Category Archives: Kiss of Death

June 23, 2011

Cult research – part 1

Filed under: Kiss of Death,Murderati blogs,Research — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 11:32 pm

Here’s my Murderati blog from 22 June. As part of my research series, this post focuses on the weird and wonderful research crime writers do in the name of good books!

Today, I want to look at some of the fascinating research I’ve conducted into cults (mostly for my fifth novel, Kiss of Death, although I’m also currently ghost writing a non-fiction book called Death in a Cult). In fact, I’ve got so much to say on this subject that I’ve broken the post into two parts! This first post will be a bit of an introduction and look at some of the psychology behind cult members. Then, next post I’ll focus on gurus.

The word cult immediately rings alarm bells for most people – we think of Charles Manson and his murderous followers, of Jim Jones and the estimated nine hundred and seventeen members who died with him at Jonestown, of David Koresh and Waco and of the Tokyo subway poisoning by Aum. In fact the word “cult” has got so many negative connotations that cults themselves want to disown the term. And who wouldn’t when it paints a modern-day group with the same brush as Charles Manson, Jonestown and Waco?

So what is a cult? The Random House dictionary has several definitions – from the more neutral ‘a particular system of religious worship’ to the negative ‘a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader’.

Knight1By these definitions, cults have been around for thousands of years. For example, some hunter-gatherer tribes had a cult-like belief system and structure with the shaman as guru; the Assyrians around 880BC have been described as a tree-worshiping cult; and let’s not forget the recently revived Knights Templar and Opus Dei, which can easily be described as cults.

In the past few decades our understanding and tolerance of cults has increased, largely due to the many studies in this area. Scholars such as sociologists and psychologists have studied cults, cult members and their leaders. These scholars generally use the more politically correct term of new religious movements or NRMs for short.

It should also be noted that the bad wrap cults have is largely due to destructive cults. And while it’s these cults we tend to hear about in the media, there are thousands and thousands of other cults that simply go about their business.

NRM members

People outside cults/NRMs often wonder what sort of person is attracted to a cult. In fact, many people believe that cult members are somehow mentally unstable, depressive or simply weak. Psychologists have studied members, cults and their leaders (gurus) looking for patterns and commonalities. And some of the recent studies have revealed some distinctive personality traits in members and ex-members of NRMs. For example, a 2008 Belgium study looked at ex-members of NRMs and compared them to the general population and to current members of NRMs on certain self-reported personality traits. The study, conducted by Coralie Buxant and Vassilis Saroglou, identified four main areas of vulnerability: insecure attachment to parental figures during childhood; limited social relationships; negative life events; and a higher need for order. The negative life events were traumas such as the death of a loved one, marriage break up, major life-threatening illness, bankruptcy, etc.

Other research has found that people who join new religious movements often share characteristics such as: a sense of not belonging during childhood and adulthood; identity confusion or crisis; alienation from family; feelings of powerlessness; a recent psychological stressor; low self-esteem; and social anxiety. Notice the cross-overs from the list above.

Are cults dangerous?

History has shown us that cults certainly can be dangerous – but many cults are harmless.

Deciding whether a cult is dangerous – and how to deal with it – generally falls into the hands of law enforcement. In a 2000 article for the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, experts identify risk factors, neutral factors and positive or protective factors within NRMs.

CB003459Risk factors include:

  • a history of violent episodes or clashes;
  • the leader’s past or present state of mind and condition (e.g. violence, drug or alcohol abuse, etc.);
  • an abrupt reversal of direction (positive or negative);
  • recent attempts to obtain the knowledge to carry out a violent act;
  • recent purchases of weapons or other arms;
  • training in the use of weapons;
  • instances of violence within the NRM;
  • setting an exact date for the imminent transformation of life on earth;
  • moving the date of that transformation;
  • phrasing prophesies or predictions in a detailed and specific manner (otherwise they tend to be vaguer so the leader can’t be proved wrong);
  • envisioning an active role for the NRM in the coming transformation; and
  • having the knowledge, means and ability to carry out a plan.

And while some of these risk factors are obvious — it’s common sense that any group stockpiling weapons (or purchasing a tank like the one above!) is potentially dangerous — other factors are not as readily identified by the general public. However, it makes sense that if a guru is very specific, for example claiming the world will come to an end on a certain date, that they may plan a mass suicide of their followers before or on that date in ‘preparation’ for the coming Armageddon.

The FBI article is also quick to point out that just because an NRM has one or more of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean the group’s about to implode (suicide) or explode (committing violence against the public or law enforcement).

