Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Evil: Born or Raised?

The Bridgeman         Victim      Legacy     Seventh Fire
By day, I am a mild-mannered middle-aged retired elementary school Principal. By night, I am the writer of crime and mystery that often involved gruesome murders and twisted psyches. When people read my books, they usually look at me (or my mild mannered mild aged picture) and ask me where on earth I get the disgusting ideas for my crime novels. I often respond (somewhat sarcastically) have you read the newspaper lately?
I must admit that Abnormal Psychology was my favorite subject. Maybe I should try to explain before you call emergency services. I went to university after three years of teaching and many other years of wishing I were a published writer instead. When I planned my degree beforehand, I assumed that English would be my major. Then along came psychology, with its tug toward a topic by which I was mesmerized, not only in my teaching profession, but also in my writing. A perfect marriage.
I love writing crime and mystery. I love the fact that there is a puzzle or a problem, and almost always, a good solution. Most of the time, justice is served. The problem is solved, the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Therefore any social issue can be explored. There’s no place I won’t go if the story calls for me to go there.
On top of that, I had taught children. Some of them, to quote Jonathan Kellerman in his book on violent children, were “savage spawn”. Many of them were puzzles that I never solved in my real life. From my point of view, and that of the teachers in my school, the parents often appeared normal, caring, and just as puzzled as we were. Of course, there were times when it was obvious that the home background was fractured or dysfunctional or abusive. Those students we could explain to a certain extent.
The ones who appeared to come from average, dedicated and loving parents, and yet perpetrated some pretty wicked crimes, were the children I found fascinating. Sometimes I would look into their eyes and see nothing. Flat, dead, no-conscience, emotionless expressions. A few had a kind of glow that shone as bright and hurtful as a direct flashlight beam when they chose to turn their glare on you. I was hooked on what made them tick!
Then there were the kids from abusive, neglectful or insane situations who were sweet, kind, thoughtful people. The sort I employed as Peer Helpers because they knew how to read others and how to deal with deceit and cruelty.
There are theories that psychopaths have brains that are wired differently. They feel no empathy, are narcissistic and obsessed. Reader’s Digest once published an article entitled, “Psychopaths among us”. There are those who claim that a great number of CEO’s (those people who get paid millions of dollars to hire and fire) share a great many characteristics with psychopaths and sociopaths. They just use that extra “edge” and lack of sympathy in more socially acceptable ways.
The hidden evil in some people – the ability to wear a mask of nice while seething with twisted thoughts underneath – is even more fascinating to me. Once when I was driving through a small Ontario town, I had to wait at an old-fashioned drawbridge that spanned the canal. A man in a checkered jacket was working away at the wheels, a completely blank and bored look on his broad, plain face. I began to think – what if he were a murdered in disguise?
Thus was born The Bridgeman, my first mystery novel. “I deserve no more smiles, no friendship, no pity, no love, no feather or silk or fur, no soft skin.” My character had some self-recrimination, and turned out to be capable of love, so he was not completely savage, but he was close.
The story explores the man’s ability, however, to wear a mask on a daily basis, while he couldn’t seem to resist abusing the innocent. “If anyone guessed my secret, saw into my dark perverted heart, they would loathe me even more than I despise myself.” His words belie that fact that he went about his life, an ordinary life on the surface, yet was consumed with the thrill, the power of the destruction of another being. “I sliced and cut out the pieces of what had been a living, breathing, laughing, jumping, warm creature. I was its skin, its movement, its shape, its god, its creator, its destroyer.” And you thought Dexter was bad.
From my experiences in schools, or from the newspapers, where kids shot and killed other kids, burned down a house (with their families inside), tortured and maimed animals, my character, The Bridgeman, is not so far-fetched. Nor are the other diabolical characters in the ensuing novels of my series very far from reality. They are scary, but these people do exist.
However, what I love about the world of fiction – everything turns out all right in the end. Every time!
Catherine (Cathy) Astolfo
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