Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Adina's Mental Health

As you know, Divergent Lives is a story that centers around the lives of fraternal twins separated at birth. Adina Cruz Rosario is one of the twins. Today I would like to examine Adina's mental health and show how the mental imbalance she suffers from is at the core of her actions in this story.

When puberty hits, it is a well known fact that hormones are raging and this is a very tenuous time for young teens. Family support, especially parental support, is crucial. Generally, your body is changing and your emotions are all over the place. There is angst to spare. Everything that is experienced by a young adult at this age is huge.

Adina began this process of her own human development during a time in NYC when a lot of change was happening. The women's movement was in full swing; America was in the midst of the civil rights movement and "political corrected-ness" was in its infancy.

Her parents are old world Puerto Rican immigrants trying to raise her with the ideals they grew up with. As the only child of these immigrant parents, Adina also had the burden of having been born after a difficult pregnancy so she was very much protected her whole life but especially so during the early stages of puberty. Many of the changes in her body were dismissed with comments such as "You're becoming a woman now" and "You are in the process of losing your innocence."

The protection of her virginity was over-emphasized and her very own value was dependant on her being able to present herself as a virgin to her future husband. If she couldn't do that, she was told over and over that she would go to hell because God would never allow her into the kingdom of Heaven if she were to die as an unmarried woman who wasn't a virgin.

As a teenager, Adina was not allowed to participate in sleep-overs. Friends outside of school were scarce. The friendships she did develop were superficial and those came much later -- during her years in college.

So she spent a lot of time reading, and she was very smart. She kept up with current events and she believed everyone had a right to choose whatever path they wanted in life.

At an early age, she became curious about sex and she turned away from her religious upbringing. She was arrogant in her rationale that religious zealots were uneducated and beneath her.

In her mid teens she fell in love with a young man from the other side of the tracks. She became pregnant then lost the baby in a suspicious miscarriage. This event triggered a change in her mental health and her development took a turn for something ugly and sinister. Her sociopathic tendencies became dominant and she was institutionalized for a time.


As a mother, I've always felt that when a child is going through puberty, it was necessary to be extra careful about the things you said and did. A child's ego is fragile during this time. I think it is crucial to constantly support, encourage and shower them with accolades so as to help build healthy self esteem.

What do you think? Does doing the above help create arrogant sociopaths or does it even matter? Are sociopaths; psychopaths even narcissistic personalities born this way?

I would love to hear what you think!

Next up: RJ's Mental Health


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Research for Divergent Lives: Why Did I Make One of the Main Characters a Serial Killer?

I would like to acknowledge the victims of the Aurora, Colorado massacre. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those lost and injured.  RIP 

 “One must feel sorry for those who have strange tastes, but never insult them. Their wrong is Nature’s too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours than are we for being born bandy-legged or well-proportioned." 

Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), “Dialogue the Fifth” Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795)

The above quote is how I open Divergent Lives. I think it pretty much sums up the feeling I want to evoke when you read this story.

Much is said about how a reader is supposed to feel about a character. Alpha and beta readers who have read my (unedited) manuscript react pretty much the same way when they read this. They say "it's a creepy quote," but is it really?

It has been suggested to me that I shouldn't spend a lot of time talking about the serial killer in this story because I may end up making the reader feel sympathetic towards the killer. But I ask you, is that so wrong in this case. Read that quote again.

"Their wrong is Nature's too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours..."

Are we to blame for our tendencies? For who we are?

Figuring this out is what brought me back to the question:

"What happens to someone who was once an innocent baby that makes them do things a normal person wouldn't do; like kill people?"

There might be many reasons, but in every story that I hear about any killing, I always want to know what motivates a person to do something like that. What happened? What were they thinking??

In light of the recent, horrific mass killing in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, this question is even more compelling for me. 

For my story, I thought I would give my killer an unexpected reason for killing. This character rationalizes murder with reasons that would not make sense to the average person. The thinking behind these actions is irrational and illogical. It only makes sense to the killer, and that is the point. It is this reasoning, or lack thereof, that made me want to explore what the mentality of a killer might be at any given time.

I spent a lot of time last summer doing quite a bit of research on psychopaths and sociopaths on another, now closed, site. You will note, as I mentioned in my last post, that this story is now decidedly different than what I had planned back when I originally began thinking about the characters; the plot and the twists and turns of this story. But, I maintain that people are who they are and you can't be mad at them for being so.

