Thursday, January 07, 2010

Opposites Attract

by Jamie Freveletti

This is my first blog for The Outfit! Been given my marching orders by Libby (best topics: crime, Chicago, writing, but if you have a meltdown and wish to address something else by all means do so) and although I’m generally a happy person I thought I’d start out with a bang and write about evil.

When writing, isn’t evil that much more terrifying when paired with the mundane? We’re all used to thinking of evil as this strange and unusual event that we confront hopefully only once or twice in a lifetime, and with really good luck, never, but evil isn’t always done on a grand scale. It’s the everyday evil that’s fodder for crime writers.

I’m a martial artist, and Monday nights I teach people how to defend themselves. One thing about teaching such a course is that you realize pretty quickly that most of us don’t confront evil enough to recognize it in the mundane. I ask people what acts might trigger their instincts and I get the obvious: the guy in the bushes, the one acting erratically, the one carrying the gun (I teach in a gang infested neighborhood so, sadly, this last suggestion is not out of line).

I suggest different triggers: The good looking guy in a polo shirt who knocks on your apartment door late at night and says he’s there to see your roommate. Something’s “off” and you tell him through the door she’s not in and he persists and rattles the door handle while making a hissing noise, or the priest who marries you who is later arrested as a pedophile. I don’t tell them this to freak them out –okay, maybe a little- but more as a reminder to look beneath the surface. I tell them that when something feels “off” and they can’t put their finger on it, they need to listen to that feeling, not shrug it away. They can’t identify it because the mundane is cloaking the evil below.

I use this juxtaposition in my writing and it works every time. The obvious, broad brush violence and triggers are great for action sequences, but when you want to evoke a creepy feeling nothing beats the devil in civilized attire.

Here’s another one for you. Before becoming a writer I worked as a trial attorney. One of my partners was a former State’s Attorney charged with the prosecution of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy. I’ll blog about the case a little later, because it’s a fascinating story about true crime here in Chicago, but suffice to say that Gacy was evil incarnate. My partner kept a framed photograph of Gacy in his office. In it, Gacy was dressed as a clown, holding a balloon and smiling. I’ll never see a clown the same way again.

(I’m excited to join The Outfit and would like to thank Libby Hellmann for thinking of me. My first thriller novel, “Running from the Devil,” launched last May, and it’s been a great ride ever since. My thanks to the Outfit for adding to the fun).

33 comments:

Dana King said...

"I’m generally a happy person I thought I’d start out with a bang and write about evil."

You say that like they're mutually exclusive.

Good post; you hit the ground running. I can't deal with books that have this overarching evil that threatens world domination or destruction. Unfortunately, too many are written that way, thanks to the formula of "raising the stakes." The most disturbing evil is that most likely to affect you as an individual, and doesn't reveal itself until past the point where you can find a way to simply avoid it.

Chicago cops have a saying for when something feels "off:" If something piques your curiosity, always take a second look. A third look, if you're still not satisfied. If something sets off a reaction in you, don't ignore it until you're satisfied you can afford to.

Jen Forbus said...

Great first post, Jamie! My problem seems to be, I don't have that voice that tells me something's "off." O.k. I can see the obvious stuff, but otherwise I can be clueless. That may very well be why I'm so drawn to crime fiction. I don't know.

Marcus Sakey said...

Welcome aboard, Jamie! Delighted to have you.

Great post, too. It's a tricky thing to pull that off in writing, but when done right, it's dynamite. For me, the pet peeve is when writers, attempting this, suddenly turn a good guy bad as a "shocking surprise twist." It's unoriginal, and there for not only rarely surprising, but not often believable. The best friend as the true enemy, the man behind the...yawn.

Far better to write a character who exists in shades of gray in the first place, whose evil is right there in front of you, but dressed nicely and elocuting well...

Jamie Freveletti said...

Dana: Like the "second" look idea, mind if I borrow it? I hear you Jen, I can feel the "off" but before learning martial arts I would ignore it to be "nice" (that guy's money may have blown into the bushes and I don't want to insult him by treating him poorly (!).

Tom Schreck said...

I often wonder if martial arts training leaves us more aware of the evil in the world.

Are we better off for it or does it seep into our consciousness and make us more distrustful of the world?

The weird thing is that I think I feel more comfortable about defending myself not so much because of what i can do but more because I know what it is like to get hit hard by people that are good at hitting. i don't like it but it doesn't freak me out that much

Rex Ray said...

There is evil, pure unadulterated evil, and there are sometimes evil things that are done by people who aren't necessarily evil. Sometimes people just do really stupid things that turn out, in retrospect to be evil.

Dana King said...

Jamie,
Feel free. I stole it myself from one of Connie Fletcher's books.

Jamie Freveletti said...

I think martial artists are more aware of evil because we spend endless hours in a dojo preparing to counter any number of attacks. After a while an attack seems much more possible in the real world.

I agree with Marcus that the use of the good guy/evil at the end as a twist can get a bit tired. Need to do it carefully.

And Rex--Question re: stupid stuff ending up to be evil--can that really be called evil? Or does true evil require a bad intent? (I'm not sure myself--gotta think about this!)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Welcome, Jamie. It's great to have you here.

Libby Hellmann said...

What I love about evil characters is that they think they're doing the right thing. Or that they're entitled to do what they're doing. When an author can get that across, I'm putty in their hands.

Great post, Jamie! Glad you're here.

Sara Paretsky said...

Jamie, thanks for coming on board and taking over my old spot. Your presence is a big boost for the blog. I'm not a martial artist, but two of my friends are respectively 2nd and 3rd degree black belts, and what they get from martial arts isn't a heightened awareness of evil, but I heightened sense both of confidence and well-being as they move through the world. It would be interesting to hear a live discussion among martial artists about what the art does for them.

Sean Chercover said...

Hey Jamie - welcome aboard!

David Heinzmann said...

Welcome, Jamie.
This makes Laura, David and I veteran members of the staff, I guess.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Ellis said...

I can't compete with (or understand) the comment before me regarding chat porno cams. But I can welcome Jamie to the Outfit! We're lucky to have you and a great first post. Which former prosecutor did you used to work with? Not Kunkle....? Did we have this conversation a couple years ago? I am thinking so but can't put my finger on it ... kind of like that person who seems like a nice guy but is really evil.

Sophie Littlefield said...

How lovely to find Jamie lurking in a whole new corner of the 'net :)

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Michael Dymmoch said...

Dynamite blog, Jamie. Welcome aboard.

BTW Gavin De Becker wrote a great book on the subject of trusting your instincts: The Gift of Fear

Jamie Freveletti said...

Thanks All! Yes, David, it was Kunkle--who else? Will blog about Gacy case soon!

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