Portrait of a Serial Killer

I suppose it’s unavoidable that the majority of serial killer thrillers and mysteries tend to feature the same kind of killer: a depraved murdered with some variety of attendant twists (a fondness for eating his victims, turning their skin into lampshades, getting intimate with their corpses, murdering them in unsettling ways, etc). At the end of the day (or book), these killers blur into the same person. There’s nothing that inventive about them. Oh, one of them might be a supposed devout Christian (always an easy, lazy and fond target) or a white supremacist or a whatnot or a whosit.

But they’re all essentially the same.

Writers of these books must feel compelled to create the most horrific protagonist as possible. After all, they have to shock and compel and carve their name on the genre so readers are inspired to talk about their books to others. “That Hannibal Lecter fellow…” I understand their motivation. I think it unfortunate. It reminds me of the old Soviet-era grocery stores I visited in Eastern Europe: one brand of bread on the shelves, one brand of canned peas…

The problem is, like taking drugs, the high becomes less and less attainable, the more you use. The reader becomes numb over time. Which is one of several reasons why we’ve moved into an era of heroes being just as repulsive as their corresponding villains.

This problem got me thinking recently about the character of the Serial Killer in fiction. Not all of such villains need to be the next Jack the Ripper. I think a blander sort of fellow would be much more terrible in the long run. An acceptable, educated, polished person. An unassuming cog in the machine.

This brings us to Desmond Phipps…

Portrait of a Serial Killer

“Our office has one more suggestion, said Desmond Phipps.

“Yes?” said the chairman.

Phipps cleared his throat and pretended to consult his notes. He was a short, bespectacled man with thinning blond hair and a weak chin that he tried to conceal behind a goatee.

“Dr. Ralston Reed and Dr. George Patterson,” he said, “both statisticians at Princeton, recently published a paper analyzing vehicle speeds on all classifications of roads: highways, city streets, residential, high density urban, rural areas, and how they relate to emissions and climate change. One of the key points they make for the purposes of our discussion is that increasing speed limits within certain ranges reduces carbon emissions due to the improvements in modern engine efficiencies.”

“Increasing the limits by how much?” said the woman sitting three seats down the table.

Phipps didn’t bother looking at her. Melissa Hart. She was the senior aide to the senator from Wyoming and sometimes wore cowboy boots. Her voice sounded like a blender grinding up rocks. Almost certainly a smoker. She was probably was more accustomed to riding a horse than driving a car. He doubted whether someone like her had the intelligence to be on the staff committee for updating national road standards.

“Up to ten miles per hour more for average highway speeds that are still at sixty or below,” said Phipps, “for a national average of seventy. Urban and residential areas would only need an increase of five. The adjustment in urban and residential actually has a bigger impact than the change in highway speed. Viewed on a driver-by-driver basis, these increases really are small, but it’s the small things that count. Collectively, these modifications would result in an annual reduction of six point nine billion tons of carbon emissions at current population levels.”

There was a brief moment of silence as the committee considered this.

“What about school zones?” said someone at the far end of the table.

“School zones would certainly be an exception,” said Phipps quickly. “My senator feels very strongly about education.”

“Did they analyze what their proposal would mean for traffic accidents?” said Hart.

Witch, thought Phipps to himself. “Of course. They calculate a slight increase in mortality from the current level to an additional one per every two hundred thousand. That’s statistically irrelevant.”

“But not irrelevant for that one person,” said Hart sarcastically.

“Per every two hundred thousand,” said the man sitting across from Phipps. He scribbled quickly on his notepad. “Let’s see… point zero zero zero five percent. For a carbon reduction of six point nine billion tons? That’s quite a nice return. I wish my investment portfolio was doing that well.”

Except for Hart, everyone at the table laughed.

“I think Minnesota could get behind this,” said an elegant blonde at the end of the table. “Climate change is polling strongly in our area, even ahead of jobs and immigration, and it is an election year.”

“Any issue you can tie to climate change is a slam-dunk in California,” said another staffer. “Sea levels, kids with emphysema or asthma–hell, find some bald kid with cancer, even if it has nothing to do with climate. Throw in a couple pictures of cute polar bears or dolphins, my boss loves this stuff when she’s out campaigning.”