The authors also stress that a dynamic or situation that we may think is strange or dangerous, isn’t necessarily so. The neutral factors identified are: members offer absolute and unquestioning adherence to their leader and the belief system; the group physically segregates itself from others; and members adopt unfamiliar customs or rituals (i.e. diet, dress, language, etc.). In fact, these three factors are often present in all NRMs.

The law-enforcement experts also talk about “protective” factors – factors that will make a cult less likely to be violent. These factors are: members taking practical steps to plan for the future; and the group adopting routines and administrative processes (e.g. transcribing teachings and disseminating information about their group to others).

So, that’s it for cults and me today. I hope you were glued to the page/computer just like I was when I was reading these research materials!

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June 1, 2011

Research with bite

Filed under: Kiss of Death,Murderati blogs — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:08 am

My Murderati blog from Sunday 29 May…

Today I’m starting my research series. Once a month (i.e. every second blog of mine) I’m going to blog about some of the weird and wonderful research I’ve done in the name of crime fiction. From real-life vampires (today) to gurus and lock-picking… you’ll discover it all here!

Vampire1So, vampires…seriously. And I should point out I did blog about some of this stuff when my fifth novel, Kiss of Death, first came out, but I don’t think any of you Murderati gang would have come across it. If so, please excuse the duplication.

It’s certainly hard to ignore the global phenomenon of vampires, with vampires definitely ‘in’. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a devoted following from 1996 to 2003 (including me), it was more of a cult following – nothing like the mainstream stars of the vampire world today. Many bookstores now have whole stands devoted to vampire books, and then there are TV shows like True Blood and Vampire Diaries and the book-to-movie success of Twilight. These creatures of the night are, of course, fictitious…or are they?

What the average Twilight-devotee may not realise, is that there are people who really believe they are vampires. I’m not talking about people who dress-up like vampires; nor am I referring to individuals who think they’re nightwalkers and can only be killed by a stake to the heart. Rather, what I’ll call ‘real-life vampires’ are people who genuinely believe they need to feed on other people’s energy to survive, usually via a donor’s blood. These people have been studied to a certain degree by both the medical and psychological professions, although not in much detail.

So how did I stumble upon real-life vampires? It started as a concept for a crime fiction novel – imagine a victim drained of blood and a local cult of real-life vampires. Are they the killers? However, when I started the research I discovered my fictitious concept wasn’t so fictitious. Turns out LA has a thriving vampire scene – check out or for the clubbing scene try In my search for all things vampire, I interviewed a few vampires from different areas, including the US, the UK and Australia.

Russell from Sydney is a self-confessed vampire in his forties who describes vampirism as “the need for additional bio energy that the body cannot produce.” Merticus, who’s one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA) says: “Vampires are generally individuals who cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing without the taking of blood or vital life force energy from other sources; often human.”

My research turned up two types of real-life vampires – sanguine vampires who feed on blood, and psi-vampires who drain people’s spiritual energy. The traditional view of vampires is as blood-drinkers, but for real-life vampires it’s more about energy. Even those who exclusively satisfy their ‘thirst’ through blood usually talk about drawing out energy from the blood.

BloodThere are a few explanations currently put forward to explain claims of real-life vampirism. First off is the blood disorder porphyria, which is treated with haemoglobin, hence the connection to drinking blood. Not only do sufferers need blood, they are also sensitive to light, which gels perfectly with the vampire mythology. Problem is, if you drink blood it goes through the digestive tract and doesn’t enter the bloodstream. In other words, drinking blood wouldn’t alleviate porphyria symptoms. However many of the websites and forums I found suggested that real-life vampires are physiologically different, and have the ability to extract haemoglobin from the blood, even through the digestive process.

Then, there’s the psychological side of things and two major theories have emerged. The first is sexual sadism (vampire) coupled with sadomasochism (donor). By definition, sexual sadists derive pleasure from their partner’s or victim’s physical or psychological pain. Vampires are inflicting pain as they bite. Likewise, the donors could be seen as sadomasochists – people who need to feel pain to become sexually aroused.

The second psychological explanation for real-life vampirism is Renfield’s syndrome, named after Dracula’s insect-eating assistant Renfield. This psychological disorder is hypothesised to start with a key childhood event that leads the sufferer to find blood exciting. Blood and this sense of excitement is later linked to sexual arousal during adolescence, and into adulthood.

