Friday Fun Facts: Serial Killer Edition

My next poetry collectionThe Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, will (hopefully) be out in a few weeks! Dr. Holmes and I can’t wait to welcome you into our nightmares…

But for now, I thought I’d list some of my favorite “fun facts” about Holmes that inspiredScreen Shot 2018-10-19 at 12.25.31 PM a few pieces in the collection. Holmes is a tricky case — many of the “facts” we assume were actually tall tales that morphed into a kind of accepted truth; however, playing around with those blurred lines and blending historical horror with fictional interpretations was deliciously morbid and fun for me to do in this collection.

1. Holmes was “married” to three women at the same time. Only the first marriage to Clara was legal. He would later go on to “marry” Myrta Belknap and Georgiana Yoke though he had never divorced Clara. Holmes killed several women, including a few mistresses, but he never killed any of his three wives. This inspired my poem “Three Wives Dressed in Black,” which makes an appearance toward the end of the collection as Holmes sits in his jail cell before his public execution.

2. While the rumors and ideas linking H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper as the same person are amusing and intriguing to think about, I’d never buy into it. Logistically speaking, from what we know of Holmes and where he was in the states and when, I think he would have had to been able to teleport to truly commit the Ripper’s acts. While some may be able to speak around this, the number one reason I would never credit them as being the same is because of how different their killings were.

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 12.26.51 PMThe Ripper was vicious and intimate. He literally reached inside of his victims and had his fun with their organs or slicing off women’s breasts (I imagine the Ripper is a deeply fascinating case to all the Freudians out there). Holmes was never that intimate or messy. In my head I imagine his neatness likens to that of NBC’s Dr. Lecter on Hannibal. Holmes was cowardly in his approaches though, using chloroform or gassing victims to their deaths. He was more fascinated by the psychological approach, by seducing and charming before quietly extinguishing lives rather than tearing someone apart into a gooey bloodbath. I have two “Holmes vs. The Ripper” poems in my collection, and they were two of my favorite to research and write.

3. While in prison, Holmes wrote two notable texts. One was a rather idyllic memoir that he crafted in hopes to gain public sympathy and to try and convince people that he was

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Georgiana Yoke, Holmes’ last wife, at his trial. 

being falsely accused of all these crimes. After that failed to work and he was convicted, Holmes wrote a rather odd “confession,” in which he wrote of murdering people who were in fact proved alive. There are some really interesting analyses out there that go through who he may have actually murdered vs. who he, for some reason, claimed to have killed but did not. I found access to both the memoir and confession, which easily inspired the voice I use for Holmes within my collection, and inspired many poems toward the end within the sections where he’s in prison. What struck me the most was Holmes’ undeniable intelligence and merits of literacy within his writing. An articulate madman with a pen, wielding words with expert manipulation, is truly a frightening thing.

4. Appearance wise, Holmes was considered handsome at the time. His blue eyes get noted often, but I also came across in my research that he may have been cross-eyed, which inspired my poem “Strabismus,” and a few others in the collection. One eye on the victim, one searching elsewhere…studying the shadows…looking for the devil.

5. After leaving Chicago, Holmes eventually went to Texas where he engaged in more money schemes and fraud, as he did in Chicago and elsewhere. He also attempted to construct the Fort Worth Castle, a building similar in strangeness and massiveness to the famed “Murder Castle” in Chicago. By this time, numerous lawyers, unpaid workers, and members of law enforcement were trying to find Holmes to get some answers for their missing payments. Holmes would leave Texas, soon after embarking on the wild chase across the states that would lead to his arrest, but of course not without a few more dead bodies along the way. I have a section of poems in my book that go through this chess board pursuit, and I can’t wait to take you along for the ride.

So wait patiently. Buy your train ticket. The good doctor is already there, seated quietly in first class, drinking his tea and eyeing you as you walk past…one eye on you, the other on the shadows…searching…waiting…









Write What You Know, or No?

We’ve all heard the mantra “write what you know” on repeat, and probably from various sources too. It’s great advice, and true, but only to a point.

