Category Archives: P.D. Martin

10,000 words in one day? No way…WAY!

By PD Martin

I know there are some freaks of nature whose normal output is 6,000-10,000 words a day, but for most writers it’s anywhere between 1K-4K words per day. And so, it sounds impossible when you first hear or think about writing 10,000 words in one day. But it IS possible…I’ve done it (many times). In fact, on my debut 10K day I wrote 12,000 words!

I first heard about the 10K day at a writers’ meeting in Melbourne. I was well and truly intrigued — and excited. I tend to write between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day (and I’ve been told that’s quite a high output) but the thought of quadrupling that was mind-boggling. So I Googled 10K day to find out what it was all about. The basic rules are:

  • You write for four two-hour blocks (NO interruptions whatsoever).
  • You take a 10-15-minute break between stints. 
  • You stock up on food and drink in between each block so you don’t have to leave your seat during each session. 
  • You clear your schedule COMPLETELY for that day. 
  • You unplug the phone and internet (I know it’s hard, but you can do it). 
  • You don’t edit or review anything you’ve written – just keep writing (perhaps the hardest one to follow). 
  • You turn off your word processor’s spelling and grammar check so you’re not distracted by red or green lines. 
  • You complete any necessary research and/or plot outlining work before the 10K day (or you fill in the research later). 

It also helps to have a writing buddy. This commits you to the full day, and serves as further motivation when you phone each other or chat online (yes, you can turn the internet back on for the short breaks). It’s not only support, but I guess a bit of healthy competition too.

My 10K days generally look like this:
9am-11am – First writing block
11-11.15am – Contact writing buddy for a few minutes, then stretch and stock up on food/drink
11.15-1.15 – Second writing block
1.15-1.30 – Second break (as above)
1.30-3.30 – Third writing block
3.30-3.45 – Third break (as above)
3.45-5.45 – Final writing block
5.45 – Chat to writing buddy
5.50 – Collapse into a chair, almost catatonic (like this woman)

Coffee and chocolate can also come in handy. My preference is for quality coffee and chocolate (I love the Aussie brand, Haighs). Anyway…

 

What’s the output like?

The first question I get when talking about 10K days tends to be focused on the quality of the writing. Most people’s initial response is that the words on the page must be crap. Not so, I say.

First off, by not reading what you’ve just written, you’re cutting off the inner critic. So instead of thinking: “That sounds crap, how else can I put it?” or “Oh no, that’s all wrong!” you keep writing and eventually the critical voice realises you’re not listening to them today and gives up. And let me tell you, it’s incredibly liberating to silence that sucker!

Secondly, by not re-reading your work and virtually not stopping, you’re effectively following a ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style. Many times when I’ve read what I’ve written in my 10K day I don’t even remember writing it. And I’m almost always pleasantly surprised.

Admittedly the 10K day works really well for me because I don’t plan/plot, which means I can do a 10K day whenever I can clear one full day. I don’t have to plan for it by plotting out what’s going to happen in the next few chapters. I do, however, do a lot of research. But that’s easy to overcome in a 10K day. Your sentence might look something like this: She rested her hand on her gun, relishing the cold feel of the (gun make and model here) under her fingertips. Or maybe your character turns up at a crime scene that needs some detailed description. Simple: She pulled in behind the black and white. (Description of street/house here)

The point is, you don’t stop. You don’t stop for editing, for the inner critic, for research or for plot decisions. You just keep writing.

So by the end of the day, you’ve got 10,000 words, and rather than deleting those words you usually end up adding to them. You add in research details, you add in dialogue tags and you add in descriptions. Of course, you also edit to refine your writing, tweaking word choice and sentence structure as you go.

10K days are particularly amazing for dialogue (like I said, you can add the tags in later) and for moving the plot forward. In contrast, I can see they probably wouldn’t work well for literary writers.

Of course, you can’t use the 10K day to write a first draft in 8-10 days. At least I don’t think you could! I find the 10K day too much of a brain-drain for a daily or even weekly part of my schedule, but once a month seems perfect for me. And, let’s face it, a 10K day is a great way to get a large chunk of work done while also getting a more direct sub-conscious-to-page experience happening.

Try it out for yourself! You may not get the full 10,000 words, but I reckon you’ll approximately quadruple your normal output. A fellow writer friend who was my 10K buddy one day only wrote 5,000 words, but when her normal output is 1,000 she was overjoyed with 5K. And in some of my more recent 10K days I’ve only made it to 8,000 words or so. But who’s complaining? Not me! I juggle my writing with a pre-schooler and this year I’ve also been taking on corporate work so 8,000 words is massive for me.

So, what do you think of the 10K day concept?

PS I’ll be overseas when this goes live (in Ireland for my sister-in-law’s wedding) and I’m not sure if I’ll have internet access on 4 August. But I will check back in and reply to all the comments, so hit the notify check-box when you post.

PPS My daughter Grace is the flowergirl…so exciting!!!!

Welcome Aussie author, Katherine Howell

By PD Martin

Today I’d like to welcome fellow Aussie crime writer, Katherine Howell to Murderati. Katherine is an ex-paramedic turned author who uses her own expertise to create realistic characters and scenarios. So far, she’s won two Davitt Awards (Sisters in Crime Australia) and has recently hit the best seller lists here in Oz.

