Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let's Hear It for the Bad Guy

Today, we’re fortunate to have, as guest blogger, Thomas Kaufman. Tom, whose first mystery, Drink the Tea, won the Private Eye Writers of America and St. Martin’s Press prize for Best First Private Eye Novel, is back with the newly released Steal the Show. Don’t steal this book, but pick up a copy soon.

Hi, everyone, and thanks to Criminal Minds for letting me in the door. I'm Thomas Kaufman, and my new book STEAL THE SHOW has a variety of villains who chase private eye Willis Gidney up a tree and then throw rocks at him. About those rock-throwers – when we write about villains, we can distinguish ourselves by making at least one of the villains as complex as the hero. Now, a complicated villain is not easy to write about, so I thank William Shakespeare for creating great villains like Iago, Richard III, and Macbeth.

Macbeth: Hold your tongue, wastrel.

TK: And since I have Macbeth with me today, I'd thought I'd ask him a few questions. To begin, how do you feel about the way Shakespeare depicted you?

M: What do you mean?

TK: Well, the real, historical Macbeth did kill King Duncan, but they were both young men, in their early thirties, and it was death through combat. Also, the real Macbeth went on to rule Scotland for about 25 years, and is considered one of the best kings Scotland ever had. You, on the other hand, well, Shakespeare has you, the fictional Macbeth, slay an old king Duncan in his sleep.

M: Well, yes, I did do that, didn't I? But it had been foretold by the weird sisters, hadn't it?

TK: True, but you murdered the king so you could be king in his place. Doesn't that make you the villain of the play?

M: Me? The villain? I'm the hero of the play, you idiot. I only kill because I have to, in order to fulfill my destiny.

TK: As described by the witches.

M: The weird sisters, yes. They were right in their other predictions, weren't they? So I thought they must be right in this one as well.

TK: So you don't see yourself as a bad guy?"

M: Does anyone? Aren't we all the heroes of our own lives? Let's say, just hypothetically, that I was the villain. I wouldn't have seen myself that way. I'd have seen myself as a person who was trying, under tremendous pressure, to do what he felt was right. Once the weird sisters told me I was destined to be king, they placed a fearsome weight upon me. I had to do what I did, because it was pre-ordained.

TK: You had no choice in the matter?

M: A good question. I think that, at any time, I could've dropped my sword. Now, looking back these four hundred years, I suppose some people might have thought I was a tad, oh, I don't know…

TK: Ambitious?

M: Well, perhaps just a bit. But until I met the sisters, I had no notion of killing Duncan. In fact, I was his bravest, most capable fighter. That's why he made me Thane of Cawdor. But that wasn't enough.

TK: According to…?

M: My wife, Lady M. It was her idea to slay the king in his sleep. She said fate had delivered Duncan to our doorstep. And so I saw the logic of what she was proposing.

TK: Even though Duncan's murder drove you mad.

M: Well, every silver lining has a dark cloud in front of it, don't you think?

TK: Let's get back to the whole good guy/bad guy thing. You're saying that, while you killed an old man in his sleep, not to mention your best friend and the wife and children of your political foes, you were the hero?

M: Absolutely. I remember clearly, that, while I did these things, I felt I was restoring some kind of balance to the universe. I was making the prophesy come true. Plus, my wife I and had lost our one child. So the only way that a Macbeth could ever sit on the throne was through the path I had taken.

TK: And your wife went mad as well.

M: Well, that's why it’s a tragedy, isn't it? But as to being a villain, no, I never saw myself that way. Do you know of an excellent film actor, Lee Marvin? Do you know of him?

TK: Sure, he was great.

M: Near the end of his life, someone asked him if it had been difficult for him, playing bad guys in all those movies. And he said no, he'd never played the bad guy. He just played ordinary guys who did what they had to, in order to make it through to the end of their day.

TK: So even though you fight the forces of truth and justice in your play…

M: In my play, in MACBETH, the forces of truth and justice are the forces of antagonism, because I am the protagonist. Shakespeare is a great writer because he shows the audience the path to understanding the lead characters. As long as the writer takes pains to make the audience understand the tortuous path I take, then the audience can identify with me. They may not have the stuff within them to kill, but they can understand why I acted as I did. And you must admit, Shakespeare wrote some great parts.

TK: Any that you didn't like?

M: Hamlet. The kid was such a wimp.

Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries. His first book, DRINK THE TEA, won the PWA/St Martin's Press Competition for Best First Novel. His second book, STEAL THE SHOW, comes out this July. His blog tour
continues at The Page 69 Test, Jen's Book Thoughts, and The Rap Sheet.



Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for being our guest blogger today, Tom! And congrats on your newest book, STEAL THE SHOW.

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks for a great post, Tom.

Thomas Kaufman said...

Thanks for letting me have a criminal mind, at least for a few hours. We now return to our regularly scheduled thinking...