Welcome J.J. DiBenedetto!!
I’m very excited to have J.J. DiBenedetto stopping by today and talking about villains. The darker, the better….
For a series in which the heroine has to contend with all kinds of life-threatening situations, there really aren’t very many villains in the Dream Series. At least, not in the traditional terms that most readers would see them.
You’d think that a serial killer would be an obvious villain, but the killer whose dreams Sara keeps visiting in “Dream Student” really isn’t. Not because he isn’t evil, but simply because we don’t see him in person until the final chapter. His acts are evil, and Sara’s search for him drives much of the plot of the book – but he’s not “onscreen” and he’s certainly not “interesting” in the way that we often expect villains to be.
Similarly, a murderer stalking the halls of a medical school seems like they’d be a villain, but, again, in “Dream Doctor,” it takes almost the entire book for Sara to figure out who the would-be killer is, and to manage to confront them. The main antagonist in the book is actually the man who’s the killer’s target: a professor who’s taken a particular dislike to Sara and makes her life miserable at every opportunity.
We do see the two antagonists of the third book of the series, “Dream Child,” all throughout the book, and both the corrupt Congressman and the mobster certainly qualify as villains on at least some level. But they’re certainly not mustache-twirling evildoers. What they’re up to is wrong, and very harmful, but they’re also both presented as human beings with depth and (bad, but still) reasons for what they do.
In “Dream Family,” the fourth book of the series, the villains are totally impersonal – they’re the district attorney who has Sara arrested (for a crime that one of her employees actually committed), and the deputies at the jail who abuse and violate her. But they’re treated as faceless and not-really-human forces. It doesn’t matter who they are as individuals – it’s the cold, implacable process that’s really the villain here. The people who actually hurt Sara don’t even all get names, which is very deliberate. And she doesn’t fight them – she can’t. Her fight comes after they’ve hurt her, and after she’s released from jail – to try and recover from what was done to her, to figure out how to live with the consequences of it.
The one true villain of the whole series shows up in book 5, “Waking Dream.” She’s the mysterious “woman in red” who shares Sara’s ability to visit other people’s dreams. But, right from her first appearance at the start of the book, it’s clear that she’s nothing like Sara. She’s not using her talent to help people in need; she’s abusing her gift for her own selfish purposes, without regard for who she hurts along the way. She checks off most of the big villain boxes: she’s a dark mirror to Sara; she and Sara have multiple confrontations, with the stakes going up each time; she threatens everything Sara holds dear, and she forces Sara to make painful, terrible choices. And, she was a lot of fun to write, too!
There is no villain at all in the sixth book, “Dream Reunion” – the main conflict is between Sara and her own conscience. Her antagonist is an old college friend who’s been forced to extreme – and dangerous – measures to save his family business, and the only way Sara can see to save him is to interfere in his dreams, which she’s sworn never to do under any circumstances.
And in book seven, “Dream Home” (out today!), the main antagonist is nature itself. There are human difficulties, too, but they don’t rise to the level of villainy.
So there you have it: seven books, three murders, two attempted murders, a kidnapping, an attempted arson, an attempted insurance fraud, a large-scale environmental crime, a false arrest, with physical abuse and violation…and only one real “villain” to show for all of it!
Thanks J.J.! Your series sounds great. Loaded with bad guys.