by Toni L.P. Kelner
A lovely by-product of being married to a psychologist is the interesting magazines that show up in our mail slot. They often end up in to-be-read stacks, but when unearthed, provide some unusual, but often fascinating, reading. A recent discovery was the October 2011 issue of Observer, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
In very basic terms, a study gave test subjects the chance to avenge themselves on people who had wronged them in a economic exchange game. And as they decided whether or not to take vengeance, "The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain know to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use)."
In other words, revenge really is sweet.
The rest of the articule points out the negative parts of the equation. One, a person seeking revenge tends to relive the unpleasant incident over and over again. Two, the target of the vengeance has to know he is being punished, and why. Three, the target often feels that he himself is being wronged, and the cycle repeats.
But let's just go back to that neural activity in the caudate nucleus--in other words, the fun part. I mean, who doesn't like a little neural activity in the caudate nucleus? Some mystery writers--and by some, I mean me--live on the stuff.
For example, many years ago I dated a guy who I will refer to as the-guy-I-should-never-have-dated, or for short, the Jerk. I won't go into the many ways in which the Jerk was the wrong guy for me to date, or the lousy things he did, most which I didn't find out about until long after we'd both moved on. Suffice it to say that I had a certain amount of animosity towards him. So when I was working on Country Comes to Town, my fourth novel, I killed him. Right there on the cover. And darned if it didn't get my caudate nucleus buzzing.
Of course, at the time I didn't know my caudate nucleus from my hypothalamus. I thought I was just (1) writing what I knew, which all the writing books recommended and (2) saving buckets of bucks on therapy. In fact, I've saved therapy bills in several of my books and stories. I offed an ex-boss in Dead Ringer, beat up an ex-great-step-aunt in Tight as a Tick, and made fun of the Jerk again in Blast from the Past. In the novel I just finished -- The Skeleton in the Armoire, due out in September 2013 -- I trashed the reputation of a former boss of my husband's.
Now, should any lawyers be reading this, I assure you that the serial numbers have been filed off of these characters. By the time I finish changing a character's name, ethnicity, job, and location, I'm the only one who would know who these people were based on. There's just enough of the original target in there to keep my caudate nucleus happy.
Now I don't want you to think I'm just thinking of myself. I take requests. In Tight as a Tick I killed of a co-worker of my brother-in-law's, and in Death of a Damn Yankee, the victim is the ex-husband of a friend of mine. In the "Where are they now?" books, I based every one of protagonist Tilda Harper's hellish roommates on a real roomate of a friend or family member. (And with each book, I was so very grateful I never experienced roommate hell.)
So now you know why I'm hooked on mystery writing. I can wreak vengeance to my caudate nucleus's delight without ever having to deal with any of the nasty side effects. And if it's addicting, that's all to the good.
Note: I think I should get special recognition for using the phrase "caudate nucleus" more times in this post than in any other Femmes Fatales post.