Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Mirror Universe

There's a classic episode of Star Trek (original series, natch--the episode is called "Mirror, Mirror") in which Kirk, Spock, and the Federation are, well, villains ... brutal, sadistic, murdering thugs. (Well, maybe not the Mirror-Spock--his was a logic-based villainy, of course).

So what does this have to do with the CM Question of the Week?

Putting aside the fact that Star Trek is central to most life lessons, "Mirror, Mirror" was one of my earlier indoctrinations in the idea that certain "heroic" behaviors--or at least, characteristics that are associated with leadership--are just as likely to be used in nasty ways. Sometimes more so, in fact.

Take, for example, Becky's Tuesday mention of Ernst Rohm. A courageous and brave soldier and successful leader of men ... and a Nazi.

Strong man or bully? Patriot or traitor? Savior or terrorist? Just a few of the questions that can surround the actions of real people and fictional characters, questions whose answers depend on the POV and ethical and moral fulcrum of the narrator. The fact that successful criminals of all stripes can possess traits that are usually considered admirable--strength, loyalty, determination, tenacity, honor--makes the process even murkier.

Fortunately, I'm a double Gemini, which--if you believe astrology--makes it easier for me to get in the heads of different personalities, even those who commit actions that are personally, morally and ethically abhorrent. Writing to me is like acting--and sometimes I play people I wouldn't ride a bus with.

My goal is always to treat characters as people, as human beings. Not as labels, not as plot mechanisms.

I believe most human beings nurse a pushing place. A point of no return, when behavior and personality guidelines snap and moral boundaries fall away and definitions of good and bad don't matter. Under those circumstances, "heroes" can become "villains", and vice versa.

Consider the femme fatale. Noir in general has been and still is a boy's game, a chest-thumping exercise of broken machismo, where a man's weakness is inevitably great sex with a beautiful woman. Think Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in The Killers ... think Samson and Delilah. The beautiful woman who recognizes her allure and uses it to get what she wants ... eternal temptress, eternal genre villain.

Uh ... no. I don't think I've ever met a woman--of any generation--who hasn't had the experience of feeling like prey. Who hasn't been hit on, messed with, harrassed. Who hasn't had the consciousness of her own sexuality forced on her from at least the time she hit puberty.

So I decided to write a different kind of noir. A noir that deals with a beautiful woman who recognizes her allure and uses it to get what she wants ... and instead of the femme fatale villain, she is the protagonist--the author--of her own story, her own life. Her own mythology.

That woman is Miranda Corbie. She's the protagonist of CITY OF DRAGONS. And that's one element of what shaped the novel.

Is she a hero? Is she a villain? She's Miranda. She's something in between ... a human being.

The only category I think like.


CJ Lyons said...

Kelli, love the cover! Isn't it fun to live in that grey zone between "good" and "evil"???

What's a double Gemini???

Bobby Mangahas said...

I have to agree with you, Kelli. I always love the more complex characters, not just the clear cut "hero" and "villain."

By the way, very much looking forward to City of Dragons.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Ceej! And yup, the grey zone of humanity is a challenging place to live. :)

My rising sign and sun sign are both in Gemini, making me a double twin--aka, very confused at times, lol! ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks for dropping in, RJ! :)

Complexity is the human condition .. not that every character needs to be Hamlet, since as we spoke about a couple of weeks ago, many criminals tend to be on the dim-witted side (luckily), and sometimes have all the complexity of a paramecium (maybe less).

But I think most people are more than what they seem at first or second look, and I try to write them that way. :)

Glad you're looking forward to CITY OF DRAGONS!! Next February is fast approaching --I'll be setting up tour dates after Thrillerfest and getting my new website up soon.

Thanks again for the comment, sweetie!


Unknown said...

Great post Kelli! I love your idea that more than courage can be screwed to the sticking-place.

I don't think any writer can judge and observe at the same time, though of course in the greater scope of the novel (over the character), we do have our opinions!

I've always been drawn to a slightly different interpretation of men and women in film noir, but I also tend to watch the ones that are more PSS than anything else. Because the femme fatales were so much more three dimensional than their good-girl counterparts, I always thought most noir writers were getting at something more than showing women who could make men weak. But I've been known to make up outrageous things in order to explain away facts I didn't like :)

My brain is positively bouncy thanks to this blog -- you all rock so much!!!!


Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks so much, Mysti!! We're all having a great time on CM--I know my brain is regularly jogged by our wonderful commentators and my CM teammates.

So much "classic" noir has a chest-thumping yet whiny element of misogyny--in both literary and film versions--that I'm always surprised to see something that rocks the mold. Joan Crawford's vehicle "Sudden Fear" is one ... those combo noir/"women's pictures"/melodramas generally lent a more sympathetic and full-bodied approach to the genre.

And I agree, I think in the hands of certain writers, women characters could come into their own. Certainly Bridget isn't that much more venal than Spade himself ... and Chandler wrote some very interesting and complex female characters. But for many in the hard-core "tough" guy school of noir, the Spillane era of the "broad" was lesson learned. ;)

Sad to say, I think the portrayal of the sexualized woman as manipulative and evil is an extraordinarily powerful and endurable symbol in Western narrative ... just ask Eve. ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

And wasn't that the universe where Uhura and Sulu hooked up? Even the mirror universe is different from the Abrams-verse.

Not that I've spent a lot of time watching Star Trek...

Double Gemini? Doesn't that make you quadruplets? That explains a lot.

And Miranda fights for right and good. And from a strong desire not to be groped. Can't argue with that.

Kelli Stanley said...

"That explains a lot"? Hmm ... ;)

Methinks you've watched an episode or two, Becks--'fess up. My own personal Star Trek canon stopped with VI--no way did Kirk die!