Saturday, May 30, 2009

Interview with David Farland (aka David Wolverton)

I'm delighted to introduce David Wolverton (aka David Farland), New York Times bestselling author who has published nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Runelords series (which I highly recommend). In addition to that, he's served as the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future Contest.

You might also know him from his email blog "Daily Kick in the Pants", through which he gives motivational tips, insights on writing, and helps us see the ins and outs of the writing business from the point of view of a highly successful author.

You can check out his website at

David, thanks for stopping by.

David Steffen: You always seem to have the answers on how to establish yourself as a successful writer. Was there ever a time when you found yourself ready to hang up the typewriter? How did you handle it and get back on track?

David Farland: I've never felt in despair about my career. I love to write, nd I've always thought that if there was anything else in the world that I wanted to do, I'd just do it, too. For example, when I was young I went to school to study medicine. I thought that it would be fun to be a genetic researcher or a pediatric physician, then write my novels on the side. Unfortunately, I would have needed an endowment of stamina to do it. (For those of you who have read The Runelords, you'll get the joke!)

Seriously though, I did go through a fit of depression a few years ago, and went through my "midlife crisis." I found out that Prozac doesn't help most men, but Welbutrin does.

David Steffen: You've given aspiring writers endless tips to help get their careers started. If you could only give a single piece of advice, what would it be?

David Farland: Be persistent. It's your career. If you really want to be a writer, make time to practice, to hone your craft, and just do it.

David Steffen: Where do your story ideas come from? Do you see stories everywhere you look and you just have to pluck the ones that appeal the most? Or do you have to sit down and actively say "I'm going to think of something new to write today"?

David Farland: Ideas come to those who look for them sometimes, but other times they just hit you. A twist of a phrase, a powerful image, a news story, an insight from a child--anything can set you off. I have at least a dozen story ideas per day, I suppose. I can't write even a hundredth of them. So I just siphon.

Yet even with all of that, I find that I sometimes have to go searching for good ideas to fit a particular story. In short, you never get to rest.

David Steffen: In particular, what was the first idea that came to you for the Runelords series? A character? An idea for the magic system? The world itself?

David Farland: With the Runelords, I knew that I just wanted to write a big fantasy at first. I wanted my series to appeal to medieval fantasy readers--the Tolkien crowd--but I also wanted it to be different from any other story. So I had a basic idea for the world. I knew that it was going to be medieval, and that it would have plenty of large animals and monsters. In short, it is covered with megafauna, much as the United States was twelve thousand years ago when dozens of breeds of mammoths and mastodons roamed here, along with cave bears and sabertooths and dire wolves and all of those other cool animals. So I knew that I wanted to make my world similar to other fantasy worlds, but there are no glorious elves in it, no dwarves or orcs. I wanted my own creatures.

But what really set me off was the magic system. I wanted to create a new kind of magic for my world, and I knew that it had to be different and mind-blowing. I spent months looking at various magic systems used throughout history, and then one day the whole concept of wizards drawing attributes from vassals--glamour, brawn, wit, grace, sight, hearing, etc.--just literally seemed to fall right out of the sky.

David Steffen: I find the endowment system in the Runelords series particularly interesting, where a donor or "Dedicate" can permanently grant an attribute to a recipient or "Runelord", and that link lasts as long as they both live. Where did the idea for this system come from?

David Farland: Well, when I was researching magic systems, I knew that I wanted to write about one that had something of an economic base. There needed to be a price for the magic.

But you know, you can't really tell where these things come from. I mean, I didn't base it upon anything that I've seen. I pondered dozens of magic systems, and then one day it hit me. I think that I might have had an inkling of it when I was watching a show where a calf got branded. My mind went, "You know, they used to brand slaves like that, too." And I thought at the time, I wonder if it would be interesting to write a fantasy novel where people got branded as part of a magic system."

