Life at Warp 10

Sometimes Truth Is Stranger than Fantasy

You’ve likely heard the saying before that truth is stranger than fiction. Today my special guest poster, mystery author Kassandra Lamb, is putting her own spin on that saying to tell you why she thinks truth can be stranger than fantasy. She’s going to let us into the minds and motivations of serial killers. First allow me to introduce you to Kassandra:

Kassandra Lamb

Kassandra Lamb

Psychology and writing, or writing and psychology, have always vied for number one on Kassandra Lamb’s list of greatest passions. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she can focus on creating an alternate universe in which her protagonist, Kate Huntington, is always the kind, generous and insightful person that Kass wishes she were herself. When she is not at her computer, transported in mind and spirit into the world of her characters, Kass lives in Florida and Maryland with her husband and her Alaskan Husky, Amelia.

I hope when you finish reading the post that you’ll take a look at Kassandra’s latest release Fatal Forty-Eight. It’s part of her Kate Huntington series, but it stands alone as well. You don’t have to read the first books before reading this one. If you enjoy mysteries or thrillers, I recommend you grab a copy (and I’m not just saying that because I’m Kassandra’s editor–this book is really good). Take it away, Kassandra!

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Sometimes Truth Is Stranger than Fantasy

By Kassandra Lamb

When Marcy graciously invited me to guest post on her blog (thanks so much, Marcy!), I wondered what the heck I would write about since I write traditional mysteries and thrillers, not fantasy or sci-fi like she does.

Then I asked myself, why is it that I don’t write fantasy? (BTW, I talk to myself a lot.) The answer came back that it’s because I’ve seen so much weird, surreal stuff on this planet during my years as a psychotherapist. In my newly released thriller, I explore one of the most surreal phenomena on the Earth plane–the serial killer.

A few weeks ago I posted about psychopaths. They are totally self-centered thrill seekers who feel little or no empathy, remorse or fear. Pretty scary folks! (Read more HERE.)

Unfortunately psychopaths (i.e. those who have antisocial personality disorder–the official diagnosis) make up 3% of males and 1% of females in the U.S. and at least 1.7% of the Canadian population. Fortunately, only a very small percentage of psychopaths become serial killers.

An FBI Symposium in 2008* attempted to come up with a simple definition of serial murder:

The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events at different times.

According to this definition, the guy who kills his wife, and then kills his neighbor when he finds out said neighbor witnessed the first murder, is a serial killer. Now you might be tempted to say that this guy isn’t really a serial killer, because he doesn’t match the picture of one painted by TV shows and movies.

But he fits the definition, and furthermore he is probably a psychopath. One can think of circumstances where a husband might kill his wife, either premeditated or in a fit of rage. But to go on and kill one’s neighbor in cold blood–that requires a self-centeredness and a lack of empathy and remorse that lands the killer on the psychopath continuum.

The motivation of serial killers is varied and complicated. The FBI* has identified several themes:

  • Financial/Criminal Gain: The person kills for money (hit men, black widows/widowers) or to gain status in a criminal group (gang members).
  • Anger: The person vents their rage toward someone (perhaps symbolically) and/or toward society in general.
  • Sexual: Violence has become eroticized somewhere in the person’s background so that they get sexual satisfaction through killing (may or may not be signs of sexual activity at the crime scene).
  • Ideology: The person kills as a way–in their mind–of advancing a strongly held ideological belief (for example, by killing prostitutes to rid society of their immoral behavior).
  • Power/Thrill: Having the ultimate power of life and death over someone provides a rush.
  • Psychosis: Truly being out of touch with reality and being driven by hallucinations and/or delusions.

Often two or more of these motivations apply in any given case. Most often the serial killer starts out killing for financial or practical gain–robbing people and then killing them to eliminate witnesses, for example. Then they discover that killing gives them a thrill, and they start to kill more for that reason. These are the hardest killers to identify and capture because their victims often have little or nothing in common, which is the case with the killer in Fatal Forty-Eight.

But my killer also falls into the ideology category of motivation, or at least he convinces himself that he is killing for a good cause, and there is also a bit of the sexual motive as well. (I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the story.)

