Rooting for bad guys

Noir takes many forms. Crime, sex, passion, and hurt are part of the canon. So are endings that aren't predictably rosy. But mostly it's the flawed characters that draw me in. No surprise, then, that I plumb that vein in my own writing.

My stories typically track the POV of a criminal, often a petty one. Getting readers to root for him can be a challenge. Your average thick-as-a-brick backwoods illiterate may not share your understanding of right and wrong. His is a line not so much etched in stone as scrawled in charcoal on a rock by the fire pit. It moves. It's arbitrary. And it ain't often straight.

But people are human. All of us. None are truly evil. Or always good. We tend to land somewhere in the middle. A lot of folk are kind, gentle, easy-going. Others are nasty and prone to violence. But no one's pure. Shine the light at the right angle and you'll find the cracks in pretty much everyone.

That's why a career criminal with multiple prison escapes like Roger Caron could write books that found a soft spot for readers and won him literary awards. He told his story from his own perspective. He knew what drove him, was honest about it, and made people care.

Another book from the seventies that marked me was called "The Fire Eater" or something close to that. It was about a teenager who runs away with the circus, and learns the art of fire breathing. A classic ruse, but the book dug into carny life, exposed a lot of grit, and showed that even the most wayward life held meaning and value. (By the way, if anyone can tell me the real name and author, I'd love a chance to read it again.)

Like any pursuit, there are purists when it comes to defining noir, and there are genre-benders. For me, as long as a story tracks the underbelly and doesn't hew to a perfect line between good and evil, it's close enough.

I guess what interests me the most, whether reading or writing, is the opportunity to strip off a few layers and get at the real story. It keeps life interesting. And writing worthwhile.

What stories have you read that gave you a chance to see inside the heart of someone you're unlikely to meet on the straight and narrow?