Everyone say hello to Carl Brush! He’s an amazing author, promoter, and all around good guy!
First of all, thanks be to Kate for providing me some space to air my ideas and talk a bit about my recent release, The Maxwell Vendetta (prequel to the previously published The Second Vendetta.) In addition to her terrific writing, Kate labors fruitfully in the Solstice Publishing vineyards (not to mention her roles as wife and mom), and we Solstice authors are lucky and thankful to have her.
Here, then are a few thoughts not only about my own book, but about the creation of villains in general. Hope they’re useful and enjoyable.
Snakes in the Garden
There’s nothing wrong with stories without bad guys. Kate Atkinson’s splendid Life After Life is only the latest example of many first-class novels without an archetypal antagonist. There’s plenty of conflict and bad behavior in Life, of course. Without that, there would be no story. For others of us writers, however, villains are our artistic bread and butter. They personify the constant threat that evil poses to the order of our lives and society. And they’re also fun to create. They don’t have to wear black hats, after all. They can assume any form at all. “The devil has the power to assume a pleasing shape,” as the bard puts it. Or not. Your choice. And that choice will determine the shape of your story and the direction the action will take.
Nowhere does the power to assume pleasing shapes have more meaning than in the world of the fantasy/paranormal tales that have become so popular in recent years. And nowhere is that protean ability better exemplified than in the character of the Demon God Corse in Kate Marie Collins’ fine novel The Daughter of Hauk. When Shakespeare wrote that line about the devil, he was talking about humans, who can be confusing enough. “One can smile and smile and be a villain.” But the characters in the world of Hauk can do more than smile and don disguises. They can transform their physical personae, even assume that of a friend. Even for someone with magical powers like the heroine Arwenna, it gets next-to-impossible to tell friend from foe, and one mistake can doom not only herself, but all her people. What delicious suspense for the reader.
Collins’ Corse is evil because, like that biblical snake, he’s simply wired that way. However, Michael Yellow Squirrel, my bad guy in The Maxwell Vendetta (and its sequel, The Second Vendetta), starts off with a legitimate beef. But, in addition, he’s wired to hold tightly to a grudge. And for a long time. The Army forced his Arapaho people onto a reservation in his childhood—the old story of broken U.S. promises—and Andy Maxwell’s grandfather played a key role in the struggle. That was in 1864. It’s now 1908. The grandfather is deceased, and everyone else has moved on, but Yellow Squirrel remains obsessed with wiping out every remaining Maxwell and their Circle M ranch to boot. What began as a true grievance becomes twisted into a fury against descendants who had nothing to do with the original incident. No one has the same trouble recognizing Yellow Squirrel as the Hauk characters do recognizing Corse, but my villain is every bit as clever and relentless and dangerous to the entire world of the family he threatens.
Done well, then, villains provide the yeast, the dramatic tension, that determines whether a story rises to delicious heights or falls flat. Like that yeast, they must be fresh, strong, attractive as the scent of rising dough. And they must be organic to the whole. You can’t just insert them like raisins or sprinkle them on for show after everything else has been kneaded and shaped. When readers taste the final product, the taste of that villain should season every bite. Without him or her, your loaf will be as tasteless as a Disney white bread in which nothing truly bad ever happens to anyone. In other words, no story, not really bread, at all.
You can buy the e-book The Maxwell Vendetta @ http://amzn.to/16KTlyU
Both the e-book and paperback versions of The Second Vendetta are available @
Thanks for stopping by, Carl!