Her third novel, Cold Justice, has just been released in the UK. In Cold Justice, Detective Ella Marconi is on the trail of a cold case, an eighteen-year-old murder. Katherine is giving away three signed copies of Cold Justice to Murderati readers…scroll to the bottom for more information.

Katherine also has ties to other members of the Murderati gang, namely Tess Gerritsen – who had the following to say: “COLD JUSTICE races like a speeding ambulance, delivering so many surprises and thrills that you’ll scarcely have time to breathe. This was one of my favorite books of the year. Katherine Howell has written a real winner!” Katherine is delighted to be interviewing Tess in Melbourne at a Sisters in Crime dinner on Saturday 27 August. You can find out more at the Sisters in Crime website. I’ll be there 🙂

You use paramedics and police almost equally in your books. Can you tell us why you decided to do that?
I always wanted to write a crime series, partly because it’s what I love reading and partly because the idea of developing characters over a number of books really appealed to me. But I started the early drafts of Frantic with paramedic Sophie as the main character and no cop in sight! I felt I couldn’t write a cop point of view because I didn’t know the police world the same way that I knew paramedic life and worried about being able to portray it with convincing detail. I realised, though, that the story would be so much deeper and stronger if I could build the POV in, and also it was going to be a stretch to have a paramedic coming back in each book, especially if I was going to have her solve crimes! I needed to pull myself together and just do it. I have a number of cop friends who help with the facts of the job and draw on my own experience in being called as a paramedic to police stations and the cells and so on too.

And so Detective Ella Marconi was born. She’s about half of each book that I write. The stories involve one and sometimes two paramedics who get caught up in crime in varying ways—sometimes they’re called to a homicide scene, sometimes they find a body, sometimes they’re involved personally—then Ella is one of the investigators called in on the case.

What differences do you find writing a paramedic versus cop?
The main difference is their role in the story: Ella investigates and is fairly distanced emotionally, while the paramedics are caught up and drawn in and often are very emotionally involved. The way I write each point of view differs too: I’m very comfortable writing the paramedic scenes because of my years of experience there, but with the police scenes I’m continually questioning my detective friends over each little detail: what would the detectives say here? What would they do next?

Is Cold Justice based on something that happened to you while you were working as a paramedic?
Paramedic Georgie in Cold Justice was viciously bullied at her previous station, and when I was writing the book there were many reports in the media about bullying cases in the ambulance service and their subsequent investigations. None of this was news to me or to paramedics I knew, however. The things that happen to Georgie are a combination of tweaked stories that I’d heard, made-up events, plus a few of my own experiences. The plot however is fictional. While I use some elements of particular cases that I did (such as a burns case in The Darkest Hour), none of the plots as a whole are based on anything I did.

To date, your books are published in several countries, but not the US. How can American readers get copies?
There are some copies on Amazon, including for Kindle. I’ve heard that once you hit check-out you can’t actually get it due to territorial restrictions, but I know my Australian publisher was working to sell the ebook rights so maybe they’re now accessible. (If someone out there buys one, or can’t, could you let me know in the comments please?) Otherwise check out the Australian publisher’s site (www.panmacmillan.com) or any of the online booksellers. Or contact my partner’s bookshop (www.lovethatbook.com.au) and I’ll even sign a copy to you before it hits the post! If all else fails, you can read the first chapters at least on my website www.katherinehowell.com.

Tell us a bit about your writing day and space.
I have an office at home and I write at the computer (though now and again I like to take a notebook and sit in the sun). I get in there about eight or nine but I write best in the afternoons so unless I have a looming deadline I tend to spend the morning dealing with emails and working on whatever author talks or workshops I have coming up, and uni research (I’m doing a PhD in writing at the moment too). I have a big corner desk currently covered in edit notes and reports. My window looks out onto the garden, and in the co-worker department I have a big, fat, long-haired cat who sleeps in her bed on my desk and a Chihuahua pup who sleeps in a blanket on my lap. Lazy girls.

Win your copy
Win a signed copy of Cold Justice by guessing which of the following statements about Katherine is a lie. The first three correct guesses will win! 

  1. I used to have a pet goat whose name was Boris. 
  2. I have a tiny tattoo of a bluebird on my hip.  
  3. I was in an ambulance crash once and was unrestrained in the back at the time; but the only injury I got was a fat lip.  
  4. Once, while I was travelling alone back from the UK, I ran into my sister in Singapore Airport.
  5. At one of the Davitt award ceremonies I had to leave proceedings to play paramedic for a woman who’d collapsed in the toilet. 

Thanks to Katherine for being my guest today! She’ll be online to respond to comments and of course to check for winners.

Cult research – part 2

By PD Martin

So, in my last post I looked at cults and people who are drawn to join them. Even though this isn’t officially my research series week, I feel compelled to deliver part 2 today! And part 2 is all about the leaders of cults, the gurus. I’d like to make it clear at the outset that I’m talking about negative, destructive cult leaders such as Charles Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones and Shoko Asahara (leader of the Aum group who released poison in the Tokyo subway). 

Most NRMs/cults have a single leader, a guru who claims ‘enlightenment’ and promises salvation to his or her disciples or would-be followers.

There have been many fascinating books and articles written on gurus, such as psychiatrist Anthony Storr’s Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners and Madmen, a Study of Gurus. In this book, Storr explores specific gurus (one chapter per guru); however, his introduction is particularly enlightening for general observations. As well as identifying gurus as elitist, narcissistic, arrogant, anti-democratic and intolerant of even minor criticism, he also concludes that they often experienced isolated childhoods. Storr’s negative observations don’t stop there either. He goes on to say that anyone can become a guru if he/she claims spiritual gifts and has the gumption to do so.  

