Conversation With Rami Ungar

Author Rami Ungar are doing a blog exchange today. He is interviewing me on his blog, and I am interviewing him on mine.  On his blog, I answer the questions you always wanted to know about me, such as how I got into writing and what books I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island. So be sure to check out my interview: Conversations with Pat Bertram.

Meantime, meet Rami Ungar.

snakeRami, What is your book about?

“Snake” is about a young man (and I mean young) whose girlfriend is kidnapped over the phone. Later events cause him to have a break with his sanity and he becomes a serial killer, determined to hunt down every member of the mafia family that has his girlfriend. It’s a very dark thriller, and it’s very unusual to have the serial killer as a protagonist. I’m hoping that will allow people to enjoy the story more, though. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I guess maybe it was the movie “Taken”. Yeah, there are plenty of similarities, but it’s definitely it’s own story. That’s actually what I wanted: I wanted to create a much darker story than “Taken” portrayed, though that was pretty dark in itself. I like to think I’ve succeeded in that respect. We’ll see what the reviewers say.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Probably time and school work. You want to devote all your time to writing, but inevitably things get in the way, and you end up taking several breaks. In the end it took me six months to write this book, though if I’d had more time to work on it, I might have gotten it done in half the time.

Tell us a little about your main characters.

First off, we have the Snake, our very unconventional protagonist. He’s gone through a great change, and it’s why he’s the killer he is now. I purposely did not reveal his real name in the novel, because I wanted to imply that we all could become like the Snake under certain circumstances.

There’s also Allison Langland, my main character’s girlfriend. Unlike other damsels in distress, she’s a bit more proactive. She doesn’t waste away in a cell hopeless or hoping to be rescued. She’s a fighter, and I love that about her. I think that’s also why the Snake loves her, come to think of it.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

I did plenty of research on New York City, where the story takes place. I also did research on serial killers and psychopathy, the better to understand what sort of character I was constructing. I even had a forensic psychologist and profiler give me his diagnosis on the Snake based on crime reports I created. All in the name of authenticity.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, it’s an unusual story, so I think that might get people interested. And if people really take the time to check it out, I’m sure a few of them will end up enjoying the story and identifying with the characters. That’s the hope, anyway.

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing another thriller novel, as well as editing the sequel to my previous novel “Reborn City”. I’m also working on interviews, blog posts, and articles. As usual, I’m busy as a bee.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I guess I’m aiming for readers who like what I like. That means Anne Rice, Stephen King, and James Patterson, with a dash of manga and anime. Don’t know how many people are like that, but I’m trying to find them.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I could probably spend hours philosophizing about that. There are many, many components that are needed to make a good story. But in brief, a good mastery of vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, a good plot and wonderful characters, and hard work will make for a good story.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Read, write, work hard, and never give up.

Where can people learn more about your book?

Where Snake is available: http://www.amazon.com/Snake-Rami-Ungar/dp/1495434931/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1402622066&sr=8-3&keywords=rami+ungar

Blog: http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RamiUngarWriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RamiUngarWriter

Serial Killers and Sociopaths

Despite fads and new genres, serial killers endure as a favorite villain for writers and readers alike, though I lost my taste for such books years ago. For one thing, too many writers use killing as a cheap way of escalating tension, with each murder upping the ante. For another thing, too many writers perpetuate the serial killer myth of the white, middle-class, intelligent, charming male about thirty-five years old.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychologist, debunks this stereotype in a guest post she did for this blog: Serial Killers and the Writers Who Love Them: Facts about Popular Myths. As Ramsland points out, “Serial killers are not all alike. They’re not all male. Some have been as young as eight or older than fifty. They’re not all driven by sexual compulsion. They’re not all intelligent, nor even clever – often, they’re just lucky. They’re not all charming. A single killer may choose different weapons or methods of operation, although they will tend to stay with whatever works best. Even with rituals, the basis of a ‘signature,’ they often experiment and change things. They might be profit-driven, in search of thrill or self-gratification, or compelled by some other deep-seated desire, fear or need. Occasionally, serial murder is about revenge or it’s inspired by a delusion. In most cases, the killer does not wish to be stopped or caught. Yet a few do intentionally undermine themselves or stop of their own accord. Some rare killers have even professed remorse or killed themselves.”

Far more fascinating to me are the sociopaths who don’t kill. Some psychologists estimate that there are thirty thousand mindpsychopaths who are not serial killers for every one who is. (Some professionals use “sociopath” and “psychopath” interchangably as I am doing and some argue there is a difference, but oddly, no one seems to agree on what those differences are.)

So who are these non-killing psychopaths? Your neighbor, perhaps, or your mother-in-law. Probably many politicians and scientists. Possibly even you.

(In A Spark of Heavenly Fire, Peter Jensen says: “I have a theory, entirely unproven, that a lot of psychopaths gravitate to the sciences, biology especially, where they can hide behind that famed scientific detachment. They can also torture animals in the name of science, and no one calls them insane.”)

Even if you don’t write crime fiction, familiarity with the sociopathic personality can help you create dynamic characters and even interesting dialogue. For example, sociopaths frequently use contradictory and illogical statements such as “I never touched her, and anyway, she wanted it.”

