For those of you absolutely champing at the bit to get a copy of A WITCH’S KITCHEN (you know who you are), I’ve put up a story told from a slightly different point of view – a villain’s.
Let me tell you a secret: for me, villains are hard to write.
I think it’s because I love my characters, and I hate to see them get hurt. The most common problem I had with my first draft of A WITCH’S KITCHEN was that my characters succeeded too easily. They needed challenges, adversity to make them grow in new and interesting directions. So I increased my level of villainy, making one villain much nastier and adding a whole new one.
But then I had a whole new problem: my villains made no sense. They did random nasty things just to annoy my protagonists. I needed what they did to have logical (if not very nice) reasons. So I thought hard about one villain in particular – what her childhood had been like, how bitter disappointment had shaped her as an adult, how ambition and a deep need for others’ approval and respect drove her to do rather nasty things.
The other villain, Cretacia, was easy to write. I modeled her on every school bully and mean girl I’d ever known. She’s ruthless, calculating, and utterly determined to be the best at everything. I didn’t really think about why until my younger daughter read the final draft. In the middle of a chapter, she looked up at me and asked, “Mommy, why is Cretacia so mean all the time?”
Good question. So good that a story started forming in my head, one in which Cretacia has a terrible secret, a disability she is desperate to hide from everyone. She drives everyone away from her, keeping them away so that they’ll never find out. She is convinced that, if people knew, they wouldn’t like her, and her mother wouldn’t love her.
I wrestled with the idea for a while. I don’t want to imply that people with disabilities are all villains. (Far from it – I consulted with a friend of my daughters who has the same disability, and she is a wonderful, incredibly awesome kid!) Instead, I wanted to show that it’s easy to let self-doubt and fear gnaw at you and lead you to make bad decisions. Cretacia wants, desperately, to ask for help, but she’s just not willing to take the risk.
As I wrote this, I realized that I was pulling from my own experience. As a child, I was terrified of ever asking a question, in case doing so made me look stupid. I was the smart kid; that was my niche, what made me special and got me attention. I had to know everything. If I didn’t know something, I’d make it up, and that got me in trouble sometimes. It wasn’t until I got to college and discovered that I could not survive without asking questions, and asking for help, that I finally learned to do it. Much to my surprise, I discovered that this earned me respect. Every time I asked a question, it not only led me to new answers, it made the people around me think and question and search for answers, too.
I ache for Cretacia when, every time she has an opportunity to reach out to someone for help, she turns away. If only! It’s that tension that drives Cretacia’s Tale, in which Cretacia becomes her own villain. I love this character, and I can’t help rooting for her, even as she makes Millie’s life miserable. I guess deep down, I want even my villains to find happy endings.