Let me dispel several myths about serial murder and serial killers.

(1) Not all are sexually motivated by any stretch, and only a small number of serial killers are psychotic.

(2) There is a huge difference between a psychopath and a psychotic even though the two words sound so similar. A psychotic is someone who has completely lost touch with reality. Often their brains have just stopped functioning in any kind of rational way, or they may be living in a world created by their own hallucinations and delusions. Sometimes those delusions or hallucinations may drive them to commit crimes, but this is rare. Mostly they are a danger only to themselves.

Psychopaths, however, are legally sane. They know what is real and unreal in at least a concrete sense. In other words, they aren’t seeing things that aren’t there or hearing voices in their heads. But their ability to distort reality to suit their own self-centered perspectives is incredible sometimes. And they know right from wrong; they just don’t care.

Ted Bundy, 1979, leaving Leon County, Fla. Courthouse (Photo from The Florida Memory Project–CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Ted Bundy, 1979, leaving Leon County, Fla. Courthouse (Photo from The Florida Memory Project–CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(3) Most psychopaths are not obvious. They are experts at fitting in. Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers in the U.S., was handsome and charismatic. He seduced his victims into trusting him.

The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, confessed to killing 48 women over a twenty-year time period in the Seattle, Washington area. He was married at the time of his arrest and had been employed as a truck painter for thirty-two years. He attended church regularly, read the Bible at home and at work, and talked about religion with co-workers.

A letter to the police from Jack the Ripper (U.S. National Archives–public domain)

A letter to the police from Jack the Ripper (U.S. National Archives–public domain)

(4) Serial killers are not hoping someone will stop them; they are not trying to get caught. But since they feel little or no fear, they aren’t all that worried about getting caught either. They will sometimes contact the police or newspapers with taunts or even hints as to where they might strike next, or they may intentionally leave clues behind at crime scenes.

They do this to enhance the thrill! Killing is starting to lose its buzz so they have to up the ante.

(5) Serial killers are not all white males. Racially, they run the gamut of the population, and some are female.

Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

And here’s another interesting tidbit I read about recently. The one group of serial murderers that perhaps we would be tempted to say are not psychopaths are the medical personnel who commit so-called mercy killings of terminally-ill and suffering patients.

Guess again. A recent, small study** in England found that the majority of these killers crave attention and are inordinately obsessed with death. The researchers only looked at 16 cases so this is not a definitive study, but nonetheless…

Okay, now that I’ve given you enough material to populate your nightmares for weeks to come, let me remind you again that serial killers are rare. It is likely that each of us has known a psychopath or two in our lifetimes, but very few of us will ever cross paths in real life with a serial killer.

My fictional heroine, however, has a real penchant for getting herself mixed up with murders. Please check out my new release below, and also I have a CONTEST going to celebrate its release. So pop over to my publisher’s site (misteriopress.com) to enter.

I promised Marcy I’d hang around for a while if you have any questions. Also I will be talking more about the origins of psychopaths in a post on the misterio press site next week.

Oh, and this book is dedicated to Marcy, who is my editor and from whom I have learned so much!!

References:

Carey, Elea and George Krucik, MD. Psychosis, Healthline.

*FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators, July, 2008.

**Townsend, Mark. Study identifies key traits and methods of serial killer nurses, The Guardian, November 22, 2014.

Fatal48 Ebook FINALFATAL FORTY-EIGHT, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. She locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, while back at headquarters, misunderstandings abound.

But they can ill afford these distractions. Sally’s time is about to expire.

(This book is part of a series but is designed to be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.)

Buy Links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA

BARNES & NOBLE

APPLE

KOBO

SCRIBD

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Interstellar: How Much Would You Sacrifice to Save Humanity?

Interstellar movieBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Every time I hear a story of someone who died to spare the life of another—a first responder, a parent in place of a child, a soldier who took a bullet for a comrade—I wonder whether I would have done the same.

I like to think I’d be altruistic if it came down to saving someone else, that if push came to shove, I’d be brave. I love my life and I hope to live a long, healthy, happy existence on this Earth, but I’m not afraid of being dead either.

