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Writers: Mickey Spillane’s Rule for Selling Books


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Mickey Spillane sold a lot of books. Here’s how:

“The first page sells the book,” he said. “The last page sells the next book.”

I was reminded of Spillane’s axiom as I finished the last page of Mr. Monster by Dan Wells. I’m not going to spoil it for you. You’re just going to have to go read it. That book, and his first in the series, I Am Not a Serial Killer, are sometimes harrowing reads. These are books where the author takes risks. John Cleaver is a protagonist you won’t like, but you feel for him, too.

Dan Wells has turned his protagonist, a young sociopath with a dangerous mind, into somebody I’ll follow. I’ll follow the series. Dan Wells is going to sell a lot of books off a character who will make you very uncomfortable.

It was the last line that got me. The really good ones stick with you. The end of Fight Club is a great scene with a neat twist. And William Goldman? He’s the master of the last line that stick a knife between your ribs and gives the blade a half-twist. Goldman’s trick is to make readers comfortable, letting them think they know what will happen next, and then sucker punching them. At the end of Goldman’s The Color of Light I actually threw the book across the room because just when I thought I was safely in the dénouement, he hit me again. 

Lots of writing advice is about baiting the hook on the first page. On the last page, make sure you get the barbs in deep for the next one, too.

Filed under: authors, book reviews, Horror, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

Stephen King's House in Bangor, Maine

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Even when an author makes a choice that doesn’t sit well with the individual reader, when a book is written well, perceived flaws are easily forgiven. Dan Well’s debut novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a solid writer. From the first chapter, I knew I was going to like this book and I could see why his agent and publisher were grabbed immediately.

Wells has done his research so well, you’re convinced he’s been hanging out in mortuaries a long time. He details the embalming process is grisly, convincing detail. He’s acquainted himself well with how a sociopath thinks. I wish Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter books, understood serial killers so well. (While the Showtime series, Dexter, is superb, the books are get progressively worse.)

When Wells’s tale threatened to go off the rails for me, he kept me riveted with realistic detail. I’m not going to spoil the story for you. I will say that Wells makes a daring choice by sliding a gritty portrayal of a young sociopath into a supernatural story. Had he kept his horror altogether in reality, it would be In Cold Blood for the juvenile set. I got antsy about the supernatural turn the story took, but Wells controlled his story by going back to the realistic context.

Reality is what makes horror so effective. It’s viruses escaping from government labs. It’s the threats that lurk behind every corner which end at a police station, a hospital or a morgue. Think of Stephen King’s portrayal of big bad things happening in tiny, ordinary towns in Maine. What makes effective horror so effective is that it occurs in such ordinary contexts. That’s why Wells’s choice to opt for the supernatural is daring. Each time he went out to the edge of reality, he compensated by getting right back to a realistic context.

The flaws I mentioned? Near the end, vague explanations are made to police that are skimmed over. I’m not even clear what explanations were offered so alibis seemed underwritten. (If Wells had omitted that scene, the denouement would have been shorter, as well.) I didn’t buy that part and would have preferred that the police not be brought in at all. Unless you’re writing a police procedural, I find bringing police into thrillers is problematic. Generally, when the forces for order show up, they either chase the bad guys away and order comes closer to being restored. That’s why so many effective horror stories occur in remote places where the outside world is cut off, the bridge is out and civilian protagonists have to rely on their own wits and tendons. (In my own stories, cops are never a factor. Their role is to show up after all the real action is over. The people they tend to catch are standing over their spouse holding a butcher knife and covered in blood. In reality, there’s a lot less drama after the authorities get involved.) 

However, despite these quibbles, Wells ends his story perfectly. It could be the beginning of a series. The protagonist’s voice is so authentic, dangerous and vulnerable at the same time, I’m looking forward to reading more of Mr. Wells’s work.

Want to know more about the Dan Wells? Go to http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/.

Filed under: book reviews, Horror, writing tips, , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

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