Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Interview with Author Connie Corcoran Wilson

Thanks for joining me today for my first author interview.  Actually, the interview was completed by Maxine of Between the Lines, unfortunately she was not able to post it at this time and asked if I host Connie here.  The week before last I posted my reveiw of author Connie Corcoran Wilson's lastest book Red is for Rage, and so I am happy to have her here once again.  
I find authors fasinating people.  They live in the same world as me, yet they seem to be experiencing it on  a different level, or it's the fact that they are seriously 'people watchers'.  I want to thank Connie for her very candid and most interesting  answers .  ps, occasionally I rather like to wear the colour khaki.
Interview with Between the Lines 

1.     Tad McGreevy can see the auras of those around him.  Each aura colour denotes a certain personality type, suggesting that the path we are to take in life is already marked out.  Given that some of your characters are based on pupils you once taught, and that some of those pupils are now unfortunately serving life in prison, do you believe that these people were actually born with the propensity to commit an evil crime?

First, Maxine, let me say that this is an extremely refreshing question---very thought-provoking and not run-of-the-mill at all.   (Kudos!) Your question about “the propensity to commit an evil crime” almost makes me go all religious and start blathering on about Calvinism and predestination, where all events are supposedly willed by God and (supposedly) He selected eternal damnation for some folks and salvation for others. That would bring up “the paradox of free will” and possibly soteriology and all sorts of other intellectual religious theology points that I’m rather rusty on, all these years later, to be honest.

 So, let me just say this about these students—whom I remember vividly---all of whom went on to commit evil crimes and capital felony offenses. Sometimes, I feel the student was “not right” in the head to begin with, yes. There’s a chapter in RED IS FOR RAGE when Jeffrey Dahmer even says he felt that he was “born with a part of me missing.”[It’s in the Chapter entitled “Sing the Die Song,” which explains more about Tetrachromatic Super Vision.]  Sometimes I think such crimes have to do with socio-economic status and poor parenting. Sometimes I think it is partially society’s fault, as various social agencies may have failed a particular child in his or her formative years, at their most vulnerable ages, when they badly needed intervention from a social service agency or a significant mentor or a family member who cared.  

But back to my former students: One of the most heinous crimes involved a student I had for 3 years who beat his girlfriend’s small child to death intentionally,( after inflicting a great deal of abuse on the poor child during life) and then blamed  “neighborhood children” for the victim’s death when on trial. (That didn’t fly).

Later, he said he should get a new trial because the drugs he was taking to help him sleep while imprisoned made it impossible for him to adequately aid in his own defense. (That didn’t fly, either).

What I remember about this student---vividly---was that he was always given a “pass” by a (supposedly) loving mother (who resembled nothing so much as the stereotype of the squat middle-aged Russian woman, stodgy, wearing a babushka, lumbering along.)

Mrs. “X” would trudge into school and tell us that we couldn’t discipline this student in any way. He was “untouchable.” (And I don’t mean the Indian caste system term.) He was not to be kept after school for detentions. We were not to discipline her little darling, who would actively lobby to try to be sent to the office for any infraction, as, during the stifling hot fall months, it was the only air conditioned  room in the school. When he left your classroom for the Principal’s office, he would sport a huge Cheshire cat grin, happy to be being sent to a more comfortable part of the building. He once told a teaching colleague of mine at the high school level (after I had taught him three years through junior high school), “We liked to get Wilson going.”

 For Raymond, it was strictly “hands off”. (He was 11 or 12 when I taught him in school.) This student was of average to above-average intelligence, so we cannot blame low intelligence. But Raymond had been having it his way for so long that he seemed to begin to feel that no laws of behavior applied to him, somewhat like the Jeremy Gustaffsson character in THE COLOR OF EVIL series.

Raymond went on in adulthood to prove this in the worst possible way(s). The last time I saw him before he was arrested for murder, he was running through a supermarket with a small, terrified child in a shopping cart, literally RUNNING through the aisles, pushing the small child as fast as he could run,  and putting every adult  shopper in the aisles at risk. (Clean up on Aisle 3!) And trudging along behind this out-of-control individual was Mom, never saying a word.

 When that former student was grown up and on trial for his life, his mother never once came to the courtroom during his trial. His father was there every day, but his mother never once showed up. Interesting, no?

