Category Archives: psychopaths

A Conversation with Father Time

1328101886 HourGlassSo there I was, sitting at my computer, toiling away on my seemingly endless work in progress, chewing my fingernails and glancing furtively at the clock, when *poof* this old, ratty-looking dude appears in the chair across from me. Now, when I say ratty, I mean some truly matted, snarly hair that was way past dreds, a year’s worth of beard on a gnarly, wind and sunburned face, and the clothes—uh, well let’s just say his clothes would have made a nice little mid-winter bonfire. A more odoriferous fellow I’ve not yet had the fortune to meet.

He smiled a languorous smile, the spaces between his Jack O’ Lantern teeth big enough to drive a flatbed through, and pulled out what was once euphemistically referred to as a Marley. He drew it beneath his nose, snuffling the scent with a satisfied smile, and wasted no time in lighting the fatty with a wooden match pulled from the well-worn folds of his attire. And he did indeed inhale.

“Who the fuck are you?” I asked, my annoyance obvious at this most unwelcome intrusion. You see, I was on a roll. Writing like my life depended on it, savoring the cadence and ebb and flow of a day in the zone.

Well, actually, that’s a lie. I was struggling mightily putting words to page, on the verge of throwing my keyboard across the room.

But still.

“Whoa. Am I detecting a little attitude?” he asked, as  a dense, aromatic cloud  of what I assumed to be cannabis sativa bellowed forth.

“You didn’t answer me, pops. Now who the hell are you?” My cheeks flushed hot, reminding me I hadn’t slept well the night before, which always leaves me cranky.

He picked what appeared to be vegetation from between his teeth and grinned, leaning back in his chair. “I’m Father Time.”

“You’re what?”

“Father Time. You know, out with the old, in with the new?”

“Yeah, I know who Father Time is. But isn’t he a tired old man with a scythe who’s ready to kick?” I looked him up and down. “I mean, you’re no picnic, but looks to me like you’ve got some mileage left.”

He grinned again and offered me a hit. I declined, preferring to be fully in control of my faculties when experiencing a psychotic break—which this most unfortunately appeared to be.

“If I may be so bold,” he continued. “You strike me as a writerly sort, am I right?”

I rolled my eyes and answered, “What, did the computer, thesaurus, and Chicago Manual of Style give me away? Or perhaps it was the quotes on the wall by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Parker?”

A throaty chuckle escaped him and he shifted, crossing one leg over the other, his huarache-clad feet expelling little dust clouds as he moved.

“Yeah. That would be it. Along with the sarcasm. Tell me,” he said as he took another hit off the joint and stubbed it out on the sole of his shoe, “Are you happy?”

The words stopped me cold.“Wha—what do you mean? Of course I’m happy. Happy as a goddamned lark, buddy, so back the fuck off, okay?” I rose from my chair and started to pace. “Where do you get off, asking me if I’m happy?”

Time just shrugged, cocked his head, and looked at me sideways. “Look, no offense, but all you ever seem to do is sit at your computer, day in and day out, writing about murder and mayhem and shoving your characters into all sorts of crappy situations. You spend your time researching the lower aspects of humanity and then you write a story around them. Yeah, for the most part, there’s a happy ending and the bad guys get theirs, but when do you take a break? When do you live your life?”

“My life? I—uh—I don’t…” I sat back in my chair as the realization hit. He had a point. Was I living well? I ran through the past year, remembering the elation when I’d published books, sharing time with new friends and old, the book signings, the travel, the sales. Yeah, that all seemed fun, great, even. But then I reminded myself of all the bad things that happened throughout the year, not necessarily for me or my family and friends, but the world in general. The acidic political posturing, Paris and San Bernardino, Syria and the refugees, mass shootings, murders, global warming, canned hunting, human and animal trafficking, etc., etc., etc. But mainly I realized how my attitude started slowly shifting toward fear. And protection.

And FEAR.

Time gave me a wistful smile. “Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?”

Tears sprang to my eyes. “Like little cat feet,” I murmured.

“The trick is, you’ve got to put your attention somewhere positive.”

“But,” I protested, “I can’t just ignore the news. I write crime novels.”

“Sure. But you don’t have to spend all of your time there.”

“There’s so much to process. I can’t absorb it all.”

