Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: My Thoughts (Page 1 of 14)

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The Artist’s Curse of a Sleepless Night

I dare you to ask any writer, “Have you ever had trouble sleeping because of a story?” I’m willing to bet that at least 99% of them will respond with an affirmative “Abso-damn-lutely!”

I’ve had many nights where I was trying my best to get to sleep, but the story in the back of my mind refused to let my brain shut off. When that happens, I HAVE to get up and write down everything that’s coming into my mind. Only once it’s down on paper will I be able to sleep. I’ve been up until ungodly hours in the morning because of a story that’s working itself out in my mind. It’s something we writers learn to live with.

I’m certain a lot of artists struggle with the same issue. I know my father, a musician, has gotten up in the middle of the night to write down lyrics or melody that refused to leave him alone. I’m certain the other artists (graphic designers, sketch artists, cover artists, etc.) in my family have also wrestled with a creative idea well into the wee hours of the night.

A study from an Israeli University found that visually creative people (painters, artists, etc.) tend to sleep less at night. The quality of their sleep is also worse. Their disturbed sleep habits can lead to difficulties functioning during the day.

But for verbally creative people (like writers), we tend to sleep more hours, but we get to sleep later and wake up later. I know a lot of my writer friends like to get their work done late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. (Having a day job and a family also necessitates this habit.) Instead of getting up early in the morning to write, it’s easier to stay up late to get in the writing time, then sleep in a few hours later.

Why is there a difference between the two? The study didn’t quite come up with a clear, well-defined reason why visual and verbally creative people have different sleep patterns, but it suggested that it came down to the neurological patterns of connectivity that control creativity. Visually creative people tend to be more alert all day and night, leading to sleep disturbances. Verbally creative people tend to be more creative while they are awake, but their brains are better-able to shut off at night. The cerebral mechanisms that control the two types of creativity (verbal and visual) are different, and thus affect the artist differently.

Either way, if you intend to be an artist of any sort (painter, sculptor, videographer, photographer, or writer), prepare for a few (or many) sleepless nights. The curse of the artist is that our brains never fully stop creating and making creative associations. Learning how to harness and channel the creative power of our brains is the closest we get to finding peace when it’s time to sleep. But sometimes, there’s nothing to do but accept we’re not going to get a full night of sleep and make use of our creativity. It’s definitely more of a gift than a curse!

 

 

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The Fears that Drive All Action

Take a look at any fantasy or science fiction novel, and you will find a few fears that drive all the characters to some sort of action.

Fear of death – This is the most common motivator. The hero or villain fears their own or a loved one’s death, so they fight, conquer, or search for the MacGuffin that could prevent it. Nearly every fantasy and sci-fi novel has some fear of death. It’s why thieves evade being captured, assassins fight their target’s guards, and soldiers combat the enemy.

Fear of creepy crawlies – Snakes, spiders, cockroaches, rats, and other creepy crawlies are terrifying to many people. There are many phobies related to contact with these animals. Many sci-fi novels, in particular, use this fear to create alien races that are instinctively perceived as evil. After all, saying something has a snake-like appearance or a “rat face” is immediately “bad”.

Fear of the dark – There is an instinctive fear of the dark, because darkness hides potential threats. Assassins like the Hunter of Voramis use the darkness as cover, then jump out at their victims. Darkness can also hide magical threats, monsters, and more. The absence of visual input allows the mind to run wild with potential dangers. It’s why scenes where the main character creeps through the dark are so much scarier than scenes set in bright daylight. And it’s why so many “scary places” tend to be dark.

Fear of disfigurement and dismemberment – Many heroes try to escape torture before their sword hands are chopped off, or someone reveals information before the person torturing them removes an eye or their tongue. The fear of disfigurement stems from the natural reaction of disgust to anything abnormal or asymmetric, as well as the fear of being alone (no one could love someone so disfigured, the brain tells you). The fear of dismemberment stems from a fear of losing a part of one’s self, as well as a fear of being vulnerable (no legs to run away from danger, no hands to hold weapons).

Fear of the unusual – Things that are commonplace/well-known can become utterly terrifying when they change. For example, scary clowns, your best friends turning into zombies or vampires, and statues coming to life to kill you (a la Dr. Who’s Weeping Angels). The mind rebels against the changes made to the thing we’re so familiar with. That change from known to unknown can be scarier than things that are visibly monstrous.

Fear of being alone – Fear of being alone stems from a fear of vulnerability, which is the primal fear that we, the weakest member of the herd, will be picked off by a predator. Fear of being alone is also tied to our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. It’s easy for the psyche to make the jump from “no one loves me” to “I’m not worth loving”. That loss of self-value is another of the most primal fears that govern all human action.

