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Do bad guys apologize?

“You always reading,” the boy said. “You ever have any fun?”

My Terry Brooks novel was next to the keyboard. We were in computer class. Knowing what he was going to say next, I kept my eyes on the screen. I was getting better at pretending he wasn’t there.

playing in grandmother's yard

playing in grandmother's yard

He scooted his chair an inch closer. “You’ve never had a boyfriend, have you, girl?”

The cursor blinked at me. I tried to look for the teacher without appearing to look and hoped my classmate would get bored with this soon. Some days he gave up faster than others. He put his hand on the back of my chair and I resisted the impulse to move away.

“You’re as pure as snow. I can tell,” he said and leaned in a little closer. “Hey, why don’t you ever speak to me?”

I tried to type the program in, but the keys blurred. I wondered if any of my other classmates ever heard what he said.

“I think I might come over to your house some time. What do you think?”

I gave in to the pressure in my chest. “Don’t do that,” I said, but looked past him.

The teacher straightened up from helping a student across the room. “Would the two of you mind keeping your conversation until after class?” she said to us.

He laughed. “Sorry, Mrs. V,” he said. “We was just having a friendly chat.”

She rolled her eyes and went back to her desk. He winked at me. “After class, Snow White.”

He was assigned the seat next to me at graduation. We hadn’t spoken since the end of our junior year, and I hoped he wouldn’t recognize me. Sitting beside me under the June Florida sun, he glanced sideways at me. I concentrated on the feeling of pennies in my hand. That was our class joke. Every senior would pass the principal 86 pennies when given their diploma. My hand was sweaty and the pennies were hard to hold.

He cleared his throat, and I looked at the torn up grass. “Hey there,” he said. “You know, I just wanted to say sorry for those things I said. I was a real jerk and you’re nice girl.”

“Oh, what? In computer class?” I said. “I’d forgotten all about that. It’s no big deal.”

He relaxed a little. “I’d kill anybody who talked to my sister like that.”

“Yeah, well. I don’t have a brother, so…” I shrugged. We didn’t speak again.

I can’t stop from adding magic and bad guys to my stories. Weird things happen–rooms in a house rearrange themselves, let’s say–and at least one guy is a creep. So, two things are on my mind. Is the fantastic necessary or is it a distraction? I have a hard time telling if something moves the story forward or if it just makes me happy.

As for the guy…he may be a creep but I want him to be human. I’m not sure I pull that off. I’ve learned that some readers will see only the creep no matter what I do.

Now I’m going to try and work on listing the elements in my fiction. As if I know.

14 thoughts on “Do bad guys apologize?

  1. You definitely pulled it off. And, unless they are sociopaths, pedophiles or Nazis, they can change, especially in high school, where people take on new identities every September. This was a very touching story, and the change is very convincing, as is the response of the narrator earlier and later. I don’t know about the fantastic, but you clearly have a gift for making the ordinary extraordinary.

  2. I’m not sure there is any relationship at all between what one writes and what readers read. And as for the question in the headline: I’m sure bad guys apologize all the time. But then, who or what makes them bad?

  3. Do making the writer happy and moving the story along have to be mutually exclusive? is the fantastic in a Fantasy distracting?

    From what I’ve read of your writing, what makes you happy makes the story move; you find hapimess in the movement, in the development. This reader – and all readers, I would guess – senses and shares this pleasure, or why else would they read made-up stories at all?

    I’ve heard it said by several well-known authors: “I write for myself first.” And so they should, or why bother? When the story flows, when the fantasy bites the mind that feeds it, when the attraction of a plot or a scene or a character transcends the mechanics of the clever phrase to reach deeper, so it shall into your Gentle Reader. The workings of brains are wildly complex, impossible to understand by disassembly and inspection. Luckily, they’re also very good at getting past all that complexity: feelings. If something works, we feel happy. If it doesn’t, we feel something else. Uneasy. Unsatisfied. Unhappy. A good story is born of the experience of its creation.

    You are human. I am human. We share that sensibility that resonates with the truth beneath the words. Writing or reading, it makes no difference. We may have divergent preferences for the packaging – the genre – but that sense is universal.

    Trust it. Trust your reader. Put away the scalpel and the forceps.

    Write for you.

  4. I agree with you that the jerks need to be human. It frustrates me when they are outright monsters.

    The book I’m working on now has people who seem to be heroes, but are actually selfish, scary jerks inside. But I think I need to have more bad guys in my story, it adds tension and drama. I have a tendency to add in good guys… or maybe I have a tendency to turn the bad guys into good guys. And vice versa. Maybe the bad guys can be internal, though.

    As to the magic, I think it’s something really intrinsic to who you are and your world view. And that means it is absolutely necessary in your stories. It doesn’t mean you have to force it in, but follow your instinct. This is what you have to give. This is your story. Trust yourself.

    I can’t wait to read your book. It sounds fascinating, and the pieces that I’ve read on Belleweather are great.

  5. Well, y’know, fascination with The Creep in just about any story has a long and probably irreversible history, at least in Western storytelling — from Eden’s serpent through Faust’s Mephistopheles to Hannibal Lecter, with miscellaneous con men, Snidely Whiplashes, and sleazeballs scattered throughout. So I wouldn’t worry too much about readers’ “seeing the creep no matter what [you] do.” They’re like attention magnets.

    But as you say, you can make readers stop and think, pull them up short, force them to re-evaluate what they mean when they say so-and-so is a creep.

    For some reason I saw the guy in this vignette turning out like John Travolta’s Vincent, in Pulp Fiction. Sweet guy at heart, and maybe (or maybe not) ultimately a tragic figure. But en route, demonstrating some seriously unsavory facets to his nature.

  6. I must admit it is interesting to me which of you comment on the creep and which of you comment on the fantastic.

    Thanks for all the comments either way. With luck, I’ll figure out what I’m doing.

  7. No G problems expected here. And we’ve got few evacuees. In fact, we may have more volunteers.

    It was, let me say, an unwitting experiment. Looking over the replies, I was struck by how most folks went with one or the other. I suppose that is a lesson in readership right there. Each person will take away what they want even if I wanted them to take the whole thing.

  8. You’re neither co-conspirator nor enabler; you’re the director. They want the role in the story, they have to earn it, give you something electrifying. More like, “Here’s a hot fudge to get you started. Now go do something with it. Make me glad I chose you.

  9. I have nothing more interesting to say then I love Terry Brook’s “Kingdom of Landover” series. Just brain candy. I usually like chewier sci-fi/fantasy like Sheri S Tepper’s eco-feminist works (I actually met her and stayed at her guest ranch last year ::::sigh:::), but the Landover books are just tasty little morsels.

  10. “I can’t stop from adding magic and bad guys to my stories. Weird things happen–rooms in a house rearrange themselves, let’s say–and at least one guy is a creep. So, two things are on my mind. Is the fantastic necessary or is it a distraction? I have a hard time telling if something moves the story forward or if it just makes me happy.

    As for the guy…he may be a creep but I want him to be human. I’m not sure I pull that off. I’ve learned that some readers will see only the creep no matter what I do.”

    Why would you want to stop adding those things?

    Another couple of questions that come to my mind are:
    What would happen if you added even more of both, way past reason?
    Would it be something like Borges meets Ed McBain meets you?

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