Charles Manson is Ruining My Life

Adrift by Jens Auer from FlickrAs I mentioned last week, I am currently reading Helter Skelter, the definitive work on the Manson Family Murders co-authored by the DA who prosecuted the case.

It is a wealth of detail and insight concerning the crimes, the motive, the trial, and the people involved.

And, as I mentioned last week, it is absolutely fucking with my head.

The horror of the crimes committed by these people…I don’t necessarily want to go into too many details, but a pregnant woman was among the victims. Another victim was stabbed fifty-one times. These murders are just…again I find myself wanting to use the word “grisly” to describe them, but I also in no way want to use a term so associated with fictional writing when speaking of an event which very much happened in reality.

The violence, though, is only part of the general mind-fuck that comes along with these murders. The victims, and the location, also add to the horror. While the DA was able to find evidence that Charles Manson and one other family member had, long before the night of the murders, been on the grounds of the house where the Tate murders were committed, and next door to where the LaBianca murders were committed, they found no other link connecting the choice of victims and Charles Manson.

Plus, the people who Charles Manson knew that had brought him to either location originally, hadn’t lived in those locations for some time.

Which is all to say that the victims were pretty much chosen at random. Someone had a party next door to one of the houses, and so those people were chosen to die.

It’s unsettling to say the least.

And, of course, the victims were killed in their own homes and the sole purpose of the visits by The Family was to commit murder. There was no robbery taking place, there was no revenge being enacted, the victims’ houses were broken into with the sole object of murdering everyone inside.

This crosses so many difficult-to-digest lines that I get sick at times thinking about it. If you’re in a store that gets robbed and happen to catch a bullet, or you’re driving on a highway and happen to get hit by a drunk driver…these things are random, yes, but there’s a, I don’t know, at least some sense of propriety. There are other actions, illegal and despicable actions, but other actions nonetheless that led up to your death.

In these cases there was nothing. These people were killed, violently, in their homes, for no reason. One of the victims had actually stopped by to see if someone he had met earlier that week was interested in buying a clock radio he wanted to sell. As he was driving away from the house he was stopped in the driveway and shot four times.

Random and chaotic acts striking in the home, striking everyone in a home…it doesn’t sit right. I find myself, while reading, thinking quite often that what I’m reading isn’t fair. That someone has to get this guy, dammit.

Which they do.

But still.

I guess in my head there’s the notion that some semblance of forethought will keep one safe in life: wear a seat belt; if approached by a robber just hand over what they want; don’t play with matches.

And if the worst does happen, I guess I believe that there will be some string of events that I can grasp onto for explanation. It might not be much, but it will be explainable in a way which will fit the world I believe I am living in.

These murders do not. They just do not. And this has disturbed me.

And not just me, my writing as well.

I’m currently working in a vaguely horror-ish genre. I wouldn’t say that horror is my main point, but I try and let my bad guys hit hard, and have viable motives that are very separate from how the “good guys” generally think. I feel like this is the best approach to creating a bad guy that has an impact on the reader.

Only…why the fuck do I want to have that sort of impact on my reader?

What is served by me playing make-believe and attempting to rattle or scare you? What is gained if I manage to create a character that you find evil?

If you want evil, go read about Charles Manson. There are literally pages and pages of confessions and then corroboration of those confessions to be had.

There. That’s it. There’s your monster. Ta-da.

Is there something to be said for me creating a fake villain and containing him within a book? What is the point of this? Why do I put my main characters in harm’s way?

Do we as humans need to frame chaos in some way, confine it to a story, in order to live in this world without being consumed by fear?

Scares and thrills used to seem interesting. They used to seem like something that was worth bringing out in my readers. But currently?

I don’t want to make people feel bad any more. Not in the way this book is making me feel bad.

And if I’m holding back and not writing what I know to be really bad guys…then what the hell am I doing?


  1. Albert Berg says:

    I know you sort of already said this, but isn’t this what fiction is for? Life happens without reason. Evil frequently goes unpunished. Bad things happen to good people. We write and consume fiction to be able to deal with these things, to process them. Sometimes fiction lets us set right the wrongs the world lets pass. Other times it simply lets us frame those wrongs in a way we can at least try to understand.
    We’re looking for patterns in an utterly random world. We see shapes in the clouds and faces in the stars because we HAVE to. It’s part of the fundamental structure of who we are.
    Fiction can’t make you feel good until it makes you feel bad. A hero that triumphs without facing adversity is no hero at all. In a world without evil goodness means nothing. And health is far more valuable to the man that has been ill than to the one who has been fit and healthy his whole life.
    We know these things are true in real life, and therefore for fiction to have a grasp on our minds they must be true in the worlds we create. Fiction lets us cage the darkness, meet it on our terms.
    That sick feeling of horror you have at these murders is part of what makes all of us human. And if we can’t translate the core of human experience, whether terrible or transcendent, into our words, then what is the point of writing at all?

    • If the hero triumphs, and if the ill man regains health. With this book, with real life, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what the victims’ families felt when the Manson Family was found guilty, but I find it hard to believe it was a storybook type of a feeling.
      Also a point I’m not sure I wrote very clearly, but when I write my villains I absolutely do not dig as deep as this book made me go. Which in turn has made my villains feel…like I’m pulling my punches with them. Though I guess their impact is largely determined by the reader?
      I don’t know.
      All in all this book rattled the hell out of me.

  2. Laura Coraci says:

    In my opinion, there are two types of bad guys. Bad guys for fiction and bad guys for horror. The best stories have both. For fiction, the best bad guys out there are the ones that you can, somehow, empathize with. These characters are so interesting and unbelievably creepy because hey- you get them. In a different set of circumstances you could BE them. Even after they die, you are still faced with this reality. Professor Snape, Scar (the murderous uncle from The Lion King), Henry VIII. These characters have depth. They make good fiction. Charles Manson does not have depth. He is insane. He fits into the Hannibal Lector/Bates Motel/Voldemort genre of “scary because it exists”. Which is perfect for Horror. I think that there is no reason why your scary characters shouldn’t be horrific. Link Jinx. She is a freak. Make her worse, but give her depth.