Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Q&A with Jacqueline Simon Gunn, author of CIRCLE OF TRUST

1.) Can you explain what the psychology term “catathymia” means and why you chose to focus on this in your Close Enough to Kill series?
Catathymia is a psychodynamic process first explained by Frederic Wertham in 1937 to describe otherwise unexplainable explosions of violence, where there is a buildup of psychological tension prior to the murder. Instead of understanding the distress as internal, the individual blames another person. After a period of holding in seething emotions, the individual decides that their only resolve is to eliminate this other person. The tension becomes uncontainable, violent fantasies and obsessions consume him/her; the violent act becomes the only means of reducing the psychic distress. The tension abates following the explosive outburst (murder) and perpetrators report feeling relief.

The theory was later expanded upon by other forensic theorists. One of the leaders in forensic psychology, J. Reid Meloy, used the cycle of catathymia to explain obsession, stalking and murderous acts toward someone the person has an attachment to. From this perspective, catathymia is a violent act resulting from some sort of rupture (real or perceived) within the relationship, and the victim is someone the perpetrator knows and feels attached to. In many cases, it is someone with whom the perpetrator had an intimate relationship with.

Criminality is a nebulous area. When trying to understand criminal acts, such as stalking and homicide, we need to look at underlying motivations. Murder is an act, nothing more. That is, the action itself really explains nothing psychologically speaking. If we want to understand why people commit murderers, we need to look at motivations. Catathymia explains motivation for intimate kills, murders committed against someone who is Close Enough to Kill, basically. I have been researching this for over twenty years, and remain fascinated. I decided to explore this through fiction to see what I could learn. And learn I did.

2.) Who are some of your favorite thriller writers?
Gillian Flynn and Alison Gaylin are my two favorite thriller writers. They both focus on characterization. Although their plots are taut, the characters are multi-dimensional and drive the story. I love that! I also love Stephen King, although he crosses genres. His characterizations are brilliant. I feel like I know each one of them intimately.

3.) You’ve said that you allowed the characters in this series to drive the story. What was that experience like?
Wanting to better understand motivations for intimate murders, I created characters, got into their respective heads, allowed them to drive the narrative. As I shift character point of view, I hear a different voice, my mannerisms change, and my emotions shift to match what’s going on in their story. In this way, I am often unsure what’s going to happen. As the characters develop and I go deeper into their hearts and minds, their motivations, the story unfolds, surprising me, and sometimes, disturbing me too. It helps me get to the answers I want about motivations: who the killer is, and who the next victim will be feels like a decision made by the characters, not me. This way, I have an intimate experience with a passion-driven killer and a privy look at motivations for murder.

4.) Can you tell us more about your psychology background?
I have master’s degrees in forensic psychology and existential/phenomenological psychology, and my doctorate in clinical psychology with a specialization in forensics. I have over twenty years of clinical experience. I have worked in correctional facilities and have interviewed some high profile criminals, evaluated insanity plea acquittals and worked with inmates in individual therapy and group therapy. But I also work outside of the criminal justice system with psychotherapy patients. I was at the Karen Horney Clinic for ten years. Now I’m in private practice and spend the rest of my time writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

5.) What advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing fiction?
My advice is not that original, but it is the truth: sit down and write every day, even if it’s only a page. A book will not write itself, and the practice of sitting down and writing every day is one that not only gets the words down, but also helps someone to become a better writer. The second part of this is to not judge the first draft, just write like no one will ever read it.

6.) Who is the most psychologically misunderstood character in literature?
Willy Loman. He is the epitome of the shattered American Dream. But there is a Willy Loman in all of us. The struggle to balance societal expectations of success versus one’s own, similar to Willy, is something I hear all the time from people. Willy embodies this dilemma, albeit, an extreme example. His inability to reconcile the two, results in a sad deterioration in his sense of self. Most people struggle with this to some degree, in my opinion, not because of individual psychology, but rather because of impositions of a society that values money and status above personal growth and meaning. Willy wasn’t psychologically disturbed, in the traditional sense. Instead, his decline is better understood as symptomatic of problems existing within the larger societal context.

7.) What is the best writing advice that you’ve ever received?
The best advice would have to be to keep writing even when the draft is crappy, which it will be. Changes are made during rewriting once the story is down. This helped me finish my first novel.