But whenever I think about that situation, I think about saving an individual, a current life.

That’s the motivation of former NASA pilot Cooper, Matthew McConaughey’s character in the recently released movie Interstellar. The earth is dying, and what remains of NASA has established what they call the Lazarus missions. Pilots have taken a one-way trip into a wormhole to see if the planets they find on the other side are habitable. Transmissions from three of the pilots indicate they may have found hospitable worlds.

Unfortunately, time and resources have run out. NASA asks Cooper to go on the final mission. Either they’ll be able to transmit back the data needed on the potential planets to evacuate what remains of Earth’s population (including Cooper’s children) or they’re supposed to use pre-fertilized eggs in an incubator to reseed humanity on another planet, sacrificing those left on Earth but saving the human race.

And Cooper agrees, even though it might mean never seeing his children again, because he believes that at least he can save their lives. The scientist in charge promises him that his children will be among those evacuated from Earth.

What Cooper finds out is that the NASA scientist in charge never intended to save the people left on Earth. The real plan all along was to save humanity as a species and sacrifice everyone remaining on Earth, including Cooper’s family.

He lied to everyone involved in the final mission because he believed that, while we’ll sacrifice everything to save those we love, we’re much less likely to sacrifice everything to save the human race as a generic whole—especially if doing so meant our loved ones would die.

And while I don’t condone his methods, I think I agree with his conclusion.

I’m not sure I’d sacrifice everyone I love to save “the human race.” I’m not sure I place a higher value on “the human race” as a species than I do on the already living people who belong to humanity. I don’t think I’d take comfort knowing that “the human race” would survive if it meant sacrificing everyone currently alive to ensure that survival.

It begs the question: Is the value in humanity as a species or is the value in each individual life?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen (it’s only 99 cents). Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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The Danger in Trying to Revisit the Past

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. For both of us, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a childhood favorite. We watched the cartoons, watched the movies, played the video games, had the Halloween costumes.

We went for the nostalgia.

But they’d downgraded the acting, had less plot, and made the turtles seem less like teenagers and more like twelve-year-olds. I was disappointed because I wanted to re-experience the joy I found in the Ninja Turtles as a child.

I think most of us have the desire to relive some of the happy moments of our past and re-experience some of the things we used to love.

Most of the times I’ve tried, though, they haven’t been the way I remembered.

When I was a kid, I loved those Hostess chocolate cupcakes with the white filling and white icing loops on the top. When I tried them as an adult, they tasted stale and lacking in flavor.

Maybe the problem was in looking back rather than looking forward. Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to relive or recapture the good moments of the past. Maybe we should leave those as happy memories and instead focus our time on forming new happy memories in the present.

Have you tried to recapture a happy childhood memory? How did it work out for you?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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The Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Accountability

Transformers Age of ExtinctionBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m going to admit up front that I haven’t been a huge fan of the Transformers franchise. I loved Transformers as a child, but I felt the first of the more recent movies was okay, and then the second two went downhill from there.

So I went into Transformers: Age of Extinction (movie #4) not expecting much. I only went because my husband loves the special effects and REALLY wanted to see them on the big screen.

And then I had to eat crow. Nicely roasted and basted with a raspberry-chipotle sauce of course, but crow nonetheless.

It wasn’t a perfect movie—far from it—but the dialogue made me laugh (in a good way), and I found myself drawn in by a new wrinkle. Optimus Prime was fed up with humanity and was tired of waiting for them to change.

Gone was the sacrifice-for-the-humans-at-any-cost Optimus from the past movies. He’d been disappointed and betrayed one too many times, and all he wanted to do was collect up the surviving Autobots and leave Earth for good.

Cade Yeager, the inventor and single father who is trying to help the Autobots, begs Optimus to give humanity a second chance. He claimed that screwing up is part of what humanity does. It’s what makes us human.

On one level, I agreed with Cade. Humans make mistakes, and we should be willing to forgive people for those mistakes. We should give second chances.

