Posts Tagged ‘Serial Killers’

The writing life, for the most part, is not glamorous, but every so often, something really fantastic happens, and it reminds me of the reasons I wanted to do this. I’ve made a commitment to chronicle these things as a way of keeping myself from taking it for granted. I call these my “Rockstar Moments” because they make me feel like a rockstar! My most recent Rockstar moment came a few days ago.

Recently, I’ve been assisting my friend and fellow horror author, Tamara Thorne, in proof-reading some of her earlier books which are currently being converted into eBook format. Tamara does all the hard stuff – I just double check for typos that the scanning sometimes produces. I’ve been a Tamara Thorne fan since the ’90s, so really, it’s just an excuse for me to read really good books. Anyway, the latest Tamara Thorne book that’s been successfully converted into eBook format is Eternity.

Until I started proofing it, I’d never read Eternity, so this one was especially fun. I’ve read (and in several cases re-read) Bad Things, Haunted, Moonfall, and The Sorority Series (Eve, Merilynn, and Samantha) but there were still a few out there that I hadn’t had the chance to get.

I plowed through Eternity, trying very hard not to demand the chapters from Tamara faster than she could restore and send them. Whereas most great stories have their climactic end, Eternity felt to me like one big, wonderfully on-going peak that just kept getting higher and higher. Seriously. This book has it all: serial killers, famous missing persons, horror, shrewd humor, murder mystery, a dash of sci-fi, and even a bit of romance. What’s not to love?

So the fact that I genuinely love this book only makes my recent Rockstar Moment that much sweeter. After the conversions were finished, Tamara sent me the file to look over, and this is what I saw:

This is probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. I couldn’t be more honored.

Thank you, Tamara, for your very kind gesture. Words fail.

Eternity is now available in eBook at: It will be re-released in paperback next year.

Also, be sure to check out Tamara’s Little Blog of Horrors at:

Hello, and happy Halloween!

Today was the last day to participate in the “Name That Serial Killer” contest that my co-author, Mimi A. Williams and I hosted for a chance to win a signed copy of Beautiful Monster. I’m thrilled by the amount of people who participated and surprised by how well everyone did! There is a definite winner which we will announce on our Facebook page ( within the next few days, but with so many people doing such a great job, we’ve decided to give out some books to the runners-up as well. Thank you to everyone who participated. You guys rock.

The proof copy of my dear friend Patricia Scanlan’s upcoming novel, With All My Love, arrived in the mail last weekend. Patricia mailed me the book several months before its official release as a token of appreciation, and I couldn’t be more flattered or more honored by the gesture. I haven’t had a chance to get into it yet, but I’m stoked about being the first person in the United States to read it, so I can’t put it off much longer! With All My Love will be released on Mother’s Day (March in Ireland, May in the U.S.) and along with it, I’ll be posting an interview I did with her several months back. As soon as I get the go-ahead, I’ll also post some pictures of the book.

The past weeks have been busy with critiquing, reviewing, and proof reading that I’ve been doing for a few of my writer friends, and I’m making good headway on the project formerly known as The White Room. I finished chapter ten last week and am still hopeful I can have it finished by (or shortly after) the end of 2012. I’d hoped the re-writes wouldn’t be too heavy, but in truth, I’m re-writing the entire book, so it’s going to be a few more months before it’s ready to be submitted.

The good news is, I’m finding ways of being more efficient. I’ve learned that if I do my writing in the mornings, the critiquing and proofing for other folks in the evenings, and spend a few hours working on Saturday, I can take Sundays off…which is becoming more important to me as I get busier and busier. Also, I have officially employed a research assistant who is currently investigating blood types and vampire lore…and taking a lot off my shoulders!

Busy as it’s been, I love it. This is what I’ve always wanted, and I’m happy to say that all the hard work of writing (and it is hard work!) is well worth it.

I hope you have a fun and safe Halloween. I plan to hole up in bed with The Haunting of Hill House!  