Gurus have also been ‘explained’ using two models – the psychopathology model and the entrepreneurial model. In a 2005 article for the Journal of Cognition and Culture, M. Upal talked about the first model, in which gurus have some sort of mental illness such as hysteria, paranoia or schizophrenia and experience hallucinations that they perceive as divine wisdom. Certainly Manson seems to be an example of this type of cult leader. The entrepreneurial model, as the name suggests, is more about the guru as entrepreneur – they’re in it for money and power. And there is a lot of power for gurus.

In most cults or NRMs, the members’ daily movements and routines are closely monitored and the guru usually has complete control over the disciples. This is an essential step in the guru’s wielding of power. Luna Tarlo, mother of American guru Andrew Cohen, has talked about how her son lashed out at his disciples. Although he justified it by saying that disintegrating the personality leads to finding a true sense of self, his mother (who was also a disciple for some time before leaving the NRM) ended up describing it as cruelty.  

One of the ex-disciples I interviewed for a non-fiction book I’m working on, talked about many acts of cruelty and humiliation in the cult she was part of. Punishments dished out by her guru included banning married couples from living together, making ‘disobedient’ disciples comb the streets and pick up trash from dawn to dusk, forcing family members and disciples to eat out of dog bowls and general verbal abuse.

Storr also talks about gurus getting pleasure from exercising their power over disciples by ordering them to perform meaningless tasks and/or by punishing disciples who stepped out of line.

It’s hard for many of us to understand this power of the guru. And while the power is often abused and is something ex-disciples site as negative, at the same time even these people have strong positive feelings about what a guru is, or should be. Luna Tarlo likened surrendering to a spiritual teacher to falling in love, in terms of intensity. And even the ex-disciple I spoke to said: “The relationship between the disciple and the guru is very, very sacred.  You are born on this earth to meet up with one person, and that one person is your guru.”

In terms of the dynamic between the guru and the disciple, it seems it’s difficult to explain. Descriptions range from spiritual saviour to abuser. In The Guru Papers, authors Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad describe the power of a guru over his disciples as the most absolute power in existence.

Whether that power is good or bad is something that’s debated by current NRM members and those who’ve turned their back on their old guru and cult life. For those willing followers, the guru is everything – their light, their reason for being and their saviour. But for ex-members, they often perceive their old gurus as someone who physically and emotionally abused them.

From a psychological perspective, cult leaders have been defined as having both narcissistic personality disorder and/or as being psychopaths. Some traits of narcissistic personality disorder include: grandiose sense of self, need for admiration from others, lack of empathy, preoccupation with fantasy worlds (in which the person has unlimited success, followers, etc.), exploitation of others, and arrogant behaviour. This certainly does gel with many gurus and their behaviour.  It’s even been said that NRM leaders possess similar traits to serial killers (!) in the way they take power and sex to the extremes (quoted by Upal (2005), original source Wilson (2000)). It’s certainly an extreme statement, yet some of the personality traits do seem to be shared. 

In Captive Hearts, Captive Minds Madeleine Tobais and Janja Lalich identify the following as characteristics of cult leaders:

  • glibness and superficial charm;
  • manipulative and conning behaviour;
  • grandiose sense of self;
  • pathological lying;
  • lack of remorse, shame or guilt;
  • shallow emotions;
  • incapacity for love;
  • need for stimulation;
  • lack of empathy;
  • impulsive behaviour (child-like);
  • early behavioural problems (conflicts with authority figures and/or poor academic results);
  • unreliable behaviour;
  • promiscuous sexual behaviour;
  • no real life plan (cult is the life plan); and
  • criminal or entrepreneurial versatility.

Many of these fifteen elements overlap with traits of narcissistic behaviour and some of the personality traits often displayed by serial killers. I’m sure the Murderati readers and authors who’ve researched or read about serial killers can see the overlap!

What do you think? Are the gurus who lead in this destructive manner like serial killers?

PS In my next post, I’ll be interviewing Aussie author Katherine Howell.

Cult research – part 1

By PD Martin

Welcome to the second blog in my research series (and to my first Thursday blog!). In case you missed it, I recently joined the Murderati gang and started off on Sundays for a few posts before moving to my new permanent spot of Thursday. And at the moment, every second post of mine will be looking at some of the weird and wonderful research crime writers do in the name of good books! And yes, coincidentally that’s back-to-back research posts from Murderati…I put it down to the collective unconscious. Hope you’re lapping up the research stuff. 

Today, I want to focus on some of the fascinating research I’ve conducted into cults (mostly for my fifth novel, Kiss of Death, although I’m also currently ghost writing a non-fiction book called Death in a Cult). In fact, I’ve got so much to say on this subject that I’ve broken the post into two parts! This first post will be a bit of an introduction and look at some of the psychology behind cult members. Then, next post I’ll focus on gurus. And I guess in some ways, this is the stuff that I would have loved to incorporate into Kiss of Death, but of course I could only use much smaller parts of it to avoid the dreaded research dump Allison brought up yesterday. I still think it’s a fascinating subject!

