What causes people to become …evil?

In Canada, the media  is going wild with the gruesome story of Luca Rocco Magnotta who allegedly killed  and dismembered a young man. Allegedly, he  ate parts of the body and then shipped other parts around before he left the country. The first 2 parts arrived in government offices. The following week, 2 arrived in Vancouver schools. We hear this news reiterated on radio, TV and in the newspapers at a frequency of about every five minutes. The question being: where will the next one land?

The good news is that Magnotta was found in Germany and brought back to the country to face charges. Police departments throughout North America are checking their files to see if he could be responsible for some of their unsolved cases.

The real life horror story grows, fueled by details of despicable cat videos he posted on the Internet and his wild lifestyle. In the media it’s a feeding frenzy. So why would I want to add to such a ghoulish story?

The Vancouver Sun ran an interesting article exploring the ideas we’ve gathered around psychopaths (Are Psychopaths Hardwired to Hurt? by Sharon Kirkey 12-06-09, p. B3). What causes people to become so evil? For some time, the “Nature” camp has said it’s genetic (i.e., they are born that way…it’s in their blood), the “Nurture” camp has said it’s a result of societal conditions the individual grew up in (i.e., blame it on the parents<grin>), and then there’s the “Middle” camp that believes it’s a horrible mixture of the two. As Kirkey outlines in her article the debate is now fueled by research on the brain:

“…over the past decade, there has been a rush to research the brains of society’s worst criminals, with a stream of studies linking psychopathic bahaviour to physical abnormalities.”

The findings state:

“According to their brain scans, the prisoners with psychopathic traits had significantly smaller amounts of grey matter in regions associated with processing empathy, moral reasoning and self conscious emotions, such as guilt and embarrassment.”

“…One gene in particular has been implicated – MAO-A, which an enzyme which breaks down serotonin which affects mood and can have a calming effect.”

She also looks at the Nurture side:

“…abuse in childhood is common among those with psychopathic traits–abuse so relentless, ‘he has to anesthetize himself against it…and in the process…he also loses any touch of his own humanity.’ (Leyton)”

I still favor the middle position.

“…a combination of biological, biochemical, personal psychology and social environment that come together, very  rarely to produce this kind of abomination.”

I think we should focus on diagnosing mental illness  early on. Ask any school teacher. They know which kids act out and have no remorse, or empathy.  With school budgets constantly being cut, any counseling time that remains is used to put out fires and to help teachers implement proactive programs. It’s not enough. In a healthy society our public education system would be funded sufficiently to address the mental health of its students. It just makes sense.

How does this effect my  writing? My villains tend to be molded mostly by nasty backgrounds, because that’s believable to me and addresses my concern about society, how it treats children,and  the poor. It also leads to what I feel is one of the biggest issues in the murder mystery genre: justice. What is true justice?

5 Quotes from Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature paper burns, and the title of Ray Bradbury’s famous apocalyptic novel. It takes us to a futuristic world where books are burned. I remember reading it as a teenager and loving his ideas.

Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday. In his honor I’m posting 5 quotes from his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451. They say a lot about writing, books and life. Below the quotes I’ll put a video clip from AP on his life. Enjoy.

Quote 1

“There must be something in books, things we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Part 1

Quote 2

The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.(83) Wikiquote

Quote 3

The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They’re Caesar’s praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, ‘Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. (86)

Quote 4

Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. (87)

Quote 5

Somewhere the saving and putting away had to begin again and someone had to do the saving and keeping, one way or another, in books, in records, in people’s heads, any way at all so long as it was safe, free from moths, silver-fish, rust and dry-rot, and men with matches.

Quote 6 (okay, so I can’t count)

Some day the load we’re carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And some day we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steam-shovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them.” (163-164)

Note: quotes 2-4 come from Wiki Quote. The first quote comes from About.Com. My copy of the book is tucked away, cozy in a cottage bookcase.

