The Best Beer I’ve Ever Had

Three years ago tomorrow, I enjoyed the best beer I’ve ever had. I’ve always liked finding a good beer and sampling them responsibly. One stands far and above the others.

In 2014, as Saint Patrick’s Day rolled ever closer, I was depressed and with great reason. In late February of that year, I contracted a necrotizing fasciitis – a skin eating infection – that nearly killed me. When I was discharged from the hospital at the end of February, I was a mess. Sitting in our basement on the reclining couch, I spent hours staring out the window. The couch was the only place I could sleep without being completely flat on my back – which was a “no-go” and despite all the things we’d done to finish the basement and make it part of our home, it wasn’t. I was in another world down there – visited by family several times a day as I alternately slept and pondered why I hadn’t died. I was starting to find myself in a bad place, and two things happened that both pulled me out of depression and set the course for my writing career.

They were completely unrelated.

The first I’ve written about one of them before. I owe a substantial part of my recovery to my friend Neil Clarke. Neil is the editor of Clarkesworld Magazine and the editor of the SFWA Bulletin. I met him on an airplane to San Antonio for WorldCon a few years back. He’s also my celebrity stalker – but that’s an entirely different story. Neil also survived a life threatening event a few years before my episode. So, one dreary March night, I did something I never dreamed I would have done. I wrote an email to Neil and asked him how he’d been able to come back from his massive heart attack. I needed some kind of touchstone to help light a path from where I was. In the months prior to my illness I’d written the first drafts of TWO novels in the space of about six months. My productivity levels had been amazing. Yet, sitting there on my ass with nothing to do but let my skin recover, I found I could barely watch TV or play video games much less write. So I emailed Neil.

And he wrote me back. His words, very simply, lit the tiny little flame that became my lantern out of depression. I saw Neil at WorldCon in Kansas City last year for the first time since my illness. We both held back tears. I am forever grateful to him for simply saying “it will be okay.”

As I recovered at home, I had a wonderful nurse named Paula who came by every day, and then every other day, and then a couple of days a week as things stabilized. I found out she was a retired Army nurse, and we got along swimmingly. On St. Patrick’s Day, I joked that I’d love to have a beer. I was on intravenous antibiotics at this point (2X per day) and they were very potent. Paula looked at me and winked – “I think you could split one today, as long as you get outside and walk.”

That day, I took my wife’s arm and walked to our mailbox and back. It’s only about 300 meters roundtrip, and it was hell, but we took it slow and I walked. When we got home, I texted my friend Scott and told him I’d walked outside and was feeling better. And I told him that Paula had said I could split a beer.

His response? “I’ll be right there.”

And he was – carrying a couple of bottles of Boulevard Brewing Company’s Double-Wide IPA. My wife got the glasses out and we poured it out and shared a beer – sitting on the very same couch where I’d doubted my very existence in late nights of little sleep. It was the best beer I’ve ever had in my life. From there, things came around quickly. Having been an active duty Army officer, I knew that when my medical situation hit the Army’s system there would be chaos, but it took more than a year for my infectious disease specialist to release me from treatment. I relapsed and spent another agonizing night in the hospital. I took antibiotics for more than eleven months. As I recovered, I was promoted a final time. I sold my debut novel to a very strong small press. Most importantly, I kept digging out and the light was just as bright as I remembered.

I came away from my experience valuing a lot of things, and friendship is right near the top. My writing buddy Amity Green came to my hospital room with other friends in tow and then showed up one day to sit on that basement couch and write with me. We really didn’t write much – crying a little was the order of the day. My writing group, Fiction Foundry, came to our house and crowded around me on the couch to do our critiques. My writing friends help to save my life, including a man I call my brother, James A. Owen.

James has a penchant for sending out positive memes and quotes on a daily (hourly sometimes!) basis. He sent one in particular that essentially slapped me in the face and said – “Get back to it.” I’ve included it below:


I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of friends in the writing world and every single one of them are a vibrant part of my life. We’re not alone on this writing journey and the more Tribe you can build, the better it will be.

The BFF in Fiction

I’ve often found that my favorite characters in stories are the trusty side-kick. Let’s face it Batman is a little crazy, while Robin gets the luxury of being a little more relaxed. Funny even, in the latest installment of Lego Batman. I prefer Ostin to Michael Vey. In my own Jagged Scars Series Wendy is amazing, but Kev is secretly my favorite. Do NOT tell the others.

