The Problem with Minion

If you haven't read Necromancing the Stone, which just came out in paperback by the way, so really you have no excuse (also, the paperback has a cut scene in it! Yay, bonus material!) then this post will be absolutely chock full of spoilers. If such things bother you, than it would be best to ignore this post until after you've read the book or you stop caring about spoilers, which for many of you might be never.

It's cool. I'll give you a minute to think about it. *Sings the Jeopardy theme*


Still there? Excellent.

So. Minion. He's a character, right? In book two? Yeah. I bet you thought I was going to say something of significance. Well, that was your first mistake. I never say anything of sifnificance EVER. 

No one should be surprised by this. Especially my family.

Wait. I had a point. (This is what happens when I try to write a blog post when I'm hip-deep in edits. Especially since it means the only time I have to write this is when I'm working at the bookstore and I'm on register, which means I'm typing between customers.)

A while back...months, really...someone on Twitter asked me about dear, sweet Minion. Basically, why I was such a jerk to him in my book. For that reader, it really detracted from the book. She still thought NTS was funny, but to her it wasn't as funny because she didn't see why I had to be so cruel, why the humor had to come at the expense of Minion. It's a point that I completely understand, though it doesn't get to me the way it got to her. I'm only surprised that no one brought this up sooner, really.

To be more specific, she wanted to know why the humor had to come at the expense of Keanu Reeves, whom Minion is based on. The short answer, the only answer compact enough for Twitter, is that I'm a jerk. Not all of the time. I mean, sometimes I have to sleep. It's hard to be jerk in your sleep. I'm working on it, but I'm still in the planning stages. We're months away form a workable prototype.

This answer, though seemingly flippant, is at least partially true. I have to be a jerk to characters that I love--people that I have made out of whole cloth, people that I spend hours with and adore. I have to beat them up, drag them through the mud, and take away everything they love and hold dear. Why? Because a book where only good things happen is a boring book. Unless it's a picture book about fluffy woodland creatures cavorting around a vale. That can be all rainbows and glitter 100% of the time, but for the rest of us, that's not really useful.

And I do love Minion. So did my editor and my agent, both of whom offered up their little Minion moments (and reigned me in when I got too mean. And yes, they do have to do that, occasionally. My snark can go into over production really easily.) This is especially tricky, because when a character is based on an actual human being, the cuts are especially harsh. This is why I don't write personal essays, really. I don't want to have to decide between writing what is funny and honest to me, and hurting someone's feelings. Some of my friends write that kind of nonfiction, and I think they are very brave to do so. As is, I get into trouble for my fiction--people are constantly reading themselves into things and deciding that I'm talking about them (I'm not) and then I have to explain that's it's not them and they never quite believe me.

And here's where things get complicated--Minion isn't really based on a human being. No, I'm not implying that Mr. Reeves is a cyborg or a hologram or any such thing. He is a flesh and blood human, I'm positive. It's just that I don't know Keanu Reeves. We've never met. We've never sat down for a tea and a chat. I'm 95% sure we'll never braid eachother's hair. Minion isn't based on secret information that I've hounded out of someone. He's based on Keanu Reeves's persona, which I'm positive has only a passing aquaintance with the actual Keanu.

I am consistantly fascinated by the idea of persona. We are fed the Keanu that the media has created. They pick which images we see, what snippets we hear. As an author I know that careful editing of any situation can greatly change the way that situation is interpreted. And I am  intrigued by the fact that the media has chosen to show Keanu as sad. Quiet. Probably eating a sandwich. Basically, like he might, I don't know, be a real person who isn't "on" all the time.

Keanu Reeves is also always associated with a certain amount of "woodenness" or under-acting. This fascinates me on two levels. One, we expect actors to be very responsive and emotive and Keanu is often doing the opposite. Does that mean he can't act, or is he more like an author who writes only the barest of bones? I can't answer that. Though I love film, I'm not a critic. I'm not going to speculate. Second, if you see me sitting on a bench, eating a cupcake and thinking, you will think that I'm angry or that something is wrong, because I've been told that my default thinking expression looks pissed. Is this the same for Keanu? And who are we to expect him to be different when he's on his downtime, in the park, getting a snack?

Does being mean to Minion mean I hate the persona of, or the actual person of, Mr. Reeves? No. Keanu Reeves has actually been in some of my favorite movies (Like Parenthood or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). Do I love all his movies? No. Have I seen all his movies? No. Why? Because he has been in a ton of very different kinds of films and I'm not always interested in his subject matter. I see this as a good thing, really. He's into variety. So then why am I jerk to him? Partially, because it's funny. We wanted a character who was a famous person, but could make a funny zombie. Since Keanu is often accused of being zombie-like, it was perfect. Was it nice? No. It wasn't. (See earlier where I admit to being a jerk.) Sometimes writers, especially if they're writing about real people, have to decide whether being nice is worth cutting something important to the book. We choose to keep Minion at the expense of my niceness. Why? Because I felt it was worth it. To me, Minion was that important to the story and to my own personal joy. As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed writing Minion. 

Here's the other complication--you have to remember that most of the mean and nasty things said to Minion are coming from James. NTS is not the best time for James. He's feeling torn between two masters. He's worried that he might actual start liking Sam and his crew. He's not used to so many people being in his space. He's worried about Douglas. Sure, Douglas is an asshat, but he's Jame's asshat and the only family James has known since he was a young pukis. More importantly, he's worried that Minion is replacing him. He's jealous. He's also a little insulted that someone so inept as Minion could replace him--that it might mean that Douglas doesn't think much of what he does. It's not true, but he's worried and panicked and he lashes out. James never really had anyone around to rolemodel kind behavior. Remember, he's been raised by a sociopath. He's not always going to react properly. (Which is funny, because James is so adamant about manners.)

However, half of the mean comes from how I portray Minion, and that is where I am totally a jerk. And I apologize for that. I feel bad. Just not enough to take him out of the story. I really, truly hope that if someday Mr. Reeves reads my silly book, he'll be okay with it. He might find it really hurtful, and I would understand if he did. So if you're out there Keanu, and you're so bored that you're reading my blog, please accept my apologies. Know that I meant well. If we ever meet, I will buy you an apology cupcake. I did it out of love for Minion, and while that doesn't excuse the behavior, it does at least buy me a little forgiveness, I hope. Maybe Minion will come back in a future Sam book and I'll be able to redeem myself a little.

To my friend on Twitter, I hope I was able to explain my reasoning to you, and I hope the next book will be a better read for you. I promise that I don't make fun of any real people in it. I think.

PS My friend, Vlad, was telling me about a documentary that Keanu Reeves did about film and was saying how great it was and I meant to watch it before I wrote abou this post, but I soon realized that if I waited, this post wouldn't happen until March. However, Vlad has a good noggin, and if he says it was worth the watch, then it was. He was really impressed and said it actually opened up a new understanding for him about Mr. Reeves. (It came up when we were discussing how I was going to answer this post. I actually thought about it a lot, so hopefully I gave half way decent answers and didn't make a muck of things.)