Monday, February 7, 2011

Bad Romance: How to be a Cynical Romantic.

“[T]hink about it ... You know how good this is? .... How right it feels?  .... How easy it was? .... It just isn't f**ked up enough to really be you and me.”  ~Harry Dresden, in Jim Butcher's short story "Love Hurts."
In case the readers of this blog have not caught on yet, I'm a little strange.

At which point, I can just see each of you recollecting every other instance of borderline schizophrenia that I have described in my blogs on writing, and answering: “Duh.”

In this case, I have two very strong streaks in my personality. Lots of cynicism, and lots of romanticism …

On the one hand, I believe that all people are essentially good ... on the other, I believe that groups of people are stupid.

I believe in meeting someone, and being in love with them for the rest of my life ... and I go into first dates wondering how fast the phrase “let's just be friends” will appear in the conversation.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son Our Lord ... and on the other hand, if one more person mindlessly spouts random Bible passage without knowing ANYTHING about the context or the meaning, I will be sorely tempted to hurt them.

And my problem is that I see nothing contradictory about the above statements. “Good” does not equal “smart;” and when people get into large groups, the average IQ only goes down. “Belief” doesn't automatically mean “theology scholar;” and if someone becomes a monomaniac about a favorite passage of Revelations (which reads like the author is on magic mushrooms), it's hard to do anything about it.

My cynicism and sharp, biting opinions have brought people to me, asking for “relationship advice” …. I usually specialized in “Anti-Cyrano” letters for friends of mine, where I write a letter crystallizing a person's feelings and putting it into a diatribe at his or her ex, blasting said ex with enough wit that s/he feels like s/he brought a knife to an artillery duel.

On the other hand, when I can't talk to one I care about, I settle for reading instant message logs.  Can you say "sap"?

About a year ago, I started writing a love letter. I listed all the reasons why I was falling for this one woman. I explained I felt drawn to her wit, her IQ, her looks. I liked how many of our interests aligned. How good a friend she was to me. We were made for each other …

And other romantic tripe.

By the end of the letter, I told her that the whole thing was a stupid idea. I had met her once. We lived over a thousand miles apart. We talked on the phone, but that was no reason for me to become a romantic sap about it. I care about her too much to put her together with an obvious nutjob like me. She should do the sane thing, and run as far away from me as possible.

Before I had even finished the letter, I had made several conclusions about another character a writer friend was working on – someone who was also crazy, but smart enough to know he was crazy, and if he fell in love with someone, he would know better than to inflict his crazy on anyone else.

I don't think I'm the only person who could start a love letter, and end with character profiles for a fictional character, after trying to talk the object of my affection out of associating with me further, for her own good.

If you thought I was strange before, now you know better.

This actually comes in handy for writing a love story for spies in A Pius Man.

You knew I had to relate it back to the novel somehow.

As mentioned, A Pius Man also has a love story in there, between two people who are constantly questioning what the hell they think they're doing.

Manana Shushurin of the German BND, and Scott “Mossad” Murphy are brought together to investigate the assassination of a high-ranking al-Qaeda strategist.... the only reason anyone cares is that no one is claiming credit for the killing.  The CIA thinks Mossad did it.  Mossad thinks the CIA did it.  And then they realize that no one they know did it.

Enter the two most diametrically opposed characters I've ever written.

Manana is breathtakingly, jaw-slackeningly gorgeous. And Scott is pale and pasty, and survives by being invisible.  Instead of drooling over her looks, or undressing her with his eyes, Scott's first thought is “I hope to God you're not the one I'm meeting.” Her first thoughts aren't recorded, but as the book progresses, they fit well together.

Scott is a stiff. He is professional, and disciplined, and “Damnit, if I stare at her, someone will slip a knife into my ribs.”

There were odd little things at first. Scott reads a document over her shoulder, and she stretches, only noticing he's there when her hand brushes against his head. And Scott is staring so intently at the document, he blinks when she grazes his head, he apologizes profusely. She laughs at him, ruffles his hair, and calls him cute. I couldn't tell if she was flirting with him, or treating him like a fond new puppy. Later, after a firefight, where he gets rattled (because he rarely comes near the business end of a pistol unless he's already pulled the firing pins), she reassures him.

And the more stiff and awkward he acts, the more … lighthearted and playful she becomes. When things are quiet, Manana goes through the book as though spygames are just that, a game. When the bullets start flying, she's the first to fire back, if she's not firing first. She's the part of him that he's missing. He's the person who tries to ignore her looks and treats her like a person.

Throughout the novel, both of them are wondering what the hell they're doing, with various excuses: Have both of them been alone for so long, and are so desperate, that each is latching onto the first person of interest? Seriously, what moron would fall in love in the middle of a stakeout? And why is s/he kissing me and … nevermind.

As I said, I am a romantic sap. Thankfully, the cynical side of me takes that sap and smacks me over the head with it.

Then all heck breaks loose.  There are automatic weapons, and there will be blood.  And by the end of the book, the two of them will have to change roles.  Scott will have to take up a gun, even though he has only rudimentary knowledge about how to use it.  And Manana Shushurin will have to do a lot of running.

And there will be Manana standing over Sean Ryan's blood-soaked body.  But that's another story.

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