It was just a fleeting thought. I was in Scotland a few months later, traveling down a road past Innessfree, when a friend asked, "Could you imagine what this must have looked like 2000 years ago?" I recall reading from a Roman historian who complained that on one night, some 40 men were dragged from their beds and eaten by wolves. He said, "The only thing worse than the wolves are the wild Scotsmen themselves!" I was thinking about that, and suddenly my subconscious said, "Hey, I've got your magic system!" and the whole complex system--along with the first novel in the series--just popped into my head at once.

David Steffen: Do you have any guesses who the next big up-and-coming big name writers will be, from your recreational reading and from your role judging stories for the Writers of the Future contest?

David Farland: Well, in fantasy it will be Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss. I know some excellent new writers who are coming along, but they'll have to get their books written and sold first.

David Steffen: What was the last book you read? Your favorite book? Your favorite author?

David Farland: I just listed my two favorite new authors. I don't want to choose between them, since I like them both. I know I should have done it years ago, but I'm reading Eragon right now. My favorite living author right now is still Orson Scott Card, overall.

David Steffen: How about the last movie you saw? Your favorite movie?

David Farland: I saw the latest Terminator last night, but it wasn't nearly as good as Star Trek. I need to go see Angels and Demons this week. There are a lot of good movies coming out this summer.

David Steffen: How did your writing career get started?

David Farland: Actually, I began writing heavily in college, and my career took off after I started winning writing contests. I entered my first short story in a little contest and won third place. When I was done, I thought, "Wow, I spent ten hours on this story, and I won $50. That's $5 an hour. Maybe if I worked a little harder, I could win first place in a contest."

So I spent some time thinking about how to win writing contests, and then wrote several short stories. I entered six different contests, and won first place in each of them, including the Writers of The Future. When we went to New York for the awards ceremony, a number of the judges had already gushed to various editors about how good I was (Thank you Robert Silverberg, Orson Scott Card, Algis Budrys, and Roger Zelazny). Half a dozen editors approached me, asking if I was interested in submitting novels. Not only was I interested, I'd packed a novel proposal in my suitcase! Within a week, I had a three-novel contract with Bantam Books.

David Steffen: What was the single most significant step you took to advance your career?

David Farland: You know, I realized after I'd written my second book that my real last name, Wolverton, always put my books on the bottom shelf at the end of the rack. That was terrible placement. So I decided to begin writing under a pseudonym. That was tough to do, given that I was hitting at the top of the bestseller lists for science fiction. But when I moved to fantasy, my publisher allowed me to do it. I think it was a smart move.

David Steffen: What convention appearances do you have planned?

David Farland: I'm trying to decide whether to go to DragonCon in August. I believe I'll be at World Fantasy Con in San Diego in October, and then I'll probably go to Life, the Universe, and Everything at Brigham Young University in February.

David Steffen: What's your next publication that we should watch out for?

David Farland: My next novels are Freaky Fly Day, Book three of my Ravenspell series, which comes out in September from Covenant Books. I also have a historical fiction novel that deals with the Willie Handcart Company, in which Mormon pioneers crossed the prairie in 1856, facing tremendous hardships. Here's a link for that one: I also have the eighth book in the Runelords series coming out in October, called Berserker Lord. You can see the cover in the art section at, and you can order a signed/numbered copy of the book by emailing

David Steffen: What are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak peek?

David Farland: Yes, I'm actually reading galleys for Berserker Lord, and you can read the first couple of chapters on I'm going to put up a new feature on my site that I'm thinking about calling "Over my shoulder," where you will be able to read what I've written recently, and I'll explain why I made the choices that I've made.

David Steffen: How did you react to rejections when you started writing? How has that changed over the years?

David Farland: My reaction has always been the same. I try to figure out why I got rejected, and then I rewrite and try harder!

David Steffen: Do you tend to write in a certain environment? For instance, some people say they write better with particular kinds of music, or can only write if they have an hour or more of uninterrupted time, or like me, they tend to do their best in the morning just after they get up.

