September 26, 2007

The Dichotomy Of Me

Earlier this summer, my good friend William Kent Krueger released his latest novel, Thunder Bay, the fourth in his Cork O'Connor series. Two years ago, Kent auctioned off one of the character names for a fundraising effort for Twin Cities Marriage Encounter, and I won the bid. He asked me what kind of character I wanted to be, and I told him "really evil".

The Rake, a local literary magazine, found this intriguing. A few weeks ago, Max Ross interviewed me about this choice, and his article has now hit the newsstands. Max wonders why people seem willing to pay to be characters in novels, especially villains and victims:

Aside from the fact that both Morrisseys populate unreal realms—one, the dramatized version of Thunder Bay, Canada; the other, the blogosphere—there is really no similarity at all between them. The real one, whom Krueger describes as “a teddy bear of a guy,” bid mostly for the charitable benefits, and had no input or influence on his character’s development. “I just hoped [he] would be better looking than me,” Morrissey said. He says he has not been affected by his role in the book, nor does he feel any guilt or responsibility for his counterpart’s violent tendencies.

Krueger has put character names in his books up for auction on a number of occasions. “Most mystery conventions have a charitable component,” he said; in Morrissey’s case, the organization that received the auction proceeds is called Twin Cities Marriage Encounter, whose mission is to “nurture and support the marriage of a man and woman and their family life by offering an opportunity to experience a deep and loving communication with each other and with God.” “That was simply another good cause I thought might benefit in this way,” said Krueger. (Full disclosure: Morrissey is president of the Marriage Encounter organization.)

The broader literary world, always in need of ways to connect with its public, has picked up on this idea. Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), Neil Gaiman, and several other writers of note have all put forthcoming names of various characters and entities in their books up for auction, with the proceeds to be donated to charities. (You can bid for them on eBay.) Morrissey paid for the opportunity to be someone evil; in the case of Stephen King, one lucky bidder will pay to be a murder victim.

This purchasing of character names raises a question, though. Aside from benevolent motivations, why pay good money for this privilege if one’s fictional namesake is only that—if this character is devoid of any of one’s personal characteristics? Is it possible that, even within the most magnanimous among us (a category that would seem to include Ed Morrissey, who exudes sincerity in a form rarely experienced these days, and who refers to his wife as his First Mate), there is still that (very small, probably subconscious) desire to be part of something larger (and possibly more glamorous) than oneself? Regardless of how remote—or nonexistent—the resemblance between the fictional and the real? It’s not such a selfish urge—rather, it’s an instinct not much different from what makes one pick up a book in the first place: that hope for minor, personal transcendence.

It's a good question, and I think Max gets it right. People are always drawn to participate in something larger than themselves. I don't expect to make a mark on the world as a character name in someone else's fiction. Clearly, my friend Kent created the character and the universe of Thunder Bay; I just bought a label and provided a worthwhile cause a little more funding. It's just fun being a part of Kent's fictional world, and so when I said to Max that I was honored to be his villain, I meant it.

Read the whole article. Except for the illustration that implies that I have hair, it's accurate and entertaining. Those who enjoy murder mysteries should pick up a copy of Thunder Bay, even if I am rotten in it. Or maybe especially because I'm rotten ...


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Comments (10)

Posted by RD | September 26, 2007 3:57 PM

Congratulations Captain on being more than a fictional character in a book but for being a real 3 dimensional person who cares about marriage (both his and others)and being a patriotic American and who wears his love of God on his shirtsleeve and still finds the fun of being a fictional evil character. Your thoughtful essays
seem to bring out some pretty awesome comments and I usually feel like a lightweight intruder but still I can't "hep" myself, I intrude and hope some of the reasoning rubs off on me.

Posted by richard mcenroe | September 26, 2007 10:07 PM

But did you get your sharks with laser beams on their heads? Was that too frikkin' much to ask...?

Posted by Steve Skubinna | September 26, 2007 11:38 PM

The very first time I ever heard of this idea was when I read Fallen Angels by Niven and Pournelle. They state in a forward that many of the characters were fans met at SF conventions. I don't recall if they auctioned off the charaters or used some other mechanism of selection, nor do I recall if they characters in the novel were written to mirror their real counterparts.

At the time I thought it was an interesting gimmick, but since them it seems to have moved "mainstream."

And congratulations, Captain, on your evil avatar! I hope he's truly and believably evil.

Posted by Adjoran | September 27, 2007 1:02 AM

Aw, shucks, we always KNEW you wuz just a big ol' teddy bear, so being a fictional bad guy should be a treat.

Next time the Twin Cities Marriage Encounter group has a fundraiser, though, maybe you can Mr. Ray to donate a hair weave.


Posted by Mikey NTH | September 27, 2007 9:07 AM

Villians are more fun to play - you can really step out high, wide, and plentiful. Not sadistic, or the torture-pr0n type, though. Just really evil, with style.

No sharks with laser beams - a Dirigible of Doom is the thing.

Posted by chad the elder | September 27, 2007 9:18 AM

"I just hoped [he] would be better looking than me," Morrissey said.

Pretty much a given, isn't it?

Please don't tell me that the villian likes to wear Notre Dame football jerseys. That would be scary.

Posted by km | September 27, 2007 9:21 AM

Why not bid for this. It is a token back for a donation to a good cause. Harmless, and doesn't undermine the charitable intent by being somethong of any practiical value in return for the donation.

Posted by iowavette | September 27, 2007 2:21 PM

That's a tremendous idea. If my money wasn't already tied up in vehicles and a never-ending home remodel, I'd bid also.

Posted by RD | September 27, 2007 2:34 PM

I'm trying to think of a portly (not a lot portly, Captain, but slightly) villain with style and they all come out to be the lovable Santa Claus type. Now Vincent Price was a perfectly believable villain but portly?????Usually villains are cadaverous...hmmm. Guess,I'll have to read the book to see what kind of a villain you make.

Posted by das411 | September 27, 2007 2:56 PM

Congrats CE! Should be a fun read...but was that bid really two years ago?? Wow!

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