So, was this person born “bad?” Was he evil or amoral from birth?  Was he raised poorly?  Was there something “wrong” with him, psychologically? In Raymond’s case, perhaps both nature and nurture apply, but not because he was mistreated by his parents, as some criminals have been.  Raymond  always  seemed  psychotic, based on his behavior in my classroom (and I had him for 3 long years). Certainly he had gotten the feeling that no standards of conduct or rules of behavior applied to him and that may have contributed to his actions as an adult, when he crossed the line and became truly evil.

In some cases, as with the “Sixty Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday, March 17, about former Philadelphia hit man John Veasey, the hit man did not answer interviewer Byron Pitts as though he had much going for him in the area of higher intellectual abilities. He had the blank look in his eyes of a killer. Veasey certainly had no moral qualms about murdering people, even if he liked them. He spoke dispassionately about killing people---which he had done a lot of---as though he had merely swatted a mosquito. His arrest record even as a juvenile was lengthy, with something like 60 counts for lesser offenses in his youth.  Now, of course, he is married, claims to be “born again Christian,” attends church weekly and drives a church bus. Some doubters think it’s all an act. He testified against the Mob and was given a new identity and a good job and he claims to be a changed man. He still had a cold, dead, blank look behind his eyes and a woman he had threatened played telephone tapes of him threatening to kill both her and her husband, whom he blamed for the death of his brother. So, is he still a killer with no qualms about killing, or is he a reformed born-again Christian? You tell me and we’ll both know.

        A different killer I taught in junior high school murdered a man on a dare simply because he was high on drugs. This was a poor district. We could blame socio-economic factors. There is money in drugs, and drugs are an escape from the realities of one’s life, if the reality is that you are born into poverty and your future doesn’t look that bright. There were other issues, as he was a student who came to this country unable to speak English, originally. So, was he destined to go bad? Was it something within him? He lived next door to the art teacher, who once saw him rolling around on the lawn on a Sunday morning, fighting with his father, trying to hit his father over the head with a full Coca Cola bottle, an image which has remained lodged in my brain ever since.

Then there was the student who---while a grade school age student--- locked himself in the family bathroom, took a straight razor, and slashed all the plastic surfaces in the bathroom (toilet lid, shower curtains, etc.) He was about 8 years old at the time. Certainly old enough to know that this was not ideal behavior to display for his terrified babysitter trying to gain access to the locked bathroom that Kevin was destroying. When in my class, he would sit in the front right corner desk and actively self-mutilate during class with pins. You could ask him to quit, but good luck with forcing him to do anything you requested. He died in his early twenties in a drug bust gone wrong, burned to death in a downtown business, the fire set in an attempt to cover the homicide. No one was ever arrested for his death. [His sister was a piece of work, too, although she did not end up on Death Row.]

 We might say the individuals I mention above are examples of “Nurture, not nature,” but I honestly feel that “nature,” in some cases, also had a hand.

Yet another of my students---not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and one of 23 biological children born of the same mother---was talked into killing a man who had only one leg and wore a peg-leg because a truly evil Svengali type convinced him that the amputee with the wooden leg had money hidden in his leg. They callously (and somewhat stupidly) threw the man’s dead body in a ditch. (I’m telling you; you can’t make this stuff up. But you can write about it, if you experienced these students, firsthand, and that’s what I’ve begun to do.)

I hope that answers your excellent question and let me hasten to add, [having been psychoanalyzed by amateurs online recently myself,  unfairly, publicly , incorrectly, simply out of mean-spiritedness by people I had met for literally 10 minutes) : I’m not a psychiatrist and not a therapist, and I don’t say that I am.

 I am merely an observer with a certain amount of knowledge of human nature who has done a fair amount of reading, has a minor in psychology (and a sister who IS a psychologist) and that the teacher years in the immediate family go back, uninterruptedly, to 1927. I’ve written a book on successful teaching for the nation’s largest teacher training firm, in fact (“Training the Teacher As A Champion,” Performance Learning Systems, Inc., 1989).  

So maybe my 33 years in the classroom, observing student behavior, count for something. Or maybe I’m all wrong. You decide. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing about all of these people. Just wait.

2.     Khaki actually happens to be a colour I like to wear, why did you choose it as the ‘colour of evil’?

Another excellent question! (I thought no one would ever ask!) 

