He can be swathed in a Victorian cloak like Heathcliff, a Regency jacket like Darcy, or a short sleeved shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve like James Dean, but we all know him for who he is – the quintessential bad boy. He’s the one we want to hate, or at least to shun. He woos us, then drops us, hurts our feelings, then asks for forgiveness with those appealing little boy eyes.
What is it about bad boys, anyway? Are they born knowing they can get away with a lot because they have long eyelashes? Do they figure it out in kindergarten? Sixth grade? Because they sure know it by high school.
It’s a fascinating character type, and one I had no intention of exploring in my debut mystery, MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT, which came out in late June. But I invented a back story for my protagonist, Dani O’Rourke, so she would fit into the high society world, but as a bit of an outsider: She was once married to the scion of a wealthy family, a young man with two Porsches, several hundred million dollars, and a roving eye.
Okay, that got her into the museum where she worked as a fundraiser, raising money from the social set she had traveled with during her marriage, before her ex became entranced with a synthetically endowed underwear model. But, wait! Before I knew it, her ex had wormed his way into a scene. I could have put up with that except that he charmed his way into another scene and, before I knew it, he was right in the heart of the story, threatening to weaken Dani’s resolve as she concentrated on figuring out why someone pushed an artist to his death from her office window and tried to frame her for the murder.
There were times when Dani had more resolve than I did. I mean, $450 million is nothing to sneeze at and Dickie – Richard Argetter III – was trying so hard to be helpful. I found myself liking him and making excuses for his brattiness. How could this be? I made him up. He had no right to think he could smile and push that errant bit of hair out of his eyes in my presence. Who was in charge here?
This is what characters do. They leap off the page, take their fates in their own hands, and start driving the story. Certainly, Dani’s and Dickie’s relationship at the end of the book is not what I thought it would be when I began the novel. At its best, that’s one of the great mysteries of writing fiction and also a great joy. We authors find ourselves readers of prose that’s appearing on the computer as we read. (There is revision, of course, which is a lot less fun.)