 

 

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The Dangers of Complex Villains

Dark fantasy (and all dark fiction, for that matter) is a genre I love because it allows me to explore the various shades of moral grey. Instead of black and white (shining knights and cackling villains, heroic kings and evil viziers, noble warriors and cowardly evil wizards), dark fantasy deals with characters who are equal parts good and bad. There is less emphasis on “heroes” and “villains”, but more on actions and consequences.

But an interesting article on Psychology Today gave me a bit of food for thought. The article says: “We rapidly learn not only about our heroes’ shortcomings but also about the villains’ humanity as well.”

The truth is that every person is flawed. There is no such thing as “pure good” or “pure evil”. In the end, people make the choices they make for a wide range of reasons.

That doesn’t mean we should completely discard the concepts of “good” and “evil” completely. For example, the actions of the Nazis in World War II. All of the people who did those terrible things were fully human, and no doubt many of them had redeeming qualities that “showcased the humanity of the villain”. But that shouldn’t detract from just how terrible their actions were. All the horrors, torments, and suffering they inflicted on others isn’t reduced just because of their humanity.

One of the dangers of complex villains is that we fail to take into account their villainous actions. If, by the end of our story, we start to sympathize or empathize with the villains, we stop taking into account their actions and start looking at their reasons. This can desensitize us to the horrors of their actions, and almost give them a justification. That is a VERY dangerous road to go down!

Think of all the school shootings that have occurred in the last year alone. I’m willing to bet MOST of the shooters had real “reasons” why they felt the way they did—everything from psychological disorders to abuse to trauma. But those reasons don’t justify the actions. The things they did should NEVER have happened, no matter the reason.

Fiction that attempts to help us understand or sympathize with the villains can blind us to the villainy of their actions. That can be perilous in our modern world, one filled with so many shades of moral grey.

We still need the concepts of “good” and “evil”, and we can still strive to reach one while avoiding the other. It’s a much more complex world than black and white, but that doesn’t mean we should stop seeing good and evil. If we get lost in the shades of moral grey, the world is doomed to be a dark, unpleasant place!

 

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What Does a Master Thief Look Like?

Fantasy stories involving thieves have been my favorite for years. I’ve read LOTS of them—from The Queen’s Thief by Megan Whalen Turner to The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (my personal favorite) to the Riyira series by Michael Sullivan. Of course, I had to go and write my own series, beginning with Child of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves Book 1)!

Do you know what all these series have in common? They all describe thieves pretty much the same way: short, slim, compact, strong but not heavily muscled, agile, and clever. The best thieves tend to fall into this category—not only the ones in fantasy, but even the thieves in real life.

An article in Psychology Today described Blane Nordahl,  the man who was known as the “Master Silver Thief”. Between 1990 and 2003, he stole sterling silver flatware in the Northeastern United States. He was more than just a burglar—he was a master thief, an artist.

The article gave an interesting description of him. The description below pretty much sums up what a master thief looks, acts, and thinks like:

  • Short. Nordahl was 5’4″.
  • Slim, compact, and strong. He was built like a gymnast, with a slim waist and narrow shoulders perfect for slipping into tight spaces.
  • Educated. Not book-smart, but educated in the latest home security systems, including how to defeat them.
  • Invisible. Not ACTUALLY invisible (a la H.G. Wells novel), but clever enough to get in and out without damaging the homes. Instead of breaking glass doors or windows, he would cut the molding and stack the window panes neatly.
  • Smart at selecting the goods to steal. Sterling silver flatware is easy to fence, or it can be melted down and sold for scrap metal.
  • Clever in selecting targets. He burgled mansions where the owners were either asleep far from the kitchen or out of town. He would break into summer/winter homes when he knew the occupants would be far away. He looked for homes away from the main roads, often those with long access roads or driveways.
  • Prepared. He had a duffel bag that carried everything he’d need: another empty nylon bag, screwdrivers, a carpet knife, wire cutters, a wood chisel, nail pullers, a flashlight, a white cotton rag, duct tape, white cotton gardening gloves, and a small pry bar.
  • Patient. He could spend up to an hour or more cutting his way into the homes. It was all about precision, which requires patience.

The article gives a lot more details on this master thief, including some of his AMAZING adventures. It’s a fascinating look at the kind of person who becomes a master thief, and the things they do to avoid detection.

 

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Guest Post: What are Deontology and Consequentialism?