On another level, I disagreed because it sounded like Cade was arguing we should not only always forgive those who make mistakes but that we should continue to help them indefinitely, no matter how many times they make the same mistake and no matter how much we’re hurt by that mistake.

It’s the line between forgiveness (which I believe should always be extended) and allowing someone to walk all over you, never holding them accountable for their actions.

I know that the Transformers couldn’t hold humanity accountable or there wouldn’t have been a movie, but Cade’s answer felt trite. So many of the Transformers had been wrongly slaughtered, despite all they’d done in the past to save humanity. A “we’re humans and we make mistakes” reply didn’t cut it for me. And I had to wonder, is that how our society really feels now? Is there no place left for justice and accountability? Are we really expected to give infinite chances?

I believe mercy needs to be balanced with justice, and help needs to be balanced with accountability.

What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Is this how our society views mistakes, wrongs, and accountability now?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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How a Good Relationship Is Like a Ropes Course

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Knowwuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Knowwuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve always said I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of falling from them. Or, more accurately, of the results of hitting the ground at the end of the fall.

However you want to describe it, when I get any distance off the ground, I experience vertigo, accompanied by freezing and clutching the closest stable object.

On our recent vacation, my husband and I completed a ropes course, including multiple zip lines. A ropes course is basically a series of elevated obstacles, ranging from 25 to 60 feet above the ground. (To put that in perspective, it’s higher than your average two-story home.)

You strap on a harness. The carabineers on that harness snap to a safety wire while you’re up on the course to keep you from plummeting to your death should you slip up while navigating an obstacle. But other than that, you’re on your own.

You might have to hop from post to post along a widely spaced path made of nothing more than wobbly poles that barely fit a single foot. You might have to balance along narrow logs suspended from ropes (and therefore swinging with every move you make). You might have to grab a rope and leap, swinging into a pirate’s net attached to a distant tree.

I wouldn’t describe a ropes course as fun for me. But this is the second one I’ve conquered, and as I was dangling from an obstacle that basically required you to traverse a series of swings, giving myself a pep talk to take that next step, I realized how much what my husband and I were doing was an excellent analogy for what a good relationship does as well.

(Yeah, I know. You know you’re a writer when…)

So here are the three lessons I learned about good relationships from braving a ropes course.

Image Credit: Leonhard-Eißnert-Park 06, Creative Commons

Image Credit: Leonhard-Eißnert-Park 06, Creative Commons

You sometimes do things that scare you or aren’t what you’d necessarily choose because those things are important to the person you love.

You might be asking why I would do a ropes course at all if I’m so afraid of heights. Well, I like to push myself so that my fears don’t control me. But, more than that, my husband loves ropes courses. I did it for him, because he wanted to.

My husband moved 600 miles and changed countries so that we could be together. It wasn’t his first choice to leave his home, but he did it because it was the best thing for us, as a couple. I’ve only been married three and a half years, but one of the things I learned early was that a relationship requires sacrifice and compromise to work. It can also require stepping out in faith.

When the person you love is weak and you’re strong, you don’t leave them behind. You encourage them, wait for them, and help them make it through safely.

My husband can fly through a ropes course. He’s fearless.

I’m so slow that twice I let other people pass me because I felt bad for holding them up.

My husband could have left me behind to pick my way through the course, but he didn’t. After each obstacle, he waited on the platform for me to catch up. At the end of a couple of zip lines, when I missed the stop rope and was going to slide backward away from the platform, he caught me and pulled me up rather than letting me struggle alone.

I’ve seen this same principle at work in my marriage and in the happy marriages of friends and family. It’s inevitable that at some point one half of a couple hits a rough patch. Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s a job loss that steals their confidence. Maybe it’s a life skill they never learned and are struggling to figure out. Maybe it’s a battle with an addiction.

We could give up on them. We could go try to find someone without any problems. (Good luck on that, by the way.) But what separates a good relationship from a bad one is when we stick it out, pick them up, dust them off, and help them figure out how to do better next time.

When you look back at the challenges you’ve faced, as difficult as they were at the time, you’re still glad you weathered them together.