“So don’t. Spend time doing things you like to do—things with a positive return. And let go of outcomes. You can’t control what’s going to happen. Yeah, you can mitigate some of the stuff just by being aware of your surroundings, but what if you let go and let life happen? Use your imagination for your books, not your fears.”

“Oh.” Yet another salient point. “Is it really that easy?” I asked, hope pinned to my chest.

The wise old dude nodded. “Yep,” he replied. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s not gonna be all unicorns and kittens, believe me. Your readers wouldn’t like that, anyway.  All I’m saying is, accentuate the positive—like when you’re done writing for the day. It’s all about balance. Capiche?”

“So this really isn’t a psychotic break? You’re actually Father Time?”

Time pulled out the fatty and slipped it between his lips. “Girl, what you been smokin’?”

 

2010-07-20 Black windup alarm clock face


Where Did the Summer Go Part 2: Writers’ Police Academy

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, a day after we got back from Rainier, I flew to Appleton, Wisconsin to attend the fabulous Writers’ Police Academy.

The brainchild of former LEO Lee Lofland, the Writers’ Police Academy brings together crime writers and experts in the field of law enforcement, CSI, emergency services, etc., in order to help writers “write it right.” Now in its 7th year (and having outgrown its original home in North Carolina), the conference was held at the brand-new Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center.  It’s three jam-packed days of information sessions, hands-on experiences, and a whole lotta fun. (pictured below: Lee Lofland)

photo of Lee Lofland

The state-of-the-art facilities had an airliner on site, as well as a derailed tanker and a faux city with several buildings including a bank, a motel, and an apartment building. LEO training was ongoing at the time of the conference and attendees were welcome to watch traffic stops and various other law enforcement scenarios.

photo of airliner

One of the most informative classes I took had to do with blood spatter and DNA with Jeff Miller (pictured below). Talk about fascinating. Did you know that fingerprints can actually transfer through latex gloves? Not so with nitrile (the blue gloves). Or that the reason DNA results take so long (other than a backlog) is that they have to go through a quality assurance/peer review process that takes an average of 15 days before a report can be issued? (Although if you have a suspect, a match can be determined within a day.) I also learned that DNA can still be detected through seven layers of paint, and that 90 minute results will be available to law enforcement once the FDA approves a machine/process called RapidHit DNA.

photo of blood spatter class

More interesting factoids: a) hermaphrodites can have two different sets of DNA (think of the fictional possibilities!); b) even though identical twins have identical DNA, there is a copy number variant that can help determine which twin committed the crime; and, my personal favorite, c) if a person kisses a suspect for 30 seconds or more, the suspect’s DNA can transfer to the other person–your PI/sleuth character will need to get a swab from them quickly, though. Also, Luminol is on its way out as a blood visualizing agent, and is being replaced by a product called Blue Star. If a criminal tries to clean the crime scene, both Luminol and Blue Star sparkle in the dark when introduced to cleansers.

blood spatter class

There was a boatload of interesting lectures by world-class presenters (pictured below: Dr. Katherine Ramsland giving us an Overview of Forensic Psychology) Katherine has a way with words–especially when she’s describing– shall we say– unusual sexual proclivities in serial killers;

Dr. Katherine Ramsland

The CSI Effect: Real vs Reel (with Mike Black). A great class that blasted through several of the inaccuracies inherent in television programs regarding crime scene investigation. And no, CSI: Miami/New York/etc. should NOT be used for research purposes. But you already knew that, right?

evidence photo

slide of CSI myths

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite sessions were of the hands on variety, like MILO: Shoot/Don’t Shoot Interactive Training. In this class, you’re given a laser pistol similar to a 9mm and told to stand in front of a screen while they run video scenarios involving suspects behaving badly. It’s up to you to determine whether you should shoot or not. I have a new appreciation for how scary it must be for an officer to face down someone who has (or most likely has) a weapon  (sorry, no pics of this one–suffice it to say I didn’t have a problem shooting bad guys coming toward me on the screen…);

Then there was the shooting range (rifles with scopes! Need I say more?);

photo of DV shooting an M4

Bangs and Booms 101 (and all things incendiary with John Gilstrap — pictured below). You can certainly tell by the way he teaches that he LOVES his job 🙂 ) In this class we learned about shaped charges (e.g. RPGs), grenades, dynamite, and C4, and a host of other cool stuff;