Today I have an interesting post from a fellow author and friend of mine, the amazing M.L. Spencer. It’s a bit more philosophical than my usual psychological fare, but I found it a fascinating concept…

Deontology vs. Consequentialism

Deontology and consequentialism are two terms that most people (except for philosophy majors) have probably never heard of. Let’s put it simply:

Deontology

From Wikipedia:Deontological ethics or deontology is the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on rules. It is sometimes described as “duty-” or “obligation-” or “rule-” based ethics, because rules “bind you to your duty.” In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.”

In deontology, the action itself determines the rightness or wrongness of a deed, instead of the resulting consequences. Deontology is often called “duty-based ethics” because a person’s actions are often motivated by their perceived sense of duty or rules. Most people would think of deontology as being more “ethical” than consequentialism. But taken to the extreme, deontology can actually forbid some actions that are morally right.

This is a common element in the more “epic” genres of science-fiction and fantasy. The hero is motivated to do the right thing out of duty or obligation, rather than personal desire. They may end up sacrificing a great deal “for the greater good”.

At the same time, great villains can be made using this ethical position. If a villain feels duty-bound to something, they may be willing to do things perceived as “bad” if it benefits the “greater good”. The apparent ethics can be twisted and made into something dark and dangerous—great for portraying realistic villains!

Consequentialism

From Wikipedia:Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission from acting) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.”

When most people think of consequentialism, they think of the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli and the famous quote so often (mistakenly) ascribed to him, “The end justifies the means.” In consequentialist moral ethics, the consequences of one’s actions are used to judge whether the action was right or wrong. Carried far enough, any method of achieving a morally important goal is deemed justifiable.

Dark fiction (dark fantasy, grimdark, dark sci-fi, etc.) often uses this to justify the actions a character takes. For example, getting vengeance for harm done to a loved one is perceived as justifiable, especially if positioned in a dark world.

(Andy’s Note: Blade of the Destroyer is the perfect example of this! The Hunter goes on a rampage after the antagonists harm the people he’s protecting.)

These two concepts of moral ethics form the underlying basis for conflict in Darkstorm.

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In the novel, the main character Braden adheres to deontological ethics and is very inflexible in his morals. By contrast, his brother Quin is constantly compromising his values. This pair find themselves facing a cabal of darkmages intent on opening a gateway to Hell in order to save the magic field of their planet – a noble intent, but supported by heinous actions. It was a fascinating ethical and philosophical question to ask, “Which of the two ethical positions is ‘right’? Can either be right?”

What do you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts on deontology versus consequentialism

About the Author:

M.L. Spencer lives in Southern California. By day she works as a biology teacher; by night she sweats over a beaten-up keyboard. She is now in the process of expanding the Rhenwars Saga into a series. Her favorite authors are Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Stephen King and Frank Herbert. She is a member of the California Writers Club and the Science Fantasy Society.

Find Darkstorm on Amazon and read the conflict for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Darkstorm-Rhenwars-Saga-Book-1-ebook/dp/B01MT77SK9

Connect with M.L. Spencer on Facebook: http://facebook.com/MLSpencerAuthor/

Read more of her thoughts: http://mlspencerfiction.com/

Tweet at her: twitter.com/MLSpencer1

 

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Not All Serial Killers are Geniuses

Most of the time, when we read about serial killers (especially in fiction), they’re presented as evil geniuses capable of outwitting law enforcement and evading detection. The truth is that their unique psychologies (sociopaths, psychopaths, etc.) do give them a certain degree of cunning that enables them to continue their kills without being detected. However, they are also driven by their neuroses, their unique “thing” that makes them kill. Sometimes, that neuroses ends up pushing them too far, or they make a mistake that ends up getting them caught.

As I was researching serial killers, I ran across a funny article on Psychology Today  that looked at the silly things that got serial killers caught. Some pretty moronic things, considering how intelligent some of these people were:

  • Ted Bundy got caught because he was pulled over for erratic driving.
  • Randy Kraft got caught because the cops discovered a dead body in the front seat of his car after they pulled him over for drunk driving.
  • Joel Rifkin got caught for driving without a license plate, and the cops found a dead body in his car.
  • David Berkowitz was caught because of a parking ticket.
  • Henry Lee Lucas was arrested on a charge of illegal weapons, then ended up confessing to hundreds of murders.
  • Jack Owen Spillman took a lot of precautions when killing (using surgical gowns, shaving his body hair, etc.), but he got sloppy during a burglary.
  • Alexander Bychkov was arrested for theft, but ended up being linked to nine murders.
  • Arthur Shawcross was caught having lunch over the body of his latest kill.
  • Dennis Nilsen flushed chunks of his victims down the toilet, and that clogged plumbing led the police to his apartment, where they found body parts.
  • Alvin and Judith Neely were caught because of some background noise on a phone call they made.
  • Dennis Rader was caught because he believed the police when they told him they couldn’t trace a computer disc.
  • Peter Goebbels dropped his ID at the scene of a crime.
  • Dr. Harold Shipman got caught because the lawyer relative of one of his victims believed a will was forged in the doctor’s favor.

