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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Another advent calendar for you to open!!

Ok, so there's no chocolate in this one but there are a bucketload of great books to be won. Just click on the link below to see the calendar and see what's on offer. And make sure you check out Day 18!


Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Chance to win iTunes vouchers...

We’re dying to hear more about you and what you’re into so if you fill in our short survey (HERE) before 13th November you’ll be entered into our iTunes VOUCHER prize draw!!


Ever wondered what you’d look like as an illustration? Well now’s your chance to find out!

In celebration of Cathy Brett’s fantastic EMBER FURY, the illustrated story of a teenage firestarter, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to WIN A PART IN CATHY’S NEXT BOOK, SCARLETT DEDD.

To be in with a chance of winning this red hot prize, all you have to do is take a picture of yourself reading EMBER FURY in the “hottest” place you can think of, no flames necessary (think tropical beach, cool club, funky shop etc.) Get your thinking caps on, get creative, and send us your most scorching snap!

The closing date is December 31st with the winner (chosen by Cathy Brett) announced on The B Word blog on January 14th. To enter you need to email your picture as an attachment to us at this address. (sip01normal@photos.flickr.com)

Make sure you include a subject line, as the title of your picture, and include a description and your name and contact details in the main body of the email (don't worry - this will all be kept private!).

Once the winner has been announced we’ll make the gallery public so that you can see all the entries.

Terms & Conditions

1. The prize offer is a an illustrated part in Cathy Brett’s book SCARLETT DEDD.

2. The competition is open to anyone, except employees of Headline Publishing Group and related companies.

3. The winner will be notified after the closing date of 31 December 2009. The winner will be notified by email within 14 days of the promotion closing date and is required to accept their prize by email within 14 days of notification. In the event of non-acceptance within the specified period, the promoter reserves the right to reallocate the prize.

4. The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence, apart from notification, will be entered into.

5. The prize is not transferable to any third party and cannot be exchanged for cash, or redeemed in conjunction with any other offers.

6. Headline has arranged this competition in good faith but does not accept liability relating to this prize.

Promoter: Headline Publishing Group, 338 Euston Road, London, NW1 3BH

Monday, 26 October 2009

Scary movies

Wondering what to watch this Halloween? Here are some scary (and silly) film suggestions for a spooky night on the sofa...

Not for the nervous, this chilling ghost story starring Nicole Kidman is seriously jumpy. You may want to watch this one with the lights on.

Based on a book by Neil Gaiman, this animated tale of a girl who should be careful what she wishes for might look like a kids' film but it's actually pretty creepy stuff.

The 1990 Jim Henson film version of this Roald Dahl classic is getting a little old now but is still well worth watching. Plus the Grand High Witch is really, really gross.

The witches in this one aren't quite so scary but they are pretty entertaining. Be warned: This is Halloween Disney-style.

High school horror plus Josh Hartnett. It's a lethal combination.

If you've no idea what this is, exactly what rock have you been hiding under?? A vampire flick with a romantic twist based on the massively popular Stephanie Meyer books.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

It's time to scare yourself silly...

The spookiest time of year is almost here, which means 2 things:

1. More sweets than your molars can handle

2. Fancy dress

If you're planning on heading to a fancy dress party this Halloween but you can't be bothered to spend hours on an elaborate outfit involving glue, safety pins and bits of cardboard, here's a couple of ridiculously simple costume suggestions...

THE ZOMBIE - Super simple, just think Shaun of the Dead. Rip a few holes in some old clothes and get creative with the tomato ketchup/red food dye/that fake blood you can't get off your skin for months. Most effective when you walk with a limp, put your head on your shoulder and slobber a lot.

THE GHOST - There's two approaches here. Stick a sheet over your head or dress completely in white and and make yourself as pasty as possible with talc/flour/face paint (depending on your budget). Don a big black wig and you could even go as our very own GHOSTGIRL, Charlotte Usher.

If you're a Halloween party host, play some fun (and potentially gross) games to get the party started...


Take some traditional carved pumpkin heads (or plastic bags if that's too much like hard work) and put something in each one (fake snakes or spiders to make people jump, or baked beans or mashed banana for the yuk factor - basically your kitchen cupboard is your oyster). Then blindfold your guests and make them guess what they're touching.

This game involves picking up apples from a tub filled with water using only your teeth. If you want to be strict, tie contestants hands behind their backs and blindfold them. Make this even messier by setting the apples (or some other spookier objects) in a big bucket of jelly. yummmmmmmmmm.

And if you're staying in instead and planning a scary movie fest, we'll be blogging soon with some fantastically frightening Halloween movies.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Calling all Spotify Users

Check out Ember Fury's playlist on Spotify here.

We'd love to hear about what bands you like listening to - leave us a comment about your favourite music.

Or why not create a playlist inspired by one of your favourite books and share it with us in the comments section?

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Ember Fury - reader love!

We've had a couple of comments come in from fans of Ember Fury - here's what they have to say:

I think Ember Fury was astonishing and thoroughly enjoyed it. Can't wait to read the next book and the characters were amazing.
Taylar Lake

I thought that Ember Fury was an absolutely amazing book. I can't wait untill the next book comes out. I haven't read another book that was as outstounding as Ember Fury, and I have read alot of books. I would think the next would be even better. Thanks!
Jasmin Francis

If you've read it let us know what you think and we'll add your reviews.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Creative Challenge Winner!

In our last text based creative challenge we asked you to tell us what you'd have at a YLF style party to make sure it went with a bang!

We've now selected the winner of the YLF goodie bag and £10 amazon.co.uk voucher... well done Lowri Crimmins who suggested a beach party with loads and loads of people, lights, music and a very late night.

Lowri - we'll be in touch by email to arrange sending you your prize.

Don't forget to check out the new creative challenge to win this pack of GHOSTGIRL goodies including a Ghostgirl bag, a Rest in Popularity T-Shirt and the two fabulous hardback books!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Animation appreciation

Firestarter Ember Fury is the coolest-slash-hottest illustrated character of 2009. But what about cool animated characters? Obviously they can't hold a candle (hahaha) to our Ember but here are our favourites...

The brightest baby on the block, Family Guy's little man has plans for world domination. He may only be one year old but he's got a deathray and he's not afraid to use it.

Cynical teen Daria Morgendorffer cut through her classmates with razor-sharp wit in MTV's classic cartoon. The girl who made it cool to be uncool. Don't mess with Daria. She couldn't care less.

Bart Simpson
The original bad boy with serious slingshot skills and the coolest catchphrases of the 90s. Don't have a cow man. Eat my shorts. Genius.

South Park's star. Yeah, so everyone hates him. But that's why we love him so much. Almost as much as he loves his cheesy poofs.

Any of 'em. The greatest virtual band ever.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Gossip Girl Gossip - Interesting Actor Facts Part III

Move over gossip girls, it's time for a good gossip about a GG boy - the lovely Penn Badgley who plays drop dead gorgeous Dan Humphrey on the tellybox...

- Mr Badgley released a pop single in 1998 when he was just 12 years old.

- He's done voiceover work for computer games Mario Golf and Mario Tennis.

- Penn's a sucker for soccer. He loves football and his favourite team is Arsenal!

- GG isn't the first time he's acted with castmate Leighton Meester aka Blair Waldorf. They both appeared in a horror flick called Drive-Thru

- He is named after a tennis ball!!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ember's Blog Post

should be the f-word… that’s ‘f’ for flamegrrl, of course!

today Ember Fury (flamegrrl) is…

being on the cover of a book (it’s so cool)
that Cathy Brett is getting all the credit when it’s MY story!
listening to…
firestarter - the prodigy
burning down the house - talking heads
who’s got a match? - biffy clyro
LDN - lily allen
the wasp factory - iain banks (3rd time)
all families are psychotic - douglas coupland (got that right!)
cheesy wotsits dipped in strawberry jam… mmm
hi b-word-ites! nice weather 2day so decided to commune with nature… lol… commune with bugs and hayfever more like! did rubbish sketch of a flower but then turned it into a man-crushing alien mutant… quite cool really… wonder if I should txt daze about how we’re gonna get thru the summer without completely dying of mind-numbing boredom! think I’ll have a quick snooze in the shade first tho… with factor100 on coz of my scary ginger-person’s skin!… daze just txted 2 say her thighs are growing fatter in front of her eyes… I replied that the only fat she has is in her head… she is so ‘special’… perhaps should suggest my new fave snack to her (see above)… see if she goes into hyperventilating, calorie-panic meltdown! going to the movie premiere of ‘I love you beth cooper’ (vomit) with the W.S.M… must try not to flash my pants at the paps!
puppies x

Friday, 31 July 2009

The world's gone Gossip Girl crazy!