Since seeing the topic for this month’s blog posts, I’ve been wondering why I’m drawn to the side characters. Why they make a story great for me? And after some pondering, I think I’ve come up with my answer.

The protagonist (main character) of the story has a few specific jobs. One of them is to go through the most pain and make the most changes in their lives. Often against their will. That’s why we read stories, to see characters fight their own tendencies and eventually rise above their limitations to a new level of “them.” Which can make them stressed out.

The side characters, often the best friend, doesn’t need to go through quite as much. A good story will give them a character arc, but it’s not usually as drastic. Which gives them the chance to be more fun. They’re there to provide comic relief and/or to be a confidant for the protagonist. Or to call the protagonist out when they’re off the deep end.

For instance, who tries to warn Frodo about Gollum in the long trek to Mordor? Who hasn’t been blinded by pain or regret or the ring? Who carries Frodo when Frodo can’t take another step? Sam. That’s who. And while Sam goes through quite a bit, his journey is more relatable in many ways than Frodo’s. He’s concerned about his friend, like many of us would be, and is only trying to help.

In the newest Spiderman: Homecoming trailer, we see Peter Parker beating up bad guys. It looks like he’s having a great time, but Tony Stark warns him to back off. But Peter doesn’t want to. He thinks he’s ready. He says:

“I’m sick of him (Tony Stark) treating me like a kid all the time!”

Ned, who we’ve already seen is Peter’s best friend (because who doesn’t kill a man when he drops your Lego Death Star?), says, “But you are a kid.”

Ned sees what we can see as the audience, that Peter is reckless, and probably in over his head. Ned tries to talk him off the ledge. He isn’t blinded by the situation like Peter. He can still think clearly, because he’s not the one with super powers who wants to save the world.

A hero needs that. Someone to ground them. Someone to make smart remarks when the moment gets too tense. Someone who will come back after the hero pushes them away.

That’s why we need friends in fiction.

It Takes a Village (Full of Weirdos)

Welcome to March 13th, and the first morning of a bright Full Moon. Both of these facts should contribute to my essay, hopefully for the better.

Photo by Guy Anthony De MarcoI’ve been writing off and on since 1977. More off than on, just like my normal mental state. The first few stories I horrifically assembled were based on some dreams with the antics of some of my friends mixed in. I was still in high school and I hung out with the freaks, geeks, and weirdos. I also spent time with some of the stoner and drug using folks, even though I never partook. (No, really, I was even sorta famous for it.) On top of that, I was friendly with many of the jocks, and even tried out for the baseball team as a pitcher. I still think I didn’t get on the team because I drilled the coach with a line shot off of his cranium during a practice. Well, that or because I had a wicked fast ball that I couldn’t control. Anyways…

Over the years, I’ve made friends and lost some, drifted apart or buried others. Most of the time I admit I was just too lazy to send a letter or pick up the phone to say hello. Some folks were just acquaintances or Friends-of-Friends.

Some folks were people I once just said hello to. A good example is Fiona. My wife and I were going through the checkout line at the North Island Commissary (like a military store), and the young lady who was ringing things up was the Uber Queen of the Goths. Every bit of exposed skin was pale, like the pallor of the dead. Fiona wore all black, of course. She was also very nice and friendly. For years my wife and I would recall Fiona out of the blue. The only reason we know her name is because of her name tag. She’s appeared in two of my books in one form or another.

All of the friends, acquaintances, and random weirdos and strangers I’ve encountered in my life at one time or another are all now living as part of the DNA in the characters I write. I never try to copy them directly — it would feel like plagiarizing meatspace. I take tiny bits of personality and blend them together. The subtle half-wink as they tell a joke; the way their voice wavers as they yell in anger; the way they smell because they don’t believe in deodorant. All of these slices can come together to create a complete and believable character. In many cases, I know why they do what they do. The old friend who never used deodorant was too poor to afford the luxury. That background adds seasoning for characters. Now I know how they may act in certain situations, like finding an envelope of hundred dollar bills in a donated dresser. That pungent friend would do his best to find the rightful owner because he knows what it feels like to be destitute.