When writing serial killers, remember that they are as prone to faults, failings, and human nature as anyone else. It’s interesting to think of small mistakes or slip-ups that get them caught in the end.

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Fear: How the World Stands Still

Fear is a fascinating emotion. It can produce all sorts of unusual reactions: tightening in your muscles, a twisting in your gut, a spike in your heart rate, and the list goes on.

One of the most intriguing reactions is the time dilation effect, also known as “time slowing down”.

The other day, a friend of mine related the following story:

“I have been doing bushcraft/survival training since I was about 10 or so. When I was about 21, on one of the last trips I got to take with my grandpa, I ended up killing a bear with a throwing axe. (How bad-ass is that?) When it happened, it felt like my body had an adrenaline surge, and time seemed to slow down. Like you know when things go in slow motion in movies? It’s almost like that. It doesn’t affect everyone the same, the first few times it seems claustrophobic, because all the little things you aren’t actively paying attention to that your brain is registering via your senses get brought to the forefront.”

Pretty awesome, right? In this terrifying moment (being attacked by the bear), it felt like everything slowed down.

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According to Psychology Today, “survivors of life-and-death situations often report that things seem to take longer to happen, objects fall more slowly, and they’re capable of complex thoughts in what would normally be the blink of an eye.”

“Fear does not actually speed up our rate of perception or mental processing. Instead, it allows us to remember what we do experience in greater detail. Since our perception of time is based on the number of things we remember, fearful experiences thus seem to unfold more slowly.”

It’s not that the brain actually stops time—it’s that the rush of adrenaline sends a surge of electrical activity through the brain that makes it work faster. Basically, our brains are able to absorb, process, and utilize information much more quickly in times of extreme stress or fear.

I find this a fascinating reaction, and one that I’ve used multiple times for my characters. But what’s interesting is that it won’t happen in EVERY situation. In one test, researchers found that it ONLY occurred when an object was moved toward a participant. Simply put, if our eyes/brains register a threatening object coming towards us, the time dilation effect kicks in. But if the threat remains static or moves away, it won’t.

I’ll have to remember this when I write my novels. Oncoming threats will slow down time, but other threats (visible and out of field of view) won’t!

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The Guilt-Free Criminal Mindset

In preparing to write Child of the Night Guild, I had to do a lot of research. I wanted to understand everything that went into the character’s story—from the skills she’d need as a thief to the mindset of a criminal to the techniques used to “brainwash” her to the effects of the life she led.

In my research, I found an interesting article on Psychology Today that put the criminal mindset into very fascinating perspective. The article states:

“Their mentality is well expressed by an offender who told me during a psychological evaluation, “I can make anything right wrong.  I can make anything wrong right.  Right is what I want to do at the time.”  Individuals who think like this are perfectly capable of warning others, including siblings, not to do things that are wrong because they could get into trouble or hurt someone.  However, with respect to their own contemplated action, criminals have a chilling capacity to shut off from immediate awareness any consideration of right and wrong, obliterate any sentiment, and banish any thought of how they might harm others.  Once they have honed in on what they intend to do, in their mind the act is as good as accomplished without any adverse consequence to them.  This usually is borne out by their experience in getting away with many offenses in the past.  Criminals do not have to rationalize what they are doing to anyone.  That comes later if they are apprehended.”

Think about that! The sort of people who commit crimes are able to rationalize what they’re doing—not to others, but only in their own minds. It’s only if/when they get caught that they have to explain.

I’ve found this a common theme in cop/detective shows. The detective has the suspect in custody and they’re sitting in the interrogation room, grilling them or trying to get them to crack. Finally, the criminal says, “I did it because of X”. Most of the time they almost say it like it’s a logical defense, like their actions are acceptable because of X reason.

  • “He hurt me so I killed him.”
  • “She was nasty so I stole from her.”
  • “X company owed me money so I robbed their bank account.”

Now, thinking about my own characters, I can see how that is real.

For example, the Hunter of Voramis (from Blade of the Destroyer) believes that killing out of vengeance is justified because the people who he’s killing deserve it. Talk about wild rationalization! That “eye for an eye” mentality is common among murderers who commit crimes of passion, but also vengeance killers (like the Hunter).

