Friday, May 31, 2013

From the Crime Writer’s Library—Journey into Darkness

One of the things that those of us who write about crime have over those who actually investigate those crimes in real life is that we get to choose how far along the journey into darkness we need to go. Journey into Darkness by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker follows John Douglas as he dives into the minds and motives of some of the modern day’s most horrific serial killers.

John Douglas was not just an FBI Behavioral Analyst (more commonly known as Profiler), he created the department in the FBI against doubts and naysayers. How he or those who have followed in his footsteps are able to shut out the abyss that they must stare into would be a topic to write about on its own.  Regardless if you write thrillers or mysteries—be them cozies or hardboiled, the techniques Douglas developed in profiling killers should be applied to your criminals, whatever those crimes are.

Journey into Darkness is:
 “John Douglas, who headed the FBI's elite Investigative Support Unit, told the story of his brilliant and terrifying career tracking down some of the most heinous criminals in history. Using behavioral profiling and criminal investigative analysis to get into the head and psyche of both the criminal and victim — to feel what they felt at the critical moment — Douglas helped crack many high profile cases, including the Trailside Killer, the Atlanta child murders, and the Tylenol murders. Now, working again with his co-author Mark Olshaker, Douglas delves further into the criminal mind with a series of chilling new cases in Journey into Darkness: Follow the FBI's premier investigative profiler as he penetrates the minds and motives of the most terrifying serial killers.

“In Journey into Darkness, Douglas profiles vicious serial killers, rapists, and child molesters. He is straightforward, blunt, often irreverent, and outspoken, but takes pains not to glorify any of these murderers. Some of the unique cases Douglas discusses include:

“The Clairemont killer — Six women were found stabbed to death in San Diego, three in the same apartment complex. In each case, the killer entered through an unlocked door or window in the late morning to early afternoon. A suspect was in custody, tied to one of the murders through a DNA match. Douglas was called upon to use his profiling techniques to link the other five murders to the suspect. Douglas looked at the "signature" of the killer, and found that all the murders were committed by the same man. The prosecution used the profile to force the jury to find the defendant guilty of all six murders, if they felt he was guilty of the one murder. Celophus Prince was found guilty on all counts.
“The schoolgirl murders — What became Canada's "trial of the century." Several schoolgirls disappeared in 1992; their bodies were dumped several weeks later, beaten and sexually attacked. Canadian police agencies contacted the FBI for help on the case and to get a profile on the killer and, according to witnesses, his accomplice. Following the advice of the Investigative Support Unit in Quantico, Canada aired a television special entitled "The Abduction of Kristin French," allowing agent Gregg McCrary to describe the killer's profile on air. Knowing that the murderer and his accomplice would be watching, he planned to confront the unknown killer, assuring him he would be caught. Paul Bernardo was arrested on February 17, 1993, turned in by his wife and partner in crime, Karla Leanne Homolka. The profile was dead on the money.

“Richmond's First Serial Murderer — In 1987, Richmodd, Virginia, was struck by a serial rapist/murderer. The Richmond police called upon the Investigative Support Unit in Quantico to make up a profile of the perpetrator. The crimes and profile beared a remarkable resemblance to a string of burglaries, rapes and murders in Alexandria, Virginia, several years before. Agent Steve Mardigian then formulated a complex strategy that caught the killer who fit the profile to a tee. In the process he helped free a wrongly convicted man, who due to his low intelligence level, had become confused and confessed to the crime.

“The brutal and sadistic murder of Suzanne Marie Collins, a beautiful young Marine on the verge of a brilliant career. The culprit was caught and confessed to her killing, but his story was very different than what really happened. By delving into Sedley Alley's mind, Douglas helped bring the murderer to justice, recreating the evening from the perspective of a sadistic and angry man. Suzanne Collins' horrifying end haunts Douglas to this day.