The above quote notwithstanding, I consider both my main characters, RJ and Adina, sociopaths. 

sociopath is defined as:

"someone who has a psychopathic personality. One whose behavior is antisocial and lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience."

Granted, I was a bit confused by this definition as the word "psychopathic" was used to define "sociopath." Isn't a serial killer a psychopath? 

So I looked up the word "psychopath" and this is what I found:

"a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships; extreme egocentricity; failure to learn from experience, etc."
"any mental disease"

Now, THAT'S scary! Anyone you know can be a psychopath! How do you like them apples, huh?

For my story, I went with "sociopath" to describe the actions of my two main characters for two reasons:
  1. Each of my characters has at least one meaningful relationship
  2. Each has learned from (their) experience

It is what they learned that shaped who they are and the reason why their lives come crashing down upon one another.

Next up: Adina's mental health.


Monday, July 16, 2012

How Did I Come Up With the Idea for Divergent Lives Anyway??

"The baby died in utero; choked by its umbilical cord when its twin, in a hurry to be born, climbed over it and killed it."

This was the bit of a conversation I overheard as a child. It horrified and traumatized me. How can this happen? How will the surviving twin be able to live with itself knowing that they had committed murder before even being born? What if I could turn back the hands of time enabling me to prevent this horrible event? What kind of life would these twin babies lead if I could do that?

I should have been sound asleep that night, but I knew we had company and I didn't want to miss a thing. I was fighting the sandman with all my might when I heard them talking about it. Needless to say, I didn't have to fight him anymore that night. I was now wide awake and would remain so. I wished I had just fallen asleep. I wished I had never even heard that sentence.

Knowing full well who these adults were talking about, I wanted to turn back time and save the surviving twin the anguish of knowing it was a murderer and the idea brewed in my mind for many years. Interestingly, I hadn't thought about that conversation for a really long time ... until a little over a year ago.

One day, I was thinking about Standing on the Precipice (Standing on the Precipice was the working title for Divergent Lives), the memory of that conversation came rushing back to me out of the blue.

My original plan for Divergent Lives was as follows:

The protagonist would be a child of immigrant parents. She would be named Adina, and she would be raised in New York City during the late 20th century in the midst of the "Women's Liberation Movement." Her conflict festered in the mixed messages she received from her parents vs. the messages she received from society with regard to women's roles.

At home, Adina's parents tried to raise her with the ideals they were raised with in Puerto Rico of yore. She was told that in order to be worthy of a good man, she needed to be chaste, humble and obedient. But above all, she was to remain a virgin until her wedding night. As far as her parents were concerned, her future role in society was solely wife and mother.

In addition, Adina had conflicts with religion based on her feeling that organized religion made no sense at all; that it was only useful to the uneducated. Yeah, she's arrogant. Adina believed she was master of her universe and that she alone was the one in control. Society told her that as an independent woman, she could have it all and that being a sexual creature should not carry any shame. Sex for sex's sake was within her right.

Then I wondered:

"What if Adina had a twin who believed the opposite? What if the other twin lived its life the way its parents wanted it to and didn't offer any protest?

"What if Adina experimented with sex? What if she used dating websites to satisfy sexual curiosities?"

 "Boring!!" I thought.

"I need a twist!"

Then it hit me! Here's an opportunity for me to turn back time for that baby that supposedly killed its twin! It's fiction; a fantasy, ok? But, I still thought it was a good idea. I figured I'd let the dead baby survive. But, then what?

I'll make them both sociopaths, one a serial killer! That's a twist, right?

It was at this point that the juices began to flow for me!

"What if one of the twins had a physical ailment?"

"What if the doctor decided he had a better plan for this imperfect child?"

And, Divergent Lives was born!

Next up: What additional elements did I explore for this story? Why did I make one of the twins a serial killer?


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cover Reveal

Isn't this beautiful!?!?!

Oh! My! God!! Can you say excited?!?

Today, 7/11/12, it is with great pleasure, that I, not only reveal the cover for my next story, Divergent Lives, but I also inaugurate a blog just for "DL Speak"! 

First and foremost, I would like to thank Andi Reis (Andi on Twitter) and Renee Groskreutz (Renee on Twitter) both of Ralph's Design and Deli for the amazing work they are doing for me. I am blessed we found each other -- on Twitter no less! 

