Archive for February, 2009

Headline Post #2 – The books I grew up on

Friday, February 27th, 2009

February 27

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 if 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’s 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 in my bio, I’ve listed five of my favorite books. Next week we’ll go through all five and talk about why each one is so awesome.

MySpace

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

John Cleaver, the main character of my books, has created a MySpace account. His therapist thought it would be good for him, and, frankly, Internet predators who find him online are in way over their heads. His page isn’t much to look at yet, but he’ll be building it up as he goes. If you’re interested, you can find him here: www.myspace.com/johnwaynecleaver

Storymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Everytime I hear the word “storymakers” I imagine a bunch of tiny LDS authors in Santa’s workshop, hunched over a table and banging on stories with tiny hammers. Nevertheless, the Storymakers are awesome, and my good friend Stacy Whitman is a keynote speaker, so I will be there with bells on (probably on my hat, to complete the elf theme). The highlight of the weekend, though, will no doubt be the Whitney Awards on Saturday night; they hit this out of the park last year, and the nominees this year are awesome, so I’m really looking forward to it.

World Fantasy Convention

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I will be attending World Fantasy this year in San Jose, California. World Fantasy is the first con I started going to years ago when I was just starting to get serious about writing. It will be good to be back. My brief schedule is listed below, but please feel free to stop me in the hall for chat. I will have books and T-shirts to sell.

Friday, 8:00 pm: There is a mass signing at the convention center for all authors and editors in attendance. While you’re standing in line for Garth Nix, I’ll be happy to sign your book.

Saturday, 4:00 pm:What Makes a Good Monster
From Dracula through Tolkien’s Ring Wraiths to Pennywise the Clown, the monsters of horror and fantasy are often the most iconic element of a story. What makes for a monster that will resonate with the reader and why are they so memorable?
Chaz Brenchley, Simon Clark, Paula Guran, Sarah Jane Pinborough, Dan Wells

WorldCon

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

This year WorldCon will be in Montreal–the same city where I met my editor, Moshe, years ago at a World Fantasy convention. I’m very excited to be going back, and I’m especially excited because this year we’re sending the kids to grandma’s so my wife can come to the con. Hooray! Everyone be nice to her; it’s her first con.

My panel list is as follows:

Get Your Writing Kickstart Here
Thursday at 1:00pm
P-516E
Aliette de Bodard (mod), Dan Wells, Derek Kunsken, Nina Munteanu
This is a standard “intro to writing” panel, which I think will be a lot of fun, and for added excitement it’s being conducted primarily in French. Can I be helpful and clever and charming via a translator? We shall see. All I can tell you for sure is that my brain will hear all the not-English and say “Hey! I speak not-English!” and then start speaking in Spanish. Happens every time.

Don’t Main the Streams?
Thursday at 2:00pm
P-511CF
Cheryl Morgan, Dan Wells (mod), Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Karen Haber
How does the mainstream media report on the world of SF? How is SF perceived, how can it be covered well, and what fandom can do to get its story across? I have no idea why I’m on this one, let alone why I’m the moderator, but I think it’s going to be awesome. If you have any great stories or links about how SF gets screwed (or lauded) in the public eye, let me know.

I for One Welcome our New Zombie Overlords
Friday at 12:30pm
P-516AB
Dan Wells, Heather Urbanski, Steven R. Boyett (mod), Trisha Wooldridge, Tony Pi
“The fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety,” said Simon Pegg, star of Shaun of the Dead. So zombies are slow, shambling…and what else? What will the zombie apocalypse really be like? Thank heavens for whoever put me on this one. I don’t know which is scarier, running from zombies or being forced to talk about them entertainingly for an hour and a half, but either way I am up to the challenge.

Writing Excuses Live!
Friday at 2pm
P-513B
Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson, and a cavalcade of awesome surprise guests.
Yeah, baby. An hour and a half of pure awesome. I’d tell you who some of the surprise guests are, but then it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. I can assure you, however, that this will be the best 90 minutes of the entire convention, hands down. I am currently peeing my pants, that’s how excited I am.