“Douglas delves into other cases, including Polly Klaas' abduction and murder by Richard Allen Davis, the tragedy that lead to the creation of Megan's Law; the abduction and murder of six-year-old Cassandra Lynn Hansen, who was snatched from an evening church service; and the vicious murder and sexual assault of Nancy Newman and her two daughters, eight-year-old Melissa and three-year-old Angie in Anchorage, Alaska. He also explores the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, focusing on the double homicide purely from a behavioral perspective. Douglas examines what the facts at and surrounding the crime scene told about the killer from a behavioral point of view. From Douglas's profile, the only viable suspect to date is O.J. Simpson.

“With Journey into Darkness, Douglas provides more than a glimpse into the minds of serial killers; he demonstrates what a powerful weapon behavioral science has become. Profiling criminals helps not only to capture them, but also helps society understand how these predators work and what can be done to prevent them from striking again. Douglas focuses especially on pedophiles and child abductors, fully explaining what drives them, and how to keep children away from them. As he points out, "The best way to protect your children is to know your enemy." He includes eight rules for safety, a list of steps parents can take to prevent child abduction and exploitation, tips on how to detect sexual exploitation, basic rules of safety for children, and a chart, based on age, which details the safety skills children should have to protect themselves.

“In his review for Mindhunter in The New York Times Book Review, Dean Koontz said, "Because of his insights and the power of the material, he leaves us shaken, gripped by a quiet grief for the innocent victims and anguished by the human condition." Journey into Darkness continues this perilous trip into the psyche of the serial killer, but also offers a glimmer of hope that profiling may enable law enforcement to see the indicators of a serial killer's mind and intervene before he kills, or kills again.

“The world's top pioneer and expert on criminal profiling--the author of the international bestseller Mindhunter--delves further into the criminal mind . . . and reveals the fascinating circumstances of each crime in detail as he explores the larger issues, including crime prevention and rehabilitation.”—book description on Barnes and Noble.

If you wish to dig deeper into the darker side of your criminal characters, understand what they do by understanding who they are, this is one book you need to read.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fantasy/horror author James Dorr: "True" stories resonate with readers

Welcome to James Dorr, whom I met through my publisher L&L Dreamspell. He joins us to talk about his latest book, The Tears of Isis, released on May 15 by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.

James is a short story writer and poet working mainly in dark fantasy and horror with forays into science fiction and mystery, and  has previously worked as a technical writer for an academic computing center, associate editor on a city magazine, a nonfiction freelance writer, and a semi-professional Renaissance musician. Dorr’s earlier books include two collections from Dark Regions Press, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and a poetry collection Vamps (A Retrospective) from Sam’s Dot Publishing (now part of White Cat Publications), joining nearly four hundred individual appearances from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to Yellow Bat Review.  An active member of SFWA and HWA, Dorr recently wrote the introduction to Telling Tales of Terror: Essays on Writing Horror & Dark Fiction (Damnation Books, Dec. 2012).

You can find more about James and his books at:
The Writers' Lens is about "Bringing fiction into focus." What brings your writing into focus--the characters, the stories, the love of words? For me character is usually the most important part of a story since (as I see it) fiction is about the testing of a character or characters under stress (in the case of dark fantasy/horror, extreme stress). So the character is in a situation and it's how the character copes with it (or not) that defines the plot.  Characters, in turn, are defined in part by their beliefs and by their environments (my life has been relatively peaceable, for instance, which will give me a different perspective than someone who grew up, say, in Iraq).  The game, then, is to put oneself into the head of that character, look out through his or her eyes, hear with his or her ears, feel with his or her skin and emotions, etc., to translate that character into terms the reader (most likely having had a relatively peaceable life as well) will be able to understand.  It is then that a love of words comes in, choosing those words most apt for the task -- because words can induce mood too, which cycles back into that character’s feelings -- but ultimately it is still the character, the person or other being that the story is about.  

