A Writer's-Eye View

Oooh, Villains!
September 2, 2011, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Characters

I love my characters. Even, maybe especially, my villains.

Creating them is more than just an exercise in seeing how evil I can make them. The villain-creating process leads me in all sorts of interesting directions and to all sorts of interesting books and articles I’d never otherwise read. I mean, how else would I now be able to list The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout as one of my all-time favorite books? I think everyone should read it, not just thriller writers. Come on, there has to be a neighbor or a back-stabbing coworker or a queen-bee school mom that you just can’t believe does the things s/he does…and gets away with it. Dr. Stout’s book tells you why they get away with what they get away with, and why the rest of us allow it. But back to my villains….

When I was creating Garner Blaylock, the Deep-Earth psychopath in Frozen Fire, I started out to just make him a kind of over-the-top, superPETA, anti-human sort of guy. I hit a few bumps, though. The more scenes he appeared in, the more it became apparent to me that I needed to get to know this guy better. He was already evil, but he needed depth and motivations beyond the story at hand. He needed a backstory. He needed a history. He needed deep emotional injuries that no amount of psychotherapy or jail time or “the love of a good woman” would begin to help. And I was the only one who could give him those injuries. Since I’ve never really known someone who was pure evil, I was a bit stumped.

Right about that time I read an article about the generation of Romanian children who had grown up in those horrific orphanages we all heard about in the months and years immediately after Romania rejoined the free world. The children who grew up without hugs, cuddles, or any human touch at all, who were deliberately not touched by their care-givers because the children—even infants—would inevitably want more. The rationale was that there were too many children in those places and too few caretakers. The unintended consequence of the lack of basic human interaction, according to the article, was a generation of children growing up with such stunted emotional growth that they didn’t cry. They didn’t laugh. They couldn’t interact appropriately or naturally on an emotional level. Some, the article warned, were in danger of being Spock-like or, in the worst-case scenario, complete sociopaths with no empathy, no compassion, no conscience.

The article chilled me…and provided me with Garner’s background. He is the Villain Most Chilling in my repertoire.

I think my latest villain, Greg Simpson, is almost, but not quite, as bad as Garner, even though Greg coldly and calculatedly kills waaaay more people. I know Greg a bit better than I knew Garner despite not spending a lot of time crafting a history that went back to his childhood. It wasn’t necessary in his case. Greg’s brand of crazy didn’t start in childhood; it happened later in his Type A life. His crazy is born of severe disillusionment and delusions about his own talent and abilities. He’s a classic narcissist; no one is as good as him, as smart as him, as determined as him. Rather than being challenged or even threatened by colleagues who are clearly his equal or superior to him, he instead overlooks silly things like that and focuses on the faults they have that he doesn’t. Or doesn’t think he has. In other words, his ego shields him from reality as needed.

Whereas Garner was created purely from my imagination, Greg has a few small roots in reality. He’s not based fully on any one person, but there are elements of his personality and behaviors that are riffs on the personality traits and behavioral quirks of some people I’ve known—dated, worked for, worked with, befriended, or just observed—over the years. After all, it’s always easier to write what you know than to write what you don’t.

Carter Thompson, the villain in Category 7, was probably the most fun villain to write. He was so unassuming. He didn’t look like a bad guy. I pictured him in my head as a rumpled, somewhat tired-looking, grandfatherly guy you might see at the hardware store on a Saturday afternoon, lost in thought in the plumbing aisle. To be perfectly honest, I imagined him as Warren Buffet’s evil twin: extraordinarily, scarily smart but with no driving need to impress anyone with his insight or his wealth. Carter was a hidden narcissist. He just knew he was smarter than everyone else, so he didn’t have to show off to anyone. He didn’t want anyone knowing who was causing all the trouble, unlike Greg and Garner, who went out of their way to demand the world’s attention. And we’ve all known people like Carter, too, haven’t we? 😉

Until next time,



For the Love of Flies (?)
June 20, 2009, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Okay, for those of you who have been to my website and have read the “Research Extra” feature about researching Frozen Fire, I have another “moment” for you to enjoy.

In the Research Extra article, I mention the odd and even unsettling real coincidences that my co-author, Bill Evans, and I encountered as we set out to write Category 7, and the even stranger research coincidences that we encountered after Frozen Fire was written and in production. (I won’t go into them here. Here’s the link to the Research Extra; it’s a quick read.)

So the latest odd moment happened earlier this week, when President Obama swatted that nasty fly during an interview on national television and had PETA jump all over him for doing so. I read that and started to laugh, not just because it was utterly ridiculous. (And it is utterly ridiculous. I mean COME ON—it was a FLY. A germ-carrying, garbage-and-worse eating, vomit-disgorging FLY. Did it deserve to die? Maybe not, but the world won’t miss that one, even a teensy bit. Irrespective of what Jeff Goldblum and Stephen Colbert have to say about it.)

But, no, the reason I thought it was so funny was that in Frozen Fire, our über-villain is a character named Garner Blaylock, an eco-warrior who looks like Brad Pitt in Troy, has all the charm of Ted Bundy, and possesses all the compassion of Charles Manson. In short, Garner is not a nice man. To double-down on the ick factor, Garner believes that humans are the scourge of the earth and the other creatures, particularly the scorned (rats, cockroaches, and flies, for instance) have greater intrinsic value than humans. Nice, huh? Well, he was a lot of fun to write. (From the creative perspective, it’s wonderful to build a character who has no conscience and for whom no action is too horrific to take—and take pleasure in.)

There’s a scene in Frozen Fire in which Garner actually admonishes his lover for swatting at a fly. The woman doesn’t kill it, but Garner still doesn’t like that she’s annoying the poor little bug(ger). I won’t tell you how he gets back at her for that and other transgressions that he perceives as slightly more critical, but, as I said above, he’s not a nice man.

So I have to admit that when I was deciding just how bad, creepy, and off-the-charts nasty we should make this gorgeous villain, I really thought that there wouldn’t or couldn’t be anyone alive who would defend the life of a fly. But there you have it. PETA trumped us. And showed the world that–once again–Truth is sometimes just as strange as Fiction.

Back to my manuscript now. More anon.


Wow. A blog of my very own. Who’da thunk?
June 17, 2009, 6:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

In most things in life, I’m a highly risk-averse late-adopter. For instance, platform shoes first appeared on the scene when I was in late grade school and have disappeared and reappeared several times since then. I’ve never bought a pair; I’m still not convinced it’s a trend that will last. When e-books came out, I scoffed. Blogging? Hah.

 And here I am. My books are available on Kindle, and I have a blog. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter–the jury’s still out. Still no platform shoes, but that could have something to do with being naturally tall.

 So I’m dipping my pedicured toes in the water. I can’t say how often I’ll update it in these early days, particularly since I’m in the crunch mode of a looming deadline and it’s summer time, which rarely helps a deadline, but I’ll try to stay on top of it and will post when I have something that needs saying…or that I just need to say. (Never been a problem for me……)

For now, thanks for stopping by. I’ll get more interesting soon!