Hey, all! So, we at Genre Talk here on The Novel Approach Reviews love you Awesome Readers so much that today we bring you tidings of… er, well, murder and mayhem. But in a good way! DSP Publications author Caleb James, as some of you may know, daylights as Charles Atkins, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and clinical trainer. Being the macabre—we mean generous soul he is, he’s agreed to give us a look at the inner psychological workings of the man (or woman) in the mirror. And to be honest, having read his work, we’re a little scared to look! So hold our hand, because here we go….
Free your Inner
Caleb James/Charles Atkins
Someone posted on a Facebook page for writers about their difficulty writing villains. My comment back was “Look in the mirror. That’s what I do.”
And yes, if you Google or Bing “the killer psychiatrist of Litchfield County,” I appear. But for readers and writers alike, people are far more alike than different. But when it’s time to construct wonderful villains, too many reach for the Snidely Whiplash overlay—cue maniacal laughter and/or bring on the ridiculously fluffy white cat. So, in 750 words or less, here’s some guidance on how you too can free the killer inside.
There are two basic ways to go—heat of the moment and predator—and it’s fine to mix the two.
In the first, he done her wrong. As betrayal and adrenalin surge, coupled with her history of abandonment and quite possibly childhood sexual abuse, she grabs a gun or knife and kills the bastard. Crimes of passion are more likely when you throw in drugs and/or alcohol. From a diagnostic perspective, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) fits the bill. The core feature is dysregulated emotion. These folks go from zero to a thousand in the span of a heartbeat and cannot calm down. What often sets them off is the whiff of rejection, whether real or imagined. When stressed they can become paranoid. Think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and keep your bunnies hidden.
For writers and readers of thrillers and mysteries—this is my sweet spot—it’s the Hannibal Lector predators who fascinate. Here too, a solid understanding of how the killer came to be is crucial to a satisfying read. There’s nothing worse than coming to the end of a thriller or true-crime novel and leaving without a visceral and intellectual understanding of why the baddie did the things he did. To use the Hannibal Lector example, in the novel Hannibal we’re finally offered the horrifying story of the murderous doctor’s childhood. After that everything makes sense, as we’re gifted with awful visions of the crucible from whence he came.
Here are some components to construct a convincing predator. Start early. While your reader might not need to know what happened to your killer between birth and age two, this is when major disruptions in attachment of the child to its mother or other dependable caregiver can lead to bad outcomes. Just like learning to walk and talk are expected milestones, so too are empathy and caring for others. These come from bonding, and if that doesn’t happen, the child grows in a way where their motivations are based on doing what makes them feel good, regardless of others. It’s the birthplace of the true sociopath, where his feelings are the only ones that matter. And if you have a bicycle that he wants, he’s going to take it. If you try to stop him, you will regret it.
Sociopaths have some other interesting attributes. They remain calm in stressful situations, lie adroitly, and disregard the rules. The most successful sociopaths, of which there are many, have high IQs. Medical schools, law offices, and politics are filled with them. Many studies have shown that sociopaths can make effective CEOs, as they’re more willing to take big risks, which if done wisely, can lead to big profits.
Finally, we need to discuss narcissism. And here you will absolutely mix this with your sociopathic paint set. Narcissists are very special people—at least they think so. Their universe starts and ends with them, and others are playthings and enhancements. In American Psycho we saw this perfect blend in a successful narcissistic sociopath.
The narcissist constructs their world, as much as they can, to reflect their own magnificence. On the plus side, they aspire to greatness. When things go south, it’s not their fault, it’s everyone else. They cannot tolerate criticism and have no sense of humor about themselves. As they climb the corporate ladder they kiss up to the boss and stomp on the fingers of those beneath them. And for the narcissist, revenge is a meal best served cold. They will watch and wait for the opportunity to get back at whomever has displeased them. Their victim won’t see it coming, but it’s going to be good.
So there we have it, a quick and dirty overview of gifts to give your villain—a horrifying childhood, impulse control problems, maybe a drug habit, and a personality disorder—pick which one(s) you like—and you’re on your way to gifting your reader with a convincing and creepy good time.
Exile (The Halfling: Book Two)
by Caleb James
Liam Summer, with the face of an angel and the body of an underwear model, has done bad things. Raised as the cat’s paw of a murderous fairy queen, his beauty has ruined many. When Queen May’s plot to unite and rule the fairy and human realms fails, Liam wakes naked and alone in a burning Manhattan building. Unaware the blaze is arson and he its intended victim, Liam prepares to die.
Enter ax-wielding FDNY firefighter Charlie Fitzpatrick, who Liam mistakes for an ogre assassin. As Charlie rescues Liam, he realizes the handsome blond has nowhere to go. So he does what he and his family have always done… he helps.
As for Queen May, trapped in the body of a flame-throwing salamander, she may be down, but she’s not out. Yes, she failed the last time, but Liam and others will pay. She knows what must be done—possess a haffling, cross into the human world engorged with magic, and become queen and Goddess over all.
As Liam realizes the danger they all face, he discovers unexpected truths—hat even the most wicked are not beyond redemption and that love—true love—is a gift that even he can receive.
About the Author
Caleb James is a pen name used by psychiatrist and author Charles Atkins, MD for his paranormal fiction. He lives and works in Connecticut, is a member of the Yale volunteer faculty, loves a flea market, gives a lot of workshops (including experiential writer’s trainings), and lives with his partner and too many cats.