3 Reasons I like Series

The Best Selling Book Series

I just finished reading  B.J. Daniel’s  Wrangled, her last book in the Chisholm Ranch series (Harlequin Intrigue). I thoroughly enjoyed it, and that got me to thinking about series. Why I like reading them and why I like writing them. It comes down to three points:

One: Comfort

If I like the characters and the setting in a story, I don’t want to let them go. I want to revisit them. Reading books in a series is comfortable … like slipping into your favorite slippers, the ones that fit just right. There’s nothing more relaxing than grabbing a book you know you’re going to enjoy and sitting down for a good read. Writing books in a series, is also comforting. You get to work with the same characters, settings and themes deepening them as you move along.

Two: An Intimate Relationship Between Writer and Reader

Call me crazy, but I think when you open a book in a series, you are embarking on an epic adventure with the writer. One you have agreed upon will further the last story, perhaps even enhance it. It’s an unspoken agreement with the storyteller. As a reader, and as a writer I love the connection. It’s somehow more intimate, because it’s long term. As a writer, I’m not saying here is a story I hope you enjoy it. I’m saying, here is my world, I hope you enjoy the many stories it contains. I guess I’m one for long term love commitments<grin>.

Three: The Big Hero

A series gives the writer the opportunity to fully develop a hero, over several stories. I’m a sucker for heroes. They inspire me and make me feel hopeful that whatever adversity befalls man, the hero will survive and pull us all through.

So…that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

A Unique Way to Catch a Murderer

“… Gamache knew it was the only way he could find a murderer. He listened to people, took notes, gathered evidence, like all his colleagues. But he did one more thing.

He gathered feelings. He collected emotions. Because murder was deeply human. It wasn’t about what people did. No, it was about how they felt, because that’s where it all started. Some feeling that had once been human and natural had twisted. Become grotesque. Had turned sour and corrosive until its very container had been eaten away. Until the human barely existed.

It took years for an emotion to reach that stage. Years of careful nurturing, protecting, justifying, tending and finally burying it. Alive.

Then one day it clawed its way out, something terrible.

Something that had only one goal. To take a life.

Armand Gamache found murderers by following the trail of rancid emotions.”

(Louise Penny, The Cruellest Month, p. 97 — Her debut novel)

Louise Penny is  one of the few writers I don’t skim. Her writing  makes me think, sends chills up my spine  and holds my imagination captive. It’s commercial fiction, but she is one of those writers whose prose is so rich with imagery and emotion that it blurs the divide.  I  savor her distinct style and imaginative storytelling. For a reader, discovering Louise Penny for the first time  is like discovering water in a desert.

I like this quote because the idea that you can catch a murderer by collecting feelings intrigues me. Following the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, fictional  detectives usually focus on evidence and deductive reasoning. But Penny’s, Chief Inspector Gamache from the famed Surete digs  deeper. He looks inside our heart…into our very soul and picks it apart.

Need I mention she opens with a seance and  a haunted house? She holds the reader with her skilled pen. “Her deceptively simple style masks the complex pattern of a well-devised plot” (New York Times)

CI Gamache intrigues me, and Penny makes me want to deepen aspects of my mystery writing. That’s what I’m thinking about today.

3 Quotes for Murdering Writers


All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.
Ernest Hemingway


“I was tired of seeing the Graces always depicted as beautiful young things. I think wisdom comes with age and life and pain. And knowing what matters.”
Louise Penny, A Fatal Grace
I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.
Agatha Christie
I’ve been working hard on my WIPs and don’t  have much left over for my dear  blog, so I thought I’d share three quotes today.
I particularly like the last one. I wonder how I could write such a sentence for myself. I suspect it would read: I specialize in passionate murders*** in intrigue. (I can’t seem to find the word for ***. Maybe “shrouded”, but how do you shroud a murder??? You see what I mean about not having much left over. <grin>
Hope you enjoy the quotes.

A New Laptop Disaster

This week’s musings from my writer’s loft:

Word Count: It’s like my weight problem. It goes up and down, and never in the right places or at the right time.

SoMe: My experiment with synching Twitter with Goodreads has been eye opening. I now have over 8 hundred followers on Twitter and over 2 hundred on Goodreads. While I’m active on Twitter I’m a “lurker” on Goodreads. I’ve joined the Agatha Christie group and two author Q and A pages.  I need to start pulling my weight and write some reviews or at least comments on books. That should splash into Facebook (I think).

It’s fun and interesting, but I sooooo want to work on my WIPs.  I feel torn. Just how social do I want/need to be?