Everyone's talking about Gossip Girl on Twitter! http://twitter.com/#search?q=gossip%20girl

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Cecily von Ziegesar interview

We've just spotted this utterly fabulous interview with the amazing glamourous creator of all things GOSSIP GIRL and IT GIRL - check it out!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Don't panic!

Sad news for Panic at the Disco fans. The band have split in two - the lovely Ryan Ross and Jon Walker deciding to leave for pastures new.

But don't panic just yet. Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith will be soldiering on without them. And Ryan's pretty face shouldn't be away us for too long as Ryan and Jon already have new plans in the pipeline. Phew.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Gossip Girl Gossip - Interesting Actor Facts Part II

According to Cecily, BLAIR WALDORF is one of her most complex Gossip Girl characters. But what about the actress who plays her? Here's some stuff you may not know about LEIGHTON MEESTER:

- She's a girl of many talents. Not only a successfu actress but also a singer-songwriter, Leighton willl be releasing her first single in the US in July.

- She's been wearing fabulous clothes from an early age. As a child model she starred in a Ralph Lauren ad campaign.

- She's always on the telly! Leighton has appeared in loads of hit US TV series like Entourage, CSI, 24 and House (where she played a girl with a massive crush on Hugh Laurie!)

- Famous director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) once photographed her.

- She speaks fluent French.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Take a sneak peek at the new It Girl novel HERE!

The latest installment in the fabulously sassy IT GIRL series, Adored, is now out in the shops! Hurrah! If you'd like to check out the 1st chapter and whet your IT GIRL appetite, you can download it NOW from our website! Just go to the Be Entertained section to get your mitts on this fantastic freebie.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Top 10 Action Heroes

In Andrew Klavan's fantastic Homelander series, Charlie West is a straight-A student turned teenage action hero. It's got us thinking about our top ten favourite action heroes. In no particular order...

1. Indiana Jones - Ok so he's getting on a bit now but Indie puts the action in action-adventure. And he gets extra points for inventive use of the ultimate action hero accessory - his trademark whip!

2. Jack Bauer (24 ) - The man who single-handedly manages to save the world, and ALWAYS pulls it off in 24 hours. Does this guy ever sleep?? What a man.

3. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) - A sharp-shooting, kick-ass action heroine. Like Indie but looks better in shorts.

4. Jason Bourne (The Bourne Trilogy) - He may not have a clue who he is but he certainly knows how to fight.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Nobody pierces a wooden stake through the hearts of the evil undead quite like this lady. If Charlie West is the karate king, Buffy is most certainly the karate queen.

6. Princess Leia (Star Wars) - She may be royalty but she's not afraid to swing a light saber. AND she has the most iconic hair-do of all time.

7. Neo (The Matrix) - Let's face it, if you were in a spot of bother you'd wish you could pull some Neo-style moves out of the bag. The coolest action hero ever? Probably.

8. Charlie's Angels - Ok, so technically there's three of them. But they've got some killer moves and they're not afraid to use them. Girl power with knobs on.

9. James Bond - The ultimate British action hero - suave, sophisticated AND he gets his hands on the most amazing gadgets. No wonder the bad guys don't stand a chance.

10. Charlie West of course!!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Gossip Girl Gossip - Interesting Actor Facts Part 1

If you love follwing the exciting lives of the Gossip Girl characters on TV, you're probably a teensy bit curious about the lives of the actors who play them. To help feed your Gossip Girl diet, here are some tasty tidbits about actress BLAKE LIVELY who plays It girl SERENA VAN DER WOODSON, in the show:

- She's appeared in a film called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, as well as its sequel, imaginatively titled, yes, you've guessed it, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.

- She was born into a showbiz family and has five siblings who have all been involved in the entertainment industry.

- She's know current boyfriend and co-star Pen Badgley since she was 11 years old. Aaaaaw.

- She was very involved in extra-curricular activities at school (but not the kind Serena gets up to!!). She was a cheerleader, choir girl and class president. Busy bee!

-She could give Serena a run for her money in the fashion stakes - Blake was voted one of the top 5 Most Stylish Women To Look Out For by Glamour UK magazine.

Monday, 11 May 2009

From tortured vampire to tortured artist...

Robert Pattinson - the sexiest vampire to ever walk the planet - is playing a rather different role in his latest on-screen offering. Arthouse flick Little Ashes shows him playing surreal artist Salvador Dali. If serious cinema isn't really your thing, don't worry, he should be back baring his fangs in Twilight sequel New Moon by the end of this year. Only 6 months to wait....

Thursday, 7 May 2009

New Gossip Girl The Carlyles book

Calling all GG fans!

Gossip Girl The Carlyles: Take a Chance on Me will be out next Thursday but you can get a sneak preview of the opening chapters here!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Where do we go from here?

So: you’ve bought your copy of I Am Not a Serial Killer, you’ve read it cover to cover, you’ve used your favorites quote as an email signature, and you’ve filled the back pages with dreamy repetitions of your first name and John’s last name, just to see how it looks. That’s all very well and good, but where do we go from here? What’s going to happen next in the peaceful town of Clayton? Can you really stand to wait a year to find out?

The answer is, “I hope so,” because I’m not spoiling anything for you early. But I’ll give you some hints, and we can extrapolate beyond our data points to figure where, if he follows his current trajectory, our good friend John Cleaver will be a year from now.

1. The working title of the next book is Mr. Monster, and I don’t expect this to change. Mr. Monster is the name John gives to his dark side, taken from a letter David Berkowitz wrote to the police: “For now I say goodbye and goodnight. Police: Let me haunt you with these words: I'll be back! I'll be back! To be interpreted as — bang, bang, bang, bang, bang — ugh!! Yours in murder, Mr. Monster.”

2. Why is the second book named after John’s dark side? Let me quote to you John’s own words, from the end of the book: “I don’t think my Mom realized that a new person moved in with us that day, but it’s been with us ever since. My monster was out for good now, and I couldn’t put it away. I tried to—every day I tried to—but it doesn’t work that way. If it were that easy to get rid of, it wouldn’t be a monster.”

3. Who, you may ask, is the villain in the next book? Is it another demon? Is it a real serial killer? How would I justify the presence of another killer in such a small town? Let me assure you that all of these questions are answered satisfactorily, and I’m confident in saying that you’ll be quite pleased. As for who the villain is, let me redirect your attention to a) the title of the book, and b) the previous paragraph. Let me also assure you that none of this is a spoiler.

4. There is a scene in Mr. Monster, about halfway through, that caused my friend to say, “Dan, I never want to be alone with you again.” You’ll know it when you get there, and I apologize in advance.

5. As a final note, I’ll simply say that all of my early readers (yes, all of them, bar none) liked Book 2 better than Book 1. So if you really liked I Am Not a Serial Killer, please be advised that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Zac Efron in hair-do disaster

What an earth has happened to Zac Efron's hair? Rumour has it that the hunk who made high school musicals hot has done some serious damage to his sexy mop by slicking it back like a midddle-aged banker. Why would you do this to yourself Zac? Why would you do this to us?? Framing your pretty face with a gelled back mullet is a crime against gorgeousness! Let's hope it's all in aid of a new movie role and not a long-term decision to be taken more seriously as an actor or something. There's nothing wrong with serious actors having lovely locks Zac!

Friday, 24 April 2009

How I Write - Dan Wells

Today’s blog marks ten weeks since I started writing posts for Headline, and in this two and a half months I’ve talked about what I write, and why, but I’ve never really talked about how. So, here’s how.