David Farland: I find that I do my best writing in the morning. It's important to be comfortable, so I write with a laptop while sitting in an easy chair. I tend to like it to be perfectly quiet, but sometimes I write with music playing softly--instrumental soundtracks from movies like Lord of the Rings, or possibly some classical music. To tell the truth, that's always difficult. I like to rock out.

But I write best if I have long blocks of time to focus. For that reason, I usually take writing retreats a couple of times a year. I like going to Mexico, but with all of the problems there lately, I'm thinking about heading off to Alaska in a couple of weeks.

David Steffen: David, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Now I need to catch up reading on the rest of the Runelords series so that I can be ready for the new release.

Also, thanks to everyone who assisted me in the interview process, including A.W. Sullivan, Jordan Lapp, and Joey Jordan.

Tiny Timmy's Tweets

More tweets from Gary's horror series:

Tiny Timmy was told never to play with his father's table saw. But he seemed bound and determined to become known as Tinier Timmy.

"Hot! Too hot, Mommy!" Tiny Timmy cried. Mom pulled him out of the microwave and put him back on the floor. "Now will you please _behave_?"

"Time to learn a new word, little man," said Tiny Timmy's haggard babysitter, cleaver in hand. "Can you say 'decapitation'?"

"Help! Help!" Tiny Timmy cried from the well's depths. "Won't anyone save me?" The piqued director called it a wrap, and the crew left.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Upcoming Interview: Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland)

Keep your eye on the blog! David Wolverton (aka David Farland) has agreed to join us for an interview on my blog some time very soon. He's an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author who has penned nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels.

I've been drawn helplessly into his "Earth King" series, starting with "The Runelords: The Sum of All Men". I also look forward to his regular "Kick in the Pants" email blog posts, where he gives insights about writing, plus motivational tips and news.

Burning with questions to ask him? Now is the time. If you add a comment to this thread with a question you'd like to ask him, I'll try to work it in.

I'm not sure the exact date I'll post the interview yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gary Cuba Presents Tiny Timmy's Tweet's: The Beginning

And now, with no further ado, guest blogger Gary Cuba, a good friend of mine, a slush reader, and fellow writer. Heeeeere's Gary!

Dave has been a great e-friend of mine for quite a while, and he once invited me to do a guest blog. I'm not sure what that actually means, but recently, something popped up that may justify me figuring it out.

So what it is, is this: I ran across a tweeter story site recently (specifically, And, given that I can no longer find the will or the way to actually write a blasted full-length story myself, I got lost in this strange concept. 140 characters to comprise a tale? Sheesh. I've tried six-sentencers, 100-word drabbles, 50-worder stories. But _140-character_ tweeters?!

Then I got hooked with the notion, once I tried it. It's more compelling than Sudoku. More fun than sex. (Well, given my advanced age and prostrate condition, it _seems_ that way, anyway.)

Me loves it.

And as I began to wend my way more into it, it occurred to me that I got stuck on a particular theme. Sort of a "subgenre" of the tweet horror genre, as it were.

I call it: "Tiny Timmy Tweets." Here are a few to prime the pump:

"Doggy! Cute doggy!" tiny Timmy said gleefully, toddling toward the lumbering, slavering cur. "Didja just eats some whip cream, didja?"

Tiny Timmy looked into the well, its bottom lost in the darkness. "Gosh, it's deep," he said. "It'd be awful to fall into it." I grinned.

Tiny Timmy watched his mom prepare the turkey. She looked down at him and said, "Now, what shall we stuff it with, little man?"

"Timmy, you bad boy," his mom said. "You come here at once!" Tiny Timmy slunk further under his bed. Okay, he shouldn't have eaten the cat.

Well, you get the idea. Any other Tiny Timmy pieces rumbling around in your reptilian brain center? I've got dozens. Don't worry: Tiny Timmy can never _really_ expire!