“Minority kids in wheelchairs,” said someone else. “They’re gold. Do some photo ops with them and you can sit back and watch the polls bounce.”

There were several nods in response. Phipps relaxed in his chair. He didn’t allow himself to smile. He would do that later. In private.

“Alright then,” said the chairman, looking at his watch. “It sounds like we’ve got some pretty good consensus. We’ll add this emissions reductions plan to the list. I’ll have my staff type up the revisions and email them tonight. The EPA will get a copy too. They can come on board early and get their press releases ready. I trust you’ll all brief your senators before the new safety standards go public. Boil it down to talking points so they’ve got a good grasp of what they’re supposed to say.”

“If they ever get asked,” said someone.

Everyone laughed. Even Hart smiled sourly.

Phipps took the train home late in the evening. A sleek white cat met him at the door. It purred and rubbed against his ankles. Phipps opened a can of cat food and dumped it neatly into a blue ceramic bowl. The cat promptly began to eat in neat little bites. Phipps heated up a plate of leftover fettuccine for himself and poured a glass of white wine.

Point zero zero zero five times three hundred and fifty million… No. Point zero zero zero five percent of the population.

He did the math quickly in his head.

“One thousand, seven hundred and fifty, Bella,” he said to the cat. “What do you think of that?”

The cat ignored him.

A chalkboard hung on the side of the refrigerator. It had a long list of numbers, dates and initials on it. He added 1,750 to the list, along with the date and NRSS for National Road and Safety Standards.

He took a sip of wine and finally allowed himself a smile.

“Not bad at all, Bella. And the hearings on trade with China begin tomorrow. Electronics. Electronics have lots of potential, Bella, particularly devices children use. Chemicals, pottery, glass. Toys. Pencils, paper goods. All the everyday small things. It’s always the small things you have to pay attention to.”

The cat stared at him for a moment and then resumed eating its dinner.

“Of course,” said Phipps, “who’s paying attention?” He smiled again.


Volcanoes that are not Vesuvius

Thankfully, there are a lot of them. If one must give thanks for volcanoes, which I’m not sure is necessary. At any rate, we are off to Mt. Lassen soon. Volcanoes, bears, s’mores, large rodents, trails, kayaks, icy lakes, possible snow (so my eldest son tells me), pirates, buried treasure, etc. It should be pleasant.

Speaking of pleasant, I have to recommend Where’s Wallace, by Hillary Knight (author and illustrator). It is one of the best illustrated children’s books ever written, certainly in the league of Potter, Sendak, Ungerer and Company. I even rate it as high as Helen Lester’s Tacky the Penguin books, which are the literary equivalents of the long-lost rubies of Kubla Khan. Knight is probably most famous for having illustrated Kay Thompson’s Eloise books, as well as the original versions of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (also a must-read for children with working brains).

Where’s Wallace is essentially a Homeric odyssey, worthy of any Ithacan king’s adventures. The book follows the wanderings of an orangutan named Wallace, as well as quite a supporting cast of characters (the Cat, the Knitting Lady [perhaps a nod to the Fates, in my fevered brain], the Bad Little Girl, the Bad Little Baby, the Cellist, etc). And, of course, the Zookeeper.

Get it now. Now.


An occasional, obligatory post for the NSA

To all the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of NSA employees reading my website regularly:

Statistically, a majority of you are not regularly reading good books. This is due to several reasons: education, the condition of your moral code, bad habits, fatigue, etc. I would therefore urge you all to stop following Kim Kardashian on Instagram. You should also consider taking a break from binge-watching the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc.

Now that you have a hole in your life due to following my wise advice, you may pick from the following options to fill the hole back in (it is a gaping hole, isn’t it?):

1. Read the complete works of Tolstoy, Dickens, and Charles Williams. Afterwards, spend several months reflecting.

2. Take up power-walking. Listen to self-improvement lessons while walking (such as learning Hebrew, an overview of the Constitution–free from Hillsdale College, or an audio compilation of Shakespeare’s plays).

3. Befriend an ex-con in a halfway house. Take him to church, out to coffee, find him a job, go to AA meetings with him. Buy him the complete works of Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, and Walker Percy.