The first thing I do when I start a new book (after the preliminary “mulling ot over for months” phase that I tend to go through) is to write down all the story elements I can think of: one document for characters, one for events, and one for general free-writing about the book’s themes or plot or climax. It’s important for me to get all of this done and down on paper, because it solidifies what I’ve got in my head and lets me manipulate it directly. It sounds strange, but most of the book is already rolling around inside my mind, and putting my fingers on a keyboard is like plugging the computer directly into my brain. I think with my fingers, I guess. Once I get a chance to write it down, the ideas gain form and the story starts to take shape.

At this point I compile my ideas into an outline, usually a simple chapter-by-chapter thing with a simple paragraph for each. These paragraphs are not pretty, and sometimes don’t even have complete sentences—all I need is a quick description of what happens in each chapter. When it’s time to write, all I have to do is open my outline, look at today’s chapter (I try to do one per day), and start writing. On subsequent days I add another step: after I look at the outline, I read through everything I wrote the say before; this helps get me in the right frame of mind, makes sure the sections flow together well, and helps me catch any egregious errors I may have made. When I get to the end of yesterday’s section I just pick it up from there and keep going.

For almost ten years I was a corporate writer, writing copy for ads and magazines and websites and brochures and everything else you can think of, right down to that blurb on the back of the shampoo bottle that tells you how to use it. I would sit in a cubicle all day, typing on a computer, and then I’d come home, eat dinner, put my kids to bed, and sit at my desk all night, typing on a computer. I did this for nine years, and in that environment managed to produce five books, none of which were good enough to publish. It was kind of fun, in a way, at least in hindsight, though it quickly became very difficult to sustain—when you write all day you get burned out on writing, and it’s hard to go home and do the same thing even longer. Sometimes I think that aspiring writers shouldn't have writing jobs, to avoid this kind of burnout, but at the same time I admit that I would never want to work at anything else. Writing is what I do, whether it’s for novels or for people who don’t know how to use shampoo, and I can’t imagine not doing it for hours and hours every day.

When I got the idea for I Am Not a Serial Killer (a process detailed more fully in last week’s post), I was very excited to get started, but I was finishing up something else and talking to any editor about one of my other books and blah blah blah, and I kept putting it off. Then I lost my day job on the same day the editor finally rejected my book, and I had to make a choice: do I drop writing for a while and do a full-time job hunt, or do I use this time and write that serial killer book I’ve been desperate to write? I chose the latter, and treated it like a real job: every morning I’d get up, get the kids to school, spend 30 minutes or so on Internet job searches, and then drive to Brandon Sanderson’s house to write in his basement for eight or so hours. I knocked out the entire book in 6 weeks, then dove back into my job search and found a new one very quickly. I sold the book several months later, and they asked for a trilogy, so I wrote book 2 of the series on the good old nighttime schedule again (plus all day on Saturdays and, for a time, all day on Thursdays and Fridays while I burned off all my vacation days). Eventually I was able to sell enough foreign contracts to quit my job and go full time, so book 3 was written on the daily schedule again.

Friday, 17 April 2009

The Story of the Story: How did I Am Not a Serial Killer come to exist?

This is not the story of how I started writing, because I’ve always been a writer—telling stories and manipulating words has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. This story starts much later; I think I’m going to start it just after I graduated from college, with two finished but atrocious books under my belt. They were high fantasy, with sprawling plots filled with elves and dwarves and blah blah blah. I was ready to move on and try something new, and starting from a free-write project I ended up with a dark, funny, screwball book about historical vampires and literary figures. It was pretty good—good enough to sell, assuming I could actually find an audience for something so non-standard and weird. I started shopping it around, fielding rejection after rejection, all while plunging back into the world of high fantasy in the next several books I started.

I only finished one of the those fantasy projects—they were fun, but they weren’t satisfying. There was something off, and I couldn’t put my finger on it; I liked my funny horror book, and kind of wanted to write something like that, but I was having so much trouble selling it that I didn’t dare. Eventually I submitted my book to Stacy Whitman, then working at Wizards of the Coast, and she gave me some excellent advice: “This book is a great historical horror, but too wacky for us right now. Take out all the wacky, focus on the scary, and write me a proposal for a historical horror YA series.” Somehow, in all my soul-searching, it had never occurred to me to just try a straight-out horror. I threw some ideas together, wrote several proposals, and eventually got rejected in favor of another author who did the history much better than I did. This is when I got another piece of excellent advice from my friend Brandon Sanderson.

You may have heard of Brandon; he writes the Mistborn series, the Alcatraz series, and he’s finishing the Wheel of Time. He’s also been in my writing group for years, ever since those original fantasies that sucked so bad, and one night when we were out driving I mentioned my recent rejection for the historical horror series. “You already took out the wacky stuff,” he said, “now take out the historical stuff and just focus on horror—a pure modern horror.” We debated what kind of modern horror story I could tell, and somehow the conversation drifted toward my part-time hobby of serial killer research. I mentioned some of the behavioral predictors that show up in a serial killer’s pre-killing years, and Brandon nearly jumped out of his seat. “That’s what you write,” he said. “A character who has all the predictors of becoming a serial killer, but doesn’t want to be.”

The idea caught fire in my mind almost immediately, and I ran through a hundred different scenarios: how old should he be? Should the book be adult or YA? Serious or funny? Supernatural or completely real? I toyed with it for a full year, find pieces here and snippets there that slowly started to form the character of John Wayne Cleaver. One of the first pieces to fall into place was his family: I knew I wanted a mom, since most serial killers have horrible relationships with their mothers, but I also knew I wanted a sympathetic mom—if she was too much of a harridan (the way many real serial killers’ mothers are) the book would feel like an apology, as if John were not as responsible for his own choices. I also knew I wanted an absent father, both for the sense of mystery and the sense of loss; John needed to have plenty of holes in his life.

The next big piece of the puzzle was the other killer—I wanted to throw John into a big conflict situation, where his psychology could really come to a boil, and that meant he needed another serial killer to follow and learn about and compare himself to. If I was going to have a serial killer investigation I needed a plausible way to involve a teenager in it, so I searched around and eventually came up with the idea of the mortuary—a part time job in a small-town police station would have served the same purpose, but the mortuary added so much to John’s character, with a spooky background and an obsession with death. The peripheral characters followed soon after: John needed someone to talk to, so I gave him a sidekick and a therapist. The final piece was Brooke, who I didn’t plan at all—she inserted herself into the story and worked perfectly, and when I eventually found out I needed to turn it into a trilogy I discovered just how valuable Brooke really was. The series, and John’s character, would not be the same without her.

Now that I had all the pieces, all I had to do was put them together—but that turned out to be the hardest part of all. I had such a cool idea for the bad guy that I didn’t want to leave him a mystery for too long; a typical “investigation” plot structure would need to end with his reveal, and I really felt like that would lessen the impact he was supposed to have on John. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t read it yet, I’ll simply say that I came up with a very different structure which not only used the villain better but strengthened John immeasurably: we get to see him being both better and worse of a person than the original plot would have allowed for.

I’m very pleased with how this book came together, and even more pleased with the exciting new directions it opened up for books 2 and 3. But that is another story, and will be told another time.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Serial Killers, Part 2

Dan Wells

Last week I talked about the serial killers who had a strong influence on me and on John; they also get mentioned fairly often in the book, so I hope it helped clarify who they were for people who, because they are not weirdos like me, don’t already know everything about serial killers. In that same vein, this week’s post is about the other three serial killers mentioned in the book: Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Rader, and Edmund Kemper. These killers don’t have the character influence the others did, but they might be able to shed more light on the state of John’s head. I apologize in advance; if you’re easily spooked, you might want to join me next week when I speak of happier things.

Jeffrey Dahmer was fascinated by death from a very early age, collecting dead animals and dissecting them at home (one of the classic Macdonald Triad behaviors). In hindsight it’s easy to look at that and say, “well of course he ended up doing the same thing to people,” but at the time it was overshadowed by more pressing factors: his parents fought constantly, home life was terrible, and Jeffrey was a full-blown alcoholic while still in high school. His parents divorced during his Junior year, and he killed his first victim, a hitchhiker, just one year later. As time went on Dahmer began killing more frequently, first one a decade, then one a year, and as many as one a week when he was finally arrested in 1991. At that time his apartment was filled with human remains, he had several heads in his freezer, and he was not only eating his victims but delusionally attempting to turn them into zombies.