In Child of the Night Guild, the character Ilanna doesn’t really have that justification yet. She’s stealing because she has no choice, and because it’s all she knows. But later in the story, she’s able to rationalize her actions because of actions other people have taken. It’s that same “eye for an eye”, “you hurt me so I hurt you” mentality that’s common among criminals.

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Is Brainwashing Real?

“Brainwashing” is one of those terms you’ll often find portrayed in movies about religious cults or the CIA. It’s usually perceived as fantastical and not even slightly real, and, in reality, there is no such thing as “brainwashing”. However, there are certain things that can be used for psychological manipulation, indoctrination, and behavior modification.

(Note: I found all of this out as I did research for Child of the Night Guild)

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Low-protein, high-sugar diet. A low-protein diet deprives the brain of vital nutrients. A lack of protein can lead to impaired memory, concentration, and critical thinking. The addition of excessive sugar only adds to the cognitive impairment. It’s basically used to break down mental barriers.

Physical exhaustion. Pushing people beyond the limits of their endurance through hard labor is one of the most common techniques used for this type of manipulation. When you’re too tired to think clearly, you are often more vulnerable to suggestions and less able to resist other manipulation techniques.

Lack of sleep. This only adds to the physical exhaustion caused by excessive work and poor diet. The human mind needs a sleep routine as much as the body does. Take away the routine and force the person to sleep/wake at random times, and it can break their mental barriers.

Elimination of Time and Location. “Time” and “place” are two very important factors in human consciousness. Take away anything that could give an indication of time and location (dark, lightless environment in an unknown place), and you take away the foundation of what human consciousness is built on.

Elimination of Sense of Identity. We all know who we are. I’ve been “me” since birth, and will continue to be until death. But the erasure of identity is possible—often by the removal of names in favor of a number or designation. With the mind so broken by fatigue, lack of sleep, and improper diet, it’s possible to suppress one’s identity.

Repetition of Mantras. AA is a sort of cult, as is Nike, Apple, or Coca Cola. The use of mantras (“one day at a time” or “Just Do It”) is a form of though reformation.

Of course, these are just a few of the techniques used for psychological manipulation, thought reformation, or indoctrination. There are many more—this is a great link to check out.

Pretty scary stuff, right? Imagine being a person who goes through that!

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The Odd Dichotomy of Asperger’s

Asperger’s, like all of the Autism Spectrum Disorders, comes with its own unique range of challenges that few “neurotypical” people understand. One of the main difficulties most “Aspies” face is in the realm of social interaction. We have a hard time understanding social cues and nonverbal communications, which makes socializing and social activities much more challenging.

In an article on Psychology Today, I found a very interesting article that talked about the unusual dichotomy that comes with autism. The writer says:

“It seems a common thread that I tend to love the things I hate and hate the things I love. Most activities I enjoy have some component of pain and vice versa. And it also seems that a lot of that has to do with autism, namely problems socializing and sensory sensitivity.”

“When it comes to the social world, my feelings have frequently been conflicted. There’ve been many times I have wondered if I am not an extrovert in an introvert’s body. Going back to my earliest memories, they are dominated with an interest in other human beings. But slowly, over time, those feelings became dampened, replaced by a wariness born of an awareness of how my attempts at connection were received. A fear of pain and of rejection.”

“As a result, my feelings have solidified into the knowledge that the desire to socialize is not the same as successfully socializing. The gap between my feelings and my skills is a painful one, one that despite all I’ve learned and experienced, never seems to fully go away.  It’s a gap that in many ways, controls my life.”

That is something I can DEFINITELY relate to!

It’s such an odd balance when it comes to social interactions, even with people that I should feel very comfortable with (close friends, family, etc.). For example, my sister just came to visit us, and I had a lot of fun talking with her, hanging out with her boyfriend, and socializing with friends together. However, there came a point when my “social energy” had run out, and it felt like I was forcing myself to engage in social activities. That “introversion” came despite my enjoyment of the “extrovert” activities.

Conversations can be quite difficult after a while. I can talk for HOURS about something that I’m interested in—and I’m interested in an odd and broad assortment of topics. However, I have a very hard time talking to people about things that have little interest to me. It goes beyond just showing a polite interest—it’s like I’m chewing off my own arm just to keep myself listening when I’d rather be anywhere else at that time.

I wish I could say I had an answer to this dichotomy, but it’s just something that I—like all people with Asperger’s and ASD—will have to struggle with for the rest of our lives. It’s not anyone’s fault that we have a hard time with socializing and interactions. We don’t think that topic of conversation is boring, or that you’re boring. It’s just the way our brains are!

 

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