Monday, June 15, 2009

Bad Guys I can't get enough of....

Question: Who is your "favorite" criminal mind (real or fictional) and why?

First, I have a confession.

I have a love/hate relationship with badguys. As a doctor, I've had the misfortune of meeting too many real life ones: abusers, addicts, rapists, psychotics, sociopaths, gangbangers, killers, even one serial killer.

Believe me, they're no fun—and not entertaining at all.

But, as a writer and reader, badguys fascinate me. I hate it when they're cartoonish, just "psychos" with no real motivation or emotional connection to their crimes.

And, oh how I love it, when a deliciously complex badguy like Jeff Lindsay's Dexter comes along! A complex character with real fears, motivations, conflicts, Dexter is the definition of compelling.

Yes, he's a "heartless", relentless killer. But he's no cartoonish serial killer. He cares about his work, he cares about the people around him, about the innocent victims he sees. He hates the killers and predators who have stolen their innocence. With a passion.

As a sociopath, someone with little to no empathy, his work as a killer is the only thing Dexter is passionate about—that he can feel strongly about.

Except for one more thing. Something that starts out slowly and builds over the course of the series.

You see, Dexter has realized that he's missing something, that he wants to be "normal", that he wants to feel…..

He's Pinocchio and all he wants to figure out is how to become a "real" boy.

No matter how heinous his crimes (and this series is most definitely not for the faint of heart!) who can resist watching someone try so very hard to become human?

What makes a character—especially a badguy—compelling to you? Is it the outrageousness of their crimes? Their warped motivations? Or something else?

Thanks for reading,
PS: don't forget to read a comment for your chance to win our June drawing: books from CJ Lyons, Rebecca Cantrell, Kelli Stanley, Tim Maleeny, Shane Gericke, and Gabriella Herkert, PLUS a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, is due out October, 2009. Contact her at


Ray said...

I don't know if this qualifies, but I kind of admire Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. He uses his country's oil wealth to benefit his country yet he enjoyed sticking it to former President Bush and is only slightly less vocal about the current administration. He is controversial in his own country. Some worship him while otheres wish he would just go away. He is a modern day Robin Hood with Oil and a military backed by countries not too friendly to the US.

The news media in this country villifies him. The media in Venezuala are not exactly unregulated.

The president of Iran is an interesting character, but he has nuclear weapons.

Both believe they are acting in the best interest of their country.

What make them interesting is that is politically incorrect to admit to admiring their hutzpah.


Lesa said...

I don't have an answer about Bad Guys. I want to welcome all of you to Twitter and blogging, though. I'm looking forward to your comments.

Good luck with 7 Criminal Minds!


Jen Forbus said...

One of my favorite criminal minds is Harlan Coben's Win. I think maybe he ranks among my favorites because I never really can figure out how I feel about him. He's utterly devoted to Myron...and his other close friends. And what he does do, while criminal, is to protect them or society in some way. So is he really a bad guy or a good guy? I like that ambiguity. Robert Crais's Joe Pike is that way, too!

CJ Lyons said...

Hi there! Thanks for stopping by during our inaugural week!!

Come back soon!

CJ Lyons said...

Jen, you picked two of my favorite characters AND writers!!!

I love that both Win and Elvis have a strict code and live/die by may not be the same code you and I live by, but it's ingrained in them.

Thanks for stopping by!

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Ray! I think Chavez definitely qualifies!!!

He, like many other high ranking political persons (and corporate CEO's, other men/women in power) often have both sociopathic and narcissistic my opinion.

I'm NOT a psychiatrist, this is just me trying to understand how people like this come to view the world as theirs to play with, manipulate and control....anyone out there ever meet someone like this?

If so, you know what I'm talking about!

Great examples!

Bill Cameron said...

I've always been conflicted about fictional bad guys. In so many cases, it's the bad guys who are celebrated and the good guys who get short shrift. The reason, of course, is fictional bad guys often get all the best lines. They're witty, outrageous, engaging, haunting. They're the ones we notice, the ones we talk about.

Meanwhile, good guys are often dour, self-serious, stricken. Bummer, man.

Obviously this isn't universal. We love our good guys too. But the delicious joy we take in fictional bad guys seems to get most of the press. And I don't get it.

The thing is, bad guys aren't really hilarious and clever. They're assholes. They're thieves and drug dealers, rapists and sociopaths, the people CJ had to deal with.

Has there ever REALLY been a Hannibal Lector? Has there ever REALLY been a Joker? I can't think of a one. Even Ted Bundy, famously handsome and charismatic, couldn't meet the standard set by our most beloved fictional bad guys.

I guess for me, the fictional bad guys who interest me most are the ones who aren't celebrations of genius evil, but reflections of banal evil. And when they lose to the good guys, that's when I'm engaged. Hannibal Lector couldn't be less interesting to me. I simply don't believe in him.