Dahmer’s progress is incredibly typical of a serial killer: he started with early warning signs and unhealthy obsessions, culminating in a botched sexual encounter that became an accidental murder. Most serial killers’ first kills are accidental: this event connects all the dots in their skewed perspective and shows them that they are free to actively pursue their obsessions. The next few kills are experiments, often with long gaps between them, as they find a method that works, and then their compulsions take full hold and they start to escalate, killing more people more quickly until they grow so frenzied that they get careless, and they make a mistake and get caught. The evidence against Dahmer was so powerful that his trial was a lightning-fast two weeks long, sentencing him to 957 consecutive years in prison. Over the next two years many other inmates attacked him, and in 1994 he was beaten to death in a prison weight room.

Dennis Rader was a mystery until very recently, killing 10 people under the name BTK (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) and sending long, taunting letters to the police. He stopped killing in 1991 and the trail went completely cold, but eventually his pride resurfaced and he started sending letters to the police again in 2004; he wasn’t killing new people, he just wanted the old thrills back and tried to spark a new investigation on himself. Unfortunately for him, forensic technology had advanced greatly in the intervening years, and Rader was unprepared for the new methods. He was very quickly found and arrested, and is currently serving 10 consecutive life sentences (he will be eligible for parole in the year 2180).

Unlike most serial killers, who confess to more attacks after being caught, there is no evidence that Rader was ever involved in any other deaths—he was far more thrilled by his own terrifying legend than by the killings themselves. He taunted police, he sent letters to local papers and TV stations, and in some cases he even sent letters to his intended victims, telling them exactly how he planned to kill them. He wrote poems, he wrote a false autobiography, and he left crime scene photos and toy dolls (bound at the hands and feet, with plastic bags over their heads) all over the county. More than anything else, Rader loved the spotlight and the sense of “serial killer culture,” creating propaganda for his own boogieman status and even going so far as to suggest cool names for himself.

Edmund Kemper is a remarkable case, because he is the only serial killer I know of who actually fulfilled his need. Serial killers are driven to kill by some kind of need, but in most cases that need becomes secondary to the pure thrill of the killings themselves. Dahmer killed because he wanted to be close to death, and Rader killer because he wanted to evoke and manipulate fear, and the more they killed the more intensely they were able to satisfy those needs. No amount of killing would ever sate their appetites. Kemper, at the risk of oversimplification, killed because he hated his mother, and when he finally stopped killing college students and just killed her, he was done; he called the police and turned himself in.

Kemper was known primarily as “The Co-Ed Killer,” he’s one of the main reasons people tell you not to hitchhike—almost all of his victims were Santa Cruz college students hitching their way to and from school. His early development, as with Dahmer, was classic sociopath: he tortured animals, had a bad home life and few friends, and eventually shot his grandmother because he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill grandma.” During his active killing phase he hung out with the local police and helped in the investigation, and the cops didn’t believe him at first when he confessed and asked to be arrested. He pleaded insanity, as most serial killers do, but the courts found him to be not only sane but remarkably intelligent—he knew enough about psychology that he could turn his sociopathic indicators on and off almost at will when talking to therapists in prison.

Next week we’ll leave the real killers behind and get back to the fiction, where I’ll talk about the process of writing my book, I Am Not a Serial Killer.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Win a paintballing trip!

To mark the launch of THE LAST THING I REMEMBER by Andrew Klavan Waterstones are offering an action packed trip paintballing for the prize winner and 9 of their friends!

Check out the competition here - and good luck!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Serial Killers, Part 1

My main character, John Cleaver, is fascinated by serial killers. This was easy for me to write, because I’m also fascinated by them; I have many hobbies, but true crime research is one of the biggest. Why does a serial killer decide to kill? Who does he choose to kill? How does he choose to do it? How do all of those elements fit together, and what does it all mean? As John Cleaver says in chapter 3, “it’s not weird to be fascinated by that. It’s weird not to be.”

There are six killers whose stories and psychology had a huge influence on I Am Not a Serial Killer; they are, for the most part, six of the most famous American killers. I’m going to talk about three of them today, in brief overview, and next week you get the other three. My purpose is not to glorify these men, but to explain their effect on me and on my writing.

Number one is Ted Bundy, not because he had a huge impact on the book but because he had a huge impact on me. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, one of Bundy’s main hunting grounds. He attended the University of Utah—the same school my parents attended, and at the same time. My childhood home was just a few miles away from the university, and a few miles in the other direction was the Fashion Place Mall, where we frequently shopped and where Carol DaRonch became one of the only victims to ever escape Bundy’s grasp. I drove a dozen times through the neighborhood where Bundy was arrested. All of this happened before I was born, but it was a big deal to me as a kid—Utah was a small, idyllic place, and the idea that such a dangerous, evil, deadly criminal would not only live but thrive in that environment seemed very significant to me.

My favorite part of Bundy’s story has always been DaRonch, for two very different reasons. First, there’s the fact that DaRonch escaped—she was very smart, very capable, and very willing to do anything necessary to get away, including a crowbar fight and a leap from a speeding car. It’s thrilling and, yes, inspirational to hear that someone finally managed to escape from the killer that no one was even sure existed. DaRonch’s escape from Bundy was the biggest turning point in the case, and marked the beginning of his end. But that’s only half of the story—that same night, after failing to kill DaRonch, Bundy drove an hour north to Bountiful, Utah and abducted a high school student from a play performance. That’s a remarkable window into the man’s mind: so intense was his need to kill—an actual, physical need—that even with an eye witness and a swarm of police hunting for him, he had to keep going. Once that need gets into their heads, serial killers will keep going until their need is satisfied. I won’t say too much, but that driving, blinding, unstoppable need plays a huge part in my first sequel.

Ted Bundy had a huge impact on me, but the two killers that most impacted John Cleaver were David Berkowitz, called the Son of Sam, and of course John Wayne Gacy.

David Berkowitz was something of a unique serial killer in that he didn’t hang around any of his kills—he shot them at range and ran, without stopping to touch the bodies or take any souvenirs. Serial killings do what they do for specific reasons, whether or not those reason make sense to the rest of us, and those reasons are very rarely fulfilled by a simple death—the killer has to go further, often arranging or defacing the body, and very frequently taking something from it. This is called “ritualization,” and in the killer’s mind it grants the killing some kind of meaning or significance that sates their need to kill. The fact that Berkowitz did none of this points to a very inward need—a psychological drive that was much more focused on himself and his own pain than on any outward force. What Berkowitz did do, however, was write letters; he wrote to the press and to the police, and while these letters are riddled with technical errors they are surprisingly eloquent. In another life, with other influences and choices, Berkowitz could have been a very successful writer.

The Son of Sam label came from the (oversimplified) story that Berkowitz attributed all of his kills to a demonically possessed dog named Sam. Speculation on his true motives is rampant, but what is obvious is that Berkowitz was dangerously unbalanced and probably very delusional, seeing and hearing and reacting to things that didn’t exist. This does not mean, however, that he was too insane to stand trial—for all his hallucinations, Berkowitz knew what he was doing and why it was wrong. Serial killers very, very rarely achieve a successful insanity defense because the law (self defense notwithstanding) doesn’t care why you do something, only that you do it; having a reason is not the same thing as having an excuse. Something was driving Berkowitz to go out at night, look for young women with black hair, and shoot them, and no matter that something was it was still Berkowitz himself who made the choice to go outside, find a woman, and pull the trigger. In his letters he begged the police to find him and stop him, but he never took the steps to stop himself. Berkowitz’s struggle with choice and compulsion play a huge part in John’s own search for identity, and in many ways he identifies with Berkowitz more closely than anyone else in his life.

