Friday, September 30, 2011

Rooting for sociopaths, Part I: Lisbeth Salander

I love the dark character.  Quite by accident I’ve been captivated as a reader and viewer of fictional characters in books and tv shows that are rather dark, disturbed, and deadly.  Their stories are compelling. But it always begs the question: how and when did I get so comfortable rooting for sociopaths?  

It started with Lisbeth Salander, the computer hacking bi-sexual girl with the dragon tattoo.  Her story spans a trilogy of books by the now deceased Swedish author Stieg Larsson.  
  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire
  3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest
I struggled at times as a reader with Lisbeth Salander's choices, her sense of right and wrong, the way she treated people (her friends especially), her wide scope in the bedroom, and more.  But if given the choice in real life, I would want Lisbeth Salander as a friend.  And that's why I root for her.

Noomi Repace as Lisbeth Salander
in the Swedish films.
Summary: Salander is a victim; she was abused as a child, tortured in a mental ward all because her father was a Russian spy who worked in concert with a super secret organization in the Swedish government.  Fed up with the abuse of her mother at the hands of her father, and with no help from the authorities, she hurled a can of gas and a lit match at her father while he sat in a car.  He erupted in flames before her eyes, but survived.  It was then that she was institutionalized in a mental ward and placed under the very careful supervision of a corrupt psychiatrist.  She was to be a permanent ward of the state, and carefully handled as an adult.  She is assumed incompetent and stupid, unable to handle her own life.  But she's intelligent, and not just a little bit.

Book 1: TGWTDT 'Tattoo' is a great read... Lisbeth Salander befriends disgraced magazine editor Mikael Bloomqvist.  He's guilty of slandering a powerful businessman in his magazine, Millennium, and must serve an eventual three month prison term.

Without his knowledge, Salander hacks into his computer and conducts extensive background checks and research into his life, including the case against him. Eventually, she broadens her research to include the powerful businessman who had him tried in court.  From her research, she knew Bloomqvist was innocent, and his story right on the mark.

Come spring, Bloomqvist is going to prison.  With nothing but time on his hands and a busted reputation hanging over his head, another rich businessman approaches Bloomqvist to solve a 40 year old mystery: the murder of his favorite niece, Harriet. Although reluctant at first Bloomqvist agrees to the job, which will take him out of Stockholm and away from his current troubles for the time being.  Soon he is engrossed by the case and the sheer scope of personal research conducted by Harold Vanger, his employer.

The story is quite enjoyable from this point forward.  The Vanger Corporation has operated for over a 100 years.  The family is rich, as is the history they share living together on a secluded island.  The Vanger's past is colorful, controversial, and dark.

Harold Vanger hired Milton Security to dig around in Bloomqvist's past, and they put their best analyst on the job: Salander.   Her reasons for prying into Bloomqvist's life were professional, but she didn't anticipate falling for him too, which for her was highly unexpected (especially for her character and what we eventually find out about her).

No spoilers here: Salander and Bloomqvist solve the mystery; Bloomqvist uses the bonus research Salander gave him and writes a more thorough exposé and brings the powerful businessman to ruin; the story breaks while Bloomqvist is in prison; Bloomqvist and Salander are lovers now but their relationship is complicated because Bloomqvist is loyal but casual, whereas Salander is taking a huge chance by embracing vulnerability for the first time in her adult life (simply, they struggle with their relationship a lot).

Book 2: TGWPWF 'Fire' hits the ground running, and with it, Salander running from everything, including Bloomqvist.  Emotionally, she's hurting.  However, she's wealthy now (no spoilers), and living under an assumed identity to cover her tracks.  Bloomqvist is torn by her sudden disappearance but also understands that that is Salander's way.

There's a point early in 'Fire' where I'm questioning my choice to root for Lisbeth Salander.  She does something truly disturbing, and then follows that up with an even more disturbing action (no spoilers).   I had to put the book down and think long and hard about my feelings as a reader for her.  It was a short walk through tall gray grass.  In the end, though, I found her story compelling enough still to go with it for a while and see what happened.   I'm glad for that.

But that's not the story of TGWPWF.  'Fire' had unbelievable pace.  Salander is soon the prime suspect in a murder investigation and on the run as a wanted killer.  That whole arc, most of the book, really, drives the story like dogs off the leash chasing a cougar all over Sweden.  Bloomqvist, who is back on top at his magazine, Millennium, believes his friend was framed.  The Police are on her heels, but she's smart enough to elude them.  Pieces fall into place that reveal what the series of books is really all about: Lisbeth Salander.