The word cult immediately rings alarm bells for most people – we think of Charles Manson and his murderous followers, of Jim Jones and the estimated nine hundred and seventeen members who died with him at Jonestown, of David Koresh and Waco and of the Tokyo subway poisoning by Aum. In fact the word “cult” has got so many negative connotations that cults themselves want to disown the term. And who wouldn’t when it paints a modern-day group with the same brush as Charles Manson, Jonestown and Waco?

So what is a cult? The Random House dictionary has several definitions – from the more neutral ‘a particular system of religious worship’ to the negative ‘a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader’.

By these definitions, cults have been around for thousands of years. For example, some hunter-gatherer tribes had a cult-like belief system and structure with the shaman as guru; the Assyrians around 880BC have been described as a tree-worshiping cult; and let’s not forget the recently revived Knights Templar and Opus Dei, which can easily be described as cults.

In the past few decades our understanding and tolerance of cults has increased, largely due to the many studies in this area. Scholars such as sociologists and psychologists have studied cults, cult members and their leaders. These scholars generally use the more politically correct term of new religious movements or NRMs for short.

It should also be noted that the bad wrap cults have is largely due to destructive cults. And while it’s these cults we tend to hear about in the media, there are thousands and thousands of other cults that simply go about their business.

NRM members

People outside cults/NRMs often wonder what sort of person is attracted to a cult. In fact, many people believe that cult members are somehow mentally unstable, depressive or simply weak. Psychologists have studied members, cults and their leaders (gurus) looking for patterns and commonalities. And some of the recent studies have revealed some distinctive personality traits in members and ex-members of NRMs. For example, a 2008 Belgium study looked at ex-members of NRMs and compared them to the general population and to current members of NRMs on certain self-reported personality traits. The study, conducted by Coralie Buxant and Vassilis Saroglou, identified four main areas of vulnerability: insecure attachment to parental figures during childhood; limited social relationships; negative life events; and a higher need for order. The negative life events were traumas such as the death of a loved one, marriage break up, major life-threatening illness, bankruptcy, etc.

Other research has found that people who join new religious movements often share characteristics such as: a sense of not belonging during childhood and adulthood; identity confusion or crisis; alienation from family; feelings of powerlessness; a recent psychological stressor; low self-esteem; and social anxiety. Notice the cross-overs from the list above.

Are cults dangerous?

History has shown us that cults certainly can be dangerous – but many cults are harmless.

Deciding whether a cult is dangerous – and how to deal with it – generally falls into the hands of law enforcement. In a 2000 article for the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, experts identify risk factors, neutral factors and positive or protective factors within NRMs.

Risk factors include:

 

  • a history of violent episodes or clashes;
  • the leader’s past or present state of mind and condition (e.g. violence, drug or alcohol abuse, etc.);
  • an abrupt reversal of direction (positive or negative);
  • recent attempts to obtain the knowledge to carry out a violent act;
  • recent purchases of weapons or other arms; 
  • training in the use of weapons;
  • instances of violence within the NRM;
  • setting an exact date for the imminent transformation of life on earth;
  • moving the date of that transformation; 
  • phrasing prophesies or predictions in a detailed and specific manner (otherwise they tend to be vaguer so the leader can’t be proved wrong);
  • envisioning an active role for the NRM in the coming transformation; and
  • having the knowledge, means and ability to carry out a plan.

 

And while some of these risk factors are obvious — it’s common sense that any group stockpiling weapons (or purchasing a tank like the one above!) is potentially dangerous — other factors are not as readily identified by the general public. However, it makes sense that if a guru is very specific, for example claiming the world will come to an end on a certain date, that they may plan a mass suicide of their followers before or on that date in ‘preparation’ for the coming Armageddon. 

The FBI article is also quick to point out that just because an NRM has one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean the group’s about to implode (suicide) or explode (committing violence against the public or law enforcement).

The authors also stress that a dynamic or situation that we may think is strange or dangerous, isn’t necessarily so. The neutral factors identified are: members offer absolute and unquestioning adherence to their leader and the belief system; the group physically segregates itself from others; and members adopt unfamiliar customs or rituals (i.e. diet, dress, language, etc.). In fact, these three factors are often present in all NRMs.

The law-enforcement experts also talk about “protective” factors – factors that will make a cult less likely to be violent. These factors are: members taking practical steps to plan for the future; and the group adopting routines and administrative processes (e.g. transcribing teachings and disseminating information about their group to others).

So, that’s it for cults and me today. I hope you were glued to the page/computer just like I was when I was reading these research materials!

I love to be in America

By PD Martin

First off, don’t forget to sing the title of my blog today, aka Westside Story.

After a couple of blogs on the writing/professional side of things, today I’m in holiday mode and thought my blog and state of mind should be one! At the moment I’m sitting in my Hawaiian hotel (Waikiki) and although we’ve only been here a few days, we’ve already packed lots in.  The fact that most of it revolves around the pool, food and shopping…

This isn’t our first trip to Hawaii, so maybe that’s why we’re not hitting the tourist sights as much as we ‘should’ be.

My first trip to Hawaii was in 1997, on my way to Canada. That trip was only four days long and marked the start of my one-year working holiday visa. I was only here for a few nights and it was party time! Then again, I was in my twenties.

My next trip to Hawaii was last year, when my mum shouted me for my 40th birthday. And yes, you now know how old I am! We called it the girls’ trip and it was Mum, my daughter and me. We had a great time and a few weeks ago Mum started dropping hints about how nice it would be to go back to Hawaii, but this time with my sister as well. So, here we are. And once again, my daughter’s prized possession, Pooh Bear, is along for the trip as an honorary girl.