CJ Lyons said...

Hey, Bill! I know what you mean--a bad guy who's "too" bad turns me off....especially if they're spending all their time toying with the cops and laying down red herrings, etc.

I think the badguys who are also human, who are truly heroes in their own mind (not just mustache twirling genius villains) are the most compelling to me...

Thanks for dropping by!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to post about a recent movie baddy: Nero in the new Star Trek movie. First off, I LOVED the movie and I'm a first generation Trek fan, back to '66. Never got into the other incarnations of the series much. It was classic Trek for me.

The weakest part of the movie for me was Nero. Generic bad guy. I was a little disappointed.

Then someone said there was a comic book "prequel" that everyone should read. Got it, read it.

And was blown away. ARRRGH! Why couldn't this have been incorporated into the movie, even with a line or two?? (In fact, I suspect some of it was, but was cut out.)

Basically, in the original timeline, Spock realizes the disaster that is about to befall Romulus. He goes to the Romulan High Council and tells them he needs a rare and valuable substance to create Red Matter to diffuse the supernova.

The Council doesn't believe him. They think it's a ruse to get this valuable substance. Who does believe him?


He goes against the Romulan Council, turns renegade, uses his ship to get the material and gets it to Spock.

Who then fails to save Romulus, but does manage to save some Federation worlds.

So then what is Nero to think? He sacrificed everything, wanting only to save his family and instead saves the enemy. He was used.

Watch the movie with that in mind and all at once Nero becomes a compelling bad guy,someone you can relate to, can feel for, can understand.

I think that's the key to a villain for me. We need to understand, to find something rational, something *Human* to which we can relate in some way. Some hope of redemption. Some indication of why and where things went so terribly wrong. With Dexter, it's the wanting to be a "real boy," as you said. If he didn't want to be human, if he truly didn't care about anything but murder, would we find him as compelling?

My two cents.


Shane Gericke said...

Great item, CJ. I love the line about Pinnochio wanting to become a real boy. I always thought of Dexter that way, but never could figure out how to express it. This is perfect. And the opening of Dexter is so damn creepy, with the drops of blood.

Jen, I think Win is a good guy sometimes masquerading as a bad guy. Which makes him OK with me, since the best good guys have some bad-guy in them.

Ray, Chavez and the Iranian dude strike me as hucksters rather than statesmen fighting for their countries. Much as our politicians do when they defend motherhood, apple pie and Chevrolet while raping and plundering our blood and treasure. I don't much worry about their bluster and threats, as it's almost all for internal consumption. I just wish they'd shut up and go away.

Lesa, good to see you on our forum! For those of you who don't read it, Lesa's Book Critiques are gems, and should be read by every thinking lover of books. Plus, she's cool, so support her whenever you can!

And Bill, I know what you mean about real bad guys being asswipes. They are. They are not charming in the least. But nobody reads about bad guys that remind them of their hated brother-in-law (insert grin) so we create cool bad guys that would be fun to drink with if they didn't have the pesky habit of chopping off people's heads.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Shane! I'm looking forward to the next book in 2010.

And, I did get you some readers and followers from Twitter this morning. That's where I saw your new blog, before I read about it on DorothyL.

So, if you're interested in finding where your readers are coming from, mark me down as Twitter.

Ann Littlewood said...

I love goodguy/badguy protagonists such as John Rain (Barry Eisler's series), an assassin with a heart of, if not gold, at least silver. Also the charming Bernie Rhondebarr and intriguing Keller, wonderful anti-heros (or are they heros?) created by Lawrence Block. Elizabeth Hand's Cass Neary (Generation Loss) is way more flawed--drugs, casual meanness, theft--and therefore lends herself to a fascinating tale of redemption (no cozy, that). As for badguys that really are bad, but have depth, I can't beat the ones in Richard Price's Lush Life.

CJ Lyons said...

You are sooooo right!!! A bad guy without a real motivation, who thinks he's being a hero, with as much or more to lose than the hero, is totally compelling to me!

Great comment! Thanks for sharing!

CJ Lyons said...

Shane, Thanks for mentioning Lesa's site--she's a great supporter of all of us!

CJ Lyons said...

I love, love, love it when there's a chance for the badguy to be redeemed.

In fact, I try to do that in my own books, give the badguy the same chance to be a hero as the good guy, only in the end he makes the wrong choice....

You picked some of my favs!

CJ Lyons said...

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by and for helping us get the word out on our first day!!!

Bobby Mangahas said...

I'm going old school here, but one of my favorite villains is Iago from Othello. He just does what he does and has no qualms for his manipulations.

Modern day, I'd have to go with Hannibal Lecter (though a psychopath, he still has that charm to him that makes you want to like him) and Stringer Bell from The Wire.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi there, RJ! You're right about Iago--why is it Shakespeare got to have all the fun creating our archetypes???