After we finished the course, I was glad we’d gone. I have no doubt we’ll do yet another ropes course in the future. It was hard and it was scary, but that’s part of what made it an achievement.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog long enough know some of the challenges my husband and I have faced, and those are only the ones I’ve shared. I’m sure most of you have similar stories of adversity.

Adversity is never fun at the time, but when we make it to the other side, we come out a stronger couple…with a good story to tell.

What every day experience taught you a lesson about good relationships or reminded you about what’s important in a relationship?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale over the summer for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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Ester Meets District 9 – Digging Into Ellie Ann’s The Silver Sickle

SilverSickle-EllieAnn-FullCover-4Today I have a special interview for you. As you might imagine, as an editor, I have a difficult time reading for pleasure. So when I find a book I do enjoy, I like to tell people about it. Recently, I read The Silver Sickle by Ellie Ann, and as soon as I finished, I emailed to ask if she’d be willing to answer a few interview questions. I really wanted to share some of the fascinating elements of her novel with all of you!

What’s The Silver Sickle about? I’m glad you asked. Before we jump into the interview, here’s the description from Amazon.

The end of humanity will come through the Silver Sickle . . .

Farissa lives every moment with reckless abandon, for it may be her last. Any day now, the alien goddesses will harvest her and take her to the mysterious Silver Sickle, never to return. She’s accepted that. What she can’t accept is this new idea of freedom Zel has planted in her head. She’d give almost anything to be with Zel, but how can she run from her destiny if it means putting the whole kingdom in danger?

Everyone in the desert kingdom believes the goddesses are immortal, but Zel has invented a way to kill them. Now all he has to do is convince Farissa to run away with him and plant a seed of hope in her heart that she’s not destined to die. Little does he know that one seed of hope could change the course of the future.

And now for the questions. Please welcome Ellie Ann!

(1) As I was reading The Silver Sickle, I felt like I was reading a steampunk version of the story of Ester, the Jewish girl who was selected by the Persian king to become his new queen and had to risk his anger in order to stop the massacre of her people. How much did the story of Ester influence you and how did you decide what parts of Ester’s story to use and what parts to change?

The Silver Sickle is Esther meets District 9 (the science fiction movie). With robots.

I’ve always loved the story of Esther. It’s an epic father-daughter tale, fraught with danger and the fate of an entire nation. It’s also a great story in which a woman takes control of her life and she isn’t punished for it. Esther used her rare beauty, her sexual skills, prayer, and relying on friends to survive in the harem and then save her people. It’s a story rife with great tension and high stakes, and I wanted to make a science fiction version.

Once I started plotting I didn’t keep much of the original story, but it is definitely the inspiration for it.

I’d love to write about the life of David one day. Lots of horrible things happened to him, which makes for a good book. He was an underdog but he had monumental victories, both personal and political, which is the kind of story that draws lots of people.

(2) The “villain” race in your book is the Amar. For those who haven’t read the book yet, the Amar are considered goddesses by most of the human population. They harvest the humans they’ve set apart as consecrated and send them to the Silver Sickle (which they’ve told them is paradise). From the way you’ve described the Amar in the book, they sound like the worst nightmare for someone who’s afraid of insects—like giant, steel-shelled Praying Mantises. Was there a particular bug that inspired the Amar?

Ew, yes. They’re like roaches. The prawns from District 9 were the inspiration for the Amar, except the Amar have a human face with recognizable expressions. If these two pictures collided, you’d have the Amar.

district-9-alien

Gira

(3) You’ve classified this book as a YA science fiction/steampunk. What would you say a book absolutely must include to be considered steampunk? Do you feel The Silver Sickle broke any of the expectations surrounding steampunk?

I consider my book steampunk because it’s based in a world where steam is the major power source. It also has robots. But technically, it’s more cyberpunk than steampunk. The best way to describe it is science fantasy.

The Silver Sickle broke the Victorian England trope of steampunk, as it takes place in a Persian-inspired setting. I’m delighted to see more and more steampunk stories take place in a non-western setting. My favorite of all time is the Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfield. The second book takes place in an Ottoman Empire inspired setting. It’s brilliant!