Of course, one simpler psychological explanation is that real-life vampires are suffering from delusions of grandeur. After all, mythological vampires are strong, powerful, perceived as sexy and almost invincible – pretty appealing, huh? Certainly the vampires interviewed in Carol Page’s Bloodlust: Conversations with real vampires came off as a little strange to say the least and delusional wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. In contrast, Merticus says of the vampire community he’s part of: “…the majority of our community are high-functioning, above average intelligence, sane, and rational members of society.”

In terms of the cause or reason for vampirism, the real-life vampires themselves are divided. Some say it’s physical, some say psychological, and some say it’s simply something you’re born with.

No matter how you explain real-life vampirism, the fact is these people really do exist. So, how does one become a real-life vampire? Unlike the vampires in fiction who are ‘turned’, real-life vampires talk about being ‘awakened’, usually as teenagers. There are lots of vampire dictionaries online, all with similar, if not identical definitions of awakening. In terms of the symptoms, the dictionaries talk about people preferring the night to the day and switching from nocturnal sleeping to diurnal sleeping. And, of course, developing “the thirst”, which refers to a thirst for blood and/or energy.

What happens if they don’t feed? Real-life vampires complain of headaches, stomach cramps and severe fatigue if they don’t feed, some even saying they’re unable to get out of bed in the morning. Russell’s in this camp: “If I do not regularly obtain energy I feel very drained and sometimes sick.” Others talk about severe mood swings and suggest they need other peoples’ energy to somehow balance out their own personality.

Are these people suffering from Renfield’s syndrome or poryphoria? Or perhaps they’re simply sexual sadists or delusional. Or is there some other, yet undiscovered explanation for individuals who experience a thirst for blood and other people’s energy?

At the end of the day it’s hard to know what the story really is with people who claim to be real-life vampires. Interestingly, my research did not reveal young Goth males obsessed with the vamp culture. Rather, I found older vampires who had nothing to do with the Goth scene. Research undertaken by the Vampirism and Energy Research Study backs this up, finding that 66% of the vampires who responded to the Study did NOT identify themselves as Goths and the average age was late twenties to early thirties.

There was, however, one thing that was unanimous on the forums I visited – they hate Twilight wannabes.

So, what are your thoughts on real-life vampires? Ever met any? Or maybe you are one.

And if you’re into book trailers, my bit of BSP (blatant self-promotion) is the book trailer below! Click at your own peril :)

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March 28, 2010

Slowly but surely

Filed under: Coming Home ebook,Kiss of Death — PD Martin @ 6:47 am

Well, the final chapter of Coming Home has been extremely slow-going. This was mostly because I found it hard to block out dedicated time to finish the final chapter – I haven’t been working weekends so I’ve literally only had a few hours here and there to spend on Coming Home. And I think I almost collapsed in a heap after making the first 11 deadlines (for the first 11 chapters)!

 However, I’ve finally finished, finally written “THE END” in bold capital letters on the last page. Phew! Now it’s time to start the editorial process – first me, then a professional editor.

 I’m also investigating cover design and page layout templates/software programs. This stuff is usually organised by my publishers, so it’s all new for me and a little overwhelming. I am getting there, but the final PDF definitely won’t be available on the original ‘advertised’ date of 2 April. I’ve revised the schedule to 10 May. Apologies to everyone who’s anxiously waiting to find out whodunit.  

 In the past couple of weeks I’ve also been working on US edits for Kiss of Death, which is due out in North America on 1 August – only fours months to go! These edits are generally minor things, although they are more significant than just changing colour to color and organisation to organization.

 Different editors will invariably pick up different things and so my US editors have pointed out some minor mistakes (like getting a day wrong), made suggested cuts throughout plus earmarked a few queries that have led to small additions on my part. I’ve actioned all of these and now have the final page proofs sitting in my inbox for review. That’s my task for this week, before editing Coming Home.

 Thanks again to everyone who voted and took part in Coming Home. It’s been an intense ride and I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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February 5, 2010

I’m back…bring on 2010

Filed under: Coming Home ebook,Kiss of Death — Tags: , , , , , , — PD Martin @ 4:09 am

Well, it’s been a while since my last blog…instead of blogging I’ve been enjoying the Aussie summer. My husband, daughter and I were at the beach for January. Most days were simple: a walk, coffee, playground, relax a little at the house, then a trip to the beach with lots of swimming and sand-castle building (actually, I mostly watched my husband and three year old build the castles). Nights were generally DVDs – Dexter and Breaking Bad, plus several movies. Sound good? It was! The only drawback was that I did get behind on emails, blogging, and other stuff, and had to take breaks to promote Kiss of Death, which was released in Australia and New Zealand 1 January.