On a final Halloween-related note, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in California did an interview with my good friend Tamara Thorne. It’s always interesting to get a look at the minds behind the stories. Check out Tamara’s interview at:

It’s almost Halloween and that’s the deadline for our “Name That Serial Killer” contest on Facebook!

To enter, like us on Facebook at:!/beautifuldamnation to see the thirteen questions we’ve come up with to test your knowledge of all things serial killer.

The winner will receive a free copy of Beautiful Monster, signed by me and my co-author Mimi A. Williams.

For more good Halloween reading, be sure to check out Jenn’s Bookshelves, where my friend and favorite horror novelist, Tamara Thorne, has done a guest blog:

Thanks to all the readers! Have a safe and happy Halloween and don’t take candy from strangers…unless it’s the really, really good kind!


Beautiful Monster is now available in eBook and paperback editions at Damnation Books:
and Barnes and Noble:

Or at your favorite local independent bookstore!

I discovered Dan Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver series about a year and a half ago, and I immediately fell in love with his sharp style, finely honed character development, and flawless plotting. What amazes me most about these books is that Dan Wells has created a sociopath we can sympathize with. You may not think you’d want to sympathize with John Wayne Cleaver, but trust me, you will.

Dan Wells is also the author of The Hollow City, and The Partials series, as well as being a host of the weekly podcast, Writing Excuses, with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve been dying to get him on for an interview here and I was thrilled when he accepted the invitation. He and his awesome assistant, Chersti Nieveen, have been wonderful, and I am pleased to have him.

Check out Dan Wells at:

Q: Who or what inspired your character, John Wayne Cleaver?

A: John came from my own interest in serial killer psychology, and specifically of serial killer predictors. Lots of psychiatrists, or psychiatric organizations, have come up with lists and tests and such to try to predict which people will grow up to be killers, from things as simple as the MacDonald Triad to long, multipage tests. I was talking about this with Brandon Sanderson on our way home from writing group one night, and he suggested a character who had every single predictor but was trying to be good. That’s not exactly what John turned into by the time I wrote him, but that’s where it all started.

Q: In these books, you managed to create a likable sociopath. How did you go about that, and was it difficult to keep him sympathetic?

A: Keeping him sympathetic was the number one driving force of the writing process, because there’s no way the book would work if you didn’t like John. Some of the ways I kept him likable were little tricks, like making him funny, because when you laugh with someone you can’t help but like them. Other ways were more fundamental to his character, such as giving him a horrible life to make you feel sorry for him. The number one thing people respond to in John, however, is his desire to be good. He always wants to do the right thing, even when he doesn’t know what that is, and audiences can’t help but root for that, especially when he takes a wrong turn or walks a razor-thin line between good and evil. We want him to succeed because we see ourselves in him: stuck in a bad situation, trying to make it work, trying to be better than who we are–or who we think we are.

Q: John Wayne Cleaver is a mortician’s son. How did you research the embalming process, and did learning about it change your views on anything?

A: Since I was already kind of an armchair psychologist, almost all of the research I did for the book was on embalming, and how it worked, and how it could go wrong. It were the cases that went wrong that fascinated me the most, and I ended up using some of these in the later books. I became really impressed with the mortician community’s adaptability, if that makes sense–they’re ability to Macgyver their way out of some tricky situation they’d never encountered before. I put some elements of that into the series as well, just because of how cool I thought it was.

Q: In researching sociopaths and serial killers, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Current theories suggest that serial killers may be ten to twenty times more common than we think they are; we catch the ones who have a really strong pattern, like stealing their victims’ eyes or whatever, but there may be tons more who don’t do that, and thus we never put it together as a form of serial murder. So, you know, sleep well tonight.

Q: I love John’s list of rules (things he does to keep himself in line). How did you develop that list?

A: A lot of the list developed over time, as I wrote the books and forced myself to identify any kind of dangerous behaviors I thought John was showing, and then not allow him to show them anymore. In a way, I guess, John helped write his own list.

Q: Were there any scenes that were especially difficult for you to write, and why?

