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

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 12.26.09 PM

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing What You Don’t Know

“Write what you know” is a phrase that has been following me since I started studying creative writing during my undergraduate years. This phrase would be echoed to death while I pursued my MFA, and don’t get me wrong, it’s great advice, but it’s also the mostobvious advice you could give someone. Of course we have to know something about something to even begin to write about it – so whenever someone says, “write what you know,” it makes me want to flap wildly at that person until I turn into a bat and fly away.

We all start with what we know. I’m not sure it really needs to be drilled into our heads that much because of course when I’m writing, be it prose or poetry, some subjective element of myself whether I’m cognizant of it or not is going to bleed out and into the pages. However, I think there’s something dangerously misleading about solely “writing what we know” because if we’re to live by that phrase, it risks the danger of not encouraging writers to find out what they don’t know. It risks the danger of someone becoming afraid to write about characters outside their own race or culture. I imagine if everything I wrote was forever only from the viewpoint of a white, American woman in her mid-twenties, then those stories would get horrendously boring quite quickly.

I fear the more we propel the notion you can only write what you know, especially to writers just starting their first story, then they will become afraid to write main characters outside of their own genetic make-up. I wholeheartedly believe one of the main freedoms of pursuing writing is to embrace differences, to study and research what we don’t know so we can rise above ignorance and understand how human connections span across the globe. Rather than being afraid of what or who we don’t know, we should instead interview people with different cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities, etc.… than our own so we can learn, and so we can beautifully craft stories that celebrate diversity.

The thesis novel I wrote for graduate school is currently floating around in market space, so it goes, and when I created my protagonist, she was someone I knew. She is similar to me in appearance and mindset, and a lot of things I dealt with in life are things that I put into her creation. Luckily, not everyone in the book is a white American, but writing that book also made me realize how much I want to grow my ability to write diversity. So, I write this article as a reminder to myself, and to anyone else who is sick of hearing to write only what we know.

Writing should be a celebration of incorporating all people – so yes, writing what you know can be a solid foundation to start with, but do your research, too. Study, research, interview, learn. Writing is a lifelong learning process, which is probably why writing and teaching are the two fields I’m drawn to the most. Writers should fearlessly leap into the abyss of the unknown and learn as much as possible – learning what we don’t know, after all, is what rounds out our knowledges, makes us more competent to participate in social engagements and societal conversations, so it only makes sense for us to continue our commitment to learning about a range of individuals and their unique stories for the sake of our humanity and for our craft.

While we base certain settings, emotions, characters and so forth on our experiences, I hope we move forward in our stories to embrace diversity and to do it well. I hope we take those precious moments of truly learning from one another and craft it into stories worth telling, worth reading. Strive to make the unknown known, even if it makes you uncomfortable at first. We’re all ignorant about something, or many things, but to brush off that ignorance and make the choice not to learn and embrace elements outside our comfort zones only ensures our writing will never reach the highest potential that it can.

So, go write something today. And more importantly, go learn something new.

*This article was originally featured on author Erik Hofstatter’s website here.

Broken Crayon Creative (EDITING BOSSES)

I am delighted to announce I’ve partnered with some incredibly talented writers and editors (who I am lucky enough to call my friends), to establish our own company of editing services. We are a passionate group who hopes to use our love of writing to help others in the field. Whether it’s creative, nonfiction, social media, or business writing, we have someone for any writing/editing services you may be looking for.

Check out the lovely website my colleagues designed and take a look at the many services we offer. Here! Here! —> BROKEN CRAYON CREATIVE

You can also stalk us….
on Facebook
on Twitter

Kill ’em with Kindness: Post-SHUWPF Residency Musings

Social media has a lot of benefits, especially if you’re a writer promoting your work or networking. However, social media also makes it easier for people to act like egocentric teenage asshats. I’m not going to pretend the social media SHUWPF uses is error free of such behavior, but for the most part we’re a pretty damned loving group. Wherever there is a group of people, some drama is bound to follow. It’s unfortunate, but at the same time it is inevitable because despite the fact that we’re all writers, we all hold different opinions, beliefs, ideals, and so forth.

