Character Column: Meet Laura E. Goodin and the Crooked Mouse

Today we welcome Laura E. Goodin to the Character Lounge, along with – if you look closely – a little mouse (little only in size) lurking between the cushions. Laura is a breathtakingly multi-talented writer, whose published and performed works range from short stories and poetry to plays and operas! Here, she introduces her favourite, villainous character, short on stature, big on will. Meet the Crooked Mouse…
One of the biggest challenges for many writers is to create a convincing villain.  Even Tolkien had only uneven success at it:  while Gollum is a jaw-droppingly fabulous adversary – complex, skilled yet flawed, with his own perfectly reasonable (to him, at least) desires and plans – Sauron is a dud.  He’s not interesting, he’s not scary, and he’s not well-written.  All he does is sit in that tower by himself, brooding and glaring at people.  World’s most tedious adolescent, really.

With that object lesson in mind, I was more than a little daunted when I set out to create the villain for my tale “The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders” (published in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild’s anthology Masques in 2009).  I needed someone who could successfully beguile an innocent, terrorize her own son, and give orders to the savage and utterly evil powers she lets loose on the world.  I knew that the only way she could do all these things was if she, herself, implicitly and unshakably believed she was doing the right thing.  Not necessarily a *good* thing – even villains usually know the difference between good and evil; it’s the difference between right and wrong they have trouble with.  And so does my Crooked Mouse.  She reasons that evil is not the same as wrong when evil gets you what you want; and she wants what we all want:  security, safety, some vestige of control over our circumstances.

The Crooked Mouse is a sad, sad creature.  By the time the story takes place, she’s watched first one of her babies, then another, and another, perish horribly to predators both human and animal, until only one is left:  the soft and biddable Augustin.  In her grief and rage, she has figured out that power will give her both the security she craves and her chance for revenge.  Even a tiny mouse can cause havoc, even to the huge and oblivious humans she hates and fears, if she has the right help.  And she has a plan to get that help.

The original story has been adapted now into an opera (with music by Houston Dunleavy and libretto by me!), and we’re planning on a performance in the first half of 2014.  In the hyper-emotional metier of an opera, it’s so easy for histrionic characters to flatten to cardboard placeholders:  this one is the good guy, that one is the bad guy.  The challenge to make sure every character – particularly the villain – has *reasons* for what they do becomes even more intimidating.  When we produced a workshop performance of the opera last year, I was gratified to see that the Crooked Mouse’s rationale for her own actions held up through this adaptation process, and that the audience could see she was a true character and not just a plot device.

For those interested in following the progress of the opera adaptation of “The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders”, there is a Facebook “like” page that we update at every point in the adventure of creating and performing it:  https://www.facebook.com/TheDancingMiceAndTheGiantsOfFlanders.  The rest of the team and I are eager for as many people as possible to join us along the way as supporters, audience members, and well-wishers!

Laura, thanks to you and the Crooked Mouse for joining the Column, and sharing your rationale for villain-making, not only in writing, but how that translates on-stage. Fascinating! Wishing you and the Dancing Mice every success, along with your studies and other enterprises. 
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About the Author

Laura E. Goodin’s stories have appeared in numerous publications (both print and on-line), including Michael Moorcock’s New WorldsAndromeda Spaceways Inflight MagazineThe Lifted BrowAdbusters,Wet Ink, and Daily Science Fiction, and in several anthologies.  Her plays and libretti have been performed in Australia and the UK, and her poetry has been performed on three continents.  She attended the 2007 Clarion South workshop, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia.  She lives on the South Coast of New South Wales with her composer husband and actor daughter, and she spends what little spare time she has trying to be as much like Xena, Warrior Princess, as possible.

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2 thoughts on “Character Column: Meet Laura E. Goodin and the Crooked Mouse

  1. Oh Laura – how fascinating! Book & opera! I would love to see the very small sad crooked mouse & she sounds a somewhat soft dark character, with bits that you like to confuse the hell out of what you are feeling. Love that type of complexity 🙂

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