Karolina Głowacka: The rate at which your books are published is incredible. Have some of them been waiting ready in your drawer?
Katarzyna Puzyńska: I planned this story as a series from the very beginning so, when "Motylek” was being published, I was already working on the fourth volume. Working on a book takes quite some time! Even more so, because you have to remember that it does not come down only to the very moment of writing it; it is preceded by thinking up the characters, working on the storyline, and doing research. All this takes a lot of time. Writing a novel definitely takes much more than a month!
This is especially true of such long novels!
Indeed, my books are really rather long. The shortest is 540 pages long, I think; the longest has more than 800 pages. I like reading thick books and I write them myself.
You don’t like leaving your characters?
No, I don’t. Neither as a reader, nor as an author. This is why I love series. It is a great thing for a writer. Every book is an opportunity to call on your characters and see what they have been up to. They become our good acquaintances. Although we do not necessarily always like all of them!
Are you concerned about the probability of events in your books? In the afterword to “Utopce”, your latest novel, you wrote that you had been following police procedures rather loosely.
A crime story is a genre in which of course it is recommended to stick to reality but, on the other, it is after all literary fiction, not a documentary or police files. It is a novel, something that should give the readers pleasure while reading it. If I stuck with real procedures all the time, the result could be plain boring. This is nothing out of the ordinary. A well-known foreign author once allegedly admitted that he happened to invent a new weapon calibre because it fitted with his story. Summing up, I stick to the facts but sometimes change the details if the narrative so requires.
Another reason why I asked that question was because I was interested if crime stories for you were only a form of entertainment, a mystery, an intellectual game with the reader? Or maybe a way to reflect on the nature of human beings and their ability to do evil?
Certainly, today a crime story is no longer only a puzzle. The puzzle is of course still important, it makes reading pleasant. In my opinion, however, a crime story is a very spacious genre or, even, a literary genre that is getting increasingly involved with various issues. You can discuss various problems in a crime story, be they psychological, social, or even existential. The stuff “smuggled” in a literary genre that is after all a popular one depends on the author. I am also trying to tell my readers different things. Sometime, you have to read between the lines.
People have always been interested in crimes, telling stories above it in a serious, cruel or funny way. What does this fascination say about us as human beings?
I think that people are looking for a way to discharge bad emotions, a catharsis of sorts. When reading crime stories or watching horror films, this discharge takes place in a safe environment of a novel or a film. After all, nobody is truly hurt and, even more importantly, we might be fairly certain that the order will be restored at the end and that the good will win. This means we overcome a taboo but at the same time remain safe. There are no consequences.
Is everyone capable of killing?
Some studies show that, unfortunately, probably yes. Of course, it does not mean that we all will turn into serial killers all of a sudden; however, a combination of circumstances or personality factors may lead us to an extreme that is taking the life of another human being.
Philip Zimbardo’s famous prison experiment conducted in early 1970s showed that basically everyone was capable of evil. Today, no similar study could be conducted. It is prohibited under ethical principles. Zimbardo divided his students into two groups, prisoners and guards, and played the role of prison warden himself. Please note that these students were normal and peaceful people. However, during the experiment they began to behave in a totally different way. They slowly adapted to the roles imposed on them. It turned out that these good people suddenly tortured weaker ones, the ones playing the roles of prisoners. Even Zimbardo himself took his role too seriously. The experiment had to be stopped.
In another study, conducted by Milgram, participants thought that they were punishing another person by giving them an electric shock for a wrong answer. Milgram convinced them that they were participating in an experiment on the learning process. The scientist, dressed in a lab coat, ordered them to apply ever higher shocks up to a potentially lethal dosage. Surprisingly, over 60% of participants decided to press the button and give a lethal electric shock to the other person! Luckily, the recipient of the shocks did not actually receive it. They were Milgram’s collaborators; who knows how it would have ended up otherwise.
These experiments, although they do not fully apply to the criminal aspect, show how far we are ready to go. We can never be sure of ourselves. Only in an extreme situation will we know ourselves.
If you kill once, are the second and third times easier?
For a serial killer, it is an addiction that cannot be stopped. It is said that they will kill until they are caught or until they die. They are never satisfied. Between the murders, there is a period of emotional calm but it does not last forever. With some, it is very short; with others, it might take even a couple of years. After a time, however, the killer knows that he or she has to kill again. And so the search for yet another victim begins. This is the so-called hunting stage. The next stage is the wooing stage: the killer does all within his power for the victim to feel safe in his company. Then, the capture takes place and, for the killer, it is a point of no return, the murder must take place. This is what they feel, although from the logical point of view nothing has been decided yet. It is at this point that a serial killer drops the so-called mask of sanity and can be seen for what he truly is. The victim finally sees that the killer is not a so-called normal person. This stage is followed by the phase of murder itself. This is when a serial killer feels the greatest pleasure; orgasm and a sense of satisfaction. This moment is a reward for all the difficulties and hardships that had to be overcome.
A serial killer frequently takes a keepsake. It serves the purpose of reliving the murder again and again. For example, Ted Bundy collected heads! Some trophies, however, are less macabre. For example, Juana Barraza, a serial killer from Mexico, killed old ladies and removed Holy Mary figures from their homes. In Mexico, many people keep them. Juana Baraza was a wrestler and was very powerfully built. Witnesses thought she was a man and that made identifying her very difficult. Juana had a difficult childhood, her mother was an alcoholic. It is said that she sold Juana to some man for three beers. It is not a unique case. Frequently, it is some past experience that leads people to such extreme behaviours.
Are serial killers always psychopaths?
