Today I’m happy to welcome Bill Loehfelm (pronounced Lów-felm), author of The Devil She Knows, to PCN. Devil, which was just released last week, has received stellar reviews, including stars from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Though he’s on tour, he kindly took time to write this guest post about getting inside the emotional pain of his characters. Read on to see how he almost turns damage into poetry.
I’m loath to admit it, but when I was in my twenties, I embraced the Tortured Artist myth—the myth of the angst-ridden, muse-abused stumbling poetic soul a la Kerouac, Bukowski, and Morrison. Looking back from just the long side of 40, I wonder now if I just didn’t like to drink and screw around a lot, and being both an aspiring writer and a Catholic lapsed in behavior if not conscience, I chose an identity or persona that allowed me to behave badly and call it art. In truth, I had the attitude of a boy, neither that of an artist nor a man, and behaved accordingly. I wasn’t the first to make that mistake and I’ll wager not the last, either.
I believe in suffering, though I’m not of the “everything happens for a reason” school. I believe it’s hard to be an artist (insecurity, anyone?), but I don’t know that there is a special existential torture reserved by the crueler angels for artists. I do believe in damage. But life has taught me that there is no need to go looking for it; it’ll find you even if you run from it. In fact, like most predators, flight seems to attract its attention. Damage is part being alive. And it will be delivered to your doorstep free of charge. No worries there.
Maureen Coughlin, the hero of my new novel, The Devil She Knows, accuses her tormentor, a politician named Frank Sebastian, of being damaged goods. Sebastian’s response is not “Takes one to know one,” but it could have been, because Maureen surely is damaged goods herself.
In fact, one of the key elements of The Devil She Knows, one of the book’s best qualities and one of my favorite things about it, is that all the characters are damaged and they’ve all made difficult choices—some good, some bad—on how to cope and carry on. When it comes to damage, they’ve all suffered it, and they’ve all inflicted their share. They’re walking into the story half a mess already. That everybody’s flawed, that everybody’s got some dirt on them, is not only what makes it noir, but also, and more importantly, that dirt is what makes it real. And isn’t that the thrilling, challenging irony of fiction, making the stuff we make up eminently believable?
I get asked, often, how I addressed the challenges of writing from a female point of view. The only true answer is that I didn’t—I addressed the challenges of writing from Maureen’s point of view, of making her (and all the characters, for that matter) real and true and believable. Mining her hurts helped me see her as unique, because I do believe that the pattern of our fault lines deep within us is as unique to us as our fingerprints. Shame, remorse, terror, panic, lust, honor, defiance—these things are not the province of any age or sex, they don’t come in masculine or feminine forms. They’re the blessings and the burdens of us all.
Who of us is so unique that others can’t relate to our troubles? And yet, at the same time we suffer and feel the same things, we each carry it all differently. So I write a twenty-nine-year-old woman the same way I write a male sixty-year-old police detective. I dig until I find out what makes them human and what makes them hurt and makes them heal, and how it all fits together and then I grow them from there. From the inside out, instead of from the outside in.
Bill’s not kidding about the damage; The Devil She Knows is very dark. But if you’re anything like me, you like your noir pitch black. And you love getting free books. Bill has generously offered to send one of you a signed hardcover copy of his novel.
Giveaway: For a chance to win, leave a comment about a favorite damaged character from a book or movie. One of mine is Nikita, as played by Anne Parillaud in Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita. I’ll take entries until next Wednesday June 8, 5 p.m. PST. One name will be randomly selected and announced here, on Twitter and Facebook. The winner will have 48 hours to claim the prize before I pick an alternate name.
Many thanks to Bill for stopping by today. For more info, visit his website.
Now let’s hear about the damaged you like!