And yes to Stringer Bell!!!! What a great badguy!

Helen K said...

My favorite bad guy is Donald Westlake's Dortmunder. I am always pulling for him to get away with the loot in his bungled burglaries.

CJ Lyons said...

Good one, Helen! I'd almost forgotten about him!

Thanks for stopping by!

Kelli Stanley said...

Lesa, thanks for letting us know the Tweets are working! :)

When I set up the CM Twitter account, my mom (who was staying the weekend with me) asked me what I was doing.

I replied, "I'm twittering our grog."

The funny thing is that she knew exactly what I meant!! But then, she's always been cool. :)

Thanks for reading and following CM!!



Kelli Stanley said...

RJ, you're in great company with that Iago observation! Agatha Christie's Poirot declares him to be the most villainous of villains, because of his sociopathic skill at manipulating others into doing his killing for him.

I think the reference is in Curtain.

But kudos, sweetie!! I love it when anyone brings up Shakespeare!!



Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Al Swearengen in DEADWOOD, Stringer Bell in THE WIRE, Atia of the Julii in ROME...

Hmm... maybe there's a little more than mind attraction going on with those...

CJ Lyons said...

Hmmm, Alex, you always pick the hunkiest bad boys!

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I'm here from the Motivated Writer's Life group. In case you're wondering how such a weirdo found your little slice of heaven...

Lamar Pye from Stephen Hunter's Dirty White Boys. Nasty, nasty, nasty. As sick as it was, I understood his motivation and what drove him. He was more compelling (to me) than the hero of the novel--whose name I don't remember.

Tony Soprano from the HBO series. I cheered for him. Even when I knew he was being positively evil, I still cheered for him.

Sonja Blue from the Nancy A. Collns series. She did good things at times, but she also had her moments where she was nothing but a bully and a psychopath.

I agree with the person who picked Al Swearingen from Deadwood, too.

Anyway...I had fun reading all your comments as well as the original post.

Laura Benedict said...

If I had known there were imprisoned serial killers when I was eleven, I probably would have taken on several as pen pals. I've always been a sucker for bad guys. Of course, had one shown up at my door, I would certainly have changed my mind! (There is one guy I dated in college, though...I still wonder about him.)

Isn't it interesting that we find the bad guys/girls so much more fascinating than goody-goodies--particularly in fiction? As you and Bill C discussed, CJ, I think complexity is key. Gives our brains something to play with.

So glad the 7 Criminal Minds are finally here!!!!

Ray said...

I just remembered one in a novel by T.J. MacGregor. Araña was a femal assassin who killed with a stilleto in a novel by T.J. MacGregor that was part of a series. I even wrote asking her to bring the woman back in the future. Most of the people she killed were the worst of the worst and in the words of an old Southern defense for murder, "They needed killing." By the end of the novel I was rooting for her.

If I remember right she came to Florida to kill the hero only to help him bring some bad guys to justice. The only ones the woman killed teaming up with the hero Mike McCleary, were those who tried to kill him.

I still from time to time ask when she is coming back even though I know that character is from the distant past.


JJ Cooper said...

I love stories where the writer is able to convince the reader that the antagonist thinks he/she is the protagonist. By that I mean the bad guy/gal truly beleives they are in the right and if we take away the good guy/gals POV we'll have a compelling story to follow anyway.

I grew up buried in Wilbur Smith novels and I really couldn't tell who the bad guy was - so many Countneys.

I think we as writers can make compelling arguments for our bad guys/gals that our readers may want to cheer them on a little.


CJ Lyons said...

Hey, Laura, thanks for stopping by!

What can I say, bad boys are the short run. For the long haul stick with a good guy like your P!

CJ Lyons said...

thanks for giving me some new books to look for!!! I hadn't read all of those and they sound interesting!

CJ Lyons said...

Ray, also a book I hadn't read! Thanks for the recc!

CJ Lyons said...

I agree, JJ--the bad guy should be a hero, at least in his own mind.

Thanks for stopping by!

Lisanne624 said...

One of my favorite bad guys has to be the infamous "thief-taker general" of London, Jonathan Wild. He really had all angles covered -- he had spies out to inform him of robberies, contacted the victims to make arrangements to get their property back, and worked with the police to arrest the thieves. Unfortunately, despite all his "behind the scenes" work, Wild was eventually executed after he double-crossed one too many criminals.

CJ Lyons said...

Lisanne, I'm going to have to find out more about Wild--sounds like the perfect badguy! Thanks!

gregory huffstutter said...

My vote goes to Ben on "LOST." He's clearly the hero of his own story -- always acting in what he thinks are the best interests of the island -- saying he's "one of the good guys." But you never know if he's truly evil, being manipulated, or ultimately the manipulator.

CJ Lyons said...

Oh, good one! How could I forget Ben??? love to hate him--those beady eyes are so perfect for his character.

Thanks, Gregory!