John Cleaver’s middle name is Wayne (his dad was a fan of old movies), and John’s first exposure to serial killers came when he was first learning to read, and saw his own name in a magazine next to a picture of a clown. This single image—the smiling killer, the evil clown, with his own name below it—had an enormous influence of John. John Wayne Gacy was a friendly, well-liked businessman who had a family and lived for years in a simple community, even dressing as a clown for neighborhood parties, and all the while kidnapping and killing dozens and dozens of men and boys and burying them below his mother’s house. Gacy’s smiling clown face has become a powerful symbol of the “hidden enemy”—the idea that anyone, no matter how nice or normal, can harbor a terrible secret and a horrifying double life.

Gacy was a human paradox, simultaneously good and evil, and that more than anything else is the reason both John and I are drawn to serial killers. For me, it’s the idea that great darkness can exist at the heart of something light; that in our darkest thoughts any one of us, no matter how pure, is capable of evil. For John it is the opposite: the eternal hope that somewhere inside of the killer there is a clown, smiling and happy and loved by everyone, just waiting to get out. This is his hope, and often the only hope he has, for if a good guy like John Wayne Gacy can turn bad, it just might be possible that a bad kid like John Wayne Cleaver could turn out good in the end.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Gossip Girl Romance

As Gossip Girl would say, P was spotted kissing B on vacation in Mexico. In other words, Penn Badgely and Blake Lively, who play Dan Humphrey and Serena Van de Woodsen in the Gossip Girl TV series are a real life item! AND it turns out the sweethearts were classmates when they were younger. Awww. Let's hope their off-screen romance is more successful than Serena and Dan's!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Heroes and Monsters - Dan Wells

Monsters are very important to me in my writing; I love a good monster, whether it’s literally an evil, slavering creature or any other kind of villain. I think of all villains as monsters because of an old phrase I picked up somewhere in high school: “Sometimes the only way to defeat a monster is to become a monster yourself.” Pay close attention to that concept, because you’ll see it in one form or another in everything I write.

Let me illustrate the importance of monsters with another, more common phrase: “A hero is only as good/cool/interesting as his villain.” A hero who only fights morons might be incredibly intelligent, but the audience will never see him that way because his intelligence is never tested—he doesn’t have to be smart in order to win, so nobody cares about how smart he is. The same is true for speed, or strength, or any other skill your hero claims to possess. Would you care about a soldier’s incredible sniping accuracy if his target were very close and large? Would you care about a con man’s incredible ability to lie if his victim were very gullible? Of course not. Heroes are not heroic until they have overcome huge obstacles, and that requires a villain who will test your hero’s skills to their limit.

(Quick side note: in a lot of American stories you’ll see the hero marching off to face the villain, leaving his friends behind with the brave comment, “I have to do this alone.” How tough can the villain really be if the hero—often weak and inexperienced—can defeat him by himself? You will very rarely see this in Asian stories, because they understand this principle of heroes and villains. They hit the bad guy with everything they’ve got, and then after he’s taken down a whole room full of guys the audience will know he’s a worthy opponent, and the hero’s eventual victory will be that much sweeter.)

Back to the first phrase, about becoming a monster. Obviously it is not true in every case: sometimes Batman can whip out his shark repellent and stop the bad guys without any moral compromises, but those are not the stories that interest me. Consider a hero’s full suite of skills and talents; we’ll use Spider-man for the sake of argument: he’s very strong, very agile, very clever, and he can swing around on webs. But that’s only half of his talents—he has another full suite of personal and emotional talents that are less obvious but just as important to who he is: he is brave, he is loyal, he is trustworthy, and so on. A good villain will take that first set of talents and test them to their breaking points, but a great villain will test the second set—he will force Spider-man to make difficult or even impossible choices that affect not just what Spider-man can do, but who he is.

The climax of the first Spider-man movie is a great example, adapted from one of the most famous scenes in the history of comicbooks: the Green Goblin is on top of a bridge, supporting Spider-man’s love in one hand and a big group of people in the other. Spider-man’s powers would allow him to save either group (thus testing his physical traits), but not both, meaning that he will be forced to choose (thus testing his inner character traits). Spider-man tries to save both, and in the movie he succeeds, but in the comics he finds that the girl is dead—possibly from the fall itself, but more likely from the neck-snapping whiplash when Spider-man caught her. This is where it gets interesting; this is where a simple “stop the Green Goblin” punch-out became a defining moment in the life of a character. Spider-man’s villain forced him to make a choice, and the results of that choice have become an integral part of who Spider-man is and why (and how) he chooses to live his life. In attempting to defeat a killer, Spider-man became one himself, and that fact has affected the entire course of his life.

Other heroes have been faced with similar decisions. The Star Wars movies are about the corrupting influence of power, and the dual journeys of Luke and Anakin to use that power without succumbing to it. Jack Bauer frequently finds himself on the wrong side of the law, becoming in many ways no different than the terrorists he fights. Even our nation has been faced (multiple times) with the frightening paradox of waging war in the service of peace. All of our favorite heroes have had to face, at one point or another, the simple fact that in fighting an enemy we eventually take on that enemy’s traits. One of my favorite examples is No Country for Old Men, in which Sheriff Bell faces a monster so terrifying he chooses to retire rather than face the prospect of becoming like him.

In I Am Not a Serial Killer, I chose very specifically to blur the line between hero and monster as much as I possibly could. John Cleaver, ostensibly the hero, is haunted by emotions and desires and urges that lead him inexorably toward evil, and which he can barely control. The Clayton Killer (whoever he or she may be; no spoilers here) is a serial murderer but also a concerned citizen, a good friend, and a genuinely loving member of the community. John has to stop the killer, but the only way to do it is to give in to the dark side he’s fought against for so long. How will it affect him? How will it change the way he lives his life. As time goes on he starts to realize that the monster might be more human than he is, and underneath it all is the horrifying that that once John lets his dark side out, he might not be able to put it away again.

John’s character draws elements from many real-world serial killers, and I’ll talk more about some of them in a future blog, but one of the big ones is David Berkowitz. You know him better as the Son of Sam, but that’s the label the press gave him; in his own letters, he called himself Mr. Monster and begged the police to find and kill him. He knew what he had become, and that he couldn’t stop himself, and it destroyed him emotionally even as he continued to kill. John is all to aware of this fate, and tries to avoid it at all costs—except that sometimes the cost is too high, and deep down he knows that saving other people is better than saving yourself.

I think this is why the monstrous hero appeals to me so much—in the end it is the ultimate heroic sacrifice, because it is the sacrifice of self. Not every hero can, or should, go to such lengths that they lose their humanity, but the ones who do will always be the ones I love.

Friday, 20 March 2009

When We Were Very Young - Dan Wells

When I was a kid my Mom would recite poems to us; there were several, but I remember three of them more than any others: Bed in Summer by R. L. Stevenson, Animal Crackers by Cristopher Morley, and Vespers by A.A. Milne. I will admit that I had to look up those first two just now in order to find the authors, but the third, Vespers, I did not: I’ve had it memorized for most of my life, I own three copies of both Christopher Robin poem collections, and I’ve read them all countless times. My mother, and arguably that one poem, sparked a lifelong love of poetry that only continues to grow.

The best poetry is like a puzzle: how can you say something, or evoke an emotion, or prompt a specific reaction, in the simplest way possible? Poetry allows you to paint with words, to create images and feelings in your reader that ordinary prose cannot.

It started with Milne, so I’ll start there now: A.A. Milne is one of the greatest poets of the English language, and if he had written “grown up” poems instead of children’s poems he would be widely celebrated as such. Read Disobedience and look at the way he uses such strict rhythm and rhyme, yet managing to be completely playful and even conversational. Read Happiness out loud and listen to the way the sparse, simple words create such a perfect syncopation. Then read Politeness, and Halfway Down, and Teddy Bear, and The King’s Breakfast, and…well, all of it. The man is a genius.

Robert Browning is not one of my favorite poets, but in My Last Duchess he taught me one of the most important writing lessons I’ve ever learned: narrators can lie. I’ve essentially built a career on that premise, and it’s certainly nothing new, but reading My Last Duchess opened a whole new world of possibilities. Read it now and watch the way Browning tells you two stories at once: one on the surface, as a duke shows his visitor a portrait on his late wife, and another story buried in subtext in which we begin to suspect that the duke killed his wife out of baseless jealousy. You can see this concept of the “unreliable narrator” all over the place, from music (Operator by Jim Croce) to movies (The Usual Suspects by Christoher McQuarrie) to books (I Am Not a Serial Killer by…me). The ability to tell one story, while suggesting multiple layers of truth underneath it, is one of the reasons I love writing.