What inspired your latest book? Artistically, hopefully some of the answers that follow will give an idea. Because inspiration is a tricky thing, it can come in dribs and drabs from various places and not even be seen as inspiration until something happens to pull it all together. So on one level, the answer might be “I really don’t know.” But there’s a pragmatic side to art too, Michelangelo, for instance, received a commission from Pope Julius II that resulted in the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, so the Pope was somewhat responsible too. In my far more mundane case, Editor/Publisher Max Booth III had just started up Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and, having recently edited an anthology for Dark Moon Books, Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories, that included a story by me, he asked me if I would like to do a collection. As it happened, I’d had some dribs and drabs of ideas, running in several different directions, so I started putting some of them together and ran with the one that looked the most interesting, one having to do with the idea of art and creation. (Thus the Michelangelo name-dropping, although, of course, it’s after the fact -- itself inspired by Teresa’s question.) And so the result, taking its title from the last story in the volume: The Tears of Isis.         

What do you think readers will like about your book? The Tears of Isis is actually a collection of seventeen stories and an opening poem, but, rather than just being a grouping of what I might think are the best of my works at the moment, it also attempts to have a unifying theme, that of creation but coupled with destruction as well as a balancing factor.  Thus it begins and ends with the iconic figures of Medusa and Isis, the former a sculptress who “spoke to her hair” and may literally turn her subjects to stone, and the latter one who, seeking inspiration, discovers Isis and in her herself, one who both creates art, but also takes from those she deals with some piece of their vitality, their souls. Then in between come perhaps some of the tales Medusa’s snakes spoke to her in return, not all of art but some touching on it, and most in one way or another touching on destruction or its possibility. To quote from the editor’s Introduction, “Each story in this book has a purpose. It would not feel complete if even one were omitted...” As author, I hope readers will agree.        

Would you share a bit about your next project? An ongoing project of mine has been a series of stories set on a far future, dying Earth centered around a vast necropolis called “The Tombs.” About fifteen of these have been published thus far including two reprints, “Mara’s Room” and “River Red,” and one for the first time, “The Ice Maiden,” in The Tears of Isis, with two others this year in separate anthologies, “Ghost Ship” that came out at the end of April in Techno-Goth Cthulhu from Red Skies Press and “Raising the Dead” to be out in fall in Airships and Automatons by White Cat Publications.  At one time I had been in discussion with a mid-size publisher about a possible novel made up of Tombs stories somewhat along the lines of the late Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, though problems with the economy at large seem to have put that on hold for now. However, the project could be revived. Also, having published a book of poetry on vampires in 2011 with Sam’s Dot Publishing, Vamps (A Retrospective), I’ve been toying with the possibility of a follow-up volume, perhaps to be titled Vamps (And Friends), opening up to allow zombies, werewolves, demons, etc., into the mix too.  

How much fact is in your fiction? Stories have to be “true,” and not just in a factual sense, if they’re to resonate with readers, and so if there are facts they’d better be accurate. Or, if they’re made up facts, as perhaps in science fiction, they’d better still be at least plausible. Why? Because facts are what the reader holds on to first, they’re a sort of anchor from which to reach out to the wonder beyond, the myth and the fantastic. So as to how much in a story is fact, it will depend on the story itself -- some need more, some less -- but even in something like “Bones, Bones, the Musical Fruit” in The Tears of Isis, a wholly fictional, even absurd, account of a man who carves musical instruments from human bones, details about his dealings with the local police, for instance, must be true to how real police and how local politics would operate given the situation. 

In this case, I’ve been involved in local politics, not in anything having to do with human bones, but enough that I can extrapolate from my own experience as well as things I might read in the paper or see in the news on TV. Or in the story “The Tears of Isis” scenes taking place in San Francisco, in terms of neighborhoods and streets, are based on library research, while those in Boston where the story ends are again from my own experience living five years across the river in Cambridge (and notice how I threw in the river as well as a city on its other side, to flesh the area out just a little, to give an idea, however slight, about what it would be like to be there yourself).        