John Gilstrap session

Fighting Words: Martial Arts for Writers (with Howard Lewis). The mindset of a person who practices martial arts is very different from one who does not. Howard is extremely entertaining–if you get the chance, go to anything he teaches. And don’t forget to ask him about Bruce Lee…

Martial Arts for Writers photo

Karin Slaughter was the Guest of Honor at the banquet (I forgot my camera that evening, so no pics), and she was hugely entertaining. If the whole crime novel writing gig doesn’t work out for her, she definitely has a shot at a career as a stand up comedian 🙂

In the end, I came away with a much better understanding of the challenges faced by law enforcement and emergency personnel, and gleaned all sorts of little details that I will certainly use in future books. If you write about crime or law enforcement, you’ll LOVE this conference. I wish I could have cloned myself so I could go to every one of the classes. Sigh.

I guess I’ll just have to go again next year.


Inside The Mind of a Killer: Researching Your Antagonist

So there I was, minding my own business writing one of those truly twisted novels that grabs hold of you and has to come out when I came to the killer’s debut. I’d never attempted to write a character quite so creepy and wasn’t relishing that first passage. In fact, I continually wrote around him, putting off the scene until I felt I could do justice to him instead of creating a killer cliché. Yes, I could have abandoned the effort and gone on to something else, but a disturbing dream I’d had several months prior provided the inspiration for the story and I felt compelled to follow it through. The result was my novel, Serial Date.

ImageHow do you write a fresh psychopath? Readers today have been clubbed over the head with serial killers (pardon the pun) to the point that it’s become a joke in many literary agencies and publishing houses. The only way I could think to do it was to go to my default: research. I love learning new things. Researching has a way of surprising you with oddball connections, often to be used in ways you’d never expect. A reference here, a notation there, it’s similar to a treasure hunt. Like I said, I love research.

Until I started to investigate killers.

Now, I haven’t lived what anyone would call a sheltered life, but I’d so far avoided learning specific details about the habits of serial killers. The information I came across in my search made my skin crawl.

Reality is so much more frightening than fiction.

The information creeped me out to the point I’d find myself vacuuming the living room, unsure how that Hoover ended up in my hand. One thing to understand about me: I don’t like housework. I’ll let dust and dirt accumulate until I can’t find the couch or someone decides to visit. Apparently, I found something I like even less.Image

I followed this routine whenever I delved into the bizarre world of a psychopath, and though you could eat off my living room floor, my manuscript was going nowhere. No closer to fleshing out my killer, (I know- another pun. Sorry) he wouldn’t budge from the twisted caricature of a human being I’d created and I was close to giving up. Sure, I could give him odd quirks and mannerisms, but it felt as if I was making him play dress up: all show, no substance.

That is, until I dug a little deeper and discovered the science behind the psychopath. A series of articles on NPR.org (http://n.pr/vVfWlF ) discussing the biological basis for psychopathic behavior led me ever deeper into the complexities of a killer’s mind. Fascinated, I began to read white papers on personality disorder, multiple personalities, cannibalism and the like. Where once I’d been stymied by what motivated someone to kill, an ocean of ideas began to form around what my antagonist’s early life was like, his taste in music, food, what made him tick.

Soon, I had seventeen pages of articles, notes and sketches, all revolving around my antagonist. I knew him, knew what made him get out of bed in the morning, why he chose the victims he did. Most importantly, I knew how he justified killing. That was my ‘eureka’ moment.

Understanding my antagonist helped me move past the visceral recoil from the heinous crimes I read (and wrote) about and gave a more human face to the killer. I learned there’s an entire area of scientific inquiry emerging that uses genetic testing and MRIs to map the brains and biological processes of psychopaths, on occasion admitting the results of these tests as evidence in court trials.

Can the fact Imagethat a person has the genes and/or brain structure associated with violent behavior be enough to reduce a defendant’s culpability in a trial? It’s a new take on an age-old question.

Whatever the answer may be, for now I can’t wait to write the killer’s scenes and try to work in some small kernel of research to help the reader understand him better. Yeah, still pretty creepy, but it worked.

Now, where the heck is that couch?

Originally posted on The Unpredictable Muse and Indies Unlimited


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