Of Heroes and Villains

Many newly published novels, perhaps even most of them, have easily recognizable heroes and villains. The heroes are all-powerful, all-avenging, pure-of-heart, upstanding citizens. The villains are easily recognizable as well–pure evil packaged in human form. No complex explanations are needed to justify the actions of either the heroes or the villains. The villains do evil because they are evil and the heroes do good because they are good.  The villains are sexual predators, serial killers, dictators bent on world domination. The heroes are … well you know who they are. They are the only persons in the world who can save the world from some looming disaster.

The entertainment value of these tales rests with the ingenuity and violence the hero brings to the table in subduing the monster. These are the books we pack for vacations. These are not the books I know how to write.

In Defiled (available online now, in bookstores January 10, 2017), and in the sequel, Absolved (now in the hands of my editors), the heroes are ordinary people, just like you and your neighbors, who have been thrust into extraordinary situations and must find their way out. They make mistakes. They misinterpret and miscalculate. The villains are just as hazily drawn. I don’t believe in intrinsic evil; I believe in evil acts committed by perfectly ordinary people acting in their own self-interest. The villains may well be mentally ill, but here too, the shades of gray dominate. In our modern society we medicate most mentally ill people and institutionalize few of them. They walk among us and their illnesses cloud their judgment and allow them to perform evil acts. Such is the case in Defiled. In Absolved, the villains are motivated more by the need to cover up mistakes and personal failings and shameful secrets.

When these characters are thrown together in complex and dangerous situations, the results are not clear cut. The entertainment value is in the moral choices that must be made by both heroes and villains. The heroes may win the contest but remember what your mother always told you: be careful what you want because you might get it.

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