Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My First Kill

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.


Paula Gail Benson said...

Welcome, Sam! Glad you are a fellow blogger. Looking forward to your future messages. In some of our previous postings, we've discussed how difficult it sometimes is to "kill" a likeable character. What are some of your criteria in selecting a fictional murderer's victims?

Jim Jackson said...

Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Sam.

I'm intrigued by contrast between "Some things are worth dying for" and "...some things are worth killing for." My main character in BAD POLICY, Seamus McCree, would have little trouble answering the first question. He struggles mightily to answer the second, especially after he ends up killing someone. For him it's all shades of gray.

In contrast, his bodyguard girlfriend, Abigail Hancock, would wonder why you were asking the question; it's black and white to her.

In the second book featuring Seamus McCree, good people do die for some of the same reasons Bernard had to die. That didn't bother me because it illustrates the callous disregard for life some evil-doers have. It also allows Seamus the opportunity to react and can challenge readers to consider how they are reacting.

Again, welcome aboard.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

Welcome to WWK, Sam.

When I thought of my first "kills," I had to laugh. It took me a while to work up to my first "kill." In my early short stories, no one was killed. One involved the kidnapping of a child, who was rescued by middle age-busybody women. Some focused on moral crimes, which no one "got" so I stopped writing them.

My first real "kill" was a sexual predator father. His victim, his twelve-year-old daughter, kills him with her bucket and shovel by burying him in the sand, trapping him, and letting the ocean take him. He's drunk, which helped. To me violating the trust between parent and child is such a heinous crime that it had impact. What is horrible is that it happens all the time. I loved my little girl--a murderous hero.

Hope you find a happy home here, Sam!

Kara Cerise said...

Welcome to WWK, Sam!

With some of my more likeable characters I try everything not to kill them off but know that I have to for the sake of the story. However, one time I realized I was about to kill the "wrong" character and that another character's death would have more impact.

I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

Warren Bull said...

Welcome, Sam to WWK. I like your description of "worth dying for" and "worth killing for." I look forward to hearing more from you.

Gloria Alden said...

Welcome to WWK, Sam. I look forward to reading more blogs from you.

My first kill was a not very nice person, too. In the 20 I've killed so far, few were characters I felt sympathetic towards, but two I did hate killing off, but they had to be killed to fit the plot.