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How to Make a Hero

How to Make a Hero

exile-fb-banner-1-of-1This post is not about sandwich construction, though that’s a good topic. Today’s riff is on what makes a hero heroic. It’s the central theme in book two of my Haffling trilogy, Exile.

The unlikely protagonist is Liam Summer, and he has done horrible things. This is a tale of how the leopard changed his spots. It’s a road map that anyone can follow, though the going is perilous.

What I’ve learned in life—and I’m a practicing psychiatrist who prior to that was an EMT—is that heroes are both born and made. In book one−Haffling−it’s as if Alex popped out of the womb with a raised sword, ready to battle anyone who threatened those he loves. I’ve known people like that, they’re the ones who stand up to bullies on the playground and don’t hold grudges after the fact. They have an internal moral sense and little fear or self-doubt. They see a wrong and they act. “Hey, leave him alone.”

Liam is a different story. Shaped by tragedy, he was raised to use his beauty and his powers of seduction to destroy enemies of a despotic queen. He has ruined many and in book one is sent to trap Alex. I will give no plot spoilers, but when it came time to write the second installment, Liam was the obvious choice for center stage. His story is built on central truths. Here’s one. While fear can save your life— “Oh look, a king cobra, best get out of here”—it can also become a cage. Unchecked fear underlies all anxiety disorders, from panic attacks to obsessive hoarding to agoraphobia, where people won’t leave their homes. It’s the monster in the dark or the cobra on the ground, only there is no monster and the cobra is on television.

This is the start of Liam’s adventure in Exile. Bred in near-constant terror that has kept him alive, he’s brought to a life crisis at the novel’s start. One of those you’re-about-to-die-and-your-life-flashes-before-you moments. Or for Ebenezer Scrooge, three ghosts that tell you what a tightwad you’ve been, and if you don’t change, you’re going to die sick and alone. For Liam, as he faces a fiery death, what he sees in the mirror is repulsive. But it’s who he is and what he knows. He wants to be different—to be good, to be clean.

It’s a crucial first step to say you want to change something, but that’s where many get stuck. “I know I have to stop (insert problem behavior here) but I just can’t seem to do it.” Which brings us to the big, simple, and profoundly hard-to-pull-off solution. Whatever you’re doing that you don’t like. Or as Bob Newhart said in a famous comedy sketch, “Stop it. Just stop.” Do the opposite. Simple, right?

Fear tells you to go right, check to make sure there’s no cobra, and go left. Better still, even if there is a cobra, figure out a way to get past it. Solve the problem, don’t avoid it. Face your fear and do it over and over and over again. It’s not rocket science. It is undoing the habits of a lifetime, and it’s wicked hard. But it works.

As I send Liam and Exile out into the world, I think about his journey. Alex, the protagonist in Haffling, the first of this series, knows right from wrong and up from down. But Liam must start from scratch and face paralyzing fears that have kept him alive but robbed him of his self-respect and his soul. For him the cobras and the murderous tyrant are real. But it’s not enough to want to change, and surrounded by real dangers, there is no guarantee of success. But to achieve his goal and find real redemption, he must stop running. He must turn around, figure things out, or die trying.

Blub (EXILE):

Liam Summer, with the face of an angel and the body of an underwear model, has done bad things. Raised as the cat’s paw of a murderous fairy queen, his beauty has ruined many. When Queen May’s plot to unite and rule the fairy and human realms fails, Liam wakes naked and alone in a burning Manhattan building. Unaware the blaze is arson and he its intended victim, Liam prepares to die.

Enter ax-wielding FDNY firefighter Charlie Fitzpatrick, who Liam mistakes for an ogre assassin. As Charlie rescues Liam, he realizes the handsome blond has nowhere to go. So he does what he and his family have always done… he helps.

As for Queen May, trapped in the body of a flame-throwing salamander, she may be down, but she’s not out. Yes, she failed the last time, but Liam and others will pay. She knows what must be done—possess a haffling, cross into the human world engorged with magic, and become queen and Goddess over all.

As Liam realizes the danger they all face, he discovers unexpected truths—that even the most wicked are not beyond redemption, and that love—true love—is a gift that even he can receive.

Bio (Caleb James/Charles Atkins) −Caleb James is a pen name used by psychiatrist and author Charles Atkins, MD for his paranormal fiction. He lives and works in Connecticut, is a member of the Yale volunteer faculty, loves a flea market, gives a lot of workshops (including experiential writer’s trainings), and lives with his partner and too many cats.


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Twitter: @CharlesAtkinsMD

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