It ended up being quite last minute, a June special. So it was all very sudden and very exciting! But it is quite a long flight from Australia (plus we had a couple of hours in Sydney) and I think Grace’s state on arrival says it all. This pic was taken in the hotel foyer, while we were checking in! We hoped maybe her cute collapse would get us a free upgrade to an ocean view but it wasn’t meant to be.

One of the things Aussies do when they hit the US, is shop. I kid you not. America has seriously cheap clothes. So, by day two we’d already been to Ross twice.  As I unpacked my day 2 shopping I did wonder if I needed THAT many ¾ pants (Capri) but you can never have too many when they’re like $9…right?

Of course, there’s only so much shopping a four year old can take, but we’ve also been hitting the pool for a couple of hours in the morning. The pool time is mostly for Grace, although my sister is a sun-lover.

Buffalo wings are also part of my American tradition. Yes, I know they’re terribly unhealthy but they are yummy! And although some places will advertise American-style buffalo wings in Australia, they just ain’t the same. So, on the second night we hit The Cheesecake Factory. Unfortunately, the wing experience wasn’t quite how I remembered it. I’m sure they never used to have any kind of crumbing or coating, but this time they did. Oh well, I’ll just have to try again another night.

For the trip last year, I also threw in a bit of research, in the form of a visit to the firing range. One night, after Grace was tucked up in bed and my mum was settled into the golf, I set out for my big gun experience. Gun laws in Australia, and my state of Victoria, are extremely strict and I thought Hawaii might be my only chance of firing an AK-47 and similar big weapons. It was certainly a once in a lifetime experience…there are really only so many times you need to fire a gun for research purposes.

Tomorrow is the factory outlets (more shopping), then a luau (Monday), Diamond Head (Tuesday) and finally a daytime catamaran sail (Wednesday). Then it will back to the Aussie winter. Brrr….

And maybe there’s a chance for one more go at buffalo wings!

What are your favourite haunts when on holidays? 

Research with bite

By PD Martin

Today I’m starting my research series. Once a month (i.e. every second blog of mine) I’m going to blog about some of the weird and wonderful research I’ve done in the name of crime fiction. From real-life vampires (today) to gurus and lock-picking… you’ll discover it all here!

So, vampires…seriously. And I should point out I did blog about some of this stuff when my fifth novel, Kiss of Death, first came out, but I don’t think any of you Murderati gang would have come across it. If so, please excuse the duplication.

It’s certainly hard to ignore the global phenomenon of vampires, with vampires definitely ‘in’. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a devoted following from 1996 to 2003 (including me), it was more of a cult following – nothing like the mainstream stars of the vampire world today. Many bookstores now have whole stands devoted to vampire books, and then there are TV shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries and the book-to-movie success of Twilight. These creatures of the night are, of course, fictitious…or are they?

What the average Twilight-devotee may not realise, is that there are people who really believe they are vampires. I’m not talking about people who dress-up like vampires; nor am I referring to individuals who think they’re nightwalkers and can only be killed by a stake to the heart. Rather, what I’ll call ‘real-life vampires’ are people who genuinely believe they need to feed on other people’s energy to survive, usually via a donor’s blood. These people have been studied to a certain degree by both the medical and psychological professions, although not in much detail.

So how did I stumble upon real-life vampires? It started as a concept for a crime fiction novel – imagine a victim drained of blood and a local cult of real-life vampires. Are they the killers? However, when I started the research I discovered my fictitious concept wasn’t so fictitious. Turns out LA has a thriving vampire scene – check out www.ladead.com or for the clubbing scene try www.barsinister.net. In my search for all things vampire, I interviewed a few vampires from different areas, including the US, the UK and Australia.

Russell from Sydney is a self-confessed vampire in his forties who describes vampirism as “the need for additional bio energy that the body cannot produce.” Merticus, who’s one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA) says: “Vampires are generally individuals who cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing without the taking of blood or vital life force energy from other sources; often human.”

My research turned up two types of real-life vampires – sanguine vampires who feed on blood, and psi-vampires who drain people’s spiritual energy. The traditional view of vampires is as blood-drinkers, but for real-life vampires it’s more about energy. Even those who exclusively satisfy their ‘thirst’ through blood usually talk about drawing out energy from the blood.

There are a few explanations currently put forward to explain claims of real-life vampirism. First off is the blood disorder porphyria, which is treated with haemoglobin, hence the connection to drinking blood. Not only do sufferers need blood, they are also sensitive to light, which gels perfectly with the vampire mythology. Problem is, if you drink blood it goes through the digestive tract and doesn’t enter the bloodstream. In other words, drinking blood wouldn’t alleviate porphyria symptoms. However many of the websites and forums I found suggested that real-life vampires are physiologically different, and have the ability to extract haemoglobin from the blood, even through the digestive process.

Then, there’s the psychological side of things and two major theories have emerged. The first is sexual sadism (vampire) coupled with sadomasochism (donor). By definition, sexual sadists derive pleasure from their partner’s or victim’s physical or psychological pain. Vampires are inflicting pain as they bite. Likewise, the donors could be seen as sadomasochists – people who need to feel pain to become sexually aroused.