One of the many books in my parent’s library was a collection of poems that I read several times as a child, and through which I discovered the romantic poets: Lord Byron, Lord Tennyson, William Blake, and John Keats. I love almost everything they ever wrote, from the heartwarming (Byron’s Epitaph to a Dog) to the horrifying (Byron’s Darkness); from extended narrative (Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes) to pure imagery (Keats’s To Autumn). I also discovered more modern poets, like Langston Hughes and ee cummings and T.S. Eliot; Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is probably my favorite piece of writing ever.

Somewhere in the middle there is Emily Dickinson, who I used to like until I realized that you can sing every poem she ever wrote to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas. Try it: “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just ourselves, and Immortality.” And now I apologize for telling you that, because it will ruin Dickinson for you completely. It took me years to get over it, but I’ve finally re-convinced myself of how awesome she is.

When I was in eighth grade we were in the midst of the first Gulf War, and my English teacher compiled an incredible little pamphlet of poetry about war, death, and loss. I still have it, and I consider it one of the highlights of my education. It included everything from the ubiquitous The Second Coming by Yeats and Ozymandias by Shelley (proof that Shelley is not the total hack I sometimes accuse him being), through the funereal The Dark Hills by Robinson, to such horrifying poems as Death of a Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell, or Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. These poems taught me that poetry was not all happy, and that the grotesque could hold its own kind of beauty.

So who is my favorite poet? Eliot’s a contender, based solely on the strength of Prufrock; Milne is up there, too, and Keats, but the crowned champion is actually one I stumbled on by accident. I’ve never studied her poetry in any English class, or seen it printed in any academic anthology, but my favorite poet is Emily Bronte, hands down. Most people know her for Wuthering Heights, which is dark and seething, and her poetry is very similar: she’s a little low on technical skill, but with a vast well of raw talent just roiling violently under the surface. I believe in a life after this, where we will be reunited with those who have gone before, and one of the very first people I want to meet is Emily Bronte—I’m going to get her, John Wilkes Booth, and Philip K. Dick into a room and just talk for hours. And then we’re going to go find William Carlos Williams and kidney punch him so hard his great grandchildren won’t be able to eat for a week.

One of the questions I get a lot is “how can I become a better writer?” and my answer is simple: “If you want to learn how to tell stories, study fiction. If you want to learn how to use words, study poetry.” The skills and principles of language you learn from poetry will improve every aspect of your writing, and when you learn how to evoke image and emotion as powerfully as, for example, Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro, no force on Earth will stop you from getting published.

This week I’m going to leave you with some homework—a reading list—and, being a horror writer, I’m going to choose some of my favorite “dark” poems. Read them, ponder them, and post your comments.

Darkness, Lord Byron
Elegy, Chidiock Tichborne
Isabella, or, The Pot of Basil, John Keats
Suicide’s Note, Langston Hughes
At Castlewood, Emily Bronte
A Day in the Life, Lennon/McCartney (Yes, it totally counts)

Friday, 13 March 2009

My Favorite Movies - Dan Wells

Lists of favorites are always so hard to pin down—I really love X, but do I love it more than Y? Do I need to? It’s hard (and probably meaningless) to really start ranking movies in terms of absolute favoriteness, but there are some movies I love so much that I feel comfortable putting them in an unranked top five. This list will probably change multiple times throughout my life, but for now these are my favorite movies:

Jaws, Steven Spielberg
Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock
Annie Hall, Woody Allen
Mary Poppins, Robert Stevenson
The Searchers, John Ford

Jaws, Steven Spielberg
I say these are in no particular order, but this one is my favorite. A few years ago I realized that I’d seen Jaws more times than I’d seen any other movie, and being curious and over-analytical I started to wonder why I sought it out so much, and so subconsciously. The conclusion I came to is that it is simply some of the best storytelling and characterization I have ever seen anywhere. When people ask me how to build suspense, I point them at Jaws; when people ask me how to make human characters, I point them at Jaws; when people ask me how to blend drama and humor and terror and triumph, I point them at Jaws. I could write pages and pages on all the things I love about that movie, but just trust me: go out and watch it.

Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock
When I set out to write I Am Not a Serial Killer, a friend told me “the hardest part is going to be your main character—readers will have to identify with him even when he does bad things.” He was absolutely right, and the problem of anti-hero empathy became the core of the book. When I set out to solve that problem, I went straight to the master: Psycho. Today most of us know that this is a movie about a crazy killer, but back when it first came out that was a secret, and Hitchcock took his sweet time revealing that. Instead he started with a different story altogether, showing a woman caught up in a crime; you get invested in her and in her story, and you follow her as she tries to hide, and it goes on for a long, long time, and then all of a sudden she’s dead, and poor Norman Bates has to clean up his mother’s mess. He doesn’t want the police to come after his mother, so he decides to hide her crime instead by putting the body in a car and sinking it in a swamp. He pushes it in, watches it sink, and it stops halfway; he watches it nervously, scared to death of being discovered, and then with a groan it sinks in the rest of the way. Instantly, in that one scene—in that one look of fear—you in the audience have switched gears: you’re completely invested in Norman now, and from that moment on the movie is completely his. There are tons of other things to love about the movie, but that one scene has taught me so much about fear, emotion, and identification. One warning: Psycho is nothing at all like modern scary movies, so if you watch expecting a thriller you will be disappointed. Watch it as a character movie, and you’ll love it.

Annie Hall, Woody Allen
Yeah, I know: two scary movies and then Annie Hall? What kind of crazy list is this? Hey, if you don’t like it you can make your own list. These are my favorites. For me, Annie Hall is about two things: it’s about loving people in spite of (and perhaps because of) their flaws, and it’s about talking. The people in this movie talk about everything, no matter where they are or what they’re doing, and sometimes they even step into voiceover and talk about their talking WHILE they’re talking. If you hate talking, this is not the movie for you. The thing is, the people talking are so funny, and so interesting, and so layered with good and bad that they are endlessly fascinating to listen to. So many love stories are about people who are destined to be together, and after one or two obligatory plot problems they live happily after, but Annie Hall shows us real people who try, and fail, and screw up, and change, and stay the same, and fall down, and get up and try again.

Mary Poppins, Robert Stevenson
This one would look a lot weirder on this list without Annie Hall to soften the blow. Why do I love Mary Poppins? For some of the same reasons I love these other movies, actually: because it’s funny, because I love the characters, and because it combines humor and sadness in some wonderful. It also pulls a Psycho-ish twist toward the end, where you suddenly realize (though it’s been there all along) that the movie is not really about what you thought it was about, and it pulls back the curtain and you realize that what you thought was a wacky kids movie is actually one of the most touching movies about fatherhood ever made. And yes, I know that Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent is terrible, but seriously—get over it. It’s completely overshadowed by all the awesome. If you’ve never seen it, go watch it, and if you have seen it before here’s a neat trick: imagine that singing is a metaphor for emotional connection, and watch it again with new eyes; pay attention to who sings to who, and why, and how. It’s so much deeper than people give it credit for.

The Searchers, John Ford
I just saw this one a few years ago, but it leapt to the top five almost instantly. The Searchers is so much more than just cowboys and Indians: it’s about hatred, racism, obsession, and love. It’s about the painful borders between community and solitude; between doing what you want and doing what has to be done. And holy crap is it beautiful to look at. In some ways, it’s the perfect representation of my favorite archetype: the outsider who tries to help a group of people even though he knows that he will never truly belong. When you think about it, that’s also the subtext of every other movie on this list (Psycho is kind of a stretch, but it still works). It is no mistake that the hero of my book is named John Wayne.

Next week I’m going to change course a bit and talk about the final piece of the “my literary influences” puzzle: poetry.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Head to the totally brilliant YA blog Wondrous Reads to check out the first review of I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER...