As a writer of speculative fiction, horror in particular, writing what I know can get a bit tricky. I have neither killed anyone nor have I been, well, murdered, but that’s OK because I am a fiction writer and I have this fabulous thing called an imagination. If my protagonist is killing another character, whether it be for the sake of revenge or just for the fun of it, I imagine my character is filled with adrenaline. That thought then allows me to draw parallels between something I can relate to (an adrenaline rush), and something unfamiliar. Remember that writing about what you don’t know, does not mean you can’t use your own experiences. In fact, your own experiences allow for the addition of realism to what you are writing.

I think about the favorite concerts I’ve attended. The adrenaline in a crowded room where the people are there for the same purpose, the same enthusiasm to hear the music, that excitement mixed with the cheering and screaming of the crowd is infectious. You are part of a moment where heart thuds and the lights flash as the band starts playing that song you love.

I take a moment like that, use those images and emotions, put my character on the stage and imagine they are looking out over the audience, feeling all those things, murdering their victim to the sound of a cheering audience, and it becomes what I know and what I don’t know blended together.

Clearly an adrenaline-filled moment can be applicable to moments outside of, uhm, murder, but that’s my example because well, horror writer. Sorry. (Not really).

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 5.47.08 PMSo how else can we write what we don’t know?

Writing in different genres than you’re used to is one way to get started. It needn’t be such a switch as going from a gory piece of horror work to straight up romance (but hey give it a shot, anyway! You’ll likely learn some useful angles to write about love interests). You can always take smaller steps, too. For example, trade in a supernatural suspense for a crime thriller, or if you typically don’t use any mythological elements maybe try out magical realism and see where it takes you, or take your mystery tale that happens in a mansion and put it in a western instead. There are many literary genres to play around with, so take some time and explore things outside of your comfort zone.

Genre is a fun way to explore the unknown, but what about the characters and settings? Take a look at your characters, time periods, and locations. Are there a lot of consistencies between your various works?

I’m definitely not saying that’s a bad thing if there are. I get stuck in my Victorian Gothic ways when it comes to short stories, and it takes me months to leave my tropes behind (I love them so), but it is refreshing to embrace something new.

If you are always writing about times long past, try throwing your characters into a modern setting (and vice versa). How about your plots? Do you follow your own formula for every work, or take some twists and turns along the way to really make each work stand out? Do your endings always bring about a closed ending or an ambiguous one? Mix it up!

If your characters, whether they be protagonists or antagonists, seems startlingly similar in your works, do something different with their age, sex, race, background stories, or even their point of view. We live in a world of infinite voices and people. Our stories are allowed to reflect that diversity, even if it may seem uncomfortable at first for us to write about a culture outside of our own.

Research, interviews, documentaries, movies, and exploring the world around you are all ways to delve into the unknown, stir your imagination, and propel your writing to new heights. While details are important when it comes to writing about something you’ve researched rather than experienced firsthand, try not to get overly hung up on that idea. Write with the authority and confidence you would if you were writing about an experience you knew intimately. Also, if you can find a beta reader that does have whatever experience you are writing about, buy them lunch and get their perspective!

Writing what you do know will always be important. It gives you a solid basis to build up from, and allows you to teach your readers about the details of an experience. As writers, though, we have signed up to be a part of a lifelong learning process. This is a craft where there is always room for improvement, and observing the world, listening to the countless voices and stories around us, are ways we can put ourselves into new situations and strengthen our writing.Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 5.47.59 PM

We are forever students, delving into the unknown and thus making it known. Write for yourself, but don’t be afraid to write for others either. Write with realism and respect.

Overall, you are a writer and you should tell whatever story you want, no matter what. However, keep in mind the world is vast and while you probably will have a target audience to market your works to, remember that does not have to stay fixed. You are allowed (and encouraged) to step outside your comfort zone, listen to the world around you, delve into the unknown, take the chance, challenge yourself, and write about what you don’t (initially) know about.