(4) One thing that always interests me is “Why this story? Why now?” Most writers have many ideas floating around in their heads, so why did you choose to write this particular one before the others?

It has to be challenging and fun.

I try to challenge myself with every book. The Silver Sickle was hard for me, but not too far above my skill set. These characters were also so FUN to write. I couldn’t wait to get back to their world every day. When I feel like that, I know I’m writing a story at the right time. It’s meant to be.

(5) What message/theme did you hope readers would take away with them after finishing your book?

Farissa learns that you need to hold onto what you love, and not give up on it.

Zel learns to not be obsessed with what you love, to set it free, to let it go.

If readers feel that along with them, I did my job.

Thanks so much for being here Ellie :)

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann is a NYT and USA Today bestseller of thrillers, science fiction, and comics. Her latest work is Tale of Frida, a comic published by Motionworks Entertainment about a female werewolf in the Dark Ages. She’s a watcher, runner, reader, geek, and maker of egg rolls.

Twitter: @elliesoderstrom

Facebook: Ellie Ann Author

Website: ellieann.net

If you’d like to buy The Silver Sickle, you can find it on Amazon in print and as an ebook.

(Those are affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you extra to use them, but every purchase contributes a few cents towards helping me keep this blog up and running. If you don’t like the idea, feel free to search for The Silver Sickle on Amazon. It’ll pop right up :) )

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Do You Believe in Fate or Free Will?

X-Men Days of Future PastBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology and a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. During the years I was in school, I listened to and participated in debates on wide-ranging hot-button topics like nature vs. nurture, the definition of deviance, and the ethical lines behind human experimentation.

But no topic created more heated reactions from everyone involved than the question of fate vs. free will.

Do we have a destiny? Or is our future undetermined until we act, bringing it into reality?

Based solely on how often this theme arises in fantasy and science fiction, I think a lot of people struggle with this question. I ran into it again when my husband and I went to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past.

X-Men: Days of Future Past takes us into a future where mutants (and anyone sympathetic to them) are on the verge of extinction thanks to an invention known as the Sentinels. The Sentinels have the ability to adapt to any mutant power (mimicking it) because they were designed using Mystique’s DNA. (In case you’re not an X-Man fan, Mystique can shape-shift, changing her appearance to match anyone.)

The chain of events leading to this future started in 1973 when Mystique assassinated the Sentinels’ inventor. His company captured her and used her to develop the ultimate weapon to target and destroy mutants.

In the present day, Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and a group of other mutants figure out a way to send Wolverine back into the past to stop Mystique from killing the Sentinels’ inventor and getting herself captured.

The problem is that even though Wolverine succeeds in stopping the assassination, the future doesn’t change. They get Mystique’s blood anyway. The X-Men have to try to find another way to stop the creation and use of the Sentinels.

And Professor X begins to wonder if the future is set and there’s nothing they can do to change it.  

I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, but at the end of the movie, Professor X leaves us with the opposite message—that the future is never really set.

I understand the pro and con arguments on both sides.

Believers in free will say that if our destiny is determined, we’re nothing more than puppets. Believers in destiny talk about lives serving a greater purpose and take comfort that whatever happens takes place for a reason.

When I was younger, I couldn’t stand the thought that my life might be on a path I couldn’t change, but the more I studied and thought and prayed, the more I came to believe that the future is pre-determined (though I also believe that doesn’t completely negate our free will either—it’s a delicate balance).

Where do you stand on the issue? What makes you believe in either complete free will, complete destiny, or a combination of the two?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale over the summer for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Do You Trust In First Impressions?

I Robot First ImpressionsBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Many of us put a lot of faith in first impressions.  

In the movie I, Robot, the year is 2035, and robots are now a regular part of life as household servants and members of the public service professions.

As the movie opens, Detective Del Spooner has been called in to investigate what appears at first to be the suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning, a CEO at one of the largest robotics firms. Spooner doesn’t believe Lanning killed himself. How, he asks himself, could a man of Lanning’s age have successfully thrown himself through the safety glass of his office windows?

