Innocence Incarnate Vs. Femme Fatales

Are nice guys actually doomed to loneliness forever, or are they just forever helpless in the power of the femme fatales they pine after?

Full disclosure: this is the kind of character dissection that happens too early in the morning, just after waking up, between two writers married to each other. It was inspired in part by “The Blacklist” in which (spoilers!) Aram breaks a promise because he felt betrayed by sweet, smart, deadly Navabi.

IMG_5513Aram is an NSA coder and cracker who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a successful nerd working in the intelligence community in too-close proximity of female operatives waaaaay out of his league. Part of the problem is Aram himself; he hides nothing and expects others (read: SPIES) to do the same. But Aram also puts women he admires and respects — and often fancies — upon a pedestal, equating beauty and strength with self-imposed standards of nobility and purity (of character).

Aram is a nice guy who is enchanted by femme fatales.

What Aram doesn’t understand is he isn’t the kind of guy that agents Navabi and Keen would see as a potential lover let alone a serious love interest. Never mind “don’t get your honey where you make your money,” but he isn’t alone in the world. Lots of guys like him exist, looking for perfect women to idolize and secretly (or publicly) dispising them when they discovere how unangelic real people are. It reeks of an overprotective single mom raising her boy to have only respect for proper ladies…but those aren’t the kinds Aram is attracted to.

The worst part — and this isn’t Aram’s fault — is that these idolic women ask him nicely for favors, and he’s only too happy to do as he’s been manipulated. They know who they’re preying upon (yes, that’s as bad as it sounds), but it’s obvious that Aram is a one-woman kind of guy who sees a potential mate in a preconceived image: honest and morally perfect. He can be manipulated because he sees himself as unworthy while hoping beyond hope he’ll be “chosen” — not out of pity but because the right woman will recognize his inner nobility and potential eternal devotion.

In other words, he’s a bad guy waiting to happen.

The good news is that many nice guys realize how gray the world can be before they go completely evil. Aram is socially isolated when it comes to the opposite sex, a guy who’d rather read technical manuals and surf the dark web rather than hone the wooing skills that would possibly net him the strong beauty he feels he deserves. At the same time, he doesn’t feel he should have to do this because a worthy woman wouldn’t want someone like that; “Why can’t they see (whomever) for the terrible person he is?” This sets up Aram for continuous heartbreak and disappointment because his dream angel doesn’t exist… but he’s also secretly jealous of the handsome rogues and white knights who seem to “get the girls” effortlessly.

We all admire the brutal honesty of Aram because we can relate; he’s innocence incarnate. We also hope he’ll find someone equally idealistic who hasn’t had her heart destroyed by falling for the wrong guy. But the real truth is we hope he’ll land somewhere between a friend-zoned doormat and a bitter resentful bastard that does unto others what was done unto him.

The guy with the big noble heart doesn’t have to also be the loser in love; he just needs to stop hating himself for who he doesn’t have… so he can be seen for someone worth having.

Hang in there, Aram; nice guys everywhere are pulling for you.

The Vampire’s Privilege

Why vampires?

As an author with vampire series, it’s a question I hear often.

The short answer is because people still like them…and so do I.

JanissPredatorModeSquareAvatarSmallTo my mind, it is perfectly understandable why people continue to identify with vampires. It isn’t about becoming a reanimated corpse or the need for blood; it’s the promise of eternal life after death and finding empowerment in a curse — turning a negative into a positive. Yes, there’s sex and blood and rock n’ roll, but the part that makes it so relatable — even desirable — is the empowerment.

To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club: “All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I f**k like you wanna f**k, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” Like Tyler, the laws of men and death no longer apply to the vampire; the undead dictate their own rules and they follow their own code. Both cursed and blessed to watch the world die around them while they endure, vampires are elevated demigods who remember once being merely human.

The promise of being insulated from the ravages of time, to become a spectator rather than a mere participant in the human condition, is the vampire’s privilege.

Any questions?


