I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but I’ve had some strange things happen during the writing of a book. I once turned a manuscript into my editor at the same time another writer turned in hers. Oddly, enough, our protagonists shared the same first names and professions. There were also many other similarities throughout our manuscripts, and all had to be changed.
Another time I was hiking a trail in Mammoth when I met a geologist who was the spitting image of the geologist hero in the book I was working on. Even weirder, his first name was Damian and I’d named my hero Damon. Close enough, right?
But the strangest thing that happened occurred recently. I’d been toying with the idea of taking a DNA Ancestry test for quite some time, so my daughter decided to gift me with one for Christmas. The results were pretty much what I expected, with one surprise. It turns out that the outlaw Jesse James and I share a common ancestor.
The timing was especially weird since Jesse James plays a part in the book I’m currently working on. Come to think of it, it’s not the first time Jesse James has popped up in one of my books, and I can’t count how many blogs I’ve written about the outlaw.
That’s because Jesse is a fun person to write about. Not only was he controversial, he had both a light and dark side. The son of a Baptist minister, he was known to pass out press releases to witnesses at his holdups and had no qualms about exaggerating his height. He might also be the only person on record who took a gang on his honeymoon. I don’t know what his bride did while he and his gang robbed a stage. Maybe she went shopping.
Jesse James lived for only thirty-four years, but there was never a dull moment. He was a Confederate guerrilla, was shot in the chest on two separate occasions and once overdosed on morphine. He also claimed to have murdered seventeen people.
Jesse went by many aliases, but his nickname was Dingus because he shot off the tip of his finger while cleaning his pistol. He wrote glowing articles about his gang, saying that they robbed the rich and gave to the poor, though all indications are that they kept the spoils to themselves.
Far as I know, he was also the first person to prove that housework can kill. While tidying up his house, he was fatally shot by his new hire Bob Ford in the back of the head.
I can’t tell you what it was about Jesse James that first caught my interest. I can’t even tell you why this writer, who’s allergic to horses, writes Westerns. All I can say, is that it must be in my DNA.
Have any of you had your DNA tested? If so, were there any surprises that you’re willing to share
Some people just aren’t cut out for a life of crime.
An example of this is the case of two cowboys named Grant Wheeler and Joe George. In 1895, they decided to try their hand at robbing the Southern Pacific Railroad. The real loot was carried by rail, so why waste time robbing stages?
After carefully working out a plan, George and Wheeler purchased a box of dynamite and boarded the train. Five miles out of Willcox, Arizona, the desperadoes got the engineer to stop the train with the help of a .45 revolver. Piece of cake.
One of the outlaws uncoupled the express car from the rest of the train and ordered the engineer to pull forward. Wheeler and George then broke into the express car. The safe had eighty-four thousand dollars in cash and their hands were itching to get hold of it.
They must have been ecstatic to discover that the Wells Fargo agent guarding the loot had escaped. In addition to the unguarded safe, they also found bags of silver pesos used as ballast on the floor. Oh, heavenly days!
Working quickly, they placed sticks of dynamite around the safe and ducked outside to escape the blast. Unfortunately, the safe remained intact.
They decided to try again with extra dynamite but got the same results. The stubborn safe refused to give up its treasure.
If at First…
Not willing to give up, the bungling robbers decided to try yet a third time. This time, they used too much dynamite and blew the entire express car to smithereens. Pieces of lumber and thousands of silver pesos filled the air. Acting like shrapnel, some of the coins were embedded in telegraph poles. It’s a miracle the two men survived.
When the smoke cleared, they found that the safe door had been blown off, but only a few dollars had escaped the blast. The real booty was the Mexican pesos, but the silver coins were scattered all over the countryside.
Meanwhile, the train has rolled into town and sounded the alarm. The sheriff tried putting together a posse with no luck. Folks were too busy racing out to the scene of the crime to hunt for silver pesos.
…Try, Try, Again!
After licking their wounds, Wheeler and George decided to give train robbery another shot. No sense letting their harrowing experience go to waste.
A week later, they showed up to rob the same train and felt confident they knew what they were doing. This time they would make careful use of the dynamite.
The fourth times a charm—or is it?
Wheeler and George ordered the crew to separate the express car from the engine and passenger cars.
Everything went according to plan. You can almost imagine the two giving each other a high-five as they entered the express car. They were, however, in for a rude awakening. For the hapless duo soon discovered that the crew had reversed the order of the rail cars. Instead of the express car, Wheeler and George were left with the mail car. They had been duped!
Oh, how I love a good villain! Whether I’m reading about one or watching him/her on film, or best of all—WRITING ONE!
What makes a good villain? Well, in my opinion, first and foremost he can’t be one-dimensional. I know in our “real world” there are those people that seem to be evil just for the sake of it and some of them probably are. But in our reading/writing, we want to know WHY. What made this person turn out like he did—a diabolical, cunning, demonic person that will stop at nothing to accomplish what he’s set out to do?
This leads to the question, is there anything at all that would stop him from carrying out his evil plans? Would a memory stop him, or trigger him? Would any one person be able to reason with him? Would a “new plan” divert him from carrying out the blueprint for disaster for the hero/heroine that he’s already come up with?