A sociopath has difficulty connecting to others, though people often like them. They can be charming, glib, witty, and use captivating body language. (Sounds like a politician, doesn’t it?) Because of their impulsiveness, need for excitement, no need to conform to societal standards, poor behavior controls, and lack of responsibility, they can be fun companions, but because they lack empathy, conscience, and remorse, they can never truly connect with anyone.

One characteristic that keeps a sociopath from being a good fiction hero is that in fiction heroes need to change during the course of the novel, and sociopaths have solid personalities that are extremely resistant to outside influences. But, being the manipulative creatures that they are, they can make us believe they have changed.

In a relationship, such manipulation might be intolerable, but in fiction, it makes for a interesting character, even if the character isn’t a killer.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Story Behind “Stalking Susan” by Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer, author of Stalking Susan is here as my guest to to tell us the story behind the Susans:

Because the plot in my debut thriller involves a serial killer targeting women named Susan, people want to know if I have a special enemy by that name. I don’t. STALKING SUSAN is not a personal tale of revenge.

But some stories stay with journalists long after the newscast wraps. A decade ago, as a television news producer, I covered two cold case homicides that inspired me to write STALKING SUSAN. The cases involved two women, both named Susan, murdered exactly two years apart in St. Paul, MN.

My debut story is not their story. That’s why I use the word ‘inspired,’ rather than ‘based on.’ Their cases remain unsolved. But in the world of fiction I was free to ask myself, what if?

Being a career journalist it’s no surprise I’m a rip-it-from-the-headlines writer. But transitioning from writing news to writing fiction did come naturally. It felt like cheating. And it was work to overcome that feeling. Apparently though, I do have an imagination – a vivid one – and it kicks in for the conclusion, if not the set up.

When I wrote STALKING SUSAN, I changed the victims’ appearances, occupations, and the times and locations of their deaths. I also added more victims. I changed their last names and almost changed their first name. But I decided to keep Susan because I never forgot them and I wanted others to remember them, too.

I don’t recommend other authors give their characters the same name — I ended up with five Susans — it complicates storytelling and character development. But if I’d changed their names to Mary, I’d have ended up with a completely different plot. Because the twists in STALKING SUSAN come from using name origination and famous Susans in history as clues. Because of this, readers named Susan tell me they love the story because it makes them feel special.

When it comes to the world of news, It’s the stories without resolution that tend to stick in reporters’ minds. Besides the parallels of name and date of death – which could end up being completely coincidental – what attracted me to these cases was that they were unimportant murders, buried deep inside the daily newspapers with no real follow-up. Fifteen years later a reporter colleague and I made a run for tips and answers and came up empty. That’s how it usually ends in newsrooms, no matter what you see about reporters in the movies or read in books.

In real life, journalists don’t often catch the killer, so writing this book was a little like living a news fantasy.

But it really was just a fantasy, because bottom line, someone, maybe more than one someone, got away with murder. So any opportunity to keep the names of the true victims out there, is a good thing. So here goes:

Susan Ginger Petersen, age 28, was strangled May 17, 1983.
Susan Jean Rheineck, age 16, was asphyxiated May 17, 1985.

Their murders have never officially been connected. Not by DNA, witnesses or any other evidence. But some similarities in the crime scenes are suggestive.

Now the St. Paul Police Cold Case Unit is taking a fresh look at these murders, and privately investigators are saying wouldn’t it be funny if fiction brought attention to bring tips to solve the crimes after all this time.

To learn more about the author visit http://www.juliekramerbooks.com

Julie Kramer: Stalking Susan

Your Mother-in-Law, the Sociopath

Anyone who writes crime fiction, especially novels about a serial killer, is familiar with the sociopathic personality. But not all sociopaths are killers. Some psychologists estimate that there are thirty thousand psychopaths who are not serial killers for every one who is. So who are these non-killing psychopaths? Your neighbor, perhaps, or your mother-in-law. Maybe even the psychologists who came up with the sociopathic profile. Possibly even you.

Abused children who were not born with a sociopathic personality usually grow up to lead normal lives. Sociopaths who were not abused usually grow up to lead normal lives or lives that mimic normalcy. Sociopaths sometimes become killers because of childhood abuse, and sometimes they become killers simply because they want to. (The killer in the Dutch version of The Vanishing was a classic sociopath who killed to see what it would feel like.)

Even if you don’t write crime fiction, familiarity with the sociopathic personality can help you create dynamic characters and even interesting dialogue. For example, sociopaths frequently use contradictory and illogical statements such as “I never touched her, and anyway, she wanted it.”

A sociopath has difficulty connecting to others, though people often like them. They are charming, glib, witty, and use captivating body language. Because of their impulsiveness, need for excitement, poor behavior controls, and lack of responsibility, they can be fun companions, but because they lack empathy, conscience, and remorse, they can never truly connect with anyone.

Other characteristics of the sociopath are shallow emotions, egocentricity, lying for no reason, no need to conform to societal standards, the skill to detect and exploit the weaknesses of others. They are also well satisfied with themselves, never looking back with regret or forward with concern.

One characteristic that keeps a sociopath from being a good fiction hero is that in fiction heroes need to change during the course of the novel, and sociopaths have solid personalities that are extremely resistant to outside influences. But, being the manipulative creatures that they are, they can make us believe they have changed.

Sounds to me like an interesting character. With or without the killing.

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