October 10, 2014

Villains: Guest post by author Catherine Egan

I am quite thrilled to be helping author Catherine Egan launch Bone, Fog, Ash & Star, the final book of The Last Days of Tian Di series, with a review yesterday and a guest post today. Today's post, Isn't he scary? Isn't he beautiful? will be the first in her blog-series about villains. Check in at her blog for more details about these posts, including a giveaway that will accompany each.

Catherine Egan grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and wrote her first novel at age 6. It was about a group of kids on a farm who ran races. Each chapter ended with “Cathy won the race again!” Since then, she has lived in Oxford, Tokyo, Kyoto, a volcanic Japanese island that erupted and sent her hurtling straight into the arms of her now-husband, Beijing, an oil rig in China’s Bohai Bay, and now Connecticut, where she is still writing books (but Cathy doesn’t win every race anymore). Her first novel, Shade & Sorceress, won a 2013 Moonbean Children’s Book Award (Gold) and was named an Ontario Library Association Best Bet for 2012 in the Young Adult Fiction category.

You can connect with Catherine Egan through these social media links:

Website: www.catherineegan.com
Blog: bycatherineegan.wordpress.com
Twitter: @bycatherineegan
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/byCatherineEgan

Now, I welcome author Catherine Egan

Isn't he scary? Isn't he beautiful?
by Catherine Egan

I was sitting at the big kitchen table writing, because that’s what I like to do, and my three-year-old was sitting next to me sticking toothpicks in a lump of play-doh, because that’s what he likes to do. He showed me his creation and said, “Look, it’s a spiky monster!” Of course it was a monster. He is all about monsters. Looking over his toothpick-spiked play-doh monster with immense satisfaction, he said: “Isn’t he scary? Isn’t he beautiful?” Yes, I said, yes, he is both of those things.

The first germ of an idea for the Tian Di books began with Eliza (my beloved heroine) and Nia (my beloved villain) in conversation and in conflict. I knew that they were in some kind of prison, but I didn’t yet know how they got there or even really who they were. Still, much of the scene I wrote is right there, barely changed, near the end of the the first book:

“Look at you,” said Nia with an affectionate little smile, not putting down her teacup. “Adorable! A child with the barest smidgen of Magic and the sad delusion that you could last five seconds against me.” She stood up and bent close to Eliza. Eliza could smell the sugary tea on her breath. “Well, little smidgen, you’ve come running straight into the only place left where I still have power, eager as anything, and now that you’re here, what fun we’re going to have!”

Nia was wonderfully freeing to write. Every scene she was in came so easily. She could say or do anything. I wanted her to be sympathetic but monstrous at the same time, and whether or not I succeeded for the reader I can’t say, but for myself, she was pure joy to write. I felt about her just as my little boy felt about his spiky play-doh monster. Isn’t she terrible? Isn’t she wonderful?

The best villains terrify us, yes, but they beguile us too. In the ultimate Good vs. Evil story, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is so charismatic – his rage, rebelliousness and pride providing all the best poetry – that William Blake claimed Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” While the Emperor in the original Star Wars trilogy is perhaps the truer villain, the movies are dominated by the terrifying figure of Darth Vader, who represents not only a physical threat but a spiritual one – the dark, seductive power Luke must resist, the evil good men fall may fall prey to. Volde… sorry, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is and will remain the uber-villain for generations of young readers – and he is all the more horrifying because he is so deeply connected to our beloved hero Harry. They may be complex, comic, or simply terrifying, but they captivate us, these villains. Think of Lady MacBeth, unable to scrub the blood from her hands; the murderous Captain Hook, smoking two cigars at once; Dracula, the bloodthirsty (sorry) seducer, setting off a love affair with vampire literature that has lasted more than a hundred years; Bluebeard with his roomful of murdered wives; the wicked witches and vicious stepmothers that make fairytales such dark fare; the Big Bad Wolf – as primal as it gets – all those teeth! The mad, the miserable, the megalomaniacal and the vengeful – villains have a way of swaggering onto the page (or the screen) and taking over.