But there are other things that have to be reckoned with. Those things that might have happened to him in his past to create and mold him into the kind of person who would be so bold and determined to use anything—no matter how it hurts others—to his own advantage are important. But what are the factors that drive him presently? A circumstance of opportunity? A long-seated need for revenge and the path to that revenge being presented? Greed? Burning jealousy? Maybe even the death of a loved one that he may not have wanted to embarrass by his actions while they were still living—now that they’re gone, all bets are off! THE DEVIL AND MISS JULIA JACKSON has the heroine caught between a distant relative who throws her and her niece out of their home and the job as nursemaid she takes in Indian Territory, working for a man who is, at first, cold and unresponsive. The villain in this story shifts between the man who threw Julia out of her home to someone else who means to destroy her employer.
I’ve had so many villains I’ve created in my writing that were motivated by different things. My first one, Andrew Fallon, appeared in FIREEYES. He was just pure evil. He didn’t care about anything or anyone—even his family, as his brother found out when he came looking for him.
In my first contemporary romantic suspense, SWEET DANGER, Tabor Hardin has his revenge handed to him on a silver platter, being in the right place at the right time to turn the tables on the undercover cop who put him in jail—before his escape. He’s a man with nothing to lose at this point, and Jesse Nightwalker, the cop, has a new life hovering on the horizon—if he can survive.
The villain is paranormal in TIME PLAINS DRIFTER—a demon who can shape-shift. How in the world will the innocents he’s after survive? They have a reluctant angel or two on their side, but the demon is powerful. Can they overcome his strength?
Greed comes into play in BEYOND THE FIRE, when undercover DEA agent Jackson Taylor’s cover is blown and a drug lord comes after him, trying to use Jack’s undercover partner against him. But there is a secret that even Jack hasn’t known about his partner—and the woman he’s falling in love with. Is it enough to defeat the powerful drug cartel and keep Jackson, Kendi, and his partner safe?
Treachery comes in all forms and it’s most often quite a surprise. No matter how vigilant our heroes are, they come up against some very foreboding, sharp cunning from the villains—after all, they have to have a worthy opponent, right?
Speaking of worthy opponents, I’ll talk a little about my contemporary romantic suspense CAPTURE THE NIGHT—where the villain, Kieran McShane, runs his own rogue faction of the Irish Republican Army and plans to murder Great Britain’s Prime Minister while he’s on vacation in Dallas. Johnny Logan is an undercover Dallas cop, staying in the hotel as added protection for the prime minister; Alexa Bailey is treating herself to a one-year divorce anniversary vacation. When McShane takes over the entire hotel, it’s only a matter of time before he discovers them up on the roof in the maintenance housing—and collateral damage means nothing to him. With the hostages brought to the roof, McShane threatens to begin throwing them over one by one—unless his demands are met. Can Johnny and Alexa survive the whims of a madman, bent on political revenge?
One of my favorite recent stories is SABRINA, one of four novels that appears in the boxed set MAIL ORDER BRIDES FOR SALE: THE REMINGTON SISTERS. Four sisters are at the mercy of their stepfather who plans to sell them to the highest bidder now that their mother is dead. But these girls have other plans. Can they manage to get away? Will they be able to keep themselves safe from Josiah Bloodworth no matter how far away they go? This is a very fun set of four full length novels, each sister’s story penned by a different author. Livia Washburn Reasoner—Lizzy; Jacquie Rogers—Belle; Celia Yeary—Lola; and Cheryl Pierson—Sabrina.
Here’s an excerpt of Sabrina facing down the villain, her stepfather, in the dressmaker’s shop. Cam is listening to it all from the back, waiting for his chance to save her, his sister, and the proprietor of the shop. Here’s what happens:
“So you see, dear Sabrina, you have no true choice about what you do—and neither do your sisters.” Bloodworth spread his hands as he spoke. “You will, indeed, come home to Pennsylvania from this godforsaken place and do exactly as you are told. You will marry a man—a proper gentleman—of my choosing.” He took a step closer to her.
She faced him unflinchingly, her head held high. “I will no more return to Philadelphia with you than fly to the moon. You would do well to carry your pompous, maggot-ridden self away from here and get as far east as you can go posthaste—before myhusband returns for us—and sends you straight to hell.” She spoke as regally as a queen to the lowliest dregs of society, without a trace of fear.
A thin smile touched Bloodworth’s lips, but the calm iciness in his pale eyes was what put Cam on alert. This man was determined, and he believed no one could stop him.
His muscle-bound cohort stood near the door, keeping watch so that Bloodworth didn’t need to worry about any distractions—from the two other women, or from any of the townspeople.
“My dear Sabrina, you are most definitely going to do exactly as I tell you. Or else.”
“Else what? You’ll drag me back by my hair like the brute that you truly are?”
Bloodworth chuckled. “Well, well. Our little Sabrina has come into her own, hasn’t she?” He stroked his chin. “Actually, I don’t believe I shall have to drag you back. I think you most likely will do anything I say once I lay my hands on that half-breed husband of yours…even if I tell you to climb up on this counter and spread your legs like the whore you are…just like your mother was—”
The slap Sabrina gave Bloodworth echoed through the room, and brought a spot of blood to the corner of his mouth. Unruffled, he took out his handkerchief and dabbed at it.
“I’m going to kill your husband, Sabrina Rose. It will be a long…slow…and very, very painful death. And you will have only yourself to blame.”
So many wonderful reasons for becoming a villain! The motivations are just endless, aren’t they? It’s a fine line to walk, making them evil, yet sympathetic in some instances, and letting our readers see a glimpse of their humanity—if they have any left.
Do you have a favorite villain you’ve written or read? What about your favorite film villain?