The Importance of Being Evil
First off, thank-you to Kari, Liz, Cassy & Mary for inviting me here today. To echo the basic introduction used at my critique group: Hello, my name is Ann and I write historical romance. If that sounds like something you’d hear at a 12-step program, well…writing is definitely an addiction. I started out making up stories after my mom tucked into bed. Eventually I started writing them down. I must have started dozens of stories while studying theater, waitressing, typesetting (on a machine that used paper tape…yeah, I’m that old!), and managing a small office. Somewhere in there, I married an incredibly patient man and raised our two diva daughters, which might explain why I never actually finished a story until my forties.
What, you may be asking, is a romance writer is doing posting at a blog entitled Mysteries and Margaritas? Especially if she writes about eras before the Margarita was invented?? (Personally, margaritas would be my anachronism of choice. Why not Pride and Prejudice and Cuervo or Sense and Sensibility and Stoly?) However, while I thoroughly enjoy writing my genre, I don’t limit my reading to romance. Mysteries have their place on my bookshelves, preferably those placed in past eras. And in my quest to keep readers wondering what happens next, I’m not above threatening my characters’ lives with the machinations of a good scoundrel!
Like many writers, part of my preparation for a new book includes character biographies. Not just physical descriptions, but birth date & place, family background, education, right down to the quirks and habits that make them tick. For me, that helps get inside the mind of a character and discover their motivation. Why does a devoted brother resort to kidnapping an heiress? Just what constitutes a rebellious act in the mind of an overprotected girl in the Victorian era? And why does the orderly hero of my work-in-progress insist on keeping a hairy, muddy mutt?
Every major character gets some kind of notes written down before I start the story, but the most detailed are for the hero, the heroine, and the villain. After all, the best heroes and heroines need a blackguard strong enough and smart enough to be a real threat. Never mind Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty -- what would Amelia Peabody and her Emerson (he is my latest literary crush, btw – what a hunk!) be without the elusive Sethos?
Years ago, a theater professor reminded his class about playing bad boys (or girls): “You have to find something you like about your character.” One dimensional antagonists are as dull as any other poorly drawn character. Of course, when writing a well-rounded villain, it’s possible to get attached to him or her.
This happened in my upcoming release, HER SCOTTISH GROOM. My villain is charming, handsome, and grew up as a poor relation. He’s intelligent enough that the hero and heroine have to join forces to defeat him. Sadly, his murderous tendencies left me no choice but to write him into a bad end. And of course, having made such an attractive antagonist, I had to be sure he wouldn’t steal the scene from my leads. Ah well…I’ve always loved reading history, which abounds with cads, reprobates and downright psychotics in every age. There’s another book to write, which means a new villain or villainess. Where was that fascinating article about Victorian baby farmers? We’ve all read books with unforgettable villians. Which ones made the biggest impressions on you?
Thank you, Ann!Ann Stephens’ debut novel, To be Seduced, was released in February, 2010 by Kensington Publishing. Her March 2011 release is Her Scottish Groom. Ann lives with her husband of nearly 25 years and their two black belt daughters, two spoiled cats and one slightly nervous gerbil. She escapes them by writing, reading and taking ballet classes. Visit her blog at http://annstephensromance.wordpress.com/ or look for Ann Stephens’ Page on Facebook and Ann_Stephens on Twitter.