A: There’s a scene in the first book where John threatens his mother with a knife, which I knew had to be there, and I knew exactly what kind of effect it had to have on the reader to be effective, and I kind of dreaded going into it because I tend to get very emotional as I write, and if I write something painful it affects me pretty strongly. Even with the much worse stuff that happens later in the series, that one is still the scene that shook me up the most, both before and after. I should add, though, that there’s a scene in the third book that breaks my heart every single time I read it, and thanks to the various rounds of edits and copyedits and proofreads I’ve had to read it dozens of times. It’s probably not even the scene most people think it is, but it gets me every time.

Q: Did the concept of this story begin as a trilogy, or just one book?

A: I knew John could be a cool series characters, but I didn’t write the first book with that in mind; I made it the best book it could be, all on its own, and then the publisher asked for two more and I did a little rearranging to make it happen. I had to go back and add some characters to the first book to help support the longer series, and again, they’re probably not the characters you think.

Q: Do you have a favorite scene, or favorite part of one of your books?

A: I have lots of favorite scenes. The epilogue of THE HOLLOW CITY is a huge favorite just because it’s kind of victorious for a tragic ending. There’s a scene in my ebook, A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS, called the fact scene, that I love, and I honestly don’t know if I could reproduce it; it just came out perfect the first time, and despite the millions of revisions that book has gone through, that scene remains almost untouched. My favorite scene of the John Cleaver series actually comes toward the end, building up to the final showdown, when John is completely dead inside–not evil, not tortured, just gone. I don’t know why I like that one as much as I do, but I do.

Q: How did the people around you react when you told them you were writing about a teenaged sociopath?

A: People who know me are much more disturbed by the books than people who don’t, which I find amusing. My wife was kind of freaked out by the first few chapters of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, and she asked if that’s how I really thought, but when I assured her that it wasn’t–that John was entirely fictional–she was fine with it. There’s a scene in the second book that made my best friend say he never wanted to be alone with me ever again, which I take a personal victory.

Q: What do you hope readers will come away from these books with?

A: I hope that people who read my books will be better than when they started–that they’ll know themselves better, or somebody else; that they’ll be inspired to write something or make something or learn something new. My characters are never content with the status quo, and I hope my readers are the same.

Q: What inspires you more than anything?

A: Audacity. I love watching somebody try something crazy and get away with it–to take a big risk and go out on a limb and shoot for the moon. Even if they fail. I love it.

Q: Who are your heroes?

A: My dad. Jim Henson. Victor Hugo. Criminal profiler John Douglas. Anyone who stands up for something they think is right.

Q: What do you think are some of the best ways for authors to find an audience for their books?

A: Write really good books. The word of mouth you get as people recommend it to their friends is the best possible advertisement you can ever get.

Q: Was it difficult for you to find an agent, and how did things change once you did?

A: I spent my early years trying to write fantasy, and so my networking had all been down with fantasy agents, and when I sold a horror novel none of them knew what to do with it. I was rejected three times by agents despite having an offer on the table, which sounds harsh but is one of the very best parts of this industry–agents aren’t in it for the money, they’re investing in an artist they love and they’re in it for the long haul. If one of those early agents who wasn’t really into my book or didn’t really know the market decided to pick up my book anyway just for the money, I’d be in a much worse position today. Staying the course and finding the right agent was absolutely worth it.

Q: On average, how much do you write over the course of a week?

A: I try to work 8 hours a day, just like a normal job, but not all of that is writing–I have revisions and edits, I have interviews, I have all kinds of business concerns that take up time. I’d say I average ten to twenty hours of writing, which is, ironically, not nearly as much as I did before I got published.

Q: What is Writing Excuses and what is your role in it?