Serial killers certainly have some mental disturbances. A normal person would not kill this way. Not with pleasure. Psychopaths do not feel remorse, they do not feel emotions like so-called "normal” people. They can feel no empathy but, at the same time, some of them can simulate it. For example, John Wayne Gacy was considered a fantastic guy, everybody loved him. He was also politically active and was very much involved in working for his community. All the while, however, he led a parallel life. He killed boys and young man. Harold Shipman was a general practitioner. Beverly Allit was a nurse… So you cannot even be sure whether I am not a psychopath… (laughs).
Indeed. What is more, you have appropriate education in the field of psychology, you may have planned it all as a teenager.
Who knows? I am frequently asked if my husband is afraid of me, given the ideas I get… But I am a very calm person. Many people who read or write such books are very laid back in their lives.
Some profilers say that people satisfied in both professional and private life will probably not seek additional stimulation in killing so you may calm down (laughs).
What about women? Do they kill differently? For other reasons?
They certainly kill less frequently than men although statistics have shown a very big surge of crime rates among women. This might be because, today, the social roles are changing and the characteristic features of men and women get mixed up.
It seems that the majority of murders perpetrated by women involved their partners in cases of domestic violence.
As regards women, murders are usually committed for emotional reasons. A woman has to be provoked to an extreme extent in order to kill. It happens sometimes that, after suffering for years, she can no longer take it and kills her torturer.
Naturally, there have been instances of female serial killers but they are much more rare than in the case of men. Some people say only approx. 5% of serial killers are women. They certainly stand out, though. Maybe because a murder committed by a woman contradicts stereotypes? Famous female serial killers include for example the bloody countess Elisabeth Bathory who bathed in the blood of her victims, believing this to be a way to achieve eternal youth. The angel of death, the aforementioned Beverly Allit, was a nurse. She injected children with insulin to stop their hearts. Aileen Wournos, known from the film “Monster”, was a prostitute who killed her clients. You must remember, however, that even in the case of female serial killers the motivation to kill is usually based on emotions and delusions. It is different than in the case of men.
Let’s talk about the motives for murder. One might kill for emotions, for tension that has been growing for a long time, for jealousy, for the feeling of dissatisfaction. One might kill for emotions that they have been hiding for years.
Usually, the three main motives for killing are enumerated: instrumental (when the murder is determined by practical issues, such as getting rid of a witness); emotional (like getting even); and the third, based on psychopathological reasons (for example, “I killed him because Satan told me to"). As regards the motivational typology of serial killers, since we have talked so much about them today, Holmes has proposed a division into visionaries, missionaries, and hedonists. Visionaries kill because of hallucinations or delusions that tell them to do so. Missionaries most often eliminate certain specific groups of people, such as the members of ethnic minorities, the homeless, or prostitutes. They are convinced that they are doing world a favour by ridding it of “negative elements”. Hedonists kill for thrill and lust but this group includes also power maniacs and comfort seekers.
Let’s return to emotions, though. They are frequently crucial and can be so strong that that can force a man to kill. I also use such threads in my books. Everyone is hiding something, after all. I do, you do too. In my books, I sometimes include my emotions and fears. I will not tell you what they are and where to look for them, though…
So it is possible to find you, somewhere, on the pages of your books…
Yes, it is. My books are written from the point of view of respective characters because I like taking the perspective of various people. But the author it always somewhere there, inside the novel. At some point during my childhood I wanted to be an actress, like most small girls do. I played roles for fun. I liked it. I my books, I can also play a bit, taking the guise of various characters. It is a nice challenge. Although sometimes it is difficult to return to your true self. When you are a different person for some time… their feelings are within you and then, suddenly, when you finish writing, there is nothing. It is difficult.
How do you cope with it?
I write another book! I am a serial writer (laughs). Seriously, though, most good writers are serial writers. By this, I mean that they never really stop working. Inspiration might emerge virtually everywhere.
Are you never satisfied?
No. I keep looking for inspirations. I can look at this plant here and create a story based on it. I think that a writer should foster this skill; sometimes, ideas come up at unexpected moments.
When I was coming here to interview you, I was wondering whether you might take some aspect of me and include it in your journalist character.
You never know! As a writer, I obviously watch people, eavesdrop on them a bit. It is very important for the characters to be credible later on. However, none of my characters are 100% reflections of any existing human being. They are rather a mixture of characteristic features of various people. For me, the characters are the key to the whole story. I love creating their lives. I love creating people from scratch with all the minute details. Later on, although you have the storyline planned, your characters start living their own lives. It sometimes happens that they do something unexpected. In “Utopce”, for example, I had not planned the thing that Daniel did at a certain point. He totally surprised me (laughs).
Daniel surprised the writer?
This is what happened. Naturally, it is good to have the book planned before writing it. I call it the backbone of the novel. It is especially important in the case of crime stories. You need to leave the readers some clues in the book.
But the plan does not rule the writer?
Sometimes you need to deviate from it. It happened to me in one book, I will not tell you which, that I changed the killer during the writing process. After a lot of thought I simply decided that it would be much better.
Your characters, the investigators, are totally ordinary people. There are no superheroes in your books.
This is what I was going for. In my opinion, the so-called “ordinary" people are much more intriguing than superheroes! It is much more interesting, fun and real to work with characters that you could meet in life, that are not perfect.
Would you like to take part in a real investigation?
As a profiler? That is a lot of responsibility! I am not sure if I could undertake such an obligation. Somebody’s life may depend on the profiler’s work, on the profiler’s ability to predict whether another crime might be committed or who the killer might be. This task should be done by someone really experienced in this field. I think that I will leave real investigations to specialists in this area and will stick to writing myself.
By: Karolina Głowacka