Writing the Evil Sorcerer

Q: How many evil sorcerers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One — he holds up the light bulb, and the universe revolves around him.

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After reviewing chapters from several first-time authors writing epic fantasy novels, I’ve been inspired to set down a few thoughts about evil sorcerers. The following observations apply equally well to evil gods, demigods, protogods, semigods, wizards, magicians, witches, unholy hags, emperors, kings, princes, dukes, earls, and barons.

You must first, last, and throughout your writing understand that these characters are megalomaniacs who crave attention and live to take risks. There is simply no other excuse for any of them to visit a smelly dungeon, far from his or her perfumed quarters, merely to gloat over victims and indulge their trivial questions and last wishes before granting them an exquisitely gruesome death. Indeed, the sensible thing would be to order the victims cut into little pieces and dumped into a crevasse. Where is the epic fantasy in that?

When writing the character you must honor the megalomania, or you risk creating a merely semi-evil character, and thus a not-so-epic fantasy. There is no place where the risk is higher than in dialogue.

Before you allow your villain to speak, you must sit him or her down in your writer’s den and lay out the following basic rules:

  1. Never use contractions. When speaking aloud, remember, you are On Stage and In Control. If you could speak in rhyming iambic pentameter, you would; thank God, you can’t, so don’t try. But don’t let that affect your delivery. Contractions are for the little people. Furthermore, you must always speak with a London theatrical accent. If you grew up in Brooklyn, we’ll need to get you a speech coach.
  2. Never use slang. No self-respecting evil demigoddess will say, “I’m gonna whack your kid, dude.” It will be, “I shall kill your child, mortal fool.”
  3. Never apologize to your victims.
  4. Never admit being subject to fate. After all, who is in control here? The Laws of Physics? Pah. You’d break them right now if you hadn’t just done your nails.
  5. Never scream, with two exceptions: either a) you are meeting your well-deserved end, or b) you have irrecoverably lost control of the situation and have just figured this out. Note that in either case, you get at most one screaming fit per novel.
  6. The above rule may be ignored if you are a schizophrenic megalomaniac. In that case, you may periodically lose control during an ordinary conversation and scream abuse at minions, victims, thin air, or even yourself. Such fits are usually accompanied by gratuitous vaporization of the occasional minion and/or rare object d’art.
  7. You may indulge in purple prose with self-reference in third-person plural, such as, “We, the Lords of Death, have vowed to slay the Child of Destiny, that troublesome child who emerged into the world of mortals on the day you were born!”

Please note that I’m not recommending purple prose. But if anyone can carry it off, it is your megalomaniac. If your heroes try it, your readers will swiftly turn against them and start to hope the villain will cut them up into little pieces and dump them into a crevasse.

Now, any of the above rules may be broken if the result is clearly deceptive, cruel, sardonic, or patronizing. Indeed, insincere apologies are a staple of evil dialogue: “I am truly sorry, Mr. Bond, that I cannot spare the time to watch my pet sharks devour you.”

The megalomaniac’s need to be the hero of his own drama is what allows the real heroes to extract information from him. Yes, he’s the bad guy, and he does bad things. But he really means well, and he’s obsessed with convincing people that he’s merely tragically misunderstood. He has a Vision. He wants to share his Vision, and wants everyone to see his point and agree that he really ought to rule the world. The heroes can play along and entice him to reveal all sorts of things he really should keep to himself. However, the evil character is not stupid –- he will soon see through these attempts to lead him on and will progress to the gruesome death part.

Your villain’s need to take risks is what provides the heroes their opportunity to escape or foil his plans. There must be a flaw in the trap, or there is no risk; if there is no risk, the bad guy might as well order them cut up into little pieces, etc. If the heroes are recaptured after an escape, the evil character will be compelled by his own nature to offer them another flawed trap, simply to prove that he has outsmarted them this time.

Honor the megalomania, and your evil characters will reward you with a truly chilling “Bwaaa-haa-haa!”

Chick-Fil-A and the Demise of Civilization

Yesterday I had a great day in the yard — the weather here has turned glorious after a brutally hot summer with forest fires everywhere — and ended the day by calling friends and family.

None of whom picked up.

I started with my old friend (we go back to high school) Sheila. Her significant other’s voice answered in a profoundly annoying faux-French accent:

“Sheilah eez not here. She eez currently lost in zee Amazon Basin. Eef you weesh to leave a messahge, she weel return your call as soon as she eez found and rescued.”

So I left her a messahge:

“Theese eez zee Coalition of Amazonian Fire Ants. Eef you weesh to see Sheilah alive again, you must return theese phone call. Ask for Guillarme. Call alone. Otherwise she weel be returned to you in eety-beety pieces. Mixed with eety-beety beets of leaves and bark.”