Book 3: TGWKTHN 'Nest' wraps-up Salander's story and squares most everything away for her.  One thing I don't like about last books in a series is that I know the author is tying everything together, so that we can see what the story was all about.  But to Larsson's credit, he folds new layers and arcs into the narrative.  He holds the reader's interest while nearing the end with each rapid turn of the page.

Back to business, though.  You can go down a list and check off the loose ends.  What surprised me about 'Nest' was Bloomqvist's sister and what a capable litigator she turns out to be, one who wasn't taken seriously by the major players of the prosecution.  As the trial goes on, Bloomqvist and his team at Millenium dedicate a whole issue to the story of Lisbeth Salander.  Bloomqvist is not a fan of the government's handling of his friend, but he works with them and other officials at the highest level to flush out the rogue police agency and make things right for Lisbeth Salander.

Long story short: girl's dad is a spy, corrupt officials make girl's life a living hell, girl grows up and gets her life back.  Between all that is a really good story.  But it's a dark journey for Lisbeth Salander and the reader.

Next up ... Part II: Dexter Morgan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A second #cnftweet tweet emerges

Another one of my beloved #cnftweet tweets emerged in the wild, this time tucked away inside a newsletter sent out by Creative Nonfiction, the same folks who published one of my tweets in issue #42 of Creative Nonfiction.  See earlier post from my blog.

I've had a lot of fun and met some great writers by participating in the #cnftweet corner of twitter.  The challenge is to say something true in 130 characters or less.  I retweet my favorites and get a few of my own tweets retweeted by others.

Give it a shot:

  1. Get a twitter account.  It's free. 
  2. Think of a creative way to tell a true story in 130 characters or less. 
  3. Tweet it.
  4. IMPORTANT: Tag the end of your tweet with the #cnftweet hashtag.  The hashtag ensures it will be seen by all the other #cnftweet 'ers.

My tweet from the newsletter is quoted below.  It was used to give people an idea of length and what the editors of Creative Nonfiction are looking for in a good #cnftweet.

talentdmrripley A door jam in a former life, the wall received the blaze like it was royalty, and Tedd's room was holding a waltz. #cnftweet

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nice sack, dude!

Nice nutsack, dude!
Ambition or misplaced enthusiasm? I can't decide. Does the ball sack raise this truck to a whole new level?  

I live in the Gem State.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


His mind races through the stillness of another quiet evening.  It's familiar, and happens often. When obligation has gone to bed, along with his wife and kids, he sits alone... alone with the peace and quiet. Alone with Depression.

Depression is like a relative who moved in long ago, decided to stay, and now follows him around like a stalker: creepy, stealth-like, and at the same time obvious. Depression sits on his shoulder, observes his life, and whispers a constant picture of despair into his ear.

He escapes to the cold, pixelated glow of the computer, which buzzes with distraction.  He wants to bore the hell out of Depression by checking a few twitter feeds and facebook status updates.

It's like a bad play in football.  Depression laughs at the misdirect and reminds him that too much stock is put into these social networks, thus wasting a lot of time engaging with complete strangers. An avatar, twitter handle, and a thousand updates does not a friend make.  Even more sobering, the people he actually knows (real life friends on the social networks) are becoming more and more like the pixelated strangers with each passing day.  All of these connections -- virtual in nature -- only illuminate the  unconnected feeling in the end.

Fine. He logs off and plays some music, or a game.  Sometimes he sits still in deep thought for hours, knowing exhaustion will come soon enough, and Depression needs rest too.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Published! Creative Nonfiction #42

Contributor copy (better than money).
I’ll take life in whatever little victories it decides to hand out.  So much of my time is spent wishing things would get better, even by the slightest.  So when something positive happens, whether it’s big or small, I take it as gift.  Why?  Because a win is a win. 

I received my contributor copy from Creative Nonfiction #42 yesterday in the mail.  I knew it was coming for a few days.  I found out on twitter last week. @talentdmrripley and nine others were featured in the Tiny Truths section.  The challenge: write a true story in 130 characters or less.  I'll save you the $10 cover price and quote my story for you below (I think that's okay):
"Yes... I was staring, trying to read the Bible verse tattooed on her upper breast.  The font was tasteful, and it was a long verse." May 23, 2011.

How cool is that?  It was validation, either for my talent or hard work.  Perhaps both.  My own words published!   