The second psychological explanation for real-life vampirism is Renfield’s syndrome, named after Dracula’s insect-eating assistant Renfield. This psychological disorder is hypothesised to start with a key childhood event that leads the sufferer to find blood exciting. Blood and this sense of excitement is later linked to sexual arousal during adolescence, and into adulthood.

Of course, one simpler psychological explanation is that real-life vampires are suffering from delusions of grandeur. After all, mythological vampires are strong, powerful, perceived as sexy and almost invincible – pretty appealing, huh? Certainly the vampires interviewed in Carol Page’s Bloodlust: Conversations with real vampires came off as a little strange to say the least and delusional wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. In contrast, Merticus says of the vampire community he’s part of: “…the majority of our community are high-functioning, above average intelligence, sane, and rational members of society.”

In terms of the cause or reason for vampirism, the real-life vampires themselves are divided. Some say it’s physical, some say psychological, and some say it’s simply something you’re born with.

No matter how you explain real-life vampirism, the fact is these people really do exist. So, how does one become a real-life vampire? Unlike the vampires in fiction who are ‘turned’, real-life vampires talk about being ‘awakened’, usually as teenagers. There are lots of vampire dictionaries online, all with similar, if not identical definitions of awakening. In terms of the symptoms, the dictionaries talk about people preferring the night to the day and switching from nocturnal sleeping to diurnal sleeping. And, of course, developing “the thirst”, which refers to a thirst for blood and/or energy.

What happens if they don’t feed? Real-life vampires complain of headaches, stomach cramps and severe fatigue if they don’t feed, some even saying they’re unable to get out of bed in the morning. Russell’s in this camp: “If I do not regularly obtain energy I feel very drained and sometimes sick.” Others talk about severe mood swings and suggest they need other peoples’ energy to somehow balance out their own personality.

Are these people suffering from Renfield’s syndrome or poryphoria? Or perhaps they’re simply sexual sadists or delusional. Or is there some other, yet undiscovered explanation for individuals who experience a thirst for blood and other people’s energy?

At the end of the day it’s hard to know what the story really is with people who claim to be real-life vampires. Interestingly, my research did not reveal young Goth males obsessed with the vamp culture. Rather, I found older vampires who had nothing to do with the Goth scene. Research undertaken by the Vampirism and Energy Research Study backs this up, finding that 66% of the vampires who responded to the Study did NOT identify themselves as Goths and the average age was late twenties to early thirties.

There was, however, one thing that was unanimous on the forums I visited – they hate Twilight wannabes.

So, what are your thoughts on real-life vampires? Ever met any? Or maybe you are one.

And if you’re into book trailers, my bit of BSP (blatant self-promotion) is the book trailer below! Click at your own peril 🙂

 

Switching teams

By P.D. Martin

When you talk to agents or publishers about switching genres it’s usually met with jaws dropping, heads shaking and anything from mild disapproval to screams of “No!”

So why is it that switching genres can produce such a strong reaction? You’d think you were announcing to your family that you were switching teams. (If you’re a Seinfeld fan you’ll be following my analogy, but if you’re a little lost, here’s the missing piece of the puzzle: the characters in Seinfeld used to talk about people “batting for the other team”, which meant they were gay rather than heterosexual. And, as you’ve probably guessed, switching teams means changing sexual orientation.) So….

Why does something as seemingly small and insignificant as switching genres produce a jaw-dropping reaction? I mean, it’s just a genre, right? A story is a story. Right? Well, it’s actually more complex than that.

At this point, I should come clean. I’m a chronic genre switcher. (Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at my published novels – on the surface I appear to be a mystery novelist firmly entrenched in the police procedural/forensic thriller zone.) However, I DO believe a story is a story and I often get story ideas for a range of genres. For example, before getting published I wrote two children’s fantasy novels (which remain unpublished). Then for my third book I was deciding between three different ideas, all in different genres! I had one crime fiction, one action/espionage thriller and one mainstream women’s fiction. In the end, as you may have guessed, I chose the crime fiction story and wrote what became my first published novel, Body Count.

 

But the other novels and ideas have stayed with me, as well as new ideas. Another example…I’m a bit of a closet vampire fiction fan (I know, big confession) and after I’d written three Sophie books I wanted to write a vampire fiction book. But my agent convinced me to stay focused on crime, and Sophie. Why upset the apple cart?

What about my first two children’s books? People often assume it would be easy to get them published now that I’m a published author. To a certain extent the first books an author writes tend to be learning experiences, a way for them to refine their craft. Having said that, I still believe in one of my children’s books; I believe the writing is good enough. Problem is, it’s a different genre. Publishers and agents think of an author’s name as a brand. Promote the brand and keep the brand ‘strong’ by ensuring the author’s name is synonymous with a certain type of book. ‘P.D. Martin’ is crime fiction/mysteries/thrillers. And obviously I wouldn’t want to bring out a children’s novel under the same name anyway because I definitely wouldn’t want 8-12 year olds who enjoyed my fantasy novels to pick up one of my crime books!

So why not publish under a different name? It’s all about time and focus. After all, if you go and write a romance novel or a children’s fantasy series, that’s going to take time away from the mysteries, right? Basically, your agent and publisher(s) try to convince you to focus on writing in your current genre and at least one book a year. It seems that’s the magical formula in publishing. Of course, genre hopping can be more easily done if you can write two books a year – then you’d still be bringing out one book a year in each series.

