For this BTS post I thought I’d ramble a bit (okay, a lot) about the early brainstorm process of my upcoming novel, Wings of Ruin, a.k.a. what kind of villain/antagonist is Cassandra and what makes a villain a villain. Sure there are some pretty obvious factors (many of which Cassandra ticks off the list), but sometimes the story can be a bit more gray. I love reading villain stories because I always find it fascinating to see how someone gets to that point. With the exception of a few psychotic cases (*shudders*), I’m not sure I buy that anyone is simply born any more evil or sinful than their neighbor and so what exactly happened to make them choose a darker path than most? This book takes on the tale of Cassandra, first Crown of Oneiroi, but really this series is smattered with villains and antiheroes.
>>If you’re not really interested in my philosophical ramblings (which I won’t judge you for haha) then scroll to the end of this post for the official Otherworld: Villains playlist on Spotify!
Who can be considered a villain? Cassandra and Dismas obviously, although Dismas’ case ends up complicated in the end for reasons I shall not discuss due to spoilers. Also Sam and, to an extent, Eisen and Titus though those last two really more dance the line of antiheroes. After you read Wings of Ruin you’ll also wonder about characters such as Elijah, Mikael, Abel, and a few others because this book gives a major shift in perspective to everything you’ve been told before (though with all of the characters I’ve listed so far, what’s the difference between a jerk, a ruthless hero, and a villain? What’s the spectrum they are judged and cast upon?). When it comes to villains, perspective is key and this is why I love villain stories because no one ever cares to understand their perspective, instead they are simply wrong. I’m not saying they’re right, but obviously they do…don’t they? Or one wonders how much is spurred by perhaps an even subconscious desire to be stopped?
If you think about it, a hero is a villain’s own villain and in a super simplistic way of looking at it, things can become a massive case of pointing fingers. In a deeper subtext, a hero can also, in some cases, become a villain’s own hero too (which of course if they are aware of it may push them even further against them unless they choose to succumb to the conversion and biased redemption). But back to perspective. That’s the key, isn’t it? Or at least a good part of it. Perspective and motivation, then of course the actions/decisions themselves. How does one view another and how will that affect their actions? What did they do and what motivated that choice?
To say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have.
-C.S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism”
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One person’s annoying is another’s inspiring and heroic.
-Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation (Season 6, Episode 5)
A villain is wrong to the hero but right to their self and a hero is right to their self but wrong to the villain…so who exactly is the villain? Or perhaps it is not the goal but the journey that casts them as one or the other? Heroes can cause the deepest pain and villains can pursue the “greater good.” But what does any of that mean with a roulette of perspectives to judge from? Without a universally accepted servitude by which all of humankind is guided by and strives towards (whether God, royal, country, person, self, etc.), then we shall always be in a state of war; everyone will have those they view as “good” or “evil”, “right” or “wrong”, “hero” or “villain.” We cannot have peace with free will and yet without free will, what good is peace?
There is no standard, not even a divine one, against which the decisions of a free people can be measured.
-Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country
Take all of your societal or religious teachings of morality and/or ethics out of the equation and you simply have two people with contrasting goals, no? They each want something but only one can achieve it at the expense of the other. But we do have concepts of morality, we all do, it cannot be helped, so I guess what makes the label of “villain” stick on one side is the majority’s vote, no? I’m fortunate to live in a place where breaking the Biblical Ten Commandments is a general no-no, but what if you grew up with a different set of guidelines? Are you wrong or right? Hero or villain? I’m sure you want to answer that yes there is an undeniable law of right and wrong, but where does that inner moral compass derive from and how do you know that from whence it came is truth/right in itself? Besides, everyone believes they are right or else they’d be far less likely to indulge themselves. Humans are quite adept at rationalization. But still, not everyone can claim different truths and declare them all right. Truth is not fact and is ironically subjective. The most we can do is tolerate each other – that is, to respect differences without accepting them (to accept would be to convert and thus a different thing entirely) and yet even that remains forever unachievable for willful blindness and deafness compromises the foundation of most religions and faiths and for their true believers that will not stand.
Humans are capable of great compassion, love, forgiveness, empathy, and other such healing and binding qualities, and yet to think such goodness is our nature by default and not an active choice has me skeptical. Even babies will howl and rage to demand their desire, children will bite and bleed to take what they want. And yet similarly the young can often display comfort and caring in times when adults would have hesitated, but this behavior generally comes after the “baby” stage when they’ve had time to absorb their family’s love and actions. It seems to me more evidence exists supporting the potential of goodness as innate but the manifestation of goodness as taught.
Competition of riches, honor, command, or other power inclineth to contention, enmity, and war, because the way of one competitor to the attaining of his desire is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repel the other.
…Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war is of every man against every man…and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
-Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
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Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum (Therefore let him who desires peace get ready for war.”
-Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, De Re Militari
Does your head ache yet? Lol. Mine does and yet I could ramble on in circles for ages. Essentially Cassandra wanted something and others opposed her goals. Cassandra did whatever she had to do to achieve her wants and those whom lost against her called her Villain. Based off of my own beliefs and morals, watching Cassandra’s choices and actions was like watching a slow-motion train wreck. I didn’t always agree with what she did or how she went about obtaining her goals, but at the same time I oddly found myself sympathizing with her. If anyone needed a therapist to sort out some issues, she did. And don’t we all want something and wail when the world fights against us? I love the song by Queen…”I want it all and I want it now.” It’s so true, isn’t it? Though I could also just be speaking from culture bias as the ideas of “Anyone can be anything” and “Get it now” are quite prevalent in U.S. culture but not necessarily as claiming everywhere else.
Another theme not so much explored in Wings of Ruin, but certainly in the first two books, with Adrianna is the theme or hope of forgiveness. Everyone messes up or does something wrong (like Jack), but what separates making bad choices from a true villain? Is villainy a permanent mark on the soul? Can it ever be forgiven and left behind? I think when someone crosses so far over a line most people would say no, but there are a few who believe yes (Adrianna). It’s an interesting stance she clings to despite everything Cassandra in particular puts her through, even Jack thinks it madness (though he loves her for it because come on, she’s a cinnamon roll). Another question is why most people would answer no. Is it because they truly believe that or because they are so hurt that they want to become judge and jury and make it true?
By Christian doctrine even Hitler could be forgiven which makes us all feel a bit queasy and uncomfortable. Humans love punishment, so long as it is not directed towards ourselves. Forgiveness is all good and well, until it is offered to our enemy. As a little kid I remember thinking that if Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies then of everyone we should pray for Satan (I know how bizarre this must sound haha). Just try adding the Devil to your church’s prayer list and see the reaction you get because we love “good vs. evil”, we love “good conquers all”, and we love it because it means that the bad guys get punished and the bad guys aren’t us. Besides, we need Satan to stay evil so our enemies can burn in Hell, don’t we? Just imagine if we attempted to focus our motivations on forgiveness and reform rather than victory and destruction.
I know I’m rambling and I’m sorry, but this is sort of where my brain wandered when I discovered Cassandra’s secret plot five years ago and decided to dig deeper. It’s precisely because of these (and a dozen more) questions that Wings of Ruin became a book at all.
In this book I am curious to see how people will react to Cassandra dearest. Will your opinion change? Will it remain firm? Will it widen? Will it stubbornly narrow? I really don’t know what to expect from you readers and I’m curious to know. A little nervous, but also curious. Who is to blame? What is to blame? Why? Does it matter? Does her final scene in the series change anything at all? Do you hate her more for it? Pity her? Think her a liar? Think her a misunderstood visionary? Do you not care a whit? Even I am not altogether certain how I feel and I think it’s because none of the questions I’ve presented in this post have determinate, inarguable answers that will satisfy every human perspective. And yes, I find that fascinating as well. I don’t believe in the Greek myths or anything, but I can certainly see why they found humanity so amusing to play with.
I probably confused you more than anything else with this post, but it’s an honest look “behind the scenes” of the process that led to the creation of Wings of Ruin or even the Otherworld Trilogy entirely. Everyone loves a hero and you can’t have a hero without a villain. I hope after reading this book you will love Cassandra as much as you hate her because it is that sorrow, that conflict, that frustration that I think is evidence for hope. My faith is centered around hope and despite being rather cynical I can’t seem to release my grasp on hope because if I did I’d fail to see any point in life at all. I hope I’ve hurt your head, disturbed your heart, and peaked your curiosity. I hope that despite this being a horribly lengthy and meandering post that you will be more eager to read the story of a girl who fulfilled her destiny for greatness yet chose to do so on a path of shadows. I won’t say she isn’t a villain, but I thought her story should be shared (no matter how hard she fought against it most days).
Wings of Ruin releases on June 30, 2020 so be ready to snag a copy at midnight! It will be available on Kindle and paperback. And please don’t forget to post a review on Goodreads and Amazon when you finish! I genuinely appreciate all of the support you readers have shown me through buying and reading my books, posting reviews, chatting on social media, telling your friends about me, etc. You’re amazing and I’m overwhelmingly lucky to have you.
Art by Salome Totladze
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As many of you know, I love using music to fuel my inspiration. I mention songs in all of my Instagram posts and I have playlists on Spotify for all of my books. Well, when it came to the Otherworld Trilogy I just made one epic playlist for the series, but once I began Cassandra’s story I knew I needed a second playlist for the villains. Some fit for the feel, some for the lyrics, but they all speak of my characters’ weave. Enjoy!