Friday, November 20, 2020

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt


OR John Joseph Galbraith. Which one should we talk about? 


I've been making notes and working on the outline for Bell, Book and Scandal, and that means thinking through the ongoing character arcs of both Cosmo and John. I was surprised after I Buried a Witch by the readers who really did not seem to "get" John. Meaning that they did not seem to understand that John was an emotionally and psychologically complicated personality with a character arc before him.

I don't know why this always surprises me because I've noticed again and again that the very readers who claim they love difficult, complicated characters, often have a lot of trouble with characters who are indeed difficult and complicated outside of a preordained acceptable character traits bubble. 

I admit it. I like writing difficult characters. I like writing characters that push reader buttons. I like occasionally making readers uncomfortable. I'm not trying to write for everyone. I'm not studying the market and analyzing algorithms. I  write what interests me, moves me, inspires me to explore and understand. That's one reason why I quit writing for mainstream. ;-)

Anyway, I was thinking about John and the readers who were riled by him, and I wonder if there were some important clues that not everyone picked up on. Like, there's a big difference between what John says and what he does. John's communication style is very brusque, but his actions frequently do not line up with what he says. John talks a good distancing game, but when it comes to Cosmo, he does not actually preserve much distance.

Some of John's most important character reveals are sub-textual. But some of them are right there in
plain sight. 

For example, John's not sexually controlling. He's open and willing to anything Cosmo wants to do or not do. He specifically says Cosmo should have everything the way he likes every time he has sex. And as Cosmo's sexual interests change, John goes right along with out hesitation or hitch.

Also, right from the start--in Mainly by Moonlight--as ambitious as John professes to be--is--when it comes down to Cosmo or his big important job--even with all his (understandable) doubts and concerns about Cosmo--he chooses Cosmo.

This is a little one, but kind of key to both family dynamics and how John treats others. John backs Cosmo's position within the family hierarchy. We know (or think we know) John's not a patient guy, yet he's kind to his annoying and difficult mother and both loyal to, and protective of, his difficult young sister. He values Cosmo's input and opinions (as much or more than values anyone's--given that he is not a trusting person). Also he appears to remain courteous and respectful to Cosmo's family and friends, despite knowing they detest him. 

In I Buried a Witch, John gives what he believes is an ultimatum and when Cosmo calls his bluff, he backs down, eventually settling on the fairly minimal request of please don't use magic as a first resort. (Which is fair enough from someone who doesn't like magic. ) Should he have made the original request? It's called negotiation. 

Also, as controlling as John seems on the surface, he does forgive Cosmo for trying to use magic on him--not once, but a couple of times. In fact, after his initial rage (again we only see it through Cosmo's eyes) he attempts to retreat from Cosmo. He does not attack him or punish him. He's not out to destroy Cosmo. He doesn't reveal any of Cosmo's secrets.

It's tricky because we mostly see John through Cosmo's eyes, and Cosmo feels insecure and uncertain of the relationship. Subtext is important when analyzing John. But so are Cosmo's behaviors. He repeatedly ignores John's orders and demands--other than the evening where John discovers Cosmo is a magical being who attempted to repeatedly use magic on him--Cosmo shows little real fear of anything but John not loving him. In fact, overall, Cosmo is pretty much a blithe spirit.

And finally, I'd have insisted on the pool too. :-D I mean, he did give Cosmo half the backyard, and Cosmo is a fully cognizant adult, not a tiny child to wander off and fall in the pool. 

Those are my thoughts. YMMV? 


  1. I love the analysis. In fact I love this type of analysis almost more than the story itself...almost.

    The juxtaposition between what a character says and what a character does is not always obvious especially when colored by another character's POV. I think readers sense when a character is consistent in their personality even if they can't strictly identify why. And the converse as well.

    I must confess that I do get John, - small aside, their names are statements about who these men, aren't they? - I like John exactly because he is rigid but yielding, demanding but giving, stern but so very loving. Probably because I think I would be the same way with a man like Cosmo.

    It is Cosmo that I have a harder time understanding even though we get to see inside his head. His decision-making is highly questionable. He seems kind of selfish and self-centered. I don't doubt his love for John but his willingness to lie, prevaricate and dissemble in the name of that love is seriously immature.