Of course, I’ve also been working on Coming Home (, writing one chapter a week. It’s hard to believe I’m now officially over half way through this process. I never know when a book will end when I’m writing it, but at the moment it doesn’t feel over halfway done. However, I’m hoping it is because I kinda need to stick to the 12-week, 12-chapter plan. Mostly because I‘ve started my new project and really need to focus on getting the proposal and first three chapters to my publishers. After all, with summer almost over it’s time to get another paying gig :) Fingers crossed my publishers will like the new book…it‘s not an ebook or a Sophie book!!! Shock, horror. It’s been really exciting working on it this past week. For a start it’s written in third person, and it’s much, much darker than Sophie.

Back to Coming Home…well, it’s Friday and I haven’t started on this week’s chapter. How does this happen?? So yet again, I’m flashing back to my school days of late-night cramming. It’s also not ideal in terms of the flow and continuity of Coming Home. I definitely feel it’s time for a good, long edit. But where to fit it in between the new book and other commitments? I’ve already identified some of the key things I’ll need in the edit, such as:

  • A deeper exploration of Sophie’s emotional state – she’s investigating her own brother’s murder and at the moment I don’t think that character crisis is coming through enough.
  • Excerpts from a new victim’s POV – I’ve started adding these in, but will need more.
  • Sophie’s gift – seven chapters in and only one vision/nightmare. Even though they’re not the focus of Sophie books, I think I probably need more.
  • General tweaking, including working on the writing style and word choice for a better read.
  • Continuity (I need to do a few checks between books and chapters)

What do you think?

I always do a lot of editing between the first draft and the final draft, so you can expect changes from what you’re reading now and what you’ll read in the final PDF of Coming Home (available two months after I finish the last chapter).

So, I’m off to work on the new book (really need to submit it) and chapter 8 of Coming Home. Wish me luck!

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October 9, 2009

Page proofs and case files

Filed under: Kiss of Death,PD Martin website — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 5:44 am

Well, the page proofs are now sitting on my desk, ready for action! That’s right, Kiss of Death, book 5 in the Sophie Anderson series, is almost ready for the printers here in Australia – sorry, quite a bit longer until press time in other countries :( 

My job now is to do a final proof of the typeset pages and write the acknowledgements – that’s it. Can’t believe it’s almost done. A huge sense of both relief and fear; relief that I’m finished and fear that it’ll soon be entirely out of my hands.

Coming soon – case files

This week I’ve been looking at ways to improve my website and have decided to put up “case files” for The Killing Hands and Kiss of Death. These case files will include photos and videos of the crime-scene locations (taken during my 2008 visit to LA), character lists, research info, references, etc.

I’m aiming to get the case file for The Killing Hands up in time to coincide with its North American release on November 1. I’ll keep you posted!

I’ll also be adding RSS feeds and a comment feature to my blog in the next few weeks.

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September 4, 2009


Filed under: Kiss of Death,Writing — PD Martin @ 5:22 am

Is it okay/acceptable for a blog to just have this?

I mean, I could continue the exclamation marks for a few lines, if it’d make you feel better. You know, you think you’ve signed up for something substantive and you get a blog that just has one word in it. I mean, that’d be pretty crap, right? A violation of the unwritten author-reader code of conduct.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering why I’m screaming. And yes, it’s a full-throttle scream rather than a relaxed, zen-like sigh.

Sophie’s back! Which is exciting, don’t get me wrong, but I have 10 days for the “copy edit stage” of Kiss of Death. And that’s just a little scary. Normally I have four weeks, but events have conspired against me. First off, my Aussie/NZ publishing date for this book (number 5) has been brought forward from 1 February to 1 January. Secondly, I had accepted a small corporate freelance assignment a couple of months ago, assuming the times wouldn’t clash. So, when my manuscript arrived via courier on Monday morning this week, my panic was realised…it’s sitting on my desk and has to remain that way until Friday (today). Finally, today, my freelance work is done (finished at midnight last night) and I’m in the all-clear to edit. So, on that note….

I’m outta here. Wish me luck!

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July 17, 2009

Editing, editing, editing

Filed under: Kiss of Death,Writing — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 4:59 am

For the most part, I love the editing process. You submit your book with the initial panic that it’s crap and your publisher will hate it, but then you get the thumbs up. Phew! And then comes the detailed editorial report, which not only points out all the good things in the book, but also how to improve it. And like every writer, I’m all for making each book the best it can be.

