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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

L. Andrew Cooper Guest Post: Do Our Villains need motivation? + giveaway

The Good Dr. Cooper’s Motivation Rant
By: L. Andrew Cooper

Who makes the rules for good fiction writing? Because I have a bone to pick.

One of the golden rules these days is that a character—and in horror, the real issue here is a villain—has to have a motivation. No longer can we hide behind the “motiveless malignity” that Coleridge attributed to Shakespeare’s Iago, one of the best villains ever. No longer can the sociopathic “bad seed,” in itself, compel narrative (unless you build an entire oeuvre around sociopaths, like Bret Easton Ellis has, in which you case you win). If someone does something bad, particularly if that bad thing targets someone else, and especially if it’s weird, then it must have as detailed a mental explanation as possible, like a medical TV show giving you a blow-by-blow of forensic revelation.

Don’t get me wrong. I like me some good explaining. I've had some great arguments about how seriously to take it (briefly mentioned in my book Dario Argento), but I love the psychological explanation at the end of Psycho. The grand design of Se7en is marvelous. In my novel Burning the Middle Ground, antagonist Michael Cox gets as much narrative time spent on him as anyone else, something I did (breaking another big rule about extensiveness of flashbacks) because in his case, an opportunity to observe him and draw conclusions about his motivations is important. But I reveal almost nothing at all about the other antagonist, Jake Warren, who is part of a much larger picture. Of his motivation we get mere hints. I think that works to give him a very different kind of creepy vibe. And if this book leads to the trilogy I've planned, could a character show up who seems to have no discernible motivation at all? Absolutely. I’ll admit to having one in mind. I find him kind of terrifying.

Why? Because we shouldn't understand evil too easily, if at all. I enjoy a lot of “empathy with the killer” fiction, but luckily I think it’s pretty fake. I don’t understand why someone would beat a child or even kick a dog. I can supply words that other people would recognize as an explanation for such a behavior, but my ability to supply those words does not mean I understand the violence. That anything approaching the nasty stuff I write about could ever actually happen is so horrifying it defies comprehension, so why should I pretend that it has a neat motivation that we can all tidily understand? Violence against others is always irrational: even when its outcome is justified or necessary, as it sometimes is, that moment of violence is a moment outside reason. So why should we be forced to say that violence is ever entirely within reason’s grasp, within reach of a concept as comforting as motivation? Horror is a condition. Those of us who take up writing it must present the condition in such a way as to give readers insights and thrills. We can do our jobs with or without motivations.

Burning the Middle Ground is a dark fantasy about small-town America that transforms readers’ fears about the country’s direction into a haunting tale of religious conspiracy and supernatural mind control. A character-driven sensibility like Stephen King’s and a flair for the bizarre like Bentley Little’s delivers as much appeal for dedicated fans of fantasy and horror as for mainstream readers looking for an exciting ride. Brian McCullough comes home from school and discovers that his ten-year-old sister Fran has murdered their parents. Five years later, a journalist, Ronald Glassner, finds Brian living at the same house in the small town of Kenning, Georgia. Planning a book on the McCullough Tragedy, Ronald stumbles into a struggle between Kenning’s First Church, run by the mysterious Reverend Michael Cox, and the New Church, run by the rebellious Jeanne Harper. At the same time, Kenning’s pets go berserk, and dead bodies, with the eyes and tongues removed from their heads, begin to appear. 

About the Author:
L. Andrew Cooper thinks the smartest people like horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Early in life, he couldn't handle the scary stuff –he’d sneak and watch horror films and then keep his parents up all night with his nightmares. In the third grade, he finally convinced his parents to let him read grownup horror novels: he started with Stephen King’s Firestarter, and by grade five, he was 
doing book reports on The Stand

When his parents weren't being kept up late by his nightmares, they worried that his fascination with 
horror fiction would keep him from experiencing more respectable culture. That all changed when he transitioned from his public high school in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to uber-respectable Harvard University, where he studied English Literature. From there, he went on to get a Ph.D. in English from Princeton, turning his longstanding engagement with horror into a dissertation. The dissertation. on became the basis for his first book, Gothic Realities (2010). More recently, his obsession with horror movies turned into a book about one of his favorite directors, Dario Argento (2012)He also co-edited the textbook Monsters (2012), an attempt to infect others with the idea that scary things are worth people’s serious atention. 

After living in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California, Andrew now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he teaches at the University of Louisville and chairs the board of the Louisville Film Society, the city’s premiere movie-buff
institution. Burning the Middle Ground is his debut

Tour Schedule and Activities 
May 8 Read 2 Review Character Post 
May 9 readings Sunshine Review
May 10 Spellbindings Guest Post
May 11 Beagle Book Space Promo/Spotlight
May 12 SpecMusicMuse Review
May 14 Workaday Reads Guest Post
May 15 The FlipSide of Julianne Interview
May 16 Once Upon a Time Guest Post
May 17 Sheila Deeth Character Post
May 18 Azure Dwarf Review
May 19 MikesFilmTalk Review
May 20 Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews Interview
May 21 Beauty in Ruins Review
May 24 Book Den Guest Post
May 25 Come Selahway With Me Excerpt
May 28 The Dan O’Brien Project Promo/Excerpt
May 31 Armand Rosamilla, Horror Author Guest Post
June 1 Bee’s Knees Reviews Review
June 3 Rachel Tsoumbako Review
June 4 Fictional Candy Excerpt
June 5 I Smell Sheep Guest Post
June 7 Darlene’s Book Nook Guest Post

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  1. Well, Mr. Cooper, I don't think you would like my villain in Lethal Injection, The Seed. The reader most definitely gets a dose of empathy for the protag/antag, who happen to be the same character. :D

    I do understand your rant though!

  2. My husband was watching Hannibal last night and all I could think about was this interview. lol.