To start things off, I'd like to say how honored I am to join this prestigious list of authors on the WWK blog site. Through my posts, I hope to entertain, inform, excite, and inspire others—especially those who believe every great novel begins with a dead body!
So what is it that makes me want to be a writer who kills? Primarily it's because I'm a southern boy, and nothing pleases a southerner more than a good dramatic death scene. To explain it best, let me borrow two quotes, the first from my good friend, jurist and fellow author Bert Goolsby, who for one of his novels created an attorney who defended a hapless man accused of murdering one of his town's richest, most self-entitled, and most narcissistic men. The counselor's defense strategy included an interesting theory of law: "He just needed killin'."
For purposes of writing fiction, this rather philosophical school of thought works wonders in justifying the fate of rapists, child molesters, kidnappers, wife beaters, and all sorts of doers of evil deeds for which no Twinkie defense, my-momma-didn't-hug-me-enough-when-I-was-little explanation, or any other overly permissive excuse will suffice. For those characters only death—preferably slow and torturous—will do.
The second quote comes from the movie Mississippi Burning. Actor Willem Defoe, playing an FBI agent, tries to explain to Gene Hackman's character why civil rights workers in the 1960s were so passionate. "Some things are worth dying for," he says.
Hackman's response is classic: "Down here, things are different; here, they believe that some things are worth killing for." With regard to creating fiction, this belief is great for characters killed over love, money, politics, or religious ideology.
Then again, the only good reason for a writer to off a character is to advance the story. And so it was, with great regret, that I killed my first character, Bernard, while writing my novel Disavowed (Echelon Press, 2006). The book's protagonist is a somewhat disgraced ex-cop who tries to redeem himself and his reputation by volunteering to infiltrate a white supremacist group for the FBI.
Bernard, a peripheral character who makes the briefest of appearances, is a great guy, the kind of person you'd want as your neighbor or your best college football-watching buddy. Unfortunately he has the bad luck of being a young African-American in a book about the Ku Klux Klan, which is similar to the fate of the unknown actor in the red shirt beaming down to the newly discovered hostile planet with Capt. Kirk and Bones. You know one of them ain't coming back alive, and it's pretty much a given which one.
Poor Bernard had to die to show the fundamental idiocy of racist dogma; to show how profoundly unfair life often can be; and, primarily, to create a sense of urgency and a thirst for revenge to keep readers turning pages. Bernard's death hurt. I invested much time, energy, and thought in creating him. But at least he had the distinction of being my first of many "kills."
Rest in peace, Bernard. Rest in peace.