First, the word “khaki” comes from Persian and Urdu and has “dusty” or “dust” or “ash” and I was thinking of the phrase used at funerals: “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.”  So it’s a short hop, skip and a jump from “khaki” to “death,” for me.

: I thought black was too obvious and had been overdone. [Wasn’t that what you THOUGHT it would be? See what I mean?] I always used to tell my writing students to throw out the first 2 clever ideas that came to them when writing names for groups of animals as a creative exercise (“a stripe of zebras”)  because those first two would be the easy ones and true creativity meant original thinking, thinking out of the box, not saying what everyone else would say.

Third:  for me, the color khaki has always equated to decaying flesh or mold or algae or other unpleasant connotations. Even the animals I can think of that we might describe as “khaki-colored” are unpleasant, for the most part. (Fill in the blanks here with the names of your favorite or least favorite khaki-colored animal.)

Fourth: khaki is the color worn by most Armies, and even a synonym for certain types of attire (“khakis”), and an Army often equates to war and death. That could become a theme of a future book. In fact, the next book will probabtly be titled KHAKI = KILLER, (although that is still to be decided.)

Fifth: true funny story. I was writing a story once on the practice of “having your colors done” when that was all the rage and people would be pronounced a “winter” or a “spring” or whatever. I always thought that, if you were a grown adult, you should know by the age of sixteen or so whether you looked better in pink than in orange, but that’s just me. This was a weekly humor column I called “The Write Stuff.” One of my friends revealed that she had “had her colors done” at a cut-rate place (i.e. cheapie joint) and her color turned out to be khaki.

I laughed and said, “Well, you get what you pay for. Even Johnny Cash only wore black, but he mainly visited prisons.” I thought it was funny and wrote a humor column for my weekly column with these quotes. I was called in and told that the local woman who was “doing colors” and bought advertising in the paper was not amused. (I had also made fun of the concept of “having one’s horses’ colors done,” as a rich, local dowager had ostensibly done). Apparently, not everyone shares my sense of humor. So, that is another “khaki” story, which caused me to select it from among others for THE COLOR OF EVIL.

3.     What colour aura would you have and why?
Well, as you know if you’ve read both books, it would be good to be a brilliant green (NOT khaki) because you’d be very healthy. Yellow is also a good color because those individuals are sunny and funny and bursting with energy.(Yellow was my mother’s favorite color.) So, I’d hope to be one of those. I wouldn’t be blue (remote, cool, introverted) and, although I, personally, like to wear pink, I wouldn’t be pink, based on my attribution of that color to behavior (which you’ll have to look up for clarification.)
4.     You quote from various songs in both The Color of Evil and Red is for Rage, do you listen to music when you are writing and if so what type of music gets you into the writing frame of mind?

I do not listen to music when I am writing. I have trouble writing and chewing gum at the same time. Music would just take me somewhere I might not want to go (as far as synching up the characters’ actions with the music that might be playing.) I am musical, however (4 instruments; sang throughout college), and my daughter actually graduated in Music Business from Belmont University in Nashville.

5.     You also quote from movies, what is your all time favourite movie?

It is impossible for me to single out one All Time Favorite movie because I’ve seen so many and been reviewing them in print since 1970. My book “It Came from the ‘70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now” is the product of  15 years as a film and book critic for our local paper (Quad City Times), and I took 8 years putting it together. (*Reviews written AT THE TIME and saved for 43 years in scrap books.) It has 50 reviews representative of the era, 76 photos (many not seen previously and obtained from the directors from onset photographs) and interactive trivia and won 5 national awards.