8.) Can you tell us about the panel you were on at ThrillerFest this year?
The Thrillerfest panel was called, Caffeine, Chocolate or Wine? Writers' tricks to keep you going. The discussion focused on the various techniques we use to keep ourselves motivated throughout the writing process. Writing book is not easy. Perseverance is vital. As I said before, the book isn’t going to write itself. So we all have to find ways that work of us.

All of us shared the importance of preserving our writers’ time and space, keeping to a schedule. Alcohol seemed to be the ‘flavor’ of choice when dealing with the inner voice of doubt that all writers have. Writing is exposing. Our inner selves are left open for inspection and judgment. This can slow down the process if we think about it too much. When in doubt, have a cocktail to quell the inner voice of uncertainty, it seems.

I actually use running to help me at all stages of the process. The commitment I learned from training for marathons taught me how to sit down every morning and write, no matter what. And when I feel discouraged, doubtful – wondering if I have a right to write, or anxious about the reviews that are coming, I run. Personally, I found the panel helpful. Hearing other writers, particularly those who have been at it longer than me, talk about the same dilemmas I struggle with, reassured me.

9.)What is the most unexpected thing that you’ve learned after researching passionate homicide?
The most unexpected is also perhaps the most disturbing: When it comes to murders driven by passion, the ability to predict criminality is poor. Meaning, many of these crimes are committed by individuals who have no history of abuse, no history of previous criminal activity, no substance abuse history. When we look for something, anything to make the motivation to kill make sense, it turns out to be complex and internal psychological reasons – things that aren’t obvious or quantifiable, rather than concrete environmental predictors. This begs the question Kadee, my protagonist, asks her professor in Circle of Trust: “Is anyone capable of murder?” His answer is “Yes.”

10.) What are you working on next?
The third book in my Close Enough to Kill series is being edited. When it’s returned to me, I will do a final pass. I’m currently writing a series of novellas. Each one focuses on a character from the series. The first one is a story about Jacob Temple, the murder victim in Circle of Trust, who I fell in love with while writing the second two books in the series. The story takes place before his murder. It’s his side of the story, the story he couldn’t tell in the book because he was already dead – a tragic love story not for the faint of heart. The draft is done and I’ve sent it off for editing. The next one, which I have just started, is about Noah and Belle Donovan. Noah is the murder victim in the first book of the series, Circle of Betrayal. He has a complex and somewhat disturbing relationship with his mother, Belle. Readers have asked to hear more. So this novella will be a sort of prequel, exploring their relationship. The third one is a spinoff from the third book, Circle of Truth, and will be an extension on the murderer’s story. After that, I will return to a book I had started and then set aside to finish the series, another psychological thriller with love triangles and all kinds of twist. I’m more than halfway through, so the draft shouldn’t take too long to finish once I go back to it.

About the author:

JACQUELINE SIMON GUNN is an esteemed clinical psychologist in Manhattan and a freelance writer. She is the author of four non-fiction books, including co-authored, Bare: Psychotherapy Stripped, as well as many articles, both scholarly and mainstream. Circle of Trust is Gunn’s second work of fiction, and book two in her Close Enough to Kill trilogy. In addition to her clinical work and writing, she is an avid runner. Gunn is currently working on multiple writing projects, including the third book in her trilogy.

About Circle of Trust:

A gruesome murder...

Radio psychologist Jacob Temple is found dead on the floor of his den. A gaping wound in his neck, lacerations crisscrossing his chest, a fork bored into each eye.

No break-in. No evidence.

Bouncing back and forth in time, the story of Jacob Temple's life unfolds as told by the people closest to him, particularly his ex-girlfriend Jane Light, who has been stalking Jacob for nineteen years, ever since he left her. Still reeling from her boyfriend Noah's murder, Kadee Carlisle works alongside Detectives Poole and Gibbs to unravel the facts behind Jacob Temple's life and death. As time ticks away, Kadee struggles to reconcile her conflicted feelings about her own past--and present--and their ominous parallels to the Temple case.

When the circle of trust is broken...

As the hunt for the killer ensues, a tragic love story unfolds, along with a plan for vengeance and an unflinching look into the mind of a murderer. But will they ever figure out who killed Jacob Temple? Piercing the thorny line between facts and deception, passion and obsession, this torrid thriller illustrates one important thing: Sometimes the closer you are to the truth, the harder it is to see.

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