I’ve scrapped the children’s fantasy novels, at least for now. But I still want/wanted to do something different. After five Sophie novels and one ebook novella, I went back to my action thriller idea and I’ve just finished writing that book.  While it is very different to my Sophie Anderson series, crime fiction and action thrillers aren’t SO different that my new one couldn’t be a ‘P.D. Martin book’. At least, I think it’s okay.

Of course, there are authors who have successfully crossed the divide. One that comes to mind is Nora Roberts. She started off with straight romance novels and then moved on to romantic suspense, writing as J.D. Robb. Although, interestingly, the books bear both of her names, with the byline “Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb”. I also noticed from Wikipedia that she’d always wanted to write romantic suspense but was persuaded by her agent to stay focused on romance until she built a following. In fact, it was over 10 years before she finally got her wish to write romantic suspense and it was partly in response to her prolific output.

Scottish author Val McDermid also has a series she writes under V.L. McDermid. However, the rationale is not genre-based because all her books are mysteries. Rather, her V.L. books feature a lesbian protagonist (batting for the other team), while her Val books are considered more ‘mainstream’.

Murderati’s own Tess Gerritsen is another example of an author who successfully switched genres. She started with romantic thrillers and then moved to medical thrillers, then crime thrillers. Interestingly, she HAS written all her novels using the same name and said when she changed from romantic thrillers to medical thrillers she considered releasing them under a different name but ultimately decided against it. Tess sees advantages and disadvantages. When she switched genres, she felt that she’d built up an audience and didn’t want to lose them. However, she says the romance novels continue to annoy her purist thriller readers. “But in the long run, I think it’s been good for sales,” Tess said.

Another author who’s shifted genres but all within the same ‘brand’/same name is Philippa Gregory. Probably most well known for historical fiction she’s also written thrillers and her Amazon bio describes her as the pioneer of “fictional biography”. The Other Boleyn Girl is a well-known example.

I guess these genre-switchers are good news for me…especially given the book I’ve just started working on is best described as a “mainstream women’s fiction”. I know, something different again! (Please don’t shake your head at me.)

Unfortunately my agent passed away late last year and I’m currently on the hunt for a new agent. This means I don’t have anyone to berate me for switching genres or to warn me against it. A new found freedom? But will querying with an action thriller and a work in progress of a women’s fiction make it harder for me to find a new agent? Only time will tell. And maybe I should be on the lookout for an agent who’s also open to children’s fantasy – just to really get their jaws dropping and heads shaking. Come on, people…I’m switching genres, not teams

So do you like your authors to keep their genres straight up? And the writers out there…are you closet genre-switchers like me?

Cinderella made me do it

By PD Martin

Here’s the thing…this week I found myself getting into the hype surrounding the wedding, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (unlike Cordelia’s post yesterday, I am going there!). There…I’ve said it. I have publicly confessed! But why was I suddenly so intrigued in the few days before the wedding? What is it about this ‘story’ that captures our attention?

At this stage, I’d like to point out that although I’m an Aussie and therefore officially part of the Commonwealth, I would prefer it if Australia was a republic. In other words, I’m definitely NOT a monarchist. I also do NOT have a fascination with the royals. In fact, I really don’t care what they do and don’t do in their daily lives. I certainly never read the tabloids, nor am I into royal fashion. And while I’m not a tom-boy, I’m certainly no girly-girl either. So I was only vaguely interested in what the dress might look like. Despite all this, somehow the story of the ‘commoner’ Kate Middleton marrying a prince…well, it was making my heart flutter! Yup, there’s the second confession of this blog. I was totally into the hype and my heart was fluttering before the wedding even started.  

Despite these confessions, in NO way do I take responsibility for what I was feeling. Instead, I blame my daughter. It’s because of her that I was swept up in the romanticism of an average girl marrying a prince. My daughter may only be four, but she’s got a lot to answer for!

About six months ago, I first read her the tale of Cinderella. As a woman today, this fairytale (and many others) does unsettle me a little. Will my daughter be waiting for a man to sweep her off her feet or rescue her like the fairytales? I know chivalry isn’t dead, but it is on the decline. And the idea of a man falling in love with a woman he dances with for a couple of hours and then marrying her as soon as he finds her? Mmm…I guess that’s why they call it a fairytale. Don’t get me wrong, I am an optimist and my husband and I met, fell in love, and got married very quickly, so I know it’s possible to feel like it was meant to be, like it was out of a fairy tale. But still…Cinderella? One night?

Anyway, just about every night for the past six months Grace has pleaded for Cinderella as her bedtime story. See…it’s not my fault I was intrigued by the wedding! The Cinderella story has been rammed into my brain just about every night for the past six months. Who wouldn’t succumb? And that’s what I told myself when I switched on the TV at 7.30pm Aussie time and watched the wedding.

Cinderella is a powerful story – and I think that’s the other reason I got caught up in the wedding mania this week. It’s weathered the storm of time (don’t you just love that expression) and it’s had many new twists.

According to Wikipedia (all hail Wikipedia!) the roots of Cinderella may be in 1BC, and in the story of a girl called Rhodopis who lived in Ancient Egypt. In that story, an eagle snatched one of Rhodopis’s sandals and carried it to Memphis, dropping it on the King. The King was so taken by the sandal and the fact that it had been delivered by an eagle, that he ordered the girl to be found and brought to Memphis to become his wife. Yup, that sounds like Cinderella, doesn’t it? We have the shoe.