By the time I got to my son in Chicago, my messages had become something like this:

“I am so DISAPPOINTED in you! Really! Here it is, a beautiful summer Saturday night, and you are NOT waiting by the phone for my call. I’m hurt and I’m angry. Call me.”

ANYWAY, I had much better luck this morning, and got to talk with everyone except Sheila, who is presumably still lost in the Amazon. She’d better get back soon, or I’ll have to cross her off my Christmas list.

During my conversation with my ex-wife, the conversation turned somewhat political. I made a comment about the “perfect storm” the United States is facing — peak oil, environmental catastrophe, and a pending collapse of the economic system — with a verbal shrug and the admission I had no idea which one would bring down the country. After all, any one of the three would be enough, but all three at the same time?

“But it’s gays and lesbians who are destroying the country,” she said.

Now you have to understand that my ex-wife and I remained very good friends after the divorce, since the thing that broke us up was an irreconcilable similarity. We both like women. In pretty much the same way. Though I’m more of a leg-man, I think. I guess I should say leg-person.

I thought about her comment for a while, and then I said, “You know, the problem with gays is that nobody knows what they’re good for.”

“How’s that?” she asked.

“Well, look at the illegal aliens. The Republicans went after them with a whip, so they did the smart thing and left the country. Then the farmers all started screaming, because all their cheap skilled migrant labor went away, and the prison work-gangs couldn’t handle the heat, and they couldn’t get any white unemployed Tea Party Republicans on food stamps to sign up for the jobs. So the Republicans had to quit being dicks about illegal aliens and just shut the f**k up. The only place still beating the illegal alien drum is Arizona, and that’s because they can’t grow anything there but purple sagebrush.”

“I see your point,” she said. “It’s like when Disney went after gays, and all their best writers and artists quit. Then Disney had to back down.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Just like that.”

“You know,” she said, “up here [Minneapolis] we have a ballot item this November to make gay marriage illegal forever in Minnesota. It’s really weird who has come out for and against the vote. Big companies are very much against it, because it’s going to trash their skilled workforce. And every sign on lawns, even up in the [Michelle] Bachmann suburbs, is against passing the law.”

“Well, yeah, who wants a sign on their lawn that says, ‘Hi, I’m a bigot!'”

“Yeah, but they’ll vote for it anyway and then slink away.” She sounded a little depressed.

“Hey, it’ll all work out,” I said. “Those folks are all pigging out on Chick-Fil-A and congratulating themselves on their holiness. Maybe they’ll eat too much fast food and all die of heart attacks.”

And right then is when I realized that this is exactly how the Rapture will come about.

None of this nonsense of being ripped through the soft-top of your Mustang convertible to meet with the rest of the Blessed (I always wondered somewhat grimly what would happen if the Rapture occurred while you were driving an Abrams tank — sounds a little uncomfortable, as a nurse might say.)

Nope, just a quick and easy heart attack, and next thing you know, you’re singing with the choir and getting your harp all tuned up for Jesus’ Return Engagement Tour party.

Which made me realize that there is a Greater Purpose to the whole Chick-Fil-A thing. It is one of the Signs. Yea, verily, it must reach every corner of the world with its message: eat more chikn. And love thy neighbors, unless they’re the same sex as you, in which case don’t get too chummy or you’ll go to Hell.

I think I know why Sheila is hiding in the Amazon Basin. The Chick-Fil-A franchise hasn’t made it there, yet.

Maybe I’ll join her.

Phlebosophy 101

 

A while back I took my wife to the hospital for a CAT scan.

After we checked in at the front desk, we waited in a room where my wife talked to a nice young man who tagged and labeled her like a prize bull at the county fair. He took us to another room to fill out forms that asked if she was experiencing testicular pain or if she was perhaps pregnant. Then they guided us to a third room to put in the needle through which they would inject contrast.

All routine hospital stuff.

The trouble started when the nurse couldn’t find a vein, so she fetched an expert, called a phlebotomist. The expert also couldn’t find a vein, so together they called the phlebologist, an expert’s expert on all kinds of troubles with veins. The phlebologist pronounced my wife’s veins perfectly normal, but — being an expert’s expert — refused to touch the needles himself and do the phlebotomy. So the three of them argued until they decided to call in the phlebosophist, an academic specialist who knows about theories and beliefs about veins, hoping he could resolve their dispute.

The argument grew louder, and phlebophiles of all kinds crowded into the room. I could see the phlebophobes slink by outside: the noise attracted them, but they turned away with gray faces when the heard the topic of argument.