Exploring the Monster Within
Saturday at 4:00pm
P-510D
Anne Harris (mod), Dan Wells, Sean McMullen, Lauren Beukes
Some Days I Feel Like the Creature From the Black Lagoon: The appeal of identifying with the monster (or alien, or…?). An exploration of alienation, both societal and personal Let’s see: I wrote a book about a teenage serial killer who’s obsessed with death and tries to save the world by murdering monsters and stalking the girl next door. Yes, I imagine I will be on a panel similar to this one at every convention I go to for the next ten years. AND I WILL LOVE THEM ALL.

JOLT Writing… Get Your Writing Kickstart Here
Sunday at 1:oopm
P-516E
Dan Wells, Elaine Isaak, Jay Lake, Karleen Bradford, Brandon Sanderson
Crash course: Brainstorming, structures, writing… all in 90 minutes. Work on a new story or punch up an old one. This one’s going to be fun; the entire writing process condensed and shot out in rapid fire. There’s no moderator listed, so I’m going to prepare a list of elements and be ready to take over, just in case. Like the other writing panel, this one will be primarily in French.

2009 Stoker Weekend

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I will be attending the Horror Writers Association conference in June this year, including the Stoker awards, and I’m very excited. There are some really excellent people at this thing, including a Lifetime Acheivement Stoker for F. Paul Wilson; they couldn’t have picked a more deserving author.

There will be panels and such, but nothing is finalized yet. I’ll post details here as soon as I have them.

CONduit

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I will be attending CONduit, an SF/Fantasy convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s a lot of fun, and Utah’s got enough writers that they can really put together a great schedule of panels and workshops. This year my involvement is relatively light; I’ll be there all day Friday and Saturday, but my official stuff is all Saturday afternoon:

1:00 — Writing Excuses Live. We love to record our podcast at cons, because the audience participation really livens it up. This year we’ll have a guest podcast with Aprilynne Pike, possibly some Q&A, and maybe even (if you’re lucky) some monkey noises.

2:00 — The Super Signing. Dave Wolverton, L.E. Modesitt, and Brandon Sanderson, with little old me tagging along for the ride. I sold out my entire stock at the last con signing I did, and many of you were left without books, so this time I’m loaded for bear. Come for the big authors, and I’ll be happy to sign your book while you wait in their lines.

3:00 — My Reading. My reading at LTUE was overflowing, and it went really well, so I have high hopes that this one will be even awesomer. Unfortunately, the reading is cross-scheduled with a “we love Stephenie Meyer” panel and a Howard Tayler book launch. But there’s nobody of consequence on the Meyer panel, and only weirdos read webcomics anyway, so I think I’m good. Maybe I’ll do something crazy, like read a chunk of Mr. Monster.

4:00 — The Science of Evil: Why villains are the way they are. This is my only real panel of the con, but it’s going to be a fun one, especially with fellow Tor debutante John Brown on the panel with me. John is from Laketown, in northern Utah, where I would spend many a long summer on my grandma’s old farm, so I’d love him even if he weren’t totally awesome. Plus, I get to talk about villains, and since even my heroes are arguably still villains, it’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart.

AML Conference

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I will giving two presentations at the Association for Mormon Letters:

1. A combined reading with…someone. Probably Brandon, since that’s what we did last year. We’ll see.
2. A presentation on writing groups: why they’re good, how to find one, how to make your own, how to run one, and what problems to anticipate and work around.

I still don’t know what time of day this stuff will be happening; the times listed here are an approximate range. I’ll post real details as soon as I know them.

Air Mail

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

At LTUE this weekend I had a lot of people ask me about air mail costs for shipping my book to the US. I just went through the pre-order system on amazon.co.uk and learned that the air mail cost comes to 6.98 pounds if you go for 6-10 day air mail (1-2 day priority mail will be a lot more). That puts the total cost at 12.22 pounds ($17.78) if you buy my book now and have it shipped to the US. Which is, if I may say so, the lowest ratio of money to awesomeness that you could possibly hope for, and an incredible deal.

Headline Post #1 – Who is Dan Wells, anyway?

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I’m running a small blog on my UK publisher’s website, www.the-b-word.co.uk, and rather than repeat the information I’m going to just mirror them here. This one’s a few days late, but expect the rest of them to surface on Fridays.

20 Feb 2009

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.