Thursday, February 16, 2023

YOUR INNER VILLAIN: Guest Post by Priscilla Paton

PRISCILLA PATON: Your Inner Villain

Forget about your inner hero, inner child, inner cupcake, inner hedgehog. It’s all about the Inner Villain.

In my next Twin Cities Mystery, When The House Burns, a young man is on fire to release his inner villain. His boss builds him up only to cut him down. His coworkers side-eye him. A woman he desires treats him like a naughty puppy. Clever, with a tony British accent, he could easily slip into the villain role.

Many of us hide an inner villain—don’t confuse inner villains with inner demons that drag you down. Inner demons are red, boiled, spiky, and naked. Inner Villains have great wardrobes. The vehicles they drive have pick-up and class. They never eat microwaved leftovers. They know what and who to step on to climb to the top. The IRS doesn’t know they exist; there’ll be no Al-Caponing them. They can carry off wearing a hat. No one ever asks their age—no one even thinks about their age.

The portal to inner villainy opened for me during chats—conspiratorial asides, really—with professional women. (All women are professional at something, down to slipping on shoes without bending over.) These women were not lonely, unfilled, or unsuccessful, yet they wanted a villain that looked like them, a reverse role model of duplicitous achievement. A Latinx woman wanted a Latinx villain, in heels, who wouldn’t let certain colleagues, relatives, or exes bring her down, who transcended being a “token” anything. In another chit-chat among friends, a white woman, without me mentioning inner anything, detailed a character and a plot. With three sips of martini and a backlog of resentments as inspiration, she leaned in to confide about a “fictional” woman. This underrated woman is expected never to draw attention to herself, to be accommodating and tireless. She begins to scheme against clueless men and rival she-wolves who take for granted that she’ll shoulder the burden. These blind souls do not realize that she has x-ray vision of their vulnerabilities. People start to notice and admire her while remaining ignorant of her cunning. The essence of her villainy will be that her antagonists appear to create their own downfall. If they should suffer in idiotic fashion, so be it. They brought it on themselves. And a little meanness is like a dash of cayenne—just enough to kick up the fun.

I admit, inner villainy has an element of feminist revenge fantasy, or to include my male bad-guy-wanna-be, the underdog scrapping to be top dog—let the sexy scars show the victor. 

My Twin Cities Mysteries detectives, Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger, shouldn’t house inner villains because they’re the good guys. Then again, lesbian Deb endures with little patience micro and macro-aggressions, and straight Erik as a whistle-blowing homicide detective makes enemies everywhere. The two constantly face injustice, criminals ready to kill, and procedural snafus. The temptation is great to take shortcuts and go rogue. Deb and Erik do switch directions and go off grid in surprising ways. Shortcuts, though, may be a quick path to ruin, and going rogue could mean entering the redzone where no reason can halt aggression. Remember, inner demons are red.

Beware when the inner villain absorbs the inner demons, which puts real viciousness out in the world. Inner demons become desperate with addiction, distrust, hate, and rage. Active hostility eats its way out to wreak havoc among friends and foes. Rafe, the character on the verge of revenge in When The House Burns, risks that by freeing his inner villain he triggers violence in himself and the greater evil of his enemies. In conniving to reach his dreams, he could destroy them and put the woman he wants in the path of a murderer.

I tried out “embrace your inner villain” on a friend who is an advocate for victims of domestic abuse and violence. Taken aback, she found the idea confusing and not funny. She encounters genuine wrongdoers whose damage ruins and sometimes ends lives. There are no quick fixes, no shortcuts, in finding safety and justice for the victims and helping them become independent survivors. The meanness aimed at them erodes self-esteem and hope. (Much meanness, including my own, has a nastier kick than a dash of cayenne.) My advocate-friend had just endured a bad day with the system and needed reassurance about staying the course. Then, maybe because she experiences much frustration when the right actions fail to yield the right results, she repeated, “so, an inner villain,” and the corner of her mouth tweaked.

What if the inner villain could collaborate with the inner hero, the trickster and the champion coming together in a Loki-Thor partnership? (FYI, there’s a bromance between the actors who play Loki and Thor in recent films, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth.) That’s the stuff of stories, the challenging engagement of inner conflicts with external ones. Though meanness and scheming can backfire, I’m not ready to evict my inner villain because she’s onto something. She protects a person from the boredom of routine, from the entrapment of always being a people pleaser, from being a stepping stone for others but never yourself.

If you want a final takeaway, it's this: dress like your inner villain.


Priscilla Paton writes mysteries set in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Priscilla grew up on a dairy farm in Maine. She received a B.A. from Bowdoin College, a Ph.D. in English Literature from Boston College, was a college professor and taught in Kansas, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Minnesota. She has previously published a children’s book, Howard and the Sitter Surprise, and a book on Robert Frost and Andrew Wyeth, Abandoned New England. She married into the Midwest and lives with her husband in Northfield, Minnesota. When not writing, she participates in community advocacy and literacy programs, takes photos of birds, and contemplates (fictional) murder.

1 comment:

HonoluLou said...

That's rather unnerving...Love it!