But one of the things I HATE about editing is the scenes and lines that end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I’m talking about chunks that no longer fit because of other, bigger changes. In the case of KISS OF DEATH, I’ve got some major changes in chronology, which means some serious cutting and pasting and some ruthless cuts.

For the moment I’m storing all these paragraphs and scenes in a Word document titled Deletions. Perhaps once I finish my first major pass of the book and get a handle on the plot and chronology changes these scenes will fit elsewhere. Who knows?

To give you an example, this week I’ve deleted a five-page scene on a suspect interview. Problem is, that scene divulges heaps and heaps of my research – stuff that I worked hard on and I need to get it across somewhere! But where?

I’ve also deleted a half-page phone call, but that call included some key character insights – can I fit these elsewhere?

Sigh…I do love editing, but it can be hard to cut, cut, cut!

Upcoming events
I’ve got quite a few upcoming events – more about that next week. But in the meantime if you’re based in Melbourne you might be interested in the Crime and Justice Festival. I’m not appearing this year, but I will be attending!

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July 10, 2009

First week of editing

Filed under: Kiss of Death,Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 4:57 am

This week has been devoted to editing – and looking after my daughter of course!

I’ve completed an initial pass of the first 140 pages of Kiss of Death, but decided I needed to stop and go back to the start to begin work on some of the bigger picture elements my editor suggested. And that’s what I started today, plus I’ve got most of the weekend set aside for editing.

To date, I’ve made all the minor edits to the first half of the book, plus made some of the bigger changes as I’ve gone through each chapter. For example, I’ve moved the questioning of two people to about sixty pages earlier than in the original draft and I’ve added in a sex scene! Some of you may have seen my posts on Facebook about the sex scene.

Like Wednesday’s post:
Had to stop writing today in the middle of a sex scene and I feel strangely unfulfilled.
That got a few comments

And Thursday’s post:
Sex scene done…moving on with other edits now. But I’m sure they won’t be as exciting. :)

More about the editing process next week and if you want updates via Facebook, please go to

Kiss of Death is the fifth book in the Sophie series, and it will be released first in Australia on 1 January 2010.

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July 3, 2009

Sophie’s back!

Filed under: Kiss of Death,Writing — Tags: , , , , , — PD Martin @ 4:55 am

Another action-packed week. First off, Fan Mail is now available in the US and Canada! Find out more here:

This week I also sent the first three chapters (and the only chapters in existence) of a new book to my agent. It’s not crime fiction, but if she likes it she’ll try to find a publisher for it. Fingers crossed!

This week Sophie also came home – back from my Aussie editor at Pan Macmillan. The editing process is quite a lengthy one, from my first submission in mid June to its 1 January 2010 release date (Australia and New Zealand only).

During this first editorial stage, my editor and publisher give me detailed feedback on the characters, plot and structure of Kiss of Death. So, what sorts of things do they suggest?

Some examples of recommendations for this book include:

  • Creating more tension between Sophie and some of the other characters
  • Adding an additional murder/body
  • Splitting the investigative team in two directions, with Sophie exploring one angle and the police (LAPD) another

Of course, I can’t give you too many details because that might give things away – and I hate spoilers!

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June 26, 2009

Just chillin’…kinda

Filed under: Fan Mail,Kiss of Death — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 4:52 am

This week’s been a relatively quiet one for me. Book 5 in the Sophie Anderson series, KISS OF DEATH, is currently with my Aussie publishers, Pan Macmillan. It feels a little like Sophie is away visiting – but she’ll be home soon. In fact, I’ll be getting the editorial report next Friday 3 July.

It’s always a nerve-wracking time for an author, and that first week is especially tense. Will the publisher/editor like the book? Will they identify many problems? Luckily I heard back from my editor and although there are some structural issues I need to address, they love the new book! Phew.

KISS OF DEATH release dates are:

  • Australia, 1 January 2010
  • North America, 1 August 2010
  • UK/Ireland, July 2010 (to be confirmed)

But in the meantime, North America and the UK will be publishing books three and four, so if you’re in those parts of the world there’ll be extra Sophie reading between now and 2010.

FAN MAIL was released last month in the UK and Ireland and I’m counting down the days until it’s released in North America. With only four days to go, I’m sure it’s already in some bookstores and has been sent out from online suppliers too. So maybe my American and Canadian readers are already stuck into FAN MAIL!

Despite this little lull, I haven’t been totally slack this week! I’ve been deciding what Sophie book to do next (and researching a few different topics) and I’ve been toying with a new project I started a couple of years ago and might go back to. Sorry, it’s hush-hush for the moment :)

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