Monday, January 14, 2013

Knowing Myself as the Bad Guy


Yesterday I was on a Short Story Panel here in Redding. During a break a person told me the protagonist of her book was a cute little angel. Struck me. That’s not a story I could write. As you and Penelope Cruz know, I’m seriously cute but I’m no angel. In fact I’ve been embarrassed sometimes how easily I can inhabit and write about a horrible character. I identify effortlessly.  I believe it relates to what you were saying about your work. When I meet people, talk to them, try to understand how they arrived at the opinions they hold or the behavior they exhibit . . . something happens for me. I lose some of my judgmental nature and often find myself empathizing. Even if I hope I wouldn’t make the same choices or decisions they do, I can see myself in them.

I know what made Scotty a killer in Desert Angel. He was raised to be mean for self-protection. Learned his family's criminal skills as a means to make a living. I know what made Homer vicious in Interrogation. He felt isolated and ashamed and powerless at home and he wanted to get even with a world that had dealt him such a bad hand.

In years of work in psych hospitals I saw kids from the same families turn out differently --- one self-destructive, the other, moving toward a positive future. I cannot understand how or why. It’s a mystery to me. I came to believe that all of us have this range of possibility inside us. Writing effective characters requires self-awareness and the ability to explore or at least accept both light and dark aspects the soul. For example, I’m extremely aware of your myriad flaws and that helps me write about weird characters.

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