The phlebometrist was called to measure my wife’s veins, and a phlebographer to sketch them as a visual aid. This last one made a very nice drawing, with “here there be dragons” and three-masted schooners in the margins, and one of the nurses said he should send a copy to National Phlebographic.

They argued angles of approach, some holding out for a lateral phlebotomy, others insisting on a full-frontal phlebotomy. A few even wanted an exploratory phlebectomy just to find out what was really wrong with her veins, and wanted us down in the phleboratory, stat.

Several men in dark cloaks with pronounced widow’s peaks and glittering eyes drifted silently into the room: some settled in to watch, while others flipped upside down and hung from the ceiling by their toes. They seemed ominous to me, so I nudged one of the nurses and asked who they were. She replied they were phlebomites and phlebotites, but she could never remember which kind hung from the ceiling.

At this point I stood up and said, “Excuse me.”

They all stopped arguing and stared at me. “Who are you?” demanded the phlebosophist.

“I’m her husband,” I answered.

I could see the distaste on every face, and the phlebosophist spoke for all: “Oh, a phlebian.” I could hear the contemptuous word chase itself around the room like the squeaking of bats. “Phleeb.” “Phleeb.” “Phleeb.”

I jumped and snorted loudly as my wife kicked my ankle. “You’re snoring,” she said.

I looked around the empty room. Some kind of medical monitor bleeped in the distance.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she answered. “They just went to get a phlebotomist.”

I made a quick excuse and left for some coffee.

Blue Triangles

A week ago last Thursday, Marta broke her foot.

Most people who know me nod sagely when I tell them this.

“You had a hammer in your hip pocket,” they say. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m getting tired of hearing it.

No, she was painting the stairwell and took one step down onto the landing. Just a plain, ordinary step down. Something went wrong, and her fifth metatarsus snapped in two places, and her fourth metatarsus cracked. The X-Ray was not pretty.

“No weight on that foot for two weeks,” the osteo-whatever —  the bone doctor said. “None whatsoever. It looks like it will heal straight without pins, and we’ll take another look in two weeks. But you can’t put any weight on it. Or any other kind of stress,” he added, with a sharp look at me.

So we got Marta a wheelchair, and a little scooter you ride on one knee, and a boot, and a bottle of painkillers. And I’ve been running errands. Water. More water. A toothbrush. The special toothpaste. Oh, and some floss. And the water pick. No, not that water pick, the other one. And a nail file.

It’s been a long week.

Today, we decided we really needed to get our tax information together. I mean, we have two weeks, but our accountant gets a little testy when I bring in stuff on April 14 and say, “But you have a WHOLE DAY LEFT!”

So Marta wanted the Tax File.

“It’s downstairs in my office,” she said, and I started down the stairs. “Now hold on a second. It’s in the bottom desk drawer to the right of my chair. Pull it out, and all the folders are sideways. There’s a manilla folder in there marked ‘Taxes 2011’ — it’s probably not in alphabetical order, so you may have to search, but it’s the second or third folder back.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. I pulled out the drawer, and went through the whole thing — no folder marked ‘Taxes 2011’. I went through the three folders on her desk, and then hit the big filing system to the left of her chair. No success.

“Honey, I can’t find it!” I complained. “Say, didn’t I ask you for that file a week ago? I think it’s up in my office.”

I went upstairs and searched my office but it wasn’t there either.

“This is too stressful,” I said. “I’m gonna go blog.”

“Wait a minute,” Marta said. “You’re right. You did ask for it, and the file is on the corner of your desk closest to the window, under a plastic box full of wires and cables. It has a white Tyvek envelope in it with green triangles around the edges.”

“I thought you said it was a manilla folder,” I said.

“Yes, it’s a manilla folder with an envelope inside it with green triangles around the edge. The envelope sticks out.”

I trudged back upstairs and moved the box of cables. Sure enough, there was the manilla folder labelled ‘Taxes 2011’ with a white Tyvek envelope in it. I took it back down to Marta.

“They’re blue,” I groused.

“What?” Marta said.

“The triangles are blue. Not green. No wonder I couldn’t find it.”

“What?!” Marta said.

“Look, maybe I can’t tell the difference between mauve and purple, but I do know blue from green. And these are definitely blue triangles. You can’t give me misleading directions like that. How do you expect me to find anything?”

Marta’s face was screwed up tight, and she was biting her lip pretty hard.

“Do you need another Tylenol?” I asked.

“Just give me the file,” she choked out.