There’s also a version that’s been found from 860(AD) China. It’s called Ye Xien, and in that story a young woman befriends a magical fish that is the reincarnation of her mother, who was murdered by her stepmother. She loses a slipper after leaving a festival and guess who finds it? The king, of course! He falls in love and I think you know the rest. So now we have the wicked stepmother. And is the fish effectively the girl’s fairy godmother?

There are also aspects of the Cinderella story in Arabian Nights, and in the story of Cordelia from pre-Roman Britain (around 55BC). Both of these tales feature jealous siblings. A more recent similarity can be found in the 1634 tale of Cenerentola. This story had a wicked stepmother and stepsisters (plus the slipper and the King searching for its owner). So now we have the stepsisters.

And it was in 1697 that the Frenchman Charles Perrault added in the pumpkin, fairy godmother and the glass slippers.

If this Cinderella history has you intrigued, check it out on Wikipedia (even if it’s purely to justify why you watched the royal wedding).

There have also been many modern day twists on the Cinderella fairy tale. There are far too many to list here, but a few come to mind. Pretty Woman was deconstructed by many as a modern Cinderella story (even though many elements were missing). And then there was Ever After (starring Drew Barrymore) and Happily N’Ever After (a retelling of the story from the point of view of one of the royal servants who’s in love with Cinderella).

 

 

And in terms of the power of the Cinderella story, we also have the theory that the Cinderella tale is one of the ‘base’ plot lines, a story arc that many modern books and movies follow in some way.

So what does all this mean? Simply this: If you watched the royal wedding, rest assured it wasn’t your fault – you were wooed by the historic power of the Cinderella fairytale. We’re all excused.

And yes, the kiss was short but at least there were two of them. I clapped excitedly both times (confession number three), just like my four year old. Did you?

Write what you know…or maybe not

by P.D. Martin

This is my first Murderati blog and I’m really excited to be part of the gang – some great authors here!

You’ll see from my ‘tag’ that I’m “The Aussie”; however, while I am an Aussie my books are actually set in the US. But more about that later. Given it’s my intro into Murderati I thought I better actually introduce myself 🙂 before I dive into the main part of my blog, which looks at writing what you know.

I grew up with a love of books, and was particularly drawn to fantasy and whodunits. I graduated from Nancy Drew and Famous Five (remember them?) to Agatha Christie at the tender age of eight and in grade five I wrote my first crime novella.

From there I went on a bit of a detour into maths and science, which led me to psychology at university. At this time I was also singing (yes, something totally different again), and through singing and songwriting I rediscovered my love of writing. But it was not an easy road!

After writing three unpublished young adult novels, I decided to try my hand at my other early love, crime fiction. The result was Body Count, my first published novel. Now I have written five novels featuring Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson and one ebook novella.

So, now that you know a bit more about the newest addition to Murderati, I thought I’d focus on something I didn’t do when starting my crime fiction series…

There’s an old adage that’s often talked about when you start writing: Write what you know. It’s great advice, however, things don’t always go to plan!

Body Count is based on a dream (well, really nightmare) I had many years ago. In that dream, I was investigating the deaths of some friends. I was me, but I was also some kind of law enforcement officer. When I decided to turn the nightmare into a book, the first decision I had to make was about my protagonist. Would she be a cop? Crime-scene tech? What I was really interested in was criminal psychology; and so I decided to follow my gut and make my heroine a profiler.

My next step was research, which revealed that profiling wasn’t used nearly as much here in Australia as it is in other countries. It also seemed that the FBI was leading the way when it came to using profiling as a law enforcement tool.

So, now I had an FBI profiler (and ex-cop), but I’ve never been a cop or a profiler. My only link to this world was that I studied psychology and criminology at university. And to top it off, I was setting my book in the US, but I live in Australia.

So much for write what you know! At least my main character is an Aussie!

In many instances research can bridge the gap, including talking to people who are working in the field. It’s an invaluable step when you’re NOT “writing what you know”. The location can be tricky too, even with the wonders of Google Earth and Google’s street view. While these are amazing tools, it’s not the same as actually being there.

I’ve been to America several times, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to visit every location I’ve written about. Body Count was set mostly in Washington DC and Quantico, with a few scenes in Arizona. I managed to get to both DC and Quantico, but not Arizona.

The directions feature of Google Maps is also a great way to add in a sense of place – you can talk about your characters driving down particular streets and highways. Of course, the risk is that while Google Maps says to take certain roads from point A to point B, the locals might say something like: “You’d never take the I-10 at that time of day. Are you crazy?”

Google’s features are certainly fantastic tools for novelists setting their books overseas, and it also helps that I’ve got a few friends who’ve married Americans. So when I need to check an expression or a suburb in LA that ‘fits’ with my character, I’ve got people to call on.

I love visiting the States, and during my last trip I had great fun scouting out different locations for abductions, body dump sites, etc. That trip was to L.A., where my third, fourth and fifth books are set. And I also took extensive photos and video footage of one of my locations for book 5, Kiss of Death. I even posted some of the pics and video footage on my website for readers, as part of my ‘case file’ for Kiss of Death. One of the videos is below – it shows where my victim was attacked and the trail she would have been running down. Please excuse my commentary!

So, while there are disadvantages of NOT “writing what you know” I think it’s still possible to make it work. And on the plus side for me, any time I visit the US it’s tax-deductible!

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