The villain comes along and says to the hero: OK, now you have to be the hero, because here I am. Or maybe the villain whispers in the hero’s ear: You think you are the hero, but are you, really? Deep down, aren’t you just like me? Maybe the villain says, suddenly, at some crucial point in the story: Actually I am your father / mother / sister / lover – surprise! And then you (the hero) have to figure out what to do with that tangle of love and fear, of loathing and longing. Maybe the villain just thinks you look tasty and wants to gobble you up or drink your blood, and maybe some part of you actually takes that as a compliment, which is weird, but people are  weird. Maybe the villain is so unrepressed, so powerful, gleeful and sexy and leaving destruction in his or her wake, that you wish… I mean not really but you sort of wish that you could be like that too. That you didn’t care so much. That you didn’t feel so much.

It can be simpler than all that, of course. Maybe when the Big Bad Wolf opens his jaws and you see those rows of teeth, it is like staring at death, but at a remove – because this is a book, or a movie, or maybe your grandma is telling you the story, but anyway, it’s not real. That’s what you keep telling yourself under the covers at bedtime – it’snotrealit’snotrealit’snotreal – but you see this shadow move across the wall and you think you can hear something breathing.

I don’t have any grand philosophy about villains. I just love to write them, and I love to read them, and I recognize the same shivery pleasure in my children when we read some horrible tale and they huddle saucer-eyed on either side of me. Sometimes I’ll think, hmm, maybe this is a little too much, but we get to the end and I look at them and they look at me and they whisper: Read it again.

So I do.

 * * * * * 
This is the first in a blog-series about villains – you can follow along by checking my blog http://bycatherineegan.wordpress.com next week. Each post will include a giveaway. Let me know in the comments: who are your favorite fictional villains? Choose villains from books / movies / comic books / TV – just not real life! A winner will be selected by random number generator (I’ll post a screenshot) and I will send you a book bundle – all three books in The Last Days of Tian Di series – chock-a-block with villains and their villainy.
-Catherine Egan


  1. My wife and I try to read every word that you publish, and I think that there is great merit in technology that allows us access to the art and the artist in virtual simulcast through blogging and such. Still, my deepest appreciation is reserved for those moments when I am able to indulge myself in the enchantments of the stories themselves. Kee them coming!

  2. I think I have to go for Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. He was such an excellent villain, it was tempting to root for him.

    1. I have to concur with you on that one! Mind you, Alan Rickman can do snarly villain so well.

  3. I have actually never seen that movie! But I can imagine it - Alan Rickman makes every villain delicious.

    And Bob: thank you :)

  4. Great, great post! One of my favorite writers of villains is Stephen King. He's got such a way with mixing the terrifying with the -- as Catherine put it -- beguiling. Randall Flagg from THE STAND might be his best for this. And on the more TERRIFYING side, Sunlight Gardener from THE TALISMAN. So scary. I also love a villain who can change in our perceptions as we get to know them more, like Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice And Fire.

  5. My favorite is Spike! Does that count, since he eventually turns good? I actually didn't enjoy him once he gained a soul. : )

  6. Excellent post, and review. I can't wait to read the final volume!

    1. Congrats, Karyn, looks like you're the winner of Catherine Egan's wonderful fantasy series! If you post a comment with your email, I'll pass it along to Catherine and delete the post i.e., not publish it

  7. In answer to the question, though, "who are your favourite fictional villains," I'd have to say Ghisteslwchlohm (Ohm, to make it easier on readers) in Patricia A. McKillip's Riddle of Stars trilogy. What I like best is that he is both mentor and adversary... and without spoilers it is impossible to convey the intricate morphing of friend into villain into friend throughout the trilogy. So maybe the answer is really: all the villains McKillip gives us there...

  8. I've always been attracted ("Isn't she beautiful?") to villains who are damaged - the kind you always hope to save in the end, but never do. My recent favorite was Fiona Goode in "American Horror Story: Coven". She was possessed of enormous power, but had just enough humanity left in her (i.e., her fear of death from cancer) to - okay, somewhat - mitigate all the heinous things she did, while we still got to revel in the delicious evil of which she was capable. I guess my favorite villains are the ones who could be heroes, but *choose* not to be.

  9. I thought I was a villain expert, but so many of these are new to me!

    Thank you for coming by, lovely people! I'll be announcing winners at the end of the week when I get off my blog tour bus. xo

  10. Thanks for joining in, everybody :). I'm posting a screenshot of the winning number to twitter (@bycatherineegan) since I don't think I can post it here, but the random number generator gave me number 5 and so karynmadam is the winner! I'll be in touch!