A Writer Writes… Except When They Don’t

An interesting article was pointed my way by J.H. Moncrieff entitled “Writers, We Need to Stop Saying This.” It makes a case for the once-defining advice that “a writer writes.” That’s true in context — you aren’t a writer if you’ve never written — but it can also be a source of frustration for the writer who HAS already written. The reason is obvious:

Writer’s block is a real thing.

Sometimes it’s pressure to perform or succeed, to break in or break out, or to duplicate a previous success. Sometimes it’s intruding external life events or a complete lack of inspiration. But when you’re told a writer writes and you’re not writing, those self-worth doubts begin to creep in — a self-fulfilling prophecy.

BookhouseAs any career writer will tell you, there is a degree of luck involved to being discovered and becoming popular or recommended, but a body of existing work is the best way to not only become successful but to be ready for it. But I offer a counterpoint for the writer who has already written:

A writer THINKS about writing even when they’re not.

When it’s time to write, I write. When it isn’t and I’m not writing, I think about writing…a lot. I take notes. I imagine scenes and let them play out over and over. I entertain myself with ideas. I wait until I’m so ready to write because I haven’t been writing that I can’t wait to write.

Then — and only then — I write.

It’s a form of self-encouragement, anticipating the impending work of the wordsmith. When inspiration is lacking and real life keeps you from escaping into imaginary worlds, screaming at a blank page isn’t therapeutic for everyone, and neither is beating yourself up about it.

One trick I use is writing to an ending — meaning I know my ending before I get there. This keeps me excited to reach that ending and drives my first draft, but I’ve learned that a weak story and a bad ending can also gum up the machinery, and sometimes you have to walk away. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I know when to stop because I know when I’m done. It also doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind over the ending. Good realistic characters can surprise you; let them, but also remember what makes a story work: a beginning, a middle, and an ending that fit together.

Stories need to make sense because, far too often, real life doesn’t.

There’s a fun little 1992 flick with Tom Selleck called Mr. Baseball about an American pro ball player traded to a Japanese team. The new coach recognizes that his player is disenchanted with the sport, seeing that Tom anticipates the worst possible results… and gets them. The coach takes him off the team to make the player hit golf balls with a bat at a driving range (while others are using actual clubs) and to hit other things. After a while, the angry and frustrated Tom finally screams, “I’m sick of this crap! I want to hit a baseball!” After making the player repeat those words until the lesson is learned, the coach replies, “NOW you’re ready.”

Are you ready?

The Darkness and the Light in Storytelling: Contrast and Supergirl

I’m a horror writer. I prefer weird fiction. But not everything has to be blood, guts, and gore all the time; not everything has to be evil. In fact, the beauty of the Dark is that it balances the Light. Without the Light, there is no contrast.

So today I champion the Light.

Yes, I’m talking about general concepts. The Light is seen as being bright, positive, and giving of itself while the Dark is supposed to brood, call attention to the flaws of the world, and celebrate the non-conformist standards that feel a world away from childhood innocence. Ever notice how “good” is spoken of in simple terms while “bad” contains an inherit complexity, ideas that come with experience: life isn’t fair, good guys don’t always win, and not everyone gets the boy or girl?

DoctorHorribleCaptainHammerThe flip side of that coin is what those who embrace the Darkness often understand better than their counterparts: the Light is acceptance and being accepted, those who gain attention. Beautiful, strong, privileged, and loved…never mind it can all be a mask. “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” may be the best-ever example of showing heroes and villains in the simplest terms of how backwards things can get when our expectations are taught rather than learned. The hero is villain; the villain is the hero. We are meant to relate to being the loser who is destined to lose.

Storytelling is drama; it creates meaning to all of life’s randomness. Fate, Destiny, Kismet, and all that. But the Darkness is a place that the Light fears to tread, and rightly so. When love and affection is taken away; when the means to support yourself within the established system can’t be meant; when life must be lived on the fringe and fought for every day both within and without.
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