Friday, 6 March 2009

My Favorite Books (at least for now) - Dan Wells

Last week I talked about the books I read growing up, and how they shaped my reading and writing tastes. Today I’m going to talk about the five “Favorite Books” listed in my bio on my website, www.fearfulsymmetry.net:

Dune, Frank Herbert
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
Perfume, Patrick Suskind
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander

Dune, Frank Herbert
I have read Dune more times than any other book. It’s a brilliant blend of SF, fantasy, politics, ecology, and military strategy. I love the world Herbert created—not just the planet of Arrakis, but the entire universe of feudal lords, semi-human space pilots, mystical witches, and giant sandworms. The Butlerian Jihad, outlawing all thinking machines, was a masterstroke, and really gives the book (and the rest of the series) a unique flavor. What I like most about Dune, though, is the intrigue; every scene, every sentence, every word in the book is rich with layer after layer of schemes, counter schemes, and plots within plots. The dinner party when Paul’s family first arrives on Arrakis is one of the tensest, most fascinating scenes I’ve ever read—and it’s a dinner party, for crying out loud! My favorite scene in the book is Feyd’s knife fight in the Harkonnen arena, where every attack, every step, every choice is part of a complex plot (or plots) to gain, shift, or consolidate power. It’s an absolutely stunning book.

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
I read Les Miserables because, like most people who read it these days, I heard the musical and thought it was kind of cool. I was in high school at the time, on summer break with nothing else to read, so I decided to take a shot at the unabridged version; people warned me against it, telling tales of gigantic tangents and non-fiction essays, but I was undaunted. I made the right choice. The unabridged Les Miserables is an epic so vast and so…well, epic, that it has become the measuring stick against which I compare any other epic I read. What I love about it is the vast range of human emotion and experience—the book contains some of the most vile, depraved people in all of literature, right next to some of the best and most righteous, and includes the full spectrum between. In some cases, people will actually move from one category to the other, and because the book slows down and takes its time you can really feel the transition. And I loved the wacky tangents: the section on quicksand was harrowing; the detailed description of Waterloo was a gruesome depiction of hell on Earth; and even the essay on sewer systems was a joy to read, believe it or not, simply because Hugo’s mastery of language makes anything worth reading, regardless of topic. Obviously this will depend on the skill of your translation (I did not read the original French), but find a good one and give it a shot.

Perfume, Patrick Suskind
Another book I read in translation, Perfume is the only horror-ish book on the list. It’s the story of a man in 18th century France who has no human emotion whatsoever, but possesses instead the most incredible sense of smell ever seen in human history. This premise establishes not only a tense thriller but a fascinating historical novel with an uncanny power for descriptive language. Jean-Baptiste, the “hero,” becomes a perfumer obsessed with capturing the scents of beautiful women, and as he plots and murders his way through French society he describes the various smells so perfectly that you can almost smell them, right in your room reading them. It’s phenomenal on many levels.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, and American Gods is my favorite of his books. It’s the ultimate story of immigration, and as such becomes the ultimate story of America itself; these are not all-powerful deities, but strangers in a strange land doing their best to survive. The great demon Chernobog lives in a brownstone apartment with the Three Sisters (one of Gaiman’s favorite archetypes), eating cabbage and playing checkers. The god of the Internet eats at McDonalds, and burns his fingers on the hot apple pie. More than anything else this book is about setting—it’s about the simple lives of everyday Americans, mortal or otherwise, simply trying to get by the best they can. It’s also a wonderful love story and a grand-scale con job. American Gods is Gaiman’s most awarded book, but it deserves it all.

Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander
When I grew up reading fantasy, it was all about dragons and heroes and wars and all the other stuff that little boys love. So when I got to book 4 of the Prydain Chronicles, Taran Wanderer, I didn’t know what to make of it—instead of high adventure the small, weather-beaten story of a young man trying to become an adult. There’s a line early in the book, spoken by one of the witches, which establishes the whole thing (I paraphrase): “The little chicken wants to soar with the eagles, but first let’s see if he can scratch for his own worms.” In other words, growing up and becoming a useful, responsible person is not only more important, but far more difficult, than slaying a dragon and saving a kingdom. The villain Taran faces is not an evil wizard but an arrogant jerk, and he defeats him not with an ancient sword of power but with an ugly, sturdy sword that he made himself. In everything I write, and in everything I do, I try to remember the lessons I learned from this book: that a hero must first be a person, and that the most important challenges are usually the most personal.

Next week we'll take a similar look at my favorite movies.

Friday, 27 February 2009

The books I grew up on - Dan Wells

Books have been an important part of my life since before I ever went to school. My Dad used to read to my brother and I every night before bed, and my Mom always had a book in her hands. Reading was just what you did—it was as much a part of life as eating or sleeping. As I got older I realized that not only did my Mom always have a book, she always had a new book; she reads faster than almost anyone I know. Being naturally competitive, I decided to race her, and thus began my personal relationship with books.

The first real book that I have any conscious memory of is The Hobbit, which my Dad read to us at night. Soon after that came the Narnia books, and then The Lord of the Rings (though I was too young to really appreciate it until I re-read it a few years later). My brother and I had a bookshelf in our bedroom stocked with fairy tales, from Hans Christian Anderson to the Brothers Grimm, and after I’d devoured those I moved on to a series of “history for young readers” books, full of non-fiction stories about life in the Yukon gold rush, or the American revolution, and so on. I remember reading kid mystery books, like Encyclopedia Brown, and then in elementary school I was re-introduced to fantasy through the works of Robin McKinley, Madeleine L’Engle, and Lloyd Alexander. My sixth grade teacher had us do a school project on Anne McCaffrey, and I was officially hooked on fantasy.

Meanwhile, I was developing a deep love of poetry. One of those early books on our shelf was the collected works of A.A. Milne, and while I liked the Pooh stories well enough what I really loved were the Christopher Robin poems. I can still quote many of them by heart. The books I was reading were introducing me to stories and plots and grand emotions, but through poetry I realized the deep power of words, and for that subject you can’t ask for a better teacher than Milne. Go read “James James Morrison Morrison Willoughby George DuPree” and watch the way he manipulates your voice and cadence so perfectly, just by the words he chose and the order he put them in. A good poet isn’t just using words, he’s playing with them, and when you read those words you can’t help but join in the fun. So powerful was Milne’s effect on me that it took me years—well into college, probably—before I would accept any kind of poetry that didn’t rhyme; sure, they had a nice sentiment and everything, but if they couldn’t do that AND make it rhyme I figured they just weren’t trying hard enough. That’s also why I eventually became a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim.

In college, though, I finally “got” non-rhyming poetry, and in a big way. You’ll notice as they are released that the epigram for each book in the “I Am Not a Serial Killer” series begins with a quote from a poem; I chose these poems, and the poets, very carefully. The first is a quick quote from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot, which is quite simply my favorite piece of literature ever, in poetry or prose. I learn something new every single time I read it. Books 2 and 3 use Edgar Allen Poe and ee cummings, respectively, but you you’ll have to wait to see which ones.

Back to books. I read fantasy and science fiction about as fast as I could get through it, including Terry Brooks, Fred Saberhagen, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, and more. Meanwhile I was also developing a love of “classic” literature, aided in no small part by the fact that I already loved classic poetry, and I figured that if old, dead poets had something valuable to say then old, dead authors probably did too, even their books didn’t have dragons in them. So I read Charles Dickens, and Nathanial Hawthorne, and Harper Lee, and Mark Twain, and finally Joseph Conrad—and it was Conrad, at long last, who ignited my love of dark fiction. You see, for all my reading I’ve never really read a lot of “traditional” horror, but through Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” I discovered this very dark, very bleak side of literature that for some reason I responded to powerfully. I don’t know why, I just did—there was a kind of epic grandeur to it, some level of tragedy that just hit all the right buttons for me. I wanted to read more stuff like it, but I was leery of horror fiction because I assumed (mistakenly) that it was all just slasher movie stuff. With horror off my radar, and so much of fantasy perpetually cheery (though I did read quite a bit of Michael Moorcock), I turned back to the classics for my fix of darkness: I read more Conrad, I discovered Lovecraft, and by happy chance I found a deep well of darkness in French and Russian literature, in everything from Crime and Punishment to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I still thought I wanted to be a fantasy writer, because that how I had defined myself in my head, but it was the classic themes of human obsession, misanthropy, and self destruction that eventually came to define my writing. Dragons are cool and all, but who needs a dragon when humans can do such horrible things to themselves? I latched onto serial killers and true crime essays, and when I finally started to read modern horror it was through the psychological side-door of Thomas Harris and “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Which brings us, by a long and twisty road, to “I Am Not a Serial Killer.” It’s got a bit of everything: human weakness, supernatural terror, and even a snippet of poetry here and there (quoted from others; I won’t subject you to my own). I hope you like it.

