Friday, 18 May 2018

Holding Out for a Hero

Today on the blog I welcome Ian Nathaniel Cohen. Welcome Ian and thank you for this super helpful; post. I love the sound of the book.

There’s nothing like completing your first novel to dispel any illusions you have about how easy writing a book actually is. No matter how experienced of a writer you are, no matter how fluent in your chosen genre you’ve become, the process of turning a book from a mere idea into a ready-for-publication reality is most likely going to be harder than you expect. I certainly went through that with my first novel, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, and it was quite the reality check. Sure, some parts of writing the book went more smoothly than others, but looking back, I don’t recall finding any of it easy.

That being said, no aspect of writing Black Flag was more difficult than coming up with my protagonist, Michael McNamara.

The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is a tribute to the classic Hollywood swashbucklers I grew up on, and a story like that requires a certain kind of hero. Rather than invoking the villain protagonist trope, I wanted my main character to actually be heroic, committed to doing the right thing. I already had my villain and their scheme in place, as well as some key supporting characters, so all that was missing was a hero to save the day.

Unfortunately, said hero was a complete blank slate for a long time. Even race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender were up in the air, only decided on when I “cast” James McAvoy (who I’m a big fan of) as my protagonist. Heck, I stumbled upon the name “McNamara” while looking for good names for my villain. Even worse, I had no idea how to answer the all-important question of what my main character wanted. I had no idea what would drive them to oppose the aforementioned villains and save said day. Every idea I tossed around seemed stale and uninspired. Revenge? Overdone. Anti-hero learns compassion? Overdone. Duty? Too confining.

Then, somehow, I had a “eureka moment” – one of several that enabled Black Flag’s eventual completion – when a question popped into my head from out of nowhere.

“What if he doesn’t know what he wants?”

Now I had something!

I’ve known people who, for one reason or another, weren’t able to get into certain careers they’d imagined they would when they were younger, or who’d lost their jobs and couldn’t find work in that same field. They all found themselves asking “well…now what?” Not only did it seem like an interesting character arc to play with, but also something readers could relate to and empathize with, either having gone through it themselves or knowing people who had.

Of course, I still had to come up with something for McNamara to want and achieve by story’s end. I also needed to piece together what he’d been doing previously (history cooperated beautifully in this regard). But at least I had a starting point, a foundation to build on. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Ian Nathaniel Cohen is a native of Miami, Florida, where he grew up immersing himself in swashbuckler literature and film. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2003 with a BA in Radio/Television Production and a Minor's Certificate in Applied Computer Science. He also received his MA in Asian Studies from Florida International University in 2006, where he teaches the course Asia Through Film as an adjunct lecturer. In 2010, his essay "Heroes & Villains of the East", analyzing the evolving depiction of the Japanese in Chinese and Hong Kong martial arts cinema, was published in FIU's Japan Studies Journal. He also writes a guest blog, the INCspotlight, on the website Channel Awesome, reviewing classic films, comic books, and video games. He made his debut as a novelist with The Brotherhood of the Black Flag in September 2017.

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