Breaking the Hero: When the Worst Possible Thing Happens on Page One

by Lynn Kelling

Cover for Arctic RestitutionMy new story, Arctic Restitution, starts off at a hard run. There’s no easing into the drama, or letting it slowly simmer to a boil. The first scene in the book establishes the mood of the whole story, and I’ll admit that the first scene of this book came out a whole lot harsher than I expected it to when I sat down to write it. It had me in tears and cemented my resolution to finish the tale completely, because I just had to know how it was going to end.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s different for everyone. We each carry a special dread deep in our hearts, hoping fate doesn’t throw this one particular stone our way. But sometimes we need the worst to happen. Sometimes, the only way we can keep going is to live through it and see if we’re strong enough to make it through.

But the worst thing is always cruel. It devastates on many levels at once, rattling to the very core and leaving us reeling. I’ve been there, dumbstruck, saying, “Well, fuck. Now what?”

It knocks all of the carefully arranged pieces of our life out of alignment. Nothing is sacred.

For each of the main characters in Arctic Restitution—Jaye Larson, Dixon Rowe, and the man known to friends and foes alike as only Cash—they face that moment. They stand on a pinnacle, wind blowing them over, and have just enough time to glance back at what they had to mourn the loss, then to turn to stare into the depths of their predicament, with no way to prepare for the fall.

But honestly, as one who has been there, it’s a much kinder fate to just be knocked right the hell over that point than to have to creep up on it slowly. Having time to dread a nightmare’s approach is so much worse.

Jaye doesn’t see it coming. Neither does Cash. Dixon suffers the slower approach, terror unfolding one pointed claw at a time.

As a reader, my favorite books are the ones that just get right to it, right away. I had more fun writing this story than any of my others, just because once something is rolling downhill at speed, there’s no slowing it down for anything. It just goes and goes and goes, until it crashes to a halt, and never allows a pause for breath. The momentum, the accumulation, I worked to weave it through every page. I wanted my readers to feel the same urgency the characters grapple with, so they’re yanked along for the journey, too.

Of all the characters I have written, Jaye most of all understands what it is to be broken. Here, he doesn’t fight it. He has the wisdom to know what’s happening, and why. His experience gives him that much more sorrow, but also allows him to grow that much stronger even as he shatters. The beauty in that duality is the heart of the book—Jaye’s heart.

Meanwhile, it takes Dixon a while to grasp what’s happening, because he doesn’t know better. And his ignorance is meant to be relatable in other ways, highlighting the bliss of ignorance.

And Cash? Cash knows better than anyone—even Jaye—how screwed he is. But he’s a natural-born fighter so that’s what he does. He fights. But some things can’t be stopped. They can only be endured.

So, hang on. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride.


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