as well on the tone and needs of the story. Which, I suppose, is a fancy way of saying, “I dunno. Maybe.” In my very first series, I took a character who I’d originally intended as a nemesis and foil, and allowed him to become a key character in the series, mostly because he was interesting and dark and drawn in shades of gray, and my actual heroes were too boring to live. I think that as I’ve gotten better at creating interesting protagonists, my need to convert nemesis-characters into heroes has decreased. Does that make sense?

  • Many thanks, Razz. These are the reasons I was drawn to him, too. Glad to know that the character worked for you.