For the most part, I’ve avoided drama because I simply don’t like it. I just try to be nice to people and if there’s tension I can’t resolve, I’ll move on. I’ve spent too much of my life worrying about what the wrong people think of me. SHUWPF has been my saving grace because I have finally found a tribe of writers and irreplaceable life-friends that I love to bits and pieces. So fuck drama (unless it is in our fiction). I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to say thank you.

Thank you to the mentors who rocked their modules and critique workshops this term. I learned an amazing amount of information from each module and my notebook is bursting with ideas. You are so, so appreciated. I personally had an excellent critique workshop and am very excited to revise the short story I submitted this semester.

Thank you to my friends who hold religious beliefs that are so different than my agnostic ways of life. You are open and kind and fun. I love hearing about your beliefs and am grateful no one in the program has ever tried to shove something down my throat or convert me. If you do, I’ll probably just hiss and crawl away into the darkness, but I won’t be mean.

Thank you to the veterans in the program. I admit sometimes I lurk near you when you’re having a group conversation about army/marine/navy/etc… stories because I love hearing the tales. You’re fascinating and brave and wonderful, thank you for not minding my lurking.

Thank you all for late nights where we drink too much, sing off key, and laugh at our own beautiful madness. Thank you to those who promised to save me if my teaching module tanked (it didn’t!), and to others who told me what they learned from my slight obsession with poetry.

Thank you for watching the sunrise and just talking because people don’t do that often enough. Thank you for generally being interested in the work of others, for supporting their writing and coming together to help each other be the best we all can be.

Residency is intense. We learn a lot in a small amount of time, and it is amazing we have the energy to socialize at all, so when we do socialize let us remember to do it with kindness. We can’t possibly know everyone’s story and what they have been through, so kindness goes a long, long way folks.

Keep writing. Take a breath. Love something simple.

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.

Nice Girls Can Write Horror?

Non-residency Student: So what genre do you write in?
Me: Horror.
Non-residency Student: Horror? Really? But you seem like such a nice person, why would you write horror?

*cue dramatic eye-rolling and desire to breathe fire*

The above conversation was one I had during my second Writing Popular Fiction (WPF) residency at Seton Hill University (SHU). The student was at the school in a different program, an older gentleman, and perfectly pleasant to talk to minus the aforementioned excerpt that made me want to jump up on a table and yell, “PRAISE SATAN THE DARK LORD” just for dramatic effect because “but you seem so nice” is one of the most irritating, condescending things you can say to a woman who writes horror. I don’t know if men in horror get told such things, but if they do I’m willing to bet it happens much less.

Awhile ago I read an article on the lovely Tracie McBride’s Exquisite Corpse blog titled “9 things female horror writers are sick of hearing” and what is the first bullet point? Answer: “But you seem so nice!”

After Non-residency Student fed me the “but you seem like a nice person” line, I responded with “nice people can write horror, too.” I don’t remember his response very much. It was mostly a splutter and a kind of “yeahh, but….” I’m not sure where this idea came from that “nice” girls don’t write horror, but it makes me want to sacrifice a goat or something. Should I be glowering in a dark corner wearing a shirt that says “Evil Shrew”? Does that mean I can write horror then? I’m terribly sorry to all the people I’ve been polite to. I’ll make sure to let you know I secretly dream about boiling your guts from now on.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 9.11.19 PMIs there some standard personality that must be attached to writers of various genres? It’s always odd to confront a perception when it’s said to you candidly in a setting where, up until that point, you had been very comfortable in your surroundings. Let me move on from the older, white man who questioned the young female horror writer (can we dismantle the patriarchy yet?), and talk about how much I love my peers and mentors at SHUWPF because never would one of those fellow writers say, “You writer about blood and death? But you seem so nice!” Instead they would ask you about your work, and listen to you gush about the latest project you’re passionate about. What makes this community the absolute best is that your fellow writers will gush over your work with you. The atmosphere is encouraging, supportive, and safe. It doesn’t matter here if you write about death and blood, knights and castles, aliens and cyborgs, intense love affairs, and the works. The SHUWPF community is all-embracing. And we’re nice people. A little weird, often introverted, occasionally grumpy in the early morning after late nights, but always kind and supportive at the end of the day.