One should be careful not to make the characters recognizable. In many cases, it can cause hurt feelings. If I copied a friend down to a speech impediment and a facial birthmark, then gave it to a horrific villain who tortures small fuzzy animals for kicks, you can rest assured that my friend would be quite irate (and probably move into the ‘former friend’ category.) Always make the characters you create a collection of traits put into a blender and hit the frappe button a few times. The froth you end up with can then be used to make believable, realistic characters that seem like they’re someone you know intimately — because they are.

There are times you have to create characters that are outside of your scope of knowledge. Take a walk around and listen to strangers. Take notes, write down interesting descriptions, and even consider saying hello. You might end up with a new friend and a protagonist outline in one fell swoop.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Warrior of Light

(Guest post by William Heinzen)

Friendships play an interesting role in fantasy literature, and especially in epic fantasies, which feature large casts of characters. My novel, Warrior of Light, focuses on a young man named Tim Matthias who aids a group of refugees in their struggle against the evil sorcerer Zadinn Kanas. Tim is a figure of prophecy known as the Warrior of Light, destined to face Zadinn in an apocalyptic final battle. Tim’s quest is a true hero’s journey, beginning with him living in the relative peace of the South. Events outside his control, however, soon propel him into Zadinn’s domain within the war-stricken North. Along the way, Tim must come to terms with his own powers, facing a set of increasingly dangerous threats before ultimately facing Zadinn himself.

Many classic fantasy novels, from The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time, contain variants of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Writers frequently use this framework because, as fellow blogger Nicholas Ploucha succinctly wrote, “it works”. However, as I was writing Warrior, I asked myself how I could include a fresh perspective on the hero’s journey. As I studied Campbell’s diagram, I noticed only minimal references to the hero’s companions. Oh, they’re in there – the archetypes in the journey include the hero’s “allies” – but such mentions are brief and easily overlooked.

I reasoned, however, that no victory happens in a vacuum. It’s all well and good to have a central character upon which the fate of the world rests, but what about the people around the character? In short, what about the hero’s friends? Every hero needs an everyman—the character the audience can relate to, the one without the power/mystique/destiny, the person who is simply trying to get by in life but nonetheless finds themselves caught in events much bigger than them.

And so I came up with the character of Boblin Kule, who is just as important to Warrior of Light as Tim himself. Unlike Tim, Boblin lives in the North. He has no magical powers, there are no prophecies about him, and if he had his way, he’d be sitting at home reading a good book. But he doesn’t have a choice—Zadinn has wiped out every last dwelling in the North, and so Boblin is on the run with a group of refugees, doing what he needs to do to survive.

Boblin’s friendship with Tim serves several purposes. He introduces Tim to the history of the North, and in doing so provides the same information to the reader. He keeps the action grounded—while Tim is using the Lifesource to burn his enemies to ashes, Boblin is fighting with sword, dagger, and fist (whatever gets the job done). He acts as a moral compass when Tim begins to question his role in the refugees’ quest, stepping in and reminding Tim of what they are fighting. Tim exists in the story to provide an enormous, heroic force capable of rising up and defeating the all-encompassing evil that is Zadinn Kanas—but Boblin exists so the reader has someone to relate to. After all, where would the great heroes would be without their friends? Sherlock without Watson? The Doctor without his companion? Frodo without Sam?

In each of the preceding examples, notice how the value the hero’s friend provides value to the reader/viewer. Ultimately, the friend provides a way to better understand the complexities of the hero at the heart of the story. The friend is a surrogate for the audience themselves, and it’s the same with Tim and Boblin. One has the Lifesource, the other has his sword, but both are an essential part of the Warrior’s epic journey.

When writing your own fiction, then, consider the ways in which the companions around the central character can enrich the story. In many ways, they may be the opposite of the hero, providing necessary balance and contrast to the tale, and providing a way for the readers to better relate to and understand the world within. When these friendships are crafted properly, however, I think we’ll find our stories are better for it.

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William has been telling stories ever since elementary school, when he discovered the only thing better than reading about sorcerers was writing about them. He holds a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Jamestown in Jamestown, North Dakota.

William lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he enjoys hunting, fishing, being outdoors, and, of course, reading and writing. Warrior of Light is his first novel. Find him at www.WilliamHeinzen.com or www.Facebook.com/WilliamHeinzenAuthor.