Worthy Villains

Every writer knows that a strong villain makes for a strong story.  The higher stakes, the faster the pages turn.  There are the obvious, fictitious, bad guys–like the evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella, the enticing Hannibal Lecter, and the over-the-top Cruella de Vil, who’ll kill cute puppies to have a one-of-a-kind, fur coat.  But no villain declares his motives as clearly as Shakespeare’s Richard the III, who declares in his opening soliloquy “…And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”  And prove himself he does (at least in the play).

I believe that one of the reasons Harry Potter was such a success is that Voldemort was such an excellent villain.  He was twisted and powerful…and fascinating.  In lots of myths and fantasies, the battle comes down to good versus evil.  Look at Lord of the Rings and the Dark Lord Sauron, who commanded the Orcs.  Here’s a link to 50 of the best villains in literature:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3560987/50-greatest-villains-in-literature.html  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of your favorites might or might not have made the cut.  But sometimes, villains can be more subtle.  Moriarity plays mind games with Sherlock Holmes, and the villain smiles and welcomes us in many an Agatha Christie mystery.  Annie Wilkes is an author’s biggest fan in Stephen Kings’ Misery.

In my novel Fallen Angels, I tried for a few kinds of villains–the serial killer who preys on women; Vlad, the favored, spoiled vampire who constantly breaks the rules; and the hero’s best friend, who’s also his most dangerous adversary.  But all the while, as Caleb creates and sanctions vampires, he stays committed to thinking of Enoch as a “brother.”  It’s a complicated relationship, and hopefully, Caleb makes for a complicated villain.  But whatever your taste in bad guys, a good book depends on them.  Which would you call your favorite?

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How tempting is Earth? Mortal pleasures?

I’ve always liked stories with battles of good versus evil.  I’m a sucker for Harry Potter.  That has to tell you something.  But what if the battle is good versus an old friend who turned not-so-good–who did bad things?  And the good guy wants to go home–to Heaven, but his friend feels right at home here on Earth.  That’s how my novel Fallen Angels niggled its way into my head.

When I was growing up, my mom switched churches every few years.  We were Lutherans for a while, did a brief stint as Jehovah Witnesses until they told Mom she had to give up her pierced earrings and cigarettes, and then went liberal when she joined a Presbyterian church.  I didn’t go to see it, but I listened to her tell about getting dunked when she became a Seventh Day Adventist.  I could see the good in each and every one of Mom’s choices, what appealed to her–she had a real fondness for ministers who preached about the proximity of the Last Days–but my dad was an atheist, and Mom’s devotion was somewhat fickle, even though her faith was constant, so I didn’t get too attached to one church over another.  But one of them had an idea that really appealed to me.  It was their idea of Heaven.

This church taught that there were seven layers to Heaven.  Only a very few people made it to the very top.  That was reserved for those souls who chose to tune in completely to their spiritual side.  They were happy and fulfilled just contemplating Goodness and what was holy and had no need for earthly pleasures.  Me, I’m not that girl.  When I think of heaven, I think of gourmet meals with no calories and wine that won’t make me slap-happy stupid.  I think of perfect weather (mid-70’s, of course), and maybe a lush garden overflowing with flowers and veggies, a vineyard, and endless orchards.  My friend calls me a nature girl, and I might be, but I’d like a great nightclub too, with dancing and laughing.  And I want something to do.  I get fidgety sitting around, twiddling my thumbs.

Mom swore that there was a level for people like me–people who love this Earth–if it were perfected.  She wasn’t quite sure if I’d end up on ladder rung five or six, but I didn’t care.  I was just glad there was a spot for me, a place where I could frolic in the meadow where the lion lies down with the lamb.

I’ve thought about those seven layers every now and then.  I know who’d go on the bottom level–people with few redeeming qualities who’ve hurt their fellow man, people with a lot to learn about spiritual growth before they climb to level two.  I know who’s at the top, and I’m not jealous of their exalted position.  And the middle–well, it’s just like plotting my  novels–it’s muddled until I have to deal with it.  But the thing is, thinking about Heaven has made me realize what I think Nirvana is.  Mine is closer to the perfect Earth than angels playing harps.   And I don’t seem to be the only one who likes my home planet.

