When Perpetrators are Victims: Noah's Story

When I think back to my experiences working in the criminal justice system as a psychotherapist and forensic evaluator, I am reminded of this quote by Carl Jung: “The healthy man does not torture others - generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.”  

As you may know, a basic tenet of psychotherapy is to listen empathically, which means that we suspend our own beliefs and feelings in order to hear and feel someone else’s experience. What I quickly realized when I sat in the room with murderers, rapists, armed robbers was that I had what I am going to call “an empathic conflict.”

Hearing atrocities committed toward other people – stories oft told with cold, detached gazes, flat voices and an absence of emotion, my first inclination was to feel empathy for their victims. But I was there to hear their stories. I was there to listen to them, to try to reach the few inmate-patients that I could.

Soon I learned that many of the inmate-patients I worked with were victims too. I heard awful stories, stories I wish I could erase from my mind. Histories of abuse and neglect: people being burned by their parents, people being raped by one parent while the other one watched, people being offered for sex in exchange for drugs.  

Some didn’t have any history that would explain their criminality, but in situations where they were a victim turned perpetrator, I wondered: Who were they to me? Were they victims or were they perpetrators? My empathy swung back-and-forth between their victims and them. Sometimes I would be so angry at them – my own patients, while listening to the crimes they committed. I stopped doing clinical work in forensics because of this, but continued with my research.

I used my experience, both as a clinician and as a researcher, to write my Close Enough to Kill series. Each of the characters taught me something, and the stories weren’t always easy to write. Before writing the series, I had only written non-fiction. I had no idea how much fiction writing was like being actor. When I’m deeply engaged in my characters’ minds, I feel their feelings, all of them, like a roller-coaster – up and down, good and bad.

My forthcoming release is a story told from the perspective of Noah Donovan, whose betrayal (in Circle of Betrayal – book 1) inspires the entire series. Writing Noah’s Story was painful, exhausting, disturbing, eye-opening. A few times I stared at the computer, my jaw hanging, wondering what the hell just went from my fingertips onto the screen. What really happened to Noah Donovan? Perhaps he wasn’t simply the cold, manipulative man I had thought. Perhaps Noah was also a victim.

Noah exploits women. As a woman, I felt furious with him. And yet, as the story went on, it became clear that he was the greatest victim. A few times I felt sick as the story of how he became who he was unfolded.

Being inside the head of someone while writing fiction is more intimate than psychotherapy; I am not listening empathically, I am (through the characters) telling the story. I become them. They tell their story through me. The experience of writing through Noah created an empathic conflict.  One that was more intense than what I had experienced in a clinical setting. Fascinating and disturbing.

Another thought I had after finishing Noah’s Story was that I had met and even dated a few men like Noah Donovan. Maybe if I had written the book while I was still single, I would have recognized the inner conflict and saved myself some heartache.

 Live (Write) and Learn.

Noah’s Story will be available Tuesday July 18. For a chance to win a signed copy, please sign up for my newsletter at the top of the page.





Writer's Doubt: Getting Out of Our Own Way

I clicked the submit button yesterday. This isn’t much of a novelty. I’m a writer. I write and submit, sometimes short articles, sometimes long articles, sometimes books. Between my freelance work, my blogs, and my books, I usually hit submit at least two times a week. Yesterday it was a book submission.

At first I felt a wave of elation, accomplishment. A passing, you are awesome, Jacquie, floated through my mind. Although only around 4 in the afternoon, I debated calling a friend to go for a celebratory cocktail. Instead, I took a nap.    

About an hour later, I woke up a little cold, hungry and filled with doubt. Staring at the ceiling, a squall of uninvited thoughts entered my mind: Maybe I should have changed this; maybe readers won’t like the ending; is the characterization convincing? Is the plot taut? Is the dialogue fluid?

Aye, Yi, Yi.

Here’s the thing: Every writer I know goes through a similar inner dialogue. When we write, our most authentic self is exposed. We discover things about the way our mind works: ideas we weren’t cognizant of, emotions we didn’t realize. Our fingers type and we sometimes can’t believe what materializes on the computer screen. More than a few times, I have thought “foreign fingers” because my fingers typed thoughts that were so unfamiliar to me.

It’s one thing to write stream-of-consciousness in a journal kept privately. It is entirely different writing for an audience, an audience who we often don’t know and who will be evaluating, whether conscious or unconscious, not only our prose, but our ideas, our most private self our barest self.

Still staring at the ceiling, another insight surfaces. As much as I want hundreds of thousands of readers to read my work the thought simultaneously, leaves me feeling vulnerable – painfully vulnerable. I don’t know how other writers do it: navigate a world where their work is constantly evaluated by masses and masses of people. Artists, even those with a seemingly strong backbone, are usually sensitive. I know I am. And being sensitive means no matter how hard I try, things affect me.

Every time my work reaches a few more people and a few more people, I get nervous. Excited, too, of course, excited, but equally nervous. Sometimes I want to hide under my bed.

