So, the other day I happen to stumble across the fact the Greg Rucka has a new novel on the verge of release called Alpha, the first book in a series starring protagonist Jad Bell. It came out two days ago, I believe; I bought and downloaded it yesterday.
Greg Rucka is one of only two authors, the other being J. K. Rowling, who have written books that I literally could not put down. I read most of the Atticus Kodiak series in one sitting apiece. I’m intentionally not doing that with this book…my life isn’t one where I can sacrifice a night’s sleep, or worse, a day’s work, lost in a book…not anymore. But let me tell you, as I polished off Chapter Five last night, the temptation was there.
I discovered Greg Rucka’s work in the pages of the Batman titles. I’m pretty sure he came on board during the “No Man’s Land” storylines, and I was chafing at that point under the departure/dismissal of the writers I’d been used to, but Greg’s work grew on me…quickly. “No Man’s Land” didn’t thrill me at first, but I LOVED the ending, and when Greg took over as the writer on Detective Comics, I was hooked, and it was time for me to check out this guy’s books.
At this point, I was only approaching Greg as a fan. I wasn’t serious enough about my writing at the time to see him as an idol, although that was soon to change. Indeed, Greg is partially responsible for me starting to take my writing more seriously. Reading more about him, reading interviews, even meeting him briefly at San Diego Comic-Con, all of this stuff made me realize how seriously he takes his writing. Once I started reading Queen & Country, and started understanding how much research he has to do for all of his work, I knew that I was being a lazy P.O.S., and that if I wanted a career like he has, and I want a career very much like he has, that I needed to start making some changes. All of this was happening right around the time that I met Matt Filer, with whom I conceived and began Masque of the Dragons…which later became the book that got me noticed by an editor at DC.
Greg, along with Brian Michael Bendis (who correctly made me realize that the dedication necessary for success might very well cost me some friendships) taught me to take my career seriously. But he also made me a better writer.
If you’ve never read any of Greg’s work, you really, really should. Man, he puts his characters through the wringer. Atticus and the people to whom he is close all suffer. I mean seriously suffer, so much so that you read his books in a state of extreme tension. No one feels safe, and you need that feeling to make a thriller achieve its highest potential. Poor Tara Chace in the Q&C comics and novels has it even worse. I actually have yet to read the third Q&C novel, but I’m honestly scared to. I don’t want to find out that Crocker, a character that I love, has died…or worse, that Tara, who can barely squeak out a loving emotion, has lost her daughter. Don’t get me wrong…I’m gonna have to read it eventually. But I can’t face it yet.
Looking back at his work, I’ve come to realize: people don’t really want stories where nothing important happens to the character. The story only has that sting if the reader can identify what is important to the story’s protagonist, and that thing is in jeopardy. In episodic or serialized fiction, you can get only so much mileage out of last-minute saves. Eventually, your protagonist has to lose whatever it is they care about…and move on to something new. Your protagonist has to suffer. “Suffering” means different things in different stories…but your character has to suffer nonetheless.
The last thing I should at least point out is Greg’s reputation for writing strong female characters. Personally, I think it’s overblown, because I long ago accepted female protagonists. One my best friends and harshest critics pointed out a slightly sexist slant in my own writing decades ago (holy crap), and it’s something that I like to think I’ve worked through. The only thing that irritates me about this subject is the fact that I’ve yet to get one of my creator-owned projects with a female lead off of the ground…and I have several. Hopefully, Masque of the Dragons isn’t too far from finally seeing the light of day…which brings me back to the earliest days of reading Greg’s work.
Commitment. Suffering. Women. Summed up like that, it doesn’t sound like I owe Greg Rucka a writing debt so much as I do a LIFE debt (with apologies to Chewbacca). Considering that his example is slowly but surely leading me to a more satisfying life…I can live with that.
(P.S. – I wrote the above all but ignoring the fact that he’s the writer of the wonderful webcomic, Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, on which he has graciously linked to Hunter Black, and even gone so far as to write a blog about the comic. So, yeah…my debt to him is actually a very concrete one. But all that other stuff came first.)