4. Invade a small country. Pass a law compelling them all to read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man, The Man Who Was Thursday, and the complete Father Brown omnibus. After which, they must all eat fish on Fridays, including you.


Fifty Shades Adaptive Fiction

Fifty Shades of ReckoningWhat is adaptive fiction, you ask? It’s when you take pre-existing works and adapt them to a new storyline, perhaps a new genre. You take them where they should’ve gone in the first place. Adaptive fiction is a subset of parody. Remember, though, parody is not always humorous. It often is, but it sometimes operates purely as a satire, which can be many things other than humorous.

Anyway, I recently wrote a story called Fifty Shades of Reckoning. Why? Because I decided to. Reckoning is a serious parody, a satire. More than that, it’s where the original Fifty Shades storyline should’ve gone. And gone quickly.

In case you’re wondering, Reckoning contains none of the delusional intimacy of its namesake. Give it a read. Feel free to pass the story around to as many people as possible.

Free on Apple.

Free on Nook.

Free on Kobo.

Free on Scribd.

PDF copy: Fifty Shades of Reckoning


Presidential Elections and Anagrams

A lot of people vote based on what sorts of anagrams can be derived from a candidate’s name. I often vote that way as it is more scientific than watching the news.

This presidential election, according to the analysts in my research department, we have an odd confluence between two names. In astronomical terms, this is equivalent to Mars and Venus coinciding (occluding) in the sky. The two in question are Trump and Clinton. I thankfully will not refer to them as heavenly bodies, as we’re done with the astronomy metaphor. If you anagramize their names, the results are: “Chilly Loin Rant” and “Odd Lump Rant.”

I know. You’re exclaiming “Uncanny!” or “Mysterious!” or “Egad, they are Illuminati puppets!”

Things get stranger when you analyze the anagram for Bernie Sanders. At first glance, it is merely “Snares Inbreed” which, while unsettling, can be dealt with by ingesting Tums or hard alcohol.

Upon further analysis, the real anagram is actually “E Nerbs Sardine.” That’s Latin for “He has pickup lines like a sardine.”

Sardines, as you know, have a specific style of flirting, consisting of things like “Cuddle up, honey, it’s packed in here tonight!” or “Love the way this olive oil makes your skin shine.” or “Hey babe! Didn’t we meet in school?”

Anyway, keep that all in mind when you vote.


Metal and Magic

Metal and MagicI’m currently part of a multi-author boxset of epic fantasy called Metal and Magic. If you’d like a bunch of books about magic and adventure and all those sorts of things, give it a try! It’s free! Get it before the world ends.

The bundle has 6 books in it, including the first book of my Tormay Trilogy (which I hope you’ve already read–if you haven’t, get busy!). Anyway, the boxset is free on most sites:

Amazon

Itunes

Nook

Kobo

Google Play


A Romantic Poem of Heartbreaking Beauty

I infrequently write romance. Pretty much never. Well, that’s not true, as I have written three stories that classify as romances to some degree: Rosamonde, The Girl Next Door, and Ice and Fire. Compared to my other writing, though, fairly inconsequential.

Sometimes, though, you just have to write romance when the mood grips you.

Such as yesterday, when I delved into the depths of poetry. Depths. That would be the way to put it.

So, without further ado…

Rose turned up her nose when Joe proposed.
She shook her head and shouted “No!”
The deposed beau composed an ode
and read it to his best friend Moe.
“Love like a cancer grows.
In my heart and my lymph nodes.
It was a blow when she said go.”
“I don’t know,” said Moe.
“She chose the row she wants to hoe.
So you don’t owe her any odes,
that girl’s just a stuck-up toad.”
“Shucks,” said Joe, “Well, I suppose.”
He heaved a sigh, sad and low.
“I’ll really miss her lovely toes.”

Like I said, the depths. The cold, murky depths. With strange fish swimming by.


Tacky the Penguin!

Tacky the Penguin. What a great book. What a great series! I was initially introduced to these books by the fact I have small children. Otherwise, I would’ve gone my merry way through life, unaware of Tacky and his escapades.

Isn’t it interesting how marriage and having children can impact your life in so many amazing ways? I don’t understand these career professional types who decide not to have children in order to make more money, go on vacation more often, advance, etc. Advance? Where to? Is there some kind of mysterious cosmic chess game going on that I’m not privy to?