What Lies in Wait Beyond the Next Branch

Just some philosophical musing today at the approach of an important anniversary.
One week from tomorrow (June 5th) is the 1 year anniversary of my very first story submission dropped in a mailbox. It's also my 5th wedding anniversary, but that's not what I'm talking about today. :)

I started writing fiction in 2007, and jumped right in, diving head first into writing a novel with no prior experience writing fiction, no critique group and rare feedback from anyone. I finished a rough draft of that novel last year. Over that whole year I hadn't even considered writing short stories. If you want to make it big, I reasoned, you've got to aim high. Book royalties, that's the key. Once I finished writing the entire book, I polished the first 3 chapters to the best shine I knew how, wrote a synopsis for them and dropped them in the mailbox addressed to Tor. Their website at the time estimated 4-6 months for reply to slush, so I figured I had time to polish some more chapters before I had any chance of hearing back from them. I figured most places will take at least as long as the time estimate they give you. Right? Wrong!

I had their rejection in my mailbox 12 days later, a grainy photocopy of a form letter: "Dear Submitter", "signed, the editors". Now what should I do, I thought. Not that many places even take submissions of just 3 chapters + synopsis. Many places require you to work through an agent. Many others require an entire manuscript. I found another publisher that would take 3 + synopsis, Elder Signs Press, and sent it off to them. Once that was out the door I decided I needed a change in tactic.

Since novels take such an ungodly amount of time to write, and since so few publishers will take 3 chapter submissions, I decided I'd better get writing something shorter. So I wrote up my first short story, originally titled The Long-sought Purpose of the Divining Man. It was filled with almost constant exclamation points and semi-colons as I'd had a secret love for these punctuations. It was very long and had all kinds of problems, but of course I thought it was great. :)

I made my very first story post to Baen's Bar, the critiquing forum associated with Jim Baen's Universe. It took me quite a while to work up the courage. What if someone steals my work? What if someone rips my story apart? But I sucked it up, because quite frankly, their money was among the best pay in the short story biz. And of course, the good Barflies there told me what they really thought of it, pointing out all the problems that they could find. "Wow, this is harder than I thought", I said, but at the same time was delighted to get prompt and knowledgeable feedback not only from fellow writers who were more experienced than I, but from the slush readers Edith Maor, Gary Cuba, and Sam Hidaka.

I've used Baen's Bar both to give and receive critiques since then and have yet to see its equal. The critiques I've received there have helped me grow as a writer much more quickly than dogging through it on my own. In the year since I started writing shorts I've learned 10 times what I learned the year before trying on my own.

I also found other useful writing forums like the Writers of the Future forum, and Hatrack River forum where I began wonderful friendships, discussed the ins and outs of writing and of the publishing business, and just had a great time. :)

More recently I've started grabbing writer friends on Facebook, which has been fun. Many of them give frequent updates about tour dates, publications, and you can just interact with them for fun too. It's been awesome. Before you start talking to these people it's easy to put them up on a pedestal and think of them as some sort of strange otherworldly being that can pull prose out of their ears unbidden, but they're folks just like you and me (albeit talented ones).

Anyhoo, I sent that ESP novel submission out over 300 days ago now, and have queried at 6 and 9 months without even an acknowledgment in return. How different would my writing career be nowadays if I had sent that first manuscript off to ESP instead of Tor. I probably would never have started writing short stories, so I wouldn't have come across critique forums like Baen's Bar. I never would've made the awesome friends I've made, and I would be left slogging through the revisions of that novel (or ones of a second novel) with little or no feedback to help me understand what works in stories and what doesn't. ALL it would've taken would have been a different address on that one envelope, and this would be so different.

I'm glad I addressed that first envelope to Tor, it set me on the path I've traveled to be where I am today. :)

Now I just need to get back to revising that novel! Such a daunting task now that I have a pretty good idea what I like and don't like about different stories!

