Oct 28 2014 11:30am

Loving the Unlovable: Real-Life Rats and Creepy Villains

The Buried by Shelley CoriellToday we're joined by author Shelley Coriell, whose book The Buried is out today! The Buried is the second book in her Apostles series, and in this book, a young woman has been buried alive somewhere, and the clock is ticking to get her out. What kind of monster would bury a woman alive? Those are the kind of monsters Shelley is here to talk about. Thanks, Shelley!

When my three daughters were young they had a set of fancy-hooded Norwegian pet rats: Choco, Chip, and Cookie. After the beady-eyed, long-tailed creatures entered our home, I refused to use the “R” word. I called them “small friendly rodents that were particularly good with children.”

I was not alone. When my mother, an Iowa farm girl who’d seen her fair share of barn rats, saw our new pets, she shivered. “It’s the tails, Shelley. They’re just too creepy. Can the vet cut them off?”

Two months into pet ownership, I began to see some interesting occurrences in the newly-expanded Coriell household. When DD#2 called her rat by name, Chip scampered across the room and into my daughter’s arms. Cookie, the cuddle-bunny of the group, loved to curl up in DD#3’s lap while my daughter did her homework. And armed with Life Cereal dotted with peanut butter, DD#1 taught fearless, indefatigable Choco to turn off a light switch and to dive from her head and onto the bed. Clearly, these small friendly rodents were smart, social, and most importantly, loved by my daughters.

Eventually I succumbed. I, too, fell in love with the unlovable. I wax fondly about Choco, Chip, and Cookie because I LOVE villains. I love to read them. I love to write them. I love to get in their heads and learn why they do what they do. And this is key. Most great villains aren’t born as pure evil. They have complex and often horrific pasts.

In my latest romantic thriller, The Buried (Book #2 in the Apostles Series), I introduce readers to The Gravedigger, a twisted soul who buries victims alive. And while I feel some compassion for tormented and twisted souls, I believe in swift and fierce justice, which is why I created a fictional crime fighters, The Apostles, an elite FBI team that works outside the box and, at times, outside the law. All of my Apostles are a little “broken”, and I think this brokenness allows them to deal with the dark and twisted villains that drive my stories. 

So what makes a good villain? Here’s my short take:

  • Villains are passionate about their causes. In Romantic Suspense and Romantic Thrillers, in particular, villains usually drive the conflict, pushing our heroes and heroines through life-changing journeys. By books’ end, they will “die” for their causes, literally or figuratively.
  • Villains have some redeeming qualities. They can’t be completely despicable, or they cease to be humans we can connect with. Think Hannibal Lector. Everyone agrees this Silence of the Lambs/Red Dragon villain is a monster. He’s a cannibal. Yet some of his most compelling scenes are the nurturing, obscenely gentle mentor moments with Clarice Starling. Brrrrr!
  • Villains are smart enough, strong enough, and motivated enough to battle our heroes and heroines. Who likes a World Series sweep or a lopsided NBA finals? Give me two evenly matched teams and a last-minute shot at the buzzer.

My Top Five Villains:

5. Nils Bjurman from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – A sexual sadist put in a position of power. Wrong, wrong, wrong! The only thing right about him is the tattoo Lisbeth etched into the flesh of his abdomen: I'm a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist.

4. Cruella de Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith – She skins puppies. ‘Nuff said.

3. Professor Moriarty from The Final Problem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Greatest Detective of Them All meets the Greatest Villain of Them All. Moriarty is brilliant, his mind rivaling Sherlock’s. What’s more, he has no remorse and is chillingly vindictive. A trifecta of terror.

2. Poverty in Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth – I’ll admit it: I got sucked into this PBS series so hard I later read the trilogy. In these books, poverty is powerful and pervasive, and it preys on our weakest. 

1. Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – Voldemort lives within Harry’s heart and head, and there is nothing more terrifying than the terror within.

Now it’s your turn. Let us know the villains you love to hate.


Learn more about or order a copy of The Buried by Shelley Coriell, available now:

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A former newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and restaurant reviewer. These days Shelley Coriell writes smart, funny novels for teens and big, edgy romantic suspense. A six-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist, she lives and loves in Arizona with her family and the world's neediest rescue Weimaraner. When she's not behind the keyboard, you'll find her baking high-calorie, high-fat desserts and haunting local farmers markets for the perfect plum.

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
I read 101 Dalmatians as a kid, and even then, I couldn't believe that Cruella was actually going to do what she said. I think I blocked out what she was planning because it was so disturbing. Plus she was so fashionable, and that just made me more confused! Then the movie (retitled "Puppies!") was one of my son's favorites when he was about three, and I still couldn't believe it. Villains can really be so memorable, thanks to their gruesome acts and intentions. Thanks for the post.
Sydney Strand
2. Sydney Strand
You're so right about what makes villains so freaky: "Villains are smart enough, strong enough, and motivated enough..." I always think about that. That if they weren't this way, they would be gnats, right? But no, they're Godzillas thrashing for flesh.

Thanks for the great info, Shelley!

Sydney Strand
3. Susan Lanier-Graham
Great info Shelley. I do love a good villain that has some little redeeming quality. I also adore The Apostles because of their mix of brokenness and dedication to justice and right. Can't wait to read the new one.
Sydney Strand
4. Roz Fox
Shelley, you are so sweet to write such horrible villains. The Broken gave me nightmares, which I think it's supposed to do. I'll definitely buy The Buried because you write these characters so well and serve justice in the end.
Sydney Strand
5. Connie Flynn
Yikes! Now I know what you mean by dark. Even the idea of being buried alive gives me shivers and makes this a book I've got to read.

I know what you mean about your rats. My son and his family had a pet rat called Dusty the trick rat because no cage could ever hold him. He terrorized the cats and dog, but was a cuddle bug to humans because he loved to be loved.

Great blog, Shelly and really good examples of three dimensional villains. Loved it. Good luck with your launch.
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