Once you advance to wherever you want to advance to, what happens then? Do the bananas taste better? Does your hair fall out slower or not at all? That would be a great epitaph. “He advanced sufficiently so that his hair stopped thinning.”

What a guy.

These days, I’d be happy to get my smallest ruffian to advance to potty training. Now that’s advancement I can believe in. Or change I can believe in. Whichever word works for you.

Anyway.

Tacky the Penguin is currently clocking in around #170,000 in the Amazon Kindle store, and around 1.8 million in the Amazon paperback store. That is a criminal shame. This book should be outselling most books for sale on Amazon (Fifty Shades of Grey, Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, that supposedly humorous book by the girl from The Office–I can’t remember her name–or any number of paleo diet cookbooks).

But, instead, what do we get? Some book about decluttering your life is at #3 on the overall best-selling charts. What? If I was given to using obscenities, I would use them now, in amazement, passion and a galactic query directed at the planet, the stars, the Oort Cloud and the Horsehead Nebulae, as well as both political parties, Leonardo di Caprio, and whoever that guy is who is supposed to be the most fascinating man in the world (the Dos Equis guy).

Why?

How?

What?

Anyway, now that I’ve dealt with my disgruntlement via the free psychology of occasionally writing in this blog, I have to say that Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger, the author-illustrator duo behind Tacky, are geniuses. I think they’ve written 7 books in the Tacky series, as well as the standalone monument to literary perfection that is titled Wodney Wat.

They need to write more.


We will all be gone

We will all be gone some day. That means the books we enjoy will no longer be read by us. Hopefully, another generation will read them. But maybe not. I consider that thought every once a while as I’m reading a story.

“I’m reading this author’s thoughts… long after he’s dead. It’s almost a form of immortality. A shaky immortality, yes, because it depends on the interaction of the living.”

Books are little monuments that the dead leave behind. Not unlike the trunkless legs of stone Percy Shelley’s traveler found in the desert, in the poem “Ozymandias.” The stone was inscribed with the words “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” But the poem then declares that nothing but the lone and level sand stretched away in every direction.

These stories we write, they really aren’t much to leave behind. Authors like Tolkien or Tolstoy or Dickens leave behind monuments similar to the Sphinx or the Taj Mahal, but even those do not merit much attention from most people. They are slowly forgotten.

As the years pass, our stories become memories from antique lands. Remembered, then half-forgotten, then truly forgotten.

Like ourselves.


How To Write Enough Novels to Maintain Amazon Visibility

So, you wanna be a writer and make a living at it? Piece of cake. All you have to do is maintain high visibility on Amazon. To do that, you need to churn out a lot of novels every year.

I recommend 24 novels a year. All in the same series. How do you pull off such a Herculean task? Coffee. Lots of coffee.

A novel should clock in at 60,000 words minimum, depending on genre. If you’re writing epic fantasy, go higher. Anyway, for sake of discussion, we’ll go easy on you and say 60,000 words is your novel-length goal. That means you need to write only 4,000 words a day.

Let’s figure you’re drinking about a gallon of coffee a day to avoid excessive sleep. Figure 4 hours for sleep, 4 hours for random stuff (such as going to the bathroom, eating, walking the dog, paying bills, voting, patting your kids on the head, kissing your wife, etc), that leaves you with 16 hours a day for writing. That works out to only 250 words an hour.

You can do it!

30 days X 4,000 words/day = 120,0000 words, which equals 2 novels.

And there’s your novel every 15 days.

Once you get into the rhythm of churning that out, you’re good to go. Of course, you’ll need the first month to get those first two novels written, sent off to your editor, get your cover artist going. Then, in the second month, you write the third and fourth novels but also get the first two novels back from your editor, final polish, publish. Repeat repeat repeat.

This is a sure-fire way to achieve visibility on Amazon, always have a couple titles in the 30-day new release window, snowball sales, etc. If you find this method is not working, you should consider upping the ante: go for 48 novels a year, or something like that.

Of course, your marriage might suffer a bit. You might develop some coffee-related diseases, and your cat might take a strange dislike to you. But those are the fortunes of authorship.