What makes your book/characters unique? The stories in The Tears of Isis rely in many cases on myth, even fairy tales (although, to be sure, often disguised). And yet I hope a streak of reality runs through them as well, that the people, even in fantastic lands or situations, ring true as actual people, with actual motives and reactions readers can believe in. The fantastic rooted in the actual -- myth rooted in truth. To go up to the previous question again, I research a lot -- in the story “The Bala Worm” I used maps of England and Wales with places with local myths about dragons marked, just as do characters in the story. I followed the same procedure as they did to find where the dragon’s lair might be, then also put in background details of rock bands passing through the area with one-night stands in the neighboring village, just as they do in the town I live in now. I hope that throughout The Tears of Isis readers will see a thematic unity (some stories closer than others, of course, but even here there are musicians, for instance), yet see variety in the stories so each one will be unique in its own way.    

What's the highest compliment someone could make about your writing? That it made someone think.  That it made them wonder, and then to reflect beyond the page.  

THE TEARS OF ISIS: What do Medusa and the goddess Isis have in common?  Are both creatresses through destruction?  And why was Isis oftentimes depicted as weeping? 

Herewith are some answers as parts of a journey through art and creation, of sculpture and blood-drinking, crafting musical instruments from bone, revisiting legends of Cinderella and the Golden Fleece, of Sleeping Beauty and Dragons and Snow White -- some of these, of course, well disguised.  For is not art both the recasting of what is, as well as the invention of what is not?      

The Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney spoke of art as “making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature,” so here there be vampires, and ghouls, and insects perhaps from outer space as well as from this Earth, and visions of Saturn and life in the sea, and other wonders “such as never were in nature,” but, above all, Isis.  The Weeping Isis.  Isis with vulture wings, breasts bare and smeared with blood as in the earliest forms of her myth.   
And of course, as well, Medusa.  

The Tears of Isis is available at:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Vonnie Winslow Crist: Creative process an "earthquake"

Welcome to Vonnie Winslow Crist, a versatile writer and friend I met through Broad Universe. She is the award-winning author-illustrator of two speculative short-fiction collections: The Greener Forest and Owl Light; a YA novel, The Enchanted Skean; two speculative eShorts, Blame it on the Trees and For the Good of the Settlement; a children's book, Leprechaun Cake & Other Tales; and two myth-based poetry collections, River of Stars and Essential Fables

Mushroom fairy-rings constantly sprout up in her yard, wild birds have been known to land on her shoulders, and Vonnie has found so many four-leafed clovers that she keeps them in jars.

For more information, check her website or blog  Find her books on Amazon  , Barnes and Noble , and elsewhere. Become her friend and fan on Facebook:  and Goodreads: And follow her on Twitter:

What brings your writing into focus-- the characters, the stories, the love of words? I looked the word focus up in my old Standard College Dictionary, and decided to use the meaning: “In seismology, the point where an earthquake begins.” I think of the creative process as an earthquake that can rearrange the landscape, change people's lives, and make us rethink our priorities. So where does the earthquake for my writing begin? It can come from an archaic word I stumble upon or a scrap of folklore or a strange superstition. It can originate from a conversation overheard at a restaurant or a person I observe on a train. For me, once the spark is ignited, the characters and story follow. And since I love words: quirky words, forgotten words, words that sound lovely, words that have double meanings (the list goes on), it's a joy to set down on paper the words that carry the narrative forward.

What inspired your latest book? Many of my favorite books are fantasies which follow the journey of an unlikely hero. I think I've always wanted to write an adventure-filled novel set in my own fantastical world that referenced Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. I have vivid dreams, and among those dreams was a world filled with the races, creatures, and characters that populate The Enchanted Skean. While dreaming, I found myself looking out of the eyes of Beck, a 14-year orphan who lives with his grandmother. And so, he became my protagonist. Also, I must admit to being determined to write a piece of fiction that included a gruesome family tale told to me by several great-uncles and my father. It seems one of my ancestors is buried in two places. In one grave are his bones, and in another his flesh. When Beck is sent to retrieve his father's bones, his solution to a problem with the bones is exactly the one chosen by one of my ancestor's cousins.

What do you think readers will like about your book? I think readers will like the fully developed fantasy world in which the story takes place, the sense of adventure and danger that moves the story forward, the battles and other action, and the unique characters and races who populate the novel. I also think they'll enjoy watching a boy who thinks himself forgettable grow into a memorable hero. And the magic is fun, too!

