Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Call back post -- Bad Romance: How to be a Cynical Romantic

This first aired on my blog four years ago.

It's hard to remember that I had a blog for so long.

Anyway, this kind of tells you where I am as far as personal development goes. I went from "I'm a cynical bastard" to writing romance novels. Who knew?

Anyway, the next few days should be very much like this.  I have a guest coming into New York City for the next few days, and I'm going to be playing tour guide all the way.

This one is a little strange to look at.  The profile on Manana has been modified due to image issues, and the original pic is replaced with the lovely and talented author Kia Heavey.  If you haven't read her books, I do recommend them.

Again, there will be several of these over the next few days, so yes, I'll be out and about. There will be a radio show on Sunday, and that should go up, And I may even have a music post squeezed in somewhere.  But I'll be wrapped up until around Tuesday. And, since my blog audience has more than tripled since then, this should be new to a great many people.

Be well, all.


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“[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 Even Alan Moore's The Killing Joke insists that Joker is the result of, as he put it, "one very bad day." But, even during that comic, Joker is undermined by his victims. Despite creating a very bad day for police Commissioner Jim Gordon, Gordon stays completely sane, and doesn't go off on a killing spree.  He doesn't even put two into Joker's head, which would have been at least justifiable under the heading of "We shoot rabid dogs, don't we?" The legal definition of insanity is the inability to know the difference between right and wrong. With the Joker, the number of times he theorizes on what he should do next illustrates he's fully well-aware of the difference, he just finds "wrong" a more entertaining option. On the sociopath /sadist scale, he gets a ten. He might be clinically "insane," but he is also evil. Let's call this a villain.  He's not merely the opposition, not put there by circumstances -- he's like this because he wants to be.
The Riddler is also of the same bent as the Joker. The Riddler's basic compulsion is to try to prove himself smarter than Batman. That's it. To that end, he plans crimes and leaves clues behind. This looks quite insane ...  Except when you take into account an incident where Riddler is beaten to within half and inch of his life.  He's put into a coma for months, and when he comes out of it, he has both long-term memory loss and a new idea-- he would outsmart Batman by being an even greater Detective! In short, when Riddler has been on the wrong side of the law, he has chosen to be this way. And his choice makes him a bad guy. Wikipedia has actually described him as being a malignant narcissist ... which we used to call evil.  He's evil and he's having fun. Villain. In short, "Proving that I'm a super genius is more important than anyone's life," means you're an evil little bastard. You can see where I'm going with this. At the end of the day, villains are simply evil. But what's an antagonist?
On the other side of the coin (yes, pun), you have former district attorney Harvey Dent, now the criminal known as Two-Face.  In the comic books, Two-Face is a multiple personality, and he is literally not in control of himself; his darker impulses have created an entirely different person, and he requires a coin toss in order to judge how that would work. In Freudian terms, Two-Face is split into Id and Superego, with nothing to moderate between the two except for a coin.  He's just plain old insane. For instance: during the No Man's Land storyline, Two-Face kidnaps  police commissioner Gordon and puts him "on trial" for breaking a deal. However, Gordon is saved by a vigorous defense by .... Harvey Dent. I think this puts him on the straight crazy bent (yes, pun).  There's good in him, it's just kinda lost in the white noise that's his brain. Antagonist. And now for something a little different. Catwoman is a thief. But she's also been our thief. She robs from the rich, gives to herself, and does the occasional side job for the US government and the CIA. Her later development has put her as more of an anti-hero than even an antagonist. Though she still occasionally seems to play cat and die Fledermaus, there's still more than enough good in her to proclaim her an antagonist -- when, as, and if she isn't off saving complete strangers because they happen to be within her line of sight when they're in trouble. And then there's Ivy.
Cosplay Deviants, DragonCon, 2012
Poison Ivy, formerly Pamela Isley, is a nutjob. Completely and totally broken in the head. She has a concept of right and wrong, she just puts plants over people.  Normally, her position as the ultimate eco-terrorist would be something to classify her as just plain evil. After all, she has made this decision, and she has decided that her will is greater than everyone else's moral code. However, there's a bit of a problem with that. Why, you ask? Because Poison Ivy has had moments where she's protected human beings, despite that she generally thinks humans are inferior to plants. The No Man's Land storyline had her protecting orphaned children in central park and feeding members of the city. She has the occasional breakdown, but she's trying to be a good person. Which is more than I can say for some people I've known in real life. And, besides, if you turn into vegetable matter and plants talk to you, you'd be a little screwed up in the head as well. I guess I could go into Harley Quinn, or the Penguin, but I think we'd be beating a dead horse at this point.  Harley is now an anti-hero after years of being a poster girl for battered woman syndrome as Joker's girlfriend.  The Penguin has retired to being a white collar criminal who runs his own lounge. Bane can't be classified, because his character radically changes depending on who's writing him. At the end of the day, I never subscribed to the cliche that villains never look in the mirror and see a villain. Or that "they think they're right." Villains don't care about right or wrong.  They just care about themselves. An antagonist might be talked down, or persuaded, or brought away from the dark side; there is the possibility of redemption. The villain likes the dark side, has chosen it, and never wants to leave. It's the difference between Hannibal Lecter (of the books) and Sauron. It's the difference between Joker and Two-Face.  It's the difference between Heaven and Hell. At the end of the day, it's why I prefer villains in my novels. When I have an antagonist, I tend to redeem them.... eventually. And trust me, in A Pius Man, there's an opportunity or two for redemption for some. And others just want to die screaming. 
" target="_blank">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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