Tag Archives: Dashiell Hammett

#atozchallenge S is for Sociopath


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2019

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Sociopaths are scary people. They are cold-blooded, their conscience is weak, and they do not play by the rules most of us learn early on. What’s worse, they are often attractive and can pass themselves off as perfectly wonderful people.

Sociopaths make useful characters in stories. In real life, they can be terrifying.

When I was still a teenager, I worked for a man who seemed like a lovable teddy bear, a great father, and a fun boss. Bit by bit I discovered the truth he kept hidden behind this lovely front. The man was a sexual predator, a child molester (his own), and he let his girlfriend deal drugs out of what amounted to the “back room.” I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten out of that situation in one piece.

Writing about someone like this man is not simply a matter of devising some well-deserved and precisely constructed karmic annihilation. Sociopaths know how to spot the types of people who will play right into their hands. Sociopaths can make you feel wonderful, get you to open up about yourself, and then they will use all of that against you in the most heartless, vicious, and efficient ways possible.

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If you want to create a sociopath in a story, bear in mind that a sociopath has Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This can present with a variety of symptoms. The particular symptoms an individual shows will vary according to genetics, the family environment, and other factors such as alcoholism or substance abuse. One of the most common traits is expert manipulation of other people. This is where the weak conscience is a factor. Sociopaths might know what they’re doing is wrong, but they don’t care. They will use and abuse other people to whatever extent is necessary just to get what they want.

It’s easy to think of sociopaths as being monsters. They can be, but they’re not always the worst sort out there. People sometimes confuse “sociopath” with “psychopath.” I once attended a lecture by the psychologist and profiler who worked with Ted Bundy. It was that man’s opinion that psychopaths are made, not born, through key events in their lives. This is even more true of sociopaths, because they are more common and the psychiatric “starter kit,” so to speak, can be shaped by a wider variety of influences.

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A character with sociopathic tendencies can make an excellent good guy, if only in the antihero sense. Take a close look at the classic noir detectives such as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. They have their own codes of conduct. They might acknowledge the authority of police and the courts, but they play by their own rules and deliver the punishments they believe are deserved.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, Fiction, historical fiction, publication, research, Writing

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #27


by Lillian Csernica on May 27, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Past inspirations and experiences will be helpful in your job.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

Ellen sat at one round marble table. It was just big enough to hold her laptop and a cup of overpriced coffee. As she surveyed the earnest faces clustered around the grouping of three little tables, she wondered if she should have ordered a double espresso. Three women in the fifty-plus range. Two men, one a retired welder and the other a skinny, twitchy fellow in his thirties. She knew better than to make assumptions, but these people looked about as exciting as the smell of boiling brussel sprouts.

The mission in St. Petersberg had been way too exciting. Two assets dead, a safe house blown up, and bad blood with the other agencies involved. Ellen came out of it with a concussion, internal bruising, and eight weeks’ mandatory leave while the investigation tried to sort out who screwed who when. Her agency’s psych team recommended she take up some quiet hobby.

Birdwatching had felt too much like surveillance work. On the plus side, Ellen had called in three drug deals, two stolen cars, and the beginnings of a home invasion.

One quilting class convinced her that she’d become a chess master before she got the hang of all the patterns and pieces.

Knitting was right out. As Ellen’s supervisor had put it, “Anybody who puts a pair of needles that long into Ellen’s hands better bring a big stack of body bags.”

So here she was, at a local writing group.

Felicia, the group’s “facilitator,” tapped her spoon against her coffee cup. She beamed a perfect PTA Mom smile. “I’d like to welcome you all to the first meeting of this session. Why don’t we start by introducing ourselves. Tell us your name and you preferred genre.”

Ellen let the names wash past her in the general noise of the coffeehouse. The ’60s rock on the PA system combined with the bean grinder to trigger the beginnings of a headache. A fine excuse for more caffeine. Her turn came.

“Ellen. Nonfiction.”

“Any particular kind?” Felicia asked.

For a moment Ellen was tempted to say forensic archaeology. At the agency she’d developed a reputation for being able to guess time of death to within half an hour on a fresh body, and to within a week on anyone they had to recover.

“Oh, you know. Household hints, Martha Stewart stuff.”

She’d looked up various women writers, hoping to work up some kind of profile she could match. Back of the book photos qualified as glamor shots among the literary intelligentsia. Ellen had found the genre writers more to her liking, especially the fantasy and mystery people. With them in mind she wore jeans, a T shirt with a Dashiell Hammet classic cover, and a gray cardigan.

“Let’s get started,” Felicia said. “Fifteen minutes for our first writing prompt.” She tapped a few keys on her laptop. “Here we are. ‘Journeys end in lovers’ meeting.'”

Everyone grabbed their pens or bent to their keyboards. Ellen stared at the blank page. Her journeys ended in meetings, all right, but not with lovers. There was no love lost between her and the people the agency sent her to “meet.”

“Ellen,” Felicia murmured. “Remember, keep the pen moving.”

The man lay there on the sidewalk, surrounded by pieces of the shattered window glass. It was almost pretty, the way the streetlights’ sodium glare reflected off all the shiny bits, giving the man a halo in death he’d surely never earned in life. Did he have a wife somewhere? Would she miss him? Time would pass. Sooner or later she’d realize he was never coming home. Would she cry? Would she miss him? Or would she heave a secret sigh of relief? So many problems solved, so many arguments that now would never happen. There were loose ends. There were always loose ends. That’s why God invented scissors. A few discreet snips here and there and everything would be nice and tidy. She’d always been an independent woman. Now she could enjoy a more complete freedom.

Ellen smiled. Maybe this writing thing would work out after all.

END

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