Where did the idea for Beneath the Mask of Sanity come from and how much research was put into writing?
The idea came to me in the shower. I had a vision of a guy picking up a hitch-hiking teenager and then being killed. The rest of the story just kinda flowed from that idea.
I don't normally do a whole lot of research in my writing, but I did do a ton on this book. I realized that if I was going to do a book about the psychology of a serial killer that I needed to understand a lot more about it. I read several accounts of past serial murderers and I read many texts on the psychology of serial killer profiling. One of the most helpful books was The Mask of Sanity by Hervey Cleckley, who was a pioneer in the field of psychopathic disorders. It was also the inspiration for the title of my book.
What was the hardest part of writing this story?
Getting inside of a serial killer's mind. Bentley is probably the most vibrant and real character I've ever written about. At times, he steered the direction of the story himself, even if it wasn't where I wanted it to go.
Bently Grimes is a different kind of serial killer. It is through his eyes you see the terror of his victims. In this regard, what were you hoping the reader would get from seeing Bently at his worst?
Serial killers have always been fascinating to the public. I think it's because the way they think is so different-so alien-from the way that we think. I wanted the readers to see that Bentley had a story to tell and he had reasons for what he was doing. Were they sane reasons? No, they clearly weren't, but Bentley isn't just some mindless psychopath like Michael Myers or Jason, he had reasons. I also wanted to highlight that while there are enormous differences between the normal public and sociopaths, there are also similarities as well. Bentley asks a lot of questions in the book that there aren't easy answers to. He talks about God and the nature of existence and what his ultimate place in the world is. I think most of us have those kind of thoughts. It's just that most of us don't have the violent urge that Bentley does. He feels that his questions can be answered by terror and violence and most of us know that violence doesn't open any doors, it just closes them forever.
Most serial killers don't feel a lot of emotion. How important was it for you to show
Grimes trying to experience any kind of feeling?
A lot of the research I did for the book indicated that one of the reasons that serial killers turn to murder is to try and experience some kind of emotion. That there brain's emotional center was so dulled that only extremes could trigger some kind of feeling. I think that desire to experience emotion (and to fit in) is a big driving force behind Bentley. He hates society because he feels that he's better than other people, but at the same time he wants to fit in with society because human beings, by and large, do not like to be outsiders.
How important is it for readers to feel something for this mass madman?
As important as it is for any other character in fiction. Emotional attachment is the key to good storytelling. If your readers don't care about your characters then you haven't done your job as a writer. The book is ultimately about Bentley, he is the star, so it's vitally important that the readers feel something for him. They don't have to like him (I don't even like him and I don't expect the readers to) but if he inspires dread or, even better, hate from the readers that is a win for me. Hate is a powerful emotion when it comes to storytelling and it's not easy to illicit. I think there is room for some sympathy there as well. Bentley is a person wasted. A smart character-a genius almost really-who is trapped by the nature of his own existence. He can't help what he is any more than a person who is born blind can help that they can't see. But ultimately it's the hate that I'm after. Bentley represents an aberration. A human being that does not fit into our civilized society, and humanity has always hated what doesn't fit in.
If there was something you would want readers to know about you as an author what would it be?
When I was eleven-years-old my sister gave me my first Stephen King book, Pet Semetary. It was my introduction into adult fiction. Before then I had read the standard fair: Hardy Boys, The Indian in the Cupboard, etc... Stephen King's book transformed me into a world where I was lost for the three days it took me to read it. When I was done with that book I knew that I wanted to give other people the same feeling that I had just experienced. That was when I began writing. I write for myself, first, but it's with the audience that I get my greatest joy. If I can take you away from our world for a little while and put you in mine then I am a happy man.
Is there any other works in the future you would like to share?
I had an idea for a sequel to Beneath the Mask of Sanity (titled Beyond the Mask) almost immediately after I finished the book. I was hesitant about whether to write it or not (and I have several other ideas on the back burner right now) because I am usually not a big fan of sequels. However, I do believe I have a great idea for this one and I have begun writing it. I expect it will be finished sometime before the summer and likely available around August.
Where can readers purchase Beneath the Mask of Sanity and find out more about you?
Beneath the Mask of Sanity is available on Amazon.com. If you don't have a Kindle (I'm told) that a free Kindle app is available for older versions of the Nook as well as for the Ipad and other android tablets.
You can follow me on twitter: @phillipswriting. I am quite active on there and I update progress and special promotions often.