I just read the story of Lillith, Adam’s first wife before she swapped him out for the archangel Samael.  She left the Garden of Eden to be with him and later became the first succubus, one of the original queens of the demons.  I’m not sure where Lillith eventually called home, but I’m thinking it’s not Heaven.  And she seems to be able to visit Earth whenever she needs to suck out a life force or two, so I’m guessing she likes it enough here.  This view of demons is one of the things I really enjoy in Sharon Ashwood’s the Dark Forgotten series.  There are good demons, sort of good demons, and really nasty ones.  They’re portrayed sort of the way angels are.  There are good angels, fallen angels, and ones who’ve turned really, really bad.

In the Bible, in Genesis, angels leave Heaven to come to Earth when they see the first women.  Nothing good comes of that.  Monsters are born, and it took a flood to dispose of them, but Lucifer was dissatisfied with Heaven too.  Of course, Lucifer is nothing but trouble.  I won’t even go there, but there are plenty of stories of fallen angels.  Some are shown as tragic, heroic figures.  Others, instigators of no good.  But all of them struggle with their own inner demons.  Some succumb.  Some don’t.  And that’s what gave birth to Fallen Angels.  Enoch likes Heaven.  Caleb likes Earth.  And they each feel loyal to the other, in their own ways.  That makes them feel torn.  Part of the human condition.   And maybe the heavenly one too.

 

 

But I had Natty Bumppo

My grandsons grew up with Harry Potter.  I bought them The Sorcerer’s Stone and read them a chapter a night.  During summer vacations, with no school, they’d beg for an extra chapter in the afternoon.  We went to each midnight book party and read the series together until Harry finally defeated Voldemort.  Somewhere in there, we went to see each movie.  It was bittersweet for me when the Harry phenomenon ended, because it pretty much parallelled my grandsons’ childhood reading years.  They’re teenagers now.  Too cool to go to a movie with me.  They’re on to other books and lots of assigned reading.  It made me think.  What did I read when I was a kid?

There have always been good authors who wrote for children and YA, but I really think that today’s readers have lots more to choose from.  And that’s good.  There are so many other options for them to spend time on–like X-Box, Playstation, and computers that they can easily bypass books.  But there’s nothing like losing yourself in a good novel.  My grandsons went from Harry Potter to Suzanne Collins’ Gregor series and from those to her YA novels, starting with The Hunger Games.  They read a fair amount of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief series, too.

When I was in grade school, I read Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, along with the other novels in her series.  I missed the appeal of Nancy Drew and had to content myself with single titles until I hit middle school.  And then I discovered James Fenimore Cooper.  I fell in love with Natty Bumppo and read every book in Cooper’s Leatherstocking series.  His The Last of the Mohicans took my breath away.  No kid would read those today.  Cooper could easily take three pages to describe a forest.  But I loved those stories.  I loved how unassuming Natty Bumppo was as a hero.  Or at least, that’s  how I remember him.  When I finished those, I discovered Grace Livingston Hill and then Agatha Christie.  She began my love affair with mysteries.  But there was no series that I can recall that had a young adult as a hero or heroine.

When I started college, I took lots of English lit. classes, and there was no time for fun reading.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved (most) of the books I was assigned to read.  But they were part of the curriculum, and I was tested over them.  Not the same thing as browsing through shelves at a bookstore and choosing something that piques your fancy.

The thing is, if you’re lucky enough, reading is a wonderful part of growing up.  If you love it then, it could become a wonderful experience you can continue through life.  Today’s kids have an abundance of writers and books to choose from.  My grandsons grew up with Harry Potter.  Hopefully, that experience will encourage them to read for the rest of their lives.  Me?  I had Natty Bumppo.  And he was great!