I handed her the file and headed back to my office to blog. I don’t know what she found in the tax file that was so damn funny, but a few seconds after I left, she started laughing. More like whooping with laughter. Sounded like she was pounding on the arms of the chair, too.

They say laughter is the best medicine.

Hail, Vacuus!

I see that everyone else is having profound conversion experiences this April 1, so I’ve decided to join the herd — always the joiner, that’s me — and give up Druidry for something empty.

As in, completely empty. I’ve decided to become a devotee of Vacuus, God of Nothing.

As with the Tao, the Vacuus you can see is not the true Vacuus. His Holy Symbol is the vacuum bottle, but it is only a shell that encloses the true divinity that is inside: or rather, that is not inside.

Because Vacuus is the God of Nothing, he can only be approached through his two archangels, his twin manifestation on the material plane: on his empty left hand, Archangel Kirby, and on his empty right hand, Archangel Hoover. Together, they truly suck.

Spring is, for Vacuans, the Time of the Great Cleaning. The evil twin of the Easter Bunny, the wicked Dust Bunny, emerges from hiding and is pursued through the House of the Rising Sun by Hoover and Kirby. If the Dust Bunny escapes to the next House, there will be six more weeks of Spring Cleaning.

In the Autumn, Kirby and Hoover must Empty themselves as part of the annual cycle, and the Dust Bunny is reborn under the living room couch (or sometimes the dresser in the guest bedroom) in the House of the Setting Sun. The Great Mystery of Vacuism is how the Dust Bunny makes its way back to the House of the Rising Sun. Many scholars believe that mischievous elves are involved: those who have sought them out, however, have Seen Nothing.

Our aspiration as Vacuans is to truly Know Nothing.

We begin our studies with the Vacuous Smile, and proceed to perfecting the Vacuous Stare. We are taught Empty Platitudes, and this helps us learn to Do Nothing. Once we have successfully emptied our minds (and our wallets) and learned to Do Nothing, we can reach for the blessed state where we Know Nothing.

Hail, Vacuus! Seek Him, and you shall surely Find Nothing!

Sam Hane

Halloween, which is the witches’ New Year, originated among the ancient Druid priests from Britain and France. This pagan holiday is held to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the Celtic year. The festival is named after Samhain (sah-ween), the God of the dead. The druids believed that on this night the spirits of the dead would come back and walk amongst the living to terrorize and harass them, some even possessing the bodies of animals. Also, during this time human and animal sacrifices are common, the blood spilled believed to open the gates to the dead, releasing them. To ward off these evil spirits the druids dress up as witches, demons or in other evil costumes, some participating in satanic rituals.

— newspaper quote reprinted in
http://wildhunt.org/blog/2009/10/quick-note-pagan-halloween-hysteria.html

I have just returned from a Druidic Gorsedd where we discussed our sinister plans for our upcoming Samhain rite. For those who are unaware, a Gorsedd is a dark and secretive gathering of Druids in which we ritually sacrifice one or more food groups. Tonight we took the sharpened blade to a nicely-ripened virgin Brie, covered with an evil sauce (brewed by my wife) that contained unborn Pecan Trees and other vegetarian sacrifice. We also had popcorn. Salted popcorn. Bwaaa-haa-haa![1]

George, the eldest Druid present, set me straight on this confusing matter of Samhain, Celtic Lord of the Dead.

Pagans have been deliberately mispronouncing his name for centuries as “Sah-wen,” mostly to confuse Christians. I think this is mean. So I will reveal to the world the truth as George revealed it to me: it is pronounced Sam Hane. Actually, it is more correctly pronounced SAH-yum HAYN (just as Jesus is correctly pronounced jah-EEE-zuss.)

Sam Hane is not, however, the Celtic Lord of the Dead. He is not even the Celtic Lord of Darkness. He is the Celtic Lord of Dark Underwear, and was popular among the Celts for many of the same reasons he is still popular today, only more so, since they did not have automatic washing machines with bleach. His chief rival in the Celtic pantheon was Frugh Tuatha Lughm. Their wet-towel duels were legendary as far away as Carthage.

His beloved consort, Belle Tayne, broke his heart when she abandoned him, claiming that she could never love a god who did not wear tightie-whities. She ran off with a Persian God named Mithras, a matter that was quickly hushed up by her family, but not soon enough. Her festival on May 2 was thereafter ritually celebrated by a quick shag in the bushes accompanied by much winking and nudging — a cruel reminder that enraged Sam every year and caused him to get drunk and fight to the death with the Oak King, who had nothing to do with anything other than bearing a passing resemblance to Mithras.