Soon to come: A special guest blogger. Who could it be? More details soon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Good News and Bad News

First, the bad news. I got a response from Flash Fiction Online which I've been anxiously anticipating. Rejection! I'm extremely bummed, but it's still a somewhat positive note. It made it to the winnowing stage, the third and final stage of reading at that venue, which supposedly only 3-10% of stories make it to.

The good news: I got a response from JW Schnarr, the editor of a Wizard of Oz horror anthology that I submitted a story to. It sounded like he really liked the story and wanted to hold it for consideration which he'll determine later this summer (the deadline for the antho is at the end of July). If I got in, it wouldn't pay a lot, but the idea of the antho is so awesome that I would love to be a contributor! I'll keep you all posted.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Story Recommendation: "Snatch Me Another" by Mercurio D. Rivera

I highly recommend this story from Abyss & Apex: "Snatch Me Another" by Mercurio D. Rivera. It's a well-told highly emotional tale exploring what the world could be like where we could have pretty much everything we wanted for free, by a new black market invention called The Snatcher.

This is a case where I didn't particularly like the protagonist, which is usually something I insist on for a story I like, but the premise was interesting enough to carry me through.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Novel Recommendation: The Runelords by David Farland

I'm currently reading The Runelords, novel 1 of the fantasy series of the same name written by David Farland (aka David Wolverton).

Some of you may know the author from his "Kick in the Pants!" email-blog. He periodically sends out emails that give tips on writing, getting published, and dealing with the industry. They're very informative and well worth the time. If you are interested, just email dwolvert (with the replaced with an @ sign, and say "Kick me!"

Anyway, since I started writing 2 years ago, I haven't come across a single novel I enjoyed. I'd been starting to think that by learning to pick apart my own stories critically that I'd rendered myself unable to enjoy other people's novels.

So I was very glad to realize that I was thoroughly enjoying this one. I'm about halfway through--I'll try to write up a full review when I've finished the book--and it's been great every step of the way. Some of the early chapters have some passages approaching info-dumps that may be a little bit out of character POV, but the information they provide is interesting and pertinent enough that it didn't really bother me. There's also occasional head-hopping, but again, it was done in such a way that it didn't bother me.

The most interesting thing for me in those early pages was to hear about the magical endowment system--this isn't a spoiler, you learn of this very early on. Through this, any person can endow another with their own attributes, such as wit, brawn, grace, sight, etc... The giver of the attribute finds themselves completely without that quality, while the receiver finds their attributes increased by that much. So a wise man can give his wits to another, the giver becomes a drooling husk, unable to even control his own bowel movements, while the receiver becomes that much smarter, able to remember more things and puzzle out difficult problems. The link lasts only as long as the two people live--if the giver dies, the receiver loses that endowment. If the receiver dies, the giver returns to normal. In this way, the people who have received many endowments must protect their Dedicates (the ones who gave them endowments) in order to protect their own abilities.

The implications of the Endowment system are major plot points that help keep every twist and turn interesting. At times, the story seems like it follows a common fantasy style, but just as I settle in to get comfortable, Farland takes a common idea and twists it to make it his own. The writing and plot are excellent and I would recommend this book to anyone.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What is The Race?

For those of you who aren't familiar with The Race that I referred to this morning, it's a system concocted by Dean Wesley Smith as one way to help motivate writing.

Check out a post from back in September '08 for more details:

I am currently at 21 points:
3 points for a novel synopsis+3 chapters to Elder Signs Press.
18 short stories at various magazines.

I don't see the points as a goal, but a means to an end. A high score, by itself, doesn't imply skill nor does it imply imminent publication. You still have to put your best work in and strive to make each story the best thing you've ever written. But I do like some of the behaviors it encourages, and so I see it more as one metric among many that helps me determine progress. Unlike most other metrics, this is easily quantifiable, which makes it easy to judge at a glance.