A: Writing Excuses is a podcast for aspiring writers; 15 minutes a week, completely free, on topics ranging from plotting to dialogue to genre discussions to business advice. I helped start the podcast four or so years ago with co-hosts Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler, and then last year we brought Mary Robinette Kowal in as a full-time guest host. We’ve become pretty popular, and I sometimes get recognized just for my voice, which is kind of fun. We’ve won two Parsecs, and this is our second year being nominated for a Hugo, so fingers crossed.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My current project is called EXTREME MAKEOVER: APOCALYPSE EDITION, a modern-day SF about a health and beauty company that accidentally creates a hand lotion that overwrites your DNA. It’s completely nuts, and by far the most ambitious novel I’ve ever attempted. I have just a few months to try to wrap it up before it’s time to start work on the third PARTIALS book, so we’ll see how it goes.

John Lutz is the author of more than forty novels and more than 200 short stories. He has written everything from horror and occult, to humor, thriller, mystery and suspense. His novel SWF Seeks Same was made into the movie Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. His novel The Ex was made into the HBO original movie of the same title, which he co-wrote the screenplay for. John is a past president of both Mystery Writers of America and Private Eye Writers of America. He has won such awards as the MWA Edgar, the Trophee 813 Award, the PWA Life Achievement Award, the PWA Shamus, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.

I met John Lutz at a book signing for his novel Serial. He signed a copy of the book for me, which I have to admit, was one of my most exciting rock star moments! I’ve been reading his books for many years, so when I actually met him in person, I was a little nervous. As it happened, I found him to be intelligent, funny in a charmingly quirky way, and very pleasant to be around. I asked him to be a part of the author interviews on my blog because he is one of the novelists who have inspired me to write. He’s a great guy who has taught me much through his excellent novels and his willingness to answer questions about the craft. I am thrilled and honored to pass on some of his views on storytelling, his thoughts on the publishing industry, and a little bit of insight into his own writing process. So… here are my questions, and here are his answers! (For more information, check out John Lutz Online at:

Q: What year was your first book published, and what are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in publishing industry since then?

A) First short story in 1967. Thieves’ Honor, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. First novel in 1971. The Truth of the Matter, Pocketbooks.

I don’t think publishing changed much in fundamental ways until the advent of the e-book. Now it’s changing so fast, and in unpredictable ways, that it’s difficult to keep up with it. Scary, but truly interesting.

Q: When you first got published, what did you do to celebrate?

A) Exhaled. Had dinner with my wife.

Q: How many ‘No’s’ before you got a ‘Yes’?

A) “Many ‘No’s’.  Most writers of my time and ilk would say the same. Usually writers’ “first” novels weren’t first efforts. The e-book has made publishing easier, cheaper. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Q: As a writer, what has been your greatest disappointment?

A) There are a few things I’d sill like to see happen (like seeing one of my novels made into a play), but I don’t think in terms of disappointments. All in all, I feel that I’ve been extremely lucky.

Q: Your novel, SWF Seeks Same was made into a movie, Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. How did that come about, and what was it like for you?

A) As with some other books that my agent thought had movie potential, the manuscript was sent to his west coast affiliate to shop around. And it found a home.  The rights were bought before the book was published. The entire movie thing was great fun. Yes, I did meet the cast. Watched filming in NYC. Attended premier in LA. Was presented with a screenplay signed by cast and crew. A very positive experience.

Q: Did you meet any of the actors?

A) Met them, watched them work, got to look over the director’s shoulder, tried not to trip over any of the cables. Actually seeing a book made into a movie strengthened my opinion that for best results the movie shouldn’t follow the book chapter and verse.

Q: In researching serial killers, what about them has surprised or intrigued you most?

A) The extent of the violence and physical damage in a stranger-on-stranger rape. And the fact that, according to FBI studies, once a serial killer takes a first step toward his intended victim, if there is no interruption, no matter what the intended victims does, there will be a confrontation. Most serial killers are kind of like guided missiles that have locked onto a target.

Q: What is one question you wish people would ask you, and how would you answer it?

A) “Are you going to write more books?” “Yes.”

Q: You’ve been featured in several of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines and in several anthologies edited by Alfred Hitchcock. Did you ever meet Alfred Hitchcock, and how did his editing style differ from other editors?

A) I never met Hitchcock. To my knowledge he never did any editing, but there was and is a distinct overarching “Hitchcock type” story, featuring suspense, dry humor, and surprising turns. When someone says “Hitchcockian” I think most people have a pretty good idea of what is meant.

Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception people have about you and your work?

A) I can’t be sure about that, because I don’t know what their misconceptions are. Many people do seem to think that writing fiction is easier than it is. You not only have to learn how to write. You have to learn to write. Like you have to learn how to dance before you learn to dance. Takes a lot of dancing.

Q: What do you think is the greatest misconception new and/or aspiring authors have about the industry?

A) That once their book is out there, it will automatically sell. To sell in large numbers books have to be actively sold, ideally through various kinds of advertising that reach large numbers of people. However, the rules are that there are no rules, and sometimes word of mouth can turn a book into a big seller. Or fortunate timing. And yes, now and then a book is so damned good it simply can’t be ignored. But most of those are heavily advertised as books that are so damned good they can’t be ignored. Having said all that, I am aware that I don’t really understand our rapidly changing industry. At this point, I don’t think anyone really understands, or can predict.

Q: In the course of your career, you’ve undoubtedly done an awful lot of book signings. Do you still enjoy them?

A) Sure. It’s nice to make contact with readers, see before you proof that they are actually out there and enjoy your work.

Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who was your favorite, and why?

A) Hard do say. Maybe Nudger, the star-crossed P.I. more suited to selling appliances, with a suicidal girlfriend, a fear of guns, an office above a doughnut shop, and a constant need for antacid tablets.

Q: Are there any of your books that you feel deserved more recognition?

A) Maybe BONEGRINDER, which got great reviews but remains largely unread. It’s kind of hard to fit into a category. Horror, maybe. Or maybe not. It’s recently been republished as an E-book.

Q: Since beginning your career, what invention has most impacted your life as a writer?

A) Has to be the electronic book, but I haven’t yet figured out how.

Q: As a writer myself, I cannot even imagine the days of writing, editing and revising on typewriters. What was it like having to use one for those purposes?

A) I like typewriters. When you’ve run several drafts through one, you have an intimate knowledge of the content, every letter. However, I like writing on computers more. It’s a lot easier in obvious ways, but it takes some tricky adaptation to make the most of it.

Q: Your novel, The Ex, was made into a HBO Original movie of the same title for which you co-wrote the screenplay. How does writing screenplays differ from writing novels, and how are they similar?

A) I think it seems easier to write a screenplay. Maybe it is easier to write a passable screenplay. But they are deceptively simple. To write a good screenplay, worthy of being translated to film or digitalization, is difficult. Lots of people can, and do, write screenplays, but there’s a reason why not a lot of  people write them successfully, and those people, with that rare ability make a lot of money.

Q: What do you consider the highlight of your writing career?

A) I suppose SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, when it was made into a hit movie. It was the number two movie in theaters, and number one in video sales. Would have been the #1 movie if it weren’t for UNFORGIVEN. Also it inspired a lot of women to get their hair cut and dyed in that hairdo that looked great on J,J, Leigh and B. Fonda. On the other hand, maybe I haven’t yet experienced the highlight of my career.

Q: If you could say one thing to a new writer, what would it be?

A) Write, write, write. Write some more.

When I met James Renner, I was a little starstruck and to be honest, I still am. After talking a bit and getting to know him, I was pleased to learn that he is kind, easy to talk to, and fun to be around. When I told him the idea I had for my blog and asked if he’d be interested in being a part of it, he said he’d love to do an interview for me. It made my day!

In 2005, James directed a short film based on Stephen King’s story, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away, starring Joe Bob Briggs and Harvey Pekar. His first book, a nonfiction account of the disappearance of Amy Mihaljevic called, Amy: My Search For Her Killer, was published in 2006. This was followed by Serial Killers Apprentice, a collection of true stories of Cleveland’s most intriguing unsolved crimes. He is also the author of the fictional novel, The Man From Primrose Lane, and the release of The Great Forgetting is tentatively set for 2013. He is an investigative reporter, a film producer, a novelist, and he was even named one of the cities most interesting people in the December 2004 issue of Cleveland Magazine. But most of all, he’s cool enough to take the time to answer my questions and just be an all around great guy. It isn’t every day you meet and befriend someone like James Renner… and I’m pleased our paths have crossed.