Spooner goes to investigate Lanning’s office and finds an NS-5 (the most recent robot upgrade) in the office. Spooner believes the robot killed Lanning, despite the fact that the first law of robotics programmed in to all robots is that they cannot harm humans or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.

Spooner goes on a vendetta to prove the NS-5 killed Lanning.

The scientist who’s helping him can’t understand why he’s so determined to prove the NS-5’s guilt until Spooner reveals that a few years earlier he was in a car accident where his car and another were pushed off a bridge by a semi-truck. A robot saw the accident and saved Spooner instead of saving the twelve-year-old girl in the other car. Spooner has hated and distrusted robots ever since.

That one instance, a single impression of the robot’s inability to realize that it should have saved the little girl, formed Spooner’s whole opinion of robots.

It’s not until Spooner can get past the prejudice formed by his “first impression” that he can actually figure out not only who actually killed Lanning but also why.

As I was watching I, Robot, I couldn’t help but wonder how often I’ve been blinded by first impressions too.  

I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a wrong first impression, and I know how much it can hurt. Midway through my undergraduate university degree, I decided I wanted to go on to a master’s degree once I graduated. A guy I barely knew overheard me talking about it, and later said to a girl he didn’t realize was my friend, “She’ll never make it. She’s not smart enough.”

He made that assumption having no more than a first impression of me. He didn’t know my IQ. He didn’t know my grades. He didn’t know my work ethic. He saw a shy girl who liked (and still likes) to smile a little too much and he made an assumption. A wrong assumption. School was always easy for me.

Thankfully his words wounded nothing more than my pride, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes judging another person on a first impression can have lasting consequences.

I almost missed out on the opportunity for a friendship that’s now lasted for over 20 years because of a wrong first impression.

Those two situations combined have me wonder how many times I’ve trusted my first impressions when I shouldn’t have.

I thought I’d bring the question here and see what all of you thought.

Do you trust in first impressions? Have your first impressions always been right? Why do you think so many of us do trust in first impressions?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale over the summer for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality. 

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Do You Ever Feel Invisible?

Amazing Spier-Man 2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When I was in university, I watched a movie called Shall We Dance. The only thing I remember about it (other than that it starred Richard Gere) was a small clip where the main character’s wife is talking to the private investigator she hired to find out if her husband was cheating on her.

“Why do you think people get married?” she asked.

He makes a guess, but she shakes her head.

“It’s because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet. What does any one life mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything…The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. All the time. Every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”

At the time, that hit me hard. I was at a point in my life where I felt invisible and unimportant. Like if I didn’t exist at all, it wouldn’t matter. I was never suicidal. I put too precious a value on life, and I was happy to be alive. But I wanted to matter.

That clip meant enough to me that I own the movie even though I don’t think I’ve watched it since. It let me know I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt that way.

This weekend, when my husband and I went to watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the same message was there—that the world is full of people who feel invisible, and unimportant, and unwanted.

The main villain in the movie, Max Dillon (Electro), is the epitome of an invisible man. His plans for the power grid were used without giving him credit. Few people remember his name, and those who do treat him like dirt rather than like a human being who deserves respect.

Harry Osborne and Peter Parker both feel like their parents threw them away and valued other things more highly than their own children.

And even Aunt Mae feels like she wasn’t enough. She feels like despite all she’s done for Peter and how much she loves him, he still pines for his parents.

I walked away from the movie with a few thoughts I couldn’t shake.

Be nice to everyone. Yes, Max/Electro took the kindness shown him to the extent of becoming a crazy Spiderman super-fan, but for most people, your small act of kindness, even if it’s just saying hello and remembering their name, might be what gets them through the day.

You’re making a bigger difference than you think. When Aunt Mae finally confesses to Peter how she felt, he tells her she shouldn’t think that way. She was enough. We won’t always see the positive effect we’re having in the world and on those around us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t.

You’re not alone. Most people have gone through a time when they felt invisible or insignificant. It doesn’t mean you are. Press on and this too shall pass.