Would you share a bit about your next project? Even as I type this, Owl Light, a collection of speculative stories with a pinch of poetry and illustrations is in the final stages of production. But I'm not sure I'd count that, since it's really completed. I have another YA novel, which I've been working on that I'd like to complete prior to writing the sequel to The Enchanted Skean. It's actually a science fiction novel with a female protagonist. It features colonies of dragon-like creatures called bodaway, the balance between honoring old traditions and new ideas, guild members who harvest nests from caves, and murder. I've got about 15,000 words written that I'm pleased with, and more words written that I'm less than pleased with!

Is there a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write? I've always loved history. I have access to lots of wonderful family letters both from the Civil War and World War II. I think I'd like to write at least two non-fiction books that utilize those letters and additional researched information about the actual battles my family members participated in. The personal stories are fascinating, and both of those eras are of interest to me. But I'll have to polish my footnoting skills if I move forward on those projects!

The Enchanted Skean – Book I of The Chronicles of Lifthrasir is a 430-page, Young Adult fantasy novel filled with action, adventure, and magic. 

THE ENCHANTED SKEAN: 14-year old Beck Conleth is living a quiet life in the seaside town of Queen's Weather when his grandmother sends him on a journey to Ulfwood to retrieve his father's bones and a family skean (dagger). After reaching Ulfwood, Beck discovers the skean is magical, and that it answers only to him. Soon the enchanted skean and its owner attract the attention of dark mages, goblins, and worse. Helped on his journey home by Wisewomen, warriors, shape-changers, and the other good folk of Lifthrasir, Beck faces death, danger, and the theft of his skean.

Accompanied by his best friend, Beck stows away on a ship, takes back his skean, befriends a dragon, and escapes with a troop of retrievers of stolen items. After reaching a dock in West Arnora, the company heads for the fortress of Ravens Haunt. As Beck and his companions face a hideous Skullsoul and an army of ogerhunches, he realizes there is a developing confrontation between good and evil, and he and his enchanted skean have a role to play.

Here's the link to the book trailer for The Enchanted Skean  and a link to a 3-chapter excerpt: 

Thanks for reading and commenting on The Writers' Lens. This is T.W. Fendley. You can find more about me at

Friday, May 24, 2013

St. Louis Writers Guild workshop June 1: Understanding local publishing options

Writers can learn about some local publishing options—from self-publishing to traditional publishing—at the June 1 “Print or Publish” workshop sponsored by the St. Louis Writers Guild. Representatives of Rocking Horse Publishing, High Hill Press and Treehouse Publishing Group will explain their services and answer questions from 10 a.m. to noon at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road in Kirkwood. Free to Guild members, $5 for nonmembers.

Robin Tidwell
“We don't believe authors should pay someone to publish their books - we believe that WE should pay YOU,” said Robin Tidwell, who will represent Rocking Horse Publishing (RHP). As a trade publisher, RHP doesn’t charge for its editing, formatting, cover design, and publicity services. Founded in October 2012, RHP publishes both print and e-formats. Robin’s husband Dennis co-owns RHP and All On the Same Page bookstore at 11052 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur, where they offer their authors instant shelf space. The team behind RHP has decades of experience in reading, writing, and editing. 

Margo Dill
Margo L. Dill, memoir and children's/YA novel editor, will represent High Hill Press (HHP). Established in 2008, HHP offers writers a niche between the huge New York publishing houses and the often high-priced “print on demands.” The small, royalty-paying St. Charles County press accepts submissions from picture books to mystery novels, from memoirs to short story collections.
--Margo owns a copyediting business, Editor 911, and is also a freelance writer, editor, speaker, and teacher. She is a contributing editor for WOW! Women On Writing, as well as the assistant editor for the Sunday Books page in The News-Gazette.

