Friday, January 6, 2012

The Evil Optimist

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

I'm an optimist who can't imagine living life any other way. I work at making the choice to constantly see my world in a fresh and positive way. I would prefer to be a bit naive rather than suspicious and guarded. Not stupid—just not paranoid. For me, this is an easier way to live.

When people find out I write crime fiction—and we get the inevitable and uncomfortable question of my publication status out of the way (sigh)—if they're still interested (and if they're readers, they're still interested), they want to know about where I get my ideas, and finally, they want to know about how such an upbeat person can write about such bad things happening to people.

Maybe what they're really asking is where they need to draw the line regarding our friendship. I know I'm in trouble when, after talking about some of the plots of my books, I'm asked if they are based on personal experience. Usually as my new friend backs toward an exit.

When I write bad things in my books, it's to depict people with the strength to survive those events. People who continue to love and laugh and don't allow trauma to rule their lives. People whose appreciation for life gets bigger as their world gets smaller and uglier. People who, usually, are honest and courageous at some level.

Evil is a choice. Just as love, hate and goodness are choices. Most people (except in my books) choose goodness, but even good people find themselves from time to time facing a part of themselves that is to some degree malevolent. That's how we recognize evil when we see it, or read it. That's how I know how to write it.

I'm an optimist with a bad side. Go figure.


  1. Interesting post! I get some of that too. My daughters-in-law all read my fiction and say with every story, I become a little more scary to them. Yet, they know me as an upbeat and happy person. I write crime fiction to put all the crap I fear and worry about out of my head and onto the page.

  2. Peg,

    Just wait until they start reading the evil things you put on the page! When my neighbors read my first book several of them joked that they didn't want their kids staying at my house.

  3. Great post Peg, i'd say you have to be an optomist (to degrees) in order to keep your wits about you. Living in a dark world can tax your soul like nothing else (aside from being a criminal). I always try to find something to be happy about and laugh every day.

  4. LJ, one of the "pop-out" things about you is your stand-up comedian schtick. I love it. Such contrast and depth in one person!

    CJ, my husband has never been quite comfortable with me writing crime fiction with evil bits thrown in. He would much prefer I wrote romance. He's frequently disconcerted with my research material.

    And Tom, I think a career in law enforcement would be really hard on the "happy/laugh" part of life. To see people at their worst every day would take a truly strong soul to survive. Or someone with a good share kick-ass humor.

  5. My experience has been that authors who write crime fiction, for the most part, appear to be pretty well balanced. What I don't understand is this: our books are about good vs. evil and for the most part, we choose for the good to prevail. That should speak our motivation loud and clear, but for some reason, it doesn't. We right the wrongs in our novels and we champion our heros, not our villains.

  6. Great post, Peg! And Happy (belated) Birthday! Sorry I was out of the loop yesterday.

    You say you're an optimist with a bad side - we all have a darker side that hopefully doesn't come out very often, if at all. I'd say you've got yours very well tamed - and channeled through your fiction! Way to go! And can't wait to see your first novel in print! (digital or on paper)

  7. Love this post Peg!

    Only good people can clearly see how extreme evil can be. To evil people, bad behavior appears normal and good people appear to be stupid.

    The risk of new friendship is a glitch. You perfectly described a common reaction. I write about pedophiles – a conversation stopper except for the rare time I am talking to a woman who feels safe enough with me to tell her own story.


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