Monday, June 25, 2007

On Bad Guys

"The women who inspired this play deserved to be smacked across the head with a meat ax, and that, I flatter myself, is exactly what I smacked them with."

*** Clare Boothe Luce on "The Women."

You know when you listen to the sharp, catty dialogue of the women undermining each other in The Women that Luce had a good ear for women at their worst. Have any real, live a**holes in your lives inspired your fictional bad guys?

Funny you should ask. There is a real life a**hole who lives too close to me to identify beyond that, but I was so pissed at him - for unneighborly behaviour - that I made him a wife beater in my book. As it happens I had too many interwoven story lines and decided to pull that one out, but one false move and the guy makes it into book three.

I'm sitting at my computer, staring at the screen. Wondering who inspired my bad guys, and why. And I realized it's not so much specific people, as it is the way some people treat others. My bad guys are self-centered, greedy, manipulative. They're only interested in themselves--and how others can help them get what they want. And if someone gets in the way or interferes, they mow them down. Physically, psychologically and emotionally. Their flaws stem from power, money, and control.

The good guys--listen, think, care about others as much as they do themselves. Their flaws stem from love.As for you, Ro, my darling husband is a lawyer, if you need him.

Free associating on the lawyer is interesting how mystery readers are far more partial to dead lawyers than they are to dead dogs. I know, off topic. I LOVE that quote, but I confess I hate asshole characters. The 'villain' in my work in progress is based loosely on a girl I barely knew in high school. She was very sweet and needy and clingy (and annoying) and I imagined what might have happened to her if she got twisted, seriously twisted. I like villains who are real, complex people who've convinced themselves that they HAVE to do bad things for all the 'right' reasons. As Hanks says, they're 'flawed.'

I hung around with a guy in college who I knew was evil. Okay, no one believes in evil today, so maybe he wasn't evil, just a sociopath. But it was like the air changed in the room whenever he walked in. When asked about his plans after graduation, he announced that he was going to go to Las Vegas and make his "killing" gambling. He never went to Las Vegas, but in the back room in a bar in Boston, he won a couple grand in a backgammon game.

In lieu of the cash, he was offered the chance to make money driving car loads of marijuana up from Florida. He soon graduated from driver to investor, and after a stint in jail wound up distributing a synthetic heroin that killed something like 200 junkies up and down the east coast. The Herald did a story on it and quoted one of his associates as saying that Chris chuckled over this.

When I read the quote, I could actually hear the laugh Chris would have used. To make a long story short, Chris died, execution style, with two bullets in the back of his head, shortly after deciding to turn state's evidence. None of his college friends were shocked.

Anyway, I'm clearly fascinated by Chris. He was the inspiration for one of my earliest short stories, and the basis for my bad guy in Final Copy. Over and over, even when I was doing investigative journalism, I found myself drawn to the subject of charismatic con men (and women). Why is that the trait of utter selfishness is so often coupled with extraordinary charm?

Maybe it's that mystery that keeps us writing crime fiction!

We're so thrilled to announce Jungle Red's own Hank Phillippi Ryan's debut novel Prime Time is now on the Boston Globe's bestseller list! Prime Time has been on sale for just twelve days..and now is the number 10 best-selling paper back as listed in New England's flagship newspaper.
(The second book in Hank's Charlotte McNally Mysteries, FACE TIME, will be published this October.)


  1. A big hello to Hallie and Jan! I've been shadowing this blog for some time (I know, sounds like a stalker). Great job! I wanted to toss in my two cents about bad guys. In The Black Widow Agency, I have fairly stereotypical bad guys but it's my four main female investigators that are especially flawed - from borderline alcoholism to social misfits. They pretty much cover the gamut of dysfunctionalism. Does having flawed protagonists overcome stereotypical bad guys? Incidentally, a good friend gave me the "Careful or I'll write about you in my next novel" sweatshirt a while ago. I'm waiting for that perfect moment to put it on...

  2. Where can I get that t-shirt?

    Hi felicia,
    I especially like flawed protagonists, and four of the sound great! But oh come on, tell us about your bad guy!

  3. Jan, here's a link to Cafepress for the shirt:

    Bad guys...more than one in The Black Widow Agency. Dastardly and bastardly, this one company preys on women and sexually harasses them knowing the women desperately need their jobs to support their families. The kind of low-down scum you want to drop-kick in the you-know-whats for their vile treatment of women. That's until the Black Widows come along. You've never seen a hot flash put to better use...

  4. I've read that villains never think they're villains. They think they're the good guys. That makes sense to me.

  5. Carleen,
    Yes, I think the very best bad guys are the ones who are really good at justifying their crime. I loved how Tony Soprano thought of himself as a soldier and identified with the military leaders on the History Channel.

    p.s. Thanks Felicia!

  6. I agree. So many criminals I've interviewed, every true bad guy I've ever met in my years as a reporter, has sincerely thought there was some reason why what he/she was doing was something that was justified.

    Things like: its about time the
    little guy won.

    My boss had it out for me, and it was unfair.

    No one will miss the money that's gone and it was all ripped off in the first place.

    I was unhappy, and deserved to have my turn at happiness.

    No one understood me and this was my way to express myself.

    The system is unfair and everyone does this.

    Think about it: if you considered doing something wrong, you could come up with a million reasons--moral, ethical, legal-- why it was wrong and why you would not do it.

    I wonder if maybe "villains" don't consder "why not"--they're all about why.

  7. Bad guys are so fascinating to me. I think the two freakiest kind -- and I am certain I know one of the first type and have known at least two of the second are sociopaths and narcissists. I think both of these are called personality disorders because there truly is no treatment or cure, either cognitive or pharmaceutical for either and both types seem to have no awareness at all of how out of sync with the rest of us they are. The sociopath -- the real article that I know is highly intelligent and seems to be able to imitate normal behavior. In other words, he knows how he should respond in situations where a normal person would feel remorse or compassion, but he has no idea what those things feel like. The narcissists are just plain crazy (IMHO). Everything they think about, perceive and do is done with themselves at the center of it and they are completely unaware that the rest of the world doesn't operate that way. I'm not sure if I believe there is just evil. It seems at times the only explanation for some things. I don't write crime fiction, so I'm curious -- do you draw inspiration for bad guys from real people or real psychological conditions or do you imagine them completely?

  8. annoying neighbor is starting to sound like a sweetheart compared to the whackos you guys know...

  9. Do you women ever stop? I just read the review of Jan Brogan's latest in the Boston Globe -- glowing -- and now I'm left to wonder how do you do it? Such an accomplished group.


  10. Did we mention that we loved you Amy???? Because we certainly do.

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