I can tell you my favorite films for THIS YEAR would include: “Flight,” “Bernie,” (Jack Black) “Argo,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and---most recently---“Side Effects.” They are far from my All Time Favorites. I used to respond The Manchurian Candidate (the first film)  and there was an old British film called “The L-Shaped Room” back in the sixties with Leslie Caron and Brock Peters, that nobody but me has probably ever seen, that I loved at the time, just as I did Robert Redford’s films “Love with the Proper Stranger” and “This Property Is Condemned.” (This was when “Georgie Girl” was out, another great film.) But I’ve seen too many films since then, and I hope to see many more. I’ve covered the Chicago Film Festival for Yahoo for the past 5 or 6 years and my piece on Brad Pitt’s film “Killing Them Softly” just got over 100,000 hits on Yahoo. Check it out. It put me in the “Hot 500” for the month of February, which is pretty interesting when you consider that I was on a cruise ship floating around New Zealand and Australia and didn’t write anything that month. These were all hits on pieces written prior to that. I’ve been blogging since about 2007  on Yahoo as a Featured Contributer and Content Producer of the Year (2008) in politics, on10 other blogs ,and for my own blog,, where this Virtual Tour schedule is currently posted. I also love going to  documentaries. One from Iran called “Be Like Others” was horrifying, as it depicted governmental pressure on gays to actually have sex assignment surgery if  gay. Not very electively, I might add. And there was a terrific documentary year before last called “On the Bridge” by Olivier Morel of Notre Dame University about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) in returning Iraq war veterans that was heartbreaking. Some favorite comedies would include Woody Allen’s “Love & Death,” “Sleeper,” Bridesmaids,” “Lost in America” (Albert Brooks). I just plain love movies. If you take a look at my WeeklyWilson blog, you’ll see comments from “There Will Be Blood” at the top and you can scroll back to find evidence of my coverage of several years’ worth of Chicago Film Festivals in October. And, when in Australia this year, I greatly enjoyed watching the Australian version of the Oscars, because, this year, my 3 favorite films of the Chicago Film Festival were “Flight,” Helen Hunt’s “The Sessions” and “The Sapphires” from Australia, which really cleaned up in Sydney with Chris O’Dowd winning Best Actor and the entire film taking 11 out of 12 or some such. It was such a great film! Great sound track! Wonderful story. And I like the Australian TV show “Rake” a lot, too.

6.     How did you go about choosing your character names, Michael Clay is a good name I feel for the serial killer, but McGreevy is very unusual.

[Thank you on the “Michael Clay” comment. I have to be careful that I don’t end up calling him “Michael Clayton” (the George Clooney film) which has actually happened a few times.] McGreevy IS an unusual name. I didn’t realize HOW unusual until I was chatting with Todd McGreevy, who publishes the local entertainment newspaper “The River City Reader” and I realized that his surname must have sneaked into my subconscious.

I told him about the character “Tad” and HE told ME how rare this last name is. I’m glad Tad is a “good” character so Todd can’t get mad at me for co-opting his surname without conscious intent. I did that once before with another “good” character named Lucinda Resnick (who appears in one of my short stories in the first “Hellfire & Damnation” entitled “David & Rachel.”) I honestly had not thought of her name consciously, at all, but it must have crept into my subconscious because of its unusual nature. (In the story, she’s a nurse at a children’s hospital, so a “good” character). The very first names I selected for characters in my first (sci-fi) fiction novel (“Out of Time,” now Out of Print, from Lachesis), were Bella (beautiful) and Renee (reborn). So, I’ve given some thought now and again to the symbolism of a name (“Claire- light, etc.) but McGreevy probably came from the gentleman mentioned---although I swear it was not intentional, and I had no idea it was as “rare” as he claims it is.

7.     I am interested in what frightens people as horror is so subjective, I’m rarely disturbed by horror novels or movies but I have an absolute horror of cockroaches .  Stephen King has written some very chilling stories in his time and I read somewhere that only Pet Semetary ‘bothered’ him as he was writing it and that the scariest thing for him would be if something happened to his children.  So, have you been haunted by Michael Clay as you have been writing about him, and in reality what would really frighten you?

“Pet Semetary” frightened ME, too! I was in a motel, alone, while in Iowa City (my alma mater, the University of Iowa) taking a class entitled “Writing Across the Curriculum” and I couldn’t sleep all night long. I agree with Stephen King that bad things happening to good people is a fear, as is ill health and death for  loved ones. If you want me to talk about things of a cockroach sort, I’m not cool with spiders and once vacuumed up a HUGE spider hanging from the ceiling while 9 months pregnant with my second child because I was too big a wuss to knock it down and pick it up. I think we all have a fear of the unknown and of death and of things that might hurt or kill us or those we love, so that is probably pretty universal…no? (I’m not like Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie who once said they had a fear of furniture with feet! Ha!)


Teddy Rose said...

Thanks again for taking part in the tour and hosting Connie!

Roslyn said...

Yes authors are very interesting people Heather! However Connie Wilson's characters & her personal experience with some infamous criminals, is difficult to read, at least for me! As a Psych reg nurse I have a little background in disturbed people, we were forever debating the "nature/nurture" issue & never able to decently conclude one or other or both!