At the same time, I want my work to be read. Whether it’s to share thoughts and ideas as in my non-fiction work, or for my stories to thrill and entertain, as in my fiction, I want readers to read my writing. I want my characters’ voices to be heard and to resonate for people. I don’t necessarily want to be known, but I’d love for my characters to be.

How to reconcile? Hmm…

Navigating the nebulous and almost contradictory writerly path set before me now is very different than the act of writing and completing a manuscript. Many writers I know have a hard time carving the time out to write, the discipline and the sacrifice. Thankfully, this hasn’t been a struggle for me, but the idea of the work being known, that’s a different story.

I’ve written it before (actually it was said by one of my characters), but it’s worth repeating: Sometimes we have to get out of our own way.

So I move myself over and decide that I’ve got to put my big girl panties on. It’s easy to be brave and courageous while sitting behind the computer. Maybe I will always go through this to some degree, or maybe I will develop calluses which will make baring my soul easier. Either way, I’ve never backed down from a personal challenge, so I know I will work this out internally. In the meantime, I guess I will run some extra miles to remind myself that just because I’m vulnerable doesn’t mean I’m not strong, actually it’s the contrary.

Do you have a similar experience? How do you quell the thoughts?









What He Didn't See - Coming Soon

What He Didn't See will be released in just a few weeks! Stay tuned for more information about the release date and giveaways. Here is the synopsis.

One reckless night nineteen years ago, Jacob Temple made a mistake that would alter the course of his life.

Caught between the chokehold of his conservative upbringing and the freedom of following his heart’s desire, Jacob was posed with a no-win scenario: Choose Jane — his soul mate and the only woman he would ever love — and be shunned, or marry Fiona to satisfy a deep-seated moral obligation.

After nearly two decades of suffering through a loveless marriage with Fiona, Jacob begins to suspect that Beth, a regular caller to his radio psychology show, is actually Jane. Hoping for a second chance with the woman he never stopped loving, Jacob devises a plan to leave his wife.

But… Fiona has kept him on a tight leash these many years, and her powerful family could ruin Jacob’s life. She will not make it easy for him to leave.

And Fiona is the type of woman someone could die over — or kill over!

Circle of Trust fan favorite Jacob Temple shares his side of the dark love story between Jane Light and himself in What He Didn’t See. This novella provides no spoilers and can be read in conjunction with the Close Enough to Kill series or as a stand-alone.



What He Didn't See

“Everyone is a protagonist of their own life,” my longtime friend, co-author and book editor had said to me back when I was working on the first book of my Close Enough to Kill, series. We were working on creating strong supporting characters at the time. Since I write in the third person and shift character point of view, as the series goes on, quite a few of the supporting characters have significant back stories and conflicts of their own which beg for resolution. I like subplots and story complexity. It’s the way I see life: rich, complex, filled with interwoven stories, people’s lives touching and affecting one another’s, sometimes in ways unbeknownst to them. I like writing stories where we can see how all of these invisible tangles between people lead to stunning twists and starling occurrences. This is life.

Anyway, I digressed.   

Perhaps it’s because my background is in clinical psychology that I have a hard time resisting elaboration on most of my characters. As much as readers want more, I want more, too. I want to peel back layer upon layer and see what makes them tick. I want to know each character’s story because in their hearts, they are “a protagonist of their own life.”  

It is for this reason that I chose to write a series of spinoff novellas for some of the supporting characters. The first of these is in the final stages of editing and is called, What He Didn’t See. This is a story from the point of view of Jacob Temple, the murder victim in Circle of Trust  a dark love story with twists. As many of you know, I fell in love with him while I was working on Circle of Trust. That love persisted through Circle of Truth, (the third book in the series, due to be released in a few months).  

I love all of my characters, even my villains, as nefarious as they may be. But Jacob really tugged at my heart strings. Sigh. I think it’s because he is profoundly wounded. I have always had an affinity for wounded male characters, both in books and films. And Jacob, well… he is the epitome of the wounded male character. Scars from his childhood as well as conflicts into his adulthood, remain obstacles for him. His sensitive nature doesn’t make it any easier, either.

Jacob is very alive through flashbacks in Circle of Trust, but the book starts out with his murder. So we never get to hear his side of the story. I wanted him to have a voice and an opportunity to share with readers what really happened between Jane and him. I wanted Jacob to have the chance to be the protagonist.

The book will be released in November and I will be giving out free copies. To be entered to win a free copy of What He Didn’t See as well as other releases, please sign up for my newsletter. Don’t worry; I won’t bombard you with lots of email. It’s just a way for me to stay connected with my readers and to announce releases and giveaways.

Thank you. And always feel free to write to me with comments and questions about the stories. As I mentioned before, it was through reader feedback that I decided to write a novella about Noah Donovan – a dark story, which will be out sometime next year. If there is more you want to know, I would love to hear.