What matters most is how you deal with your feelings. There are good and bad ways to cope when we feel invisible. Both Harry Osborne and Max/Electro chose the wrong path. Aunt Mae and Peter chose the right path. Aunt Mae talked with a loved one about it, and Peter tried to give other people hope.

What do you think? Have you ever felt invisible? What got you through?

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Five Important Lessons About Love From Disney’s Frozen

Disney's FrozenBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As Disney’s Frozen starts, we meet two sisters who love each other. Eldest sister Elsa has magical powers that allow her to create snow and freeze things, and younger sister Anna is always begging her to build a snowman. During one of their play sessions, Elsa accidentally injures Anna.

From that moment on, Elsa isolates herself from Anna and from everyone, even after their parents die. When Elsa finally loses control and sends the kingdom into eternal winter, Anna sets out on a quest to bring her home and help her.

It’s a visually beautiful movie with amazing music, but what impressed me most were the five important lessons about love I found inside.

I can’t write this post without at least a couple of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the movie and would be bothered by knowing what happens before you do, then I recommend you just read the bolded points.

#1 – You can’t fall in love in a day.

Anna is extremely lonely. Since the death of her parents, she’s been locked in the castle. Her older sister, Elsa, won’t allow people in, but Elsa also refuses to spend time with Anna.

When the gates are finally thrown open for Elsa’s coronation, it’s no surprise that Anna “falls in love” with the first handsome man in her age bracket that she meets (and he just happens to be a prince as well). She thinks it’s love, but she finds out in the end that it wasn’t. He didn’t love her, and she didn’t really love him either.

Many things can be mistaken for love—loneliness, pity, need, attraction, lust. When we say it was love at first sight, it was usually one of those at first sight and real love grew out of it over time.  

I loved this lesson because it reminds us that for love to be real and lasting it has to be accompanied by knowledge of the person’s personality and character. Love is about the other person. It’s not about something in us.

#2 – Everyone is a fixer upper.

When Anna’s heart is accidentally frozen by Elsa, Kristoff (the ice merchant helping Anaa find Elsa) takes Anna back to his family, thinking they can save her because of their magical powers. His family tries to match-make, and breaks out into a song about how everyone is a fixer upper.

I loved this lesson because it’s an important counterpoint to the warning against love at first sight. It’s just as dangerous to wait for the “perfect” person. There’s no such thing. Everyone has flaws. Usually big ones. In a good relationship, we work on improving ourselves together. And, sometimes, we just have to overlook the annoying parts of our partner because the good in them far outweighs the bad.

#3 – Love means letting others help you.

One of the big mistakes Elsa makes in the movie is shutting Anna out. Anna loves her and would do anything to help her. Many of the problems of the movie could have been avoided had Elsa let Anna in.

Elsa kept Anna at a distance because she was afraid of hurting her, but also out of a stubborn independence.

I know not everyone will agree with my view on this, but I loved this lesson because I believe that a good romantic relationship is a partnership. You make the important decisions together. You don’t keep secrets. You have to let go of some of your independence and allow the other person to help you when you need it. When they need it, you help them.

#4 – Love means making sacrifices.

In the final moment before her heart freezes solid, Anna has a choice to make. Run to Kristoff for true love’s kiss and save herself or throw herself between Elsa and the evil prince’s sword. Because she loves Elsa, she sacrifices herself to save her sister.

A lot of times, love is sacrifice. Love is compromise. You give up something you want to make the person you love happy. And rather than that making you unhappy or resentful, their happiness should fill you with joy. In a good relationship, they will also take their turn sacrificing for you.

#5 – Love for your family is just as important as romantic love.

Anna needed an act of true love to thaw her heart and save her. Since it was a Disney movie, you’d expect it to be a kiss, like in Snow White.

But it wasn’t.

It was Anna’s act of sacrifice, trying to save Elsa, that thawed her heart.

The importance of familial or friendship love is an often untaught lesson. We need more in our lives than just a spouse. We need friends and family to love and be loved by as well. That love is equally important.

I’d love to hear what you think. Did you see the same lessons? Do you agree or disagree with the messages in the movie?

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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