I am so looking forward to working with you guys on additional projects!

As this site grows, I would like to have discussions about all things murderous as well as things seemingly -- or not -- psychologically off the rails. Though I have no professional experience in psychology or criminology, I am fascinated by studies in both of those areas and I don't pretend to be anything more than curious. I've always wondered what happens to a person who was once an innocent baby with baby smells that makes them not only want to kill someone, but want to do it numerous times to fulfill an unquenchable need. 

As non-professionals in the field of forensic psychology, we might not understand why real killers do what they do. But, you will definitely gain some insight as to what makes the protagonists of this story, Adina and RJ tick!

I would also like to talk about my process while writing this story, but I think the best way to do that is via separate posts. You will see that what this story ended up being, is a far cry from what I had originally envisioned. When we get to the end of both the story of my process and the end of Adina's and RJ's story, the cover will make a heck of a lot of sense to you all.  

Here's a synopsis for Divergent Lives 

Divergent Lives is the story of fraternal twins - one male; one female -- born to immigrant parents in New York City on December 12, 1962. They are separated at birth by the attending physician. One is sold on the black market to a couple who lives in rural Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The other remains with the biological parents.  Neither twin knows the other exists. Each shows signs of sociopathic tendencies as young teenagers. One becomes a serial killer. Each murder that is committed by this twin is more gruesome than the last.

The first thing you see on the cover, is the title. I love the interlocking initial caps! This idea actually came from a logo (see below) which I designed for this book. I plan to have it tattooed, probably in "glow in the dark ink" once the book releases. That is the way I celebrate, I get a tattoo! What can I tell you??

Divergent Lives Tattoo
The "XII" is significant. The protagonists in this story were born December 12, 1962 and my book releases December 12, 2012 .... get it? The idea for this design first began taking shape for me while discussing a title (the working title for this story was "Standing on the Precipice"), and a release date with my former publisher, Jorge Salgado-Reyes (Jorge on Twitter).

The overcast, mauve sky represents doom for me and I love the way the font looks over the "maudlin" color. I absolutely love that!

Further, we have contrasting city/country 'scapes to represent where each of the twins was raised. 

We all know what the blood in the road means, don't we??

Finally, and I think this was genius on Andi's and Renee's part; we have the helix in the road leading to the city rather than the white line you would normally see on any road. The helix represents the protagonists' shared DNA. If you look closely, you will see that the road, though divergent at a distance, converges at the apex -- the country and the city meets, representing a huge clash or conflict.

So, I'm very proud of my collaboration with my girls, Andi and Renee! 

Just to show you how special these ladies are, let me share something with you: 

Andi and I had maybe two conversations about what I wanted on the cover. Within a few days, she sent me the first rendition which was very, very close to what you see above. There were only two tweaking sessions and I could not be happier with the end result.

Like you, my fellow Indie Authors who are reading this, I have a full time job, and a family as well as a host of other responsibilities. Writing, designing book covers, marketing and promoting any story is a lot of hard work. It can sometimes be extremely draining and overwhelming. That is why the only way you can be happy as an Indie Author is if you love writing.

Also, as an Indie Author, you are especially lucky if you have someone in your corner who takes the time to listen to what you are saying. You're especially lucky if you have someone who asks questions about what you're describing; and if that someone shares your vision. The cherry on top is if that person can accurately translate your vision to their partner in order to jointly put together something beautiful! When you have that person in your corner, it is a lot easier because you know that you will end up with a product that you will be happy with. 

I got really lucky with these ladies! Kudos girls!

I would like to thank the Academy....um, no ...

I really want to thank all my Twitter and Facebook friends for the continual love and support you show me. Sometimes I can't be as social as I'd like, but you are in my heart and always on my mind. I appreciate the way I am always warmly welcomed back after an absence. It is because of you and it is FOR you that I continue to do this, and I do it with much joy. 

I am often told "Don't forget us when you blow up!" -- "blow up" meaning get famous -- slang -- sorry. So to show that I didn't forget where I came from, though not implying that I've "blown up," I want to express my deepest appreciation for Ms. Katie Salidas

Katie gave me the courage to do this two years ago. She has been there all along supporting me. You will always hear me mention her, because she is the one who made me believe I could do this. It is because of Katie that I crawled out of the darkness into the light of a new life. I will forever be grateful to her.

Next up: How did I come up with this idea anyway?