My guest on the blog today is Ethan Cross, author of The Prophet. I asked Ethan:
“Serial killers seem to capture the readers imagination. Why do you think this is? A morbid fascination, seeking a thrill-ride or is it something else?”
Here’s what he had to say:
Serial killers are like aliens among us. They think and act in ways that most
of us cannot begin to comprehend, which in turn makes them fascinating. When we
turn on the news and see headlines describing the deeds of a serial killer, we
immediately wonder “How could a human being do something like that?” and “What
drove him over the edge?” When trying to unravel these mysteries, investigators
often look to the person’s past. They search for an event or series of events
that led this seemingly normal person to their ultimate fall from the realm of
the socially acceptable into the world of the criminally insane. But then, we
wonder if there is more at work behind these actions than a traumatic childhood
or series of bad experiences. Was this person born broken? Are they evil?
Most researchers accept that the deviant behavior of serial killers is a
combination of many factors. When questioned about nature vs nurture, one
psychologist asked, “Which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its
length or its width?” And yet, there is no simple answer, and some maintain
that the circumstances into which a person is born determines their personality.
In my novels, The Shepherd and The Prophet, I touch upon the concept of nature
vs nurture as I place the reader into the mind of a twisted psychopath named
Francis Ackerman. Ackerman’s father was a psychologist who wanted to prove that
he could create a monster by subjecting his seemingly normal son to every known
traumatic event that had occurred in the lives of modern day serial killers.
His thinking is obviously flawed because by trying to prove his theories, he
establishes that there must be something broken within himself that he could
have passed onto his son, giving credence to the very concept he set out to
disprove. While this is only a small piece in the grand tapestry of the novel,
it’s still an important factor in understanding the twisted thoughts and
character of a man like Ackerman.
In a study conducted by the FBI, researchers found that 74% of the killers
surveyed experienced some type of abuse, whether physical or psychological,
during their childhood. 43% reported that they experienced sexual abuse
firsthand. The abused child growing up to become a serial killer has become a
cliche within our society, and yet there is a definite link between abuse at a
young age and violent behavior later in life. However, the fact remains that
most people who were abused as a child don’t grow up to become Ted Bundy, and
there are many killers that had a normal childhood. So, while abuse and
circumstance is definitely a factor, there must be more behind the madness.
We like to think that we are the masters of our own fate, but the truth is that
much of who we are was determined before we spoke our first word or even took
our first breath. The intricate make-up of our genes had already laid out a
certain path before us. We can overcome this and change our fate, but that
doesn’t negate the fact that certain barriers or advantages exist from the
moment of our births. A five-foot-four man can play professional basketball,
but he has a much greater barrier than someone born to be seven-foot-one. And
beyond the physical characteristics, there are certain mannerisms and behaviors
that we seem to inherit as well. Since my daughter was a tiny baby, she has
tucked her thumb into her palm and held it with the rest of her fingers. The
gesture seemed strange to me at first, until I realized that I do that
constantly. She obviously didn’t learn this behavior from me, and it’s
fascinating to think that such a small action could be coded within her genetic
sequence. It stands to reason that a person could be born with an inherited
pre-disposition to violent behavior, but is there even more than genetics and
circumstance at work?
There are also certain religious or philosophical issues to consider. Is there
an evil or negative force at work in the universe beyond what we can see and
easily quantify? These factors are often dismissed by the psychiatric
community, but since most of us believe in some sort of higher power, we can’t
help but wonder at the existence of evil. Although this is an area that is even
more difficult to study and classify, I believe it’s where the true key to
deviant behavior may be found. I believe that all serial killers, regardless of
varying circumstance and genetics, share one common trait. They all harbor a
darkness inside themselves, a darkness that shines through in their terrible
deeds. But the truly scary thing is that I believe we all carry this darkness
or capacity for evil to some degree, and this is where genetics, knowledge, and
the events of our pasts come into play. These factors contribute to our ability
to hold the darkness at bay. We’ve all learned from a very young age how to
manage our impulses. Otherwise, we would allow that sudden animal instinct of
anger or lust to elevate into rape or murder and our society would quickly
I’ve always found this concept of darkness and the questions that go along with
it to be fascinating. Can the worst killer overcome the darkness and find some
form of redemption? Can they learn to control the darkness despite the barriers
working against them? What happens to a good man who embraces the darkness with
the best of intentions and under a banner of righteousness? It’s these
concepts, along with others, that I explore within the pages of my novels.
3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Ethan Cross, Author of “The Prophet””
Really enjoyed this post. Quite interesting. Great question!
Love the topic! It was so much fun!
This was a terrific topic! Loved the article!!
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