The Race isn't for everybody. Using the system encourages you to behave in a certain way, which is only good if you believe that behavior is beneficial to you. In particular, in can help if you believe:
1. The more stories you write, the better you'll be at writing. That is not to say that you should send a story out before it's ready--far from it. But I believe the more stories you write, the more point-of-view characters you write as, the more plots you construct, the more versatile you'll become. Some people don't agree with this, preferring to continually revise the same story many times, trying to approach the best the story can be. There's nothing wrong with that, but that approach doesn't work well for me. If I revised the same story over and over trying to make it perfect, at best it would an asymptotical approach, always getting closer but never quite making it. At worst I would over-analyze it and edit the life right out of the story. By using the score, you're encouraged to write more stories, because you can only increase your score by writing more stories.

2. It's best not to overanalyze form rejections. If I get a form rejection, I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out why it got rejected. I just send it right back out again. The reason is simple--there's not enough data to come to a sound conclusion about why it was rejected. Maybe they didn't like your writing. Maybe they don't like stories about dragons. Maybe their magazine was overbooked already. Maybe they had a bad taco for lunch and now your story has an unfortunate association in their mind with food poisoning. By keeping a Race score, it encourages you to send it right back out again.
Now, if I get a personal rejection or critique from someone, listing specific reasons why they didn't like it, such as "the beginning was too slow" "I never felt close to the POV" or "The ending left me unsatisfied", then of course I consider carefully what's been said and whether I want to change anything.

3. You don't want to put anything in the trunk yet. So far I haven't really felt comfortable putting stories away in "the trunk" and taking them out of submission. Even my earliest stories have some merit, though my skill has definitely grown beyond those days or I wouldn't have written them. By using the Race, it encourages me to keep these stories in submission.

What do you think of The Race? I'd be interested in discussing what flaws advantages you see in it. :)

21 points!

Well, I pushed my DWS Race score up to 21 points for the first time yesterday with a Wizard of Oz horror story sent off to the Shadows of the Emerald City anthology (an Oz horror antho). That makes my 20th story to enter circulation (including the novel).

I've had an unusual number of story ideas lately, despite not being able to spend much time with them (or perhaps because of it). I have a few stories that I need to revise, which always takes longer than I expect, and then I'll be back to writing new stuff. :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Story Recommendation: "Deep Moves" by William Highsmith

Abyss and Apex has a story I particularly liked this month by William Highsmith. I tried to give this one a critique before it was published, but I enjoyed it so much that I really just enjoyed it the way it is. It's a quick read, chock full of emotion and story, and it's also free! I hope you enjoy and let me know what you think. :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Wicked or Oppressed: Bimodal distribution of humanity, ala Sweeney Todd

Hi everybody! Sorry for the longer than usual delay since my last post, it's the end of the semester and I've been very busy with school and work.

For those of you who haven't seen Sweeney Todd, as either the movie or the play, be warned that there will be plenty of spoilers following. FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

First, it's kind of funny how I first heard of Sweeney Todd. I first saw it in the Ben Affleck/Liv Tyler movie Jersey Girl. In that movie there was a parent/child talent show where each pair was asked to choose a song to perform and act out for the school. Everyone but Ben Affleck and his daughter performed "Memories" from Cats. So after hours and hours of replays of the same song, these two go on stage and perform "God, That's Good!". On the upper tier of the stage, the barber Sweeney Todd cuts the throats of customers, who then fall through a hole in the floor and are served as meat pies to unsuspecting customers in Mrs. Lovett's restaurant to dispose of the evidence.
If you want to see that video clip:

Anyway, the details of the story FULL SPOILERS AHEAD are this:

I'm assuming that you all have seen the story. If you want to remember the details, here's a link to a Wikipedia synopsis:

In the song "Epiphany", Sweeney states his view of mankind:
"They all deserve to die. Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why. Because in all of the whole human race, Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men and only two. There's the one stays put in his proper place and the one with his foot in the other one's face. Look at me, Mrs. Lovett, look at you. We all deserve to die. Even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I. Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief. For the rest of us death will be a relief."