It would be really bad if I forget my heroine’s name.

A New Computer…Disaster: She’s absolutely beautiful, a Toshiba ultrabook (Satellite Z830-00L).  Let me tell you why I fell in love with her:

  • “Ultra” refers to her being ultra-thin, half the depth of my old laptop. She weighs only 2.5 pounds, not much more than a large cup of coffee. This is important to me because I like to tote my work around (visiting grandkids, and cafes).
  • She has a hard disk drive which is hugely important. Older computers have drives that spin. They heat up, need ventillating and break easily. The solid state drive doesn’t.
  • It’s quiet (because it doesn’t need a fan to cool a whirling disk drive).
  • The battery lasts 8 hours. Woooohooooo. (I always forget my power cord).
  • It’s super super fast. I’m not sure why. I’d need to use Geek speak here, and it wouldn’t really change my point. It’s fast.

It’s not the computer for everyone. If you use your machine for gaming, managing your pictures, or video editing she’s not for you. But for writing she’s a Cadillac. I’m so excited

That being said, I am typing on my old laptop this morning, because I have managed to lock myself out of my new one. It’s a password problem. “Oh well,” I say. “PJ will be up soon and he can fix anything.” I type away. PJ gets up and some serious grumbling begins. We both know the password, but the computer, my thin little ultra, doesn’t know it.

Stumped by technology, again.

But I have faith that somehow we will break into this machine and I can get back to work.

I hope your week went well. Enjoy the sun. May the wind be behind you all the way.

…and may your passwords always work<g>

Parting with Dead Tree Books

A beach on Gabriola Island

We headed over to our cabin on Gabriola for the Victoria Day long weekend, with books, newspapers and a long list of To-Dos. I had my laptop, but forgot my power cord. Looking back I wonder if a part of me planned that. My only connection with the world was a cell phone, and that doesn’t work so well over there as signal strength is shall we say “occasional”.

Saturday, we drank in the sunny weather and spent hours on the back deck listening to the quiet. The island is more still than I ever remember it being. But the birds, and sea lions don’t care one bit.

Sunday was overcast and Monday it poured. There was plenty of time to do my list of  chores, basically a good thorough spring cleaning. But I’m getting older, so I work on spot cleaning and let go of any pretense of getting everything clean. What’s the point. It just gets dirty again.

My focus this weekend was on one book case in the guest room that has been overflowing with paperbacks for years. Every time I look at it I sigh with a mixture of disgust, at the disorderliness of it, and pleasure, remembering the  hours I spent reading those books. It’s a collection of mysteries, and thrillers written in the last century. Books you take on vacation. Books that remind me of times past when I read them. Books that have a place in my heart.

“It’s time to purge,” I say, armed with boxes and a dust cloth.

But these dead tree artifacts are treasure,” a little voice whispers inside of me.

I sort through the books. The pages yellowing and faded are crisp to the touch. I hold them carefully, memories flowing through my fingers. Words, stories–books — mean so much to a reader. They people our lives in a way nothing else can.

Can I let go of them?

I start tossing, gently. I keep my collection of Agatha Christie. That’s a given for me. But do I need a copy of every Nevada Barr, John Sandford or James Lee Burke? Kricky, it’s  hard. What about my Chrichton, Follet and …the list goes on… collections. “The books are not getting read in my basement,” I tell myself, ” but they will if they make it to a used book store.”

I have to do t his. I keep a sampling of each author, but I don’t have time to mull over which individual titles I want. I could be choosing the wrong ones.

Why the Hell didn’t I  start that reader’s diary I always intended to write. Why? Time, of course. It’s always about time. So I keep some in one box, and send others to the Used Bookstore box. It’s a painful process shrouded in dust and memories.

I surface after a couple of hours with three boxes to keep and three to send. I’m covered in grime and feeling a wee bit grim.

Getting rid of old clothes is hard, but books are harder. I found it particularly difficult because we are in the midst of a digital revolution. Will I ever be able to ‘have and hold’ theses stories in a paper book again? What about my grandchildren? I’m not usually sentimental, but this was excrutiatingly hard for me.

I’m not so good at spring cleaning.

Next trip…the vinyl record collection:)