For more information on James, check him out at:

James Renner

Q: How long does it take you to write a book?

A: Generally, it takes me about 9 months to write the first draft of a new novel. Then I set it aside for a few weeks and work on something else, like a script or short story, then I come back to it with fresh eyes for editing. I’ll do an edit. Then I work on another edit with my agent, Julie Barer. Then yet another edit with my editor.

Q: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

A: I’m surprised at how hard it is to actually get your book in bookstores, even if you’re with a large publisher. It depends a lot on early reviews and also how excited your rep is when they pitch the book to booksellers.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A: Texas Hold’em

Q: What is the best thing anyone has ever told you about your writing?

A:  My agent, when she said she liked it so much she wanted to represent me.

Q: How do you choose the names of your fictional characters?

A:  Names have different feels to them, based on who you know with that name and simply how it sounds to the ear. Some names just fit with the character you’re trying to create. Sometimes it takes a while to find the name that feels right.

Q: How is writing fiction different from writing non-fiction?

A: It’s really not that different. There’s a lot of research involved in each, especially if you want your novel to feel true.

Q: How do you do research for your books?

A:  I generally have a nugget of an idea that I think about and develop over the course of a couple years. I have about five or six ideas I’m building right now. Then I spend some spare time researching the interests of the central character. If they live in an old home, I research the words they would use to describe the decor; I speak to people who have the same job as the character, in order to learn slang and terminology. Stuff like that.

Q: Do you prefer writing or film producing? And why?

A: I prefer writing, because it’s easier. It’s crazy hard to get a good book published. But it’s next to impossible to make a good film.

Q: What are the main problems you’ve faced in finishing a book?

A:  Planting my ass in the chair to start the day.

Q: What motivated you to write The Man from Primrose Lane?

A:  When I was 11, a cute girl from down the road was abducted and murdered. As a journalist, I’ve been trying to find her killer for many years. The Man from Primrose Lane grew out of a dream I had of a world in which somebody saved the girl. I began to wonder how that might have altered both her life and my own.

Q: What is your relationship with your agent like?

A: She keeps me grounded. Or tries to. She looks after me and my stories.

Q: You just returned from your “Crazy Stupid Fast 2012 Book Tour”. What was that like?

A: It was the smartest and dumbest thing I’ve ever done. It was great to meet so many bookstore owners and book sellers. But I didn’t give myself much time to enjoy any of the cities I passed through. I was only in New Orleans for two hours. And I had to skip the last couple stores in Ohio because I got a flat on the way home.

Q: How many cities did you visit?

A: I visited 40 book stores in 7 days.

Q: What do you think your greatest strength as a writer is?

A:  Finishing.

Q: What about your greatest weakness?

A: Starting again.

Q: In what ways do you identify personally with David Neff, your main character in The Man From Primrose Lane?

A: Like David Neff, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to my exposure to horrific crimes in the course of my work in journalism. We both fell in love with strong women who helped us fight our demons, real and imaginary.

Q: In 2004, Stephen King gave you the rights to adapt his short story, All That You Love Will Be Carried Away, which you directed. What was that like?

A:  I think I was the tenth person to get permission from King to adapt one of his stories as a student film, for $1. Frank Darabont was the first, so I was in good company. The whole experience was the most fun I’ve ever had working on a project. And to see it get accepted to the Montreal World Film Festival was totally rad.

Q: As a writer, what do you think is your greatest accomplishment?

A:  Simply getting published.

Q: What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on two books. A big, meaty thriller about paranoia. And a shorter novel that is a kind of throwback to the classic horror stories I grew up on.

Q: Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?

A:  The Man from Primrose Lane is still my favorite at the moment. I really had fun coming up with the strange structure and rules the novel has to follow.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A:  Read as much as you can about how other people got published before you start sending queries to agents.