His simple bimodal distribution of humanity is very apt for the play. Only a few characters violate this description, and those are the most remarkable characters. Here's an analysis of all the named characters in the play, classifying them as the Wicked and the Oppressed:

First, the clean cut ones:

Mrs. Lovett (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie):
Definitely Wicked. She's the one who suggests putting human meat in her pies. She also deceives Sweeney, leading him to believe that Lucy is dead so that she can seek Todd's love for herself. You can't get much more wicked than that.
Dies by Sweeney's hands for her crimes.

Judge Turpin (played by Alan Rickman in the movie):
Definitely Wicked. He wrongfully imprisons Barker to get at his wife. He exploits Lucy to the point that she attempts suicide. He imprisons Johanna and tries to force her into marriage. Rich man, and civil officer, taking advantage of decent people--definitely wicked.
Dies at Sweeney's hands.

Beadle Bamford (played by Jamie Campbell Bower in the movie--you may know him as Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew in the Prisoner of Azkaban)
Wicked. He seems to have a pretty good life. Though he lives under the command of Judge Turpin, he doesn't really seem to suffer for it. He's well-dressed and happy enough. He helps Judge Turpin in his unethical actions. He's wicked, though not to the extreme of his employer.
Dies at Sweeney's hands.

Signor Pirelli (played by Sacha Baron Cohen in the movie)
Wicked, though he's the least wicked of the wicked. A rich man, very well dressed, who exploits the general populace by pretending to be Italian and selling them overpriced barber services as well as selling them "miracle elixir" that's supposed to grow hair, but is really just a mix of urine and ink. Tries to blackmail Sweeney.
Dies at Sweeney's hands.

Lucy Barker
Definitely oppressed. Her husband is wrongfully imprisoned, then she's relentlessly pursued by a man in power, then exploited, then takes poison, but doesn't die. She ends up brain damaged and begging on the streets.
Dies at Sweeney's hands.

Now for the dual case:

Benjamin Barker/Sweeney Todd (played by Johnny Depp in the movie)
These two sort of follow the rules, if you consider multiple personalities to be different people. I think that Barker/Todd really believe their statement that there are only two kind of men. Benjamin Barker is the oppressed man who lost his wife and child. Desperate for revenge, but unable to bring himself to it, he creates another persona: Sweeney Todd. Sweeney Todd is more than capable of enacting revenge on the judge, but he's incapable of compassion and more than willing to commit mass-murder.
dies at Toby's hands

And the really strange cases. Interestingly, the strange cases are the ONLY people who survive:

Transitions from neutral to Wicked. His life at the beginning isn't particularly terrible. He has a home and a job being a crier for Signor Pirelli. If I remember right, he's a rescued orphan so his life is looking up. After that he's taken in by Mrs. Lovett who treats him like a son. He's suspicious of Sweeney, but they manage to coexist until near the end when Toby discovers what Todd and Lovett have been up to. He's lurking in the sewers beneath the basement when Mrs. Lovett is killed. After that, he creeps up and kills Todd while Todd is cradling Lucy's dead body. Murder at such a young age seems like it will make him wicked for sure.
She is still alive at the end!

Transitions from Oppressed to Neutral. Her life at the beginning is terrible, forced to live with Turpin as he tries to force her to marry him. But Anthony comes along and rescues her. In the end they run away together. You could argue that she'll be Oppressed for the rest of her life because of childhood trauma, but I like to think there's a happy ending there.
She is still alive at the end!

He is the most unique character, arguably the hero of the story. He is neither Wicked nor Oppressed at any point in the play. He does not perform any actions to hurt other characters, but he does not allow himself to be pushed down by other characters either. His actions only have good effects, allowing Johanna to be free, and absolving Todd's guilt to know that his daughter will be in good hands.

Judging by all of these things, I think the story is told from Barker's point of view (hence why most everyone fits so neatly into the two categories). In this story, Anthony is the hero because he saves Todd's daughter.

If anyone has any thoughts on this analysis, I'd be glad to hear them! :)