Treehouse Publishing Group (TPG), founded in February 2013, is a partnership of authors, editors, designers, and marketing professionals who offer professional business services — the same level of service a traditional publisher would provide — to authors seeking to prepare their manuscripts for submission to agents and editors and to entrepreneurial authors seeking to self-publish. Representing TPG will be Kristina Blank Makansi, Anne Milford and Jennifer Dunn Stewart.
Jennifer Dunn Stewart 
Kristina Makanzi
Anne Milford
 --Kristina has worked as an advertising copywriter, marketing coordinator, web and collateral designer, writer, fiction and non-fiction editor, and publisher. Kristina is also the co-founder, editor and publisher of Blank Slate Press.
--Anne is a freelance writer, developmental editor and author with more than 25 years experience writing, marketing and special event planning. She also works with authors—particularly non-fiction—to help them fine-tune their manuscripts, clarify their messages and publicize their books.
--Jennifer has taught creative writing at the university level and worked as a reading and writing instructor, tutor and editor. She also serves as a reader and editor for Blank Slate Press.

Three of the panelists are published authors and will have books for sale after the workshop: Robin (Reduced and Reused), Margo (Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg), and Anne (How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy). Kristina and Jennifer are currently working on novels.

Find out more about the St. Louis Writers Guild and upcoming activities at

Monday, May 20, 2013

SLWG Author Series - A New Twist on an Old Lecture Series

SLWG Author Series – A New Twist on an Old Lecture Series
By Brad R. Cook

St. Louis Writers Guild has a new feature for its long standing lecture series. The SLWG Author Series is a monthly interview with an author. For almost a decade St. Louis Writers Guild has hosted a lecture series featuring an author discussing their writing process, their books, and the industry. Now, this series is available in multiple formats and reaches a much wider audience.

The SLWG Author Series is viewable in three ways.
1. Be part of the audience
2. SLWG Members can watch and interact live online
3. The edited interview is posted on and Youtube.

The SLWG Author Series is held on the third Thursday of every month at All On The Same Page Bookstore, 11052 Olive Blvd in Creve Coeur.
The event starts at 7pm, the interview lasts about 30 minutes, but being part of the audience means you get more interaction with the author. More questions are asked and answered, and there is often a more in-depth conversation about the topic. I invite everyone to come out to the lecture, and best of all it is free! Plus you can buy a copy of the author’s books and get it signed!

Part of paid membership in St. Louis Writers Guild is access to the live online broadcast of the Author Series. A link is sent to every member allowing them to login at 7pm on the third Thursday of the month to watch the unedited interview. Usually some antics precede the interviews and some have suggested we take all those clips and edit them into a comedy movie. Online attendees can ask questions via text or twitter using @stlwritersguild. Those questions are answered during the interview, leading to a very interactive experience for the attendee and the author.

Finally, if you can’t make it to the All On The Same Page Bookstore on the third Thursday of the month or to the online broadcast, a recording of the interview is posted on and Youtube within a week of the broadcast. The video is edited; it includes the entire interview, but not the hilarious outtakes.

Topics so far have covered, Memoir, Editing, and Y/A Lit, and future topics will touch on a wide variety of area in the publishing industry. St. Louis Writers Guild invites you to join us on the third Thursday of the month or online, and all we ask is that if you enjoy the speaker consider purchasing their books.

You may have seen the interviews from the 2012 and 2013 Missouri Writers Guild Conferences. They were held in a similar manner using the techniques and technology perfected by St. Louis Writers Guild. The Writers’ Lens has enjoyed partnering with SLWG and MWG to provide these interviews and hope to bring more events and interviews like this in future.

SLWG Author Series
Third Thursday of every month
All On The Same Page Bookstore
11052 Olive Blvd. Creve Coeur, MO 63141

Linda Austin – March 2013

Suzann Ledbetter Ellingsworth – April 2013 

Both interviews have been posted on The Writers’ Lens tumblr page

The May 2013 SLWG Author Series Interview with LS Murphy will be posted this week on

We hope to see you in June!

Brad R. Cook is a historical fantasy author and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or follow me on Twitter @bradrcook Check out my tumblr page, Thoughts from Midnight –