John guest posts about writing memorable fiction on ReidWrite

Luc Reid is the author of, among other things, Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures.  He is also the lizard king of Codex, which he started and of which I’m so happy to be a member. He’s always starting provocative threads on Codex, making us all think and reexamine the principles of story and the whole writing business. He recently posted some insights about what makes memorable stories. A lot of other fellow Codexians joined in the discussion. Happily, he asked me to share some of my thoughts on his site, ReidWrite. They begin as follows:



 Okay, maybe not. But you are wired to be mine. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Let’s back up. Luc wrote about writing memorable. I agree with the idea that the stories that produce a strong emotional reaction are the most memorable. In fact, I believe that triggering of emotion is THE reason why linear narrative that puts us into the trance has lasted so long in so many forms and makes so much money.

But can writers guide reader emotions? Or is it all just by accident?

Read the rest here:

BTW, when you’ve finished that, you might want to check out Luc’s new site, It’s a place where he shares what he’s found in his research for his current book project, The Willpower Engine, on how self-motivation works. I think you’ll find a number of the posts there very interesting.

I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

IAmNotASerialKillerYou can scare the crap out of me (Aracnaphobia), and I will love you forever. You can make me bite my nails in terrible suspense (Wait Until Dark, The Village) or throw supernatural at me (Poltergeist) and I will sing with praise. But the moment you do gruesome, the moment you start showing me entrails and organs, my discomfort level shoots through the roof.

And this is why I would not have finished  I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Well’s if I had just picked it up off a shelf–because the main character is the son of a woman who owns a mortuary. We get to see him help process a mutilated body very early in the book, pumping fluids in etc., and Wells knows his craft so I was THERE. I’m sure it’s not too gruesome for some, but I just have issues with organs. I don’t know why. I also have an issue with clowns.

Clowns are, by far, the scariest things around. And this is not because I read the book IT by Stephen King as a wee lad because I didn’t. It’s because they’re painted vessels of evil. End of story. They’re perfect examples of the freakazoids that lurk in the uncanny valley.

Anyway, I’d heard Wells read a portion of this book that had all of us in the room crying because we were laughing so hard. So I read on, telling myself I had to at least get to that part. And I am so very happy I did. 

I Am Not A Serial Killer is young adult story about a good-hearted teen named John Cleaver who is a sociopath with all the traits shared by serial killers. John’s in counseling, but more importantly, he is convinced he can prevent himself from becoming a serial killer by keeping rules he’s made for himself like not watching people for too long and complimenting someone when they make him angry. Such rules, he hopes, will keep him from feeding compulsions he won’t be able to resist.  The problem is a real serial killer has come to town (but unlike any you’ve seen before). And John may be the only one who can stop him. Will he let go of his rules to save the town? Or will he keep his monster asleep while others die around him?

It’s a fascinating situation (without a clown in sight, may the writing gods be praised). And Wells takes the reader on a journey through it that includes mystery, dread, and humor. In the hands of some other author, that would be enough. But Wells does more than entertain us. He gives us things to think about. He gives us great characters to boot–come on, when was the last time you read a book where the hero was a likeable sociopath? And most of the gruesome is up front anyway.

Read this book. Skim the body processing if you must. But you simply don’t want to miss the rest. It was a fabulous read and I recommend it highly.

The US version comes out in March of 2010. But you can get the UK version now on Amazon UK, Borders UK, etc. The links are all here on Well’s site.

John guests on Writing Excuses season 3 episode 16

writing-excuses-the-guys2-300x139A while ago the Writing Excuses team asked me to record with them, and last Friday I got to do it and had a blast.

We recorded three episodes. In the first podcast we talk about putting and not putting ourselves in our writing and making characters who don’t all sound like the author. As usual, the guys had some great insights. Check it out: The Anti-Mary Sue Episode.

“From the Clay of His Heart” reprinted

Cover_YearsBestFantasy9I loves me golem story. It was such a joy to write. Obviously, two editors found it a joy to read as well. So it was just reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 9 edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer and published by

The good thing is that there is a whole boatload of other great stories in this anthology including one of my favorites, Kij Johnson’s “26 Monkeys and the Abyss.”

Here’s the Amazon link.

Camille Paglia, Word Ninja

I think I must disagree with half of everything Paglia says (I’m a Republican, she’s a Democrat). But when you can write like a kung fu master, you have to be read:

Advanced whack-a-mole is clearly needed for that yammering smarty-pants Newt Gingrich, who is always so very, very pleased with himself but has yet to produce a single enduring thought.

Holy schnitzel, that’s what words are for. I’m still laughing and nodding my head. Can I be Camille for a while?

The fact is while Paglia is clearly liberal, she’s not a party lemming. This is one of the things that is so refreshing about her. She’s not afraid to call ’em as she sees them, even if that means roasting her own party or praising the other.

More here: Too late for Obama to turn it around? Plus: The left’s visionaries lost their bearings on drugs — but the GOP is led by losers

And here: Paglia page.