It’s November, and for many of us, that means NaNoWriMo! I’m using the next thirty days or so to finish the second installment in the HOUSE OF PAYNE series (Scout’s story). Or I should say, I’ll be doing that when I’m not handling the promo for my latest Carina Press release, WHERE THERE’S A WILL, out November 17th (w00t!!!). So needless to say, there’s not a lot of time for reading at the moment.
But I’m still finding time to do it.
Since I’m on a deadline with Scout’s story, I can’t allow myself to read new material. New stories devour me, sucking me into their unique worlds to the point where I’m too distracted to get my own writing done. But I still have to read myself to sleep every night (because I’m a hopeless night owl, heh). My solution: I’m currently doing a re-read of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series before I hit the new material she’s posted on Pottermore about the worst villain ever created for that series—and no, I’m not referring to the ever-nasty and noseless Lord Voldemort.
I’m talking about Dolores Umbridge.
Stephen King once called this character “the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter.” That’s a pretty bold statement, considering what Hannibal liked to do in his spare time. But I see why King would mention these two characters in the same sentence. Dr. Lecter was sophisticated, soft-spoken, highly educated and worldly. And a serial-killing cannibal. To look at him, one assumed he was a polite, bland pushover, a being who wouldn’t make a ripple when he dropped into a sea of humanity.
But of course, it was revealed that he was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing who didn’t make mere ripples wherever he went. He made life-crushing tsunamis.
Dolores Umbridge is cut from the same cloth. No, she didn’t eat people, but she was soft-spoken, like Lecter. She giggled girlishly. She wore pink, put lace on everything, collected plates painted with kittens and held a position of power in the government.
And she got off on torturing children.
The slow unveiling of this character’s true nature was exquisite. Umbridge evolved from a paper-pushing yes-woman, to a zealous witch hunter (no pun intended), to a sadistic child abuser, to a wild-eyed supporter of genocide. But what was the main element that was so terrifying about her? She worked within the system to make every sick little thing she did acceptable. She was scary, because people like her have existed in positions of power throughout human history. Even now—right this very moment—there are people like her manipulating whatever law of the land in which they live to repress, subjugate and destroy the citizens they’re supposed to be helping. Is it any wonder the King of Horror claimed Dolores Umbridge was the greatest make-believe villain in recent times?
In my own stories, I enjoy taking the mundane and making it special in a good way. In WHERE THERE’S A WILL, a bottle of milk becomes something important between the two main characters, and the dinosaur bedding that shows up made my editor, Angela James laugh out loud. In the project I’m working on now the heroine, Scout, uses the Chicken Dance (yes, the Chicken Dance 😛 ) to get a sensual point across to the hero. I love using something that everyone is familiar with to make readers see that anything can be beautiful when there’s love involved (even the Chicken Dance 😀 ).
For Rowling, when it came to making the most anger-inducing evil resonate for her readers, she chose the mundane as well. She hid this insidious evil behind the bland face of a common bureaucrat, and smacked you with it before you saw it coming. That was a flash of literary genius that I’ll never forget, and it’s one of the many reasons why I’m such a huge J.K. Rowling fan.
Blurb for WHERE THERE’S A WILL:
Miranda Brookhaven returned to Bitterthorn, Texas to fix the past. Years ago, her father used her teenage romance with Coe Rodas to steal the prototype for a groundbreaking new automotive invention. Now her father’s dead, and thanks to the convoluted will he left behind, she’s stuck in town until she rights the wrong that lost her the man she loved.
Coe learned early on that life never goes according to plan. His dreams of hitting it big vanished when Miranda all but invited her father to take the only thing of value he ever had. But now the once-pampered princess is holed up in a condemned trailer on the edge of town…and everything he thought he knew about her—and about what happened between them back then—seems completely wrong.
Miranda’s determined to give back to Coe all that he lost. If she can do that, maybe she can move on from the past. But Coe seems to be more interested in their rekindled passion than claiming what she thinks he deserves. She’s got sixty days to convince him to cough up evidence that he’s the original inventor—after that, the only way to transfer the patent rights over to him would be to make him part of the family, and she’s not sure her heart can take another hit.