As you can see on my own website, www.fearfulsymmetry.net, I’ve listed a long list of favorites in my bio, including my favorite books. Next week we’ll go through all five of these books and talk about why each one is so awesome.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Who is Dan Wells, anyway?

Hi! My name is Dan Wells, and I’m the author of the new book I Am Not a Serial Killer, which comes out in a few weeks. It’s the story of a boy named John who has a very dark side that he keeps tightly bottled up, and then a monster comes to town and he has to let his dark side out in order to stop it. In other words, it’s the kind of book where the hero is maybe a little scarier than the villain—and it’s got a pretty scary villain, so that’s saying a lot.

I’ve always been fascinated with villains. I love the darkness, the sense of fear, and the tragic mix of power and damnation. A great villain usually thinks he’s the good guy—he has a good reason for being bad, even if that reason is flawed or outright false. I don’t necessarily want the bad guys to win, but I love to watch them try, and when they finally fall I find myself identifying with them even more. As John tells his mother in one of the early chapters of the book: “It’s not weird to be fascinated by that. It’s weird not to be.”
Playing with that idea, I Am Not a Serial Killer blurs the lines between hero and villain in some pretty cool ways. John is a good kid, and he desperately wants to be the hero, but sometimes the only way to be a hero is to become a monster yourself.

I’ll talk more about heroes and monsters in the coming weeks, but first let me tell you a little more about myself. I was born in the US, in the state of Utah, where I’ve lived most of my life (plus two years I spent living in Mexico, which I loved). I am the oldest of three children, and at the young age of 31—yes, that’s still considered young—I have four children of my own. I love to read, write, eat, and play games; I have an entire room of my house stuffed to the gills with tabletop miniatures, roleplaying games, trading cards, and an ever-growing collection of board games. My five-year-old son already shows strong signs of growing to be just like me: his favorite games are all the ones with monsters on the cover.

Next week: I spent my childhood reading everything I could get my hands on. Find out what I read, and why, and which were my favorites.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

RUNNYMEDE SPA - exclusive competition for IT GIRL fans!

Win a luxury break for you and your mates (or you could take your mum!) away from it all at the stunning Runnymede Hotel & Spa set on the banks of the river Thames, near Windsor, South of England. Just answer the question below and you and your friends could be off for a day of pampering!

The prize includes three hours of treatments for those over 18, including a Magna Facial and Day Dreamer Body Treatment. And for teenagers up to 18, treatments include a Teen Angel Facial, Teenie Toes (nail tidy, foot massage and colour application), Fab Fingers (a nail tidy, hand massage and colour application) and Beginnings (an introduction to skin care and make-up application).

The prize also includes a three-course dinner in one of the hotel’s riverside restaurants, use of spa facilities (until check out) which include a swimming pool, eucalyptus steam room, saunas, plunge pool and whirlpool bath, plus an overnight stay including full English breakfast.

An adult must accompany any winner if under 18.

Just search the B-word site and answer this simple question.
What is the name of the character who features in both the Gossip Girl series and It Girl series? Fill in the form
here with your name, date of birth, email address and daytime phone number before 30 June 2009.

Please read our terms and conditions before entering the competition.

*By entering this competition you are agreeing to our terms and conditions and to receive occasional information which may be of interest to you from the Runnymede Hotel & Spa and Headline Publishing Group. If at any time you wish to unsubscribe, there will be a clear link at the bottom of every email.

Runnymede Hotel and Spa are also delighted to be offering an exclusive 15% discount for INFAMOUS readers on two of their treatments. For just £76.50, readers can enjoy a thirty minute Teenie Toes pedicure and thirty minute ‘Fab Fingers’ manicure. Upon booking simply quote the reference: INFAMOUS15 and you will receive the discount.

Terms & Conditions

1 The prize offer is a spa package for up to four people.

2 An adult must accompany any winner if under 18

3 The prize is only valid Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Terms apply.

4 Booking is subject to availability at any given time.

5 The competition is open to all UK residents, except employees of the Headline Publishing Group and Runnymede Hotel and related companies.

6 The winner will be selected at random by the Headline Publishing Group from entries received.

7 The winner will be notified after the closing date of 30 June 2009. The winner will be notified by email within 14 days of the promotion closing date and is required to accept their prize by email within 14 days of notification. In the event of non-acceptance within the specified period, the promoter reserves the right to reallocate the prize to the next randomly drawn correct and valid entry.

8 The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence, apart from notification, will be entered into.

9 The winners are responsible for their own travel to and from the Spa.

10 The prize must be booked by 31st August 2009 and taken by 28th February 2010.

11 The prize is not transferable to any third party and cannot be exchanged for cash, or redeemed in conjunction with any other offers.

12 Winners are responsible for any payment over and above the prize as outlined without exception.

13. Headline has arranged this competition in good faith but does not accept liability relating to this prize.

Promoter: Headline Publishing Group, 338 Euston Road, London, NW1 3BH


So our team of reviewers have started reading INFAMOUS and the love is pouring in! Here's what everyone thinks...

Oh my life this book is amazing. It is probably one of the best in the series. I recieved it this morning have already finished it. Needless to say its unputdownable. It will leave you smiling gasping and sighing with many twists and turns which you will not see coming.
If you read nothing else this year READ this. You wont regret it.
Lovely Laura :)

This book is absolutely amazing, I have recently read a few in the series and they get better and better every time. This book is full of gossip (obviously) and once you start reading you can't put it down, it's an addictive read and so realistic. Full of surprises that keep you gripped to the very last page... The characters personalities change throughout and the decisions they make are the most unexpected. Its definitely worth buying as you can re-read again and again and they storyline never gets old.
roxyy xo

Just got mine this morning and I finished it in hours!
The latest in the deliciously addictive series and it proves one thing - this series just keeps getting better!
Infamous is just as un-put-downable as the others!
Jenny and Tinsley are finally friends but Jenny is still unsure. Is Tinsley as cold hearted as she seems? Is it possible that she could ever be in love with someone? And is it possible that Jenny could have advice that is key to winning that someone back? Even though an old enemy from the past, who may be a bigger bitch then Tinsley, also has their sights set on him too?
Jenny seems to fall into love too easily and all it ever seems to do is get her hurt! Should she take Tinsleys advice and just relax and have fun?
Callie is moping after Easy, will she ever see him again?
Brett shows a side we've never before seen, her Jersey side! And it's definitely a side I want to see more of!
As with all the It Girl books, Infamous is packed full of glamour, style, parties and scandal! The gossip, shocks and plot twists draw you in from page one and leave you craving more!
You'll reread again and again and wish it were longer! A totally captivating book!

Think you know all that's going to happen in 'IT Girl'?
Then think again!
The addictive new book in the IT Girl series brings us more twists and turns with Jenny and Tinsley finally becoming friends, well how did that happen?
With Callie still mourning the departure of Easy she's not certain if she will ever see him again, but come on this is Waverly Academy you have to expect the un-expected!
The It Girl series is a short escape from reality and with this new book it may not be such a short escape with you unable to put the book down.
A must read!

If you'd like to send us a review you can do so by filling in the contact form. And if you want to be a reviewer go to the B Involved page and sign up.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009



Finally the show we've all been dying to see back on our screens returns to ITV2 for the new season!

We'll be there - 9pm every Wednesday evening for the forseeable future. Yay, how exciting.

Stop by the forum and let us know what you think of the new series.