Tag Archives: edgar awards

“Why are we Creatures with Madness at the Center of our Hearts?” by Billie Sue Mosiman


I’ve asked a number of authors I admire to answer the same question–why do criminals fascinate us so much?–and I will be posting each response here on my blog. It’s a question all writers–especially crime writers–should consider every once in a while. In my debut novel, Toxicity, I’ve dug deep into the minds of criminals. I have written about the bad guys. The ones we love but hate at the same time. If you haven’t pre-ordered a copy yet, I highly recommend you doing so for purely selfish reasons.

And now that you’ve done that, we will pass the time hearing what other writers in the industry have to say about the posed question.

Today the great Billie Sue Mosiman drops by my blog. Mosiman is a published author of fifteen novels and more than 160 short stories. She is an Edgar and Stoker Nominee. Her new suspense novel, THE GREY MATTER, is due out from Post Mortem Press in April/May 2014.

What do you have for us today, Billie Sue?


“Why do criminals fascinate us so much?”

The question might as well be, “Why are we creatures with madness at the center of our hearts?”

Humans are made of light and darkness with the potential for creating great altruistic deeds and, at the other end of the spectrum, despicable acts of pure evil. I think criminals fascinate us so much because we could be one, just as we could be a hero or a saint. We have inside of us the seeds of both destruction and elevation to the height of the best of our species. Just as a cat will purr in the arms of its owner, so will a cat slip out the open door and stalk a mouse, play with it, and in the end break its neck. Most of us do not become criminals, though nearly everyone commits lesser deeds in his life that he’d rather not confess.

Yet as we read of criminals in fiction or non-fiction, as we watch films portraying criminals, we know (if we’re honest) that there but for the grace of God we walk. I explore this dichotomy in the human soul often in my own works. Some of the more interesting and entertaining pieces of art show us just how dark the heart can beat. As we consider criminal activity we are able to ask ourselves, “Would I do that?”

Let’s say there is a bag left on the park bench where we go to have a sack lunch. We notice the bag, we look around for the bag’s owner, wondering if someone accidentally left it behind. What might be in it? What if we open the bag and inside are dozens of packets of hundred dollar bills? There’s no name, no address, no indication who this bag might belong to. We might take that bag and turn it into a police station so it can be returned to the rightful owner. Or…we might simply pick up the bag and walk away. In a split second many people who have never attempted a criminal act might decide to commit one at that moment. Would you do that? What if you needed the money, needed it so desperately you can’t help stealing it? What if your loved one is dying without health coverage and isn’t getting treatment that might save his life because of a lack of money? What if your child is in danger in some way and a great deal of money will save him? Would you take the money then?

I submit we are weak creatures with wayward hearts and we don’t always know what we might do under pressure or during devastating periods of our lives. We too might become criminals. I think that’s why they fascinate us. Because we know that person and that person could be us. We might attend church, we might worship devotedly our God, we might never have done a wrong thing in our lives until one day…we do.

Yes, I think criminals fascinate us because even if we aren’t criminal and never intend to be, there are circumstances in life that could turn us as quickly as a cloud scuttling across a thunderous sky. Most of all we ask ourselves, as we read about criminals or watch criminals in dramas, “Could that be me, would I ever do that? Surely, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I am a good person, a law-abiding person.”

We are, of course, law-abiding.

Until we aren’t.