Sam left the lands of the Celts for the New World in 1421, hitching a ride on the Chinese ships sailing by on their mission to map the world. He ended up in what is now Texas, where he paired up with Quetzalcoatl, Lord of the Living. As a team, “Lords of the Living and the Dark Underwear” simply didn’t work, so Sam took on the title of Lord of the Dead. It was never more than a stage name, and he never personally used it outside the Americas.

In 1845, after the team broke up and Quetz took off for parts unknown, Sam boarded a steamship bound for Belgium with a brief stopover in Ireland. Potatoes transported in the hold of the ship carried the dreaded potato blight, Phytophthora infestans. Sam debarked in Dublin, carrying a sackful of infected potatoes that he hoped to make into a stew that evening, and thus caused the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1852. As a direct result, his American stage name, Lord of the Dead, stuck (most of the Irish referred to him as Laird o’ the Fokkin’ Dead[2]). His career never quite recovered in Ireland.

Modern Celtic scholars have recovered Sam Hane’s original role as Lord of Dark Underwear, and it is in this mode that he is worshiped by modern Druids.[3]

— Themon the Bard, 27 Oct 2009

(Please feel free to circulate this article as you see fit. Do not circulate if this does not fit; check your bleach levels. The scholarship in this article is highly suspect, as all facts were drawn from questionable Internet sources and/or a bottle of cheap Merlot.)

[1] It is a fact documented on film that witches melt when they eat salt. Druids, however, are totally immune to salt. How cool is that?

[2] According to astute reader Karen Marsh, this should be “Laird o’ the Feckin’ Dead,” citing as reference the book The Feckin’ Book of Everything Irish. I stand corrected.

[3] Wiccans do not worship Sam Hane; they instead follow his one-time consort’s preference for tightie-whities. Darn them all to heck, anyway.

 

Mauve

Teri and Joe, two of our dearest friends, invited us over for dinner tomorrow night.  We were asked to bring only ourselves, and — if so inspired — a topic of conversation.

Marta had almost finished remodeling the mid-level bathroom, and so our minds were both stuck in a bit of a rut somewhere between Home and Home Depot. Marta asked me what I thought would make a good topic.

“Parrot green, ” I answered without hesitation.

“Parrot green? What are you talking about?”

I drew my attention away from the Funny Times and looked up. “Uh, you just asked me what would be a good color to pick? Right?”

She rolled her eyes. “I asked what would be a good TO-PIC. To discuss. At Teri and Joe’s.” She spoke loudly and distinctly.

“Oh.” I thought for a moment. “Parrot green would be a fine topic of conversation.”

“I just covered apple-green walls with two layers of Kilz. We’re not going with parrot green.”

“You’re still thinking that yellow-thing.”

“It’s a very nice yellow. And I’ve already bought the paint.”

“But the kitchen is yellow. We need some contrast!”

“We are not going to our friends’ house to talk about parrot green!”

“Why not? I want a second opinion, and who better to ask?”

The conversation went downhill rapidly from there. Since we couldn’t decide on either a topic or a color, we decided to bring wine instead — in vino est veritas — so we headed out to the big wine store. By the time we reached the parking lot, we had come to an agreement that both parrot green and yellow were topics that were far too risky for dinner.

“Mauve,” I said. “Everyone likes mauve.”

“Fine,” Marta replied. “That’s a kind of pink, it will go well with the wine. We can talk about mauve.”

“No, it’s more of a purple. Or maroon.”

“It’s dark? I thought it was a light color.”

Inside the store, I went up to one of the clerks, fixed him with my eye, and asked, “Do you know a lot about wines?”

He hesitated. “I know a bit,” he said cautiously.

“We want a mauve,” I said.

“I beg your pardon, sir? A mauve?”

“Yes. Preferably a wine named Mauve, but we’ll settle for just the label.”

He blinked. “Uh… I’m afraid I don’t know that vineyard. Or varietal. I assume it’s a red?”

“No, it’s more of a purple. Or a maroon.”

“I think it’s more of a pink,” Marta added.

The clerk shook his head and made a slight choking sound. In the end, we had to search through the racks ourselves. We came up with several bottles that looked about right, including a wine called Purple Cowboy.

“That’s purple,” Marta complained.

“It’s just called purple. That label is definitely mauve.”

We paid for the wine, and as the checkout clerk was boxing it, I stopped her.

“Which one of these labels is mauve?” I asked. She bit her lip and considered, then pointed to the pink one.

I scowled. “What about that one?” I asked, pointing to the Purple Cowboy.

“That’s purple,” she said.

Tomorrow night I’m going to eat dinner, drink my Purple Cowboy, and let other people talk.