Saturday, April 19, 2014


I take great pleasure in welcoming back to my blog a writer I much admire, J. R. Lindermuth. As usual, I asked John to write something about the joy of story, and he has done so by exploring the dark side of plot. Read what he has to say about the characters we love to hate.


You may not want one for a neighbor. But you can’t have a crime novel without a villain. In a novel, a villain is the opposite of the hero. His main purpose is to provide conflict, which is the driving force of story. The villain must be as fully developed as the hero. The most important aspects of creating a villain are that they be realistic and properly motivated.
Human beings are complicated creatures. None are entirely good or evil. Not all villains are sociopaths or psychopaths. Some are simply driven into that situation by circumstance. And they come in both sexes.
Though we may not condone a villain’s actions, it’s important the reader understand and even sympathize to a degree with the motivation. For instance, we all have financial needs and can understand how a person might desire to improve his/her situation—even if we don’t condone the method. We’ve all experienced fear, jealousy, anger, sexual desire, wanting to even the score—the list goes on and on. These are all motivations a writer can utilize to create a memorable villain.

For A Burning Desire I created two villains. I don’t want to give too much away here, but arson is a factor in both their lives. Arson is a heinous crime, which can have more than one motivation. In the case of this novel, the motivation of one villain ignites (okay, bad pun) that of the other.
As usual for the Sticks Hetrick series, A Burning Desire is set in the rural community of Swatara Creek, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The past comes back to haunt former police chief Daniel “Sticks” Hetrick and his protégé, Officer Flora Vastine, as an outbreak of arson shakes residents of Swatara Creek. Initially, authorities view the minor nature of the fires as pranks, possibly the work of thrill-seeking juveniles. Tension increases in the wake of a murder at the site of one fire and an increase in the value of targets.
Hetrick and Flora must confront troubling, dangerous people from the past, and errors in judgment add to their jeopardy.

Sounds like a great book, and what a hot cover! (I can do puns too.) Here, to further whet your appetite, is an excerpt from A Burning Desire:

Flora Vastine tugged back the curtain and peered out into the dark yard. As her eyes adjusted, she detected movement near the back fence. It seemed she’d just drifted off to sleep when Change, her dog, roused her. Housebroken, the dog was usually good for the night after a final run in the yard before bed and it was obviously not a need for relief that disturbed her. Change had gone directly to the window facing the yard and set to whining and growling low in her throat.
     Raccoon and opossum occasionally got into the trash, but Flora thought it was something larger lurking by the fence. Deer had got into her dad’s garden last summer. Was there anything big enough to attract them now? It was too dark to tell from here. Barefoot and clad in shortie pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, Flora padded downstairs, trailed by the dog. She didn’t want to wake her father and shooshed Change when she left out a throaty woof.
     Retrieving her sidearm from the lock box in the hall closet, Flora made her way to the kitchen and glanced out the window over the sink. Nothing. Had she just imagined it? But, no, Change hadn’t been disturbed by something in her imagination. There was something out there. Slipping into a pair of flip-flops she kept here in case of need, Flora unlocked and slowly opened the door. Before Flora could stop her, Change slid between her legs and bolted out into the yard.
     Flora flicked on the outside light and, weapon at the ready, followed.
     June bugs darted in the sudden light and spring peepers shrilled in the distance. The warm air was fragrant with the scent of damp grass and her father’s ripening strawberry plants. Change had disappeared into the gloom beyond the perimeter of light from the back porch. Cautiously, Flora made her way down the yard. Dew-wet tendrils of grass trailed against her ankles and feet.
     Flora came to the end of the yard. Despite the gloom under the heavily-leafed old apple tree she saw the trash cans were undisturbed. But the gate leading into the alley stood open. Flora stepped through the opening and looked up and down the street. A sudden noise to her left, and she turned. Nearly a block away an engine rumbled and she saw the glow of taillights as a vehicle pulled out. As it spun away, Change came trotting back, tongue lolling and panting softly.
     Flora knelt and patted the dog’s head. “Scared him away, did you? Good dog.” She rose. “Come on. Let’s get back to bed.”
     As she started back into the yard, Flora noticed something on top the gate post. A CD album. She picked it up and carried it with her to the porch where she examined it in the light. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. A hip hop group? Flora wasn’t particularly fond of that kind of music. Yet, for reasons she didn’t fathom, something tingled in her memory.
     Shrugging her shoulders, Flora went back inside and locked the door. Change went immediately to her water dish and quaffed deeply. “Good idea,” Flora whispered. Tossing the CD on the kitchen table, she opened the fridge, got a can of Diet Coke, popped the tab and pulled out a chair at the table. She kicked off the flip-flops, drew her feet up on the chair, hugged her legs and sipped the Coke.
     There’d been a rash of arson attempts lately. More like vandalism than anything serious. Chief Brubaker and Harry suspected it was probably kids. Had she and Change scared off the perpetrators? Or had her visitor been up to something else altogether? Flora couldn’t be sure. And, nibbling her lip, she pondered other possibilities.

What a great hook! I’m sure you’ll want to read more. Here’s how you can get your hands on this hot thriller:

A retired newspaper editor and genealogist, J. R. Lindermuth is the author of thirteen novels, including six in his Sticks Hetrick crime series. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers, EPIC, and the Short Mystery Society.


  1. As usual John, you wrote an interesting blog. Good villains give zest to mysteries and thrillers. In fact I like the villains in my novels so much, I have trouble killing them.

    JL Greger, author of medical thrillers - Ignore the Pain, Coming Flu & Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight

  2. Thanks, Janet. You're right. Sometimes I have the same problem.

  3. For me, the villains are hard to write. I'm always impressed with writers who can create well-developed bad guys. Congrats, John.

  4. Thanks, Jacqueline. As always, appreciate your support.

  5. John, I love your Sticks Hetrick series! I'm currently in the process of moving in with my elderly mother so things are a bit hectic. The minute the dust settles, I plan to order and read "A Burning Desire."

  6. Thanks, Pat. Hope all goes well with the move.

  7. John:

    Excellent read with some interesting points about villains. Thank you. I always thought the best villain is the fallen hero. The character who could have been good except for some fatal flaw or unlucky event. That said a self-satisfied "absolute evil" character every once in awhile is a refreshing treat, as long as it is not too often. But bad guys in most crime/thriller fiction make the story.

  8. Thanks, Bill. They're often the most memorable as well. Hannibal Lector, for instance.

  9. Good blog, John, as usual. I use fires and a murder in my Cleansed by Fire, and it works well. For villains, we need to remember the words of that great Indian warrior Crazy Horse --

    You are only as strong as your enemy.

    If you don't have a strong antagonist, it's impossible to have a strong protagonist. Thanks for reminding us.

    1. Right you are, Jim. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Thanks for posting.Great villains so often make great stories.

  11. Thanks for hosting me again, John. It's been fun.

    1. My pleasure, John. You clearly have a lot of devoted fans! And of course you have a lot of writing wisdom to impart. Thanks for posting, and good luck with the book!

  12. Intriguing excerpt. Enjoyed your points about villains and their importance to conflict and story. We are all fascinated by the well-known villains in our favorite books.

  13. Excellent points, plus the story sounds like a winner. Enjoyed the post!
    Marja McGraw