Those three words can pretty much sum up the plot of any story I write: An old man refuses to evacuate his home as a hurricane approaches, and then bad things happen. A police inspector finds the dead body of his childhood friend in an alley, and then bad things happen. A man returns to his childhood home to help take care of his ailing mother, and then band things happen.
You get the picture.
Some members of my family ask me why I don’t write sweet love stories with puppies and rainbows and pink cotton-candy unicorns. I usually just smile and shrug, but the truth is I really don’t have a good answer to the question. I’m not sure why I like to write stories where bad things happen. I never went through a “Goth” phase. I have a very close-knit, supportive, loving family (despite the pink cotton-candy unicorn thing). My dad is an ordained Baptist minister. My mom is a schoolteacher.
Whatever the reason, when John announced that he was putting together an anthology of short stories all from the point of view of the bad guy, I was all aboard. The resulting story, “Any Other Way,” was an experiment for me. Despite the fact that I write urban fantasy and horror fiction, my writing style is normally more on the literary end of the spectrum. I deliberately wrote “Any Other Way” in a voice that was not literary. In the end, I had a story with a lot more swearing than my stories normally have, but I also had a world I really, really liked—a fantasy noir version of Los Angeles, where the things that go “bump” in the night are just underneath the surface and not hard to find for those who know where to look.
The two main characters in “Any other Way” are Lucas and Vincent, two members of a West L.A. werewolf street gang in the midst of a turf war with a rival pack. There is a third minor but very pivotal character, however—Valentin the hipster Russian vampire who sells party drugs to rich kids in Brentwood and Bel Air. When I heard that there was going to be a Big Bad II, I knew that the story I submitted would be his story. The end result is “I Think of Snow.” The voice in the story is closer to my natural style, because Valentin comes from an upper-class background (and is two hundred years old), but I’ve tried to keep the same dark, gritty noir tone of the first story.
Like “Any Other Way,” “I Think of Snow” explores the themes of obsession and betrayal, and asks the question, “What are you willing to do to get what you want?” Of course, bad things happen. Valentin is not a nice guy, but if I’ve done my job, you’ll sympathize with him and the situation he finds himself in.
Because here’s the trick: it’s not just about the bad things.
Margaret Atwood once said, “All writers are optimists.” There’s no point in writing if you aren’t, and I’m not really a doom-and-gloom kind of person. There’s always room for hope. Even if my characters don’t always (or never) make the right choices, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t, and if your only reaction after all the bad things happen is, “Gee, I’m glad I’m not that guy,” at least I made you glad about something, right?