    But this analysis does point out something I think readers take for granted. How much effort an author puts into their work. This is not something that just occurs organically (or not all of it) but requires work to maintain consistent characters especially when those characters go through an emotional arc which changes some of that characterization in ways that should be believable.

    And for that I thank you!

    1. And thank you for that thoughtful analysis.

      The thing about Cosmo that is easy to forget is he's a prince. He's a future witch king. So though he professes to reject all that, we have to assume there's a serious amount of conditioning that has already occurred in his psyche. He probably can't help but take for granted that he's supposed to always get his way. :-D Even though that's an idea he would firmly reject.

  2. I love these books and I love John being "difficult". It's what makes people interesting. We are all complicated and difficult in our own ways. I read a book once where the reviews blasted the author because the one of the guys was "too perfect". Well, the thing is, this book was written in first person from the other guy, who was not exactly a reliable narrator, he thought his boyfriend WAS perfect. So when we only see one side it might not be entirely accurate. Thanks for making me think.

    1. To some extent I think the speed with which fiction is now consumed is partly to blame for the lack of...digestion that often occurs from readers who probably think of themselves as careful and discerning. You can't speed read and expect to pick up all the nuances. That's just a fact.

  3. I love your complex characters! It’s the reason why I read and re-read your books. There’s something so fascinating about identifying the dissonance taking place within these characters, seeing the effect it has on their life and self-image and watching them struggle to deal with it. But maybe I’m just sadistic like that!

  4. Natasha, that was a wonderful analysis. I get frustrated with John some but, Josh, you're spot on about John giving equal respect in regard to family. He is nothing but gracious to Cosmo's, um, eclectic family and friends. And wisely has boundaries but obviously loves his family. People who hate on John (or Jake or Sam) should pay attention to the little things. Actions really do speak louder than words, and those actions show how much they care - even if it may not sound like it. I do think the ease of finding and reading a lot of things quickly leads some readers to the false assumption that writing is also somehow easier and faster, instant. Almost as tho they think, "the computer does it." No, sitting at a laptop and adding depth and layers to characters and plots is as difficult now as it was 50 years ago, when authors were pounding them out on Royal typewriters and keeping hundreds of sheets of paper in order. It's a gift that authors are kind enough to share - and our job is to pay attention to all of the goodies within - even if a swimming pool seems insensitive! (I'd totally do it, too!) Cosmo can use it or not lol

    1. :-D I do think that the world of writing and publishing has split into two universes. The first, the original, is for writers like me who still take what probably feels like forever to produce something. And the second universe where writers are not handicapped by anything but the ability to pound out a story. What's interesting is the readership has also split into those who aren't that fussy, they just want to consume a lot of fiction as fast as possible, and those who are looking for something more. To each their own.

  5. You’re an amazing writer. And John is an amazing character - a lot more intriguing than Cosmo, at the very least. I like them both and I think they work really well together. Anything you write about these two, I will happily read.

  6. It's funny because i never felt John as a difficult man. He has his downsides, that's for sure (and thankfully, because perfection is sooo boring and unrealistic) but no more than Cosmo. So yes we see the story in Cosmo's POV, but still I love John. Probably because I'm getting older and have finally realized that most needed lesson: no matter what people say, their actions are what matters. Especially as words and actions rarely match.
    But that's exactly what I love in your books: the complexity of the characters and the fact than you may want to strangle some of them here and there but still love them in the end. Like real persons. My grabby hands finally picked "Everything I know" and I may have hit Wes severall times (and hardly LOL) but in the end he's a great guy. Real worthy things are never simple nor granted.

    1. The thing is, the naysayers are always the vast minority of readers. ALWAYS. But they are almost always the loudest and most vociferous in expressing their feelings, so it's hard to miss them. Though I do my best to tune them out.

    2. Also you are not alone in wanting to murder Wes. He is probably one of the characters who inspires the most rage. :-D

    3. In French we have a word perfect for those people always unhappy and voincing it out loud... We call them TROLLS :D Like big, ugly, not smart at all and noisy XD
      The truth is that it's impossible to please everybody. Especially people looking for being unpleased. But look here: all these messages of love and support, all the time. :D Their authors are the ones who really count: the ones who love your books and will continue to buy, read and spread their love for them ;)