I won’t ruin this.  I won’t diminish this strange yet awesome feeling that I could win with my writing.  And, though my story is tiny (a mere two sentences; a tweet!), those who published my words walk as bold and proud as any among the giants of writing and publishing.  

My ship has sailed.  The chosen destination awaits my sweet arrival.  I cling to the side of that ship now, hanging on to the rails with a firm grip and determined resolve not to slip into the depths.  Not again.  Though I’m unable to relax on deck and mingle with “them,” at least the establishment knows I’m there now, and don’t mind the vicinity of my company.  

Crashing waves, weather, and rough seas still await my journey, but from the side of the boat none of them look as menacing as they once did.

Well played, cousin

Jenifer Junior High School Lunchroom.  Go Jacks!
A girl stopped me once in the school lunchroom to apologize for not inviting me to her party.  All day prior and then most of that same day I'd heard friends in class and in the hallways talk about a big, mysterious party.  "Did you hear about the party?" . . . "So and so is going to be there" . . .  "Are you going?"

"Totally!" I said, I didn't know what else to say.  And I was lying of course, much like pimple-plagued adolescent boys lie about losing their virginity: complete bullshit.  News travels fast in the hormone charged hallways of junior high.  The shock of my plans must've hit the hostess and her gaggle of girlfriends like a toaster falling into the bathtub.  Somehow, my unwelcome R.S.V.P. had forced her hand.  She was forced to play diplomat.

"Hey," she started.  "I'm really sorry I didn't invite you to my party."

As it turned out the party hostess and I were related (you know in that weird way when one distant relative marries some other distant relative; our bloodlines were sealed together like glue now).  We weren't close or anything, and found out only a short time earlier.  She shared the same last name as my uncle.  It gave us something to hardly ever talk about as was we moved between classes or roved between cliques.

"Oh, that's okay," I said.  "I've been hearing about it all day.  Don't worry about—."

"Yeah so, sorry I didn't invite you.  I didn't want any hard feelings since we're cousins and stuff."

She dropped it there and spun on her heel out the lunchroom door. She was received by her friends outside who cupped their mouths to stifle a few giggles aimed in my direction.  Abandoned, I stood between the cafeteria and the ala carte line painfully aware of how the whole scene must've looked to everyone else in the room.  Are they laughing at me now too?  And the worse part was I had no idea if the apology was also an invitation, or if the apology acted as an official un-vitation.  Well played, cousin.  Well played.

"It's cool," I offered up to the awkwardness, to no one really.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Remember when you were a kid at recess and the captains picked out teams based on a simple and fair process of selecting the best players, one at a time, until everyone was assigned a team and then the fun could start?  I always got picked first, if not by the first captain then by the next one.  Hell, sometimes I was the captain, and got to do the picking.  Having the power to choose was pretty cool; but, getting picked first had its own merit too.  You were “in” in either case.  Your ability to play, or better, to choose other players, was trusted, even respected.  

Do you remember that feeling?  I walked taller, bolder.  What a rush!  

However, the days of getting picked first are long gone.  I don’t get picked first for anything anymore.  Getting picked last wouldn’t suck too much at this point.  My war in life seems to be against the gatekeepers, those captains of the playground.

Getting published is my number one goal, as a writer, and well, as a human being who needs to aim for something big.  Writing is hard work, and while my voice may lack the obvious polish and place, I’m no less passionate about connecting with words.  In fact, that’s why I write period: to connect.  And, I want to be picked!

Gatekeepers are usually the pawns of establishment, parading about on a giant chessboard, where if you win, you gain access to something, whatever it is.  If you lose, then you sulk back to your cave and plot a little more.  Gatekeepers throw their arms up and make a lot of noise and guard admission like deadly sentries.  The gatekeepers stand in your way.

Remember the playground losers?  Remember all the stragglers, the awkward and clumsy kids that got picked last, or not at all?  They were found lacking on all accounts.  Everything.  They lacked skill, for starters (a pun.. I love those).  Add to that they lacked respect.  And if not for a playground duty teacher to speak up on their behalf -- to make sure they weren't denied -- the un-chosen would be ridiculed into leaving with only their uncoordinated bodies and tears to comfort them in some far-away corner well away from the action.    

I’m not saying the gatekeepers might require more talent; that’s probably fair.  Nor would I argue that whosoever wants a shot gets a shot.  And I’m certainly not arguing for a recess duty equal opportunity type to punch my card and force the gatekeepers’ hands.  But I would ask that one of the captains take a serious look once in a while.  I want to play the game, dammit!